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Marine Life & Conservation

Mass strandings of Portuguese Man of War on UK beaches marking World Jellyfish Day

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Beachgoers in South West reporting large numbers of jellyfish-like creatures to the Marine Conservation Society’s Jellyfish Survey

The 3rd November marks World Jellyfish Day, a celebration of the many weird, wonderful and beautiful beings which make their way into UK waters.  This year, the Marine Conservation Society’s Jellyfish Survey has received several reports of a bizarre jellyfish-like creature washing up in large numbers on UK shores.

The Portuguese Man of War is often mistaken for a jellyfish but is, in fact, a colony of hydrozoans – so a ‘they’ rather than an ‘it’. Characterised by an oval, transparent float with many hanging ‘fishing polyps’ which can be tens of metres long, it’s easy to see how they can be mistaken for jellyfish. The sting of a Portuguese Man of War is extremely powerful and as such, can be dangerous to humans.

Image: Joanna Clegg

Whilst sightings of the Physalia physalis are relatively rare on UK shores, there’s been a recent influx of reports of them on the South West coast.

Dr Peter Richardson, Head of Ocean Recovery at the Marine Conservation Society: “Through our online jellyfish survey, we started receiving reports of Portuguese Man of War on beaches in south Wales in September. Through October we have continued to receive reports of them from Devon and Cornwall beaches, with mass strandings in Cornwall this weekend. The weather will be blowing them in from the Atlantic as part of another major Portuguese Man of War stranding event. The last stranding, in similar conditions, was in 2017 and they seem to be getting more frequent since we started our survey in 2003.”

“We urge beach users not to touch them because they pack a very powerful sting, but please do report them on our website so we can better understand the extent of this stranding event.”

The Marine Conservation Society has worked closely with the University of Exeter on the Jellyfish Survey. In 2014 they published the UK distributions and seasonality of eight jellyfish and jellyfish-like species, including the Portuguese Man of War, based on the data collected from the survey. This was the first time UK jellyfish had been mapped in over 40 years, and, using the power of citizen science, the charity intends to track changes in jellyfish bloom distribution and seasonality over time.

Professor Brendan Godley Chair in Conservation Science at the University of Exeter said: “The Marine Conservation Society’s Jellyfish Survey is an incredibly helpful tool in mapping these sort of mass stranding events of jellyfish. Since beginning to collect information in 2003, the survey has built up a fantastic data set which helps us understand how jellyfish species react to environmental changes. Identifying where jellyfish are blooming around UK shores gives an insight into how they are reacting to the effects of climate change such as ocean warming.

“The current influx is, no doubt, resultant from the extremely strong winds that we have been enduring in the southwest”

For more information on the different species of jellyfish (or otherwise!) that can be found on UK beaches, please visit the Marine Conservation Society’s website.

To help contribute to the charity’s ongoing Jellyfish Survey, sightings of jellyfish (and other animals) can be reported on the website here.

Marine Life & Conservation

Shark Guardian investigation finds endangered sharks for sale in Taiwan

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A field investigation into Taiwan’s shark fin industry was conducted by Shark Guardian between December 2020 and March 2021. The investigation obtained documentary evidence of fins from endangered shark species being openly offered for sale by over half of all shark fin traders surveyed in Taiwan’s southern fishing port of Kaohsiung.

Of the 13 shark fin processing and trading companies visited, more than half were found to be trading CITES- listed fins, and seven had shark fins from CITES Appendix II-listed species as part of their product range. One company saidthere was no difference in selling protected or unprotected species. Protected sharks’ products usually create a problem for international shipping only.”

The new report details how seven out of thirteen traders surveyed in Taiwan were found to be selling shark fins from silky sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks, mako sharks, thresher sharks and great white sharks in broad daylight – in contravention of Taiwanese and international law.

Over a three-month period, Shark Guardian investigators witnessed multiple shipments of shark fins from endangered species being unloaded at Donggang fish market which is in Taiwan’s southern city of Kaohsiung.

Alex Hofford, Marine Wildlife Campaigner with Shark Guardian, said “To save sharks and the marine environment, Taiwanese authorities should implement an immediate crackdown on its cruel and unsustainable shark fin trade, and should tighten up local laws to ban the domestic sale of shark fin as well as better enforce its international obligations under CITES. It is also high time that the Taiwanese government should rein in its out-of-control distant water tuna fishing fleet, who are a major supplier shark fin to Chinese markets. Whilst Taiwan is a beacon of democratic and progressive values in Asia, it is allowing its unsustainable and often crime-ridden fisheries sector to rape and pillage our ocean with impunity. This must stop. Taiwan needs to show leadership in environmental protection and must quickly clean up its act as regards its sleazy shark fisheries and trade sectors.”

During our investigation, Shark Guardian also found evidence of Taiwan-based online retailers selling fins of endangered species of shark in contravention of local and international law.

According to WWF, a third of all sharks and rays are threatened with extinction, yet fishing and trading in unsustainable shark fin remains a highly profitable, but environmentally destructive, enterprise for Taiwanese companies operating out of Kaohsiung.

Brendon Sing, Co-Director of Shark Guardian said “Clearly more must be done to protect sharks globally. There are over 500 known shark species with only a handful of them listed under CITES. Even then, CITES listed sharks are still traded illegally where monitoring and enforcement lack any power and expose loopholes in the system. As long as this continues, there is no real protection for any shark species regardless of CITES listing or not. Taiwan must be responsible and take positive action in response to this report.”

Shark Guardian believes that excessively large profit margins are the main reason why Taiwan has never acted to rein in its shark fisheries and trade.

Shark Guardian hopes that Taiwan can apply its progressive values towards preserving the marine environment by imposing a comprehensive ban on the physical and online selling all species of shark fin in Taiwan. Such a ban would go above and beyond what is required under international law, and Taiwan’s domestic laws can be changed with public support.

For more information about Shark Guardian visit their website by clicking here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

PADI and National Geographic Pristine Seas join forces to protect at least 30% of the Ocean

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In 2020, Enric Sala, founder of Pristine Seas and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, approached PADI with the idea to join forces to protect the ocean, combining his vision and proven track record of successfully creating MPAs with the global footprint and extensive reach of the PADI community around the globe. PADI Dive Centres and Resorts are critical stakeholders in their local economies and their leadership, together with the influence and expertise of Sala and his team at National Geographic Pristine Seas, can be a catalyst for lasting change for a return to a healthy ocean and balanced marine ecosystem.

“Ocean conservation benefits everyone, especially the diving sector. We are excited to partner with PADI and all their dive centres worldwide to foster the protection of popular dive sites all around the world,” said Enric Sala.

Initiating this partnership is a global Dive Industry Economic Evaluation Survey to measure the economic benefits of the dive industry on local communities, using data from PADI Dive Centres and Resorts in 186 countries. In cooperation with researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Simon Fraser University, this analysis will be used to inform governments how the creation of MPAs can create jobs and produce important economic outputs locally.

PADI will engage its Mission Hubs, the 6,600 Dive Centres and Resorts who are the heart of the organisation’s save the ocean mission, in a survey to provide the data necessary to complete this study. The information gathered through PADI Mission Hub participation in the survey will be an integral component of the study that will be used to influence local and national governments to establish marine protected areas and protect marine environments for divers and other stakeholders.

“PADI Mission Hubs play a critical role in our Blueprint for Ocean Action and are key stakeholders in the push for increased protection measures for the underwater world,” says Drew Richardson, President and CEO of PADI Worldwide. “Each PADI operator brings unique insights, local expertise, community leadership and passion for our ocean. By coming together as a unified force, the PADI community in partnership with National Geographic Pristine Seas will provide an unprecedented global voice to influence long-term ocean protections.”

Over the last 12 years, Pristine Seas has completed 32 expeditions around the world and helped inspire the creation of 24 marine reserves, protecting over 6.5 million square kilometers of ocean — an area more than twice the size of India. They work with local communities and governments to survey their environments, identify their goals and protect vital ocean areas.

The Dive Industry Economic Evaluation Survey will be available to PADI Dive Centres and Resorts through the remainder of the year.

To learn more about PADI’s Blueprint for Ocean Action and other ways you can join the community of PADI Torchbearers in protecting the ocean, visit padi.com/conservation.

For more information about Pristine Seas visit the website by clicking here.

All images: Courtesy of Pristine Seas, National Geographic Society

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