World Wildlife Day: The Importance of Large and Small Scale Conservation Initiatives

Throughout 2018 our marine biologists here at Love The Oceans will be doing blog posts on topics of Named Days throughout the year. These blogs will focus on contemporary topics within science with the aim to reach more people and demonstrate the range of environmental, scientific and associated social problems we face today. To keep up to date, follow this blog, also found under the ‘News’ tab on our website. Without further ado, in celebration of World Wildlife Day, I introduce our second blog in this marine series:

World Wildlife Day: The Importance of Large and Small Scale Conservation Initiatives

March 3rd 2018 is World Wildlife Day. Let’s take the opportunity today to celebrate and appreciate the beauty and diversity of wild fauna and flora our world has to offer!

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Mother and calf humpback whale in our Bay

A quick browse online tells us that wildlife is officially defined as “Animals living in their natural habitat and not within the possession or control of humans”. Multiple definitions imply that wildlife occurs in natural conditions and without human interference.

Before humans roamed this earth, every individual plant or animal could be considered wildlife. Nowadays, there are a variety of domesticated animals, farm animals, and cultured organisms that are grown in a controlled environment by humans, for  humans. However, humans do not only benefit from these organisms. Wild animals and plants also possess an intrinsic value and provide economic, scientific and recreational benefits. Think about fish: a wildlife resource that feeds millions of people and creates employment for millions of others. Think about all the advances made in modern day medicine based on studies of marine and terrestrial wildlife. But also think about gazing upon majestic reef ecosystems while diving, going out at sea to spot whales and dolphins, walking through endless forests bursting with life … These are all experiences and services we get from the wildlife surrounding us.

Unfortunately, mankind is also the main reason our world’s wildlife isn’t doing so well. Populations are in decline due to illegal hunting, overfishing, habitat destruction, ocean acidification, global warming, high demands due to population growth and many more anthropogenic impacts, impacts that did not exist before humans were here and urgently require conservation efforts. So Love The Oceans would like to celebrate World Wildlife Day by raising awareness for the importance of wildlife conservation, and marine conservation in particular.

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Manta ray & diver on Manta Reef, one of our dive sites

Wildlife is not endlessly resilient to humans’ negative impacts on the environment.  For decades small and large scale initiatives have been working towards conservation to secure a future where humans can live in harmony with nature and sustainably use its resources and services. We’ve all heard of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – one of the world’s largest conservation organisations that has taken part in over 13,000 projects globally since 1961. Another major conservation organisation is the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), whose Red List of Threatened Species is widely used as the main reference for information on taxonomy, distribution and the conservation status of wildlife.

Moreover, in the 70s, two nationwide conventions created a framework to regulate the international trade of wildlife and to protect wildlife that migrates across national borders. The first, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is an international agreement between governments, currently with 183 member states or Parties, aiming to ensure that global trade of specimens of wildlife does not threaten their survival. The text of CITES was signed initially by 80 nations on March 3rd 1973. It’s no coincidence that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed this day to be World Wildlife Day in December 2013, which makes today the fifth edition.

The other convention, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), signed in 1979, provides a legal foundation for its 126 Parties in order to achieve internationally coordinated conservation measures throughout the migratory range of the species to which CMS applies. Both conventions work with appendices (CITES has I, II and III, CMS only has I and II) in which species are included with different conservation statuses and thus requiring different levels of international protection. Note that these conventions are not international legislative systems that take the place of national laws, but rather provide a framework for Parties to individually implement CITES and CMS at the national level.

But enough about large-scale, nation-wide conservation organisations and conventions. The work of small scale initiatives is just as important, and that’s where Love The Oceans (LTO) comes into play. LTO operates in Guinjata Bay in the Inhambane Province, Mozambique. Guinjata Bay, although being home to a wide diversity of marine life, has never been studied in depth and for a long amount of time. The bay is home to beautiful coral reefs, multiple shark and ray species, endangered turtles and of course the charismatic humpback whales that come to breed here between June and September. LTO aims to establish a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the bay, because we strongly believe that we’re located in a biodiversity hotspot. Coastal East Africa (including the coast of Mozambique) is considered a priority place for conservation according to WWF. Moreover, the area where LTO operates is home to a variety of WWF priority species such as dolphins, whales, marine turtles, corals and sharks, indicating the importance of this area.

 

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Volunteers conducting visual coral reef assessments

LTO has been collecting data since 2014 in collaboration with volunteers from around the globe. We work with volunteers because we strongly believe that ethical volunteering in a remote and pristine area is a valuable experience for young scientists while we at the same time ensure quality data collection through training by our qualified marine biologists. One aspect of our work is coral reef surveys, whereby data on coral and fish diversity is collected through scuba diving. We believe that due to the high biodiversity present, the reefs in Guinjata Bay offer an exciting opportunity for the local community to generate sustainable sources of revenue from the marine environment through various ecotourism based initiatives. Our volunteers also collect data on the fisheries activity in the bay. Different fishing methods are used by local artisanal fishermen and a wide variety of elasmobranchs, fish, crustaceans and cephalopods are caught. LTO aims to assess the sustainability of the fisheries in collaboration with the current fishermen and, at the same time, educate the next generation of fishermen in local schools to ensure the exploitation of this wildlife resource will not be detrimental to the survival of species and populations towards the future. We strongly believe that through our research, education and diving we can work towards a win-win situation both marine wildlife and the local community will benefit from in the long run.

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Shark caught in the local fisheries

Whilst we are working towards long-term conservation of the wildlife in Guinjata Bay, we also abide by our voluntary code of conduct and promote ethical interactions with wildlife encountered on an everyday basis. We’re proud to announce that recently we were accepted by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) to become a partner due to our commitment to ethical interactions with humpback whales and dolphins in Guinjata Bay.

 

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We’re a proud WCA Partner

During fieldwork, whether it’s boat-based surveys, fisheries monitoring, snorkelling or diving, we empower a strict but necessary code of conduct in order not to disturb the ecology of the encountered species nor alter their behaviour. We encourage our volunteers to respect the marine environment and live and work by the three “Don’t T’s”: Don’t TOUCH, don’t TEASE and don’t TAKE. We’re conducting opportunistic sampling of natural encounters with all sorts of wildlife and aim not to disturb the marine environment. For encounters with charismatic megafauna such as dolphins, whales, whale sharks and manta rays, we even included specific sections in our dive policy for maximising encounter experiences while minimising disturbance to these gentle giants. Individual divers and snorkelers should respect safe distances from megafauna and of course never attempt to touch them. We also instruct our volunteers not to display behaviour that might stress, obstruct the path or in any way induce avoidance behaviour of the encountered wildlife. Our code of conduct also includes guidelines for boats when these animals are encountered.

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Field specialist Matt taking data on a Whale Shark in our Bay

Our team wants you to take the opportunity of World Wildlife Day 2018 to appreciate that our oceans and its wildlife are vital, beautiful, deeply necessary and absolutely deserve our attention and our efforts for conservation. Here’s a quote from oceanographer Sylvia Earle encapsulating this:

“I hope for your help to explore and protect the wild ocean in ways that will restore the health and, in so doing, secure hope for humankind. Health for the oceans means health for us.”

Happy World Wildlife Day 2018!!