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Marine Life & Conservation

Of grazers, browsers, scrapers and a miracle plant called Vetiver

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Guest article by Greet Meulepas who lives in Mauritius…

About 25% of reef fishes are herbivores, grazing on algae that would otherwise smother the corals.

In ‘Reef Fish Behavior’, a wonderful book written by Ned Deloach and Paul Humann, published in1999 the writers state “If left ungrazed, the competitively superior algae would quickly smother existing corals and blanket reef rock, leaving nowhere for coral larvae to settle and establish new colonies.” They also state that due to “continued overfishing and nutrient-rich run-off from coastal development and agriculture algae continue to dominate the reefs in many areas”. These facts were known 22 years ago and still hold today. Yet these days it is easy to blame climate change as the sole culprit for the disappearance of the reefs. Truth is that reefs are even more susceptible to temperature rises because they are already stressed due to overfishing and pollution.

Reef fishes need the reefs for shelter and food, but the reef needs reef fishes in order to survive too. Without the fishes the delicate balance of the reef ecosystem is lost. Certain fish species in particular are crucial for reef survival. Parrotfishes should be “legally protected from fisheries, strictly enforcing fishing restrictions and educating the public on the ecological importance and economic benefits of wild parrotfish”, according to a 2014 IUCN report. Parrotfishes are known as scrapers. Their beaks are powerful tools to scrape fast-growing turf algae from the corals. Doing so they scrape clean and even bite off pieces of coral and in this way provide clean substrate for coral planulae to settle.

Grazers like surgeonfishes are herbivores that keep the growth of turf algae in check by grazing the reef substrate. Grazers limit the growth of macro algae, that would otherwise outcompete the corals for space and light on the reef.

Macro-algae are also known to limit the potential for coral planulae to settle on to the reef. Not only are they prevented to grow by grazers, they are also eaten by browsers should they have survived the grazers.

So without browsers, grazers and scrapers the reef would fast be overtaken by algae as we see happening in many areas surrounding Mauritius and elsewhere in the world.

Luckily, the solution is known. It is two-fold and easy enough to implement.

First of all, like the IUCN suggests, there needs to come a ban on fishing parrotfish and other crucial herbivorous reef fish species.  Those who oppose this should think about the fact that without a reef there won’t be any reef fishes anyway. So either act now or pay the terrible price in the near future.

Protection of reef fishes can be done by specific bans to fish certain species or by protecting entire regions by implementing no-take zones and thus protect the entire reef ecosystem of that area.

This solution will not have the desired effect in a timely manner if we do not add to it the second part of the plan: tackle pollution caused by nutrient-rich run-off from coastal development and agriculture. Obviously the logical thing to do is to stop using these polluting chemicals. In addition, Nature offers us a beautiful extra solution, if we only dare to open our eyes to see the beauty in its simplicity: the miracle plant called Vetiver.

This plant, a grass closely related to lemongrass, is so beneficial in many ways that it has been called the miracle plant. Its uses are known for more than 4 decades yet this knowledge has never  spread beyond a receptive few.

For if people knew and really saw what Vetiver could mean, all coastal areas all around the world would have surely been planted full with vetiver by now. I can only imagine that the simplicity of the plan turns people sceptic.

Here it is: Vetiver has meters long roots that purify water by trapping and absorbing toxicities, while at the same time the plant stabilises the soil and is thus an excellent weapon against erosion. On top of that Vetiver increases soil fertility and can be used in wetland restoration, agricultural improvement, erosion and sediment control, agrochemical pollution and climate change mitigation. Vetiver has been successfully used to rehabilitate coral reefs in Vanuatu, the Philippines and Guam, will be used to help save the Great Barrier Reef and I am hoping we can add Mauritius to that list in the near future.

So, dear reader, I invite you to submerge yourself in the wonderful world of Vetiver and plant this wonder in your garden, plantation, farm, hotel gardens, surrounding golf courses…. and help the beautiful coral reefs to survive!

Find out more at: www.vetiver.org

Jill Holloway lives in Mauritius and at Sodwana Bay Isimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa. A PADI qualified Nitrox diver with over 1,500 dives, she is a passionate observer and preserver of the marine environment, and has a database of over 35,000 fish pics and hundreds of Gopro videos on fish behaviour, which she shares with her readers.

Marine Life & Conservation

Help protect our marine environment with BSAC’s new Shore Surveyor course

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BSAC has partnered with Scottish environmental charity, Seawilding, to offer everyone the chance to help champion the marine environment with the new Shore Surveyor course.

Delivered by eLearning, Shore Surveyor has been designed to engage people, particularly children and young people, in the issues that face our precious marine life. With a focus on the UK’s native oyster and seagrass beds, this eLearning course equips participants with the skills needed to help identify seashore-based habitats and record what they find.

Shore Surveyor is open to everyone, whether they are BSAC members or not.

Working with Seawilding, the UK’s first community-led native oyster and seagrass restoration project, Shore Surveyor participants will also learn about the native oyster and seagrass beds and the issues they currently face.

Both the UK’s native oyster and seagrass habitats have experienced a serious decline over the past 200 years, resulting in an estimated 95% reduction in populations. The new Shore Surveyor course ties directly into BSAC’s major new marine project, Operation Oyster, which aims to protect and restore native oyster habitats around the UK.

By the end of the course, participants can become ‘citizen scientists’ by helping to locate and record seashore areas where current or potential native oysters or seagrass populations are present. This data can then be fed into the National Marine Records Database to help scientists studying our coast as well as support future underwater surveys.

Seawilding CEO, Danny Renton, said he was delighted to partner with BSAC on the Shore Surveyor course.

“Our seas are in peril, and it’s so important to engage families and especially young people, in the wonders of the sea and to engage them in marine conservation. The Shore Surveyor course is the first step to get involved in initiatives like seagrass and native oyster restoration and to nurture a new generation of ocean activists, environmentalists and marine biologists.”

BSAC’s Chief Executive, Mary Tetley, said the new Shore Surveyor course was also part of BSAC’s drive to get more young people actively involved in marine life protection. 

“This new course not only explores the threats faced by our precious oceans but also empowers people to get directly involved.

“From a family visit to the beach to a club diving or snorkelling trip, the skills learned on Shore Surveyor can be invaluable to anyone, young or not so young, who wants to make a difference to our under-pressure marine life.”

One of the first participants of the Shore Surveyor course, 16-year-old Lili, from North Wales, has recently put her new found surveying skills into action while on her summer holidays.

“I loved it because it was simple and easy to use and remember,” said Lili. “All ages will enjoy it – young children, teenagers, parents, even grandparents.

“There is a bit of eLearning to do before you start but that is easy to do, and the course really helps you when you go out and see everything for real on the beach!”

Shore Surveyor is open to children aged eight up to adults and costs £20. For more information and to book onto the eLearning course, go to bsac.com/shoresurveyor.

For more information on Operation Oyster and other ways you can get involved, go to bsac.com/operationoyster

Images: Seawilding

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Marine Life & Conservation

PADI and Seiko Prospex unite to help create the world’s largest underwater cleanup for ocean change

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PADI® and Seiko Prospex are teaming up to help marine conservation charity Oceanum Liberandum host the world’s largest underwater cleanup event in Sesimbra, Portugal on 24 September 2022.

Taking place during AWARE Week, the event aims to bring together 700 divers to clean up the coastline for a 12-hour period and is anticipated to host the most divers ever on record taking part in one consecutive underwater cleanup effort.  Participating divers and dive centres from around the region will come together to collect marine debris–which will ultimately be logged into PADI’s Dive Against Debris database.

“Our database is the world’s largest in terms of capturing seafloor debris data, which has already helped drive two pioneering scientific papers being used to create new waste management policies,” says Emma Daffurn, CSR Specialist for PADI Worldwide. “More than 250 million tons of plastic are estimated to make its way into our ocean by 2025 and the environmental damage caused by plastic debris alone is estimated at $13 billion US a year. This world record attempt further highlights the important role divers play in reporting, removing and advocating to stop marine debris at its source.”

PADI is proud to have Seiko Prospex on board as the sponsor of the marine debris program and a partner for this world record attempt. Their support is critical to advancing the PADI Blueprint for Ocean Action, and protecting the global ocean now and for generations to come.

“Helping to raise awareness and take an active role in environmental conservation has become one of Seiko Prospex’s missions,” says Miguel Rodrigues, Sales & Marketing Director for Seiko Prospex. “We seek, whenever possible, to support events that have ocean conservation at their core, and we are very honored to sponsor the world’s largest underwater cleanup. We are proud to contribute to a more sustainable future where humans are an integral part of nature.”

Those who want to volunteer to take part in the world record attempt can learn more and sign up at oceanumliberandum.pt/en/Largest-Underwater-cleanup-in-the-World/. The 15 euro registration fee will go towards supporting dive centres with boats, facilities and air bottle logistics.

“We’re thrilled to have the chance to work with Seiko in supporting the largest underwater cleanup event so that we can mobilise Ocean TorchbearersTM to take action to protect what they love, capture more essential data for policy changes, and continue the wave of momentum in creating positive ocean change,” says Daffurn.

For more from PADI, visit www.padi.com

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