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Marine Life & Conservation

Giant Manta listed as Endangered

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The conservation status of the giant (or oceanic) manta ray (Mobula birostris) has been uplisted today to Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. An endangered listing is reserved for species with grave conservation concerns. Today’s announcement serves to confirm what we have long suspected – this gentle marine giant is finding it hard to cope with intensifying anthropogenic pressures around the globe. The giant manta ray now joins over 16,000 endangered species to be assessed with this serious threat level. At this stage, 30% of sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction.

The announcement marks the end of a devastating two decades for this species. Targeted for their gill plates – which they use to filter feed on small zooplankton from the water column – the unrelenting and increasing demand for their body parts has fueled both existing and emerging target fisheries. The relatively new Asian-based trade seems to be impacting the giant manta more than other species of manta ray, with the unsustainable harvesting decimating their populations across the globe.

Giant mantas in a marketplace in Indonesia; Photo by Dr. Andrea Marshall

Dr. Andrea Marshall, co-founder of the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), who lead-authored this newest assessment for the IUCN, has been involved in their assessments since 2003. “The giant manta ray is a classic example of a species that is quickly succumbing to human-induced pressures. When we first assessed manta rays in 2003 there simply was not enough information on the species to determine their conservation status and they were listed as ‘Data Deficient’, but on each of the subsequent assessments, their conservation status increased steadily from Near-Threatened, to Vulnerable and now to Endangered. Their current status is a direct result of unsustainable pressure from fishing, which now threatens to destabilize their populations across the globe.”

To curb the burgeoning trade in their body parts to Asia and to encourage more comprehensive conservation strategies for their populations around the world, the giant manta ray was listed on two of the most important global conservation treaties, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in 2011 and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2013.

Sadly, their numbers have continued to decline. “Manta rays simply cannot withstand such pressures on their populations,” Dr. Marshall explains. “They have an extremely conservative reproductive strategy. They reach sexual maturity relatively late in life, they give birth to a single offspring every few years in the wild, they do not look after or defend their young and the offspring themselves are vulnerable when they are small and may not survive. In other words, as a species, they simply cannot reproduce fast enough to build back their numbers once they are depleted.”

This iconic species is not only extremely important from an ecological perspective, giant mantas also provide vast economic benefits to tourism industries around the world. “Interactions with manta rays are highly sought after by dive and snorkel tourists globally and contribute millions of dollars to tourism economies each year, particularly in developing nations. At this pivotal time, recognizing their economic value may help to encourage the protection of this enigmatic and now endangered species” explained Dr. Stephanie Venables, a Senior Scientist and manta ray expert at MMF.

The giant manta ray was only formally described (the process of gathering enough scientific evidence to provide a taxonomic description of a newly discovered species) by Dr. Marshall and colleagues in 2009. At the time it was one of the largest species to be described in our oceans and the announcement was met with excitement around the globe. The discovery was covered by the BBC that year in the first-ever documentary on manta rays.

“It is such an honor to have been able to study and describe this species. The realization that the giant manta ray is now in danger of extinction is a hard pill to swallow”, Dr. Marshall admits. “We are still busy learning about this extraordinary creature and we have only scratched the surface. There is so much more we need to understand, but at this stage, we have put that all aside in favor of protecting the last remaining populations of giant mantas across the globe.”

For more information on the work of the Marine Megafauna Foundation visit their website by clicking here.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

Marine Life & Conservation

Meet Parpal Dumplin – Norfolk’s very own purple sea sponge named by local child

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Ten years ago, in 2011, a new sponge species was identified in the North Norfolk chalk beds by Seasearch volunteer divers. In January 2021, the Marine Conservation Society’s Agents of Change project invited children in the Norfolk area to name the purple sponge.

Following lockdown, the judges thought that this would be an ideal time for school children to bond, while using their creativity – with no constraints. From home schooling children to entire classes, the panel of expert judges received a fantastic response with suggestions including Norfolk Purplish Plum and Purple Stone Sticker. All entries were carefully considered by a panel of experts, looking at the creativity, suitability and usability of each name.

It was unanimously agreed that the sponge should be named Parpal Dumplin. The winning name was suggested by nine-year-old Sylvie from Langham Village School, “because the sponge is purple and it looks like a dumpling”. The panel particularly liked that the spelling gives the sponge a strong connection to Norfolk.

The panel of experts deciding on the name included: Catherine Leigh, Education Adviser at Norfolk Coast Partnership, Annabel Hill, Senior Education Officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Jenny Lumb, Teacher at The Coastal Federation, Nick Acheson, President at Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists Society and Claire Goodwin, Research Scientist at Huntsman Marine Science Centre and internationally renowned sponge specialist. At the meeting, the panel was supported by Seasearch East Coordinator, Dawn Watson, who recognised this sponge as special over a decade ago.

Claire Goodwin, internationally renowned sponge specialist, says: “Dawn and Rob invited me to join a Seasearch survey of the east coast, including the Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds. Dawn introduced me to a purple sponge she had noticed on the chalk reefs. We took samples, and believe it to be a species new to science, in a sub-genus of sponges known as Hymedesmia (Stylopus).”

We need to look at specimens deposited in museums to understand how many different Hymedesmia (Stylopus) species exist in the UK and how they differ from this new species. The Agents of Change naming project has given the sponge a common name that we can use until it has a scientific one.  I loved seeing all the creative suggestions.

Sponges help to keep seawater clean by filter feeding, consuming tiny particles of food that float by. There are over 11,000 different species globally and our purple one is ‘encrusting’, meaning it adopts the shape of whatever it covers. It lives in Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds Marine Conservation Zone, a precious area of local seabed that needs to be taken care of.

Jenny Lumb, Teacher at The Coastal Federation, said: “Naming the purple sponge has been a fun way for children to find out about the fascinating life hidden beneath the waves. It’s amazing to be given the chance to name a species that scientists and divers will use for years to come! The children are so fortunate to have the MCZ on their doorstep. They had a great time on the beach discovering some of the life there, collecting litter and finding out about this special coastal area. I am sure the children will continue to enjoy and care for the coastal environment into the future.”

Catherine Leigh, Education Adviser from the Norfolk Coast Partnership said: “It was a pleasure to help decide on the sponge’s name from so many fantastic suggestions submitted and I hope it will inspire people to find out more about all the incredible inhabitants of this Marine Conservation Zone on our Norfolk coastline.”

Hilary Cox, Agents of Change Norfolk Coordinator, said: “Parpal Dumplin is a great choice by the decision panel of specialists:  a local Norfolk name for this newly found species in North Norfolk’s Marine Conservation Zone.”

Annabel Hill, Senior Education and Engagement Officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust said: “Wonderful to be involved in the process of naming a new species of sponge, found in Norfolk from a range of fantastic creative names suggested by local school children”.

You can find out more about the purple sponge, and the search for its name, by watching this animation: The seabed is a fun place to be! http://youtu.be/A_LUb8OSfn0

For more information on the work of the Marine Conservation Society visit their website by clicking here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Save the Sharks, Save the Planet (Watch Video)

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In 2020 Oyster Diving helped to train Toby Monteiro-Hourigan to become one of the youngest (12 years old) Master Scuba Divers ever. You can read his story here.

Toby has just completed this amazing ‘David Attenborough’ project video for his school on shark conservation. Please watch and share as it really is an eye opener in why we need to protect these incredible creatures.

Thanks to Toby and www.oysterdiving.com for letting us share this video.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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