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Marine Life & Conservation

Mantas and Whale Sharks gain protection under new law in Mozambique

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After 20 years of research and lobbying efforts, the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) is thrilled to announce a major legislative victory for ocean life in Mozambique. A new commercial fishing law enacts sweeping protections for several threatened species, including whale sharks, manta rays, and all mobula species.

This new legislation is a huge step in the right direction for the protection of threatened marine species in Mozambique. MMF commend the Mozambican government for taking these bold steps to protect the region’s breathtaking sea life, while still supporting the local fishing culture and economy.

“This law will make it far easier for our fishing communities to manage their impact by empowering them to create no-take zones and enforce rules limiting the use of gear that is destructive to important coral reef and mangrove habitats,” says MMF Conservation Project Manager Emerson Neves. “This will help us achieve our goal of sustainable fishing for generations to come, so we can both conserve our incredible fish life and allow people to have a stable livelihood and food source.”

The passing of this law is no small feat and has taken years of scientific research and lobbying by NGOs and institutions, including MMF, to highlight the importance of establishing protections for the threatened marine species in the region. MMF are grateful that the government has responded to the data and recommendations of scientists which has led to the formation of these new regulations.

MMF has been researching whale sharks and mobula rays in Mozambique for almost two decades. Their achievements have included the discovery that manta rays are two separate species and the first formal studies of these species in Africa. “The largest identified populations of both reef and giant manta rays in Africa have been identified off the southern Mozambican coastline, making it a critical region for their conservation in the Western Indian Ocean,” explains MMF Co-founder and Principal Scientist, Dr. Andrea Marshall.

MMF has also led groundbreaking research on whale sharks in the region. Their research into the importance of the whale shark habitat in the area and increasing human pressures, such as accidental catch in gill nets, which has halved their global population since the 1980s, helped to justify their inclusion in this new law.

“The Mozambican coast is an internationally important habitat for whale sharks, the world’s largest fish,” elaborates Dr. Simon Pierce, MMF Co-founder and Principal Scientist. “Protection in Mozambican waters provides a safeguard for the species locally, where whale sharks are the basis for sustainable marine ecotourism, but will also help these gentle giants to recover in the broader Indian Ocean. The Mozambique government has taken a commendable step for the worldwide conservation of this endangered species.”

Some of the most crucial and troubling data captured by MMF shows dramatic declines in observational sightings of marine megafauna like manta, mobula rays, and whale sharks. In 2013 they reported a 79% decline in whale shark sightings and an 88% decline in reef manta sightings, and sadly these trends continue. Their data now show declines of over 90% for giant mantas, reef mantas, and shortfin devil rays in the south of the country.

“Evidence of these stark declines, which have been attributed in large part to localized fishing pressure, are a testament to the urgency of these protections which go into effect today,” states Dr. Marshall.

MMF researchers have estimated the economic importance of manta rays and other megafauna to the Mozambican tourism industry, highlighting the economic incentive for their protection.  The study, lead-authored by Dr. Stephanie Venables a senior scientist at MMF, illustrated the economic impact of manta ray tourism in the Inhambane province, including $34 million USD per year of direct economic impact of manta ray tourism, and a projected yearly loss of $16-$25 million USD if Mozambique were to lose manta rays.

Healthy populations of megafauna are crucial for maintaining healthy oceans. Manta rays and whale sharks are listed as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN Red List with declining populations worldwide. Local conservation measures, like this law, are vital for the overall persistence of these species. Every organism plays an important role in an ecosystem, but ocean giants often play vital roles in maintaining balance and regulating resources in their environments. This in turn, naturally keeps fish populations healthy and improves the viability of fishing industries into the future.

In addition to the protection granted to mantas, mobulas, and whale sharks, the law also includes the following new regulations:

  • Fishers must land the full body of any sharks caught with fins attached
  • New clearer regulations for CCPs (community fishing councils)
  • A ban on destructive fishing practices on coral, seagrass, or mangroves
  • A ban on the harvesting of live coral
  • Bycatch must be thrown back unless you have prior written permission to use it for research
  • Turtle excluder devices are mandated on industrial and semi-industrial nets

While this law is a significant breakthrough, a number of other important species were not given protection. “This new protection is a huge step in the right direction and we’re thrilled that Mozambique is recognizing the importance of some of the species we study, but there are other rare and endangered species in Mozambique that still lack protection,” explains MMF Manta Research Manager, Anna Flam.

“We’re hoping to use the positive momentum from this new law, combined with our research, to lobby Mozambique to add protection for hammerhead sharks, smalleye stingrays, leopard sharks, and wedgefish, among other vulnerable species.” 

MMF is currently working with other NGOs to submit a list of species that we believe must be added as an amendment to the new law.

For more information about the work of MMF visit their website by clicking here.

Images: Dr. Andrea Marshall

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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