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Marine Life & Conservation

Laamu Atoll, Maldives named Hope Spot

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Marked by a continuous 130km reef, the Laamu Atoll is found in southern-central Maldives in the Indian Ocean. Laamu’s striking marine habitats have been a focal point for conservation and research within the atoll’s biologically unique and valuable seagrass meadows, isolated inner reef formations and mangroves since the opening Six Senses Laamu resort in 2011.

Laamu Atoll has been declared a Hope Spot by international marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue in recognition of Six Senses Laamu’s work in demonstrating sustainable ecotourism practices and creating the framework for scalable marine conservation methods to help shape a healthy future for generations to come in the Maldives.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, says: “To look back to 2011 when Six Senses began collecting information, to now as we’re celebrating the designation of the atoll as a Hope Spot – it’s truly a reason for hope. It’s so important that we protect the ecosystems there, especially the seagrass meadows that we now understand are so important to generating oxygen, capturing carbon and providing a home and security for so many creatures not only within the atoll but throughout the depths beyond. By promoting understanding of the value of the ocean to the people of the Maldives and the rest of the world, one Hope Spot at a time, we’re creating a true network of hope.”

The Hope Spot Champions, Marteyne van Well and Adam Thalhath are hopeful that Laamu will become an atoll composed of locally managed marine protected areas (MPAs), and to continue developing educational programs that will influence the next generation of environmental stewards with pride for their atoll.

Adam Thalhath, Sustainability and Community Outreach Manager of Six Senses Laamu says: “In the Maldives, it is very rare for an atoll not to have multiple resorts and developments. Six Senses is the only operating resort in Laamu Atoll and just 20% of the islands here are inhabited. It’s important that we continue to have a sustainable relationship with the ocean and have protections put in place to support those efforts.”

(c) Jennifer Penner

Laamu Atoll has been the location of consistent scientific monitoring from Six Senses Laamu since 2011. Through collaboration with its three partners- The Manta TrustBlue Marine Foundation and the Olive Ridley Project– Six Senses Laamu created the Maldives Underwater Initiative, a team working towards protecting Laamu’s marine habitats through establishing MPAs and a management plan. This has involved gathering ecological data, fostering support within the community and working with the local government in addition to establishing sustainable and profitable livelihoods for the surrounding islands. The Manta Trust and the Olive Ridley Project have been working to understand the population and habitat use of manta rays and sea turtles. Both Manta Trust and the Olive Ridley Project are Mission Blue Alliance partners.

(c) Leanna Crowley

“It is through our partnerships with these three experienced and specialized organizations that we have been able to collect such detailed information on Laamu’s species and habitats,” explains Philippa Roe, the Maldives Underwater Initiative’s Head Marine Biologist. “Our work through collaboration has also led to other successful projects, from nation-wide seagrass conservation to community knowledge sharing, none of which would be possible without the expertise and qualities each partner brings.”

(c) Alex Mustard

“The community is also involved in every project and initiative,” explains Marteyne van Well, General Manager of Six Senses Laamu. She continues, “It is truly a grassroots effort. In order for marine protected areas to be established, maintained and enforced, it has to come from the bottom-up, and it has to be sustainable in an economic way as well.”

The Maldives’ government is expected to announce new protected areas in Laamu, in accordance with the new Government’s Strategic Action Plan, in late-2021. The Laamu Atoll Council and Blue Marine Foundation have communicated the evidence of the need to protect this area. Blue Marine Foundation is working with Laamu Atoll Council to undertake resource use surveys, participatory planning sessions and community education and awareness programs, and is a Mission Blue Alliance partner as well.

Laamu Atoll’s three richly diverse ecosystems possess an enormous amount of healthy life. Researchers have counted 47 coral genera to date, with some inner reef coral cover recorded up to 50% – very rare in the Maldives since a mass coral bleaching event in 2016. These areas likely supply other damaged reefs with coral larval supply, vital for reef recovery. More than 400 species of fish have been recorded in Laamu, including endemic, endangered, and critically endangered species. The mangroves within the atoll consist of both open and closed systems, containing four mangrove species, providing a haven for migratory birds and juvenile fish.

Seagrass meadows act as a carbon sink by absorbing and storing carbon in their roots and the surrounding sediments. In Laamu, the Six Senses Laamu team is measuring the extent to which carbon is stored in Laamu’s seagrass meadows.These meadows also provide a key food source for green sea turtles, of which  Laamu contains the most significant nesting beach in the Maldives, on one of Laamu’s uninhabited islands, L. Gaadhoo. Despite this, scientists have determined that 38% of nests on this island were poached in the 2019-2020 nesting season, indicating the need for further enforcement of regulations protecting this species in the atoll.

The Olive Ridley Project is working with Maldives Environmental Protection Agency to implement community-led monitoring and patrolling of nesting beaches. Community led projects also extend to monitoring of Laamu’s marine habitats. Blue Marine Foundations’ Laamaseelu Farundun (Exemplary Citizen) program, trains volunteer local residents to monitor and survey seagrass, mangroves and coral reefs, contributing to further understanding of the present situation of the atoll’s ecosystem and any future changes.

“We hope that the Laamu Atoll Hope Spot can be a flagship for functional MPAs in the Maldives with the support of the local community, who will benefit both economically and ecologically,” says van Well. “We are capable of preventing unsustainable development without holding the community back economically. It’s important to show that it’s achievable – it’s been possible for Laamu, and it’s possible anywhere.”

Thalhath adds: “The Maldives relies on tourism, but now is the time to protect the marine ecosystems. If we put protections in place now, we’ll create a healthier future for all life here, humans and fish alike.”

The Maldivian government has pledged to protect at least one reef, one mangrove and one uninhabited island from each atoll by 2022. In 2018, the local government, the Laamu Atoll council, pledged to protect five ecologically significant areas in the atoll. Recently, significant progress has been made on these goals and the designation of nationally Protected Areas within the Hope Spot is expected in the coming months.

“Through these ongoing projects, it will be demonstrated how networks of marine protected areas provide a haven to replenish other areas impacted by either human or natural damage, increasing ecosystem resilience on an atoll-wide scale,” says van Well.

For more information about Mission Blue visit the 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

Statement from Captain Paul Watson on his resignation from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (USA)

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It is with great relief that as of July 27th, 2022, I have ceased my employment and cut all ties with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (USA).

Since 1977, when I founded Sea Shepherd nearly a half century ago, I have dedicated my entire life to the aggressive and determined preservation and protection of biodiversity of marine life and our ocean.

Over the last few years, I have been slowly marginalized from the organization that I created in the USA. I was removed from the Board of Directors, my advice ignored, my close associates terminated and directors that supported me were removed. I was reduced to being a paid figurehead, denied the freedom to organize campaigns and the freedom to express the strong opinions that I have held for decades, opinions and campaigns that have shaped what Sea Shepherd has become and continues to be outside the borders of the United States.

As I said in the documentary movie Watson, my role is to rock the boat, to make waves, to provoke people to think about the damage we are collectively inflicting upon diversity and interdependence of life in the ocean.

The current Board seeks to turn our vessels away from confronting illegal poachers that prey on endangered species and instead seeks to turn our fleet into non-controversial research vessels. Research has always been a part of Sea Shepherd efforts, but it has not and should not be our priority. What we have provided is a unique function: a fearless leadership to intervene against poachers on the high seas, to document and to stop illegal acts that would otherwise go unnoticed and unchallenged. Sea Shepherd has always, and must always go where others fear to go, to say the things that must be said and to tackle the obstacles fearlessly and with great resolve.

The new direction that the present Board of Sea Shepherd USA has decided upon is not a path that I can in good conscience support nor participate in. I have not changed my objectives or resolve, and I refuse to change and adopt an approach that diminishes the incredible movement that we have created over the last four and a half decades, a movement that continues to grow outside the borders of the United States.

I remain a director of Sea Shepherd Global, and I remain a supporter of Global ships, officers, and crew. Together with all other national Sea Shepherd entities, with the exception of the USA, I will continue to support our campaigns around the world utilizing our unique philosophy of aggressive non-violence and cooperation with governments and NGOs.

We are Sea Shepherd. We are direct action motivated by imagination, persistence, and courage.

My future lies with the people from around the world who have made and continue to make Sea Shepherd the most influential, passionate, and effective marine conservation movement on this planet.

Captain Paul Watson

Founder – Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Canada (1977)

Founder – Sea Shepherd Conservation Society USA (1981)

 

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Marine Life & Conservation

Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean is back

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The Marine Conservation Society’s annual Great British Beach Clean is back, running from 16th – 25th September 2022.

The charity is calling for volunteers across the UK to join them at the coast for a week of beach cleaning and litter surveying.

The Great British Beach Clean, sponsored by Ireland’s number one soup brand, Cully & Sully, is more than just a clean up. Every year volunteers make note of the litter they collect, sharing the data with the Marine Conservation Society’s experts. The charity has used data collected to campaign for carrier bag charges, single-use plastic bans and deposit return schemes.

Last year, volunteers collected over 5 tonnes of litter, with an average of 3.85 items found for every metre of beach surveyed across the UK.

Clare Trotman, Beachwatch Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “We wouldn’t be able to do the work we do at the Marine Conservation Society without the support of our volunteers heading out to the coast to collect vital information on what’s polluting our seas.

“With beach cleans happening across the UK, from remote beaches to busy seaside resorts, there’s so many ways to get involved and support us this year. If you can’t make it to the beach, you can still take part by doing a local litter pick and survey where you live.”

At last year’s Great British Beach Clean, 75% of all litter collected was made from plastic and polystyrene.

From production to disposal, plastic has a direct impact on the ocean’s capacity to combat the climate crisis. Manufacturing plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Most plastic is produced using fossil fuels, meaning more plastic production results in increased carbon emissions. Plastic is also entering the food chain, from tiny phytoplankton to ocean giants, like whales.

Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Pollution, whether it’s big, small or even invisible, is having a hugely negative impact on our ocean and all those who rely on it – including us. Tiny microplastics are being eaten by plankton at the very foundation of ocean ecosystems, animals big and small are being tangled in plastic packaging, turtles are mistaking it for food, and chemical pollution is changing the ocean’s chemistry.

“All of this is an alarming picture of the state of our seas, but each and every volunteer who joins the Great British Beach Clean helps us research the scale of pollution in the UK. This research is vital to stop pollution at source, and we know it works. Cleaner beaches will support a healthy ocean, and a healthy planet.”

Cullen Allen (Aka Cully) from Cully & Sully said: “We’re delighted to be part of the Great British Beach Clean 2022. We’ve supported beach cleans in Ireland for the past 4 years and are excited about extending our commitments to the Great British Beach Clean. We’re excited to take part and get started, and of course spread the word on the importance of keeping our beaches and public spaces clean”.

Join the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean as an organiser, or volunteer, this year. Sign up via the charity’s website: www.mcsuk.org/greatbritishbeachclean.

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