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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Is the Dive industry doing enough to tackle plastic pollution?

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Plastic pollution has finally hit the news and whilst the task ahead is still huge, there are signs that the tide is changing for plastic polluting our seas and oceans. In the UK, there has been a “Blue Planet Effect” where one extremely popular TV series has had a profound influence on the way people think about the plastic they use. On top of this with Sky TV running a campaign on their sporting channels and the mainstream TV and paper news outlets finally bringing the problem into our sitting rooms, the public and politicians are taking note and starting to act.

What is the problem?

Well – all the plastic that has ever been made still exists. It might break down into smaller and smaller pieces, but it never goes away. Here are some more sobering facts:

  • Over 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean every year.
  • The UN estimates that there are 51 trillion microplastic particles in the ocean – 500 times more than the number of stars in the galaxy. Plastic debris outweighs plankton by a ratio of 36 to 1. Oceans are predicted to contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
  • More than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tonnes afloat at sea. In July 2017, a plastic waste patch bigger than Mexico was discovered floating in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Plastic products leach toxins that are now found in most people. Exposure to these toxins is linked to infertility, cancers and many other health problems.
  • In 2016, 6,000 Great British Beach Clean volunteers picked up 268,384 individual pieces of plastic from 364 British beaches over just one weekend.

Wild animals get entangled in plastic, eat it or mistake it for food and feed it to their young. Over 260 species have been reported to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, resulting in impaired movement and feeding, reduced reproductive output and death. Plastic is ingested by 31 species of marine mammal and more than 100 species of sea birds.

So what are divers doing to help?

Lots – but there is so much more to do! Of course, divers are usually passionate about the oceans and marine life, so can be the best advocates for promoting the idea of giving up single-use plastic.

Our very own Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown helped to set up a campaign called SeaStraw that is helping bars and restaurants give up single-use plastic and they are having great success in Manchester where they live. Businesses can download and sign their pledge from the website, putting themselves on the Ocean Heroes Map, by clicking here.

We recently ran a story about a liveaboard fleet that has given up plastic straws and aims to be single-use plastic free by 2019. You can read about that here: www.scubaverse.com/liveaboard-fleet-makes-plastic-pledge

Lots of dive centers, resorts and liveaboards we have recently dived with are giving away re-usable water bottles, rather than single-use plastic cups.

Many dive centres organise beach clean-ups to remove plastic pollution from the shoreline and even underwater.

Charities such as Project Aware and the Marine Conservation Society collect both rubbish and vital data about plastic pollution in our oceans.

But there is more that can be done, and it will take divers to speak up, celebrating the good as well as calling out bad practices to help us stamp out plastic pollution in our oceans. For example, email your favourite dive manufacturer and ask them to use less plastic in their product packaging. Refuse single-use plastics like straws and cups from the bars and restaurants you frequent on diving trips and in every day life. Don’t take part in balloon releases. Every little thing you do will help.

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We want to know what you have encountered on your dive trips around the world. What great initiatives have you seen? Please give a shout out to the dive establishments that are doing their bit and give them the recognition they deserve. If you run a dive centre and are doing your bit – let us know.

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 Blogs

Book Review: Plankton

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Plankton: A Worldwide Guide by Tom Jackson and Jennifer Parker

This is a book that jumps off the shelf at you. The striking front cover demands that you pick it up and delve further, even if you may not have known you wanted to learn more about the most diminutive life in our ocean, plankton!

Small it might be. Much of the imagery in the book has been taken under huge magnification. Revealing stunning beauty and diversity in each scoop of “soup”. There is lots to learn. Initial chapters include interesting facts about the different vertical zones they inhabit, from sunlight to midnight (the darkest and deepest areas). I loved finding out more about the stunning show that divers oft encounter on night dives – bioluminescence.

The black water images are wonderful. So this is a book you can have as a coffee table book to dip in and our of. But, these tiny organisms are also vital to our very survival and that of all the marine life we love. They provide half the oxygen produced on our planet. They are also responsible for regulating the planets climate. And for a shark lover like me – they are food for charismatic sharks and rays like the Basking Shark and Manta Ray, along with a huge number of other species. This book contains great insight into their biology, life cycles, migration, and how the changes in currents and sea temperatures affects them.

This is a book that is both beautiful and packed with information about possibly the most important group of organisms on our planet. Anyone interested in the ocean should have it one their shelves.

What the publisher says:

Plankton are the unsung heroes of planet Earth. Passive drifters through the world’s seas, oceans, and freshwater environments, most are invisible or very small, but some are longer than a whale. They are the global ocean’s foundation food, supporting almost all oceanic life, and they are also vitally important for land-based plants, animals, and other organisms. Plankton provides an incomparable look at these remarkable creatures, opening a window on the elegance and grace of microscopic marine life.

This engaging book reveals the amazing diversity of plankton, how they belong to a wide range of living groups, and how their ecology, lifestyles, and adaptations have evolved to suit an enormous range of conditions. It looks at plankton life cycles, the different ways plankton feed and grow, and the vast range of strategies they use for reproduction. It tracks where, how, and why plankton drift through the water; shares perspectives on migrations and population explosions or “blooms” and why they happen; and discusses the life-sustaining role of plankton in numerous intertwined food webs throughout the world.

Beautifully illustrated, Plankton sheds critical light on how global warming, pollution, diminishing resources, and overexploitation will adversely impact planktonic life, and how these effects will reverberate to every corner of our planet.

About the Authors:

Tom Jackson is a science writer whose many popular books include Strange Animals and Genetics in MinutesJennifer Parker is a zoology and conservation writer and the author of several books. Andrew Hirst is a leading expert on plankton whose research has taken him around the world, from the Antarctic to Greenland and the Great Barrier Reef.

Book Details

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Hardcover

Price: £25

ISBN: 9780691255996

Published: 9th April, 2024

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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Creature Feature: Butterfly Rays

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In this series, the Shark Trust will be sharing amazing facts about different species of sharks and what you can do to help protect them.

As we’re currently in butterfly season, this month we decided to concentrate on the Butterfly Rays!

Within the family Gymnuridae, there are two genera and 12 species of Butterfly Ray. These species are morphologically different to lots of other rays because of the width of the disc and pectoral fins – in contrast to many other species of Butterfly Ray, their bodies are much wider than they are long, especially considering their very short tail. This gives them the appearance of gliding or flying across the sand.

Gymnura altavela – Spiny Butterfly Ray

Gymnura australis – Australian Butterfly Ray

Gymnura crebripunctata – Longsnout Butterfly Ray

Gymnura japonica – Japanese Butterfly Ray

Gymnura lessae – Lessa’s Butterfly Ray

Gymnura marmorata – California Butterfly Ray

Gymnura micrura – Smooth Butterfly Ray

Gymnura natalensis – Backwater Butterfly Ray

Gymnura peocilura – Longtail Butterfly Ray

Gymnura sereti – Seret’s Butterfly Ray

Gymnura tentaculata – Tentacled Butterfly Ray

Gymnura zonura – Zonetail Butterfly Ray

Spiny Butterfly Ray, Gymnura altavela. Playa La Granadella, Spain, Mediterranean Sea.

Today we’re taking a look at Gymnura altavela, the Spiny Butterfly Ray. Like all Butterfly Rays, the Spiny Butterfly Ray is a demersal species, meaning it spends the majority of its time on the bottom of the seabed. Butterfly Rays are known for their burying behaviour in the sand, a technique they use to camouflage themselves when they are resting during the day. This protects them from predators, in some areas larger sharks. It also aids them in their ambush hunting technique – by hiding themselves under the sand they are able to easily snatch up their dinner – usually crustaceans, molluscs or other small fish – as they swim by unawares. This behaviour can leave tell-tale butterfly-ray shaped imprints in the bottom of the seabed.

Spiny Butterfly Rays can grow up to 260 cm (disc width (wingspan)), although average is around 200 cm. They give birth to live young, and each litter consists of 1-8 pups. This species has also been found to aggregate, likely for mating. One study found that aggregations of primarily females in the coastal regions off Gran Canaria may correlate with the shifting water temperature.

It is estimated that the species has undergone a population reduction of 50-79% over the last 33 years. This is primarily due to fishing pressure – the Spiny Butterfly Ray is targeted and bycaught in both industrial and artisanal fisheries types using a variety of gear types. The species is now Critically Endangered in the Mediterranean and Southwest Atlantic.

Scientific Name: Gymnura altavela

Family: Gymnuridae

Maximum Size: 260 cm (disc width)

Diet: crabs, shrimps, various invertebrates, fishes, small crustaceans, and molluscs.

Distribution: throughout the Atlantic and Mediterranean and Black Seas.

Habitat: muddy and sandy substrates down to 150m.

Conservation status: Critically Endangered in the Mediterranean and Europe, Endangered Globally.

For more great shark information and conservation visit the Shark Trust Website


Banner Image: ©Tomas Willems. Main image: ©Andy Murch

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