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Marine Life & Conservation

Citizen Science with Marine Megafauna Foundation

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Citizen Science

The Marine Megafauna Foundation Ray of Hope Expedition 2015 included a marine biologist (USA), a geneticist (Japan, living and working in the US), a biologist from the Maldives (a Scot by birth), a scuba instructor from the Maldives (a Kiwi), a Penn biology major (from Mexico), a videographer (South Africa), and those of us, scuba divers and/or photographers, who care deeply about our watery world, both Canadian and US. Our mission was to photograph animals (Whale Sharks and Manta Rays) for Identification, upload to Whaleshark.org and MantaMatcher.org, and to take genetic samples from the Manta Rays of the Yucatan. We were not entirely successful with the Mantas…the elusive creatures… well, they eluded us! We did manage to get 7 or so, but we fell far short of the desired 30 samples.

Whale Sharks, on the other hand, were in abundance. The Yucatan is one of the world’s largest aggregations of whale sharks, if not the largest. We headed out in the mornings for a 90 minute boat ride to the shark area, typically just before sunrise, and seeing the dawn out on the calm Caribbean Sea was a serenely beautiful experience. Once out to the shark area (wherever the whale sharks are gathering and feeding that particular day) it became disheartening to see all the tourist boats. There must have been 50 boats on some days.

Citizen Science

I took this photo of the vertical, pregnant whale shark and our Kiwi!

Please do not get me wrong. We are trying to conserve and preserve these animals by showing how valuable they are to tourism, and valuable they certainly are. Tourists are out in droves to see and to swim with them. 40 or 50 boats at a time can seem pretty excessive, though. The first day we hung out on the edges, swimming with the sharks who were on the periphery of the tourists. We were on a scientific vessel and had a permit to be in the water with them for study. The first day was very shark rich, and I was able to get several ID shots, as did other members of the group. The best day was ahead, however.

Citizen Science

A lot of boats in there!

On the third day of the expedition we headed out looking for mantas, and skipped the whale sharks until around noon. By that time, the boats were gone. We had 30 or so whale sharks to ourselves, and one other boat. It had to have been one of the best animal encounters I have ever had. Without the hoard of boats, one could be patient, waiting for feeding whale sharks to swim by. We didn’t have to chase them, or even swim that hard to stay up with them (they may look as though they are moving slow, but they are really going much faster than you think) because they were lazily filtering the surface of the water, knowing they were pretty much alone and in no hurry. With several boats, it gets confusing, and the sharks often have to change course to avoid snorkelers, but on this day, they were content and feeding happily on tuna spawn. Every time we got out of the water we had to brush off tuna eggs from our wetsuits and hair.

Citizen Science

Passing the boat

I have not been happy with the whale shot photographs I have taken over the years. On this glorious day, alone with whale sharks, I took the best photographs I have ever taken of these spotted, gentle giants. Just incredible!

My dream has always been to watch a whale shark vertically feeding in the water, and to capture photos of it.  My dream came true with a huge, pregnant Whale Shark who had to be 40 feet long. She was immense, and it was amazing to watch her, vertical and still, while she filtered tuna spawn. Ah, she was such a beauty! And lucky for me, Dr Andrea Marshall (the Director of Marine Megafauna Foundation and Ray of Hope) was in the water and captured an incredible, once in a lifetime photo of me with the whale shark. Yes, I will be framing it! I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to have a photo of this quality! Thank you, Andrea!

Citizen Science

Andrea’s photo of me with a whale shark

I took several ID photos and uploaded them to www.whaleshark.org. It was exciting to receive a few matches, telling me that I had photographed a shark who had been photographed several times over the past 5 years. It’s also exciting NOT to receive matches, meaning I uploaded photos of sharks who were new to the system. I am thrilled to be able to assist conservation science by being a Citizen Scientist.

Citizen Science

Whale Shark ID shot: these spot patterns are unique to each individual.

“In today’s world, it’s clear that our natural environment cannot be preserved and protected by the few people officially designated with this task. It will take all of us, in all parts of the world. We all need to find ways to help in this monumental task.

Citizen Science offers each of us a path to find special ways in which we can each help protect our part of the world. It’s an elegant, efficient, and engaging solution to the huge environmental problems we face in the 21st century.” www.citizenscientists.com

I cannot begin to express the wonder and the thrill of being near to these ocean pelagics. It is truly awe-inspiring… and I am so grateful I can help in their conservation. Check out http://www.citizenscientists.com/ and check out how many ways there are to help!

For more from Tam, visit www.travelswithtam.com.

Tam Warner Minton is an avid scuba diver, amateur underwater photographer, and adventurer. She encourages "citizen science" diving, whether volunteering with a group or by one's self. For Tam, the unexpected is usually the norm!

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Marine Life & Conservation

Video Series: The CCMI Reef Lectures – Part 4 (Watch Video)

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Introduced by Jeff Goodman

Never before since human beings have had major influence over our earths climate and environments, have we come to so close to the brink of global disaster for our seas and marine life. We need to act now if we are not going to crash headlong into irreversible scenarios.

A good start to this is understanding how the marine environment works and what it means to our own continued survival. We can only do this by listening and talking to those with the experience and knowledge to guide us in the right direction.

CCMI (Central Caribbean Marine Institute) are hosting an annual Reef Lecture series that is open to the general public and Scubaverse will be sharing those lectures over the coming months.


Part 4: Stop Whining! Life as an Ocean Ambassador; Ellen Cuylaerts

Ellen Cuylaerts shares her insights on how to act, practice what you preach and use your voice to contribute to constructive change. Ellen is a wildlife and underwater photographer and chooses to take images of subjects that are hard to encounter like harp seal pups, polar bears, orcas, beluga whales and sharks, to name a few. By telling the stories about their environment and the challenges they face, she raises awareness about the effect of climate change on arctic species, the cruel act of shark finning and keeping marine mammals in captivity.

During this seminar, Ellen will take you on a virtual trip and show you the stories behind the shots: how to get there, how to prepare, how to create the most chances to come home with a shot, and how to never give up!

Ellen Cuylaerts is an ocean advocate, underwater & wildlife photographer, explorer, and public speaker.


For more information about the CCMI click here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Fit filters in washing machines and slow the tide of ocean plastic

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The Marine Conservation Society’s Stop Ocean Threads campaign, which is calling for all new washing machines to be fitted with microfibre filters, by law, by 2024, aims to stop plastic pollution at source by filtering microscopic plastics from washing machine waste water.

To date the charity’s petition has been signed by over 12,000 people. The petition calls on government to introduce legislation which requires all new washing machines to be fitted with microfibre filters by law. Now, the charity is taking direct action and encouraging supporters to tweet washing machine manufacturers, putting pressure on them to fit filters on all new washing machines and slow the tide of microfibres entering the ocean.

Research conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Marine Conservation Society revealed that most (81%) adults surveyed supported legislative change and a quarter (26%) of those said that they would be willing to pay an additional £50 or more for a washing machine fitted with a microfibre filter. Not only is there is clear public support for legislation to Stop Ocean Threads, but consumers are willing to pay extra for their washing machines to have ocean-friendly credentials.

It’s increasingly important to put this issue top of the agenda for washing machine manufacturers who can take action now helping to address the microplastic issue, rather than waiting for legislation to be put in place.

Dr Laura Foster, Marine Conservation Society’s Head of Clean Seas says: “Our research has found that the public is largely supportive of our call for legislation, and consumers are willing to pay a little more to reduce the flow of microplastics into the ocean.

“It’s fantastic to see the support our petition has received so far, but now we need the public to show their support and join our action to engage with manufacturers directly. If we can show manufacturers that the public wants these filters fitted as soon as possible, we hope to speed up the legislative process and get filters fitted in the near future.”

Members of the public are encouraged by the Marine Conservation Society to go direct to washing machine manufacturers, and get involved in the charity’s tweet action.

“Hey @Miele_GB @BekoUK @Hoover_UK @BoschUK @SamsungUK @WhirlpoolCorp  We want washing machine manufacturers to commit to fitting microfibre filters before 2024. Will you do this and help us #StopOceanThreads? Please retweet and share far and wide”

To sign the charity’s Stop Ocean Threads petition, visit the Marine Conservation Society’s website. Find out more on how to get involved in the direct action here.

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Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village is a Bedouin-owned resort with stunning views and a lovely private beach. It is ideal for divers as everything is onsite including the resort's jetty, dive centre and house reef. The warm hospitality makes for a diving holiday like no other. There is an excellent seafood restaurent and beach bar onsite, and with the enormous diversity of the Sharm El Sheikh dive sites and the surrounding areas of the South Sinai, there really is something for every level of diver to enjoy.

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