Sunday, 13 December 2015

Marine Week: The Grand Finale!!

The final day of Scuba Junkie Marine Week was a huge success. This has been one of our most productive awareness weeks yet, with a huge amount of community involvement it feels like things are starting to change. 

Once again we had the Kommunity Kollege and Green Semporna involved in our days' activities. To celebrate we had an island wide clean up! The previous night many of the participants visited other dive centres and resorts on the island and encouraged everyone to take part. The two villages on the island were asked to participate, and told that if they cleaned the area around their house the rubbish would be removed. In addition to this, three main areas were targeted in the clean by staff and customers. It was inspiring to see everyone work hard together. The involvement from the local community is really what made the day a success. Many of the children who had joined us on the first day of the week, who were given presentations on environmental topics, were eager to take part - exactly the sort of attitude we love to see! 

The afternoon was an emotional one, as it was time to say goodbye to our, fondly named, 'Myrtle' the turtle. The Sabah Wildlife Department - to whom we are incredible grateful for all their support - came to the island to assist in her release. Brought to us just over 102 days ago she had a intestinal infection that meant she was unable to dive down from the surface of the water. The infection had caused a build up of gas; had she been left she would almost certainly have starved to death. Fortunately she was brought to the Mabul Rehab Centre at Scuba Junkie. The Sabah Wildlife Department provided us with antibiotics and a treatment plan. They then trained our staff in implementing this plan, which consisted of feeding, weighing and administering the antibioitics.

After a worrying few weeks during which Myrtle was not taking any food, she slowly began her road to recovery. It took time and considerable effort, but eventually she was able to dive beneath the surface once again. Whilst we kept her in the rehab centre for observation for just over a month, we are extremely fortunate that our first patient was a resounding success! Often turtles in this condition are sick because of a build up of consumed plastic - this is much harder to recover from. Although we do not wish sickness upon our reptilian friends, we are so happy that we are able to help and hope that the rehab centre continues to be a success. 

Overall the week was great fun and, we think, a huge success. In conservation local community involvement and education is critical. If we don't take steps to inform children in the area of the threats their community faces and the consequences of sucking the resources dry then change will never truly happen. 

Scuba Junkie would like to extend a big thank you to everyone who was involved in the week. Without the help of organisations such a Green Semporna and those at the Kommunity Kollege the week would not have created the impact that it did! We look forward to more community outreach programmes throughout 2016!  

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Marine Week: Day 6

The penultimate day of Marine Week was action packed. The Kommunity College from Semporna visited Mabul and we also had Green Semporna over for the day. 

The day was an educational one for our visitors. Part of the group started with an 'Snorkel Against 'Debris'. They collected rubbish that was found on the reefs and floating along the surface of the water. It was incredible to see the effort that was put in by all that took part. The rest of the group began the day with some basic swimming lessons, it was amazing to see the enthusiasm they showed. Our environmental officer Cat was their teacher and her encouragement and support meant they all felt comfortable in no time!

After they are dried off it was time for the fish identification work shop. Dave started with a presentation outlining various fish species. When it comes to identifying fish it would be nearly impossible to learn each individual one. What is key is to learn what differentiates different fish families, then go from there. Other information included was the behaviours of different fish species, not only can this help ID them, but it also can create interest. From butterfly fish and angel fish, to octopus and anemone fish they can all exhibit fascinating behaviours. 

For example, octopus are far more intelligent than many would give them credit for. One octopus that was being kept in a lab manage to sneak out of its tank and eat to eat the fish in other tanks! Staff of the lab were baffled about what was happening to their fish. It wasn't until a camera was left filming that they found the culprit! 

Once you've learned to ID different fish species what's the best thing to do? Why, go for a snorkel and put your new skills to the test of course! 

In the evening we had a presentation from our good friends at Green Semporna. Rina and Adzmin talked about who they are, what they do and why it needs to be done. 

Who, why and what: Green Semporna

Green Semporna are a group of Malaysian volunteers who share a passion for change.  They were inspired by the beauty of the marine environment. Some have previous experience from working with WWF, others come from different backgrounds. They all share one goal - to create a positive change in Semporna through community involvement and education. The aim to encourage a green lifestyle in the community. 

Rina explained to us the need for such an organisation. They hope to raise awareness about fish bombing in the area. Many are not educated in the detrimental effect that fish bombing can have. Even those who are felt that there are not many other options left. They also have concerns about the flagships species that require protection. The problem in Semporna is that many of the locals have no idea of the problems that the underwater world is facing. For this reason, and many others, Green Semporna have education of locals at the centre of their ethos. 

Green Semporna believe that the involvement of locals has a bigger impact. They have an understanding of what the local community are capable of and they show them they ways in which they can help. This year they have even created and illustrated their own book to give to primary schools to promote conservation. 

Green Semporna started in 2012 and have ben growing momentum ever since. However, it is 2015 that they see as their year of luck! In the past 12 months they have garnered more support from local leaders, developed their own successful projects, generated support from the local schools. Sadly they do face challenges - finance for programmes such as this are always an issue. 

With their growing support they hope to clean up Semporna and giving the next generation a chance to help. The work they have done and aim to do is inspiring. Tomorrow we will update you on the last day of Scuba Junkie's inaugural Marine Week. So stay posted, because there is a lot to tell you about!! 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Marine Week: Day 4 & 5

We are now half way through our Scuba Junkie Marine Week! It has been an amazing success thus far, and we would like to extend our gratitude to all of the customers who have joined us in celebrating this amazing event.

On day 4 one of our environmental officers David McCaan joined Steven Moore and Samantha Sherman from the Global Fin Print. 

Who Are Global Fin Print?

This initiative was established in order to garner more information about diminishing numbers of sharks and rays worldwide..Over the next three years they plan to collect data on sharks and rays across the globe. Their aim is to produce the 'first globally standard survey of shark and ray diversity and abundance with key focus on coral reef ecosystems'. They will use this data to predict what is effecting the diversity of the elasmobranch population. Over a quarter of sharks and rays are facing extinction and this will be the first baseline data for us to see the trend of their decline. The information they collect will be open to all scientists, managers and the general public which maximises its educational reach. It is a huge task that they are undertaking, but the information gathered will be hugely important. 

To get this information they have been using baited remote underwater video (BRUV). These cameras are deployed in specific areas and have collected some interesting footage. These videos allow the team to analyse the shark and ray population and identify affecting factors - such as coral coverage, fish population, fishing pressures and and water temperature. Once this information is brought together and condensed it will be possible to see where the focus needs to be in creating protected areas, and which species to be focused on.

Steve and Sam joined Scuba Junkie in KK, Semporna and Mabul to gather their research. They have been great fun to have around. They gave an excellent presentation on the fifth day of Marine Week, informing people on who they are and what they have been doing. We hope that they collected the information that they need and we hope to work more with them in the future. 

Two night ago we had a Pub Quiz! Dave was our quiz master for the evening and entertained with 5 rounds of questions. We had a great turn our and raised over 200RM for Green Semporna.  

During the day our trained staff took part in our coral transplant programme. The coral transplant programme involves taking fragments of live coral and bringing them to our coral nursery. We hope to create an area where the coral can regrow and flourish. 

Just two days left of what has, so far, been a hugely successful week. Stay posted for more information on corals and the activities we have been getting everyone involved in! 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Marine Week: Day 3

On our third day of Scuba Junkie Marine Week we continued our efforts on our reef check surveys. In the evening Julian, of Reef Check Malaysia, gave a presentation on who Reef Check Malaysia are,  what it is they do and the changes that need to be made in this area. 

Sadly we are facing our third world wide coral bleaching event. Coral bleaching and disease are caused by climate change. Corals can only survive in water temperatures of 18-29 degrees celsius. Anything outside of this and the coral cannot survive.

What is coral?
All this talk about coral and the threats it face, it's time to talk about what coral is.  Dave and Cat our environmental officers at Scuba Junkie, have produced a collection of incredibly informative posters that are easy to understand. All the information provided here was taken from their posters.

It is a common misconception that corals are plants - given their often bush like appearance. However, they are actually animals! They are tiny little invertebrates called 'polyps'. These polyps cannot survive on their own so they have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae is actually a photosynthetic algae: the mutualistic relationship it has developed with the corals means that they both can thrive.  This tiny algae lives inside the coral tissue and provides it with energy through photosynthesis. Whilst living inside the coral the zooxanthellae is provided with shelter - the perfect symbiotic relationship! The zooxanthellae also gives corals their stunning colours, as the body of the polyps is actually clear.

Coral bleaching affects corals because it destroys the relationship between the polyps and the zooxanthellae. When temperatures rise the zooxanthellae abandon the polyps. As mentioned it is the algae that gives the corals their stunning colour - thus without it the corals appear 'bleached'. Without the energy from the photosynthesis the polyp struggles to survive.  If temperature returns to normal within a short period of time than the coral can recover as the zooxanthellae will return. If not, the corals die.

Thousands upon thousands of polyps comes together to form the stunning coral structures you see in the water. These are known as 'colonies'. There are two types of coral colonies - hard and soft. We'll be providing you with more information on this as the week goes on!

Who are Reef Check Malaysia?
Whilst Reef Check was originally set up in America in 1996, it is now in 82 countries! It was set up to raise awareness of the importance of and the threats that face coral reefs. The aim of Reef Check Malaysia is focused on managing reefs sustainably. Through education and raising awareness they hope to stimulate local action to aid the rehabilitation and protection of coral reefs.

After undertaking a reef check survey around Mabul,  Julian felt there was much that needed to be explained. Sadly whilst doing the survey the team witnessed purse sein fishing close to Pulau Mabul What Julian highlighted was that though we may personally disagree with these practises,  there are people who are just trying to survive.  

At the end of the day we may wish for fishing to decrease,  but people need to feed their families.  Furthermore Julian noted that some laws may seem unclear, whether or not they could fish so close to Pulau Mabul was actually not known by many involved in the reef check survey.  The information he provided and the passion with which he spoke about the situation was a real eye opener. Many have idealistic opinions on change,  whereas Julian was realistic in his talk.  

We'll be keeping you posted on all our activities and providing you with more information on corals as the week goes on.  

Facts about Mushroom Coral (Fungia Seychellensis):

  • Generally a solitary species, they grow to about 30cm 
  • Juveniles attach to a rock, but older ones are free living 
  • The discs are round or oval and have a central mouth
  • They are listed as 'vulnerable' on the IUCN Red List 

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. 

Monday, 7 December 2015

Marine Week: Day 1

With Shark Week and Turtle Week proving to be such a huge success, this year we decided to hold our inaugural Scuba Junkie Marine Week! The focus will be 'Corals in Crisis' and we shall be hosting our usual plethora of activities focusing on beach and reef cleans, presentations, community engagement and pub quizzes!!

The coral reef is important for many reasons and it's crucial that we start to change our habits and start to protect what is at the core of one of the most important ecosystems in the world.

Our great friends over at Green Semporna have once again given an inspirational amount of commitment and involvement. They visited the resort and helped us in gathering the kids of the local community to involve them and educate them. Activities ran through out the day and they included educational presentations, as well as fun and games aimed at inspiring kids to want to help. The atmosphere at the resort was electric as the kids took over, throwing themselves into the activities. They got stuck into a beach clean in the morning and collected over 50 bags of rubbish from our beaches and the local village! As we all know, plastics and other detritus entering our waters can be hugely detrimental to our marine creatures and reef system, and beach cleans are a quick and easy way of negating some of the damage done. 

The kids painted a beautiful mural depicting the underwater world, which is currently on display at the resort. If more of our future generation learn about the underwater environment then we can potentially inspire them to want to take an active part in protecting it, opening up the possibilities of potential employment for these children in the tourism industry.

Educating the up and coming generation is key to creating change. If we can inspire just one child to want to protect to coral reefs then we consider the day to be a success (but hopefully it will be more than just one!!)

Green Semporna are a non-profit organisation that aim to create and expand community involvement in protecting the environment. We have been working closely with them over the past few years, and they show a real commitment to wanting to create change. The success of our turtle and shark weeks has certainly been, in part, due to their involvement.

It seems that the animal world could not wait to celebrate with us! We had one of our last turtle nests, of what has been the most successful nesting year, hatch. Guests joined us as we released 80 hatchlings into the ocean. The stunning evening sky acted as a great back drop to, what is always, a incredible event.

In the evening one of the managers of the Mabul Beach Resort Steve, along with one of our on-site Environmental Officers Dave gave the opening ceremony. This highlighted Scuba Junkies continued involved in conservation and how it has been at the heart of the Scuba Junkie ethos since its opening over 10 years ago. This was followed by two extremely informative presentations from Poh Leem and Hui Ling from WWF Malaysia. 

Poh Leem gave a presentation on Marine Spatial Planning (MPS). MPS is a programme where the resources of the ocean are organised and spread out. It allows the public to have an input in the sustainable future of the ocean. Currently, there is no planning  or allocation of our ocean resources and there are huge conflicts over them. Consequently they are being sucked dry. We are pushing the boundaries and if we do not begin to organise them, we will be left with nothing. Pollution, habitat destruction and unsustainable fishing practices are all reasons why we need to start implementing MPS across the globe. There are huge benefits to this programme, not just ecologically, but also economically and socially. If we protect our oceans now they will be able to sustain for generations to come. If we continue to destroy them they way we currently are, sadly they will not.

Our second presentation of the evening provided information on Hard Coral Mapping. There are many corals that are currently listed as 'vulnerable' or 'near threatened' on the IUCN Red List. WWF have chosen species of Mushroom Coral to collect data on and gain better understanding of its population. They ask that those diving in the Semporna provide them with information on mushroom corals. Part of the mapping project also involved community involvement and workshops that highlight the importance of coral reefs. They plan to share this information with local authorities and the Town Planning Department. 

We are hugely grateful to Green Semporna and WWF Malaysia for their involvement and contribution to one of our most successful opening days to date! 

Stay posted for more updates! 

Facts about Whip Coral:

  • This is a long unbranched coral that can extend to over 3 m
  • The colour can vary from light green, yellow, brown to grey.
  • The skeleton of the coral is black, it is the soft bodied polyps of the coral that give it its colour
  • Many corals can retract their polyps, this coral can only partially retract - this gives it a barbed appearance 
  • If you look closely, sometime you can see tiny whip coral partner shrimp living on it!