Shark and Ray conservation is high on the agenda of many scientists and is a subject written about by even more conservationists. I am getting quite a few shark conservation blogs coming through now as more people are driven to write and share their experiences and feelings. All I can say is keep them coming. It shows we care.
We are finally getting into an era where people who are not directly involved with environmental or biological sciences are getting more conscious about our planet’s endangered natural sources. However, the knowledge that actually manages to get to our societies is limited and seems to be very focused on a couple of global ‘fashion’ issues like climate change, saving the dolphins, or transgenic corn. Nothing against that, but there are so many scientific studies, so many other important topics, and so little that passes to our society that it almost seems like a waste. This narrowed-down flow of information also creates a phenomenon that is sort of known as ‘the science/society gap’ where much needed information gets lost. So now I’m writing about the science I’m involved with, not reinventing the wheel here, but instead aiming to ‘fill in some of the gap’ on the topics I love and study: marine conservation and sharks-&-rays .
Now, one of the biggest recent news for sharks & rays is the declaration of a shark sanctuary in Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia (http://blog.conservation.org/2013/02/raja-ampat-launches-indonesias-first-shark-sanctuary/). This is the first shark sanctuary in Indonesia and is a major achievement of the local Papuan communities, Indonesia’s government, and NGOs (Non-government organizations) working in this area. But to understand what the problem is with sharks & rays and why this sanctuary is such an achievement, I will start by explaining what the problem is.
Black tip sharks are now protected in the Shark Sanctuary.
Besides being amazing creatures, sharks & rays are predators and have a very important role in keeping a balanced and healthy marine ecosystem. On the other hand, their populations support intensive fisheries and, therefore, human livelihoods all over the world. Sharks & rays occur in every ocean and in every ocean they are fished: from Mexico to Chile, from Japan to Australia, from UK to Cairo, from India to South Africa; everywhere. Generally, the meat is locally consumed, but the biggest trade and threat is their fins and/or gills which get exported to China to be used in traditional medicine and in traditional soup. Problem is, these animals grow very slow, they take a long time to be mature enough to reproduce, they have low numbers of pups, and they reproduce nowhere near as often as other fish that support similar intensity of fishery like tuna; their life characteristics are more similar of that of a whale or an elephant than that of a tuna or a sardine. The consequence of this is that sharks & rays cannot keep up with the intensive fishing they are subject of, nor do they have much chance to recover after been overfished.
The brighter side is that the importance of sharks & rays has been recognized in science for a while now, and it’s finally getting recognized too by the general public and government policy as noted with the recent addition of some species of sharks to the CITES list. Many countries, particularly those we called ‘developed nations’, have invested efforts in managing and conserving their populations of sharks and rays. However, many other nations are big consumers of this resource and have much less capacity for management or alternative of food sources.
Indonesia is one of the nations with the highest diversity of marine life but, sadly, it also has the largest fishery of sharks & rays in the world.
In a remote corner of Eastern Indonesia, although in the centre of the Coral Triangle (http://worldwildlife.org/places/coral-triangle), the government of a beautiful archipelago called Raja Ampat has managed to declare their waters a sanctuary where no extraction of sharks & rays should happen from now on. The local communities do not depend on this resource but are rather interested in looking after what is traditionally considered their water territories. Foreign fisheries are responsible for the shark & ray fishing in this area and they do this illegally. Moreover, the diving and marine eco-tourism industry at Raja Ampat is growing, providing an opportunity for an ‘environmentally conscious’ tourism that can appreciate this magnificent creatures alive rather than dead. The potential for sharks & rays to provide better incomes and livelihoods through tourism in this area is huge. So, I honestly think this is a great achievement and I may even venture to say that Indonesia is now one of the leaders in sharks and rays conservation!
Manta rays are also protected in the Shark Sanctuary.
However, it’s quite not the end but rather the start of sharks & rays conservation in this area. It was a long way and significant hard work was invested by many people to get this sanctuary finally declared, but there is still more work to do to implement it and monitor its success. Education, implementation, and monitoring of sharks & rays populations should now be the next steps to make this spot a real sanctuary where these amazing animals don’t go extinct and yet aid in the economic sustainability of the local communities.
So now I wonder, who’d be next nation lining up for sharks & rays protection?
Jeff chats to… Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust about the Big Shark Pledge (Watch Video)
The Big Shark Pledge aims to build one of the biggest campaigning communities in the history of shark conservation. To put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard awesome sharks and rays.
Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.
Marine Conservation Society to take legal action over ocean sewage spills
The Marine Conservation Society is announcing joining as co-claimant in a legal case against the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to protect English seas from sewage dumping.
The legal case seeks to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan 2022, impose tighter deadlines on water companies and redevelop the Plan to effectively apply to coastal waters which are, currently, almost entirely excluded.
Sandy Luk, Marine Conservation Society CEO: “Untreated sewage is being pumped into our seas for hundreds of thousands of hours each year; putting people, planet and wildlife at risk.
We’ve tried tirelessly to influence the UK Government on what needs to be done, but their Plan to address this deluge of pollution entering our seas is still unacceptable. We owe it to our members, supporters and coastal communities to act, which is why we’ve joined as co-claimants on this case. We’re out of options. Our seas deserve better.”
Launched and funded by the Good Law Project, the Marine Conservation Society will stand as co-claimants on the case with Richard Haward’s Oysters, and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm.
Before reaching this point, the charity responded to a government consultation in March 2022 and met with DEFRA to express concern. In August 2022, the charity wrote an open letter to DEFRA outlining the ways in which the proposed Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan fails to protect the environment and public health from dumping raw sewage into the sea. However, the Plan hasn’t been amended and still fails to adequately address water companies’ excessive reliance on storm overflows and the harm their heavy use causes to our ocean.
The plan virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters) either directly or indirectly, with some types of Marine Protected Areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. 600 storm overflows are not covered at all by the Plan and will continue to – completely legally – be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and beaches. What’s more, the Plan lacks all urgency – with long-term targets set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent targets not to be met until 2035.
Meanwhile, Marine Conservation Society analysis finds that raw sewage is pouring into the ocean at an alarming rate. In total, there are at least 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England. These overflows spilt untreated sewage 41,068 times in 2021. Of these, almost half the overflows spilt more than 10 times in 2021, with an average of 48 spills for each of those overflows. Overall, in 2021, sewage poured into Marine Protected Areas for a total of 263,654 hours.
According to DEFRA’s own latest assessments, only 19% of estuaries and and 45% of coastal waters are at ‘good ecological status’, with none meeting ‘good chemical status’, and three quarters (75%) of shellfish waters failing to meet water quality standards.
Rachel Wyatt, Policy & Advocacy Manager for Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society: “Untreated sewage contains a cocktail of bacteria, viruses, harmful chemicals, and microplastics. It’s nearly impossible to remove microplastics and ‘forever chemicals’ once in the environment. Due to their persistence, with every discharge, these pollutants will continue to increase, meaning eventually they will pass – or may have already passed – a threshold of harm.”
In addition, it’s not just invisible toxins that are causing problems. In September this year at the charity’s annual Great British Beach Clean, sewage related pollution, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, were found on 73% of the beaches surveyed across England.
A new DEFRA report, Ocean Literacy in England and Wales, shows that 85% of people say marine protection is personally important to them. Yet this is being ignored.
Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director at the Good Law Project, said: “The Marine Conservation Society is at the forefront of tackling the ocean emergency and standing up for coastal communities impacted by climate change and pollution. We are delighted to have them on board as a co-claimant.
“Good Law Project will work closely with the claimants, including the Marine Conservation Society, to put forward the case for more ambitious and urgent measures to reduce sewage discharges by water companies. These sewage spills are threatening human health, biodiverse marine life and the fishing industry. We believe that taking legal action now is vital to help safeguard our coastal waters for generations to come”.
If the case is won, the Marine Conservation Society hopes to see the UK Government amend its Plan so that it meets the DEFRA Secretary of State’s legal obligations to protect the ocean and its inhabitants from raw sewage spills.
For more visit the Marine Conservation Society website.
Header image credit: Natasha Ewins
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