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Marine Life & Conservation

Where are all the big fish?

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I recently came back from my latest filming trip to the island of Lombok in Indonesia. I’m working on a short film / documentary that should be finished, for the filming phase, by August of this year and as such I’ve had to return seasonally to a small village that plays host to one of the most barbaric of fish markets within the whole of Indonesia.

Tanjung Luar (highlighted in a previous journal entry, which you can read here) is a haunting place to be if you have a) a deep affinity with the enigmatic species of our Oceans such as sharks, manta rays and dolphins, and b) a weak disposition. And so I went armed with a stiff upper lip prepared for the worst. I was over prepared.

Zipping through the incredible and deserted country road that crisscross South East Lombok and with the haunting sounds of the early morning calls to prayer emanating from the numerous mosques in this predominantly Muslim Island, I tackled the one hour commute between Kuta Beach and Tanjung Luar. Being awake as night turns to day, witnessing the fight between the tones of Orange of an emerging sun and the cobalt of a receding night is in many ways intoxicating irrespective of the location. The early morning songbirds, the brisk air, the clarity of Mt. Rinjani, the highest peak on the island that is omnipresent from all vantage points.

Arriving at the Fish Market I was welcomed, at even 1Km distance, with the all too familiar stench of fish. Discarded corpses which had failed to attract a buyer from the previous day are simply trodden underfoot and baked each day under the intense Indonesian sun. I always wondered how many inches of fish I was walking on when strolling through the market. Who could ever fathom that one out?

Traditionally I would go to what I call the ‘Hen House’, the region of the market where all the women would gather and haggle over the sardines and Tuna that had been landed that night. This corner of the market is always good for a giggle as banter with the ladies was a given. Whether it was to marvel at the size of my western snout, which would incidentally put a Black Rhino to shame, or simply to extend a hand and utter the only English word they know, “Money”. A smile and pleading ignorance would be enough to leave them chuckling at the ‘Bule Gila’ (crazy tourist) in their midst.

And there were none. No larger animals. Normally by 7am the shark fishing boats would be disgorging their fare. Sharks and Mantas mainly but seeing as Manta’s had in February of 2014 received Indonesia-wide protection I was hoping I wouldn’t have to witness another death of such magnificence on the cold slabs of the butchers shed in this daunting place. On that day and for the remaining six days of my trip I didn’t see any big sharks. No Tigers, Great Hammerheads or Bull Sharks. A few Wobbegongs, dogfish and one Blacktip. I almost made it to the end of the trip without being too disheartened.

The last day kinda broke this run. Six Giant Manta Rays and two Thresher Sharks. With fishermen getting $200 for (all) the Mantas and $20(!) for the Thresher Shark it is the source of the biggest question I ask myself to which I have yet to find the answer to. Both of these species are supposed to be protected throughout Indonesia. It’s obvious that the fishermen don’t know or, and is more likely, they simply don’t care. There is no suggestion of a fisheries management plan in a land where most people survive on literally a few dollars a month. It could never be controlled and would almost certainly be exploited once a protected species showed any signs of population recovery.

I guess the starker warning of this lesson is simply why are there no sharks being landed, given the wide array of fishing practices in the region, some of them illegal. Why are no sharks being landed? Whilst it’s a good thing on one hand to think the sharks are getting wise to the fishermen, it’s also daunting to think that this could be a very real indicator of dwindling resources and local shark population collapse. The fishermen now seem to have to travel further and further afield, so much so that it’s becoming increasingly common to talk with fishermen in the village who have served time in Australian prisons for illegal fishing forays into foreign waters. But that, as they say, is another story.

Documenting this kind of activity certainly has a drain on the moral. As much as I am passionate about the conservation of the Oceans and the species I find so dear I’ve decided that this will be my last documentary of this nature for the foreseeable future. I will be looking to continue in imagining but more for positive and marketing / promotional goals in the future. If this is something that sounds intriguing to any operators out there my full offering is outlined here.

Mark Thorpe is a renowned Underwater Cameraman, Photographer and Ocean Conservationist. He has won the Prix du Public at the Antibes World Festival of Underwater Film and Images, and most notably he received an EMMY in 2011 for cinematographic contributions to the National Geographic series ‘Great Migrations’. His most recent project, “The Sharks of the Forgotten Islands”, is a documentary centered around the inhabitants of the small, outer-rim islands of Yap in the Pacific and their unique relationship with the ocean, its top predator, and the very real danger the islands are facing due to rising sea levels.

Marine Life & Conservation

Join us in supporting Dive Project Cornwall Crowdfunder Project

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Do you have a moment to help protect our oceans?

We’re on a mission and have partnered with DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL to help protect our oceans for future generations to cherish and enjoy.

DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL is a unique EDUCATION and EXPERIENCE initiative, reaching over 3,000 schools with their Ocean Education Programme, inspiring the next generation to protect our oceans for everyone to cherish and enjoy.

At the heart of the project is a competition for 400 lucky teenagers to win the EXPERIENCE of a lifetime. They will take the learning from the classroom straight to the shores of Porthkerris on a 6-day, life changing trip where they will learn to scuba dive and be taught the importance of marine conservation. They will become ‘Ocean Influencers’ for the future.

DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL needs our help.

Can you join us with a gift to DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL?

Whether it’s £5 or £50, a gift from you to the DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL Crowdfunder Project will help their vision of protecting our oceans through the innovative experience designed for school children.

Will you join us and pledge to support 400 lucky teenagers learn from and EXPERIENCE the ocean like never before and give them an EDUCATION they can use to inspire others, not forgetting the memories that will last a lifetime?

For more information, you can read the DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL story HERE.

Help us create the next generation of Ocean Influencers with a donation to DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL and ensure our oceans (and planet) are protected for the future.

WWW.CROWDFUNDER.CO.UK/P/DIVE-PROJECT-CORNWALL

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Marine Life & Conservation

Spring jellyfish blooms bring turtles to UK shores

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Marine Conservation Society’s wildlife sightings project asks beachgoers to share their discoveries and contribute to research

The Marine Conservation Society’s long-running wildlife sightings project focuses on two key species which arrive on UK shores: jellyfish and, as a result, turtles. Both species are vital in supporting ocean biodiversity and are indicators of climate change while being at risk from its impacts.

The charity is asking beach and seagoers to share when they spot either of these marine animals to support ongoing research.

During spring and summer, jellyfish arrive in the UK’s warming waters to feed on plankton blooms or, in fact, anything small enough to get caught. To that extent, jellyfish feed not only on plankton, but also the array of eggs and larvae of fish, crustaceans, starfish and molluscs which rely on plankton as a stage of reproduction.

With healthy fish stocks and rich biodiversity, jellyfish quickly become part of an effective food chain. Everything from tuna to turtles will feed on jellyfish of various sizes, so the population is well controlled. Supported by a rich and diverse ocean ecosystem, jellyfish link the microscopic world of plankton to larger marine animals and the ocean around them.

Jellyfish are especially appealing for marine turtles. Six of the world’s seven marine turtle species have been spotted in UK seas as a result of jellyfish blooms in spring and summer.

The largest sea turtle, and the most common in UK seas, is the leatherback which has a ‘vulnerable’ conservation status. Reporting sightings of these incredible creatures will support the Marine Conservation Society and others in understanding their movements, potential threats and how to better protect them.

Amy Pilsbury, Citizen Science Project Lead at the Marine Conservation Society, said:“For more than 17 years, beachgoers across the UK have been contributing to scientific research by sharing their wildlife sightings with us. It’s a key part of our work and plays a vital role in better understanding and protecting our ocean.”

In 2014, with partners from the University of Exeter, the Marine Conservation Society published the first paper from the survey data, confirming key information about UK jellyfish and including the first distribution maps of the surveyed species.

Since the 2014 paper, the wildlife sightings project has recorded notable events such as massive and extensive annual blooms of barrel jellyfish and several summers of Portuguese Man o’ War mass strandings.

The charity continues to run its wildlife sightings project to see what happens to the distribution and frequency of mass jellyfish blooms over time. The data will help to explore any links jellyfish blooms have with big-picture factors such as climate change.

Jellyfish can be spotted year-round in UK seas, but larger blooms are more likely to appear in spring, lasting through until autumn. Jellyfish sighting records from 2021 suggest that compass jellyfish are the most common around UK shores, making up 36% of reported sightings.

Jellyfish species Percentage of sightings reported
Compass jellyfish 36%
Moon jellyfish 17%
Lion’s mane jellyfish 15%
Barrel jellyfish 14%
Blue jellyfish 9%
Portuguese Man o’ War 6%
Mauve stinger 2%
By the wind sailor 1%

For more information on how to identify jellyfish and turtles, and to report a sighting, please visit the Marine Conservation Society’s website.

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