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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 is a multiple award winning, freelance TV cameraman/film maker and author. Having made both terrestrial and marine films, it is the world's oceans and their conservation that hold his passion with over 10.000 dives in his career. Having filmed for international television companies around the world and author of two books on underwater filming, Jeff is Author/Programme Specialist for the 'Underwater Action Camera' course for the RAID training agency. Jeff has experienced the rapid advances in technology for diving as well as camera equipment and has also experienced much of our planet’s marine life, witnessing, first hand, many of the changes that have occurred to the wildlife and environment during that time. Jeff runs bespoke underwater video and editing workshops for the complete beginner up to the budding professional.

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Preserving Paradise: Seacology’s Island Conservation Mission

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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.

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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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