Best of our wild blogs: 11 Apr 18

Dunkirk the wild dolphin is released!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

A Brief Encounter with Buffy
Singapore Bird Group

22 Apr is Earth Day 2018: End Plastic Pollution
wild shores of singapore

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Dolphin freed after it was caught by fishing line at Bedok Jetty

Today Online 10 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE — A wild dolphin which was entrapped by a fishing net at Bedok Jetty over the weekend was finally freed with the help of members from the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

Posting a video of its rescue efforts on Facebook on Tuesday (April 10) evening, Acres said the rescue operation took around an hour.

“The wild dolphin seemed to have a foreign object entangled on the tail fin, which was weighing down the animal, preventing him or her from swimming and breathing properly,” said Acres.

“The Acres Wildlife Rescue Team jumped into action and we are delighted to share with everyone that the dolphin has been freed”.

The team managed to remove the object from the dolphin, and found it to be fish net weighing a total of eight kilograms. The net had fishing weights attached to it as well.

“(We wish) the dolphin all the best in the wild (and) hope (that) he or she doesn’t get caught in a net again,” Acres added.

On Saturday, a video was widely circulated on social media of a dolphin caught by a fishing line of an angler at Bedok Jetty.

Eyewitnesses reported that the mammal was seen struggling and bleeding at its tail while the angler was trying to reel it in. A member of the public contacted the authorities and the fisherman cut his line shortly after, and the dolphin drifted away.

The dolphin was sighted again the next day at the west of the jetty along East Coast Park, before Acres came to its rescue.

Dolphins are not a rare sight in Singapore waters. In 2016, a dolphin carcass washed ashore at East Coast Park.

The dead dolphin was identified as an Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin — or pink dolphin — the most commonly sighted dolphin species in Singapore waters.

In sightings reported to the National University of Singapore’s Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI), at least 169 dolphins were spotted between 2008 and 2011 in the waters between Singapore and Batam, near St John’s Island and Pulau Semakau, and as close to shores as the Marina Barrage.

In 2012, at least another 50 of the mammals were sighted — the most recent year that proper records were kept before TMSI’s work was cut short when the conservation arm of Wildlife Reserves Singapore stopped funding a three-year study.

Injured dolphin caught in fishing line at Bedok Jetty has been freed: ACRES
Channel NewsAsia 10 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: A dolphin seen struggling after becoming entangled in a fishing line at Bedok Jetty over the weekend has been freed, the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) said on Tuesday (Apr 10).

On Saturday, visitors to Bedok Jetty spotted a dolphin that had become entangled in an angler’s fishing line. Video footage of the incident showed that the wild dolphin appeared to have a “foreign object” entangled on its tail fin.

“The wild dolphin seemed to have a foreign object entangled on the tail fin, which was weighing down the animal, preventing him or her from swimming and breathing properly,” ACRES said.

In a Facebook post, ACRES said its Wildlife Rescue Team sighted the same dolphin on Sunday, west of Bedok Jetty along East Coast Park.

Following a one-hour rescue operation, ACRES said the team removed 8kg of fish net and line material. The netting had fishing weights attached to it, ACRES added.

In a video uploaded by ACRES, rescue team members can be seen approaching the dolphin on rubber dinghy. Two men then jump into the water and carefully remove the netting from the dolphin’s tail before guiding it back to open water.

In their post, ACRES thanked the National Parks Board (NParks), the National Sailing Club (NSC) as well as members of the public for bringing the incident to their attention and “helping to save the dolphin’s life”.

Source: CNA/zl(aj)

Acres finds and frees dolphin caught in fish net at Bedok Jetty
Lydia Lam Straits Times 10 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE - A dolphin that was spotted entangled in a fishing line at Bedok Jetty last Saturday (April 7) has been freed in a rescue operation by the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (Acres) that lasted more than an hour.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Acres shared a video of two people in the water helping the dolphin.

Acres' Wildlife Rescue Team had sighted the dolphin on Sunday, west of Bedok Jetty, along East Coast Park.

"After a one-hour rescue operation, we managed to remove all the netting which had fishing weights attached to it as well," said Acres in its Facebook post. "We removed a total of 8kg of fish net and line material."

Acres deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan told The Straits Times on Tuesday that he and an Acres volunteer went out to sea with a dinghy on Sunday afternoon after they received reports of dolphin sightings on Sunday.

"A wild dolphin is quite shy so it moved away," he said. "It was about 30m from the shore when we went down at about 12.15pm."

Mr Kalai said he realised that the entanglement "was quite bad" after having a closer look.

The incident on April 7, 2018, drew a crowd of about 70 people.

"We assessed the situation and realised we had to intervene," he said. "Because if we didn't intervene and it went out of sight shortly after, then we might not see it again and based on that scenario on Sunday it already looked very weak. So we felt the priority should be to remove the entanglement so it wouldn't be in such distress."

He stayed on the dinghy to guide his partner, who jumped into the water as the dolphin dived in and out.

"We managed to get a hold of it and guide it to shallower waters for a clearer picture," he said. "The entire entanglement was a big clump of fishing net, fishing lines, fishing weights, fishing hooks."

He said the dolphin had lacerations on its body, and they took a knife to cut the mass of nets away.

It was freed at about 2pm. Mr Kalai, along with his rescue partner, a volunteer with Acres for five to six years now, boarded a boat from the National Sailing Club to check on the dolphin.

"On Saturday and Sunday I'm pretty sure it was always in the shallow waters. But after we freed it, it dived in and reappeared much further down, about 50m out," he said.

Acres thanked the National Parks Board and the National Sailing Club, as well as those who alerted them to sightings of the dolphin.

The dolphin had been spotted at around 7.30am on Saturday, drawing a crowd of onlookers.

While it still appeared weak, it seemed to be moving quicker and "a bit more upright" after a while, Mr Kalai said. "It eventually went out of sight," he said.

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Floating garbage can: First Seabin installed in Singapore waters at yacht club

CYNTHIA CHOO Today Online 10 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE — There may not be a severe litter problem in the waters near the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club (RSYC) along the west coast, but a floating garbage bin ended up collecting about 2kg of trash within 24 hours.

Plastic bottles, aluminum drink cans and empty instant noodle cups were some of the rubbish collected on Monday (April 9) during a pilot run of the Seabin, which was officially launched on Tuesday.

It is a first in Asia, with about 30 others in six locations including England, Finland, France, Spain and the United States. About half a tonne of debris can be collected by each Seabin a year.

For the yacht club, the bin is helpful when manpower is tight. Mr Albert Fong, rear commodore of the RSYC, said that the low-maintenance device takes about two days before it is filled up and emptied at the club, and can operate unmanned. So it is “perfect for over the weekends, when there is less manpower”, he added.

Before this, staff members in charge of housekeeping — one on land and two deck hands — survey and pick up trash washed into the marina daily, Mr Fong said.

The Seabin is the brainchild of Pete Ceglinski, a 40-year-old Australian.

It is able to collect trash such as water bottles, plastic bags, styrofoam, plastic pellets and other debris.

The device is connected to an electrical, submersible water pump which moves an inner basket up and down the water’s surface, allowing the bin to pull in water and trash around it.

Water is sucked in from the surface and passes through a catch bag fitted inside the bin. Made of hessian mesh, the bag is able to trap debris and micro-plastic up to 3mm in size, while filtering the rest of the water back into the marina.

The bag can be used for up to two years before it needs to be changed, and each can collect up to 20kg of debris every hour before it has to be emptied.

If fishes or sea creatures are caught, they would remain in the water within the bin, until they are tossed back into the water when a worker cleans the filter bag.

Under calm water conditions, a Seabin can take in trash within a range of 1m to 10m, but its efficiency is heavily dependent on wind and water conditions.

While the Seabin cannot singlehandedly solve the massive problem of marine trash and plastics, Mr Ceglinski hopes to make some small impact in protecting the marine environment, saying that his project is also a way to educate people about this ecological issue.

The first Seabin was commercially installed in Portsmouth, England. As the project expands, more than 5,000 orders are expected to be fulfilled in the next two years, and the target is to collect up to 70,000 tonnes of debris.

The most commonly caught items include cigarette butts, plastic particles and food wrappers. Here in Singapore, Mr Ceglinski was surprised to find that there were “so many plastic nurdles”, which are resin pellets used to make products such as pens.

Mr Ceglinski told TODAY that he was inspired to come up with the product after becoming “disillusioned” with single-use plastic products and seeing the amount of trash in marinas where he worked.

“I was a boat builder for 11 years… Going around the world, fixing boats, I’d visit up to 12 countries a year, and I realised every single marina had the same problem.”

He quit his job and, with some savings and US$276,000 dollars raised for the Seabin project, got the product ready for the market and the business up and running.

Last year, a prototype video showing how the Seabin works went viral, shooting the product to international fame. It played a part in helping the project get into a partnership last year with Wartsila, a Finnish global technology group, which donated the Seabin to RSYC. Each bin cost €3,300 (about S$5,300).

Mr Daryl Lim, a senior account manager who oversees contract and project sales development at Wartsila Singapore, told TODAY: “Our company happens to share the waterway with the yacht club. Our office in Singapore is located in the vicinity at Pandan Loop, so we are not only helping with marine trash but also helping our immediate community.”

The company is planning to set up Seabins at two other marinas in Singapore, and is also looking to deploy the bins in other countries such as India, Malaysia and Thailand.

Asia's first floating rubbish bin placed at Republic of Singapore Yacht Club
Jasia Shamdasani Straits Times 10 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE- A floating rubbish bin that can collect the ocean's trash is now bobbing in the waters of Singapore.

Wartsila Corporation, a Global Pilot Partner of the Seabin Project since 2017, is now donating Seabins to different marinas around the world. Asia's first Seabin was installed at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club on Tuesday (April 10).

The Seabin is now in about 15 countries all over the world, including Finland and the US. The first Seabin was installed in October 2017 in England.

The Republic of Singapore Yacht Club in the West Coast was chosen because of the calm environment and manpower resources available.

"Singapore is a leader in environmental sustainability, with a blueprint and a vision for a liveable and sustainable country. Early on, the correlation between a healthy environment and the quality of life was recognised here - which is why it's no surprise that this 'garden city' is the first in Asia to install a Seabin," said Seabin Project's chief executive Pete Ceglinski, 39.

The Seabin, 50cm in diameter and 50cm tall, weighs about 47kg and can be placed in waters at marinas, docks, yacht clubs and commercial ports.

Water is sucked from the surface and passes through a catch bag inside the Seabin, with a submersible water pump that can use clean energy sources like solar power, depending on the location and available technology. Water is then pumped back into the marina, leaving litter and debris trapped in the catch bag.

The Seabin, which costs about $5,000, can also collect oils and pollutants floating on the water surface.

Installing the Seabin

The bin can catch about 1.5kg of debris and litter a day, depending on weather and debris volume and can also catch microplastics that are 2mm in size. The catch bag can hold up to 20kg of debris and needs to be emptied twice a day. The bin also needs to be regularly checked and cleaned at least once a month.

The Seabin is positioned where the wind and the current can push the debris into it.

Wartsila is looking into having two other Seabins installed in Singapore.

Wartsila Singapore managing director Mervin Ong, 63, said: "Our purpose is to enable sustainable societies with smart technology. This includes cooperating with like-minded individuals and companies, like Pete Ceglinski and the Seabin Project, to develop and implement new environmental technology."

Mr Ceglinski said: "This is the start of something big and the start of a cleaner future."

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The one that got away: Indonesia seizes illegal fishing boat with 30-km nets

Agustinus Beo Da Costa Reuters 9 Apr 18;

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia, acting on a request from Interpol, has seized a fishing boat carrying 600 illegal gillnets that can stretch up to 30 km (18 miles) after it evaded capture in several countries, the Fisheries Ministry said.

The vessel, the STS-50, had targeted Antarctic toothfish, the ministry said, a cod species that plays an important role in the Southern Ocean ecosystem.

Gillnetting, which uses walls of finely meshed nets, has been banned in Antarctic waters since 2006 and is described by Australia as posing a huge risk to “almost all marine life”.

Officially stateless, the STS-50 evaded authorities by flying eight different flags at different times, including those of Sierra Leone, Togo, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Micronesia and Namibia, the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

Interpol contacted Indonesia last week with a request to investigate the vessel, Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said in the statement.

“Navy ship Simeuleu conducted a ‘stop, investigate and detain’ operation on Friday and successfully seized the vessel,” Pudjiastuti said.

The vessel had earlier been detained by China but had escaped and was later detained in the port of Maputo in Mozambique before fleeing again, Pudjiastuti said.

Prior to its capture off the Indonesian island of Weh in the northwestern province of Aceh, the vessel had also operated under several other names including Sea Breeze, Andrey Dolgov, STD No. 2 and Aida, the statement said.

Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows the 54-metre, 452-ton vessel was built in 1985.

At the time of its capture, the STS-50 had 20 Indonesian and Russian crew, the statement said.

It was not immediately clear what would happen to the crew.

Navy deputy chief of staff Achmad Taufiqoerrochman was quoted in the statement as saying the Indonesian crew lacked travel documents and had been at sea for a long time without pay, indicating they may have been victims of trafficking.

Fishing for Antarctic toothfish is governed under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which forbids gillnet fishing and imposes strict rules on catches in the Southern Ocean.

“We want this to be an example for the world to not compromise with illegal fishing,” Pudjiastuti said.

Indonesia has destroyed hundreds of foreign illegal fishing boats since 2014 in an effort to protect domestic fish stocks and fishermen.

In 2016, Indonesia assisted Interpol in the landmark capture of a giant Chinese-flagged vessel that had evaded Argentina’s navy and fled into international waters after it was suspected of illegal fishing there.

The same year, Indonesia blew up a giant illegal toothfish fishing vessel that had operated under 12 different names and flown flags of at least eight different countries.

Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Nick Macfie

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Indonesia: Raja Ampat survey reveals new species and key manta ray data

Raja Ampat is the global epicentre of marine biodiversity - and the species count is still rising, thanks in large part to two scientists...

The Guardian 10 Apr 18;

I’m at five metres, clutching a rock outcrop on the seabed when the manta ray fixes me with its gaze. I’m free diving so there are no distracting bubbles - just the undulation of wings – four metres from tip to tip – as it passes close enough to touch, with a look that feels…nuanced. We stare at each other for a couple of moments before it wheels round, showing me a white belly scattered with dark spots and a couple of remora fish hitching a ride. Being that close to a manta is thrilling – but it’s the look that stays with me.

An archipelago of 1500 odd islands scattered over 40,000 square kilometres off the coast of West Papua, Indonesia, Raja Ampat is a great place to see manta rays – and indeed sea creatures in general. For one, these waters are home to more marine species than anywhere else on the planet: there are single reefs in Raja Ampat that contain more species than the entire Caribbean. And then there’s the fact that the entire region was declared a sanctuary for sharks and rays back in 2010 – a move that four years later led to the whole of Indonesia becoming a manta ray sanctuary – easily the world’s largest.

A few hours later I’m sitting down to dinner with two of the guys who can claim credit both for identifying Raja Ampat as the world’ epicentre of marine biodiversity and helping establish it as a shark and ray sanctuary. One is ichthyologist Gerry Allen, a leading expert on tropical fish species, the other is his friend and frequent collaborator, Mark Erdmann, vice president of Asia Pacific Marine Programmes at US N.G.O Conservation International (CI), himself a leading marine biologist and coral reef ecologist. With them is a small, highly skilled coterie of marine experts hailing from Indonesia, Singapore, Fiji and the UK.

We’re on board the Rascal, a Phinisi schooner whose interiors resemble a five-star boutique hotel more than they do a typical live aboard vessel – even those at the opulent end of the scale. I’ve been a guest on research trips before, but not like this one. Not only do I get to explore some of Raja Ampat’s most beautiful and least visited seascapes with a group of experts uniquely qualified to describe their ecology - but I’m doing so in the lap of luxury.

Rascal Charters, which currently runs cruises to Raja Ampat and Komodo National Park, has teamed up with CI to support scientific research and conservation efforts - a partnership they hope to continue as they expand their fleet and their portfolio of destinations over the next few years to include the likes of the Maldives, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Our mission on this voyage is twofold - to seek out new species and to gather more data on Raja Ampat’s manta ray populations. My manta moment takes places at our first destination, Dayan in a sheltered cove off the island of Batanta, smallest of the ‘Four Kings’ - the islands that give Raja Ampat its name. Using his drone, Erdmann spots a cleaning station that’s new to the research team. Cleaning stations are like underwater spas for sharks and rays - they head to these locations to have their skin, teeth and gills cleaned by wrasse and tiny crustaceans.

Erdmann and his colleague Sarah Lewis from conservation NGO Manta Trust anchor Go Pros in the middle of the cleaning station to capture footage of all the mantas that pass through. Over the course of an afternoon, they log more than 25 new manta rays, five of which are tagged with acoustic tags that emit signals picked up by strategically located listening posts when the mantas are in range.

Meanwhile, Gerry Allen has been busy with the small fry – literally. His main focus this trip is small tropical reef fish and he has his eyes on one family in particular -the goby, among the tiniest and most abundant fish in the ocean. While the manta team hung out at the cleaning station, he’d been hunting his much smaller quarry alongside Fijian marine scientist Semisi Meo.

“We’re always looking for new records and that’s the number one objective when we come on a trip like this,” he tells me. When Allen first came to Raja Ampat back in 2001, the region’s species count stood at fewer than 200. Today that number has swelled to well over 2000, thanks in large part to his own efforts. “The bonus is finding new species - I have my shopping list that I take with me on every trip - there’s a little goby I photographed that I’m really hoping to find this time!”

The following morning, I emerge from my cabin and find the Rascal anchored in a tranquil lagoon surrounded by sheer limestone karsts clad in iridescent green foliage. This is Wayag – a far flung outpost six hours north of Waisai, the biggest of the four islands. It’s also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited and has rightly become one of the icons not just of Raja Ampat but of the entire Coral Triangle bioregion. A few of us find time to climb one of the karsts to take in a panorama that gives Halong Bay in Vietnam a serious run for its money.

We’re not here for the views though – CI discovered a manta ray nursery here back in 2015 - the first of its kind anywhere in southeast Asia. The shallow lagoon provides a relatively safe environment for vulnerable juveniles. The manta team manage to spot a previously unidentified baby to add to the database.

It’s not just science that drives these research trips but conservation too. It’s difficult to accurately estimate manta ray populations, since they’ve a fondness for both solitude and migration. But they are listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as vulnerable. Being able to track their migratory patterns can tell us if thy travel through areas where hunting is known to occur (mantas may be protected across Indonesia but enforcement across an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is a mammoth challenge that is still just getting underway). It also helps with tourism management - “understanding where and when we might need to give the mantas a bit of a break from the bubble makers!” as Erdmann puts it.

That night we head to Ayau, an even more remote island group that is close to the tiny island nation of Palu. Few if any tourist boats make it this far north and research trips are rare. Despite their isolated location, however, the people of Ayau enjoy the highest rates of university education anywhere in Raja Ampat. What’s more, their diligent management of their Marine Protected Area (MPA) has seen previously depleted fish populations rebound.

We visit the tiny village of Abidon and discover an interesting custom - people prefer to sleep on a layer of very fine sand, which they spread across their bedrooms to a depth of few inches. The head of the village assures me that it is both cooler and more comfortable than a regular mattress! Meanwhile the manta team have been able to confirm that populations from further south don’t migrate as far as this- which also means the isolated archipelago is home to an entirely new group of mantas.

On our way back from Ayau we stop at one of Raja Ampat’s more famous dive sites, Blue Magic – an isolated sea mount that’s a magnet for big pelagic species, including oceanic mantas that can grow to seven metres from wing tip to wing tip. I descend with Rascal Charter’s Cruise Director Garry Phillips – a hugely experienced dive master who has already taken me on some exploratory dives. As we reach the mount, an enormous manta hoves into view. The current is ripping, so I grab a rock to maintain my position. A white tip reef shark cruises past and I spot a group of barracuda. A few minutes later I hear Gary tapping his pointer on his tank and turn to see him gesturing excitedly at a rock. I fin across to him and peer underneath it to discover a tasselled wobbegong shark ensconced in the shadows, its distinctive “beard” of branching dermal lobes clearly visible.

Allen and Erdmann invariably find new species every time they come to Raja Ampat and this trip is no exception: they add two new species of Goby to their tally. One of them is of the genus Grallenia – a group that Japanese researchers discovered and named after none other than Gerald R Allen!

The trip provides a solid proof of concept that a drone is a highly effective tool for actually finding manta rays. It also gives us a bird’s eye view of an enormous pod of dolphins speeding just below the surface as we cruise away from Blue Magic. They dart among each other, breaching suddenly and swimming in tandem with their bellies touching - a behaviour that the scientists can’t immediately explain. Whatever they’re up to, it looks like a lot of fun.

We spend our final day back at the Dayan cleaning station where there are more up close and personal encounters with manta rays. Again, there’s an uncanny sense of being recognised, which as it turns out is not mere anthropomorphism, as Sarah Lewis explains to me. “Manta rays are incredibly intelligent - we know this from their brain size, but also studies have shown that they actually recognise divers.”

Perhaps my shared moment wasn’t as fanciful as I thought.

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Indonesia: Center of world's marine biodiversity is in danger

Swansea University Science Daily 10 Apr 18;

Research led by Swansea University's Bioscience department have found that the world's centre of biodiversity is under widespread threat of losing a key marine resource.

Writing about the findings in the recent Science of the Total Environment journal, researchers examined the risks to seagrass meadows throughout the vast Indonesian archipelago that makes up a key part of the famed Coral Triangle -- a marine area located in the western Pacific Ocean.

This area is widely known as the centre of the world's biodiversity and the meadows are the 'Prairies of the Sea'.

They are highly productive shallow water marine and coastal habitats comprised of marine plants, and these threatened areas provide important food and shelter for animals in the sea.

The research led by Dr Richard Unsworth indicates that up to 90% of the seagrass meadows that they examined in Indonesia have been extensively damaged and degraded over the past five years.

In the findings, researchers also discuss solutions to the problems these productive ecosystems face, including the importance of community-led conservation action. In the study they also discuss examples where seagrass conservation has been.

For example, in a series of small islands in Eastern Indonesia, seagrasses were threatened by sediment and nutrient run-off from the land due to the degradation of riverbanks.

As a result, replanting of riparian vegetation along the rivers as an incentive scheme with local farmers has reduced the flow of these pollutants into the sea.

Dr Richard Unsworth, from Swansea University's Biosciences department, led the study and said: "Our research is for the first time recording how an area of the world so critically important for its biodiversity is rapidly losing a key marine resource.

"This loss of seagrass is a terrible problem as the habitats in Indonesia have a major significance for daily food supply and general livelihoods. Without seagrass as a fishery habitat many people in Indonesia would not be able to feed their families on a daily basis."

Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth from Cardiff University added: "The ecological value of seagrass meadows is irrefutable, yet the loss of these systems in Indonesia is accelerating. Seagrass meadows in Indonesia are mostly ignored in the conservation arena.

"As a result, they're often not monitored, poorly researched and largely and unmanaged, leading to a tragedy of the seagrass commons."

Professor Rohani Ambo-Rappe of Hasanuddin University, Indonesia, a collaborator on the research stated: "Declining seagrass health is the result of shifting environmental conditions due largely to coastal development, land reclamation, and deforestation, as well as seaweed farming, overfishing and garbage dumping.

"The poor state of Indonesia's seagrasses will compromise their resilience to climate change and result in a loss of their ability to lock away carbon dioxide and provide important fisheries habitats."

Journal Reference:

Richard K.F. Unsworth, Rohani Ambo-Rappe, Benjamin L. Jones, Yayu A. La Nafie, A. Irawan, Udhi E. Hernawan, Abigail M. Moore, Leanne C. Cullen-Unsworth. Indonesia's globally significant seagrass meadows are under widespread threat. Science of The Total Environment, 2018; 634: 279 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.03.315

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Indonesia: Sea full of jellyfish? Possible, if sea turtles disappear

Moses Ompusunggu The Jakarta Post 11 Apr 18;

When the sea becomes thronged with jellyfish because of the absence of their predators, the endangered sea turtles, we will probably think twice before swimming. Yes, jellyfish do not go after humans, but they can sting divers and swimmers who have direct contact with the creatures.

This is not an impossible scenario, at least in the Bird's Head area, in West Papua, where the leatherback turtles, which are jellyfish predators, have become critically endangered.

The Bird's Head region is world-renowned as home to the scuba-diving destination of Raja Ampat. For critically endangered leatherbacks, locally known here as penyu belimbing, it is their last stronghold in the western Pacific.

Ricardo Tapilatu, head of the Research Center for Pacific Marine Resources at the University of Papua (Unipa), points to climate change as the main culprit for the decline in leatherback numbers.

It was announced in February that Ricardo had received a grant from the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation, becoming one of the eight international fellows in 2018. Using the US$150,000 grant over a three-year project, he wants to study how climate change has affected the leatherback population in the Bird's Head area.

Read also: W. Kalimantan declares 'extraordinary event' over sea turtle deaths

"I think this is a great opportunity, because I have been doing the research for years. I know that climate change is one of the biggest problems," Ricardo told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview in Jakarta.

The Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation is part of the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the planet's most prestigious fellowships, which was established in 1948 by US oilman Joseph N. Pew and his wife Mary Anderson Pew.

Two Indonesians have previously been made Pew marine fellows in the past. Last year, Raymond Jakub, a marine scientist with Rare Indonesia, became a fellow for his tech-based, fish catch-recording project and in 2013, Meity Mongdong, now a senior manager of Conservation International Indonesia, was named for her project developing custom-based marine protection in the Bird's Head region.

Ricardo has been focusing for years on studying the leatherback. Prior to the Pew Award, he obtained multiple grants including from the Marine Turtle Conservation Funds (MTCF) and in 2013 a Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) grant for his Bird's Head Leatherback Conservation Program.

"Combining my previous efforts with the current one [from Pew], we can at least learn something about what action we need to take to save the population," said Ricardo.

There has been a steep decline in leatherback numbers, estimated at 5.9 percent per year, amid threats to nest survival, which include predation by pigs and dogs, tidal inundation, erosion and extreme beach temperatures.

In his Pew-funded study, Ricardo will use a variety of sensors, including data loggers, to record sand and incubation temperatures on Jamursba Medi Beach, one of leatherbacks’ primary nesting beaches in the region.

The sex of leatherback hatchlings is determined by the incubation temperature. Rising beach temperatures may be affecting the hatching success and the sex ratio of new generations, potentially limiting the ability of populations to reproduce and recover.

"The goal is to produce more hatchlings with better fitness," said Ricardo, referring to his Pew-funded study.

"There should be a balance between the number of females coming every year and the number of hatchlings they produce. The hatchlings will return to the nesting beach after 10 to 15 years."

In addition to satellite sensors and apart from the data logger, Ricardo will rely on weather stations to record important parameters related to global warming, such as air temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind direction and sun penetration.

"By using the combinations we can discover whether there is a problem associated with global warming," said Ricardo.

Ricardo said the benefits of his coming study would be enjoyed by future generations to get a sense of how vital marine resources are.

"I am quite old and I don't know whether my work will be worthwhile and I will only see the results after 20 or 25 years. But at least I have already initiated it," said Ricardo.

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