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Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World’s conservation impact remains strong despite global pandemic

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Reef-World’s annual report reveals tangible conservation impact despite COVID-19 disruptions

New figures out in the last few days reveal that The Reef-World Foundation – international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – certified more dive shops and reached more travellers with its conservation messaging than the previous year, despite disruptions to fieldwork caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reef-World’s annual report, released today, revealed the charity reached 115,000+ travellers with its information on environmental best practice through its Green Fins initiative during its 201920 reporting period; up from the 110,000 travellers reached during 201819. With 115 dive centres assessed in 31 diving hotspots across 11 countries (compared to 98 operators in 10 countries the previous year), the number of active members increased 42% from 118 to 168.

As well as attracting new members, the programme continues to demonstrate its success in helping marine tourism operators reduce their direct, local impact on coral reefs; with data showing an average 20% reduction in environmental impact among members.

While implementation work was unable to take place during three months of the year, due to the global pandemic, the reduction in the number of dive staff trained in person was just 6.5% (1,870+ in 201920 compared to 2,000+ in 201819). However, digital innovations have enabled the charity to continue educating dive professionals around the world, no matter their location. Over 1,140 dive professionals signed up to the Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course: a unique online course which enables individual dive professionals to become Green Fins certified.

Key projects included: the launch of the Dive Guide e-Course Scholarship Fund to help scuba diving guides receive vital environmental certification; the nationwide rollout of Green Fins Egypt in partnership with the Chamber of Diving & Watersports (CDWS); a new initiative to help protect coral reefs in the Dominican Republic in partnership with the TUI Care Foundation; and creating new resources to support marine tourism operators around the world in their efforts to prioritise sustainability despite the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, the charity also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which shall remain in effect until December 2025, to strengthen the framework of cooperation between the two organisations for their  joint international coordination of the Green Fins initiative.

Anne Paranjoti, Founder of The Reef-World Foundation, said: “When UNEP asked me to create a framework for Green Fins back in the 1990s, I wanted to create something that would be open to all and provide a role for anyone that wanted to do something to protect the natural world around us. Today, the Green Fins tools and resources are still free for all wishing to join and provide a framework for anyone that would like to contribute and be part of a wider active community of conservators. The model underpinning Green Fins is one that allows us all to have a role –  no matter how small – in protecting the natural environment and demonstrate actions that truly promote core values and reach beyond a limited view of sustainability. The outcome is, thus, enriched lives for all and sustainability of our beautiful natural resources.”

JJ Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “Like many other charities and businesses across the travel industry, Reef-World has faced a tough time this year. Not only has the pandemic impacted our ability to conduct our environmental fieldwork but we also lost a valued mentor in the passing of our Trustee Andrea Leeman. Andy was as determined and strong-willed as the toughest out there and she would have been so proud of the conservation impact we’ve achieved despite COVID setbacks. As we move into a new normal, we’re determined to ensure sustainability remains a priority across the marine tourism industry. There are challenges ahead but we’re absolutely dedicated to protecting our precious marine ecosystems for the benefit of the local community, potential visitors, visitors and future generations.”

Chloe Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, added: “What a year it’s been – and we couldn’t have done it without you all! The generous donations and support from our partners and the general public have inspired us to continue the battle to protect our coral reefs around the world. We’d like to thank everyone for their efforts over the past year and are excited to work with you to forge a stronger path for sustainable tourism in the future. There’s much more to be done and the future is uncertain but, together, we can make sustainable diving the social norm.”  

With 33 government and NGO staff trained to run the network at a national level, Green Fins now has 82 active assessors; one quarter (26%) of whom are female. The Green Fins national teams are looking forward to resuming training and assessments as soon as it is possible and safe to do so. In addition, plans for Green Fins’ expansion into Guam, Timor-Leste, Japan, Costa Rica and Colombia are in place for when travel opens up again.

Reef-World would also like to thank its partners whose vital support has resulted in significant tangible benefits for the ocean: PADI1% for the PlanetExplorer Ventures; the Blue O Two / Worldwide Dive and Sail alliance; Fourth ElementCaudalieProfessional SCUBA Schools International (PSS)ZuBluPATAParalenzEXO FoundationWorld Nomads and The Footprints NetworkGSTCMyDivePro; and Dive O’Clock.

The full 2019–20 Annual Report can be found here: https://reef-world.org/reefworld-annual-reports

Gear News

Fourth Element X Sea Shepherd

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This year on Black Friday, fourth element announced their new partnership with Sea Shepherd, encouraging people to move away from mindless purchasing and to opt-in to supporting something powerful.

For 40 years Sea Shepherd, a leading non-profit organisation, has been patrolling the high seas with the sole mission to protect and conserve the world’s oceans and marine wildlife. They work to defend all marine wildlife, from whales and dolphins, to sharks and rays, to fish and krill, without exception.

Inspired by Sea Shepherd’s mission, fourth element have created a collection of fourth element X Sea Shepherd limited edition products for ocean lovers and protectors, with 15% of every sale going to the Sea Shepherd fund to help continue to drive conservation efforts globally.

“Working with Sea Shepherd gives fourth element the opportunity to join forces with one of the largest active conservation organisations in the world to try to catalyse change in people’s attitudes and behaviour. Fourth Element’s products are designed, developed and packaged with the intention of minimising our impact on the ocean environment, and with this partnership, we will be supporting the work of Sea Shepherd, in particular in their work on dealing with the twin threats of Ghost fishing nets and plastic pollution.”

Jim Standing fourth element co-founder

Read fourth element’s Sea Shepherd Opinion Piece HERE

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Marine Life & Conservation

Nurse Shark with rare skin pigmentation recorded in Honduras

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One of the defining features of nurse sharks is a brown coloration that is present over their entire body. However, earlier this year, recreational divers in Utila, Honduras stumbled upon a unique individual with a rare condition that completely alters the typical pigmentation pattern in the skin.

The finding was recently published in a new study, “Observations of hypomelanosis in the nurse shark Ginglymostoma cirratum,” in the Journal of Fish Biology, led by researchers at Beneath The Waves (BTW). Working with members of the Caribbean Shark Coalition, the team at BTW saw this reported finding as an opportunity to emphasize the value of citizen science for shark and ray conservation. The diverse, non-traditional author list of this publication demonstrates that science can and should be made accessible to those beyond the scientific community in order to add to the scientific database of sharks, marine life, and marine habitats.

This sighting became the first documented account of a nurse shark with piebaldism, a rare skin condition that results in a partial loss of body pigmentation, with eyes remaining as their regular coloration. The unique coloring made this nurse shark easily identifiable, and the divers saw it on two different dives in two different locations.

Piebaldism is part of a larger suite of pigmentation deficiencies called hypomelanosis. This includes albinism, which results in a complete loss of pigmentation in the skin and iris, and leucism which causes total or partial loss of body pigment and a blue coloration to the iris and body.

Hypomelanosis is incredibly rare in the animal kingdom, particularly in sharks, skates, and rays. Only about 5% of these species have been documented with these conditions, one being a tawny nurse shark with albinism, and another being a nurse shark with leucism.

In nature, if an animal relies on camouflage to hunt or avoid predation, unusual skin conditions could affect its ability to do this successfully, ultimately impacting its chance of survival. With the rarity of these conditions in sharks, little is known about their effects.

This particular individual was about an average size for the species, at approximately 6 feet in length. Because of this size, we can assume that it has been able to hunt and avoid predators successfully to reach maturity. Since nurse sharks have a generalist lifestyle where they eat a wide range of foods and can survive in a variety of conditions, this was somewhat expected. Even so, this rare observation calls for more research on the potential consequences of hypomelanosis on the survivability of sharks, skates, and rays. This is only the second time this species has been scientifically documented to have a skin condition that can affect their pigmentation.

Photos: Ellie Hopgood.

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