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Marine Life & Conservation

Rare nudibranch discovery highlights diversity of Bonaire’s reefs

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In exciting news for the Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP), a sighting of Aegires sublaevis, a rare nudibranch, was documented at the Cliff dive site in 2021. Incredibly, this nudibranch has not been documented anywhere in the Caribbean, and this extraordinary discovery showcases the diversity – known and unknown – of the reefs protected in the BNMP since 1979. Bonaire continues to win scuba-diving awards worldwide for its beautiful macro-life and this discovery only further highlights why reef conservation is vitally important.

Nudibranchs, a type of mollusk, fascinate both biologists and scuba-divers world-wide. A diverse group, members are known for their elaborate colors, ability to photosynthesize, and sometimes cannibalistic behaviors, gaining them a passionate following from both underwater photographers and scientists alike. Forums around the world unite researchers, scientists, and photographers in their quest to discover and document these tiny creatures with big personalities. It is through one such forum that researcher Dr. Leslie Wilk, co-author of Reef Creature Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas, tracked down author Tricia O’Malley, an amateur underwater photographer, as she had the only known photographs in the Caribbean of the rare nudibranch, Aegires sublaevis.

I affectionately referred to the nudibranch as “Glow Cheese,” because I was unable to find the correct identification. Its brilliant yellow color and patchy skin made me think of a block of Swiss Cheese. I was delighted to discover it at the Cliff dive site – one of my favorite locations for macro life and night diving,” O’Malley states.

Incidentally, through discussion with Dr. Wilk, O’Malley learned that she’d also documented another rare nudibranch at the same site – an undescribed member of the family Dorididae.

I take joy in night diving because the reefs truly come alive in the dark. It is astounding to me that after hundreds of dives at Bonaire, I still discover new and exciting finds on each dive. The Cliff dive site is particularly bountiful when it comes to finding nudibranchs, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to have had the opportunity to see such rare and unusual macro-life. I’m truly honored to live somewhere that declares their commitment to protecting the reefs. It just shows that there is so much more to learn about the delicate reef ecosystem and that the Netherlands should consider Bonaire’s reef to be a crown jewel to be preserved at all costs,” O’Malley continues.

In his research, Dr. Wilk also discovered other rare nudibranchs found on Bonaire by local naturalist, Ellen Muller. These nudibranchs are Trapania bonellenae, as well as an undescribed species of Cerberilla. These finds only serve to further highlight the extraordinary diversity of Bonaire’s reef.

Recent finds show that Bonaire, in particular, has several rare and undescribed species.  The rarest is Trapania bonellenae, an endemic slug named partly after the island and partly after the local resident who discovered it. Aegires sublaevis, a species rarely seen anywhere, was recently photographed at Bonaire. Undescribed species of Spurilla, Cerberilla, and Dorididae have been found in Bonaire’s shallows, but nowhere else. There is also a rare color form of Elysia flava,” Dr. Wilk states.

Such extraordinary aspects of Bonaire’s sea slug fauna extend to other marine taxa. For example, the preliminary results of a 2020 survey of Bonaire’s marine biodiversity, funded by Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the ANEMOON Foundation, discovered the existence of at least seven species of invertebrates that are new to science. I mention the above to highlight that on-going research is revealing Bonaire’s marine life to be more diverse and remarkable than ever expected. Accordingly, governmental authorities that create and implement Bonaire’s coastal development policies should place even more emphasis on making decisions that respect, protect, and preserve its marine environment,” Dr. Wilk states.

Implications

These findings provide exciting new insight into Bonaire’s coral reef ecosystems and the opportunity for new marine life discoveries. It is vitally important to protect an environment where new species are still being discovered. As development on Bonaire increases, so does the pressure on the dynamic reef ecosystem, and it will be crucial that conservation lead Bonaire’s future.

The discovery of the Aegires sublaevis will be published in the upcoming field guide “Tropical West Atlantic Sea Slugs.”

Report your sightings

These nudibranch sightings have been stored in Observation.org: https://observation.org/observation/229037868/

Species reports by local communities and tourists are invaluable for nature conservation efforts to help increase public awareness and overall species protection.

You can report your nature sightings and photos on the website www.Observation.org or download the free apps (iPhone (iObs) & Android (ObsMapp)). You can also send your information to research@DCNAnature.org for support with getting your data stored. 

Image credits: Tricia O’Malley

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Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Joanna Ruxton MBE, filmmaker and conservationist, about her life and work (Watch Video)

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“If you really care about our oceans and ultimately the planet on which we all live then do listen to what Jo Ruxton has to say about how we need to act now if we are to stop and reverse this destructive global trend we have created for ourselves and all other life.”

Jeff Goodman

In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Joanna Ruxton MBE, film maker and conservationist, about her life and work, ‘A Plastic Ocean’ (Netflix) and her new project Ocean Generation.

Jo graduated from London University with a degree in Marine Science.  She started the first marine programme for WWF in Hong Kong, where she raised her family, and was a key advocate for the establishment of the first marine parks there.

She returned to live in the UK and was a Producer at the BBC Natural History Unit and a lead member of the BBC’s diving team, producing and directing underwater sequences since the first days of filming on Blue Planet.

Disappointed in the lack of conservation messages in BBC films, she left in 2008 to work independently to produce, A Plastic Ocean, (Netflix).  She founded the charity, Ocean Generation (formerly Plastic Oceans).

She lives in Cornwall close to her daughters and their families and when not diving on location she enjoys cold-water sea swimming, whatever the season.  Jo was awarded an MBE in the 2022 New Year’s Honours for services to marine conservation.

About Ocean Generation | UK Charity No. 1139843

Ocean Generation is an inclusive global movement that exists to restore a sustainable relationship between humanity and the Ocean.

Founded in 2009, the charity was established initially to support the production and message of our award-winning documentary feature, ‘A Plastic Ocean’, named by Sir David Attenborough as “one of the most important films of our time” and ignited mass public awareness about the impact of plastic on our Ocean.

No ordinary NGO, Ocean Generation combines the disruptive energy of a youth collective with years of experience in storytelling through science and film.

Find out more at www.oceangeneration.org


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Incredible underwater Cornish adventure awaits 400 lucky teens

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An education programme and competition, set to change the lives of 400 teenagers has launched to bring the crucial message of marine conservation to the heart of secondary school pupils nationwide.

DIVE PROJECT CORNWALL in conjunction with PADI the world’s largest ocean exploration and diver organisation, believe it is every young person’s right to experience the ocean and that educating children about the wonders of the planet’s marine environment, the crucial part it plays in our existence and that of all ocean life, will help safeguard our seas for future generations.

Dive Project Cornwall has launched the ambitious project to educate hundreds of thousands of young people by delivering an education programme directly into schools across the UK, in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society. Their mission is to raise awareness of the importance of the planet’s marine environment and its vital role in our very own existence.​

At the heart of Dive Project Cornwall is a nationwide competition which will invite pupils to design and document a marine creature using recyclable plastics.

Open to all secondary schools, 400 lucky teenagers will win the experience of a lifetime: a 6-day, life-changing trip to Cornwall where they will learn to scuba dive at a PADI Dive Centre, enjoy outdoor adventures, take up beach-related activities and attend presentations from leading marine industry experts.

This will encourage teenagers to become PADI Open Water Divers and PADI Torchbearers – ocean influencers who positively engage, inspire and motivate the next generation to save our planet.

Registration closes in mid-April and a panel of judges will select the winners on 30th May. The judging panel confirmed to date includes: Emma Samuelsson, Regional Manager, PADI, EMEA; Kim Conchie, Deputy Lieutenant of Cornwall; Malcolm Bell MBE, Head of Tourism at Visit Cornwall; Trevor Osborne, Chairman, The Trevor Osborne Property Group; Paul Strike, Founder & Director, Fourth Element; and Hannah Tapping, Editor, Cornwall Living & Drift.

Emma Samuelsson, Regional Manager, PADI, EMEA, tells us: “PADI is delighted to partner with Dive Project Cornwall to provide the 400 winning students with PADI Open Water Diver eLearning. PADI Dive Centres in Cornwall will work with the students to complete their in-water training and PADI certification. Scuba diving opens up the underwater world for young people and helps them to develop an understanding and appreciation for it, inspiring them to want to explore and protect it.”

This truly immersive experience will take teens from classroom to shoreline and beyond; from an on-site training pool to taking their first steps in discovering the wonders of life underwater in the ocean, igniting their imaginations to join the Ocean Conservation movement.

Many of these children will never have had the opportunity to experience the ocean close at hand. They will leave this residential course, delivered in the breath-taking environment of the Lizard in Cornwall, based at Porthkerris as PADI qualified open water divers, ready to spread the word as ocean influencers.

Find out more and register for the competition at www.diveprojectcornwall.co.uk/the-competition

Image credit: Jake Tims

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