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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.

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust about the Big Shark Pledge (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust UK about the Big Shark Pledge.

The Big Shark Pledge aims to build one of the biggest campaigning communities in the history of shark conservation. To put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard awesome sharks and rays.

Find out more at: www.bigsharkpledge.org and www.sharktrust.org.


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Marine Conservation Society to take legal action over ocean sewage spills

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The Marine Conservation Society is announcing joining as co-claimant in a legal case against the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to protect English seas from sewage dumping.  

The legal case seeks to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan 2022, impose tighter deadlines on water companies and redevelop the Plan to effectively apply to coastal waters which are, currently, almost entirely excluded.  

Sandy Luk, Marine Conservation Society CEOUntreated sewage is being pumped into our seas for hundreds of thousands of hours each year; putting people, planet and wildlife at risk. 

We’ve tried tirelessly to influence the UK Government on what needs to be done, but their Plan to address this deluge of pollution entering our seas is still unacceptable. We owe it to our members, supporters and coastal communities to act, which is why we’ve joined as co-claimants on this case. We’re out of options. Our seas deserve better.”  

Launched and funded by the Good Law Project, the Marine Conservation Society will stand as co-claimants on the case with Richard Haward’s Oysters, and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm. 

Before reaching this point, the charity responded to a government consultation in March 2022 and met with DEFRA to express concern. In August 2022, the charity wrote an open letter to DEFRA outlining the ways in which the proposed Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan fails to protect the environment and public health from dumping raw sewage into the sea. However, the Plan hasn’t been amended and still fails to adequately address water companies’ excessive reliance on storm overflows and the harm their heavy use causes to our ocean. 

The plan virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters) either directly or indirectly, with some types of Marine Protected Areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. 600 storm overflows are not covered at all by the Plan and will continue to – completely legally – be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and beaches. What’s more, the Plan lacks all urgency – with long-term targets set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent targets not to be met until 2035.  

Meanwhile, Marine Conservation Society analysis finds that raw sewage is pouring into the ocean at an alarming rate. In total, there are at least 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England. These overflows spilt untreated sewage 41,068 times in 2021. Of these, almost half the overflows spilt more than 10 times in 2021, with an average of 48 spills for each of those overflows. Overall, in 2021, sewage poured into Marine Protected Areas for a total of 263,654 hours. 

According to DEFRA’s own latest assessments, only 19% of estuaries and and 45% of coastal waters are at ‘good ecological status’, with none meeting ‘good chemical status’, and three quarters (75%) of shellfish waters failing to meet water quality standards. 

Rachel Wyatt, Policy & Advocacy Manager for Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation SocietyUntreated sewage contains a cocktail of bacteria, viruses, harmful chemicals, and microplastics. It’s nearly impossible to remove microplastics and ‘forever chemicals’ once in the environment. Due to their persistence, with every discharge, these pollutants will continue to increase, meaning eventually they will pass – or may have already passed – a threshold of harm.”  

In addition, it’s not just invisible toxins that are causing problems. In September this year at the charity’s annual Great British Beach Clean, sewage related pollution, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, were found on 73% of the beaches surveyed across England.  

A new DEFRA report, Ocean Literacy in England and Wales, shows that 85% of people say marine protection is personally important to them. Yet this is being ignored. 

Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director at the Good Law Project, said: “The Marine Conservation Society is at the forefront of tackling the ocean emergency and standing up for coastal communities impacted by climate change and pollution. We are delighted to have them on board as a co-claimant. 

“Good Law Project will work closely with the claimants, including the Marine Conservation Society, to put forward the case for more ambitious and urgent measures to reduce sewage discharges by water companies. These sewage spills are threatening human health, biodiverse marine life and the fishing industry. We believe that taking legal action now is vital to help safeguard our coastal waters for generations to come”. 

If the case is won, the Marine Conservation Society hopes to see the UK Government amend its Plan so that it meets the DEFRA Secretary of State’s legal obligations to protect the ocean and its inhabitants from raw sewage spills.   

For more visit the Marine Conservation Society website.

Header image credit: Natasha Ewins

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