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Marine Life & Conservation

NEW: White Shark Interest Group Podcast Series – #002 – CONSERVATION

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Second in an exciting podcast series from Ricardo Lacombe of the White Shark Interest Group.

Episode 2 of the White Shark Interest Group Podcast, Facebook’s largest White Shark specific group, covering science, conservation, news, photography, video and debate.

This episode features Dirk, Javier and Ricardo discussing CONSERVATION! Conservation through education and knowledge! Is social media a benefit or hindrance to conservation efforts? Can Shark Week be considered a conservation aid? What can YOU DO to help sharks from your own home…even if miles from the ocean? What is a first encounter like seeing a white shark with your own eyes and how can it change your conservation stance? And Dirk’s mum turns out to be a Shark advocate after previously believing “the only good shark is a dead shark”!

Click the links below to listen to the podcast series on the following audio channels:


Join the group: www.facebook.com/groups/whitesharkinterestgroup/

Instagram: www.instagram.com/whiteshark_interestgroup/

Website: www.whitesharkinterestgroup.com

Ricardo Lacombe has worked in the film & television industry for over thirteen years. He is the creator of the documentary Great White Shark Legend and as well as working on videos for shark diving operators, he also is an admin of the White Shark Interest Group, Facebook’s largest white shark specific group.

Marine Life & Conservation

Egg-laying site of critically endangered skate discovered by Scottish divers

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Over a hundred eggs belonging to the critically endangered flapper skate – previously known as the common skate – have been discovered on the rocky seabed off the north west coast of Scotland.  This is the biggest and most important egg-laying site discovered to date, but it is vulnerable to trawling and dredging.

Capable of reaching over 2.5 metres (8.2ft) in length, the flapper skate is one of the largest skate species in the world.  Once common in British waters, including areas like the North Sea’s Dogger Bank, it is now extinct in most of its former range.  The west coast of Scotland is one of the last places it can be found, and the skate is one of 81 Priority Marine Features the Scottish Government is committed to protecting.  However, despite being made aware of the site in 2019, no action has been taken by Marine Scotland to protect the charismatic species.

The discovery comes almost a year after divers recorded egg-cases at the same site in November 2019 and reported the findings to Marine Scotland.  Since 2009, it has been illegal for fishermen to commercially target flapper skates, but the giant, slow-growing species is still at risk of capture and has been devastated by hundreds of years of bottom-trawling.

Flapper skate egg-cages can be over 25cm long and take almost 18 months to hatch, making them vulnerable to incidental capture or damage by fishing gears.  The details of their life cycle are unclear because they are now so rare.

Volunteer divers, with the help of local fishermen, found the eggs known as mermaid’s purses nestled between small rocks.  Over one hundred eggs of different sizes and ages were found, indicating that the site is home to a resident population of skate.

Chris Rickard, Underwater photographer and Conservationist said: “Having observed well over 100 purses at this site, I believe the area is being used by multiple females over many years.  Unfortunately, both the purses themselves and the newly hatched young are so large that they can be caught in bottom towed gear and destroyed – a single pass with a dredge could obliterate the site.”

Divers, local fishermen and experts are now calling on the Scottish Government to take immediate action by designating a marine protected area and bring in an emergency conservation order to close it to bottom towed fishing gears.

Ailsa McLellan, Coalition Coordinator at Our Seas, said: “The Scottish Government continues to fail to step up to its duties and deliver the protection that is needed.  Less than 5 per cent of our inshore waters are permanently protected from bottom towed fishing gear and even these Marine ‘Protected’ Areas are still fished illegally.  We are living through a biodiversity crisis and we need to act quickly to protect what is left.”

The Scottish Government is duty bound to protect and recover the seas.  It designated the Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area to look after this species in 2014 but still has an obligation to protect an additional site.  There are also obligations under the Scottish Government’s own national marine plan to ensure that priority species, such as this, are not harmed, and that nursery grounds are looked after.

Bally Philip from the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation said: “As a local fisherman and representative of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, this has been a great opportunity to showcase what can be achieved when fishing communities and conservationists work together.  We have already written to our MSP and Environment Minister to inform them that the creel fishermen fully support restorations on some fishing in this area to ensure this critically endangered species is afforded the protection it requires.”

These calls for action join the voices of communities around Scotland’s coast calling on the Scottish Government to protect its seas.  Marine protected areas currently cover around 30 per cent of Scotland’s territorial waters, yet about 95 per cent of Scotland’s inshore waters remain unprotected from trawling and dredging, two of the most damaging methods of fishing.

Charles Clover, Executive Director of Blue Marine Foundation, said: “The level of protection that a critically endangered animal such as the common or flapper skate currently receives in UK waters is utterly inadequate to the needs of the species.  There are too few protected areas – particularly in Scotland – and other designated areas in UK waters, such as the Dogger Bank, receive far too little protection.  We need to change the way our seas are managed or give up completely trying to conserve endangered species.”

For more information about the Blue Marine Foundation visit their website by clicking here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

LAMAVE reports increased injuries on endangered whale sharks in Oslob

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A new study published by LAMAVE in the journal Aquatic Conservation, Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems presents the results of some of the work conducted since 2012 to assess the impacts of tourism activities on individual whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu.

The study found that individual whale sharks observed in barangay Tan-Awan, where the butanding are hand-fed daily to enable the tourism interactions, show a significantly higher number of injury, and scars than whale sharks in other non-provisioned (non-fed) tourism sites in Australia, Mozambique and the Seychelles. The study highlights the increased risk for these sharks that regularly visit the provisioning site in Oslob, and underline the urgent need to implement proper management interventions to guarantee the tourism activities do not harm these endangered animals.

The study presents results from photographic images of 152 individual whale sharks collected by the researchers from Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines over a period of 34 months (March 2012 – January 2015) in Oslob, Cebu. The team used photo-identification (photo-ID) to monitor individual whale sharks’ presence and movement and gathered data on the presence, size, type and location of scars on the whole body of these gigantic animals as well as the accumulation of these scars over time. These scarring patterns of whale sharks in Oslob were compared with quantitative studies from Ningaloo in Australia, the Seychelles and Mozambique, other known global aggregations where feeding the whale shark is prohibited and enforced.

The study found that whale sharks in Oslob were significantly more scarred than any other studied population: 95% of all whale sharks in Oslob had scars on their body, with abrasion being the most common type of scar. Most of the scars were categorised as nicks and abrasions and were most likely due to the close contact of ropes, small boats at the provisioning site. Lacerations, which fall into the major category, were observed on 28% of individuals, which is significantly higher than in Ningaloo and Mozambique. These were caused by boat propellers of different sizes and could be facilitated both from the habituation to boats caused by the practice of hand-feeding the whale sharks, as well as the increased traffic of motorized vessels in the surroundings of the provisioning area.

Whale sharks that were observed more frequently in the interaction area showed a significantly higher rate of scarring compared to individual sharks that were seen less frequently in the area; these regular visitors to Oslob accumulated scars over the observation period and suggest a direct causal link between the exposure to the tourism activities in Barangay Tan-Awan and scarring rates. Scars and wounds, even when non-lethal, may pose a serious risk to these endangered species, increasing the physiological stress of the animals, facilitating the contraction of diseases carried by pathogens like virus and bacteria and decreasing overall the health of the affected individuals.

Scars on the head and mouth of a whale shark in Oslob, Cebu at different stages of inflammation and tissue reaction. These scars are caused by continuous contact and rubbing against hard surfaces like outriggers and boat hulls, and are similar to what observed in whale shark kept in captivity in aquaria. Credit: ©LAMAVE

“This study presents evidence of the negative physical impacts of the tourism activity on the whale sharks in Oslob. I have seen myself the wounds on these endangered and enigmatic animals; injuries which highlight the need for an urgent change in Oslob.” – Lead author Luke Penketh

Management solutions to reduce the physical impact of tourism on whale sharks

The high incidence of injuries in the whale sharks provisioned in Oslob is a national concern and there is an urgent need to improve management practices to protect this endangered species. The whale shark is protected by Republic Art No. 9147 ‘Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.’ whereby it is illegal to maltreat and/or inflict injuries on threatened wildlife, and this is further reinforced by the DOT-DA-DILG-DENR Joint Memorandum Circular no.01 series of 2020 (Sect. 8) where it prohibits acts in dedicated interactions sites that would hinder an animals’ health, including injury and distress.  The Philippines is a signatory country to the UNEP Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), where the signatories agree and recommend the strict regulation, monitoring and enforcement of the whale shark tourism interaction activities to ensure its sustainable management and conservation value as highlighted in the Concerted Action for the Whale Shark (UNEP/CMS/Concerted Action 12.7, 2017).

The results highlighted in this study, when paired with the existing knowledge on the migratory nature of this species and connectivity between the archipelago, where individual whale sharks identified in Oslob have been re-sighted in Donsol (Sorsogon Region V) Sogod bay (Southern Leyte Region VIII), Tubbataba Reef Natural Park (Palawan Region VIa), Misamis Oriental (Region 10) and nationally connected further abroad to Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan, call the National  Department of Tourism, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture –  in collaboration with the Department of Interior and Local Government to urgently intervene to ensure the sustainable management the tourism activities in the municipality of Oslob, as well as in other Regions, to ensure the long term balance between the socio-economic benefit of the local communities, the conservation of the marine environment and preservation of endangered protected species like the whale sharks.

For more information about the work of LAMAVE visit the website by clicking here.

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