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Marine Life & Conservation

Making Climate a Blue Issue

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Intro – Jeff Goodman

Climate change is affecting us all. We feel it in our day to day lives, but it is arguably in the oceans of the world the greatest changes are taking place – and most people don’t even know it’s happening.

The article below is written by David Helvarg, Author & President, Blue Frontier Campaign and is from the BLUE FRONTIER CAMPAIGN web site: http://www.bluefront.org

Thunder snow, super-storms, dust storms, arctic melting and coral bleaching have existed but not as a regular part of our language ‘til fossil fuel fired climate change kicked in. You know you’re in the greenhouse century when the 13 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998 and last year, 2012, was the hottest in U.S. history, with a major drought, record fire season, sweltering summer and Hurricane Sandy. Of course no single event can be linked to human-enhanced climate disruption, just like no single Tour de France victory by Lance Armstrong can be attributed to his doping, but the trend line is there.

I’ve reported on oil and climate impacts from Antarctica to the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Mexico, Fiji, Australia, Florida, lower Manhattan and offshore California. And in speaking with scientists in all those places I’ve found two common themes: One, the role of the ocean in climate change is not well enough understood but the impacts, like altered ecosystems and the shifting pH called ocean acidification are already occurring. Two, this is the first environmental story where the scientists are more alarmed than the public.

I first learned about global warming interviewing Roger Revelle, the father of modern U.S. oceanography, back in the 1980s. In the 1950s he and Dr. Charles Keeling, measuring atmospheric CO2 from an observatory in Hawaii, discovered industrial carbon dioxide was increasing in the atmosphere and warned of a warming “greenhouse effect.” That became established science at the time and still is.

Yet it was only in the 1990s that climate scientists were able to resolve one of their vexing issues, why the atmosphere wasn’t heating even more rapidly given this build up. The answer was the ocean was absorbing a lot of human-generated CO2, converting it to carbonic acid. The carbonic acid has shifted the pH of the ocean causing surface waters to be 30 percent more acidic than in the early 19th century and possibly up to 150 percent more acidic by the end of this century. That will change the chemical makeup of the ocean to what it was 20 million years ago when it was a less friendly place for shell forming critters like oysters, corals and certain plankton but a fine soup for bacterial mats and jellyfish (both of which are booming today). Warmer, more acidic waters also hold less dissolved oxygen and that is bad news for the entire food web.

Still, there are a couple of ocean conservation groups who talk about ocean acidification (OA) without mentioning climate change because they fear it is too much of a “hot button” issue. This, to me, is like trying to have a discussion about damaged battleships at Pearl Harbor in 1941 without mentioning the Japanese.

Author and activist Bill McKibben and his climate group 350.org take a different approach. They’re mobilizing armies of people, most recently in Washington, D.C. to demand an end to the political stranglehold the fossil fuel industry has over much of our government and a rapid transition to clean energy. Unfortunately the marine conservation community is not bringing a lot of added value to this new populist upsurge.

Yet we are slowly beginning to see some good responses to, for example, climate-linked coastal disasters like Katrina and Sandy, from government, the private sector and the seaweed groups that influence them. One positive sign is New York Governor Cuomo’s call to use $400 million of federal disaster relief to buy back destroyed homes and structures in coastal flood zones from willing sellers, a strategy known as ‘planned retreat.’ The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance has developed a waterfront action agenda for adapting New York City’s shores to the rising seas around it. In Louisiana, the state is committing its federal Restore Act funds from the BP blowout to actually restoring the coastal wetlands that protect New Orleans and other population centers, while the Gulf Restoration Network continues working to promote region-wide restoration of the coastal ecosystems that protect us all. In Washington state, long-time Surfrider member and state senator Kevin Ranker has introduced legislation to address the threat of OA that is already impacting the larval oysters at Taylor Shellfish and other aquaculture companies operating in state waters.

And, as I report in my new book The Golden Shore, California is now emerging as the nation’s leader in planning and adapting for coastal climate impacts. Moreover it’s established its own climate plan including a cap and trade emissions reduction program in response to the federal government’s failure to act. It’s no coincidence that if you go to our Blue Movement Directory you’ll find California has more seaweed groups fighting to protect and restore our public seas than any other state. Ocean action comes in response to citizen engagement. It is a huge challenge for the marine conservation community to understand how these local and state initiatives can be scaled up and made part of a common national and global strategy for our emerging blue movement.

It’s increasingly clear that if we’re to succeed as an ocean and coastal movement than climate will have to become one of our core issues. Even if we address the other cascading marine disasters of industrial overfishing, oil, plastic, chemical and nutrient pollution and loss of habitat, we could still have dying and disrupted seas just from the impacts of climate change alone. The challenge is to respond in time.

Marine Life & Conservation

Ghost Fishing UK land the prize catch at the Fishing News Awards

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The charity Ghost Fishing UK was stunned to win the Sustainability Award.

The winners were selected by a panel of industry judges and the award recognises innovation and achievement in improving sustainability and environmental responsibility within the UK or Irish fishing industries in 2021.

Nominees must have demonstrated a unique and innovative response to an environmental sustainability issue within the UK or Irish industry, demonstrating that the project has gone above and beyond standard practice, and provided evidence of its impact. The judges look particularly for projects that have influenced a significant change in behaviour and/or that have inspired broader awareness and/or engagement.

Ghost Fishing UK originated in 2015, training voluntary scuba divers to survey and recover lost fishing gear, with the aim to either return it to the fishing industry or recycle it. The charity is run entirely by volunteers and has gone from strength to strength, only last year winning the Best Plastic Campaign at the Plastic Free Awards.

Now, the charity has also been recognised at seemingly the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a unique achievement as trustee Christine Grosart explains;

We have always held the belief that working with the fishing industry is far more productive than being against it, in terms of achieving our goals to reduce and remove lost fishing gear.

The positive response to our fisheries reporting system that we received from both the fishing industry and the marine environment sector, was evidence that working together delivers results.

The feedback we got from the awards evening and the two-day Scottish Skipper Expo where we had an exhibit the following day, was that the fishing industry despises lost fishing gear as much as we do and the fishers here are very rarely at fault. It is costly to them to lose gear and they will make every effort to get it back, but sometimes they can’t. That is where we come in, to try to help. Everyone wins, most of all the environment. You can’t ask for much more.”

Following the awards, Ghost Fishing UK held an exhibit at the Scottish Skipper expo at the new P&J Live exhibition centre in Aberdeen.

This gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so many people in the fishing industry, all of whom were highly supportive of our work and wanted to help us in any way they could. This has opened so many opportunities for the charity and our wish list which has been on the slow burner for the last 7 years, was exceeded in just 3 days. We came away from the events exhausted, elated, humbled, grateful and most of all, excited.”

Trustee and Operations Officer, Fred Nunn, is in charge of the diving logistics such as arranging boats and organising the divers, who the charity trains in house, to give up their free time to volunteer.

He drove from Cornwall to attend the awards and the exhibition: “What a crazy and amazing few days up in Scotland! It was awesome to meet such a variety of different people throughout the industry, who are all looking at different ways of improving the sustainability and reduction of the environmental impact of the fishing industry.

It was exciting to have so many people from the fishing industry approaching us to find out more about what we do, but also what they could offer. Fishermen came to us with reports and offers of help, using their vessels and other exhibitors tried to find ways that their product or service could assist in our mission.”

  • Ghost Fishing UK uses hard boat charters from Cornwall to Scotland for the diving projects, paying it forward to the diving community.
  • The charity relies on reports of lost fishing gear from the diving and fishing community and to date has received well over 200 reports, culminating on over 150 survey and ghost gear recovery dives, amounting to over 1000 individual dives and diver hours by the volunteer team members.
  • You can find more information at ghostfishing.co.uk
  • If you are a fisher who knows of any lost fishing gear, you can report it to the charity here: ghostfishing.co.uk/fishermans-reporting
  • The charity is heading to Shetland for a week-long project in the summer of 2023. If you would like to support this project, please contact them at: info@ghostfishing.co.uk

Chair of Ghost Fishing UK and professional technical diving instructor Dr Richard Walker was immensely proud of the team’s achievements;

I’ve been a scuba diver since 1991 and have met thousands of divers in that time. I’d be hard pushed to think of one of them that wasn’t concerned about conservation of our marine environment. To be recognised by the fishing industry for our efforts in sustainability is a huge honour for us, and has encouraged our team to work even harder to find, survey and remove lost fishing gear from the seas. The fact that the fishing industry recognises our efforts, and appreciates our stance as a group that wants to work alongside them is one of the highlights of our charity’s history, and we look forward to building the relationship further.

To find out more about Ghost Fishing UK visit their website here.


All images: Ghost Fishing UK

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Marine Life & Conservation

Komodo National Park found to be Manta Hotspot

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Through a collaborative effort between citizen divers, scientists from the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), and Murdoch University, a new study reports a large number of manta rays in the waters of Komodo National Park, Indonesian, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suggesting the area may hold the key to regional recovery of the threatened species.

Reef mantas (Mobula alfredi), which grow up to 5m, tend to reside and feed in shallow, coastal habitats. They also visit ‘cleaning stations’ on coral reefs to have parasites, or dead skin picked off by small fish. Courtship ‘trains’ are also observed adjacent to cleaning stations. In Komodo National Park, manta rays are present year-round, challenging the famous Komodo dragon as the most sought-after megafauna for visitors.

Scientists teamed up with the dive operator community to source identification photographs of manta rays visiting the parks’ waters and submit them to MantaMatcher.org – a crowdsourced online database for mantas and other rays. Most of the photographs came from just four locations from over 20 commonly visited by tourism boats.

I was amazed by how receptive the local dive community was in helping collect much-needed data on these threatened animals,” said lead author Dr. Elitza Germanov. “With their support, we were able to identify over 1,000 individual manta rays from over 4,000 photographs.

People love manta rays—they are one of the most iconic animals in our oceans. The rise of the number of people engaging in SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and the advent of affordable underwater cameras meant that photos and videos taken by the public during their holidays could be used to quickly and affordably scale data collection,” said MMF co-founder and study co-author Dr. Andrea Marshall.

The photographs’ accompanying time and location data is used to construct sighting histories of individual manta rays, which can then be analyzed with statistical movement models. These models predict the likelihood that manta rays are inhabiting or traveling in between specific sites. The study’s results showed that some manta rays moved around the park and others as far as the Nusa Penida MPA (>450 km to the west), but overall, manta rays showed individual preferences for specific sites within the Park.

I found it very interesting how some manta rays appear to prefer spending their time in some sites more than others, even when sites are 5 km apart, which are short distances for manta rays,” said Dr. Elitza Germanov. “This means that manta rays which prefer sites where fishing activities continue to occur or that are more popular with tourism will endure greater impacts.”

Fishing activities have been prohibited in many coastal areas within Komodo NP since 1984, offering some protection to manta rays prior to the 2014 nationwide protection. However, due to illegal fishing activity and manta ray movements into heavily fished waters, manta rays continue to face a number of threats from fisheries. About 5% of Komodo’s manta rays have permanent injuries that are likely the result of encounters with fishing gear.

The popularity of tourism to these sites grew by 34% during the course of the study. An increase in human activity can negatively impact manta rays and their habitats. In 2019, the Komodo National Park Authority introduced limits on the number of boats and people that visit one of the most famous manta sites.

This study shows that the places where tourists commonly observe manta rays are important for the animals to feed, clean, and mate. This means that the Komodo National Park should create measures to limit the disturbance at these sites,” said Mr. Ande Kefi, an employee of the Komodo National Park involved with this study. “I hope that this study will encourage tourism operators to understand the need for the regulations already imposed and increase compliance.”

Despite Indonesia’s history with intensive manta ray fisheries, Komodo National Park still retains large manta ray aggregations that with careful ongoing management and threat reduction will benefit regional manta ray populations. The study highlights that marine protected areas that are large enough to host important manta ray habitats are a beneficial tool for manta ray conservation.

For more information about MMF visit their website here.

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