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Introducing our new Ambassador Oscar

 What is your name and what do you do?

Greetings! My names Oscar and am currently studying Environmental Science, Sustainability and Development Studies at The Australian National University in Canberra, ACT, Australia. I am also actively involved with a large amount of NGO’s and ongoing projects around the world in South East Asia and the Indian Ocean.

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 How did you become an ambassador?

The decision for me to apply for the ambassador position was a simple one; I love spreading the notion of passion on any given avenue. As for me my passion has been clearly defined and sculpted for the duration of my life and in particular the last 6 years. I am incredibly fortunate that Atoll Volunteers appreciated my passions within the field of Marine Conservation Science and its associated issues. I believe that passion is best described through actions and hands on work, I have shown this as my work experiences in this field have driven me from Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Seychelles and the Maldives working on numerous projects and bringing me closer to the existent and very real difficulties that each region faces. I am very much looking forward to spreading the knowledge and work that Atoll Volunteers are working for and towards. Conservation is driven through the passion and desire of young and old environmentalists whom have found their function in the world today. I believe the next step is communicating those exact feelings to the general public to inspire the new and the old generations, so we can work collectively together to improve the world we are in today.

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 What does it mean to be an ambassador at Atoll Volunteers?

For my time at university, I was very much looking forward to be involved in a grassroots NGO one which allows me to progress individually while also assisting, developing and contributing towards a commendable and purposeful organisation operating out of a country I have such a strong mental and physical relationship with. I am a very passionate public speaker and love bringing real contemporary issues around the world to the general public in a very emotional way. My interest with Atoll Volunteers marine conservation programs and projects coincide directly with present and past experiences of my own. I am very interested in getting involved with such projects while spreading the importance and significance of them in the process.

 How do you think Atoll Volunteers is making a difference?

Operating out of small developing nations around the world while creating an appropriate and effective conservation program is very commendable in my mind. An NGO which separates itself from volunteer recruitment agencies just to remove the processing fees that are associated with them; to then project all profits that are created 100% towards crucial projects is incredibly admirable. Especially in a field where funding is few and far between. Atoll Volunteers is associated with a large number of missions ranging from marine conservation to medical practises to educational programs, having encompassed all of these areas under one NGO is incredible and are truly make a difference to the communities of Lhaviyani Atoll in the North of the Maldives.

 What hope do you have for the future of conservation in the Maldives?

The Maldives is a beautiful nation which is at serious environmental threat, for a country that relies almost 100% on its “Blue Tourism”, I hope for more concentrated and effective environmental management protocols to be put into place. I hope that politicians and individuals begin to make a drastic changes towards the environment. Rather than seeing the financial aspects, appropriate movements should be made to ensure the longevity and livelihood of its nation. Sustainable practises must be followed to sustain a nation that is 100% reliant on the ocean. The majority of local Maldivian people show a genuine concern for their environment. They just need opportunities and support to ensure the continued existence of their country. A quote that is quite confronting but one which also strikes immeasurable truth could not relate more to contemporary issues within developing low lying nations around the globe is. “It is too late to be a pessimist”. Action needs to happen now, the modern world needs to be aware of the issues that the Maldives and many other nations face. To set aside differences and work collectively together to support a world that is ever so connected.

Meet our new Ambassador Jack Stanley

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1. What is your name and what do you do?

Hello all, my names Jack and currently I am an undergraduate in Marine Science and Ecology. As well as undertaking my Degree, I am a Head Chef and an active member within numerous local conservation organisations.

2. How did you become an ambassador?

Becoming an ambassador for Atoll Volunteers was a great progression process for myself. It has given me the opportunity to express my concerns on the environmental issues inflicting the Maldives, as well as those globally. The structured professional process Atoll Volunteers have adopted in their interview process added to my confidence, and the work they undertake only drives me further. In my mind, to conserve, will never be a part time role, and I would hope that adopting a full-time attitude towards conservation will only result in consistent conservation. I would hope to think it was this attitude that gave me this great opportunity as an ambassador for Atoll Volunteers.

3. What does it mean to be an ambassador at Atoll Volunteers?

My role as an ambassador gives me the opportunity to develop an understanding amongst many detrimental issues the Maldivian Islands are currently exposed to, and how Atoll Volunteers are dedicating tremendous efforts to improve them. For me personally it doesn’t stop there: involving myself in public events and fund raising for further conservation only adds to my enjoyment within the role and will hopefully lead to great experiences for myself and many others.

4. How do you think Atoll Volunteers is Making a difference?

The difference is in the name; “Volunteers” from many walks of life are the key in making that difference. The more involvement from volunteers the greater the outcome for successful conservation. Together with this Atoll Volunteers have a broad range of subjects to get involved in, from Marine conservation to medical practice. Allowing for a greater impact and a wider spread understanding.

5. What hope do you have for the future of conservation in the Maldives?

As a Marine science undergraduate, I could write for hours on this topic. To put briefly, I can only hope that environmental matters worldwide are counteracted with immediate effect, to tackle the bigger picture head on. Through educating people on the severity of these issues I would like to think people would be willing to make a change to fight the subjects of climate change, and sea level rise. Although the greater picture seems unachievable to many and is sometimes just avoided by the unaffected, one day the Maldives may cease to exist as a consequence of indirect anthropogenic activity. My hope is that conservation efforts in the Maldives, whether it be of the Picturesque Atoll Reefs or the intelligent Pacific Ridley Sea Turtle, outlast these opposing global issues and thrive once again.

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Looking for a future career in conservation? Want to gain valuable skills that will make your CV really stand out? Searching for an opportunity to contribute to real conservation efforts and make a difference? Apply for our new Ambassador Programme today: http://www.atollvolunteers.com/internships/atoll-volunteers-ambassador-programme/

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Little Fish, Big Impact.

The global trade of marine organisms involves roughly 20-25 million live fishes, 12 million pieces of coral and 10 million other invertebrates each year. The ornamental trade is dominated by freshwater species, however, since the 1980s, marine aquaria has become a notable trend. Over 80% of traded marine ornamentals originate from the Coral Triangle, in particular the Philippines and Indonesia while the US is the largest importer.

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Map of the Coral Triangle. Source: Coral Geographic

Currently, the marine ornamental trade in these regions is on an unsustainable path due to ecologically damaging fishing practices. Sodium cyanide is commonly used to stun and catch ornamental species resulting in high mortality rates in the supply chain. Many of the target species caught with these methods may not survive long in captivity due to poor health and transport conditions, keeping the demand for new replacement fish high. This results in an unsustainable cycle and carries on throughout the food chain affecting many more species, even us.

These techniques also inflict collateral damage upon coral reefs and other marine life. Because cyanide is a highly toxic chemical, it is believed that for every fish caught with cyanide, nearly one square metre of coral is destroyed. Once the coral is dead, the entire ecosystem can collapse and other animals are left without shelter, food, and breeding grounds. Unsurprisingly, cyanide is illegal in most countries, but poor law enforcement makes it nearly impossible to eliminate, and quantifying the use of these techniques is difficult due to the covert nature of these practices. Clearly, it must be stopped and other collection techniques with minimal impacts must be promoted. Major exporting and importing countries need to promote awareness, make policy changes and crack down on the use of cyanide.

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A fisherman using cyanide for easy capture in the Philippines. Source: National Geographic

The rising number of home aquarium enthusiasts has led to the excessive demand of aquarium species, confirming the need to promote different conservation strategies such as captive breeding for popular marine species (like our program here at Atoll Marine Centre). Breeding marine ornamentals can not only supplement the trade with a more sustainable option but also offer new information on the reproductive biology and life history of these species, essential to understanding the response of natural populations to human induced effects. Recent advances in aquaculture, including improvements in nutrition for different development stages, will enable many more species to be bred in captivity. Further research into developing fish husbandry protocols in exporting countries should also be encouraged as to take pressure off wild stocks and to avoid removing livelihoods from low income coastal communities.

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A home coral reef aquarium. source: enviropacs

At the source country level, measures such as quotas and size limits, and restricted access to the ornamental fishery through permits and marine parks, would be a positive step in the right direction. Along with this, efforts from the home aquarist are essential to achieve proper management of the aquarium trade. By spending a few extra dollars to purchase fish produced in an environmentally sustainable manner, you are reducing the demand for the wild harvest of species. Understandably, the change towards a more sustainable trade is not something that will happen overnight, it will be a long swim to enforcing global aquarium collection laws and finding foolproof alternatives to destructive fishing. Nevertheless, as a consumer and as a voter, you can make a huge difference by advocating for further action on protecting our marine ecosystems. This could be through spreading information, donating to a marine conservation charity or even just letting everyone know why it matters to you.

By Zoe Tapps

 

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Restoration, Research and the Future of Coral

The prospect that by 2050 we may have lost all coral reefs is chilling. To lose the reefs would be to lose the planet’s most effervescent habitat –  a place which makes even tropical jungles seem barren. Rick MacPherson from the Coral Reef Alliance described perfectly the huge amount of biodiversity on a reef in this quote – “you could walk for kilometres in a rainforest and see a thousand beetles and a hundred birds, but in one square metre of a reef, you could get every animal phylum ever known.” The question now is not whether things will get worse –  because it undoubtedly will – but whether we will lose our reefs entirely. This final coral blog will look at the restoration, research and future of our beloved coral reef ecosystems.

Kāne‘ohe Bay was traditionally home to some of the highest numbers and greatest diversity of fish and corals in Hawaii, but over time these populations have plummeted. Invasive algae form thick, tangled mats that are destroying the bay and turning its reefs into a smothered wasteland. The Nature Conservancy developed an innovative approach to the problem: Super Suckers. True to their name, the Super Suckers are giant vacuum cleaners that hoover algae off the reef. For Kāne‘ohe Bay, the Super Suckers are a game changer. Amazingly, over 250,000 pounds of invasive algae have been removed from more than 20 acres of reef, allowing coral to begin to recover – hooray! 

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Coral frames, just like at our marine centre, are perhaps the most widely used restoration technique to increase coral cover and aid damaged reefs. Reefscapers, based in the atoll next to us, has over 5,000 frames and features over 40 thriving species of corals! Off the coast of Florida Keys, rows and rows of concrete blocks sit in what looks like a giant chess competition on the ocean floor. Atop each block sits a fragment of Acropora cervicornus – or staghorn coral. These corals have been grown to about the size of your thumb in a laboratory, here they are adapted to higher temperatures to help them survive the increasingly warm ocean waters.

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Despite years of research, coral reefs are continuing to surprise us. After a failed experiment, Dr David Vaughan abandoned 2 or 3 tiny coral polyps (from the same big coral colony) at the base of his aquarium, assuming they would die. A week later he happened to glance at the polyps and noticed that they had not only lived — they had doubled in size. Think of our skin, it doesn’t grow very quickly, then when you fall and graze your knee the wound heals rapidly. When these corals were broken into tiny pieces, they grew rapidly to repair quickly. This isn’t the only thing he discovered – when close together, corals usually fight for space and food, but these little corals recognised the others as themselves and fused together. After just one to two years they were the size of a 50-year-old coral and started to reproduce, something that would have taken decades and decades in the wild. The eureka mistake provided a breakthrough in coral conservation.

The bad news is that coral restoration and research takes money, education, and expertise. In the end, the fate of coral reefs comes down to global warming. Even though corals are able to adapt, the speed in which temperatures are rising is too rapid. Restoration techniques are all just buying us time to slow the increase in sea surface temperatures. In the future, some of the species that are common today will disappear, but fingers crossed bigger and hardier varieties will survive the unhospitable conditions we are creating.

An article by Jess Kalisiak 

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The Long Walk to Sea

This blog highlights a hatchlings journey from nest to sea. It looks at the difficulties they face including natural predators and human induced threats. It finishes by exploring the current work being carried out to reduce these anthropogenic threats and ensure every hatchling makes it in their long walk to sea.

Although turtles spend the majority of their life in the ocean, the most vital part of a turtle’s life takes place at the beach. When a female turtle is ready to lay her eggs she will crawl onto the same beach she was born on and find a suitable spot to lay her eggs. She uses her back flippers to create a perfectly round nest, drops around 100 eggs in there, then covers it up and crawls back to sea. Between 45-90 days later, the eggs hatch and the baby hatchlings are faced with the challenge of making it to the sea.

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It is vitally important that hatchlings make their own way to sea and walk the beach instead of being put there by humans. Walking to sea gives their flippers time to warm up before their long swim ahead and it s also the time when a hatchling imprints on that beach. Adult females return to the same beach they were born on to lay their own eggs as a result of homing behaviour. This is why protecting nesting habitat is so important. There are plenty of beaches humans can relax on, but suitable nesting habitats are diminishing.

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When hatchlings come out of their nests they are instantly drawn to the brightest horizon. Before humans flocked to beaches and flooded them with artificial light, the brightest part of a natural beach was the horizon over the ocean. The moon reflecting off the sea creates a path for the turtles to follow and going towards the light should get them to the water quickly. Somewhere in the world, on a quiet, dark beach, a hatchling has broken the surface of the sand and is scrambling, with its brothers and sisters, towards the beautiful shimmer of the moon reflecting off the sea. As soon as it reaches the shore, the wave scoops him up and the tiny hatchling swims away.

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Unfortunately, that quiet dark beach is becoming less and less of a reality. Coastal resorts receive the highest percentage of tourists making them one of the most popular holiday types. Restaurants, bars, street lights and apartments are just a few infrastructures that can back nesting beaches and are lit throughout the night. This stops the ocean being the brightest horizon and instead of being drawn to sea, hatchlings find themselves in land. Here they are at risk of being run over by cars, drowning in swimming pools, getting stuck down drains, dying of exhaustion and they are extremely vulnerable to predators. Reducing light pollution that can be visible from nesting beaches is vital to ensure hatchlings find their way to sea. Legislation around the world encourages people to turn beachfront lighting off, use red lights or put screens around lights so they cannot be seen from the beach.

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Turtles are most vulnerable when they are hatchlings and it is not just light pollution that is their problem. In many parts of the world turtle eggs are poached for food and hatchlings are taken to be kept as pets. Turtle hatchlings are also vulnerable to predators. Pine martens, raccoons and stray dogs may dig at nests to get to the eggs and if their walk to sea wasn’t traumatic enough, they have to get past ghost crabs and gulls. The ocean is relatively
safer for hatchlings once they get there but they must still avoid fish looking for a meal.

It is estimated only 1 in 1000 turtle eggs make it to sexually mature adults, however this statistic does not consider the anthropogenic impacts humans have on nesting beaches. There is lots of practical field work and research being done for turtles all over the world:

  • Costa Rica – Using fake turtle eggs with GPS tracking devices to find out where poachers take stolen eggs and the trafficking route to inform law enforcement.
  • Malaysia – Removing eggs from nests and relocating them to secure hatcheries preventing poachers from stealing eggs and ensuring hatchlings get to sea.
  • Greece – The majority of nesting areas in Greece have volunteers working on monitoring and protecting nests.
  • Florida – Ordinances require keeping lights off for turtles from June to October. County lighting laws encompass 95% of Florida’s nesting areas.

Beaches are beautiful, but they are also a vital habitat for turtles and it is imperative that we do what we can to protect them.

 

An article by Holly Jade 

 

Cover Photo: Roger Leguen (WWF)

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Meet out new Aquarium Biologist: Zoe

 

Where are you from?

I am from Ceduna, a small coastal town in South Australia.

When did you first become interested in marine life?

I think growing up on the coast and having the most amazing beaches nearby began my fascination with the ocean. It continued to develop over the years, throughout university and especially as I began to scuba dive as it seemed like I had a whole new perspective on what lives below the surface.

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Is this your first time in the Maldives?

Yep! I have been here for 2 weeks now and I am loving it.

What is your favourite animal and why?

I struggle with picking favourite animals, I just love them all. I will forever love dogs but I am super fascinated by dugongs, mantas and whale sharks and I would love to be able to work with them at some point in my life. This is Pepper helping me out with a beach clean!

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 Have you worked with clownfish before?

Yes, I spent some time volunteering at Flinders University helping out with the Saving Nemo clownfish breeding program.

What are you most excited about over the six months?

I’m most excited for when the clownfish begin breeding consistently and we can begin to release some fish back onto the reefs. I also can’t wait to contribute and help expand the anemone and clownfish database that Cassie has set up so we can get a better idea of the numbers and health status of anemones throughout the atoll.

 What are you going to miss most about home?

I will miss the whole family.  We are all really close and spend lots of time together so any time I go away I always miss being around them. But.. most of all I will miss my banana smoothies and avocados!

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What is your dream job?

I am still unsure. What I am doing here at the Atoll Marine Centre is really amazing but I would still love to get experience in different aspects of marine biology and conservation to find what I love most. I am really intrigued by marine microplastics and pollution, so that could be my next step.

How are you finding Naifaru and Atoll Volunteers so far?

I am really enjoying it! Living on a local island has already been great as you get to experience the culture and involve the local people in projects and activities. The excursions and afternoon marine centre activities have also been really fun and I have already learnt a lot from them.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV alone?

I am addicted to crosswords, I love assembling ikea furniture and I am embarrassed that they are the most interesting things I could think of.

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What is the one thing you won’t go travelling without?

 Reusable ziplock bags!  I always use them to keep my small bits and pieces together such as charging cables, mini first aid kit etc or even as a waterproof bag to chuck your phone or electronics in when its raining or on rough boat rides. You can also keep your snacks in them.

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The future of the reef is in your hands.

BLEACHING!!!!!

The reef is dying,

dead,

gone.

The media is constantly bombarding us with the devastating news of coral bleaching and despair at the destruction of this essential ecosystem. But how much do you actually understand about the bleaching process and what this all means?

Inside the cells of coral and anemones lives a symbiotic algae (as explained in Jess’ coral blog! (http://www.atollvolunteers.com/coral-bleaching)), called zooxantellea. This algae photosynthesizes and gives energy to the anemone, allowing it to grow, also providing the vibrant colours that anemones display.

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But this symbiosis is extremely vulnerable to climate change!

When extended stress events occur such as increased sea surface temperatures, high solar irradiance or high sediment loads the zooxanthellae is unable to photosynthesize effectively. Both coral and anemones know when their symbiotic algae is not functioning correctly and expel them from their cells in search of an algae more adapted to these new and compromised conditions. In the absence of the zooxanthellae the coral and anemones appear white and are referred to as bleached.

Bleaching effects anemones in a number of ways:

  1. The white appearance of the anemone indicates a loss of nutrients and energy provided by their symbiotic algae.
  2. Anemones can decrease in size up to 80% due to bleaching and they rely more heavily on their venom and nematocyst production in order to source food for themselves.
  3. Their symbiotic fish, the clownfish is also negatively impacted by bleaching events. Bleached anemones are often abandoned by clownfish if there is a healthy one available, if not the clownfish is subjected to lower fecundity (less babies produced) and higher predation levels (bright orange against white is a beacon for predators!).
  4. The loss of their anemonefish can reduce the recovery capacity of anemones as the extra nutrients and aeration the clownfish provide is lost.

But what can we do?

Unfortunately, the impacts of climate change have moved past small everyday changes to make a difference. While Meatfree Monday, not using single use plastics and energy saving light bulbs are still important, the real change is needed on a global policy scale. You might be thinking but I can’t change that.

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YES, YOU CAN!!

The future is ours and the direction it takes depends entirely on us and our actions right now. Get educated.

Be vocal.

Get involved.

VOTE!

Find the local member in your area that has a climate policy, if they don’t have any petition them! Show the value of protecting the environment and our future. Renewable energy, divestment in fossil fuel (clean coal isn’t a thing), sustainable fisheries, marine protected areas and carbon taxes for big business. The list is endless but the government you vote in should support all these measures!

The future of our reef is in your hands.

The time is now!

By Cassie Hoepner

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Coral Bleaching

This is the second installment in a three-part blog series about Coral written by Jess; read on to learn more about coral bleaching and how it doesn’t have to mean devastation.

Hello ocean lovers!
As I’m sure you all know by now, coral is one of my favourite animals. Although I love more than anything to be swimming on a reef, the more I see, the more I worry about the health of my beloved polyp friends and the future of these vital ecosystems. Coral bleaching is becoming more and more widespread every year. In 2016, on the Great Barrier Reef alone, bleaching hit 90% of corals, killing between 29-50% of the reef.

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So, what is coral bleaching? Remember in the last blog we learnt that the tiny algae (zooxanthellae), that provide the wonderful colour of reefs, live in harmony with the coral. The most important thing that the zooxanthellae do, is provide carbohydrates for the coral, which in some cases can be up to 90% of the energy corals need to survive, grow, and reproduce. Like other plants, the zooxanthellae absorb energy from the sun and use it for photosynthesis. However, when the sun gets too hot, the zooxanthellae stop functioning as normal. The corals then get stressed and spit the zooxanthellae out, even though they rely on them for food. At night, the coral polyps use their tentacles to grab tiny zooplankton from the water, but they only get a fraction of the food they need, and they begin to starve. Because the zooxanthellae are the creators of the colour, without them, the coral becomes white, and their skeleton shows through the translucent tissue. Hence the name ‘bleaching’.

 
Temperature is the number one cause of bleaching, a small change of 1-2 degrees centigrade above or below the norm can cause their relationship with zooxanthellae to break down. But, corals are very fussy, and it’s not just temperature that causes them to become stressed and expel their algae. Changes in the salinity of seawater, as well as extra bright sunlight, pollution such as fertilisers from crops, and even sediment in the water from building work can all cause coral bleaching.
When we lose the corals, the structure of the reef begins to break down and it becomes more and more flat. Fish, crabs, shrimp, eels, and all the other creatures that live in the cracks and crevices of the reef lose their home and their protection, they lose a place to hunt and feed and breed. All these animals either flee to find a habitat elsewhere, or they die, and all the life which the coral reefs are known for disappears.

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But, there is some good news! Bleaching does not have to be a death sentence. Not every reef that experiences a stress event is destroyed, and healthy reefs can bounce back. Some coral populations and their zooxanthellae may be able to adapt to the extreme conditions predicted during climate change. There are many different types of zooxanthellae and scientists have predicted that bleaching is a way for corals to find a better type of algae. For example, there are some strains of zooxanthellae which respond well to high temperatures, so when the water gets warmer, corals may spit out the algae they have to gain one which is more superior at working in these conditions. Next time we’ll talk about the corals which have mastered this technique and are the reefs of the future…

By Jess Kalisiak

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The Geography of the Maldives

This blog explores the formation of the islands that make up the Maldives, the wildlife that resides within the islands and their waters, as well as the current and future initiatives that the country has to protects its fauna and flora. 

Geography

The Republic of the Maldives is formed of 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean, there are 26 geographical atolls. Male is the capital of the Maldives, and the total population was estimated at 394,000 in 2014.  Only 200 islands are inhabited by Maldivian people, and almost 100 are resorts. The country is divided into seven provinces, which consist of atolls, islands and cities with their own local councils. The Republic of the Maldives is 90,000km2; 99% of this area is covered by the ocean. This is the flattest country in the world, with the highest point standing at 2.4m above sea level.

Atoll formation

An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef, often with a series of islets. The centre body of water found within an atoll is the lagoon, connected to the ocean through the channels between islets. The atolls of the Maldives are part of a greater geographic structure; the Laccadives-Chagos Ridge, this area of the world contains large intact reefs, rising from the sea bed through tectonic activity. Atolls are said begin as fringed reefs surrounding a volcanic island. Over time, and due to a series of natural events, (island subsidence, sea level rise etc) the sea begins to take over the central volcanic island. The reef surrounding the submerging island will construct coral at a rate that will ensure its survival despite sea level rise. It can take up to 30,000,000 years to create low lying, flat islands, surrounding coral reefs, and sandbanks as seen throughout the Maldives today.

Wildlife

Flora and fauna can vary vastly between atolls; therefore, the whole of the Maldives has a vast array of wildlife to be experienced. Terrestrial animals are limited on the islands, there are two species of fruit bat, which are of conservation concern. The islands are important for resident and breeding birds; up to fourteen seabirds are known to nest on Maldives. These include the Maldivian pond heron, white tern, and large-crested tern. There are also geckos, agamid lizards, short-headed frog, and a common toad, the wolf snake and blind snake which can be found throughout this country. Hermit crabs can easily be found on the beaches and there are other types of land crab too!

Marine life includes corals, over 2,000 species of fish including tuna which contribute to Maldivian fisheries, reef sharks, rays (manta ray, sting ray and eagle ray), whale sharks, sea turtles (green, hawksbill, leatherback, olive ridley and loggerhead), octopus, squid, clams, starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, jellyfish and anemones can all be found throughout the Republic.

For pictures and species fact files follow us on Instagram @atollvolunteers for #WildlifeWednesdays

Protected areas

There are 33 marine protected areas throughout the Maldives, the first was designated in 1995, containing Rasfari island, lagoon and surrounding reef in North Male. There are also five protected islands, designated because of their unique vegetation, nesting bird sites or mangroves. The most recent protected area in the Maldives is the Mendhoo region in 2011. Furthermore, at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 the President announced the intention to declare the whole of the Maldives a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve; this designation started within the Baa Atoll. As a nation consisting of islands throughout the Indian Ocean, the importance of the costal and marine ecosystems is paramount to ensure the survival and development of this country.This collection of islands found in the Indian Ocean truly is a gem of biodiversity, one which should be cherished and cared for through the designation of a Biosphere Reserve.

 

By Alexia Hemming

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We’ve found Nemo, now let’s save him!

This is the second installment in Cassie’s blog series highlighting threats to Clownfish. Cassie explains the pressures of wild harvest and why it is so important to keep wild fish free!

We all grew up watching Finding Nemo, and for many of us it sparked the sense of wonder and awe for the marine world that we still carry with us now. While this movie was pivotal for inspiring future marine biologists everywhere, it also had an unexpected and damaging impact on the one species it aimed to protect; clownfish.

 

The popularity of this charismatic reef fish skyrocketed after the 2003 release of this film. More and more people wanted to see and interact with clownfish, however not necessarily in their natural habitats. Everyone wanted a pet Nemo! Clownfish, as highlighted in Finding Nemo are a very popular aquarium species; but have you ever paused to think where these fish actually come from?

An alarming 90% of all aquarium fish have been wild harvested, resulting in around one million fish being removed from reefs globally each year. In order to meet the increasing demand for popular aquarium species, more and more fish are being harvested each year; causing local population declines of up to 75% in some regions. Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand are popular locations for the harvesting of clownfish but these practices also occur in Australia, the Maldives and Hawaii.

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While we do hope one-day clownfish won’t be kept as pets anymore and will be able to live free, a more sustainable alternative is desperately needed right now. Luckily for clownfish they are easily bred in captivity. Instead of harvesting the fish they can be bred in aquaria and subsequently sold into the aquarium trade creating a sustainable way to keep clownfish as pets.

There are a range of benefits to the aquarium trade from adopting a captive breeding strategy:

  1. Captive bred fish live for longer in consumer tanks than wild harvested fish; due to the stressful transition from ocean to tank.
  2. Cyanide (used to slow the fish for capture) is not needed as fish are no longer harvested, reducing the ecosystem wide impact the trade has.
  3. Juveniles from captive breeding programs can also be released back onto reef ecosystems, restoring population numbers.Harvest 3

Here at the Atoll Marine Centre we have established a captive clownfish breeding program in an attempt to supplement the trade with a sustainable option. Through both education and breeding we hope to make positive changes to the aquarium trade and reduce its impact on these essential reef species. Our program houses both the Clark’s and Maldivian clownfish; the later which is endemic to this region and thus important to protect. We conduct daily tours with guests from local resorts informing them about the benefits of captive breeding and the impacts of both climate change and the aquarium trade on clownfish. Further, we educate local students using Finding Nemo; teaching them about symbiotic relationships, climate change and why we should keep wild fish free!

So if you are interested in having your very own Nemo at home make sure it has come from a sustainable breeding program and not from the sea!

Keep an eye out for more blogs on clownfish coming soon!

By Cassie Hoepner