Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Marine Week: Day 2

The second day of this years Marine Week had us analysing the health of the reefs in the area.

Many of our staff are Reef Check certified and so were able to conduct the surveys around Pulau Mabul. A reef check survey uses indicator species and analysis of substrates to determine the health of the reef.  By periodically  undertaking these surveys we are able to determine whether the coral reefs are declining or improving.

Sadly coral reefs are declining across the globe, with increasing numbers of coral being added to the IUCN red list. This comprehensive list ranks whether a species is facing extinction, whether it is vulnerable or even if we don't have enough data to specify what their population numbers are. Many species of coral are listed as 'vulnerable' - meaning that they are vulnerable to extinction and something needs to be done.

We heard more about this in a presentation from Dave, one of our onsite Environmental Officers. His extremely informative presentation outlines the threats that face our corals both globally and locally. He is explained that there are natural threats and those that we have created. 

Natural threats include storm damage, exposure from changing tides, predators, coral disease and coral warfare. Natural threats have always existed, however, as Dave explained last night their impacts our worsening. With increasing climate change there are more storms that are far more aggressive causing greater damage than before. Furthermore, the natural predators of those that feed on the reef are being taken out of the ocean. Take, for example, the crown of thorns sea star. This sea star exists naturally in the underwater world and feeds on corals - all part of a healthy eco system. Unfortunately, one of their natural predators facing threats. The Titan Snail has a stunning shell that is in high demand. As more of these are pulled out of the water, the crown of thorns population is not controlled. This can in turn lead to hugely negative effect on the health of the coral reef. 

Human threats are ever increasing and include: pollution, destructive fishing methods, o-zone layer damage, coastal development and irresponsible tourism. These effect the corals globally, but there are actions we can take locally to try and manage these problems. Irresponsible tourism is something that Scuba Junkie takes very seriously. We have a code of conduct for interacting with marine life - a strict no touching policy. We encourage and teach good buoyancy skills to all divers to ensure that they do not harm the coral reefs whilst diving and reinforce the phrase 'take only photos and leave nothing but bubbles'. Shells may make an nice souvenir or ornament to decorate a room but taking these has a detrimental effect on the marine eco system. Although we support the local community, we do ask guests to think twice before purchasing anything that has been taking from the ocean - for shells and shark teeth to be sold in a shop a marine animal has died. 

To  conclude the presentation Dave gave information on what it is you guys can do to help:

What can you do? 

  • Follow responsible dive and snorkel practices - don't touch anything in the water and don't walk on corals. Remember - 'Take only photos, leave only bubbles'
  • Get involved in reef and beach clean ups - you don't need someone to organise a beach clean for you! Head to your local beach with some rubbish bags and some friends and you can make a difference! 
  • Choose sustainably caught seafood - overfishing effects corals as well as fish species. WWF provide great information on what seafood you should avoid and what is ok to eat. 
  • Avoid marine souvenirs
  • Support environmentally friendly responsible tourism operators - check out the Green Fins website for a list of dive and snorkel operators that have been assessed on their impact on the environment
  • Support and encourage more Marine Protected Areas
  • Support marine conservation NGOs. 

Facts about Staghorn Coral (Acropora formosa): 

  • Staghorn corals are amongst one of the fastest growing corals - they can grow 20cm in one year 
  • Despite this they are listed as 'Near threatened' on the IUCN Red List. 
  • They can resemble antlers and grow up to 2m tall
  • Although they out-compete other corals on the reef, they are one of the more delicate species. 

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