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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 Conservation editor and also the Underwater Videography Editor for Scubaverse.com. Jeff is an award winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World announces 2020 Green Fins Award Winners

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The Green Fins Award recognises the world’s most environmentally friendly dive centres

The Reef-World Foundation – the international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – is delighted to announce the winners of the coveted 2020 Green Fins Award are:

  • Bubbles Dive Centre, Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia
  • Flora Bay Divers, Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia
  • And Tioman Dive Centre, Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

The prestigious annual award recognises the Green Fins member with the lowest environmental impact. This year, competition was so tight there was not one, but three winners all tied in first place. What’s more, all three of the winners and seven of the global top 10 centres are based in Malaysia!

Rosie Cotton, Tioman Dive Centre

The winning dive operators were chosen from the 600-strong network of Green Fins members by a rigorous assessment of business practices. To be eligible for the award, the operator must have had its latest assessment conducted within the last 18 months. In 2019, the proud winner was Tioman Dive Centre: a PADI dive centre which has been a Green Fins member since 2009 and had managed to hold onto the title again in 2020.

As 2020’s Green Fins Award winners, Bubbles Dive Centre, Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre are recognised as the world’s most sustainable dive or snorkel operator, as verified by the globally-recognised Green Fins environmental assessment. Their steps to improve sustainability practices, which have resulted in this recognition as the most environmentally friendly Green Fins dive centres in the world, have included:

  • Switching to eco-friendly products and improving waste management practices: Kelvin Lim, Flora Bay Divers, said: “We switched from normal detergents to eco-friendly detergents, we are encouraging divers to bring their own water bottles to reduce plastic and came up with a general waste bin and a bin for plastic bottles in front of our dive centre. This helps tourists and locals to place thrash that’s been found on the beach easily and conveniently since there are no proper bins along the beach.”
  • Training staff in why environmental practices are important: Peisee Hwang, Bubbles Dive Centre, said: “Green Fins has helped my crew understand more about the importance of looking after the environment. Less educated members of staff would throw cigarette butts in the sea without thinking but they are now keeping their trash to dispose in the bin when they are back.”
  • Upgrading boat engines: Rosie Cotton, Tioman Dive Centre, said: “At the beginning of 2020, we upgraded our last remaining boat engine and now we run 100% with 4-stroke models. The benefits are not only to the environment but also a huge reduction in petrol usage. It’s a Win Win situation!”

Alvin Chelliah, Green Fins Assessor Trainer from Reef Check Malaysia, said: ”Most dive centre managers and owners that I have come across in Malaysia care and want to do what they can to help protect coral reefs. I think Green Fins has been the right tool to guide them towards practical actions they can take. Over the years, we have seen these dive centres put in a lot of effort and work hard at following the guidelines and they have improved steadily as a result. We hope others will follow their example.”

Peisee Hwang, Bubbles Dive Centre, said: “We are thrilled to know that we have won and we are glad that our effort is being recognised. We hope that more operators aspire to join us in pledging for the environment.”

Kelvin Lim, Flora Bay Divers, said: “We are proud to be acknowledged for our efforts to inspire sustainable diving. Our focus remains on cultivating informed and conscious divers with good diving skills and habits..”

Rosie Cotton, Tioman Dive Centre, said: “Receiving the news that we have made the top spot of Green Fins members is a fantastic feeling. Thank you so much to the Green Fins team for your ongoing support! This year has obviously been slightly different to previous years. I hope that something we can all take away from this year is that changes in our daily habits can create shockwaves of positive change around the world in a relatively short period of time. From TDC, we hope you are all safe and well at this time and are able to find some positives despite these difficult circumstances.”

Chloe Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We’re thrilled to recognise Bubbles Dive Centre, Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre as joint winners of the 2020 Green Fins Award. Competition between the Top 10 is always tight but the fact that there are three winners this year, when usually one centre takes the title, shows how much sustainability is being put at the forefront of the agenda across the dive industry. So, we’d like to say a big well done to Bubbles Dive Centre, Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre. This win is testament to their hard work and ongoing sustainability efforts and they should be very proud. It’s an incredibly tight race to be named the best of the best!”

The Green Fins Top 10 list is comprised of the world’s most sustainable dive operators, as determined by the Green Fins assessment process. In 2020 they are:

  • Tioman Dive Centre, Flora Bay
  • Divers and Bubbles Dive Centre (all in Malaysia)
  • Ceningan Divers (Indonesia)
  • Scuba Junkie Mabul (Malaysia)
  • Sea Voice Divers (Malaysia)
  • Evolution (Philippines)
  • Orca Nation Rawa (Malaysia)
  • Equation (Philippines)
  • The Barat Perhentian Beach Resort (Malaysia)

In Malaysia, Green Fins is run by Reef Check Malaysia in partnership with the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia (DMPM) on the Peninsula and Sabah Parks in Sabah. Membership is not yet available in Sarawak.

For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org and www.greenfins.net.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Review: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netlix documentary: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

David Attenborough’s latest and arguably most important documentary to date is now showing on Netflix.  It is, in his own words, his “witness statement” of a unique life exploring and documenting the wonders of the natural world.

Attenborough looks back and realizes that the previously gradual changes he witnessed (animal species becoming harder to find and fewer wild spaces) have now become vastly more widespread and noticeable. As the human population increased, so has the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while the amount of wilderness has decreased.  His conclusion: human activity and man-made climate change have accelerated the pace of biodiversity loss.  This not only imperils the majority of natural habitats and creatures on Earth, but also the very future of humankind.

From images of lush green landscapes we journey with him over time to revisit these places, now wastelands. One of the most haunting is the contrast between early footage of orangutans swinging through the rainforest, to recent images of an orangutan clinging onto a lone tree devoid of all but one branch in the wreckage of a deforested site. Attenborough then makes a statement that has stuck with me since watching “A Life On This Planet”: that though we undoubtably have an obligation to care for the natural world, it’s not just about saving other species.  It is about saving ourselves.  His drive and determination to advocate and spread this message as much as possible at the age of 94 is both impressive and humbling, yet Attenborough manages to make this serious subject an unexpectedly positive learning experience.

In the final chapter of the movie Attenborough turns from the bleak reality of the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity, and offers a lifeline of hope and positivity. We can, he tells us, reverse the damage we have caused, we can save our species and the wonders of the natural world, and it can be done with just a few conceptually simple actions.  It’s enough to enthuse even the most jaded and pessimistic of conservationists!  Attenborough has an amazing ability to awaken our love of the natural world and now he shows us our future is in our hands. It’s time to act.  But we must start now and it must be a united effort.

You don’t have to be a scuba diver to be impressed with the eloquence of David Attenborough’s words, or his powerful yet simple message. We are self-confessed Attenborough super fans, but I don’t think anyone could contest that this is a stunning 1 hour and 20 minutes of hard hitting brilliance. The film closes with the comment, “Who else needs to see it?” The answer is all of us.  We highly recommend this documentary to everyone. Put simply if you watch no other documentary this year, watch this one.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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