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Dirty secrets revealed during International Coastal Cleanup Day

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I’d been threatening to join the Seaford Beach Patrol group for months to take part in their monthly cleanup and, seeing as I helped them join the International Coastal Cleanup Day movement, thought I should finally get along to the cleanup on the 18th of September. Weather was the standard Melbourne September grey and cold, which didn’t deter 17 locals from turning out to collect more than 35kg of rubbish in a one-hour stint along a 200-300m stretch of our bay beach.

Apart from the scary numbers of cigarette butts, plastic-based food wrappers, bottles, tin cans and foam pellets, the cleanup revealed some surprising finds shown in this table below:

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Considering lollypops (usually Chupa Chup style but varied in size) are not the fashionable thing they once were, it might be that recent storms and winter king tides have revealed layers of historic plastic waste, and also dumped a larger than expected amount of foam and plastic on this stretch of beach. And the old saying about lost socks turning up in the damnedest places holds true, though why there were two socks and four shoes found is anyone’s guess.

Lizard Island provokes paradise envy with its #FeatureScientists posts

Living in the cooler climes of south-eastern Australia, I’m often envious of the crew working at the Lizard Island Reef Research Station and other Great Barrier Reef islands.

While there are some pretty amazing (but less colourful) reef and seafloor communities not far from my home on Port Phillip Bay, I still have to make do with reports on tropical research for  my daily warm-water, coral reef region fix. This one below focused on the humble cleaner wrasse and its affect on algae growth – loss of these fish can also lead to increased coral bleaching.

Our first feature scientist was Eva McClure, part of Dr. Lexa Grutter‘s lab team. Dr. Grutter, of the University of Queensland, investigates how the cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, influence the ecology of coral reef communities. For the past 15 years, she has run a study on Lizard Island, which sees these fish removed from isolated ‘patch reefs’, and then observes the affect their removal has on the reefs.

Eva has been working for Lexa for the past 3 years. She is currently on Lizard Island wrapping up a 2-year component of Dr. Grutter’s larger, long-term study. In this project, terracotta pavers were placed on the reefs in July 2013, to investigate how the absence of cleaner wrasse may indirectly influence the benthic community (organisms living in the benthic zone are those living at the lowest level of a body of water).

Lexa’s team have found that reefs without cleaner wrasse attract less herbivorous fish than reefs that offer cleaning services (those that have cleaner wrasse present). Reefs without cleaners may therefore have more algae compared to reefs with cleaners, as there are less large herbivorous fish grazing on the benthic community. By placing out algae-coral settlement pavers and periodically measuring the abundance and height of the algae, Eva (as part of Dr. Grutter’s team), hope to make a definitive determination as to whether cleaner wrasse population affects algae levels.

To wrap this project up, a final underwater measurement and photograph is taken (photos 1 and 2), before collecting all 200 pavers, checking them for coral recruits (3) and scraping them of turf algae, calcerous algae, coral recruits and other encrusting organisms. The product is then dried, weighed and taken back to the University of Queensland for analysis.

In Eva’s own words: “It’s exciting and quite satisfying finishing up a 2 year long project like this one, especially when it involves working in a beautiful place like Lizard Island!”

Wilsons Promontory – amazing spot for coastal hiking

Anyone who has ever travelled a decent amount of Australia could make a list of their top 10 places to visit. When it comes to Victoria, the most common one I hear is the Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles.

Having lived for three years at the end of the GOR and within an hour of the Apostles, I admit they are impressive, easy to get to  and make for some nice tourist happy snaps. But for some of Australia’s best (southern) beaches, Wilsons Promontory – known as the Prom – beats anything that big windy road has to offer.

Do a Google Search for Wilsons Prom though and beyond the great Parks Victoria pages, it’s hard to find a decent site with much details on things to do and see at the Prom. This despite the region having some of Australia’s best hiking, most beautiful beaches in the right conditions and a variety of overly-friendly wildlife (see third photo of the wallaby who wouldn’t leave us alone).

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Refuge Cove, Wilsons Prom

Refuge Cove above is an amazing spot – we were lucky to do the 16km hike over there from the Mt Oberon carpark in perfect cool hiking weather and only had five other couples in the spacious campground. Conditions are primitive – people who need five-star chalets or resorts at the end of a leisurely hike should go elsewhere. The tracks can get muddy and toilets at the Sealers Cove and Refuge Cove campgrounds are basic but fresh spring water is readily available at both sites. The cove is within a marine park BUT not the marine national park, so fishing is permitted. I carried a small and fairly useless handspear in my pack and caught some goatfish. The best part of the dive (in only boardshorts) was the variety of fish species spotted and the novelty of spearing without a thick wetsuit!

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Waterloo Bay, within the Wilsons Prom Marine National Park. Wow.

There are several choices for camping along the hike. As we had only three days and the need for five guys to have ready access to cold beer, two nights in Tidal River and one at Refuge Cove made sense. But with more time, another night at Sealers, Waterloo Bay (above) or the Lighthouse would have been worthwhile. The last two places are within the Marine National Park area, where fishing is banned and the inshore fish life is obviously thriving. Blue gropers and moray eels are common here, unlike open access coastal areas further west.

Wilsons Prom is well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in Australia’s natural beauty. It’s a totally different experience to the tropical Great Barrier Reef islands or our inland forests and for those with a reasonable level of fitness, has some challenging and rewarding hikes on offer.

This wallaby is definitely used to human company

This wallaby is definitely used to human company

#WorldParksCongress wraps up #WPCMarine

I worked some of the longest days of my career at World Parks Congress and dealt with a variety of event teething issues never experienced before. On the upside, I met some amazing people (including the wonderful Sylvia Earle, who I interviewed for our webtv channel) and worked with a great team from the French Marine Protected Areas Agency. Please make sure you check out our videos at http://oceanplus.tv/en/

 

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Sylvia Earle being interviewed at Ocean+ pavilion

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Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, Manly, Sydney

 

Filming sights of Sydney for Agence des aires marines protégées

Sydney ferry, view to Port Denison and CBD

Sydney ferry, view to Port Denison and CBD

I’ve been showing one of the Agence des aires marines protégées (French Agency for Marine Protected Areas) video team around Sydney over the past few days, filming at the Sydney Fish Market, Bondi Beach, Circular Quay and marine-focused touristy spots. Perfect weekend for it and the trip across to Taronga Zoo (pictured) provided some great footage.

Looking forward to World Parks Congress kicking off on Wednesday, so much prep work has gone into it over the past four months!

Local marine sanctuary loved and ignored in equal measure

This is a great recent video from the Friends of the Merri Marine Sanctuary, a small and dedicated group helping – as one goal – to remind local people about the amazing natural features and marine life on their doorstep.

At a lecture and networking day on the weekend hosted by Deakin University and the Victorian National Parks Association, a member of the Friends group mentioned how hard it can be to get the support and interest of people outside the conservation community. I could see similar parallels with another spectacular  occurrence that Warrnambool people often ignore.

Living near one of the calving grounds for southern right and humpback whales, people in this area can tend to be ambivalent about the excitement generated in the tourism industry each time the whale watching season approaches.

A recent humorous list of 30 things only a local would understand had this gem at number 23:

Courtesy: standard.net.au

Courtesy: standard.net.au

 

Funny (maybe just as a Warrnambool local) but it highlights that disinterest I spoke of – we’re happy the whales are here but we’re just as happy to ignore them because it doesn’t suit us to stand around for hours (and it can be hours between ‘showings’). Same goes for conservation – local people are generally happy that someone is doing it but not bothered to get involved themselves.

What can you do with apathy like that? It was an open question to the weekend’s session and though there were some good suggestions, as usual it was hard to come up with the perfect answer. My idea was to keep the good work these people do at the forefront, tell the media, tell politicians, help to get relevant policy change at the state and federal level and let your own passion inspire other people. Al Gore was one who helped ‘cure’ apathy over climate change on a global level but it’s even more important to make small communities like ours care about the natural wonders they take for granted.

Australian Government Scraps Management Plans For New National System Of Marine Reserves

With the international flak over its shark culling programs and threats to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia should be working hard on other fronts to promote its ocean conservation agenda. Sadly, the Coalition Government is intent on making things worse for those who care about the ocean and instead assisting commercial fisheries with its removal of some marine park protections.

Thanks to MPA News for the article below. To view an updated map of global marine protected areas, visit Protect Planet Ocean.

The new Coalition Government in Australia, elected by national vote in September, has scrapped management plans developed by the prior Labor Government for most of the nation’s representative system of MPAs.  The impacted MPAs are the 33 sites that were designated in 2012 by the Labor Government.  The dropped management plans would have taken effect in July 2014.

The impacted sites increased the national MPA system last year from 27 sites to 60, expanding the system to a total of 3 million km2 (MPA News 14:3 and 14:1).

The sites include the 1-million km2 Coral Sea Marine Reserve, of which roughly half would have been no-take under its now-dropped management plan.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt told MPA News in October that the new reserves were “imposed without fair or adequate consultation” of industry, and would unfairly lock out recreational fishermen from large areas of the ocean (MPA News 15:2).  He said the sites’ management must be reviewed and redeveloped before final management plans are adopted by Parliament.

The management plans for the 33 sites were passed by the Australian House of Representatives – one half of Parliament – earlier this year.  Some conservationists anticipated the Senate – the other half of Parliament – would pass the plans, too, in coming months, thus making the plans law.  But the Coalition Government scrapped the plans on 16 December by having the nation’s Governor-General re-proclaim the reserves, effectively restarting the management plan development process.

However, the Coalition Government stopped short of calling for a review of the sites’ boundaries.  The boundaries will remain as designated under the Labor Government, although for the time being they are simply lines on a map.  Their designation one year ago followed a series of six phases of public consultation conducted by the Labor Government, with strong support from conservation organizations and opposition from several fishing industry groups, including commercial and recreational ones.

A review of the management plans, expected to last about six months, will now begin.  The Government will appoint a scientific panel and several Bioregional Advisory Panels to facilitate and improve consultation with stakeholders.  The make-up of the panels will be announced in early 2014.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s statement on the MPA management plans:

http://bit.ly/managementplans

Statement by Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation on scrapping of MPA management plans:

www.recreationalfishing.com.au/index.php/rss/31-coalition-government-delivers-on-marine-park-promise-to-australia-s-5-million-recreational-fishers

Statement by Australian Marine Conservation Society on scrapping of MPA management plans:

www.marineconservation.org.au/news.php/153/uncertain-future-for-worlds-largest-network-of-marine-reserves

Plastic piles up in ‘paradise’

Rubbish pile at Cape Tribulation

I had forgotten about this photo above, taken at Cape Tribulation in far north Queensland during my trip there in July this year, and rediscovered it in a scan of the images left on my camera card.

Trash piles near tropical holiday resorts are nothing new: google Hawaii and plastic waste for some disturbing images of rubbish dumped by oceanic gyres and storms. But this lot looked to have just been mainly bottles possibly left by tourists, which makes it sadder to think that people would visit one of the World Heritage Areas and be too lazy to take their trash.   

There’s not many undisturbed “rainforest meets the ocean” areas left in the world, so we should be doing our best to see they remain clean and free of plastic pollution.

Empty beach, Cape Tribulation

Japan still misses point on whale, doplhin and shark conservation

A very small section of Japanese society would like to eat this guy. Photo: www.capelodge.com.au

A very small section of Japanese society would like to eat this guy. Photo: http://www.capelodge.com.au

Like many who care about the fate of some of the world’s biggest marine creatures, I’ve been watching in disbelief at the farcical arguments being thrown around at the International Court of Justice over the past two weeks.

Australia is aiming, through the ICJ, to prove that Japan’s Southern Ocean JARPA program is actually a commercial operation.

But, just as Japan has done at CITES and various other major environmental meetings, they couldn’t let commonsense and good legal arguments cloud their representations.

Just look at Japan’s greatest hits from one day of the ‘trial’, (story appeared in Wednesday’s Guardian)

“Japan insists lethal research is both lawful and necessary”

Tokyo was seeking “scientific information on the basis of which Japan might be able to ask for the moratorium [on commercial whaling] to be lifted”

Japan itself had reason to be offended by Australia’s “factual misrepresentations and … misleading use of selective references and quotes”, Tsuruoka said.

The Japanese government told the UN’s top judicial body it was a court of law, not a “medieval inquisition”

I think Japan may have been feeling like this:

I think this is a 'medieval inquisition', which looks very unlike the ICJ courtroom Photo: morriscourse.com

I think this is a ‘medieval inquisition’, which looks very unlike the ICJ courtroom
Photo: morriscourse.com

But after all the nonsense arguments from Japan, they still missed the point: ‘After the hearing, government spokesman Noriyuki Shikata told AAP that Japan was content with its “powerful case”.’

I’m no lawyer but a “powerful case” in this arena would seem to be one based on watertight arguments and sound scientific backing and hopefully support from other countries who have proven strong environmental consciousness. Not from those with commercial whaling programs and vested interests in keeping the dream alive for their kids who one day will get to harpoon whales, just like their parents.

Carl Safina, in the Huffington Post, wrote about a similar situation at the CITES meeting in March, where Japan and China were fighting to keep endangered sharks… well, off the endangered list:

… Because Japanese and Chinese delegates are applying intense pressure (read: $) on certain poor countries in Africa and elsewhere to reverse their votes. Japan always does this, bribing countries with aid packages or even individual delegates with cash. And so, a week that has started with a monumental decision for sharks may conclude with another black eye for shark conservation and for CITES.

At least these countries weren’t successful, this time:

Delegates at the triennial meeting in Bangkok of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna adopted the proposals to put the oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and porbeagle sharks on a list of species whose trade is closely controlled.

More than two dozen species of shark are officially endangered, and more than 100 others considered either vulnerable or near threatened. Like manta rays, sharks are seen as valuable to nations with dive tourism industries, with island territories such as the Bahamas, Fiji and the Maldives deriving major benefits. Eleven nations, including Brazil, the U.S. and Egypt, proposed regulating trade in the species.

The oceanic whitetip proposal passed in a secret ballot with 92 votes in favor, 42 against and 8 abstentions, while the hammerhead proposal passed with 91 votes in favor and 39 against. The porbeagle proposal was adopted with 93 votes in favor, 39 against and 8 abstentions.

It seems that international trade and foreign relations plays a big part in whether a country feels safe to denounce the whaling or shark and dolphin hunting activities of another.

Australia is a key market for Japanese cars and gadgets and they provide vast tourism dollars and a market for our grain, beef and raw materials so there is some financial risk here (but you could safely say, not as big a risk as the Sea Shepherd crews have been taking each summer during Antarctic whaling season).

Economic sanctions by Japan could potentially hurt our economy but if other countries step up and support Australia’s position at the ICJ, it could help Japan to change its position on whales, sharks and dolphins and become active in seeking their protection.

AMCS puts shark finning back in the news; Danny Green’s shark tale

The Australian Marine Conservation Society is one of Australia’s driving forces in getting Federal Government backing for marine protected areas and their shark finning campaign hit the news again prior to Chinese New Year.

The Daily Telegraph reported last week that not only did the Australian Government (which bans shark finning in our waters) not keep track of shark fin imports but the limited focus on the trade may mean that illegal shark catches and finning is still continuing in Australian territorial waters.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society said it had sourced data from Hong Kong, the capital of the world’s shark fin export trade, and discovered Australia imported 54 tonnes of shark fin between 1998 and 2011.

“The 54 tonnes of fin imported from Hong Kong would be about 4000 tonnes of shark. Even conservative estimates would put this in the order of tens of thousands of individual sharks,” AMCS spokeswoman Jacki Boyce said.

The AMCS said until the beginning of 2012 shark fins imported into Australia were lumped together with other “shark products” under Australian import identification rules.

My previous post on shark attacks mentioned the poor reputation of sharks – spurred on by media misreporting and poorly-researched Hollywood 3D horror films – that is continuing to make it harder for shark conservationists to be heard by the general public.

That doesn’t mean scientists and respected conservationists aren’t trying: David Shiffman and his colleagues over at Southern Fried Science do consistently great work on exposing and debunking shark myths, such as in this recent post.

Even world boxing champion Danny Green was caught up in a recent furore over Facebook photos of the tiger shark he caught near Perth, Western Australia.

Photo credit: Danny Green

Photo credit: Danny Green

The comments on the photos ranged from viewers outraged by the killing of a shark (one described himself as a humanitarian, which I agree didn’t make sense in this context) to the usual “Good on ya for killing Jaws” and plenty of mud slinging – a screen grab of one selection is below.

It showed once again that the shark debate is fraught with misinformation about shark attacks; that personal opinion often stands above scientific evidence where sharks are concerned and lastly, that we all need to be doing more to show people what these amazing sea creatures are really all about.

Selection of Facebook comments

Selection of Facebook comments

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