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Marine Life & Conservation

Summer of Surprises!

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summer

The summer season is now coming to an end here at Wembury Marine Centre, but what a year it’s been! This season we have opened our doors to almost 25,000 visitors, worked with 2500 school and college students and engaged with 2000 members of the public through our marine outreach programme.

Our regular Rockpool Safaris are a firm favourite for families and this season we have found some amazingly weird and wonderful species. Here is my top five for 2016:

St Piran’s hermit crab, Clibanarius erythropus

Back in August, one of our long term volunteers John Hepburn found what he thought to be a ‘normal’ Common hermit crab on one of our public rockpool safaris. Upon closer inspection he realised it looked a bit different, but being colour blind he couldn’t really tell. He took a few close up pictures and when we had a look on the computer back in the Centre, we realised this was no normal hermit crab! It turned out to be the St Piran’s Hermit Crab, Clibanarius erythropus, which hadn’t been recorded in Devon for more than 30 years! St Piran’s hermit crabs are different to the Common hermit crab, Pagurus bernhardus, in that they have distinctly red legs and claws and red eye stalks with black and white eyes. It is thought that the hermit crabs (along with the dog whelk shells they often live in) were heavily affected by the Torrey Canyon oil spill back in the late 60s, which wiped out much of their population. Our find made the national news and we have since found quite a few more individuals. Let’s hope they have made a comeback and are here to stay!

Giant goby, Gobius cobitis

In the UK, the giant goby is usually only found along the coast of south-west England between Wembury and the Isles of Scilly, and in the Channel Islands. This large goby, reaching a maximum length of 27cm, is quite a rare find in Britain because here they are on the northern edge of their natural range, although climate change may see them move further north in the future. These large intertidal fish are usually found in sheltered rockpools higher up on the shore. Given their rarity and the fact that they are vulnerable to human disturbance and trampling, giant gobies are now a protected species and you must have a licence to handle them! They can be easily confused with other goby species, so as soon as we’d taken a picture of this one in our tub and realised it might be a Giant goby, we put it straight back where we found it, as we do with all our creatures on our rockpool safaris!

summer

Giant goby. Credit: Devon Wildlife Trust

Common lobster, Homarus gammarus

Again it was volunteer John who found the first Common lobster ever to be spotted on a Wembury rockpool safari! Trying out his new weighted camera, he left it in our favourite large rockpool for the duration of our safari and when he got home and looked over the footage, he found the young lobster excavating a burrow! Common lobsters are very rare to find in rockpools, usually preferring the relative safety of deeper waters. They can grow to a maximum size of 75cm but the one we found was probably about 25cm max. Common lobsters have been over exploited commercially in British waters and their numbers greatly reduced. Our Mr lobster (we don’t actually know if he’s male or female!) has been seen poking his claws out numerous times throughout the season and was still there today on our penultimate rockpool safari of the year, so let’s hope he’s found himself a safe haven! PS: interesting fact about lobsters – they don’t ever slow down, weaken or lose fertility with age as they have a special enzyme which repairs DNA sequences. So theoretically, they could live forever if it wasn’t for fishing, disease or being preyed upon!

summer

Common Lobster. Credit: John Hepburn

Stalked jellyfish, Lucernariopsis campanulata

These tiny upside-down jellyfish are extremely hard to spot and so often completely missed when rockpooling. Stalked jellyfish usually attach themselves to the ends of fronds of seaweed or seagrass and float around in the water catching bits of plankton. The one we found had attached itself to a beautiful piece of sea lettuce. This species in particular can grow up to 5cm tall but is usually found much smaller and its colour varies from a uniform red to green to brown.  It has eight arms with about 45 tentacles on each arm and is an absolute delight to find when you’re least expecting it!

Bloody henry starfish, Henricia oculata

It wouldn’t be right to talk about rockpooling at Wembury without including at least one species of starfish! The small Cushion stars are very common here; almost every rock you turn over on the mid shore will have one stuck to its underneath, but they never fail to evoke the wow factor, from little ones right up to grandparents. The much larger Spiny starfish are fairly common here too and one of my absolute favourite finds on a rockpool safari. But one species we weren’t expecting to find was the Bloody henry starfish! Arguably one of the most striking and beautiful of all of the UK’s starfish, it gets its name from its deep red, pink or purple colouring. Usually preferring deeper water, this species would be much more likely to be spotted by a diver rather than a young rock pooler, but our ‘extreme rockpool safari’ on a brilliant low spring tide back in April saw us rambling further out on to the rocky reef than we’d usually go, and our efforts were repaid with a young girl and her family discovering this treasure!

All in all it was a wonderful summer of surprises for us here at Wembury Marine Centre.  If you’d like to see more of the weird and wonderful marine life we’ve found this year then head to our Facebook page: www.faceboom.com/wemburymarine.

Coral Smith lives in South Devon in the UK and works as Marine Education Officer for Devon Wildlife Trust. Based at Wembury Marine Centre near Plymouth, Coral’s work involves promoting marine conservation through schools education, public outreach and community involvement.

Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World announces 2020 Green Fins Award Winners

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The Green Fins Award recognises the world’s most environmentally friendly dive centres

The Reef-World Foundation – the international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – is delighted to announce the winners of the coveted 2020 Green Fins Award are:

  • Bubbles Dive Centre, Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia
  • Flora Bay Divers, Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia
  • And Tioman Dive Centre, Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

The prestigious annual award recognises the Green Fins member with the lowest environmental impact. This year, competition was so tight there was not one, but three winners all tied in first place. What’s more, all three of the winners and seven of the global top 10 centres are based in Malaysia!

Rosie Cotton, Tioman Dive Centre

The winning dive operators were chosen from the 600-strong network of Green Fins members by a rigorous assessment of business practices. To be eligible for the award, the operator must have had its latest assessment conducted within the last 18 months. In 2019, the proud winner was Tioman Dive Centre: a PADI dive centre which has been a Green Fins member since 2009 and had managed to hold onto the title again in 2020.

As 2020’s Green Fins Award winners, Bubbles Dive Centre, Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre are recognised as the world’s most sustainable dive or snorkel operator, as verified by the globally-recognised Green Fins environmental assessment. Their steps to improve sustainability practices, which have resulted in this recognition as the most environmentally friendly Green Fins dive centres in the world, have included:

  • Switching to eco-friendly products and improving waste management practices: Kelvin Lim, Flora Bay Divers, said: “We switched from normal detergents to eco-friendly detergents, we are encouraging divers to bring their own water bottles to reduce plastic and came up with a general waste bin and a bin for plastic bottles in front of our dive centre. This helps tourists and locals to place thrash that’s been found on the beach easily and conveniently since there are no proper bins along the beach.”
  • Training staff in why environmental practices are important: Peisee Hwang, Bubbles Dive Centre, said: “Green Fins has helped my crew understand more about the importance of looking after the environment. Less educated members of staff would throw cigarette butts in the sea without thinking but they are now keeping their trash to dispose in the bin when they are back.”
  • Upgrading boat engines: Rosie Cotton, Tioman Dive Centre, said: “At the beginning of 2020, we upgraded our last remaining boat engine and now we run 100% with 4-stroke models. The benefits are not only to the environment but also a huge reduction in petrol usage. It’s a Win Win situation!”

Alvin Chelliah, Green Fins Assessor Trainer from Reef Check Malaysia, said: ”Most dive centre managers and owners that I have come across in Malaysia care and want to do what they can to help protect coral reefs. I think Green Fins has been the right tool to guide them towards practical actions they can take. Over the years, we have seen these dive centres put in a lot of effort and work hard at following the guidelines and they have improved steadily as a result. We hope others will follow their example.”

Peisee Hwang, Bubbles Dive Centre, said: “We are thrilled to know that we have won and we are glad that our effort is being recognised. We hope that more operators aspire to join us in pledging for the environment.”

Kelvin Lim, Flora Bay Divers, said: “We are proud to be acknowledged for our efforts to inspire sustainable diving. Our focus remains on cultivating informed and conscious divers with good diving skills and habits..”

Rosie Cotton, Tioman Dive Centre, said: “Receiving the news that we have made the top spot of Green Fins members is a fantastic feeling. Thank you so much to the Green Fins team for your ongoing support! This year has obviously been slightly different to previous years. I hope that something we can all take away from this year is that changes in our daily habits can create shockwaves of positive change around the world in a relatively short period of time. From TDC, we hope you are all safe and well at this time and are able to find some positives despite these difficult circumstances.”

Chloe Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We’re thrilled to recognise Bubbles Dive Centre, Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre as joint winners of the 2020 Green Fins Award. Competition between the Top 10 is always tight but the fact that there are three winners this year, when usually one centre takes the title, shows how much sustainability is being put at the forefront of the agenda across the dive industry. So, we’d like to say a big well done to Bubbles Dive Centre, Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre. This win is testament to their hard work and ongoing sustainability efforts and they should be very proud. It’s an incredibly tight race to be named the best of the best!”

The Green Fins Top 10 list is comprised of the world’s most sustainable dive operators, as determined by the Green Fins assessment process. In 2020 they are:

  • Tioman Dive Centre, Flora Bay
  • Divers and Bubbles Dive Centre (all in Malaysia)
  • Ceningan Divers (Indonesia)
  • Scuba Junkie Mabul (Malaysia)
  • Sea Voice Divers (Malaysia)
  • Evolution (Philippines)
  • Orca Nation Rawa (Malaysia)
  • Equation (Philippines)
  • The Barat Perhentian Beach Resort (Malaysia)

In Malaysia, Green Fins is run by Reef Check Malaysia in partnership with the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia (DMPM) on the Peninsula and Sabah Parks in Sabah. Membership is not yet available in Sarawak.

For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org and www.greenfins.net.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Review: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netlix documentary: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

David Attenborough’s latest and arguably most important documentary to date is now showing on Netflix.  It is, in his own words, his “witness statement” of a unique life exploring and documenting the wonders of the natural world.

Attenborough looks back and realizes that the previously gradual changes he witnessed (animal species becoming harder to find and fewer wild spaces) have now become vastly more widespread and noticeable. As the human population increased, so has the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while the amount of wilderness has decreased.  His conclusion: human activity and man-made climate change have accelerated the pace of biodiversity loss.  This not only imperils the majority of natural habitats and creatures on Earth, but also the very future of humankind.

From images of lush green landscapes we journey with him over time to revisit these places, now wastelands. One of the most haunting is the contrast between early footage of orangutans swinging through the rainforest, to recent images of an orangutan clinging onto a lone tree devoid of all but one branch in the wreckage of a deforested site. Attenborough then makes a statement that has stuck with me since watching “A Life On This Planet”: that though we undoubtably have an obligation to care for the natural world, it’s not just about saving other species.  It is about saving ourselves.  His drive and determination to advocate and spread this message as much as possible at the age of 94 is both impressive and humbling, yet Attenborough manages to make this serious subject an unexpectedly positive learning experience.

In the final chapter of the movie Attenborough turns from the bleak reality of the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity, and offers a lifeline of hope and positivity. We can, he tells us, reverse the damage we have caused, we can save our species and the wonders of the natural world, and it can be done with just a few conceptually simple actions.  It’s enough to enthuse even the most jaded and pessimistic of conservationists!  Attenborough has an amazing ability to awaken our love of the natural world and now he shows us our future is in our hands. It’s time to act.  But we must start now and it must be a united effort.

You don’t have to be a scuba diver to be impressed with the eloquence of David Attenborough’s words, or his powerful yet simple message. We are self-confessed Attenborough super fans, but I don’t think anyone could contest that this is a stunning 1 hour and 20 minutes of hard hitting brilliance. The film closes with the comment, “Who else needs to see it?” The answer is all of us.  We highly recommend this documentary to everyone. Put simply if you watch no other documentary this year, watch this one.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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