Reasons To Be Cheerful #10

From vaquita rescues to dugong drones and plastic bag bans to hydrophones, a lot of good stuff happened for the sea in March 2017.

New study reveals success of Palau MPAs

 A new study has just been published showing that Marine Protected Areas in Palau are working really well and are effectively increasing fish stocks. This is exactly what is hoped for when a new MPA is designated. The study in Palau has found that there were more of the top predators in the protected areas than in the open areas, and that bigger protected areas allow for the recovery of a more individuals and habitats, which are often larger in size. There are also additional benefits to the fishing that takes place in the open areas right next to a No-Take MPA, because the fish don’t know where the boundaries are so they swim out of the area and can be caught nearby. So there are benefits to the marine environment, but also to the local fishing economy. This is a really positive study that shows the comparison between protected and unprotected areas, proving that protected areas really help fisheries recover. A healthy and diverse marine environment is more resilient to withstanding the impacts of climate change, so it’s clear that we need to designate and effectively manage more areas of the ocean.

 Kenya bans plastic bags

The Kenyan Government will be implementing a ban in the next six months on imported plastic bags for commercial and household packaging. Some of the major supermarket chains in Kenya have shared their support for the move, deeming it to be a great step forward in the mission to tackle the country’s plastic pollution problem. Recyclable plastic bags and paper or cardboard alternatives will be offered to ease the transition away from single-use plastic convenience bags. Kenya hopes to follow Rwanda in their successful clean-up mission, where they phased out single-use plastic bags nine years ago, leading to a significantly cleaner environment.

 Don’t Let Go

A balloon release at a party or event might seem like a great idea, but what goes up must come down. Balloons and sky lanterns are released regularly in their thousands, but then burst and fall to the ground or straight into the ocean. Even if they fall to land they can very easily be washed into watercourses after heavy rainfall, and end up at sea anyway. Seabirds and marine life confuse balloons for food and mistakenly eat them, causing some serious health issues. As they’re made of plastic they can take years to break down in the ocean. Sky lanterns also have a metal frame which causes further pollution problems and lasts a lot longer. What’s great, though, is that the impact of balloons and sky lanterns is being recognised and Scottish councils are starting to ban the release of helium balloons and sky lanterns on their land. Last month, Torfaen Council, Wales, also stepped forward to introduce a voluntary ban on sky lanterns, bringing Wales a step closer to a wide scale ban on sky lantern releases.

 Drones for dugongs

Dugongs are vulnerable to extinction, and they’re often killed by getting caught up in fishing nets. Their behaviour makes them seem super secretive: they’re slow moving, don’t splash around or jump out of the water and they normally swim at a depth of about 5 to 10m. Even though they have to surface to breathe, sightings are few and far between and so conservationists are often not sure how many there are left. But now the IUCN in Sri Lanka are stepping up their conservation game by integrating drones into their conservation and management strategies. The drones can film large areas of water from a height and search for evidence of dugongs surfacing to breathe. So this drone tech is going to be crucial in gathering data to monitor dugong numbers, track their movements and to help crack down on the fishing activity that is threatening the numbers of these gentle sea creatures.

Power to the Philippine fishermen

The Philippine Government, in conjunction with the NGO Rare, has announced that small-scale fishing communities will have more influence and control over the management of their fisheries and marine sanctuaries as part of the 2017-2022 Philippine Development Plan. This is said to be a ‘pivotal point for fisheries management in the Philippines’, and it’s expected that involving the fishing communities more with the management of the coastal waters and resources will improve the sustainability of the marine environment. The plan aims to establish networks of Marine Protected Areas, and the local fishing community will be heavily involved in the protecting these areas, in return for preferential access to other managed-access fishing grounds outside the MPA. As one of the ‘top 10 fishing nations in the world’ with a strongly ocean-based economy, it’s super important that steps like this are taken to ensure that the marine environment is adequately protected, which will in turn support the national economy and ensure improved and sustained food security for Philippine coastal communities.

 Emergency measures funded to save the last 30 vaquitas

The vaquita population has hit an all-time low, but drastic measures have been organised to allow the last 30 individuals a chance to recover away from danger. The vaquita is a critically endangered porpoise that only lives in the Gulf of California, and it is extremely vulnerable to the totoaba fishing industry in the area which uses gillnets that these porpoises become tangled in. The severity of the situation has been recognised and an emergency action plan is being put in place to rescue and protect the remaining 30 vaquitas, to prevent them from harm. The remaining vaquitas will be taken to a temporary sanctuary area, where they will be safe from the gillnets that they so often get caught in. This temporary measure is being funded by the Mexican government’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, who have committed $3 million to kickstart the construction of a sea pen to house the vaquitas, but the project is also appealing for funding support from the public. Fingers crossed that rehoming the vaquitas, just for a while, will help their numbers recover and boost the resilience of this tiny porpoise to dangers they face everyday.

Hydrophones reveal evidence of rare whales

Hydrophones, acoustic recording devices that are anchored on moorings, were set up in Cook Strait, New Zealand, last summer by a team of marine ecologists from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research for New Zealand. The equipment was set up to listen out for whales that were passing through the area. The results are now being released and scientists think that it could be the first time that audio of the Gray’s and strap-toothed beaked whales have been recorded in New Zealand’s waters. Other whales have been identified too, including Antarctic blue whales and Antarctic minke whales. These audio recordings tell us more about which species pass through New Zealand’s waters, and this is really helpful from a conservation perspective because it means we are now learning so much more about which species we need to protect, and where they’ve been. This information needs to be incorporated into future policy and planning. Keep on singing, whales.




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