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Marine Life & Conservation

Chris Packham, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and Amanda Holden Join Campaign to Stop Satellite-Assisted Slaughter in the Oceans

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Environmentalists and broadcasters Chris Packham, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and Amanda Holden today called on a UK satellite company to stop providing GPS data to fisheries that puts vulnerable ocean species at risk of extinction.

Seven senior lawmakers including Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb and Martyn Day MP have also signed a letter drawn up by more than 100 marine conservation groups, scientists, and global lawmakers calling on Iridium Satellite UK Ltd to stop profiting from the overfishing of tuna.

The letter points out that unsustainable industrial-scale tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean is being made possible by satellite companies that provide crucial GPS communications to European fishing companies.

Iridium Satellite UK Limited provides sales, marketing, and technical support to customers in regions surrounding the Indian Ocean where yellowfin tuna populations are crashing towards collapse.

It has supplied tens of thousands of GPS-tracked short-burst data devices that commercial fisheries use to monitor fish across vast swathes of ocean – allowing them to overfish juvenile yellowfish tuna and other threatened species.

The devices also cause widespread marine plastics litter and e-waste pollution when they break apart at sea and wash up on beaches and coral reefs or sink to the seabed.

The letter calls on Iridium to halt the provision of real-time tracking through its short-burst data services to the tuna fishing industry in the Indian Ocean.

Chris Packham, Wildlife TV Presenter, Conservationist and Campaigner, said: “There is something both sad and sinister about the invention and deployment of these dystopian devices. Sad because they seriously exacerbate the rate of decline of increasingly rare fish populations, and sinister because they drift unseen in distant seas on the pretext of offering shelter and respite to marine life. In fact, they are insidious traps set by a greedy unsustainable industry hell bent on maximising profits over any protection of these ecosystems. Bobbing out there, the quiet slop of waves on the buoy, adrift in a vast blue ocean but connected by a clever but dangerous burst of technology which sets in place a slaughter. It’s all very Skynet, in both the Sci-Fi and real sense. And ironic that it’s facilitated by a company that prides itself on saving and protecting lives. Iridium doesn’t need this, the oceans don’t need this, and tuna, sharks, dolphins and turtles don’t need it either.”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Broadcaster and Campaigner, said: “I was shocked to learn that Iridium, via its ‘low-earth-orbit’ satellite network, is supporting unsustainable commercial fishing activities in the Indian Ocean by providing GPS communications to industrial fishing 2 boats engaged in massive overfishing of tuna stocks. This, I’m told, is leading to the decimation of endangered shark, turtle, whale, and dolphin populations.

“Iridium’s electronic devices should not be in the ocean in the first place as they are contributing to toxic electronic waste and plastics pollution which devastates thousands of miles of coral reefs, seagrass meadows and beaches along the Indian Ocean coastline. Furthermore, these industrial fishing operations are stealing fish from impoverished African communities, so Iridium is complicit in that too. Please, Iridium, just abide by your own commendable environmental commitments as posted on your website, rather than making a completely hypocritical mockery of your professed concern for the future of our oceans.”

Martyn Day, Scottish National Party MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, said: “Iridium has been found to be acting irresponsibly and of being an enabler of unsustainable overfishing and dirty plastics pollution in the Indian Ocean, despite the high-minded environmental claims on its website. What is also shockingly apparent is that low-orbit space is a lawless free-for-all zone where anything goes, and where satellite companies can shirk their corporate, environmental, and social responsibilities.

“The UK government should step in to regulate Iridium’s unsustainable actions which are causing endangered species like sharks, whales, and turtles to be wiped out on an unimaginable scale by greedy industrial fisheries that rely on Iridium’s GPS data. Industrial fisheries will stop at nothing to provide UK supermarkets with cheap tuna at rock bottom prices, but the real cost of cheap tuna is plastics pollution and the depletion of our ocean biodiversity. Iridium is complicit in that.”

U.K. House of Lords Peer, Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb said: “The more we abuse this planet and the less care we give it, then the less we get back in return.”

Spanish and French tuna fishing vessels have for years been plundering the Indian Ocean for cheap tuna, much of which ends up on supermarket shelves in the UK. Several endangered species are being pushed to the brink of extinction in the process, including sharks, whales, and turtles.

Alarm is also rising in the science community who say the satellite industry is complicit in the slaughter and that Iridium must take responsibility for its role.

Twelve prominent scientists, including fisheries conservation biologist Professor Callum Roberts of Exeter University, and the Maldives Space Research Organisation have also signed the letter.

Dr April Burt, Consulting Scientist at the Seychelles Islands Foundation, and an Environmental Researcher at the University of Oxford, said: “The implications of Iridium’s satellite devices reach far beyond the immediate wholesale destruction of a species and impact the livelihoods and welfare of millions of people in the Indian Ocean region who are dependent on small[1]scale fisheries.

“Then there are the ever-cascading effects of Iridium-enabled plastic satellite buoys that clog up turtle nesting beaches and break down into smaller and smaller particles that wreak havoc on marine ecosystems, fish biology and ultimately human health.”

Marine Conservation Professor Callum Roberts, of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation, said: “In only a few decades, the use of satellite tracked fish aggregating devices has massively accelerated the plunder of open ocean fish, inflicting immense collateral damage on wildlife and habitats. If comparable destructive exploitation was happening on land, in plain sight, there would be an immediate clamour for the practice to be banned.”

Dr Rashid Sumaila, Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries in Canada said: “Technology, satellite technology in particular, should be used to ensure that aquatic ecosystems and the life they sustain are conserved and sustainably managed for the benefits of all generations. Unfortunately, they are currently mostly used to delete fish populations while harming the ecosystem.”

Alex Hofford, a marine wildlife campaigner with UK charity Shark Guardian, said: “Iridium’s behaviour in the Indian Ocean is an affront to decency. They have turned a blind eye to unsustainable overfishing for too long, reaping vast profits as fragile ecosystems are destroyed and endangered shark, ray, turtle, and cetacean populations are decimated by European tuna boats that rely on their satellite data services for their plunder.”

The letter, sent on 26 January 2024, contrasts progressive environmental and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) statements on Iridium’s website with the reality of its partnership with harmful industrial fishing companies.

For the full text of the letter, please click here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Save the Manatee Club launches brand new webcams at Silver Springs State Park, Florida

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Save the Manatee® Club has launched a brand-new set of underwater and above-water webcams at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, FL. These new cameras add to our existing cameras at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, in Homosassa, Florida, which are viewed by millions of people worldwide. The cameras are a collaboration between Save the Manatee Club, Explore.org, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who made the new live streaming collaboration possible via support of their interpretative program.

The above-water camera is a stationary pan/tilt/zoom camera that will show manatees and other wildlife from above water, while the new underwater camera provides the viewer with a brand new, exciting 180-degree viewing experience. Viewers can move the cameras around, trying to spot various fish and manatees.

The Silver River, which originates at Silver Springs, provides important habitat for manatees and many other species of wildlife. Over recent years, more manatees have been seen utilizing the Silver and Ocklawaha rivers. “The webcams provide a wonderful entertainment and educational tool to the general public, but they also help us with the manatee research,” says Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. “We have learned so much through observing manatees on our existing webcams, and the new cameras at Silver Spring can add to the existing manatee photo-ID research conducted in this area, as well as highlighting Silver Springs and the Silver River as an important natural habitat for manatees.”

The webcams are streaming live during the daytime, with highlights playing at night, and can be viewed on Explore.org and on Save the Manatee Club’s website at ManaTV.org.

Save the Manatee Club, established in 1981 by the late renowned singer-songwriter, author, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, along with former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, is dedicated to safeguarding manatees and preserving their aquatic habitat. For more information about manatees and the Club’s efforts, visit savethemanatee.org or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

Photo: www.avalon.red

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Marine Life & Conservation

Stranded dolphin rescued from muddy inlet

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At around 11:40 on Friday 16 February, a lone common dolphin was reported to British Divers Marine Life Rescue circling in the shallows in an inlet at Place, near Portscatho, in Cornwall. A couple of volunteer Marine Mammal Medics were sent down initially to monitor the animal in hope it would be able to get away by itself, and further assess the situation.

After an hour and a half or so of observation, the risk of stranding increased significantly as the tide went out as the inlet is very shallow, muddy and almost completely dries out over low tide. Therefore, a larger response team was dispatched with more equipment in preparation for a stranding. Indeed, the animal did soon strand in the mud and fell onto its side, submerging the blowhole. Luckily the team were on hand to help get it upright again quickly, then bring it ashore for a health assessment and to begin providing first aid. No obvious injuries could be found and it measured 2.03m, later confirmed as female.

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The team were soon joined by two vets, who were able to confirm the animal to be in moderate nutritional condition and appeared otherwise okay following a more detailed health check, and so was suitable for the team to attempt to refloat. However, it was not possible to refloat it safely in the inlet due to the nature of the geography, substrate and tide there it seemed the most likely reason this dolphin had stranded was due to getting disoriented in this location, and would struggle to get out again. Luckily a local resident had his boat tender moored nearby and was happy to use it a transport craft to take the dolphin out to deeper water.

dolphin

With help, the boat was slid across the mud and launched near the mouth of the inlet. A surfboard was placed on one side with a soft mat on top for the dolphin to lie comfortably on during the journey. When ready, the dolphin was carried across in a tarpaulin, transferred to a mesh stretcher and loaded on board with a team of four Medics including a vet.

The boat then carefully made its way out to the mouth of the Percuil River, facing into Carrick Roads and close to open sea, which was the most ideal site for release where the chance of returning and re-dolphinstranding was lower. The dolphin was carefully hauled overboard in the stretcher and held alongside briefly, though as she started kicking strongly almost straight away it was hard to keep hold and so she was released quickly. The boat retreated and the team observed her circling in the middle of the channel until she was lost from sight. The team returned to the inlet before darkness fell.

dolphin

The area will be monitored over the weekend for re-sightings or re-strandings, but it is hoped that she will recover successfully and continue back out to sea. In the meantime BDMLR would like to thank the volunteer team, local residents and members of the public for all their efforts and support throughout this incident.

British Divers Marine Life Rescue is an international marine animal rescue organisation based in the UK and is a registered charity.  The aims of the organisation are to provide a rescue service for marine wildlife, to support existing rehabilitation centres and to develop new methods of rescue, treatment, transport and care.  Website www.bdmlr.org.uk.

Photos: Dan Jarvis

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