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Marine Life & Conservation

Marine conservation in the Indian Ocean

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Introduced by Jeff Goodman

Each year more people look for exotic destinations to take their holidays and dive trips and so the human impact on these pristine places takes a terrible toll. Reef destruction, over fishing, uncontrolled development, pollution from human waste… the list is almost endless. So who is ultimately responsible? Local government? Tour operators? Resort companies? Tourists? We all tend to pass the buck while at the same time making as much profit as possible before the golden goose eventually gets choked to death. In the Maldives at least, these issues are starting to be being taken seriously.

The Maldives, called “the flower of the Indies” by Marco polo, is suffering today from new developments and an increased population, including tourism, which together with climate change will synergistically impact on the marine environment.

The Maldives constitutes together with the Laccadives the largest and most extensive chain of atolls on the planet with less than 4% of the territory being dry land, so by joining the two most important forces that drive the country together, conservation and tourism, a long term sustainability of the marine environment can be obtained.

This country is the most imminently threatened by rising seas caused by climate change, so the Maldives has to be prepared for climate change as past emissions will increase global temperatures by up to 0.60º C over the next four decades, so not only must our awareness of climate change increase, so must our need to understand the changes it will bring and our vulnerability to it. Other activities practiced in the Maldives such as coral mining, pollution and unregulated fishing are already impacting on the marine environment, so understanding the effects of temperature increase and ocean acidification is of extreme importance.

A country that is no longer relying on their tuna fishery for survival but depend on resort islands and incoming tourists for their livelihoods have to take care of their environment.

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Speaking about the tourism in Male, Kuoni’s Head of Corporate Responsibility Matthias Leisinger once said that “tourism is like fire; you can cook with it, but it can also burn your house down.” The tourism industry generates about 30% of the country´s GDP. In 1998 a bleaching event caused almost 100 percent of mortality in some areas of the coral reefs and, compared to other countries where management was working really well, their recovery was much better than in the Maldives. “Incidents like this are likely to increase as stock diminishes everywhere” says another representative from the Ministry of Tourism in the Maldives. He also pointed out new challenges arising with the changing market profile of tourism in the country, since the European visitors do form part of taking care of the natural environment. However, “the market is changing, and the new market is constituted of guests that are walking on the reefs, catching and eating crabs….” “Maybe it is about time for the resorts “to take responsibility for the natural environment for the duration for the lease,” a representative from the Marine Research Centre (MRC) said. Adjustment is essential if the different sectors, including tourism, aim to reduce the vulnerability to climate change and limit its negative sides and so optimizing the resources to the local community to cope with these changes.

           The two biggest threats to the Maldives are climate change and waste management.

             Climate change and coral reefs resilience

            ● Coral Reefs in the Maldives

– The Maldives is home to around 60 different coral genera and has the highest coral diversity in the Indian Ocean. Perhaps due to its substratum or erupted lava, the Maldivian reefs appear to be qualitatively different from other shallow reefs in the Indian Ocean in the way that they are composed of branching Acropora in high abundance and diversity. The Maldives also have the highest temperatures of the Indian Ocean.

– The threats the coral reefs are facing in the Maldives are sedimentation and sewage stress from the bigger islands (from the harbors and airport). In addition to this, inappropriate fishing methodologies are increasing and impact the recovery rate of the reef from bleaching events, and together with the global climate change is the biggest threat nowadays. The impact and the long-term possible recovery of reefs are directly related to overall health of coral reefs.

–  For local and national managers to be able to act in response to these threats it is therefore of extreme importance to have monitoring protocols.

Monitoring Protocols

A number of protocols have been developed by the Marine Research Center, the Darwin Initiative, and the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority to monitor reef fisheries and coral bleaching in which corals expel the algal cells (zooxanthellae), that under normal conditions live within their tissue. The Maldives has already experienced extensive climate related damage to their reefs, where other reefs recovered better under similar circumstances, therefore an accurate management and understanding of Coral Reef health has to be implemented around the whole country.

Bleach Watch

This protocol has been developed to detect and measure conditions and events of coral bleaching from a wide range of users like dive operators and resort staff, who over time can prepare available, reliable reports. Detecting early signs of mass bleaching events require a wide network of observers over a broad span of territory.

CPC

Counting the coral coverage and the coral diversity across the Maldives over time will provide the national government and resort managers with valuable information which can be used to understand and act in response to observed changes and threats to coral reef around the Maldives.

Reef Fisheries and the Darwin Reef Fish Project  

It is important for the Maldives to obtain more knowledge about reef and fisheries in order to develop new management plans to maintain the Coral Reef’s health. The reef fish are important through herb ivory and predation and both overfishing and destructive fishing practices can alter the dynamics of the whole ecosystem. The Darwin Reef Fish Initiative together with the MRC have developed a new resources management plan, where spawning aggregations and fish home range can be detected to elaborate new management plans. The aquarium and bait fishery have guidelines, but there are no regulations for reef fish, apart from the protected Napoleon wrasse and parrotfish species. The reef fishery has to be managed properly to be sustainable and size limitations of reef fish are necessary, so by implementing this monitoring protocol, miss-reporting and under-reporting fish, like the Rainbow runner, is being sampled and measured to apply appropriate managing guidelines and so improve the resilience of the Coral Reefs.

Fish watch

A fish count and underwater visual census; it constitutes a tool to measure fish populations over time and location.

Fish Catch

A survey collecting information on number and weight of landed reef fish. Together with the measured size and the location of fishing, this gives information for developing marine protected areas. Data is also collected from night fishing practiced by guests of the resorts.

Shark Watch

A diver or snorkel-based recording of shark sightings at the dive or snorkel site on a daily basis. Since the sharks were almost depleted from its water or overfished due to their fins, the tourists are now demanding to see sharks, so since 2009 they have introduced shark protection.

Under the climate change trust fund with World Bank funding a new project is being  implemented that will train and empower local community to monitor their coral reefs until September 2014.

A monitoring protocol is developing and a database is going to take shape for the entire country. With less than one per cent of the world’s oceans protected from exploitation and an estimation of that up to 80% of the world´s marine protected areas are only so called and not actively managed, it´s of urgent need to create properly managed and protected areas for the marine environment. All benefits of having marine protected areas are well known, such as conservation of the biodiversity and improvements of the local economy; however, it is so important for the future of the country, which is why a stakeholder approach is needed to monitor these areas and, if necessary, protect and preserve them.

Another issue to consider is how close they need to be, in order to promote connectivity between areas, and how many there should be, to provide a real protection for species. To enhance the resilience of the coral reef in the Maldives not only a reduction on pollution is needed, but also protection and managing existing marine areas properly, can work as an insurance for sustainability.

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            ● Developing waste management systems on inhabited islands

–  The Maldives is facing one very big human impact and that is waste management. In the shadow of Thilafushi Island, which is the waste island close to Male the capital, the local islands are struggling with waste processing and associated water quality problems. The Maldivian islands are scattered over a very large area, so distance combined with an increase in population and consumption make the waste management issue very important to resolve.

– A pioneer project involving four northern atolls cooperating to manage the waste at just one island is set up to start working in 2014. This will join resort islands and local islands together, and act as a pioneer project to relieve the burden of Thilafushi.

–  By promoting this and taking care of waste closer to the islands where it originated, it is probable that less waste will be dumped in the ocean or buried in the sand or burned producing toxic gases.

–  So by doing this, not only will the local islands’ reefs get more resilient by alleviating the human impact, but also the resort island will have less waste washed up on their beaches. This is a good example of both locals and tourists benefitting and eventually the entire economy and the environment.

– Money from separate sources will also be implemented in several projects to teach segregation of waste at household level, and bins will be provided to store the waste separately until removal from the island.

–  Probably due to the fact that the islands have accumulated waste over time, a big clean up has to be organized to accomplish the objective of waste management.

The Maldives aims for a total protection of their waters and would like to proclaim the entire country a UNESCO biosphere reserve by 2017 and the country as a Marine Reserve by 2020. Let´s see how this amazingly beautiful country threatened by climate change and waste will manage with such big expectations.

Sylvia Jagerroos is a specialist in marine conservation and has spent the last two years working in the Maldives, a Country threatened by climate change and where the marine environment is directly linked to sustainable fisheries, renewable energy sources, tourism and a proper waste management system.

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Preserving Paradise: Seacology’s Island Conservation Mission

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seacology

Islands are not just pieces of land surrounded by water; they are sanctuaries of biodiversity, cradles of unique cultures, and vital components of our planet’s ecological balance. However, these paradises face numerous threats ranging from habitat destruction to climate change. Recognizing the urgency of protecting these fragile ecosystems, Seacology has emerged as a beacon of hope, championing the preservation of island habitats worldwide while empowering local communities. In this article, we are diving into Seacology’s mission, its global impact, and its generous support for key conservation initiatives in Curaçao.

The Seacology Story:

Seacology, founded in 1991 by Dr. Paul Alan Cox (American ethnobotanist), operates on a simple yet powerful principle: conservation through collaboration. Unlike traditional conservation organizations, Seacology adopts a community-driven approach, partnering directly with island communities to address their needs while safeguarding precious ecosystems.

seacology

At the heart of Seacology’s philosophy lies the belief that sustainable conservation can only be achieved by empowering those who depend on the natural resources of their islands. By working hand in hand with local stakeholders, Seacology fosters a sense of ownership and stewardship, ensuring long-term protection for vital habitats.

A Global Impact of Seacology

Since its inception, Seacology has made remarkable strides in protecting island ecosystems across the globe. Through innovative projects and strategic partnerships, the organization has conserved millions of acres of marine and terrestrial habitat, spanning more than 60 countries.

What sets Seacology apart is its holistic approach, which integrates conservation efforts with community development initiatives. By providing tangible benefits such as clean water, education, and healthcare, Seacology incentivizes local communities to actively participate in conservation efforts, forging a sustainable path towards coexistence with nature.

Curaçao: A Jewel in the Caribbean Crown

Located in the crystalline waters of the Southern Caribbean Sea, Curaçao boasts stunning coral reefs, lush mangroves, and vibrant marine life. However, like many island nations, Curaçao faces a myriad of challenges including overfishing, habitat degradation, and climate change impacts.

seacology

In 2024, Seacology’s commitment to island conservation took center stage in Curaçao, where the organization provided generous support for three key initiatives: Reef Renewal Curaçao, Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao, and the Queen Conch Hatchery. Additionally, Seacology provided additional funding to advance sustainable fishing practices through educational programs.

Reef Renewal Curaçao

Coral reefs are the lifeblood of marine ecosystems, supporting a quarter of all marine species despite occupying less than 1% of the ocean floor. However, these invaluable ecosystems are under siege from rising sea temperatures, pollution, and destructive fishing practices.

seacology

Reef Renewal Curaçao, a flagship project supported by Seacology, aims to reverse the decline of coral reefs by implementing innovative coral propagation and restoration techniques. By engaging local communities in reef restoration efforts, Seacology is optimistic that their support will enable Reef Renewal Curaçao to continue their important work revitalizingd amaged ecosystems and fostering a sense of stewardship among residents.

Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao

For millions of years, sea turtles have roamed the world’s oceans, serving as keystone species and indicators of ecosystem health. Yet, these ancient mariners face numerous threats including habitat loss, poaching, and accidental capture in fishing gear.

seacology

In collaboration with Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao, Seacology is supporting their efforts to protect Curaçao’s sea turtle populations through research, monitoring, and community outreach. By raising awareness about the importance of sea turtles and implementing measures to mitigate threats, Seacology is aiding Sea Turtle Conservation Curaçao to safeguard these iconic creatures for future generations to admire.

The Queen Conch Hatchery

Conch, revered for their succulent meat and ornate shells, are a cultural and culinary staple in many island communities. However, unregulated harvesting has led to depleted populations, jeopardizing both ecological balance and traditional livelihoods.

In Curaçao, Seacology’s support for the Queen Conch Hatchery initiative aims to conserve dwindling conch populations through captive breeding and sustainable harvesting practices. By collaborating with local fishermen and authorities, Seacology is helping to ensure that conch populations thrive while preserving cultural traditions and supporting coastal communities.

The project “Conquer the Future” is investigating the mortality and growth of Queen Conch juveniles, cultured at Curacao Sea Aquarium, after they have been outplanted in the wild. These experiments with small numbers of Queen Conch will take place in both Curaçao (Spanish Water) and Bonaire (Lac Bay). WWF-Dutch Caribbean is the main sponsor of this project, Seacology is the co-sponsor.

Advancing Sustainable Fishing Practices

Fishing is an integral part of Curaçao’s economy and culture, but unsustainable practices have led to overfishing and the depletion of key fish species. Recognizing the need for change, Seacology has provided a grant to the Federation of Cooperative Production (FKUP) to support innovative educational programs aimed at promoting sustainable fishing practices.

Through this initiative, Seacology hopes to instill a sense of environmental stewardship among local fishers. The educational programs focus on teaching sustainable fishing techniques, such as selective gear use, seasonal restrictions, and size limits, which help protect juvenile fish and allow populations to recover. Additionally, the programs emphasize the importance of marine conservation, the impact of overfishing on the ecosystem, and the benefits of sustainable practices for future generations.

seacology

By supporting the FKUP, Seacology is helping to ensure that local fishers have the knowledge and resources to adopt sustainable practices. This not only helps preserve fish stocks and marine biodiversity but also secures the livelihoods of fishing communities in the long term.

WWF-Dutch Caribbean supported in 2023 the first round of the sustainable fishing training organized by FKUP in Curaçao. Due to lack of budget at WWF-DC, FKUP has been looking for another sponsor for this training. They found Seacology to fund more training.

A Beacon of Hope for Island Conservation

In a world grappling with environmental crises, Seacology stands as a shining example of what can be achieved through passion, perseverance, and partnership. By empowering island communities, Seacology not only protects precious ecosystems but also enriches lives and preserves cultural heritage.

As we navigate the uncertain waters of the 21st century, organizations like Seacology remind us that the fate of our planet lies in our hands. Through collective action and unwavering dedication, we can safeguard the treasures of our islands and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.

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Summer means it’s time to go ‘Fertilizer-Free for Manatees’ to protect Florida’s waterways

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Nutrient pollution poses a significant threat to Florida’s delicate ecosystem, leading to harmful algal blooms in both coastal and inland waters

Summer is here, and Save the Manatee® Club is excited to share our Fertilizer-Free for Manatees™ campaign. The campaign aims to underscore that while addressing the overall problem requires a multifaceted approach, the actions of each Florida resident can make a big difference for the health of our waterways.

Starting June 1 and running through September 30, this initiative aims to encourage Florida residents to take a pledge to be fertilizer-free, thereby reducing their contribution to nutrient pollution in the state’s waterways.

manatee

What is Nutrient Pollution?

Nutrient pollution refers to the presence of excess nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, in water bodies. These nutrients often come from agricultural runoff, wastewater, and the use of fertilizers on lawns and landscapes. While nutrients are essential for plant growth, an overabundance can lead to significant environmental problems.

How Does Nutrient Pollution Cause Harm?

Nutrient pollution poses a significant threat to Florida’s delicate ecosystem, leading to harmful algal blooms (HABs) in both coastal and inland waters. The Indian River Lagoon, a critical habitat for manatees, has been particularly affected, with devastating algal blooms causing the loss of native seagrass. Seagrass is essential for manatees as it is their primary food source. When seagrass is lost, manatees are at risk of starvation. Tragically, this has resulted in the starvation and death of numerous imperiled manatees since 2020.

Furthermore, the occurrence of red tide, a natural phenomenon characterized by the proliferation of toxic algae, can be exacerbated by excessive nitrogen and phosphorus inputs from human sources such as fertilizer and wastewater. Red tide not only affects marine life but can also cause respiratory issues in humans and economic losses for coastal communities.

manatee

Photo: David Schrichte

In pledging to be Fertilizer-Free for Manatees, Floridians commit to:

  • Avoid fertilizer use on lawns and landscapes
  • Conserve water by irrigating only when necessary
  • Keep grass clipping out of streets, waterbodies, and swales
  • Learn about Florida-Friendly Landscaping to protect waterway

“Human nutrient pollution from various sources has been a major driver of the harmful algal blooms that have led to a catastrophic number of manatee deaths in recent years,” said Patrick Rose, Aquatic Biologist and Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club. “The Fertilizer-Free for Manatees campaign aims to educate the public about how their individual actions, which may seem small, can have a cumulative healing effect on the overall health of our Florida waterways. Together, we can all take steps at home to protect imperiled manatees and their essential habitat.”

For more information on the “Fertilizer-Free for Manatees™” campaign and how you can get involved, please visit fertilizerfree.org.

Save the Manatee Club, established in 1981 by the late renowned singer-songwriter, author, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, along with the late former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, is dedicated to safeguarding manatees and preserving their aquatic habitat. For more information about manatees and the Club’s efforts, visit savethemanatee.org or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

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