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Marine Life & Conservation

Saving Leatherback Turtles

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Last summer I was sat on the cliffs at Pendeen in Cornwall watching the sea swell gently rise and fall over the rocks below. It was a still and bright sunny day with Fulmars circling along the cliff face and the occasional seal checking out the shallows for food. Just as I was thinking how it couldn’t get any better, nature did its thing and sent a giant Leatherback Turtle cruising 100meters out from the shore. It really was a giant too. Hard to guess its real size but it had to be at least 5-6ft long.

The leatherback is the largest of the marine turtles and gets its name from the black, leathery skin that covers its carapace.  Leatherback turtles are considered to be critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Nesting females are often killed for their meat and their eggs are harvested. At sea leatherbacks seem to be particularly vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear, especially long lines and gill nets.

It’s hard to describe how I felt watching this fantastic animal swimming to some unknown part of the ocean. I know I was smiling. It is hard to accept that one day soon, that turtle, along with its entire species, may be gone from this planet forever, never to return.

Larry McKenna is the founding director of S.O.L.O. (Save Our Leatherbacks Operation). I first heard of his work through MilaBooks.com and their Sea-Gram News Letter. The following is taken from the April edition of the Sea-Gram news letter.

Larry McKenna’s work takes him to the remote land of Papua, Indonesia, home to the Aboriginal Papauans, and site of the largest leatherback sea turtle nesting beach, about 18 kilometers long and up to 100 meters wide.

Larry describes the scene on the beach:

“The only illumination is a reflection of moon light on the white foam of a breaking wave. All is quiet, except the gentle lapping of the surf while we wait for a living dinosaur to exit the sea and laboriously climb the slope of the beach.

She will locate where she was hatched 12 or more years ago, repeating the 150-million-year drive to reproduce so the species may survive. Left alone, this ancient hatching process would continue unimpeded, but humans have introduced the spectre of extinction of this most valuable creature of the seas.”

eye-of-leatherback-turtle

The Eye of a Leatherback Turtle During Nesting Trance

When the leatherback selects her nesting spot and begins to dig a four-foot-deep nest, she goes into a trance and does not recognize any activity. Enlightened humans can approach and marvel at the amazing beauty nature provides.

leatherback-turtle

However, while she is in this egg-laying trance, the nesting female is in danger from other humans; those who would slit her throat and use her skin for handbags and fashion items, in addition to senseless killings, egg poaching, and trophy collecting.

Global warming poses another threat, as high tides drown nests and heat cooks the eggs in their shells.

Leatherback hatchlings are about four inches long and cannot crawl over a twig. Yet they must face a host of jungle predators at nesting beaches, such as wild pigs, dogs, salt water crocodiles, crabs, and pythons.

leatherback-turtle-2

Larry’s activities include relocating eggs from tidal nests into bamboo pens, and excavating the nests that hatched in the night to examine the remains and determine what happened to unhatched eggs.

In almost every nest he finds several comatose hatchlings, which ran out of air climbing upward to freedom. He places an unconscious hatchling in the palm of a guest’s hand and encourage him/her to give it “leatherback CPR” by softly blowing into its face and nose. Soon it begins to wiggle and wants to be set on the sand. All the volunteers have tears in their eyes because they have just given life to a leatherback baby which would have become crab food later in the day.

How you can help:

1. Should you wish to experience this truly exciting and memorable visit to the leatherbacks, along with some of the best diving in the world, please contact P.J. Campagna, a very dedicated foundation volunteer, for the details:

pj-campagna@comcast.net

2. Watch this short youtube video (which includes donation information), placing you right there on the nesting beach, but which also shows some of the ATROCITIES humans inflict on these gentle giants:

[youtube id=”ufD8jJgK2p4″ width=”100%” height=”400px”]

The above text, information, and photos are used with permission, from Larry’s article: To Touch A Dinosaur.

Marine Life & Conservation

Ghost Fishing UK land the prize catch at the Fishing News Awards

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The charity Ghost Fishing UK was stunned to win the Sustainability Award.

The winners were selected by a panel of industry judges and the award recognises innovation and achievement in improving sustainability and environmental responsibility within the UK or Irish fishing industries in 2021.

Nominees must have demonstrated a unique and innovative response to an environmental sustainability issue within the UK or Irish industry, demonstrating that the project has gone above and beyond standard practice, and provided evidence of its impact. The judges look particularly for projects that have influenced a significant change in behaviour and/or that have inspired broader awareness and/or engagement.

Ghost Fishing UK originated in 2015, training voluntary scuba divers to survey and recover lost fishing gear, with the aim to either return it to the fishing industry or recycle it. The charity is run entirely by volunteers and has gone from strength to strength, only last year winning the Best Plastic Campaign at the Plastic Free Awards.

Now, the charity has also been recognised at seemingly the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a unique achievement as trustee Christine Grosart explains;

We have always held the belief that working with the fishing industry is far more productive than being against it, in terms of achieving our goals to reduce and remove lost fishing gear.

The positive response to our fisheries reporting system that we received from both the fishing industry and the marine environment sector, was evidence that working together delivers results.

The feedback we got from the awards evening and the two-day Scottish Skipper Expo where we had an exhibit the following day, was that the fishing industry despises lost fishing gear as much as we do and the fishers here are very rarely at fault. It is costly to them to lose gear and they will make every effort to get it back, but sometimes they can’t. That is where we come in, to try to help. Everyone wins, most of all the environment. You can’t ask for much more.”

Following the awards, Ghost Fishing UK held an exhibit at the Scottish Skipper expo at the new P&J Live exhibition centre in Aberdeen.

This gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so many people in the fishing industry, all of whom were highly supportive of our work and wanted to help us in any way they could. This has opened so many opportunities for the charity and our wish list which has been on the slow burner for the last 7 years, was exceeded in just 3 days. We came away from the events exhausted, elated, humbled, grateful and most of all, excited.”

Trustee and Operations Officer, Fred Nunn, is in charge of the diving logistics such as arranging boats and organising the divers, who the charity trains in house, to give up their free time to volunteer.

He drove from Cornwall to attend the awards and the exhibition: “What a crazy and amazing few days up in Scotland! It was awesome to meet such a variety of different people throughout the industry, who are all looking at different ways of improving the sustainability and reduction of the environmental impact of the fishing industry.

It was exciting to have so many people from the fishing industry approaching us to find out more about what we do, but also what they could offer. Fishermen came to us with reports and offers of help, using their vessels and other exhibitors tried to find ways that their product or service could assist in our mission.”

  • Ghost Fishing UK uses hard boat charters from Cornwall to Scotland for the diving projects, paying it forward to the diving community.
  • The charity relies on reports of lost fishing gear from the diving and fishing community and to date has received well over 200 reports, culminating on over 150 survey and ghost gear recovery dives, amounting to over 1000 individual dives and diver hours by the volunteer team members.
  • You can find more information at ghostfishing.co.uk
  • If you are a fisher who knows of any lost fishing gear, you can report it to the charity here: ghostfishing.co.uk/fishermans-reporting
  • The charity is heading to Shetland for a week-long project in the summer of 2023. If you would like to support this project, please contact them at: info@ghostfishing.co.uk

Chair of Ghost Fishing UK and professional technical diving instructor Dr Richard Walker was immensely proud of the team’s achievements;

I’ve been a scuba diver since 1991 and have met thousands of divers in that time. I’d be hard pushed to think of one of them that wasn’t concerned about conservation of our marine environment. To be recognised by the fishing industry for our efforts in sustainability is a huge honour for us, and has encouraged our team to work even harder to find, survey and remove lost fishing gear from the seas. The fact that the fishing industry recognises our efforts, and appreciates our stance as a group that wants to work alongside them is one of the highlights of our charity’s history, and we look forward to building the relationship further.

To find out more about Ghost Fishing UK visit their website here.


All images: Ghost Fishing UK

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Marine Life & Conservation

Komodo National Park found to be Manta Hotspot

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Through a collaborative effort between citizen divers, scientists from the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), and Murdoch University, a new study reports a large number of manta rays in the waters of Komodo National Park, Indonesian, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suggesting the area may hold the key to regional recovery of the threatened species.

Reef mantas (Mobula alfredi), which grow up to 5m, tend to reside and feed in shallow, coastal habitats. They also visit ‘cleaning stations’ on coral reefs to have parasites, or dead skin picked off by small fish. Courtship ‘trains’ are also observed adjacent to cleaning stations. In Komodo National Park, manta rays are present year-round, challenging the famous Komodo dragon as the most sought-after megafauna for visitors.

Scientists teamed up with the dive operator community to source identification photographs of manta rays visiting the parks’ waters and submit them to MantaMatcher.org – a crowdsourced online database for mantas and other rays. Most of the photographs came from just four locations from over 20 commonly visited by tourism boats.

I was amazed by how receptive the local dive community was in helping collect much-needed data on these threatened animals,” said lead author Dr. Elitza Germanov. “With their support, we were able to identify over 1,000 individual manta rays from over 4,000 photographs.

People love manta rays—they are one of the most iconic animals in our oceans. The rise of the number of people engaging in SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and the advent of affordable underwater cameras meant that photos and videos taken by the public during their holidays could be used to quickly and affordably scale data collection,” said MMF co-founder and study co-author Dr. Andrea Marshall.

The photographs’ accompanying time and location data is used to construct sighting histories of individual manta rays, which can then be analyzed with statistical movement models. These models predict the likelihood that manta rays are inhabiting or traveling in between specific sites. The study’s results showed that some manta rays moved around the park and others as far as the Nusa Penida MPA (>450 km to the west), but overall, manta rays showed individual preferences for specific sites within the Park.

I found it very interesting how some manta rays appear to prefer spending their time in some sites more than others, even when sites are 5 km apart, which are short distances for manta rays,” said Dr. Elitza Germanov. “This means that manta rays which prefer sites where fishing activities continue to occur or that are more popular with tourism will endure greater impacts.”

Fishing activities have been prohibited in many coastal areas within Komodo NP since 1984, offering some protection to manta rays prior to the 2014 nationwide protection. However, due to illegal fishing activity and manta ray movements into heavily fished waters, manta rays continue to face a number of threats from fisheries. About 5% of Komodo’s manta rays have permanent injuries that are likely the result of encounters with fishing gear.

The popularity of tourism to these sites grew by 34% during the course of the study. An increase in human activity can negatively impact manta rays and their habitats. In 2019, the Komodo National Park Authority introduced limits on the number of boats and people that visit one of the most famous manta sites.

This study shows that the places where tourists commonly observe manta rays are important for the animals to feed, clean, and mate. This means that the Komodo National Park should create measures to limit the disturbance at these sites,” said Mr. Ande Kefi, an employee of the Komodo National Park involved with this study. “I hope that this study will encourage tourism operators to understand the need for the regulations already imposed and increase compliance.”

Despite Indonesia’s history with intensive manta ray fisheries, Komodo National Park still retains large manta ray aggregations that with careful ongoing management and threat reduction will benefit regional manta ray populations. The study highlights that marine protected areas that are large enough to host important manta ray habitats are a beneficial tool for manta ray conservation.

For more information about MMF visit their website here.

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