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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

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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