Endangered Species Day: Why Good Conservation Work is also Community Work

Throughout 2018 our marine biologists here at Love The Oceans will be doing blog posts on topics of Named Days. To keep up to date, follow this blog, also found under the ‘News’ tab on our website. Without further ado, in celebration of Endangered Species Day 2018, I introduce our eleventh blog in this marine series:

Endangered Species Day: Why Good Conservation Work is also Community Work

Today’s Endangered Species Day is an incredibly important day for us at Love The Oceans. As a marine conservation organisation protection of endangered species is at the very heart of what we do. Therefore it seems like an obvious choice to dedicate today’s blog post to some of the species that Love The Oceans protects:

The coastline of the Inhambane Province is home to some of the most charismatic megafauna species in the world, but unfortunately many of these species are also endangered and will go extinct in the next few decades if nothing is done to reverse current trends. Manta rays and whale sharks are perhaps the best examples: Between 2003 and 2011 reef manta ray sightings decreased by 88%, and whale shark sightings decreased by 79% between 2005 and 2011.Recent numbers suggest that the decline now approaches 98% for manta rays and 88% for whale sharks. Reversing this decline is at best a daunting task, because when it comes to conservation, there are no quick fixes.

Have you been lucky enough to encounter one of these gentle giants? Whale shark sightings in the Inhambane Province decreased by 79% between 2005 and 2011, and sightings are due to become even rarer as whale sharks face extinction. (Photo: Lisbeth Damsgaard Jørgensen)

Generally speaking, there are two approaches to conservation: fortress and community-based conservation. These terms might not ring a bell with you, but we guarantee that you have come across one, if not both, of these types of conservation.

Fortress conservation is the ‘good old-fashioned’ approach that has been practised throughout the world for generations. The core of fortress conservation is that it is believed that a conservation problem is solved by removing the threat by keeping humans out. In other words, you simply build a perimeter to keep people out and enforce it using rangers and/or armed guards – hence the name fortress conservation.

This approach has often proved quite successful by allowing ecosystems to completely regenerate after the human influence has been removed. However, there are also numerous cases of fortress conservation failing, and even the ‘victories’ come at a cost: Fortress conservation displaces communities from areas that are of vital importance to their livelihoods or cultural identity, which means that the conservation effort is often at the expense of local communities. This significantly complicates achieving the goal because the local communities end up counter-acting any conservation initiative through things like poaching.

Manta ray catch
Conservation starts with understanding the problem – you can’t fix something unless you understand why it’s broken. Targeted elasmobranch fishing is just one of the many problems that are driving manta rays towards extinction. (Photo: Love The Oceans)

The second approach, community-based conservation, is, as the name suggests, rooted in the local communities with conservation efforts developed with, rather than against, the local communities. This is the approach that Love The Oceans uses. Now you might think: “How can you protect an area or an animal if you have to take the local communities into consideration? Weren’t those the people causing the problem in the first place?” Well, let’s go back to our manta rays and whale sharks to understand how.

The first step to a successful conservation effort is to understand the root of the problem. In our case poverty is driving people to practise unsustainable fishing driving manta ray, whale shark and a multitude of other species towards extinction: The two most commonly used types of fishing gear, gill nets and beach seines, are usually deployed perpendicular to the coastline, effectively placing them in the migratory and feeding corridors utilised by manta rays and whale sharks resulting in high levels of bycatch. Manta rays and sharks are however not only caught by accident; they are also targeted by dedicated elasmobranch fisheries.

Manta ray education
Every good community-based conservation effort relies on education. Love The Oceans is teaching the next generation of fishermen about marine biology and sustainable resource use in the local schools. (Photo: Love The Oceans)

Now that we understand the problem, the next step is to enable and empower our communities to solve their own problems: At Love The Oceans the core of our community-based conservation approach is education. We work with our local fishermen running workshops on sustainable fishing, and we educate the next generation of fishermen by teaching about marine biology and sustainable resource use in the local schools. Equipped with the appropriate knowledge our local communities will be ready for the third step: transitioning towards sustainable fishing, ending elasmobranch fishing and establishing a community-managed Marine Protected Area.Eh, didn’t you just say that closed areas are bad because they are established at the expense of local communities?” Yes, we did, and that leads us to the final step in community-based conservation and Love The Oceans conservation strategy: Developing and implementing alternative livelihoods.

A transition towards sustainable fishing and implementing an MPA will invariably involve restrictions on fishing and less fishing in general. Now, the only way this will be feasible is if there is an alternative income source, which brings us back to where we started – the manta rays and whale sharks: These endangered species are ironically enough the solution to preventing their own extinct. Ecotourism is a major industry currently generating US$10.9 million in direct revenue to dive operators in the Inhambane Province annually and the direct economic impact has an estimated value of US$34.0 million annually. Sustainable ecotourism and other alternative income sources can ensure both sustainable livelihoods for our local communities and the protection of endangered species.

Manta rays, whale sharks and other endangered species might not be saved overnight, but we are on the right track and every little victory counts. Let’s use Endangered Species Day to appreciate the amazing species that we are lucky enough to share our planet with and to remember that the best way to save them is to work together. Happy Endangered Species Day!

Whale Shark - Code of Conduct
Check out our Code of Conduct for whale shark encounters to ensure you are doing your bit to keep ecotourism sustainable.

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Mother Ocean: Beautiful and Essential for Mankind

Throughout 2018 our marine biologists here at Love The Oceans will be doing blog posts on topics of Named Days throughout the year. To keep up to date, follow this blog, also found under the ‘News’ tab on our website. Without further ado, in celebration of Mother Ocean Day 2018, I introduce our tenth blog in this marine series:

Mother Ocean: Beautiful and Essential for Mankind

On March 12, the day before Mother’s Day, we celebrate Mother Ocean Day. Just like Mother Nature, Mother Ocean is vital for human survival and it’s not only because of the fish we eat. Therefore, in honour of our beloved ocean, this blog will look at ocean ecosystem services and scuba diving – an amazing way to discover and appreciate the ocean’s beauty.

Source: Scuba Diver Life

The oceans, and coastal marine ecosystems in particular, are crucial for human survival and many livelihoods around the globe depend on the ocean. In this blog we’re going to talk about four marine ecosystem services that humans gain from the ocean: fisheries, coastal protection, carbon sink and recreation and tourism.

Fisheries is the best-known ocean service, providing a critical part of the human diet worldwide, with 17% of all animal protein consumed globally coming from fish. Unfortunately, over 80% of the world’s harvested fish stocks are fully or overexploited due to the high global demand. Virtually every commercially targeted fish depends at some point in its life on various coastal habitats like coral reefs or mangrove forests, which are under threat due to anthropogenic impacts like coastal development and climate change. It is clear that if we want to benefit from this service in the long run, we’ll have to protect coastal habitats and reduce fishing pressure, allowing the stocks to recover.

Source: BlogSpot

Coastal areas are not only important serving as fish habitats, they also protect human coastal settlements from waves, storm surges and shoreline elevation. Coastal wetlands, mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs are highly valuable because they can keep up with the rising sea levels that threaten our coastlines and function as a barrier for waves and storm surges. Investing in protection of these habitats should be more of a priority than building coastal structures, since these marine ecosystems are natural and require little (if any) maintenance costs.

Many marine ecosystems function as a carbon sink. Due to complex processes, habitats like salt marches, mangrove forests and seagrass beds accumulate and store large amounts of carbon, removing it from the carbon cycle for thousands of years. This buffer is essential since our C0emissions influence climate change. Yet, like the fate of many marine services, humans often offset the benefits for their own good. Coastal development and habitat destruction leads to premature release of this stored carbon, accelerating global warming.

Marine recreation and tourism is a well-appreciated ecosystem service, perhaps because of how lucrative it can be. Tourism is a huge business, worth over 9% of global GDP, and marine tourism is popular, with tourists attracted to calm waters, beautiful beaches and in-water activities. Many of these recreational activities depend on healthy oceans, so if humans don’t start protecting them soon, Mother Ocean could become exhausted and human benefits will diminish.

Our beautiful Guinjata Bay at sunrise

Love The Oceans works very hard to study and protect a biodiverse area in Guinjata Bay, Mozambique. Our motto ‘Conservation through research, education and diving’, says it all and we’re always striving for the best environmental practises and protection of the marine world. An important aspect of our work is scuba diving, which is a wonderful way to explore and appreciate the ocean’s beauty. If you haven’t already, give it a try! Your life will not be the same after the ocean casts its spell on you.

Our volunteers got a surprise visit from a sea turtle on a dive last year

Recreational diving as we know it today is a fairly new activity that started in the 1930s with the rising interest in underwater hunting. Adventurers explored the unknown underwater world with home-made snorkels and spears to hunt fish. The pioneer of this era was Guy Gilpatric who wrote ‘The Compleat Goggler’, one of the first sports diver manuals. One of the people Gilpatric introduced to the sport was Jacques Cousteau, the father of today’s recreational diving and an inspirational marine conservationist. Cousteau actually began diving as a hunter but was quickly drawn to the mysteries of the big blue. Given the practical time and depth limits of breath-hold diving, Cousteau realised there was a need for an air supply, not necessarily to go deeper, but to at least stay longer in what he called ‘a new world’.  He teamed up with compressed air engineer Emile Gagnan in 1942 and together they developed the Aqua-Lung – the first open-circuit scuba regulator that delivers air at the surrounding water pressure only when the diver inhales. Through their invention the focus of recreational diving shifted from hunting to underwater movies and photography, showing the world the beauty of life beneath the surface.

Jacques Cousteau’s diving partner Frédéric Dumas wearing a CG45 Prototype diving in Marseille, France, 1940s

At that time, diving was for a select group of adventurous individuals, but in the early 1950s the industry grew with gear manufacturers making the basic gear available for everyone. In the years after, the wetsuit and Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) were invented and improved. Eventually in the early 1980s, the recreational diving industry boomed with the invention of the first dive computer, jacket-style BCDs as well as training innovations and multiple organisations such as PADI, SSI, CMAS and NAUI providing dive education, training and a wide range of certifications. Until today, technologic advancements, the increased popularity of SCUBA diving and worldwide availability of training centres and dive spots make this industry a very valuable part of marine tourism.