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Marine Life & Conservation

ARTIFICIAL REEFS – Do we need them?

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Reefs around the world have taken a terrible toll from all our marine exploits. Over fishing, pollution, coastal development, diver damage, ships’ anchors….. the list goes on. And now on top of all this, the reefs are further dying through climate change and acidification. Warm water coral reefs are the most affected but many of the same pressures are felt on temperate reefs too.

World wide, coral reefs are home to approximately 25 percent of the animals and plants that live in the ocean. They protect vulnerable coastlines from raging seas; they are nursery grounds for many species as well as permanent homes for countless fish and invertebrates. More than 500 million people depend on reefs for their primary source of protein. They provide us divers with magnificent backdrops to our underwater adventures. The tourist trade over many parts of the world depend heavily on healthy and vibrant coral reefs for their visitors to enjoy. And yet we systematically crush them back to white lifeless limestone.

As the oceans’ ecosystems fall into serious decline, so we look at ways of addressing the balance. Artificial reefs are not new. Countries around the world have been making them in one form or another for generations. But here in the UK, as is too often the case, we are sadly lagging behind in our efforts to make these new potential reefs work – not only for us, but for the marine environment in general.

There is a group people trying to make some changes, and this is their story so far.

Weymouth & Portland Wreck to Reef Project (http://www.wrecktoreef.co.uk)

Weymouth and Portland Wreck to Reef is the non-profit community group that was originally set up to obtain permissions to source and to sink a single ship as an artificial reef at a location to the east of Weymouth and Portland.

article-wreck-2Because of the difficulty in obtaining those permissions it soon became apparent that the way forward was to obtain permissions for a square kilometre of sea bed where we could sink not just one, but two ex-naval warships.  Along with other inert reef material creating a reef sanctuary that it is hoped would be the first of many in the UK.

As of today hundreds of artificial reefs have been created throughout the world, ranging from small concrete structures in Kerala India http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/node/10479  to huge aircraft carriers  http://artificial-reefs.blogspot.com/2006/05/navy-ex-aircraft-carrier-uss-oriskany.htm   all without exception having a positive effect on the marine environment and local business in general, both short and long term.

In 1997 it was Tina Thomas of Portland Oceaneering that first started to put any real effort into the possibilities of the Weymouth and Portland area having its very own Wreck to Reef. It has to be said, it was very much a one woman crusade for several years. After repeatedly hitting a brick wall, Tina had to make the choice between her own business and the reef project.

In more recent years, Lisa Wallace of Silent Planet continued to drive the idea forward, and spent a couple of years and a lot of her resources on producing evidence that actually showed for the first time just how important the diving industry as a whole was to the Weymouth and Portland area. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Lisa was faced with the same dilemma Tina had faced years before.

article-wreck-3As with most of us reading this, life is busy and with those of us with businesses, we all know just how precious and valuable free time is. Although, at the time we all wished Tina and Lisa well, they were very much left to get on with it.

It must be acknowledged that without Tina Thomas and Lisa Wallace , we would still be tying up our running shoes, but instead we, our industry and our community has the baton firmly in our grip and can move forward with this awesome project.

Sean Webb and Marcus Darler of O’Three Ltd, and Dale and Ron Spree of Fathom and Blues are two of those companies that gave lots of verbal support to Weymouth and Portland’s very own artificial reef concept, but were both busy in keeping their own businesses on track. Although Fathom and Blues and O’Three continue to do well, it was plain to see just how diving in general was on the decline in our area.

Learning from the past (and that is not a criticism) O’Three and Fathom and Blues both realised early on that things would soon fall flat if firstly, they didn’t get somebody independent to put some consistent time into it (and be prepared to pay for that time), and secondly, to get as much support as they could not just within our industry, but further afield.

It was at this stage Neville Copperthwaite’s name was put forward as a possible project co-ordinator. There are people who talk and people who do, and Neville is well and truly one of the latter. If anyone can get this project further along, then it’s Neville Copperthwaite. In gathering all of the existing data and the new information he has collected and his ability to find the right doors to knock on and then open, at such an early stage in his involvement, is amazing.

Aims & Goals

Overview

The general national decline within the diving industry has been exacerbated in Weymouth and Portland by three things: the sinking of HMS Scylla in Plymouth; the building of an accessible launching facility in West-Bay at Bridport; and a ban on diving the HMS Hood in Portland Harbour (for safety reasons).

Drawing on the experiences and the resulting benefits of previous man-made artificial reefs, notably in Plymouth but also around the world, it is believed that this project will help redress the economic down-turn within our diving industry.

Worldwide

Man-made artificial reefs are not a new thing by any means. The Japanese have been building them for over four hundred years to improve their fish stocks (they’re determined they won’t run out of sushi). Canada, America and Australia have been sinking ships as diver and angling attractions for up to thirty years or more. Brazil is currently manufacturing concrete reef balls which have pioneered reef restoration throughout the world. In India, villagers make triangular concrete structures utilising the very sand from their beaches, then they sink them to redress the damage done by commercial trawling.

The list goes on.

In fact, only a few miles from where we are today, a reef is being constructed by a New Zealand company to facilitate wave formation for surfers. This is happening now, off Bournemouth beach in Dorset, UK.

Even closer to us in Poole Bay, Dr Ken Collins of Southampton University has been monitoring an artificial reef that he had constructed back in the eighties, and if any of you had been to one of his fascinating lectures on this subject, you would have seen the resounding success of the increase in marine life in what was previously a relatively barren area. The upshot is that artificial reefs work for whatever is asked of them.

There has been much academic research done on this subject worldwide, including Southampton University and all this is well documented. By and large, this research shows that provided the obstacles used for artificial reefs are environmentally clean, and are heavy enough not to migrate from where they are placed, then the biodiversity of that area will increase dramatically.

Ethos

But we don’t want to profess to you that we are doing this solely for the environment. That would be wrong, and we are not. Economics is the driving force behind this. The diving industry in Weymouth and Portland is a shadow of its former self. For instance, in 2003 there were twenty four dive charter boats operating out of the area… and now there are less than half that number.

However, having said that, marine life will still flourish on an artificial reef, no matter what the politics.

And talking of politics, we are under no elusions as to how difficult it will be to secure all the necessary permissions. There will be the Crown Estates to deal with, the MCA, Southern Sea Fisheries, English Nature and a host of other organisations. This fragmentation tempts us to suggest on a broader note that artificial reefs could be used as an integrated management tool within the European Coastal Zone or at least within the C-scope project. This would have the effect of streamlining and encouraging the whole business – and all this before persuading the MOD to part with a ship, let alone finding funding for the project – but it’s been done before, and it can be done again.

Support

We have already received practical support and enthusiasm from Weymouth and Portland Borough Council.

Gary Fooks, the 2012 Olympic Legacy Director, is including the project as part of his plans so that a world class dive venue can run alongside a world class sailing venue. The Portland Partnership and Portland Gas Ltd are working with us and will allow us to install a viewing system between the proposed reef and an interpretation centre on Portland and elsewhere. Southampton University, a world leader in artificial reef research, will become involved in our environmental impact studies.

Final Thought

Just a thought to leave you with – Japan has artificial reefs covering some twelve percent of its coast. It sees its artificial reef program so economically important that its annual reef budget is equal to our annual military budget.

E-Petition http://www.wrecktoreef.co.uk/e-petition

Through the three year process of obtaining permissions to sink two destroyers and create artificial reefs, Weymouth and Portland Wreck to Reef have by coincidence created a new way to manage an area of sea-bed by the people for the people.

It has been suggested that Weymouth and Portland Wreck to Reef now has a blueprint that should be adopted across the whole of the United Kingdom.

The jewel in the crown of these reef sanctuaries is of course the once jewels of our naval history, our warships.

Our ex-naval ships could be cleaned and made ready responsibly here in the UK and would help create much needed habitats for our ailing marine environments and bring decades of revenue to our coastal communities.

The UK is sadly out of step with the rest of the world with regards to giving ships as ‘deeds of gifts’ to any organisation.  Portugal and Thailand sunk four ships in 2012, with Portugal planning to sink another two warships this year.

It is hoped by signing this petition you will help Wreck to Reef change the British Governments view and, by deed of gift, give us at least one vessel.

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

Marine Life & Conservation

Parineeti Chopra teams up with PADI to create Ocean Change

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PADI® is thrilled to announce an exceptional PADI AmbassaDiver™: Indian actress, singer and PADI Advanced Open Water Diver Parineeti Chopra.

“A PADI AmbassaDiver is someone who is passionate about using their force for good to encourage others to protect our blue planet,” says Kristin Valette Wirth, Chief Brand and Membership Officer. “We could not have found a more respected and authentic partner as Ms. Chopra, a long time ocean lover, to advance our shared mission of saving the ocean. She is unmatched as a shining example of how to protect what you love – and inspire others to do the same.”

Chopra, who has always loved the ocean, experienced the magic beneath the surface in 2013 when she took her first breath underwater in Bali. As soon as she surfaced from that dive, she was hooked – and protecting the ocean became very personal for her, receiving her PADI Open Water Diver certification later that year in Palau. Since then, she has inspired others around the world, from her family and friends to fans in India– to try scuba diving so they can join her in seeking adventure and saving the ocean.

“The first time I came up to the surface after diving, I was crying because it was such a life-changing experience,” says Ms. Chopra. “It is now something I can’t live without. I make sure I do a diving trip every three months despite my work schedule because it is my form of meditation. And it is the place I am immensely passionate about protecting.”

“We are all equal underwater and all speak the same language. Over the years I have seen the changes that have taken place beneath the surface. During my time as a brand ambassador for Tourism Australia, I witnessed the bleaching and damage that has occurred to the Great Barrier Reef.  I was so sad to see this and am now committed to being a diver with a purpose. I have also seen first-hand how marine reserves, like the ones in Sipadan, Malaysia and Palau, prove how valuable marine protected areas are. As a PADI Diver, I want to make sure that our entire blue planet gets the protection it deserves.” continues Ms. Chopra.

With over 67 million social media followers and having recently starred in the Netflix movie The Girl on the Train, Chopra joins an elite group of celebrity influencers determined to take personal action and create real change for healthier oceans. Spending nearly all her free time diving around the world, Chopra shares her love for the ocean with her fans, as diving is an important part of her life that allows her to return to nature and reset. She will work with PADI to encourage others to experience the beautiful world underwater as PADI Divers and join her in helping to achieve balance between humanity and the ocean.

“PADI created the AmbassaDiver programmeme to support extraordinary divers who dedicate their lives to illuminating the path that leads from curiosity, exploration, and discovery to understanding, stewardship and action. Ms. Chopra is playing a very important role in ocean conservation, lighting the way for others to become divers themselves and mobilising communities worldwide to seek adventure and save the ocean with her,” continues Valette Wirth.

Ms. Chopra has big plans for 2022 – including becoming a real-life PADI Mermaid and taking part in citizen science projects during her dive trips around the world. Follow Chopra’s dive adventures, projects and hands-on conservation efforts with PADI on her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

To learn more about Chopra and the rest of the PADI AmbassaDiver team visit www.padi.com/ambassadivers.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Ghost Fishing UK land the prize catch at the Fishing News Awards

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The charity Ghost Fishing UK was stunned to win the Sustainability Award.

The winners were selected by a panel of industry judges and the award recognises innovation and achievement in improving sustainability and environmental responsibility within the UK or Irish fishing industries in 2021.

Nominees must have demonstrated a unique and innovative response to an environmental sustainability issue within the UK or Irish industry, demonstrating that the project has gone above and beyond standard practice, and provided evidence of its impact. The judges look particularly for projects that have influenced a significant change in behaviour and/or that have inspired broader awareness and/or engagement.

Ghost Fishing UK originated in 2015, training voluntary scuba divers to survey and recover lost fishing gear, with the aim to either return it to the fishing industry or recycle it. The charity is run entirely by volunteers and has gone from strength to strength, only last year winning the Best Plastic Campaign at the Plastic Free Awards.

Now, the charity has also been recognised at seemingly the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a unique achievement as trustee Christine Grosart explains;

We have always held the belief that working with the fishing industry is far more productive than being against it, in terms of achieving our goals to reduce and remove lost fishing gear.

The positive response to our fisheries reporting system that we received from both the fishing industry and the marine environment sector, was evidence that working together delivers results.

The feedback we got from the awards evening and the two-day Scottish Skipper Expo where we had an exhibit the following day, was that the fishing industry despises lost fishing gear as much as we do and the fishers here are very rarely at fault. It is costly to them to lose gear and they will make every effort to get it back, but sometimes they can’t. That is where we come in, to try to help. Everyone wins, most of all the environment. You can’t ask for much more.”

Following the awards, Ghost Fishing UK held an exhibit at the Scottish Skipper expo at the new P&J Live exhibition centre in Aberdeen.

This gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so many people in the fishing industry, all of whom were highly supportive of our work and wanted to help us in any way they could. This has opened so many opportunities for the charity and our wish list which has been on the slow burner for the last 7 years, was exceeded in just 3 days. We came away from the events exhausted, elated, humbled, grateful and most of all, excited.”

Trustee and Operations Officer, Fred Nunn, is in charge of the diving logistics such as arranging boats and organising the divers, who the charity trains in house, to give up their free time to volunteer.

He drove from Cornwall to attend the awards and the exhibition: “What a crazy and amazing few days up in Scotland! It was awesome to meet such a variety of different people throughout the industry, who are all looking at different ways of improving the sustainability and reduction of the environmental impact of the fishing industry.

It was exciting to have so many people from the fishing industry approaching us to find out more about what we do, but also what they could offer. Fishermen came to us with reports and offers of help, using their vessels and other exhibitors tried to find ways that their product or service could assist in our mission.”

  • Ghost Fishing UK uses hard boat charters from Cornwall to Scotland for the diving projects, paying it forward to the diving community.
  • The charity relies on reports of lost fishing gear from the diving and fishing community and to date has received well over 200 reports, culminating on over 150 survey and ghost gear recovery dives, amounting to over 1000 individual dives and diver hours by the volunteer team members.
  • You can find more information at ghostfishing.co.uk
  • If you are a fisher who knows of any lost fishing gear, you can report it to the charity here: ghostfishing.co.uk/fishermans-reporting
  • The charity is heading to Shetland for a week-long project in the summer of 2023. If you would like to support this project, please contact them at: info@ghostfishing.co.uk

Chair of Ghost Fishing UK and professional technical diving instructor Dr Richard Walker was immensely proud of the team’s achievements;

I’ve been a scuba diver since 1991 and have met thousands of divers in that time. I’d be hard pushed to think of one of them that wasn’t concerned about conservation of our marine environment. To be recognised by the fishing industry for our efforts in sustainability is a huge honour for us, and has encouraged our team to work even harder to find, survey and remove lost fishing gear from the seas. The fact that the fishing industry recognises our efforts, and appreciates our stance as a group that wants to work alongside them is one of the highlights of our charity’s history, and we look forward to building the relationship further.

To find out more about Ghost Fishing UK visit their website here.


All images: Ghost Fishing UK

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