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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.

heaven

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

Parineeti Chopra teams up with PADI to create Ocean Change

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PADI® is thrilled to announce an exceptional PADI AmbassaDiver™: Indian actress, singer and PADI Advanced Open Water Diver Parineeti Chopra.

“A PADI AmbassaDiver is someone who is passionate about using their force for good to encourage others to protect our blue planet,” says Kristin Valette Wirth, Chief Brand and Membership Officer. “We could not have found a more respected and authentic partner as Ms. Chopra, a long time ocean lover, to advance our shared mission of saving the ocean. She is unmatched as a shining example of how to protect what you love – and inspire others to do the same.”

Chopra, who has always loved the ocean, experienced the magic beneath the surface in 2013 when she took her first breath underwater in Bali. As soon as she surfaced from that dive, she was hooked – and protecting the ocean became very personal for her, receiving her PADI Open Water Diver certification later that year in Palau. Since then, she has inspired others around the world, from her family and friends to fans in India– to try scuba diving so they can join her in seeking adventure and saving the ocean.

“The first time I came up to the surface after diving, I was crying because it was such a life-changing experience,” says Ms. Chopra. “It is now something I can’t live without. I make sure I do a diving trip every three months despite my work schedule because it is my form of meditation. And it is the place I am immensely passionate about protecting.”

“We are all equal underwater and all speak the same language. Over the years I have seen the changes that have taken place beneath the surface. During my time as a brand ambassador for Tourism Australia, I witnessed the bleaching and damage that has occurred to the Great Barrier Reef.  I was so sad to see this and am now committed to being a diver with a purpose. I have also seen first-hand how marine reserves, like the ones in Sipadan, Malaysia and Palau, prove how valuable marine protected areas are. As a PADI Diver, I want to make sure that our entire blue planet gets the protection it deserves.” continues Ms. Chopra.

With over 67 million social media followers and having recently starred in the Netflix movie The Girl on the Train, Chopra joins an elite group of celebrity influencers determined to take personal action and create real change for healthier oceans. Spending nearly all her free time diving around the world, Chopra shares her love for the ocean with her fans, as diving is an important part of her life that allows her to return to nature and reset. She will work with PADI to encourage others to experience the beautiful world underwater as PADI Divers and join her in helping to achieve balance between humanity and the ocean.

“PADI created the AmbassaDiver programmeme to support extraordinary divers who dedicate their lives to illuminating the path that leads from curiosity, exploration, and discovery to understanding, stewardship and action. Ms. Chopra is playing a very important role in ocean conservation, lighting the way for others to become divers themselves and mobilising communities worldwide to seek adventure and save the ocean with her,” continues Valette Wirth.

Ms. Chopra has big plans for 2022 – including becoming a real-life PADI Mermaid and taking part in citizen science projects during her dive trips around the world. Follow Chopra’s dive adventures, projects and hands-on conservation efforts with PADI on her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

To learn more about Chopra and the rest of the PADI AmbassaDiver team visit www.padi.com/ambassadivers.

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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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