May/June Week 3

The research has now officially commenced and we have been successful in collecting and logging a lot of data this week. This now means that we are officially becoming fish identification whizzes!
We started the week by creating an ocean trash mural from the litter we collected on the beach cleanup on World Ocean’s Day (8th June). Between four of us, we were able to fill 8 garbage bags in less than 2 hours. It’s upsetting to see so much broken down plastic and trash on a bay that is still pretty untouched. From the foreign bottle caps to the life encrusted drink cans, it is obvious that the majority of litter that we have found has been washed up from the cyclone that hit the bay earlier this year. Being marine conservationists, we have been aware for a long time that ocean trash is a serious issue but to see the thousands of microplastics in this light, it really enforces how bad the situation really is and how we are really in need of desperate measures.
To portray our feelings of ocean trash in the mural we decided to enforce the message of how our anthropogenic actions will in turn come back around to us. We created a fish out of the rubbish and then used all of the silver trash to make a fork digging into the fish to represent a human eating the plastic. We collected ocean plastic statistics and captioned our mural with “People who consume seafood as part of their diet are ingesting approximately 11,000 particles of plastic every year”.

We used the rest of Monday as a day to refresh the protocols for the coral reef surveying and fisheries research to ensure that the rest of the week was to go as smoothly as possible.
We ventured on two research dives on Tuesday that we believe went very well.  We are definitely beginning to learn how to hold a quadrat still while battling a strong swell! After surfacing from the second dive we spotted 3 humpback whales less than 100m away from the boat, which was incredible. Farin, who had been snorkelling at the time was ecstatic. Armando, the skipper, had moved the boat slightly closer to the Whales whilst we had been diving so Farin was able to get a closer view and watch their gracious displays of breeching. The Humpback Whales migrate North from the Antarctic in the winter to breed in warmer water. This week, especially Friday we have started to see many more Humpbacks from the bay and everyone gets super excited when we spot them!

We had an early start on Wednesday morning and left the house to get to on site by 7am for fisheries research. It was a beautiful morning and lots of fishermen were heading out to the water. Four men prepared their gill net and set out for the water, they were soon followed by single kayakers and spearfishermen later in the day. We bathed in the sun during the morning and at lunchtime the men started to bring their catches back to the shore. The fishermen are overwhelmingly friendly and helpful and we engaged in small conversation about how their day went as we helped them carry their kayaks further up the beach. It is extremely important to remember that this is their livelihood. They work long, gruelling days on the sea and some of the men may or may not be successful with their fishing that day. We made sure that we congratulated them on their catches. There was a lot of data to collect and the men allowed us to take pictures and measurements as LTO has built up a great rapport with them. Although there were a lot of game fish caught, luckily no sharks or rays were on this day. Samuel, who we taught in Paindane (who made an appearance in our previous blog), was one of the fishermen.  It’s great to see that our educational programme is directly linked to the local fishing community that the organisation has built a relationship with.

On Thursday we did another research dive in the morning and just as we were about to get on the boat we noticed the fishermen had pulled up a ray in their gill net. We ran over straight away to take pictures and measurements and had soon identified the ray. We used the afternoon as an opportunity to set out on another beach clean. In an hour and just with two of us we collected 2.5kg!
The fishermen caught a juvenile scalloped hammered head and a Giant Manta Ray on Friday in their gill net. Although this was an upsetting experience, it is not our place to judge the fishermen, as this is their livelihood. We have to understand that the reason why we are here is to help conservation through education. Through education we hope to help the next generation of fishermen understand what happens when we remove a species from the ecosystem. And eventually if the buying stops, so will the selling.

Weather and illness affected our plans this week, but we made the best of our situation! 🙂 On Monday we opted to do an ocean trash mural with the trash collected from World Ocean’s Day, and on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we completed research dives and fisheries data collection. On Friday when the weather cleared and wind calmed down, some of the local fishermen went out, and the volunteers collected the data. While seeing these creatures being harvested was difficult for both staff and volunteers to endure, the experience lead to a valuable dialogue on the nature of artisan fishing. As the volunteers mentioned, it’s not our place to judge fishermen, especially the ones here who are, for the most part, fishing for their livelihood. Rather we must remember, if the buying stops, so does the selling – we have responsibilities as scientists, marine conservationists, and as consumers.

Now we look forward to the weekend, which will bring a fun deep dive, a research dive, some swimming lessons and another trip surfing!

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