Sunday, 15 June 2014










Another year had passed and concerned people were celebrating World Ocean Day on June 8th. We all depend on a healthy and clean ocean for our very survival and the latest scientific research is painting a dismal picture of things to come. Most of us know we need to act to turn around the damage caused by unwise use, pollution, and over fishing. But few of us do anything.
This year’s World Ocean Day theme is, “Together we have the power to protect the ocean” and all over the globe small groups of people set out to make a difference.
 

Perhaps the smallest but most well meaning effort was on the tiny island of Langkawi just a few kilometers from the Thailand- Malaysia border. There the Andaman Resort operates a small coral nursery that both educates children and rehabilitates a tsunami ravaged coral reef.
This year the small band of young volunteers (and a couple of parents who wanted to get involved with their children) were busy maintaining the nursery, feeding the lobsters, and grafting tiny corals when World Ocean Day rolled around.
What could eight dedicated children do to save the sea; how could so few make a difference?


When the 2004 tsunami roared ashore, the huge wave swept tens of thousands of living corals off the fringing reef and up into the ancient rainforest. Over the last 4 years guests at the luxury resort have collected by hand about 100 tonnes of dead coral skeletons and carried them to the coral nursery.
There, with the assistance of resort staff, the dead coral rock is recycled into mini-Artificial Reef Modules that provide much needed shelter for young marine life and a stable substrate for corals to grow on. They are heavy, have ‘baby’ corals attached, and are difficult to move.
“But we want to do it! We want to take the corals out to the reef”, said Liam who was quickly backed up by his determined younger brother, Callum. Liam is one of the hard working volunteers that regularly return to the Andaman to work at the Coral Nursery. World Ocean day marked the fourth visit of his family since the end of 2013 and school holidays. Determined to become a marine biologist because of his Nursery experiences, Liam led the way.
 

Bamboo from the rainforest served as a framework, odd pieces of rope and ‘strange’ knots worked as fastenings, and inner tubes from tires provided floatation. The kids built their own raft without any help and managed to load the mini- Artificial Reef Modules aboard. Plastic kitchen utensils splashed water over the living corals and swimmers in life jackets towed the raft out to the reef where the Modules were lowered to the ocean floor.
Coral reefs comprise the most diverse ecosystems on Earth but are now threatened with destruction. They occupy just over 0.15% of the world’s oceans, yet incredibly they provide a home for an estimated 25% of all marine species. They really are the “engine room” of the sea and their loss will cripple the marine environment on a global scale.


Productivity is higher than in other tropical waters and 6 million tons of fish are taken each year from the world’s coral reefs. Most of this stays in protein-poor countries. Langkawi’s community is largely dependent on local fisheries for protein and the next generation needs the Andaman Reef.

Biodiversity is the loudest catch cry in environmental research today. It is a measure of the complexity of an ecosystem and is now thought to be related to the health of the entire planet. Southeast Asian coral reefs have the highest levels of biodiversity of all the world’s marine ecosystems, perhaps the highest biodiversity since the beginning of life on Earth.







But, recent surveys show that 10% of the world’s coral reefs are already dead. It is estimated that another 60% of the world’s reefs are at risk due to destructive, human-related activities. Man’s threat to the health of reefs is particularly strong in Southeast Asia, where an appalling 80% of reefs are endangered. Sadly, Southeast Asian coral reefs are now the world’s most threatened, being impacted by the activities of man.
The global economic value of these tiny coral reefs is staggering, estimated at $30 billion annually. Southeast Asia’s coral reef fisheries alone yield about $2.4 billion annually. According to the WWF, the economic cost over a 25 year period of destroying one kilometre of coral reef is somewhere between $137,000 and $1,200,000. Conversely, the economic benefit of saving one kilometre of reef is the same.


The children worked most of the afternoon putting six Modules with 30 coral colonies in place. By doing something small but highly visible for Langkawi’s World Ocean Day, the children helped to focus attention on the plight of reefs around the world.
Sunburned, thirsty, scraped knuckles, and smiling, the children returned to shore and the cool of the rainforest to share their adventure with their parents.
Will their experience change the way they live? It has already.An email this morning from one of the parents said that her children were talking about recycling and hybrid cars.


The kids proved that even one person can make a difference and “Together we have the power to protect the ocean!”

goedenscience.blogspot.com
drgerrygoeden.blogspot.com
goedenshark.blogspot.com
geraldgoeden.blogspot.com
goedensnews.blogspot.com
goedenspress.blogspot.com
einsteinsnature.blogspot.com
youngmarinescientist.blogspot.com
gerryquotes.blogspot.com
goedenquotes.blogspot.com
underwaterinternet.blogspot.com
goedenmarineecology.blogspot.com

Saturday, 10 May 2014

"Vezo" a short film by Tod Lending








I wanted to share this wonderful little video with Andaman Sea readers. Overfishing and lack of management characterize fisheries in the tropics. 

Some 200 million people depend directly on coral reefs and a further 300 million people will suffer if they are lost.

"Vezo" by Tod Lending highlights the problem as a 9 year old girl tells about how her family and village turned away from near starvation after their village adopted sustainable practices.

With the help of the National University of Malaysia, I am getting this video translated and it will be shown in Langkawi schools. Others can do the same. The oceans need care and good management.




Thursday, 10 April 2014

Old Dogs Can Learn ‘Green’ Tricks





A recently published study by the Imperial College London showed that environmental education could be passed between generations and affect behavior. No breakthrough you might think; my parents taught me plenty about how to behave.

Surprisingly, in this study it was school children who taught and changed the behavior of their parents. The results published February 13, 2013 in Environmental Research Letters describe a study on Mahé Island in the Republic of Seychelles. The researchers focused on the destruction of freshwater habitats in the country's wetlands, which was being caused by litter, land reclamation and household wastewater.

Through wildlife club activities in schools, the kids learned about wetland conservation. The big surprise came when parents were given questionnaires. The adults had dramatically changed their attitude to the wetlands over a short 12 month period. They had become much more environmentally responsible falling in line with their kids.




'Ghost fishing' by discarded nets can kill marine life for decades.


In a far more dramatic way the youth of Malaysia’s Pulau Pangkor have ‘rocked the local fishermen’s boats’ and made them think again. “Some of the older generation were overfishing the reef and damaging the coral habitat” says reef ecologist Kee Alfian, of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
“It was the young reef guides who finally said enough is enough and closed off the area in October, 2011. They didn’t apply to the government for the closure but instead took matters into their own hands and forged an agreement within their community. The area was only about 5,000 square metres ( a football field). No fishing, no collecting, no diving.”

Incredibly, the closed area began to change almost immediately. From an environmental wasteland to noticeably healthier environment in just a little less than 2 years. But the young people went a step farther and have kept the area closed. In the months that followed, fish that had grown large enough spawned in the protected area and were joined by their offspring. As the population grew, fish began to emigrate to the fishing grounds; but they were larger than those that made up the usual small catch of juveniles. Even sea cucumbers that were not being fished increased in numbers.


The entire process has been overseen by Kee Alfian of UKM and REEFCHECK Malaysia who have assisted through transplanting small propagated corals to the area. Stage two of the rehabilitation is being planned and will be implemented in the near future.

But what brought on the initial changes in Pulau Pangkor’s coral reefs? Was it global warming and coral bleaching, coral disease, or yet another new problem upsetting the nature’s delicate balances?

The answer is that the reefs were literally being ‘loved’ to death. People loved to snorkel there, they loved to fish there, to anchor their boats there, they loved to collect the shells, and they loved to dump their waste into the sea so it wouldn’t be a problem on land anymore. The relatively slow rate of recovery of coral reefs is geared to occasional natural disasters, not to prolonged over-use. The reef couldn’t repair itself quickly enough to cope with all the attention it was getting.

 Crown of thorns starfish are coral predators. Normally rare, their numbers can increase to plague proportions when the ecology is out of balance.


Once a popular venue for tourists eager to become underwater explorers, pollution and silt from the land, coupled with overuse had robbed Pulau Pangkor of the treasure that brought that very popularity. The absence of marine park status meant that tourist use and fishing pressure grew unchecked to destructive levels.

By comparison, Pulau Sembilan is located only 18 km to the south and yet a recent survey uncovered hidden beauty and diversity including carpets of anemone and beds of corals.



“I’m amazed as the water visibility is low yet the coral cover is in the same state as in the East Coast where the water is a lot clearer,” says Kee Alfian. The reefs are generally in “fair” condition, with average live coral cover (of both hard and soft corals) of 29% (the average for Malaysia in 2010 is 44%). The corals appear to be growing and reproducing well despite the turbid waters. The incidence of recently killed corals is low (0.44%), indicating few recent disturbances and a low abundance of coral predators.
Much has been said about the global decline of coral reefs and my own 1982 work first suggested that there were  ‘points’ that if passed might become points of no return. Coral reefs as we know them could simply disappear.

Dr. Martin Scheffer (Sept., 2009)of Wageningen University in The Netherlands wrote of these ‘points’, "It's increasingly clear that many complex systems have critical thresholds -- 'tipping points' -- at which these systems shift abruptly from one state to another."



In February, 2010 the American Association for the Advancement of Science held a conference to look at this frightening possibility. Titled “Will Coral Reefs Disappear?” Dr. Simon Donner, an assistant professor in the department of geography at the University of British Columbia, talked about the vulnerability of coral reefs to climate change due to higher ocean temperatures.

“Given the hundreds of millions of people living in the tropics who depend on coral reefs for food, income, tourism and shoreline protection, the loss of reefs is a serious issue”, says Dr. Donner

Dr. Donner says that he is not predicting that coral reefs will go extinct; they will continue to survive, but only in a few habitats, where they are protected from too much change. The reality is that a general loss of live coral cover and a breakdown of the physical structure of reefs will happen on a large scale.


Let’s think again of the wonderful success of the young people of  Mahé Island and Pulau Pangkor. We as S.E. Asians are intimately tied to the sea; we fish in it, play in it, live next to it, and many of us make our livelihoods from it. Young people are showing us the way to turn the overexploitation around. We can and must avoid at all costs the point of no return, the ‘tipping point’, where all that we need from the sea is suddenly lost.

We must stop loving our reefs to death and instead learn a little respect and moderation. We are the only species on this planet that has the power to change the direction we are moving in and there is so little time.


Let our legacy to our children be that we learned from them and made their futures brighter in the process.





http://youngmarinescientist.blogspot.com/
http://geraldgoeden.blogspot.com/
http://goedensnews.blogspot.com/
http://goedenquotes.blogspot.com/
http://goedenscience.blogspot.com/
http://goedenmarineecology.blogspot.com/
http://gerryquotes.blogspot.com/
http://einsteinsnature.blogspot.com/
http://drgerrygoeden.blogspot.com/
http://underwaterinternet.blogspot.com/
http://goedenshark.blogspot.com/







Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Sharks, whales, ivory, and drugs








This report published in the Epoch Times on April 8, 2014


The Guardian reported (4TH April, 2014) that Japan’s biggest online retailer, Rakuten, will stop their whale meat and dolphin meat sales by the end of April after the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to immediately halt its annual whale hunts in the southern ocean.

Rakuten said it had asked sellers to cancel sales of whale meat products on its website “in accordance” with the ICJ ruling. Monday’s verdict in the Hague. It should be pointed out that it did not cover whale meat sales within Japan, which are legal, or the country’s slaughter of whales in the north-west Pacific and in its own coastal waters.

The decision by Rakuten comes soon after the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) exposed the company as the world’s biggest online retailer of whale products and elephant ivory.
Now I can’t recall that Japan ever had permits to study the biology of elephants by turning them into carved ornaments and chess pieces. The prohibition of ivory hunting in Africa and even the shooting of poachers haven’t stopped the practice if Rakuten’s sales are an indicator. 

Banning a desirable commodity raises its price and drives it into the black market; look at drugs and guns for example. Until recently Rakuten’s website carried more than 28,000 advertisements for elephant ivory and 1,200 for whale products, according to the EIA and the Humane Society International.

So what does this have to do with sharks?

Justin McCurry writing for the Diplomat (11 Feb, 2011) had visited the fishing docks of Kesennuma City, Japan in an undercover operation. Kesennuma netted some 14,000 tons of sharks in 2009, for which the Japanese operation earned more than 2.4 billion yen.

 
 Asian shark markets like these turn over thousands of tons each year.

But it’s important to understand that fishing for sharks isn’t just a problem created by the Japanese. It’s true that they are successfully capitalizing on the trade of threatened species but as far as sharks go, they aren’t doing the killing.

On March 1, 2013, “Global Catches, Exploitation Rates and Rebuilding Options for Sharks,” was published by Dr. Worm and three other researchers from Dalhousie University teamed up with scientists from the University of Windsor in Canada, as well as Stony Brook University in New York, Florida International University (FIU) in Miami and the University of Miami. A very powerful team indeed.


 
 Shark fins are usually dried in the sun allowing the activity to go on as small scale operations.


Their shocking findings are that fishing for sharks is now globally unsustainable. Their more recent estimates put the carnage at 97 million in 2010. The possible range of mortality is between 63 and 273 million annually. This equates to somewhere between 7,200 and 31,000 sharks per hour.

“Sharks are similar to whales, and humans, in that they mature late in life and have few offspring” said Boris Worm. “Our analysis shows that about one in 15 sharks gets killed by fisheries every year. With an increasing demand for their fins, sharks are more vulnerable today than ever before.”
Because shark fins are so valuable and boats are limited in the amount of cargo they can carry, most shark finning is done at sea. The low value shark carcasses are dumped at sea and only the high priced fins return to market. 

Most shark finning is done in under-developed countries but the fishermen benefit little from the high prices the product fetches at the retailers.


 


Save our Seas Foundation provide shark fin statistics up to 2006.

Country Catching……..Shark Fin Landings
Indonesia………………107,290 tons
India…………………….81,237 tons
Spain……………………55,790 tons
Argentina………………..46,461 tons
Taiwan…………………..40,776 tons
USA……………………..36,906 tons
Mexico…………………..29,315 tons

So, who is buying them?

Country Buying……….Shark Fin Imports
Hong Kong……………….58%
China……………………..36%
Malaysia…………………..2%
Indonesia………………….1%
Taiwan…………………….1%
Thailand…………………..1%
Others…………………….1%

I was surprised to see Malaysia in the number three spot. According to Victoria Mundy-Taylor and Vicki Crook of the wildlife trade investigators, Traffic, “Malaysia imported 6,896 tonnes of sharks fins (dried, prepared and salted) from 2000-2009, the fourth highest importer globally.”

“Malaysia also caught 231,212tonnes of sharks from 2002 to 2011,” which is the eighth highest globally, accounting for 2.9% of the total global reported shark catch during that period.

 

Victoria Mundy-Taylor and Vicki Crook were quick to point out that as a signatory to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), Malaysia has an international obligation to implement measures intended to ensure the international trade in products of the shark species protected under the Convention is both legal and sustainable.

As far as I know, there is no ban on shark and manta ray trading in Malaysia. The eastern Malaysian state of Sabah is said to be considering bans on shark fishing and finning but has held back wanting similar provisions to be included in the federal Fisheries Act 1985.

There does not seem to have been any action yet. Even though shark fishing for most species is now clearly unsustainable, it’s difficult to put an end to traditions and business success in this rapidly growing Asian economy.

The next vexing question is how the shark traders of developing countries would react to bans that halt their income in these super-competitive economies.

 
 This harmless whale shark is the world's largest fish species and now faces extinction.

How willing will a trader be to give up his income and improving standard of living because the “western” world tells him to? I think the answer is he won’t change and corruption will ensure that there is business as usual.

I don’t want to rain on the conservationist’s parade, but banning shark fins in Asia will probably drive the business underground. 


 
Roof top drying of illicit shark fins.
According to Mr. T. Packard of the conservation group, PangeaSeed, shark fins are the third most valuable illicit product in the world today. Drugs and guns are first and ivory is fourth in terms of cash generated.

Shark conservation must go ahead if we want to stop the ocean’s ecosystem from passing through a tipping point that may catapult us into a disastrous world fisheries situation.

But we will never achieve this with an iron fist. Conservation groups and governments must provide alternative business enterprises if they are not to drive the shark fin trade deep into the black market.

Within 30 years shark fin soup will no longer symbolize prosperity. Instead it will be a tribute to man’s greed and lack of commitment to his own future.

I wish to thank Shawn Heinrichs for the excellent photographic work.

 



http://youngmarinescientist.blogspot.com/
http://geraldgoeden.blogspot.com/
http://goedensnews.blogspot.com/
http://goedenquotes.blogspot.com/
http://goedenscience.blogspot.com/
http://goedenmarineecology.blogspot.com/
http://gerryquotes.blogspot.com/
http://einsteinsnature.blogspot.com/
http://drgerrygoeden.blogspot.com/
http://underwaterinternet.blogspot.com/
http://goedenshark.blogspot.com/





Thursday, 6 February 2014

Climate change; did I do it?





I was a skeptic; I didn't believe a word of it. Climate change was just the latest trend in scientific research and people in white lab coats were scrambling to get on the ‘gravy train’ before someone came along and burst the bubble.

Talk of climate change has been in the air for nearly two decades and has raised enormous concern and considerable debate in our information society. Opinion polls showed that there was a peak of support in 2008 followed by a fall in 2010. In fact opinion has moved up and down like the mercury in our thermometers.

 As the oceans warm, storms become much more violent.


According to a survey released in January, 2010 by Yale and George Mason Universities, only about 50percent of Americans were concerned about global warming, less than 50 percent thought humans contributed to it, and more than 43 percent didn’t believe it was happening at all.

In another study published by Yale University in October, 2010 only 57 percent of Americans knew what greenhouse gases are and only half knew they were produced mostly through human activity. Incredibly, 75 percent had never heard of ocean acidification or coral bleaching. It seems strange then that the general population was still in the dark.

Is it really happening?

By June, 2010 Science published the first comprehensive synthesis of climate change studies dealing with the ocean. The startling results were that the rates of change in man-made atmospheric green house gases were driving irreversible and dramatic changes in the way the ocean worked.

Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of The University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, predicted dire impacts on hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

"Although there remains active discussion among scientists on many details about the pace and effects of climate change, no leading science organization disagrees that human activities are now changing the Earth's climate. The strong scientific agreement on this point contrasts with the partisan disagreement seen on all of our surveys," said Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology and senior fellow with the UNH Carsey Institute.

So what is global warming?
The greenhouse effect was discovered in 1860 by John Tyndall. Since the early 20th century, the average temperature of the Earth has increased about 0.8oC and most of this has happened since 1980. In statistical terms we are about 95 percent sure that the warming is from greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuel and cutting forests. The biggest contributors are electricity, industry, and transport (adding up to about 54 percent). This idea is now accepted by the national science organisations of all major industrialized countries.

Greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, absorb heat from the sun and raise the temperature of the atmosphere and ocean. Carbon dioxide has increased by an unbelievable 24 percent in the last 50 years and from polar ice cores we know it is now higher than any time in the last 800 thousand years and probably in the last 20 million years.  Carbon dioxide is expected to reach over 900 parts per million during this century which is an incredible increase of 250 percent since we started burning fossil fuels.


The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) indicated that during the 21st century the global surface temperature is likely to rise a further 1.1 to 2.9 °C for their lowest emissions scenario and 2.4 to 6.4 °C for their highest. Because water easily absorbs heat, 93.4 percent of global warming affects the ocean.

These may seem like tiny increases but in fact they are disastrously large. Even small changes in temperature may cause big changes in the climate. We can expect an expansion of deserts and much less rain in parts of the tropics. Melting of the ice caps will change ocean circulation and seafood production. There will be unprecedented extinctions of wildlife on a global scale.

 The impact of global warming is easily seen in these satellite photos of the Arctic.


This all sounds pretty awful but to many people it is seen as just another inconvenience. Life will go on with ‘business as usual’. Flooding of the major cities by the end of the century; I’ll be dead by then!

The problem is that an awful lot of people may be dead a lot sooner and it won’t be business as usual at all.

Where is it going to ‘hurt’ the most?

It is estimated that a global rise in temperature of only 1.5-2 °C will bring about the catastrophic extinction of many of the Earth’s species. We aren’t just talking about species we don’t ‘need’ or don’t ‘like’. In one study published in Nature in 2004, between 15 and 37% of 1103 endemic or near-endemic known plant and animal species will be "committed to extinction" by 2050. 
But climate change is only starting. Global warming will catapult the Earth and our society into entirely new situations with new rules. Even a 2 °C rise above the pre-industrial level will be outside the range of temperatures experienced by human civilization.
In the tropical seas coral reefs and their fisheries simply will not survive the temperature rise. Coral bleaching, which kills coral, occurs with rises of as little as 1 °C above the summer maximum. Without corals the food web of reefs and the populations of people who depend on them will collapse.

Coral bleaching happens when corals expel their food producing algae. Starvation is the result.

Coral reefs are already the world’s most endangered ecosystem supporting 25 percent of the ocean’s species. The collapse of these incredibly complex “islands of life” will send not a ripple but a ‘tsunami of change’ through the oceans of the world and through Coral Triangle and Pacific Island communities where some 200 million people are sustained by tropical fisheries.

The situation may be even worse in the open ocean where tiny drifting creatures like sea butterflies and planktonic animals and plants grow thin calcium shells over their fragile bodies. Even if they cope with the rising temperature, the increased carbon dioxide produces a weak acid in seawater that dissolves their shells and kills them.

The fragile sea butterfly is an important food for most of the world's fisheries.

These frail creatures exist in the trillions and are the food of all the commercial fisheries and most whales. Scientists say that most of these tiny species will be lost by 2065. Between now and then there will be huge disruptions of the ecological food web as species begin to drop out. From about 2065 on we can expect the rapid and catastrophic collapse of most commercial fisheries. The ocean ecosystem will simply fail.

In June, 2010 Science magazine we find that the oceans are now changing at a rate not seen for millions of years. "We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail," says Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg. "Further degradation will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide."

The loss of Arctic ice is now so fast that many scientists believe it can not be reversed.

What will happen to us as the earth grows warmer?

UNESCO predicts that 100-150 million people in S.E. Asia alone will be displaced through shoreline erosion, rising sea level, drought, and food shortages by 2050.

Approximately 40% of the world's agricultural land was already seriously degraded in 2007. If current trends of soil degradation continue as they are in Africa, underdeveloped countries might be able to feed just 25% of their population by 2025 (based on UNU's Ghana-based Institute for Natural Resources in Africa).



Africa, small islands, and Asian mega-deltas are regions that are likely to be badly affected. Rainfall in much of S.E. Asia will be very much less and many areas will become much drier or deserts including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Borneo.
This may seem like an inconvenience to some but to people living in agricultural and subsistence economies throughout the tropics this is bad news. The impact of global warming will be disproportionately large for disadvantaged communities where resources, food, and health are already problems (Environmental Justice, Dec. 2009).

"We are becoming increasingly certain that the world's marine ecosystems are approaching tipping points. These tipping points are where change accelerates and causes unrelated impacts on other systems, the results of which we really have no power or model to foresee."

Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg concludes: "These challenges underscore the urgency with which world leaders must act to limit further growth of greenhouse gases and thereby reduce the risk of these events occurring. Ignoring the science is not an option."

I am not alone in my belief that we are on the brink of environmental catastrophe and have been joined in my concerns by 155 senior marine scientists from 26 countries who recently signed the Monaco Declaration (The Royal Society, 6 July 2009), highlighting the twin threat of growing ocean acidification and global warming.
It took me most of my childhood to be able to admit mistakes and say “I did it”. Looking back at the way we have lived and wasted the resources of this world we have to admit it is our fault; there is no doubt; we did it. The question now is will we accept responsibility for repairing the damage. Time is running out.

-----------------------




If you are interested in some of the latest topics in ocean conservation check out some of the other posts on this site.





Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Ghost Fishing and the Staggering Cost of Rubbish

















The following story was published in the Epoch Times Nov 1-7, 2013.




Not many people know what ‘ghost fishing’ is. It sounds scary and in fact is; but not for the reasons you might think.

Ghost fishing is when lost or discarded fishing equipment just keeps on catching fish. The caught fish die and attract more marine life to their death. This endless circle of destruction can go on for decades. 




In a recent report by Emily Rose Nelson of the R J Dunlop Marine Conservation Program she stated that something like 640,000 tons of fishing gear is lost or discarded at sea every year.

I did most of my marine research in northern Australia and we had teams working in the Gulf of Carpentaria; one of the country’s most productive fishing grounds. During a large scale beach clean-up 5,491 ‘ghost nets’ were collected. These are nets that washed ashore and don’t count many more entangled on the seabed. 

Carcasses and skeletons still in the nets showed that 80% of their catches were marine turtles. Of the 7 species, 5 are “endangered” or “critically endangered” and the other 2 are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN.




Further analysis revealed that the risk of entanglement was related to the number of ‘ghost nets’. As the deadly nets increase in numbers so too will the catching of marine turtles. Protecting turtles through legislation is of little benefit if their environment is laced with hazards they have no understanding of.

Here in the Andaman Sea most of the marine turtles are gone. Harvested for food and killed in trawling operations. But those few that survive and offer a small chance of population recovery face ‘ghost fishing’ on a mammoth scale. Fishing pressure is much higher in S E Asia than in northern Australia. There are no seasonal closures and fishermen discard enormous quantities of netting.

There isn’t a coral reef without bundles of net entwined in the coral and an invitation to the unsuspecting marine life. But it isn’t only fishing nets that kill the unsuspecting sea turtles. Fishermen throw lots of plastic into the sea. In the Andaman Sea, salt is used to hold the catch and the large white, plastic salt bags can be found floating everywhere.




Discarded plastic ‘shopping’ bags floating in the ocean resemble jellyfish, a common food of sea turtles. If a turtle eats plastic, it tends to clog the turtle's digestive system and results in the animal dying a slow and probably painful death. There have been many cases of turtle dissection showing plastic and other debris inside their stomachs and intestines.

When I worked with fishermen I saw lots of waste discarded overboard; they said there wasn’t enough room aboard to take it back to land. Surprisingly, they had enough room to bring it out with them. The price of being lazy and uncaring about our world is the loss of marine life in staggering proportions. If we continue this way we will have little to save and even less to fish for.