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Marine Life & Conservation

Marsa Abu Dabab – The Red Sea

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As is often the case, we, human beings, find paradise and then proceed to systematically change it in the name of entertainment. We chip away at perfect and pristine ecosystems until they become unrecognisable. Then we pave them over and look for new destinations. Well, we are very close now to having no where else to go. The world has shrunk under our prolific desire to breed, travel and conquer.

There are a few places left, where we can, given the opportunity, see nature in its true form and make great effort to leave it as we found it.

One such place is Marsa Abu Dabab, a quiet and sheltered sandy bay that is home to a resident population of Green Turtles and the frequent Dugong, and is one of my favourite dives in the Red Sea. Yet even this perfect little bay is not pristine, for it has endured the ravages of commercial development, herbicidal run-off, and chemical and biological pollution.

Marsa-Abu-Dabab-2In January 2007, HEPCA (Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association), together with its partners, the Red Sea Governorate and the National Parks Authority of Egypt, proposed a management strategy to protect the bay and its inhabitants articulated on the following key actions.

Agnese Mancini is a Sea Turtle Biologist with special interest in the bay.

Jeff:  How many green turtles actually live in Marsa Abu Dabab?

Agnese:  We identified at least 50 different green turtles living in the bay, although they are not there all at the same time. Usually daily sightings go from 15 to 30 individuals. We also found at least 2 hawksbill turtles that are frequently seen feeding or resting on the southern reef.

Jeff: Are they there all year around?

Agnese:  Yes, they use the bay all-year round mostly for feeding.

Jeff:  Do they mate and lay eggs in the bay as well?

Agnese:  We have no evidence that they mate in the bay. As for laying eggs, all the coastline of the Egyptian Red Sea is considered a potential nesting site (especially large sandy beaches), however at present I would say that it is very unlikely for a green turtle to lay eggs in the bay…there is no space left for them to dig nests.

Jeff:  Last time I was there at the end of 2012, I saw quite a bit of holiday resort development. Is this causing a significant problem to the ecology of the bay?

Agnese:  Coastal development is always a problem, especially in small sheltered bays. In Marsa Abu Dabab for example, we do know that the status of the coral reefs both on northern and southern sides of the bay is in bad condition: you can see pieces of broken corals and dead colonies. Also the sea grass meadows are very sensitive to sediments in the water column (usually decreasing the light penetration) and water quality. Sediments tend to increase when you have a lot of people swimming and/or diving too close to the sand and thus moving a lot of sediments that will end up covering sea grass (marine plants that rely on sunlight to survive).

Jeff;  Are the developments regulated at all and is any consideration being given to preserving the area?

Agnese:  There are laws protecting the environment in Egypt and developments are required to provide an impact study before any work can be done, especially in sensitive areas like Marsa Abu Dabab. Unfortunately, most of the time money talks.

Jeff;  How are the Turtles as well as the other species being affected?

Marsa-Abu-Dabab-3Agnese:  Coastal development can be detrimental for marine species for many reasons: increasing of sediment in the area which bring decreased penetration of light (most marine species, corals for example, need a specific amount of light to survive), changes in the substrate composition, increased disturbance in the water due to the higher number of users, increased noise pollution (again due to boats, zodiacs, people screaming, etc). Coastal developments can also modify the normal patterns of currents and water circulation, although this does not seem the case for Abu Dabab. Another consequence of coastal development is that for example during the rare (but increasing) floods events, all the pesticides and chemicals used in the hotels to appear more “green” are washed away in the bay creating periodical bloom of algae that subsequently kill the sea grass. On a macro-scale, no sea grass means no turtles and no dugongs but on a smaller scale, hundreds of other animals are affected by the absence of sea grass and/or by the higher concentration of chemicals in the water, chemicals that end up accumulating in the sand.

Jeff:  Have you noticed any significant change in turtle numbers over the last few years?

Agnese:  Unfortunately marine turtles and green turtles in particular show naturally very high annual fluctuations in their abundance, so it is very hard with only 2-3 years of data to have an idea of the trend of the population. I personally don’t think that the number of turtles has decreased, but I think the use of the bay is now different: turtles are spending more time in deeper areas that are not used as intensively by snorkelers and divers as the shallow areas.

Jeff:  What is HEPCA doing now to protect the area?

Agnese:  In January 2007, HEPCA, together with its partners, the Red Sea Governorate and the National Parks Authority of Egypt, proposed a management strategy to protect the bay and its inhabitants articulated on the following key actions:

  • Zoning: a new zoning line was secured to prevent motorized boat traffic inside the Bay; moreover, moorings were removed to stop overnight stays by safari boats.
  • Access: the bay can be accessed only from shore. The number of visitors (snorkelers or divers) should be carefully controlled and, in addition, safari and daily boats are no longer allowed to send their guests inside the Bay.
  • Enforcement: two rangers from the Red Sea Protectorate are to be positioned at Marsa Abu Dabab to ensure these restrictions are met.
  • Education: HEPCA and its partners (including the resident Orca Dive Club) have launched an awareness campaign that will help to educate not only visitors to the Red Sea, but also their guides.
  • Research: A sighting and mapping project was launched to collect much-needed data about the resident dugong and turtle population for scientific and environmental research.

The management plan however has not been respected. We received reports from the local dive centres of safari boats spending the night in the bay especially during summer months and carrying their guests using zodiacs. The enforcement also is not strong enough and being now 100% private, there is no way to limit or control the number of visitors using the bay.

HEPCA is putting more action in place this year to better protect not only Abu Dabab but also other bays with extensive sea grass meadows.

Jeff:  Even before the full scale commercial development started, there were often great numbers of holiday makers snorkelling in the bay and harassing the Turtles in the shallow water. They were doing the same with the Dugongs which of course finally got driven away. Are the Turtles perhaps a little more tolerant than the Dugongs or are they also feeling the pressure?

Agnese:  Turtles are definitely more tolerant to human harassment than the dugong. In Abu Dabab in particular, they got used to the increasing number of people in the water and most of the time, turtle reaction to a wrong behaviour would be to swim further out in deeper area to get rid of the annoying people trying to touch it. This is true for older (and thus bigger) turtles. Younger individuals are much more sensitive to human presence and harassment; if they feel unsafe they will simply move to another bay.

Jeff:  I know there have been a few online petitions created to protest about over-development. Have they had any effect at all? Is it worth divers getting involved on any level to protect the bay?

Agnese:  Of course it is worth divers getting involved to promote protection of the bay! Divers and other users together with NGOs and local authorities are those that can actually push for change to happen and for implementation of new laws.

Jeff: What are the consequences of loosing the bay as it is and loosing all the species that live there?

Agnese:  Losing Marsa Abu Dabab would mean losing one of the most amazing feeding grounds for green turtles (which, by the way, are a worldwide endangered species) and dugongs. It would mean losing one of the most valuable natural treasures of the Egyptian Red Sea. Once a site like this is lost, it will be probably be lost forever.

Jeff:  If the Turtles were to be driven away, where would they go? Where else is left where food is abundant and the pressures of tourism is minimal?

Agnese:  There are other bays with extensive sea grass meadows (for example Marsa Shoni, Marsa Imbarak) but they all have the same problem: a lot of people going there, a lot of boats and zodiacs, no rules. The only pristine areas left are probably in the southern end of the Egyptian Red Sea (wadi Gemal national park and Shalateen area).

You can view Jeff Goodman’s short film on the Turtles at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DS0YOnPU1w8&list=UUKfpZWTCn_SdaILHrx5HRvg&index=34

And sign a petition at http://mgste.epetitions.net/   

If you would like to know more about the issues in this article or more about HEPCA please go to www.hepca.org or contact Agnese at: agnese@hepca.org

Jeff Goodman is the Editor-at-Large for Scubaverse.com with responsibility for conservation and underwater videography. Jeff is an award-winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker who lives in Cornwall, UK. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

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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