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Marine Life & Conservation

Seagrass Awareness Month shines spotlight on critical food source for Manatees

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March is Seagrass Awareness Month, and there has never been a more critical time to act to protect seagrass communities across Florida. This year to date, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) has reported 326 known manatee mortalities, very close to the high number during this same period in 2021. A total of 1,101 manatee deaths were recorded in 2021, a number far higher than in any other year since record keeping began 50 years ago. Many of those deaths were reported in and around the Indian River Lagoon, where nutrient pollution, resulting in algae blooms, has led to catastrophic loss of seagrass.

Manatees are herbivores and feed on a variety of submerged, emergent, and floating plants including seagrass. There are seven species of seagrass in Florida, and manatees are known to consume all of them. But this critical food source is threatened, nowhere more so than in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL)—a critical manatee habitat—where a series of human-induced harmful algal blooms have caused the loss of more than 90% of the area’s seagrass biomass. Lack of food in this region has contributed to increased reports of malnourished manatees and unprecedented numbers of manatee deaths.

“Manatees and seagrass communities have co-evolved over millions of years. Seagrass Awareness Month is an important opportunity to spotlight this critical aquatic resource,” said Patrick Rose, Aquatic Biologist and Executive Director of the Save the Manatee Club, “Uncontrolled development, lax regulation, and the resulting pollution from Florida’s growing human population has fed the cycle of algae blooms that cause seagrass loss.”

Save the Manatee Club has a long and continuing history of working with partners to rehabilitate and protect Florida’s waterways, including helping fund research efforts to monitor the state of the Indian River Lagoon and recently opposing House Bill 349 and Senate Bill 198, the so-called “seagrass mitigation bills” that would in fact have been detrimental to seagrass and manatee populations. Additionally, last month Save the Manatee Club partnered with the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for failing to revise outdated critical habitat for Florida manatees and have put the Environmental Protection Agency on official notice of the groups’ intent to sue over failed water quality standards that have led to these massive seagrass losses.

The Club is also a founding member and fiduciary sponsor of a network of partners who help rescue and rehabilitate sick or injured manatees, including those that are severely malnourished.

Members of the public can do their part to protect seagrass and manatees by:

  • Helping to reduce pollution from yard chemicals, which prevents harmful algal blooms from forming;
  • Preventing damage to seagrasses by avoiding boating over seagrass beds or trimming up the boat’s motor and idling to a safe depth before getting on plane;
  • Resisting the urge to feed or give water to manatees which is illegal and teaches them to associate people and/or boats with handouts, changing their behavior and putting them in harm’s way.
  • Reporting distressed, sick, injured, or dead manatees at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922);
  • Contacting local, state, and federal elected officials to urge them to help manatees and restore the Indian River Lagoon.

Aquatic Biologist Rose concluded: “Everyone must act now—from the individual members of the public, to governmental and nonprofit organizations, to our elected officials—to disrupt the cycle of pollution in our waterways. We must protect and rebuild the seagrass communities that are essential to the survival of manatees and a host of other species including fishes, dolphins, sea turtles and birds that collectively depend on this critical aquatic resource.”

For more information about manatees and the Club’s efforts, visit savethemanatee.org

Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World launches Green Fins Japan!

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The Reef-World Foundation, the Onna Village Diving Association, the local government, and Oceana are delighted to announce that Japan is now the 14th country globally to implement the Green Fins initiative – a UN Environment Programme initiative. Onna Village in Okinawa is the first Japanese tourist destination to adopt Green Fins environmental standards to reduce the threats associated with diving and snorkelling on the marine environment.

Green Fins is piloted in Onna Village, Okinawa prefecture, an area renowned for its marine sports and has been working to protect its reefs for many years. Green Fins is implemented as part of the national Sustainable Development Goals project, which aims to manage and illustrate to the local industry how sustainable tourism can play a role in reef conservation. The economic benefits of the reefs benefit not only the fisheries industry but also the tourism industry as it has rocketed in recent decades.

If the project is successful – proving the value of sustainable tourism – the model has the potential to be escalated to a national level. A wide rollout would allow Reef-World to focus on uptake and expansion into other marine tourism and biodiversity hotspots across Japan. Green Fins implementation in Japan would provide practical solutions to many of the common problems faced in the area. It would also help to promote high standards for diving in the country. Improving the quality of the diving industry through Green Fins would demonstrate the added value of Onna Village’s tourism product. This, in turn, will encourage tourists to spend more time and money diving in the region.

Following a week of training by Reef-World (23 to 28 May 2022), Japan now has a national Green Fins team comprised of four fully certified Green Fins Assessors and two Green Fins Coordinators from Oceana and the local government. They will be responsible for recruiting, assessing, training and certifying dive and snorkel operators to become Green Fins members in the country. This involves providing training about the ecology and threats to coral reefs, simple and local everyday solutions to these threats and Green Fins’ environmental standards to dive and snorkel operators. Green Fins membership will help marine tourism operators improve their sustainability and prove they are working hard to follow environmental best practices as a way of attracting eco-minded tourists.

James Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We are really excited to finally introduce Green Fins in Japan. We have been planning this for almost three years, but the travel restrictions related to the pandemic hindered progress. The diving industry in Okinawa and the marine life upon which it has been built is so unique, it must be preserved for generations to come. The Okinawa diving community is very passionate about protecting their marine environment, and Green Fins has given them an opportunity to collectively work to reduce their environmental impact and pursue exemplary environmental standards.”

Diving and snorkelling related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, is becoming an increasingly significant issue. This damage makes them less likely to survive other local and wider stressors, such as overfishing or plastic debris and the effects of climate change. Based on robust individual assessments, the Green Fins initiative helps identify and mitigate these risks by providing environmental consultation and support to dive and snorkel operators. Through Green Fins implementation in Japan, Reef-World aims to reduce negative environmental impacts in the region by reaching 10 marine tourism operators, training 50 dive guides and raising awareness of sustainability best practices among 10,000 tourists in the first year.

Yuta Kawamoto, CEO of Oceana, said: “Green Fins will help to unify all the conservation efforts in Okinawa by applying the guidelines in many areas and raising tourists awareness. We hope this will increase the sustainable value in the diving industry and in turn increase the diving standards in the country.”

Green Fins is a UN Environment Programme initiative, internationally coordinated by The Reef-World Foundation, which aims to protect and conserve coral reefs through environmentally friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling tourism industry. Green Fins provides the only internationally recognised environmental standards for the diving and snorkelling industry and has a robust assessment system to measure compliance.

To date, four dive operators in Onna Village have joined the global network of 600+ trained and assessed Green Fins members. These are: Benthos Divers, Okinawa Diving Center, Arch Angel and Pink Marlin Club. There has also been significant interest from other operators, even those that are not located in Onna Village, for Green Fins training and assessment.

Suika Tsumita from Oceana said: “Green Fins serve as an important tool for local diving communities to move towards a more sustainable use of their dive sites; so that they can maintain their scenic beauty and biological richness to provide livelihoods for many generations to come.”

For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org or  www.greenfins.net/countries/japan. Dive and snorkel operators interested in signing up for Green Fins can find the membership application form at: www.greenfins.net/how-to-join.

Dive and snorkel operators in Japan interested in signing up to be Green Fins members can contact the Green Fins Japan team at japan@greenfins.net.

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Marine Life & Conservation

The BiG Scuba Podcast… with Dan Abbott of Save The Med Foundation

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Gemma and Ian chat to Dan Abbott.  Dan works at Save The Med Foundation.  He is incredibly passionate about marine conservation, underwater filmmaking, drones and helping people understand the world of sharks. It’s probably safe to say sharks are his main passion, and he has spent the last five years traveling around the world filming various species including great white sharks, bull sharks, tiger sharks and hammerhead sharks.

Have a listen here:

Find out more here:


Find more podcast episodes and information at the new www.thebigscuba.com  website and on most social platforms @thebigscuba

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