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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

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An Introduction to Coral

This is the first installment in a three-part blog series about Coral written by Jess; one of our previous Marine Biologists.

Coral reefs are my favourite places on the planet. I love everything about them: the vibrant colours, the intricate structures, and the endless amounts of creatures you meet. I was so completely bewildered with amazement the first time I saw this wondrous world, it was then that I knew I wanted to spend my life protecting these unearthly beings. But, how can I expect everyone else to love them as much as I do when most people don’t know what corals are, and how interesting they can be? So, here’s a brief insight into the creatures that bring me so much happiness.

Coral might look like a multicoloured rock, but it’s an animal. Actually, it’s thousands of tiny animals creating one huge colony of animals. Coral polyps are soft-bodied organisms, each only a few millimetres wide, and in the same family as anemones and jellyfish.  Coral reefs commence when a tiny 2-day-old polyp finds the perfect place to settle and spend its entire life, here it attaches to the rock on the sea floor and divides (or buds, if you want to be scientific) into thousands of clones.
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Coral polyps hiding in the hard corallite vs coral polyp outside the corallite.

At the base is a hard limestone skeleton called a corallite, which forms the structure of coral reefs. It’s like a little protective cup that corals can shelter in. The corallites connect to one another, creating the colony that acts as a single organism. As colonies grow over hundreds and thousands of years, they join with other colonies and become coral reefs. Some of the reefs on planet earth today have been growing for over 50 million years.

Corals are very demanding in their environmental requirements. Water that is too salty or too hot will kill them. Nor can they grow at depths beyond the reach of sunlight because of their dependence upon single-celled algae that grow within their bodies. Residing within the coral’s tissues, the algae, called zooxanthellae (pronounced zoo-zan-thell-ee), are well protected and make use of the coral’s waste products for photosynthesis. The corals benefit, in turn, as the algae produce oxygen, remove the waste, and supply nutrients that corals need to grow, thrive, and build up the reef. This partnership is called symbiosis, an interaction between two organisms that’s advantageous for both partners (like the clownfish and anemone – see Cassie’s blog).  More than just a clever collaboration between some of the tiniest ocean animals and plants for 25 million years, this mutual exchange is the reason why coral reefs are the largest structures of biological origin on Earth.

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So that’s a very brief introduction into the rocks that are actually thousands of tiny animal clones that house even tinier photosynthetic algae in beautiful partnerships that have been around for millions of years. Always remember how sensitive these creatures are, never snorkel wearing suncream because the chemicals kill the corals (wear a rash vest instead), always say no to plastic bags because these end up in the ocean and smother all the wildlife, and finally, be a climate change warrior and eat less meat. Fight global warming by doing as little as “Meatless Mondays” and help stop the mass coral bleaching that could completely wipe out these vital ecosystems.

By Jess Kalisiak

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Nature Club 2017

Zoe restarted Nature Club in two local schools this year, in this blog she writes about the other NGOs that got involved, what the programme involves, the children’s passion, and her own thoughts and feelings towards setting up this after-school club that inspires so many. 

We restarted Nature Club in July after our turtle festival. The festival was a great way to get involved with the school children again and also start to build a stronger relationship between Atoll Marine Centre and the community.

Manta Trust had established a Marine Biologist, Lisa Bauer, at one of the local resorts, Hurawalhi. We have built a close relationship with her and she was also passionate about the education programme, so helped us design our lessons as well as teach. Lisa took the lead on the lessons regarding Manta’s and Sharks, and also provided a tour of Hurawalhi’s fauna and flora with the children from both Naifaru and Hinnavaru, they were so excited to visit and thoroughly enjoyed their time there! There is little relationship between the resorts and the local people in Lhaviyani outside of employment, so this was a really positive event, especially as it was regarding education of the environment.

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We started off the club with an introductory lesson about the ocean, talking about the different habitats with a small overview about what they knew. We were pleasantly surprised that they knew so many solid facts about the ocean! We also tried to fit in an activity within every lesson, as this is in afterschool club their concentration might not be best so we try to get them to learn by doing. They were creative and very much enjoyed drawing so we frequently asked them create mind-maps and posters with diagrams; these are then displayed in our marine centre, where people from all over the world can see their work!

We then covered the fauna, such as fish, turtles, mantas and sharks. The children were most engaged in these lessons! We had guest speakers from Manta Trust and Olive Ridley project for some of these lessons. It was great to have a Dhivehi speaker, Shameel, from Olive Ridley Project, to show them how to rescue turtles correctly and teach about the devastating effects of ghost nets. Lisa from Manta Trust also got the children very excited with the lesson on Mantas, the children had so many questions.

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For Nature Club at Naifaru; Thoriq, who is in charge on waste management on the island, gave a talk to the children on the best ways to manage their waste. They didn’t seem too engaged on my talk about the degradation of plastic, but Thoriqs talk seemed to piqued their interest a lot more!

Waste management was the last lesson for the children, a game was made where they had to match the rubbish to the amount of time it took to degrade. After this lesson the children were given two options for their last session; a hatchling game on the beach OR a beach clean competition. All the students voted for the beach clean! Although waste management isn’t the most exciting topic, is seemed to impact the children enough to want to do something about it. We were extremely happy to see that!

When it came to the beach clean competition, they were split into three teams; Hinnavaru girls, Hinnavaru boys and Naifaru. They all had to collect rubbish, and the longer the piece of trash took to degrade, the more points it was worth. We gave them half an hour and one large bin to fill. Little did we know we massively underestimated these students, their bins were overflowing with rubbish and it took 8 people to count all the rubbish! The beach clean was a huge success and a great way to end Nature Club for 2017.

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I thoroughly enjoyed Nature Club, which to be honest, I didn’t think I would! I had never taught before and wasn’t confident doing so. But after my first lesson with them I loved it, their personalities were hilarious and the whole experience was very rewarding. They always found a way to surprise you!

By Zoe Cox

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The Silent Killer of the Sea – A Halloween Ghost Story

Seeing as we are so close to Halloween I want to tell you about a real ghost story; about a serial killer that strikes time and time again. We don’t fully know the impact, but what we do know is that this silent killer causes strangulation, suffocation and dismemberment. Year after year hundreds of souls are washed up and found in our oceans, seriously harmed or killed because of Ghost Nets!

Ghost nets are fishing gear that has been lost at sea. Fishing line takes up to 600 years to degrade and in this time can travel vast distances around the globe. The FAO estimates that one-tenth of all marine litter is lost or discarded fishing gear—equalling 640,000 tonnes annually. These marine plastics have horrific consequences on many marine species. Ghost nets travel along with the currents and catch marine wildlife and other debris found along the way. This causes them to become heavy and sink to the depths of the ocean. Once down they don’t stay on the ocean floor for long, as bottom dwellers will feed on the decomposing wildlife reducing the weight of the net. Once it becomes buoyant again it can be taken back up by ocean currents to continue this deadly cycle.

Most marine species are impacted by Ghost Nets, as trap and kill wildlife including sharks, turtles, dolphins, whales, rays, fish and birds. These nets even threaten reefs, by entangling coral and possibly introducing non-native species into these vulnerable ecosystems. Once entangled in coral the currents will cause the net to sweep through the ecosystem, often leafing a wasteland of damage and despair.

When an animal becomes ensnared by a ghost net the impacts include exhaustion, suffocation, starvation, amputation of limbs and even death. As more and more species get caught in nets, curiosity and predation will lead to other species such as dolphins and sharks getting caught in these deadly entrapments. So there is a snowballing effect in that when a fish becomes entangled it acts as bait for larger marine predators, which often become entangled too!

The key causes of Ghost Nets in the Indian Ocean include bad weather conditions, catch overload, nets snagging on the seabed, poor gear maintenance, high cost of net retrieval, fishery conflicts or vandalism, poor recycling or disposal facilities, illegal and destructive fishing.

We need to keep our oceans safe by reducing the amount of gear lost at sea and supporting programmes such as the Ghost Fishing Foundation, where groups of scuba divers aim to find and reduce abandoned fishing gear in the Oceans.

Let’s try to make our marine environments safe by removing plastic and debris when we find any! So when swimming in any of the worlds oceans, look out for the most lethal killer – Ghost Nets!

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Make sure you share this tale with your friends and family in hopes to keep our oceans safe.

By Alexia Hemming