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ISSUE

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Conservation • Exploration • Adventure

DAWN DAYS T H E H E A L I N G P O W E R O F N AT U R E


CO LLE CTION

Fifty Fathoms

©Photograph: Laurent Ballesta/Gombessa Project

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WELCOME

Editor’s Letter D a w n D ay s quickly became a community as well as a ‘popu p p ro g ra m m e ’ t h ro u g h w h i c h people could talk openly about t h e i r s t ru g g l e s .

Connection. It’s something we often talk about here at Oceanographic, as regular readers will know. Connection to the ocean, connection to a cause, connection with one another. Our lead story in this issue covers all three, as well as a lessexplored fourth (within these pages, at least): connection with one’s self. You may well have heard about Dawn Days already. You may have even taken part in a ‘blue hour swim’. If you have, we’d love to hear from you – please do share your experiences with us, either via email or on social media. With very personal origins, Dawn Days has turned into something of a movement, and the sharing of those experiences really is a beautiful thing. The man behind Dawn Days, photographer Mike Guest, started wading out into pre-dawn seas during the UK’s first lockdown in early 2020. He did so to offer himself focus, to alleviate the mental struggles he was personally facing and to better connect with himself. In-water during the blue hour, he connected with the ocean – the aliveness of the water in the morning, the vibrancy of nature. Those very personal connections with self and ocean soon morphed into something far bigger: connections with cause and one another. Mike’s journey resonated with others in need of focus or facing mental health struggles of their own. Dawn Days quickly became a community as well as a ‘pop-up programme’ through which people could talk openly about their struggles.

Will Harrison Editor

Today, it is a movement – a beautiful and cathartic web of people celebrating the pureness of being connected with the ocean, with one another, with themselves and with a cause, very much a part of nature, vibrantly starting each day before most around them have even begun to stir.

@oceanographic_editor @og_editor Oceanographicmag

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Contents O N T H E C OV E R

FEATURE S

DAWN DAYS

What started as a way for photographer Mike Guest to alleviate pandemic-driven fears and worsening mental health has quickly turned into a concept that shares a simple message; nature has the power to heal.

A Dawn Days abstract. Photograph by Mike Guest.

Get in touch ED I TO R

Will Harrison

CR EAT I V E D I R E C TO R

Amelia Costley

PA RT N E R S H I P S D I R E C TO R

Chris Anson

CO M M I S S I O N I N G E D I TO R

Beth Finney

CO N T R I B U T I N G E D I TO R

Hugh Francis Anderson

D ES I G N A S S I S TA N T

Joanna Kilgour

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YO U R O C E A N IMAGES

@oceanographic_mag @oceano_mag Oceanographicmag

A S S TO C K E D I N

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For all enquiries regarding stockists, submissions, or just to say hello, please email info@oceanographicmagazine.com or call (+44) 20 3637 8680. Published in the UK by CXD MEDIA Ltd. © 2021 CXD MEDIA Ltd. All rights reserved. Nothing in whole or in part may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

A collection of some of the most captivating ocean photography shared on social media, both beautiful and arresting. Tag us or use #MYOCEAN for the opportunity to be featured within these pages.

ISSN: 2516-5941

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CAB O PUL M O

CA LI ' S A B A LO NE

PR O FIT-S HA R ING CO M MITM ENT TO O CEA N CO N SERVAT IO N . A PR O M IS E WE'R E PR O UD O F.

S OW IN G S E AG R A S S

B L UE C A R B O N

The small coastal town of Cabo Pulmo in Mexico has a big conservation reputation, an abundant underwater haven returned from the brink. How was such success achieved?

As California continues to be subjected to catastrophic climate change-induced weather events, many species are in need of help – including marine snails.

An EU-funded project seeking to sow new seagrass beds in the UK has undertaken its first large scale planting event. What is the process behind sowing an underwater meadow? Why are the restoration of these habitats so important?

The twin crises of global heating and biodiversity loss are an existential threat to humanity. The protection and restoration of ocean ecosystems are an essential part of the solution, says Steve Trent, director and founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation.

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B E H IN D TH E L E N S

C O LUMN S

FRANCIS PÉREZ

THE SOCIAL ECOLOGIST

T HE A P N E IS T

T HE O C E A N AC T IV IS T

Each issue, we chat with one of the world’s leading ocean photographers and showcase a selection of their work. In this edition, we meet awardwinning photographer, conservationist and economist, Francis Pérez.

Big wave surf champion, environmentalist and social change talks about ocean literacy and interaction in a postpandemic world.

Freediver and founder of I AM WATER, Hanli Prinsloo, talks about committing to causes close to your heart, especially when faced with a seemingly overwhelming amount of causes in need of support.

Environmentalist and Surfers Against Sewage CEO Hugo Tagholm discusses ocean leadership, specifically the importance of diversity and specialisms.

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Karim Iliya Mexico A striped marlin, one of the fastest fish in the ocean, moves in on a bait ball. These balls are often attached by sea lions and birds at the same time, making for a frenetic scene.

SPONSORED BY


#MYOCEAN


Derek Nielsen Antarctica “A lone emperor penguin surveys the icy landscape around it. "It was pacing back and forth along this beautiful striated iceberg,” says Nielsen. “I managed to get a few decent compositions in before it dived into the water.” SPONSORED BY

#MYOCEAN


#MYOCEAN


Olle Nordell Antarctica Environmentalist Lewis Pugh among the king penguins of South Georgia. During this expedition, Pugh performed long distance swims as part of the campaign to secure marine protection around the entire continent of Antarctica. SPONSORED BY


Ryan Tidman Canada “I spent almost an hour with this individual, an adult female, and three other pups before they carried on their beach patrol in search of food,” says Tidman. “It wasn't until I got home that I realised this wolf had two different coloured eyes!” SPONSORED BY


#MYOCEAN


F E AT U R E

Dawn days What started as a way for photographer Mike Guest to alleviate pandemic-driven fears and worsening mental health has quickly turned into a concept that shares a simple message; nature has the power to heal. Hugh Francis Anderson discovers more about the growing Dawn Days community. Wo rd s b y H u g h Fra n c i s A n d e r s o n P h o t o g ra p h s b y M i ke G u e s t

A l l p h o t o g ra p h s f o r t h i s a r t i c l e w e re t a ke n o ff t h e c o a s t o f Portobello, a suburb of Edinburgh, Scotland.

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4:15am

The sky is smothered in blue, as if an absent hand has spilled an inkwell onto a blank page. But the light, it changes so fast. Now pale, now streaked with pink hues as cirrus clouds drift in from the east; the cinematic production that is the blue hour, and the dawn chorus its remarkable anthem. I sit beneath a red horse chestnut. The tendrils of spring soar into the canopy above. The woodland is alive. At once the moment abounds with peace and rages with life. The blackbirds, robins, wrens, chaffinches, warblers, thrushes and finches rise into a crescendo. A pheasant bellows from afar. An owl sounds its final cry. All around the birds rejoice at this, a new day. Yet within the tremors of life, a river of calm meanders its way through the woodland. It has a grounding effect. I feel safe, as if I have always been here. It is a homecoming to a state where modernity has no influence, and all is as it should be. A light breeze whips the morning mist off the lake and the oaks and elms oscillate. A mallard lands before me. A heron elegantly drifts across the horizon, its neck folded, the darkened tips of its wings slicing the inky sky. And now the wood pigeons awake. Their harmonious coos bolster the dawn ensemble. Sunrise is masked by growing cloud cover, but sunrise was hardly the goal. I realise that now. Home. I think about the blue hour. There was moment of perhaps 5 minutes, 5 minutes where I felt totally present. The worries of everyday life diffused and I was at one with the landscape I have always known. I was quiet.


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I awoke at 4am, shortly before writing this article, to journey into the woodlands near my home and embrace the Dawn Days concept that I had recently learned about. I wanted to experience the blue hour (the hour before sunrise), to feel connected to nature, and, in doing so, discover whether I felt more connected to myself. The above is what I wrote. Dawn Days was born from a humble idea; through the simple act of immersing yourself in nature during the blue hour, it is possible to find a state of calm that allows you to be totally present, if only for a moment. “You’re just reacting to what’s in front of you, experiencing something new, submerged and immersed in it and there to watch things unfold,” says Mike Guest, creator of the Dawn Days concept. “It’s about having time to let things unfold in front of you and within you, so you have the ability to create.” For Guest, the ritual of entering the ocean during the blue hour every morning became an antidote to Pandemic-driven uncertainties and unstable mental wellbeing, and it’s grown into something of a movement. In late April last year, he was on the phone with fellow photographer Nick Pumphrey. Pumphrey was experiencing similar personal and professional strains and suggested getting into the ocean with their cameras during the blue hour. “It started as a personal thing, to go out and have a committed action, to let things organically grow and to look at the ocean from a different perspective every morning,” he tells me. Though Pumphrey was in Cornwall and Guest in Portobello, Scotland, they began entering the ocean every morning throughout May and became fascinated by the abstract nature of water. “I felt a sense of freedom, of being alone but happy in the ocean and nature. It was a sense of relief, a sense of calm and I realised later that I had chilled out.” What Dawn Days demonstrates is a well-publicised and moderately researched area of salutogenesis that expounds nature’s ability to de-stress and calm us. While ‘green’ and ‘blue’ spaces form two different areas of study, research suggests they both have a significant impact on positive mental health. When we consider the effect of nature on our wellbeing, there are three commonly associated reasons. In a paper titled, Happiness is greater in natural environments, George Mackerron and Susana Mourato explain what these are. Firstly, biophilia drives our innate connection to the natural environment and has been honed over 10,000 years of human evolution as a result of our reliance on nature. Secondly, nature has fewer stressors, such as noise and air pollution, which results in a greater sense of health. Thirdly, natural environments promote activity, such a physical movement, which is directly linked to positive mental health. These factors help establish why we are not only drawn to natural spaces, but why we thrive in them, too. As Mackerron and Mourato write, “Amongst study participants, happiness is greater in natural environments, even after controlling for a wide range of potential confounders.” Dr Matthew White, a specialist in environmental psychology and a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter has championed the positive effects of the natural environment in human health and wellbeing. In his most recent research paper, he explores the impact of aquatic environments (blue spaces) on many elements of human health, including mental wellbeing. “The focus was on integrating the emerging research on the potential benefits to health and well-being, and in particular research that suggests improved access to, and safe use of blue spaces, could play a role in tackling some of the major public health challenges of middle to high-income countries in the 21st century,” writes White. “These include common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression… It also explores evidence suggesting that blue spaces can be used not just to prevent disease, but to promote good psychological health and help individuals with chronic health

“Biophilia drives our innate connection to the natural environment and has been honed over 10,000 years of human evolution as a result of our reliance on nature.”

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“‘To simplify everything, it’s just about having a committed action in the morning and immersing yourself in something that you love.’ In this way, Dawn Days is a positive activity for all.”

conditions manage their rehabilitation, recovery or ongoing health states.” In the way that the research of Dr Roger Ulrich first highlighted the health benefits of nature, or green spaces, in the 1980s, the research of White highlights similar, and is some cases more powerful, benefits of blue spaces on human health and wellbeing today. And while nature itself has been proven to aid mental wellbeing, Guest highlights the need to take a step away from normality and just allow yourself to be totally present in a moment. “This is what we practice through meditation and mindfulness, and through certain sports,” he tells me. “It’s about being encouraged in a moment to stop thinking about the future or worrying about the past and just being right there.” By tapping into this feeling and sharing it publicly, it inspired others to share their moments. In a term that Guest calls ‘mindful moments’, it became clear to him that by sharing content online and through social media - abstract videos, photographs and steam of consciousness prose - others were offered a short break from normality. And the opportunity to immerse himself in the ocean each morning also sparked a conversation between others in the community and became a focal point for the exchange of experiences and insights. In this, Guest began to talk about his own mental health and realised the relief that was found in doing so. “I decided to be really open and honest, and, in a way, it showed people that it’s ok (to talk),” he says. “It became more and more about sharing what I was going through in the hope that it might help someone else.” On the World Health Organization’s website, it states that, “Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.” Here in U.K., 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in a given year. And while there is no gender bias globally, the rate of severe depression and suicide of men in the U.K. is three time higher than that of women. The primary factor in this is the role that gender stereotypes play and that the archetypes of masculinity are disassociated with the expression of feeling. This can lead to a sense of entrapment and subsequent mental health problems. The importance of talking is something that Guest is keen to highlight, particularly among men. “Something I’ve learned in the last year is being able to open up with other men, which is really important,” he tells me. “Maybe if men are able to talk more about their feelings and anxieties, we can have a more connected society.” And while Guest is quick to note that Dawn Days is a concept that can alleviate daily stresses and help us to talk and feel more connected, it is not something that can remedy mental health concerns alone. He speaks highly of the therapy and care that he undertook alongside Dawn Days and notes the positive coping mechanisms that must be built around this activity, for it is not always possible to be at one with nature during the blue hour. As a result, Dawn Days should become part of the process, not the process in entirety. “It’s about learning and finding out how you can integrate that feeling into the rest of your day so that when you can’t go out, you’ve got ways of coping.” And while the inception of the project began with the ocean, it is a concept that lends itself to any natural space, be it a forest, a field or even a small space of green in an urban environment. The action itself is about removal from the norm, whatever that might be. “To simplify everything, it’s just about having a committed action in the morning and immersing yourself in something that you love.” In this way, Dawn Days is a positive activity for all.

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Column

By Dr Easkey Britton

“Like any good relationship it takes time to understand the ocean, to develop the life-enhancing (and lifesaving) skills. 'It’s really important to educate people. It’s not just about your personal experience, it’s about the environment you’re in, knowing the tides, winds and geography of a place”, CAITRIONA LYNCH, CO-FOUNDER OF EBB AND FLOW SWIMMING IN GALWAY, EXPLAINS.

The social ecologist THE VISION WE NEED FOR THE OCEAN WE WANT

About Easkey Dr Easkey Britton, surfer and founder of Like Water, is a marine social scientist at the National University of Ireland Galway. Her work explores the relationship between people and the sea, using her passion for the ocean to create social change and connection across cultures. Currently resides in Donegal, Ireland. For more see: www.communitypsychology.com/body-mapping-measuring-well Photograph by Dr Easkey Britton

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@easkeysurf

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s a surfer and marine social scientist, my life is lived in intimate relationship with the ocean, exploring the power of the ocean to help us reconnect with ourselves, each other and nature. In the crises we face, the loss of our emotional connection with the more-than-human world, especially the ocean in all it’s wonder and aliveness, is of deep concern. There is no part of the ocean that remains unaffected by the growing and interconnected pressures from climate change, biodiversity loss, and further degradation caused by human activities and pollution. In turn, the impacts of the ocean (and marine environmental degradation) on human health are poorly considered. In my home country of Ireland, our water environments are in crisis with water quality declining and water pollution rising at an unprecedented rate, primarily driven by the intensification of industrial agriculture, biodiversity and habitat loss and raw sewage. More than half of our rivers, lakes and estuaries are in an unhealthy state, failing to meet ecological targets set by the EU Water Framework Directive. Last year, swimming was banned at bathing spots across Ireland for 350 days of the year. What value can ‘wild swimming’ have when ‘wild’ places don’t exist anymore more? What healing benefit can ‘surf therapy’ offer when raw sewage is pumped into the sea? We can’t be well in a sick sea. An interdisciplinary European collaboration called the Seas Oceans and Public Health In Europe (SOPHIE) Project, funded by Horizon 2020, has outlined the initial steps that a wide range of organisations could take to work together to protect the largest connected ecosystem on Earth. In a commentary paper published in the American Journal of Public Health the researchers call for the current UN Ocean Decade to act as a meaningful catalyst for global change, reminding us that ocean health is intricately linked to human health. The paper highlights 35 first steps for action by different groups and individuals, including individual citizens, healthcare workers, private organisations, researchers and policy-makers, presenting opportunities for new alliances and partnership building. Many of these actions emphasise the need to link knowledge with practice in a way that supports and promotes a culture of care. This is even more relevant in light of the global pandemic, highlighting just how catastrophic the consequences of our societal disconnect from our natural place in the Earth’s systems is, and how vital the restoration of healthy, functioning natural ecosystems are for our survival. These first steps emphasise how essential holistic collaboration is to make an impact. For example: Large businesses can review their impact on ocean health, share best practice and support community initiatives; Healthcare professionals could consider “blue prescriptions”, integrated with individual and

@easkeysurf

www.easkeybritton.com

community promotion activities; Tourism operators can share research on the benefits of spending time by the coast, and collect and share their customers’ experiences of these benefits; Individual citizens can take part in citizen science or beach cleans and encourage school projects on sustainability. The paper calls on planners, policy-makers and organisations to understand and share research into the links between ocean and human health, and to integrate this knowledge into policy. With emerging community interest in local waterways and new river trusts, catchment and coastal groups being established, perhaps we could encourage policy makers, local authorities and businesses to adopt some of the steps supporting ocean and human health in our communities? For example, Surfrider Foundation and various community groups across Europe are pushing for key changes to improve the legal framework in the EU and ensure greater protection of our bathing waters, such as the inclusion of all-year-round monitoring, extension of the monitored areas to include nautical recreational areas, and improved public information. The World Surfing League, recognising that surfing is entirely dependent on health marine ecosystems, have launched their We Are One Ocean campaign supporting a global petition calling on world leaders to protect 30% of our ocean by 2030. Given the growing uptake in citizen science initiatives since COVID-19 began, there is tremendous potential for widespread community engagement and a more participatory approach to managing and protecting our waterways, beaches, coasts and seas. With the huge influx of people taking to our waters and sea, there is a real need and opportunity for greater support for initiatives that promote ocean action, awareness and education. For those meeting the sea for the first time it can feel strange, unfamiliar, maybe even dangerous. Like any good relationship it takes time to understand the ocean, to develop the life-enhancing (and life-saving) skills to read the sea and to be safe. “It’s really important to educate people. It’s not about your personal experience, it’s about the environment you’re in, knowing the tides, winds and geography of a place”, Caitriona Lynch, co-founder of Ebb and Flow Swimming in Galway, explains. I believe our post-pandemic journey represents a unique opportunity to bring the ocean literacy principle of the interconnectedness between ocean and human health into mainstream culture. Where the natural world is integral to our ability to survive and thrive. Where blue prescriptions are not a novelty, but offer a viable complimentary or alternative healthcare intervention when addressing the psychological distress of not only of this pandemic, but climate breakdown and the complex challenges to come. And above all, fostering a culture of care for our ocean. EB

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S AT E L L I T E O F

ocean hope The small coastal town of Cabo Pulmo in Mexico has a big conservation reputation, an abundant underwater haven returned from the brink. How was such success achieved?

Wo rd s a n d p h o t o g ra p h s b y H e n l e y S p i e r s

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ABOVE: A Mexican hogfish, with a puckered mouth and a paintbrush tail trailing behind. OPPOSITE: A beautifully patterned Panama graysby. PREVIOUS PAGE: A dense school of trevally.

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s our panga cuts through the shimmering waters of the Sea of Cortez, the distinctive, oily scent of fish hits my nostrils. The source of the aroma is soon revealed, as I don scuba equipment and backroll beneath the waves: a shoal unlike any I have seen before, so gigantic its presence can be smelt from the surface. Mainly comprised of bigeye jack, the school extends further than the eye can see, even with excellent underwater visibility. Twenty metres down, I look up to find the sky blotted out by a ceiling of trevally, their metallic bodies moving in unison, creating a tornado of stern-faced fish. In the heart of Cabo Pulmo National Park, this unforgettable scene is an irrefutable reminder of why a small, Mexican coastal village has become a global poster child for marine conservation. The headline stats make it look simple: Cabo Pulmo National Park was founded in 1995 with a 100% no-take policy. From 1999 to 2009, fish biomass increased by 463%. It’s a sensational success story, carried by news outlets around the world, and yet, for those who lived and breathed it, the story of Cabo Pulmo is far more nuanced. Sitting at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, the road to Cabo Pulmo weaves through a mountainous, desert landscape, with alluring views of the coastline winding in and out of sight. Coming off the highway, the final stretch takes you along a bumpy, dirt road: an appropriately low-key entrance to the humble village of Cabo Pulmo, where the trappings of masstourism are still held at bay. The desert landscape gives way to an idyllic beach, and the surrounding sea frames it all, its water offering the chance to cool off from the arid heat. In his ‘Log From the Sea of Cortez’, John Steinbeck

reserved special praise for the area, writing: “The complexity of the life pattern on Pulmo Reef was even greater than at Cabo San Lucas. Clinging to the coral, growing on it, burrowing into it, was a teeming fauna. Every piece of the soft material broken off, skittered and pulsed with life, little crabs and worms and snails. One small piece of coral might conceal 30 or 40 species, and the colours on the reef were electric.” Indeed, this bay is home to the oldest coral reef on North America’s Pacific coast, one of only three such reefs on record. Twenty thousand years in the making, the corals adorn enormous mineral fingers that cross the seabed. The colours are more understated than those found on reefs in south-east Asia, with muted, earthy tones, befitting the location. Hundreds of small, terracotta sea fans cover the rocky reef, their pattern broken up by the magenta sea fans in their midst. Curious Mexican hogfish explore the seascape, with puckered mouths and a paintbrush tail trailing behind. This is an extraordinarily productive sea, and fishing was a central part of life for the community in Cabo Pulmo, but in the second half of the 20th century, advancements in refrigeration, motorised vessels, and fishing techniques would change everything. Modern methods were adopted locally, but also by an armada of industrial fishing ships. The next part of the story is one oft repeated around the globe: soon enough, the sea had been plundered at an unsustainable rate, and Jacques Cousteau’s description of the Sea of Cortez as the “aquarium of the world” was no longer fit for purpose. The residents of Cabo Pulmo, now forced to travel further offshore and with only meagre returns to show

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for the arduous journey. It was a precarious existence, but visiting divers offered an alternative. If people would pay to be taken out to explore these dilapidated reefs, what could be achieved if the aquatic environment was restored? The rumblings of change began in the 1980s, with residents and university researchers pushing for the benefits of tourism and protected waters. Even in a community numbering less than 200, achieving a consensus proved impossible in these early days, with many voicing against the idea of a marine park. Who can blame them? It is easy to be an armchair conservationist, but it is quite another to pursue an ideology of conservation when your day to day existence will be immediately, and negatively impacted by the plan. Make no mistake, whilst the light shines brightly on Cabo Pulmo today, the early years were extraordinarily tough. Those who remained fishermen were forced out of their local waters, competing with industrial fishing fleets, leaving them and their families in financial trouble. Those who made the shift to tourism, abandoned the only career they had ever known, and it would take many years for the ocean to recover, a reputation to grow, and for the benefits of the decision to finally be felt. Cabo Pulmo Marine Park was declared by federal decree in 1995, then modified to a national park in 2000. It covers 7,111 hectares, 99% of which is located in the marine zone. The foundation of the protected area was hard-fought, but with no federal fund allocated to manage the park upon its inception, the early years were problematic. Initially, the no-take area was 35%, but that was later expanded to 100%. Various community-led organisations were founded and took the lead in trying to raise funds, and help administer the park. Most would founder through discord and in-fighting, but in 2003, Amigos para la Conservación de Cabo Pulmo (ACCP) was created and has lasted to this day. Four years after the inception of the park, a 1999 survey found that there was little difference between fish populations in Cabo Pulmo National Park, and either other marine parks or non-protected areas. This should not come as much of a surprise, as the implementation plan and funding for Cabo Pulmo National Park were almost non-existent – an official park management plan was not published until 2009. The onus would fall on the community of Cabo Pulmo to make the park work: managing, policing, and raising funds to support their efforts. They would succeed where so many had failed before. The marine surveys conducted once again in 2009, a decade later, and their associated findings, were astonishing: total fish biomass had increased 463% within Cabo Pulmo National Park. The presence of large predators had increased by a factor of 11. This study by Octavio Aburto et al (2011) would launch Cabo Pulmo into global headlines, and carry it to the highest echelons of conservation success stories. A yellowfin surgeonfish pulsates its pectoral fins frantically amidst a giant school of jacks.

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“The onus would fall on the

community of Cabo Pulmo to make the park work: managing, policing, and raising funds to support their efforts. They would succeed where so many have failed before.”

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“Research conducted in 2015 by

Egerton et al used echolocation rather than scuba divers to measure fish populations, both within and outside Cabo Pulmo’s protected waters. The findings continued to advocate for the benefits of the park, with four times more fish within it than in the unprotected areas adjacent.”

A browncheek blenny peers out from the safety of its burrow, occasionally feeding on passing zooplankton.

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MAIN: Yellow-bodied porkfish. TOP: A pair of Cortez angelfish. MIDDLE: The extraordinary blue-banded goby is one of the reef's smaller denizens. BOTTOM: Cabo Pulmo can be distinguished by its terracotta reef and unusual abundance of marine life.

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“Beyond the science, I can

confirm from personal experience that something special is going on in Cabo Pulmo. The wildlife is remarkable in its abundance and diversity.”

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“I encountered a wisened olive

ridley turtle as it stopped to allow reef fish to feed on the epibionts from its shell. This process benefits all parties, and reminds me of the symbiotic relationship between Cabo Pulmo’s residents and its environment, existing in rare harmony, the care shown for one, lifting the other."

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A large olive ridley turtle rests peacefully as it is manicured by an eager group of reef fish.


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An enormous shoal of jacks is an irrefutable reminder of why a small, Mexican coastal village has become a global posterchild for marine conservation.

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The 1999 and 2009 studies did not just explore Cabo Pulmo, they encompassed nine other marine protected areas in the Gulf of California, as well as unprotected reefs too. In that time, no other area showed anything like the same positive growth as Cabo Pulmo, and the reason why seemed clear: whilst Cabo Pulmo declared its waters a 100% no-take zone, the area protected from fishing in the other parks ranged from zero to 16%. It seems obvious, but ensuring a large enough marine park is actually protected from fishing activities makes a world of difference to its results Beyond the science, I can confirm from personal experience that something special is going on in Cabo Pulmo. The wildlife is remarkable in its abundance and diversity. The tornado of jacks is the headline act, but look closer within it and you find other species amidst the shoal. Guineafowl pufferfish, coated in an irresistible polka-dot pattern, seem to use the jacks as a protective shield. Meanwhile, yellowfin surgeonfish, adorned with yellow bands across their faces reminiscent of highway robbers, pulsate pectoral fins frantically to keep up. Where before sharks were targeted by local fishermen, an inspiring resurgence has now seen 15 species of sharks recorded in the area. On one unforgettable occasion, I witnessed a school of jacks engulf a lone bull shark, using the shark’s coarse skin to file off parasites. Research conducted in 2015 by Egerton et al used echolocation rather than scuba divers to measure fish populations, both within and outside Cabo Pulmo’s protected waters. The findings continued to advocate for the benefits of the park, with four times more fish within it than in the unprotected areas adjacent. Another part of Cabo Pulmo’s success is as a nursery. Studies have shown that this is true not only for the adults of the fish species readily observed within Cabo Pulmo, but also deepwater species and species of fish appearing in neighbouring areas — who use the park as a safe haven in their early stages of life. For all its success to date, the community of Cabo Pulmo understands that conservation of its natural resources must be a way of life. The main threats to Cabo Pulmo today are illegal fishing, real estate development, and the growth of tourism. Perhaps of greatest concern is that posed by large-scale developments nearby. In 2008, Cabo Cortes was announced as a large-scale tourist complex to be built in the vicinity of Mexico’s greatest ocean conservation success story. The development posed numerous concerns, both on the surface and under, including sewage, oil spills from its associated marina, the destruction of coastal dunes, and an incredible demand placed on the aquifer. Cabo Pulmo rose to the challenge once again, this time with the backing of multiple prominent NGOs, and in 2012, President Felipe Calderon officially announced the cancellation of Cabo Cortes. However, new development plans soon surfaced. In 2014, Cabo Dorado, a 22,000 room project; in 2016, Cabo Pelicanos; in 2018, Bahía El Rincón Hotel; and just recently the Four Seasons Los Cabos opened on the site previously planned for Cabo Cortes. The region's riches extend beyond the sea, for its land contains 560 types of plants and animals, including two vegetation types found nowhere else on earth, and two newly described plant species. For endangered turtles, moving between land and water, the coastline is of paramount importance for nesting. Underwater, I encountered a wisened olive ridley turtle as it stopped to allow reef fish to feed on the epibionts from its shell. This process benefits all parties, and reminds me of the symbiotic relationship between Cabo Pulmo’s residents and its environment, existing in rare harmony, the care shown for one, lifting the other. The self-sustaining conservation tourism model of Cabo Pulmo was thrown into jeopardy by the pandemic, with a 60% annual drop in tourism seen across Mexico. However, in the brief windows of tourism re-opening, Cabo Pulmo proved to be more popular than ever, its story and small scale model perhaps more appealing than ever in the current climate. Comisionado Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONAMP), which overseas Cabo Pulmo through its park director, has had its budget slashed by 75%. The pressure on the community of Cabo Pulmo to protect their waters, with diminished resources, is greater than ever. The fees collected from selling marine park bracelets should provide an organic way of funding protective measures, but the vast majority raised in this manner does not stay with the local management team, allocated to centralised government instead. In the impatience of our current era, one driven by instant gratification, it is rare to see long term strategies adopted. Cabo Pulmo stands as an inspiring example of what can be achieved through marine protection, even if it is driven by a small number of people. It provides a model of how the rewards for such action can be shared by both the sea and its human protectors. For ocean lovers, there is great delight to be found in seeing these benefits first hand, by diving in these revitalised waters. Cabo Pulmo is both a cause for celebration and concern. We should praise the conservation achieved in this small community, but be wary of the continuing challenges which come its way, which could easily unravel all of the good work so far. Moreover, with the Cabo Pulmo example there for all to see, it is alarming that we have not been able to heed its lessons more widely, and to create more ‘Cabo Pulmo’ satellites across the ocean.

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Behind the lens I N A S S O C I AT I O N W I T H

FRANCIS PÉREZ Behind the Lens places a spotlight on the world’s foremost ocean conservation photographers. Each edition focusses on the work of an individual who continues to shape global public opinion through powerful imagery and compelling storytelling.


BEHIND THE LENS

Q&A FRANCIS PÉREZ Award-winning photographer, conservationist and economist with a particular focus on the Canary Islands. Francis Perez is a Canary Islands-based photojournalist and conservationist on a mission to better protect the waters around his home archipelago. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic Spain, is a founding member of Pelagic Life Canarias and was recently appointed a member of the International Ocean Artist Society.

OC EA NO G R A PH IC M AGAZ I N E (OM ): W H I C H C A ME FIRST, YOUR LOVE OF TH E OCEAN OR YOUR L OVE O F PH OTO GRAP H Y ? FRANCIS PÉREZ (FP): My love for the ocean came first. About six years after I started diving, I felt the need to show family and friends everything I saw underwater. Encouraged by other underwater photographers and friends, I bought my first camera and housing. I started to dive in 1994 and I bought my camera in 1999. Initially, I focused on macro photography, trying to capture the smallest lifeforms. My favourites were seahorses and nudibranchs – their fragility and bright colours were enchanting. I soon became a collector of species photographs. After a few years I evolved as a photographer. Eventually, I began lifting my head up from the seabed and I began to photograph the ocean landscape and cetaceans. OM : H OW A ND W H E N D I D YOU F I RS T C ON N E CT WITH TH E OCEAN? AND WH AT WAS IT LIKE GROW ING U P IN T H E C AN ARY I S L AN D S ? FP: Here in the Canary Islands I have never lived further than five minutes from the sea, so it’s almost inevitable to be connected with it. Even now, I spend every day looking at weather forecasts. From a very young age, I spent every vacation on the islands with my parents, always in coastal areas. When I was a little boy I could usually be found on the rocky beaches watching the tides, the wind and the sea. I still swim every day and sometimes I participate in long-distance open water swimming races. When I was little, it didn’t occur to me that the ocean needed protecting, but around 30 years ago, when I began really seeing the intricacies of the underwater world, I noticed that year after year there were fewer and fewer species, and that the promised marine reserves were not being implemented. OM : H OW D O ES YOU R BAC K GROU N D I N E C ON OMICS IMPACT YOUR P ERSP ECTIVE OF TH E UND ERWAT ER WORL D AN D OF M ARI N E C ON SERVATION? FP: After the third year of studying economics I was offered two routes for the following two years. I chose the regional route, with subjects such as Ecological Economics, Development Economics, Natural Resources and the Environment. It was this route that ignited my interest for the environment and for marine conservation. This, coupled with my passion for the sea, resulted in my current approach. I started diving in my final years of university, and I started to see what was happening in the ocean. I was meeting other divers, biologists and oceanographers, and my interest in marine biology grew. I realised that in my economics career there was a lot of talk about development and resources but little about marine resources and marine reserves. I began to ask these questions and started collaborating on projects to help better protect the ocean. The ocean needed our support.

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O M: W H AT I S I T T H AT YOU F I N D S O E NCH ANTING ABOUT CETACEANS? FP: Their social structure. It can be as complex as ours and I’m fascinated by their vital role within the ecosystem as top predators and fertilisers of the ocean. One of my great memories with cetaceans was in 2013, in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. The spring sea was full of life and teeming with many Bryde's whales. I jumped into the water in front of one of them that was heading swiftly towards a baitball. When hunting, these whales don’t pay much attention to us, but it’s possible to have extraordinary interactions with them when they’re not distracted by dinner. Swimming with them reminds me of how small we are as a species. However, it’s important to be careful and not interfere with their course and behaviour. To swim, dive or freedive with cetaceans in the Canary Islands, you must have a special permit from the government. Bryde's whales are common in Tenerife – every spring and summer with the explosion of life, they come. I feel a deep respect for this beautiful animal and also great sadness for how we have treated them throughout history. I do think the role of whales in the ocean is often misunderstood. For many years they were seen only as an oil or meat resource. Few really understand their role as top predators (some whales) and fertilisers that contribute to carbon sequestration. To eliminate whales means to unbalance the marine ecosystem, which would result in widespread problems, to say the least. O M : W H AT A R E YO U R T H O U G H T S O N THE LEVEL OF MARINE PROTECTION IN THE CANARY IS LA NDS ? FP: In my opinion, the level of protection here is too low. While 42% of land has some kind of protection, only 7% of the ocean that surrounds the islands is protected. We are living with our backs to the sea. Currently, we are working towards implementing a large Marine Protected Area stretching across the whole of the Canary Islands, which Sylvia Earle and Max Bello of Mission Blue are helping us with. We are preparing a proposal for the government, which is being worked on by several scientists and myself with the support of Mission Blue. We think that the archipelagos are a truly extraordinary system. The islands are not independent and there is an oceanographic relationship between them all. It’s not worth protecting just a small area of each island if we do not protect the whole ocean that surrounds them. That is why we think a large Marine Protected Area across the entire Canary Islands is required. Hopefully, it will span up to 200 nautical miles where possible, and up to the EEZ boundaries with Portugal and Morocco. Within this large area there should be marine reserves, a shark sanctuary where the fishing of sharks is forbidden, and national parks. We’d like to implement measures ensuring that it is only possible to fish artisanally, and that 20% of the coastline is a “no take” zone. But this is all a work in progress. Mission Blue wants to achieve better protection for the Canary Islands, and for 30% of Spain’s waters to be protected by an MPA before 2030. Spain has one of the largest fishing fleets in the world and less than 10% of its waters are MPAs. Mission Blue announced the designation of the Hope Spot SAC Teno-Rasca in 2019, dubbing this thriving archipelago the ‘Hawaii of Europe.’ I am also looking to get La Rapadura – a huge structure of basaltic columns made from the interaction between volcanic magma and sea water – declared a Natural Monument and protected by the government. O M: H OW H AS T H E C AN ARY I S L AN D S MARINE ECOSYSTEM CH ANGED IN YOUR 2 0 + YEARS AS A PH OTO G RAP H E R? FP: I think it has worsened, like all the world's oceans. When I started diving I saw far more fish, but now overfishing, increased pollution and the lack of protection makes it increasingly difficult to see some species – sharks, for example. There are only three marine reserves here, all of which are very small and of keen fishing interest. While there are some management plans in place there, fishing still occurs. The real problem is further out, where there is the threat of large-scale, industrial fishing, with no policing or management. Also, in the SAC Teno-Rasca, there is the problem of illegal companies running whale watching tours. There are many legal companies that have a good approach to the whales, but illegal ones are cropping up. They are difficult to control, as there is a lack of funding, but the government of the Canary Islands is applying measures for the issue. More protection is needed to fight threats such as the construction of industrial and tourist ports in the middle of special conservation areas - such as the harbour of Fonsalía - or threats such as oil exploration. The Canary Islands have always opted for mass tourism, but after the global pandemic, I hope we can follow the trend towards change and greener tourism. I am hopeful for the future of the ocean though, because there are so many organisations fighting to create Marine Protected Areas and I believe that among all of us who work in the ocean we will be able to achieve results soon.

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BEHIND THE LENS

Q&A Continued...

OM : YO U R P H OTO G R A P H O F ' H O P E ' , T H E S H ORTFIN PILOT WHALE WHO HAD HER TAIL CUT OFF B Y A B OAT P ROP E L L E R, S H OC K E D T H E WORLD. CAN YOU SH ARE TH AT MOMENT WITH US? FP: The 27th of March 2019 was one of the saddest moments of my career. I will never forget that day. I was at sea, off the southwest of Tenerife Island, where I have spent the past 20 years photographing the resident population of pilot whales. I received a call from Jacobo, a marine biologist who had news of a pilot whale with a wound to its tail fin. We arrived quickly on site; it was easy to locate the whale. The first step was to get into the water and see what exactly was wrong with Hope, because it was not clear from the boat. The moment I entered the water I could hear the cries of the whale and I could see other whales, part of her family group, circling around her. I was very careful to keep my distance. In the water, I saw the full extent of the damage, it was much worse than we had initially thought. She was a young female and her tail was almost completely severed and hanging on by just skin. I took several shots of the whale from different angles, including the now widely circulated photo of the back end of the animal. I got back on board and sent the photos to a veterinarian at the local wildlife rehabilitation center. The cause was clear given how clean the cut was – this had been done by a ship propeller, and there was some sign of subsequent attacks by sharks. In these cases, the course of action is euthanasia. The veterinarian soon arrived on site. With a stretcher between two boats, we lifted her out of the water, she continued to cry and her family members circled below us. She was sedated and then euthanized. We held onto her until she died, with intense sorrow, but knowing that there was nothing more we could have done. A full necropsy later confirmed that a small propeller, probably from a small leisure boat, had sliced right through two of her vertebrae. Otherwise, she had been a healthy young pilot whale. We called her “Hope”, because it is our hope that telling her story will finally put an end to this terrible situation and lead to proper protection of cetacean habitat in the Canary Islands. Ship traffic is a huge threat to whales worldwide. The Canary Islands is a global hotspot for cetaceans, but also hosts intense marine traffic from tourism. The International Maritime Organization has declared the Canary Islands as a particularly sensitive marine area, but traffic levels and speeds are currently totally unregulated, and ship strikes are on the rise. OM : W H AT CA N YOU T E L L M E ABOU T P L AN S FOR TH E MACRO-H ARBOUR OF FONSALÍA? FP: The Fonsalía harbour is incomprehensible. It is a 23-year-old that has never been completed for two reasons: firstly, because there is not enough money; secondly, because the environmental impact reports have never been passed. We are now studying the legal aspects of how a small area within a special conservation area was left unprotected when it complies with the same environmental values as the larger area around it, and how the European Union allowed this. The Teno-Rasca Special Conservation Area belongs to the Natura 2000 Network of the European Union. Fonsalía plans to host five new fast ferries and 400 more sports boats within a Special Area Conservation. It’s madness. OM : DO YO U B EL I E V E T H AT I T ’ S P OS S I BL E F OR TH E SH IP P ING AND BOATING INDUSTRIES TO E X IS T IN H A R MO N Y AL ON GS I D E C E TAC E AN S ? FP: That’s a difficult question. The International Maritime Organization declared the Canary Islands as a spot of special sensitivity due to high maritime traffic and the great biodiversity of cetaceans. The first thing that needs to be done is to reduce the speed in areas of whale populations. But reducing international traffic, given the upward trend in recent years, is difficult. We must also consume local products, so that merchandise traffic decreases, and stop eating fish – the ocean traffic associated with fishing is enormous. In the Canary Islands there is mostly just artisanal fishing, but the large-scale fishing industry spans almost all of the rest of Spain. It’s important to restrict access for the big companies from other parts of Spain. Large-scale fishing is a problem everywhere. Personally, I think that we should control every kind of fishing activity large scale, small scale or artisanal - and let the ocean have a rest. It will be grateful.

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I think that one of the great problems of collisions with cetaceans are the fast ferries for transport between islands. There is no measure in place that forces them to slow down – right now they can travel between islands at 35 knots. Places like Canada and New Zealand have applied restrictions of 10 knots in cetacean-dense areas, but in the Canary Islands they can go as fast as they want. O M: W H Y I S I T S O I M P ORTAN T TO BETTER P ROTECT TH E SOUTH WEST OF TENERIFE ? FP: Because it has one of the most important pilot whale populations in the world. Because it is a point of special sensitivity declared by the International Maritime Organization. Because more than 32 species of cetaceans have been seen here – this spring 20 different species were spotted in the space of one week. This area is full of life. Guía de Isora is where the politicians and some large companies want to build the macro-harbor Fonsalía, but the SAC Teno-Rasca spans a much bigger area. I enjoy photographing here because it really is bursting with life. There are a lot of pilot whales – almost 400 have been photo ID’ed. Sea turtles, sharks, jellyfish, cetaceans – really, this is a paradise for underwater photography. And it's not far out to sea either – much of the wildlife can be found very close to the coast. O M: W H Y D O YOU T H I N K P H OTOGRAPH Y IS SUCH AN IMP ORTANT TOOL IN MARINE CO NS ERVAT I ON ? FP: I think that photography is a valuable tool for gathering information and providing education – and therefore, it can serve conservation efforts. Although it seems a bit cliché, an image really is worth a thousand words. A photo, if it has a powerful narrative behind it, says a lot. In recent years I have focused on telling stories with my photos, as I think it is the best way to reach people. For example, my photo “Sea turtle entangled,” which won the World Press Photo in 2017. It is a beautiful photo, which captures you because of the vibrant colours, but when you get closer you see the reality of this poor creature. It is a photo with a very powerful narrative behind it. It highlights the impacts of plastics in the ocean, and of how we dispose of garbage in general. It speaks to the plight of sea turtles, and all marine species. It was successful and reached many people because it was a sea turtle, an animal with which we empathise. If it had been a shark it would not have reached so many people, I think. O M: W H AT OT H E R P ROJ E C T S H AV E YOU BEEN WORKING ON IN RECENT YEARS? FP: I have been working here in the Canary Islands on a large-scale project to implement a protected marine area for all the islands alongside the University of La Laguna. I’ve also been working a lot in Chile, in the Humboldt Archipelago (declared a Hope Spot by Mission Blue in 2018), where I’m working on a book about resident marine mammals. Additionally, I’ve been working with my wife Susannah Buchan, an oceanographer at the University of Concepción and the Center for Advanced Studies of Arid Zones (CEAZA), with fin whales and blue whales. This Humboldt archipelago boasts amazing biodiversity and sprawling kelp forests, but it is threatened by a large mining port project called Dominga. I have been going to Chile for a few years. I went initially with an organisation called Buceando Chile, and I have been working with them in Patagonia on a conservation project for the Madre de Dios Archipelago. In 2016, with Buceando Chile, I went to the Atacama region and participated in a whale watching congress in Caleta Chañaral de Aceituno. I fell in love with the place. The Pingüino de Humboldt National Reserve is full of life – countless fin whales visit the islands every year. Attracted by the whales, now I visit the marine reserve every year and try to help protect it against threats such as the macro-mining harbour of Dominga. I work with the people who know this place the most intimately and the marine richness it hosts – only then can it be protected. I had one of the most exciting moments of my career as an underwater photographer here. A group of fin whales gathered to eat krill next to Chañaral Island. A colleague, Cesar Villarroel, and I, from the Explorasub Diving and Documentation Center, were surrounded by approximately 30 fin whales in what I can only describe as 'krill soup'. It was extraordinary – words can’t describe. O M: H AV E YOU BE E N W ORK I N G ON ANY COLLABORATIVE P ROJECTS WITH SEALEGACY? FP: Not really in the field, but with Cristina [Mittermeier] and Paul [Nicklen], through SeaLegacy, we rolled out a great media campaign about the problem of collisions with cetaceans. We have the same philosophy of conservation and I have long been a member of their Collective of conservation photographers. I’m very proud of that. Sealegacy has given us the opportunity to amplify our voice so that decision makers actually listen to what we have to say.

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BEHIND THE LENS

Tenerife, Canary Islands Blue sharks are elegant and elusive animals. They are also one of the most abundant sharks in the ocean.

Mexico A school of barracuda forms a ring over a diver at a dive site off Baja California called Los Islotes.

Mexico Friendly and curious sealions move in to take a closer look at their dome port reflections.

Tenerife, Canary Islands A freediver dives into a bait ball of mackerel, which opens like a crater. This image was used for the cover of Sylvia Earle´s book “Blue Hope”,

Mexico A crocodile approaches a dock in a small lake on the Yucatán Peninsula,

El Hierro, Canary Islands The smalltooth sand tiger shark is a species of mackerel shark. It can be found in both tropical and warm temperate waters.

Tenerife. Canary Islands The shell of the green sea turtle is perhaps one of the most beautiful backs in the natural world. This one was photographed flying over a seagrass bed looking for a spot to feed.

Philippines A porcelain crab shows its beautiful colours between the arms of an anemone. Porcelain crabs are fragile animals usually found living under large anemones.

Tenerife, Canary Islands Hope the shortfin pilot whale, who had her tail cut off by a boat propeller - an image that shocked the world.

Mexico Schools of fish amidst beautiful light rays are a regular sight at Los Islotes.

Tenerife. Canary Islands Pilot whales are highly social, deep diving cetaceans. Tenerife's pilot whales are one of the only resident populations in the world, and live off the southwest of the island.

Tenerife. Canary Islands Having jumped into the water in front of a huge baitball, I was quickly joined by a 14-metre Brydes´ whale.

Behind the lens FRANCIS PÉREZ Tenerife. Canary Islands A beautiful manta flies through the clear coastal waters off Tenerife, as the light shines through from above. It filters small planktonic prey as it swims. It also provides shelter for a school of small fish that are forever seeking protection from predators.

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Tenerife. Canary Islands The Portuguese Man o’ War, “Physalia physalis”, is a false jellyfish, It is actually a colony of highly venomous Hydrozoa. It mostly feeds off small fish fry.

PERSONAL

@francisperez000

SEALEGACY

@sealegacy

Francis has been diving since 1994 and taking photographs since 2001. He combines his skills as a conservation photographer and economist to achieve wins for the ocean environment, especially at home in the Canary Islands. He has been published regularly in international press and books, including the 50th anniversary of the IUCN's Red List of Endangered Species. He has won or been highly commended in multiple competitions of repute, including the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He has been a member of the SeaLegacy Collective since 2019.

@FrancisPerezUnderwaterPhotography @SeaLegacy

@sealegacy

www.francisperez.es

sealegacy.org

Oceanographic Issue 19


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F E AT U R E

Fires, mud, and abalone: 84

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A R AC E TO R E S C U E T H E E N DA N G E R E D B L AC K A B A L O N E As California continues to be subjected to catastrophic climate change-induced weather events, many species are in need of help – including marine snails. Wo rd s a n d p h o t o g ra p h s b y K e n a n C h a n

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W

hen most people think of endangered species, they likely imagine an exotic animal in a remote jungle. Wendy Bragg however, thinks about black abalone, a marine snail found along the coast of California. I first met Bragg, a marine ecologist and Ph.D. student from the University of California, Santa Cruz in November 2020, while on an abalone reconnaissance mission in Big Sur. I was invited along due to my experience working with these endangered marine snails and joined up with the team for a few days at a remote field station. On paper, the mission was simple: find as many abalone as possible and document the locations with measurements and photos. In reality, the mission was far more complex, and the clock was ticking with a large northwest swell on the way which would make our surveys impossible. Regions of the central California coastline are difficult or impossible to access due to steep cliffs and rough terrain. Unfortunately, the marine snails we were looking for, the black abalone (Haliotis cracherodii), were located at the bottom of these cliffs. The intertidal environments black abalone call home are unique habitats where the land meets the sea. They are considered harsh environments occupied by hardy, highly adapted organisms that can withstand everything from desiccation by the beating sun during low tides to the pummelling waves of large winter storms. Black abalone are a relatively large gastropod that can grow to the size of an adult’s hand. One of seven abalone species found along the California coast, they have a jet black and slimy body protected by a relatively flat, dark, smooth shell with turquoise and white highlights. Their large “foot” acts as a suction cup, capable of attaching to just about any surface. Unlike some other abalone species found along the California coast, this species lives primarily in the intertidal zone where it feeds opportunistically on drift kelp and algae. These marine snails were once abundant but are now listed as endangered. Historically, abalone were harvested by Native Americans and later by commercial and recreational fishermen for their highly sought-after meat, considered a delicacy to many. A devastating combination of overfishing, a disease called Withering Foot Syndrome, low reproduction rates attributed to warmer waters, and low population densities ultimately secured their listing under the Endangered Species Act. However, due to the remote nature of the central California coastline, 75% of the remaining black abalone population manage to survive with little human disruption, making these subpopulations incredibly important for the conservation and recovery of the species.

PREVIOUS: California is home to seven abalone species including the black abalone, pictured here. THIS PAGE: California's Central Coast is a dynamic and rugged coastline with rocky outcroppings, like this one in Big Sur.

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“The intertidal environments black abalone call home are unique habitats where the land meets the sea. They are considered harsh environments occupied by hardy, highly adapted organisms that can withstand everything from desiccation by the beating sun during low tides to the pummelling waves of large winter storms.”

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“Winter rains were just around the corner and could hit at any moment, meaning time was of the essence to complete these critical surveys that would inform future actions and monitoring of black abalone losses.”


A young black abalone is placed on a blade of kelp before it is measured and inspected. The kelp is likely the first meal it has had in days.

In August 2020, a rare lightning storm swept down the state, igniting hundreds of fires including many along the central coast, such as the Dolan fire which burned 125,000 acres. Over 4 million acres of California burned in 2020 – to put this in perspective, this equates to a little more than 4% of the entire state’s 100 million acres. Though wildfires are not new in California, they’re a growing concern due to their dramatically increasing frequency and severity. Most experts attribute this in part to climate change-driven droughts which have plagued the state for 15 of the last 20 years. Of these many fires, researchers at UC Santa Cruz identified four that burned adjacent to the critical abalone populations. Bragg and the team saw a problem: they knew that these scorched locations were highly susceptible to debris flows or mudslides caused by the unstable soil. When a fire sweeps through a landscape, it burns everything in its path, the trees, the bushes, the grasses, and the roots of all the vegetation. The extensive root systems help to stabilise hillsides like rebar in a building, keeping the soil from eroding any time there is rain. However, without these roots to buttress the soil, a single rainstorm could be all it takes for the soil and rocks on a hillside to become so saturated that it creates a mudslide. In fact, this very thing happened in 2018 after a devastating fire near Santa Barbara, California, resulting in millions of dollars’ worth of damage and more than 20 deaths. This is what Bragg was afraid of. In addition to the incoming swell, winter rains were just around the corner and could hit at any moment, meaning time was of the essence to complete these critical surveys that would inform future actions and monitoring of black abalone losses.


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TOP: Abalone prefer to be attached to hard surfaces, so, to make transportation less stressful on the abalone, larger individuals are placed on a hard plastic surface. BOTTOM: Biologists discovered many partially buried abalone and worked to carefully uncover them with hand trowels and buckets of seawater to wash away the sand. Once cleared, select members of the team removed the abalone with specialised tools to avoid harming the individual.

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Bragg and a team of multi-agency affiliated scientists managed to survey most of the targeted sites: locations with suitable abalone habitat and a high potential for debris flows. Not only were the surveys logistically difficult to coordinate with the tide, swell, and diminishing daylight, but the surveys had to be completed during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning extra precautions had to be taken before work could begin. After COVID-19 tests were administered and cleared, they got to work: climbing down steep ravines to check for accessibility, hauling gear over boulder fields and through creeks, and searching for hours on end in cracks and under rocky overhangs for any abalone. As one would expect, it was hit or miss. Some sites proved fruitless, others showed signs of healthy black abalone populations with young abalone present. Searches and surveys over the next few months capitalised on every opportunity to gather more information about the creatures in these vulnerable areas. Bragg and the team knew it was only a matter of time before a winter storm would hit, triggering a devastating debris flow into the intertidal zone. The winter of 2020 was slow and rather dry to begin, and the team held out some hope that winter rains wouldn’t be heavy enough to trigger a slide. But in early 2021, an atmospheric river brought more than 15 inches of rain to areas of the Big Sur coast in a 48-hour period, inundating the areas hit hardest by the fires, resulting in numerous debris flows, including one that took out a portion of the famed Highway 1. It was time to act. Bragg secured emergency permission to access closed sections of the highway in order to survey the sites. I received a text late one evening, inviting me along to join one of the rescue missions. Bragg and some of the team were already in Big Sur surveying the damage and decided the rescues needed to happen immediately. It was last minute and the details were vague. Bragg said she would drop me a location pin. Driving along Highway 1, through the hairpin turns and with sweeping panoramic views of the ocean, I could see the blackened soil and burnt red of dead foliage covering the hillside. Large, orange 'CLOSED' signs covered entrances to beaches and campsites. After winding the roads of Big Sur for a half hour, I hit my first debris flow. The entire road was covered in a thin layer of mud, remnants of a slide that had been cleaned up by the road crews. The rest of my drive to the site was like this – patches of road that were covered in a thin, muddy layer. Finally, after driving through this now foreign landscape, I reached the site. Work commenced quickly. We suited up in our rubber boots and foulies and made our way down a narrow trail marred with washed-out sections. I didn’t immediately notice the destruction of the debris flow. It appeared to be a fairly normal sandy beach with larger rocks and logs strewn about. But Bragg told me when she first visited the site months prior, it was not a sandy beach but rather a cobble and boulder field.

The slides had covered most of the beach in a deep layer of sediment and debris. The tree trunks, the rocks, the sand – they were all carried to the site by the debris flow. Boulders the size of cars were turned over, others were buried like icebergs with only the tips exposed. I met the gaze of one of the rescuers as we walked on the new beach; we both recognised the smell of death. Rotting kelp, sea stars, mussels, anemones, chitons, and abalone, anything not quick enough to escape the mudslide – dead. Shore crabs scurried frantically from rock to rock, searching in vain to find shelter in their now buried homes. The palmate blades of the kelp (Laminaria setchellii) that would normally wave with the lapping water were bald, like the bare trees of the hills above; only their stem-like structure remained. The debris flow showed no mercy in its destruction. A few of the team had already started searching for surviving abalone, and with some success. Typically, abalone will wedge themselves deep into cracks or on the underside of boulder overhangs, tucked well away from predators. But all of their preferred habitat was buried, leaving them on exposed rocky islands surrounded by a sea of sand. Some abalone were partially buried and had to be gently dug out with small shovels and brushes. When individuals were located, they were measured, and their GPS location was noted before experienced rescuers used a specialised, spatula-like tool to gently pry them

“Many were easy to remove because they were weak, others needed to be encouraged by a coaxing piece of kelp, likely their first meal in weeks. Removal was a last resort – the only chance for the abalone to survive.” from the rocks. Many were easy to remove because they were weak, others needed to be encouraged by a coaxing piece of kelp, likely their first meal in weeks. Removal was a last resort – the only chance for the abalone to survive. The team carefully labelled each abalone and placed them in individual bags with a blade of kelp and into coolers to be transported to a rehab facility until a safe location could be found for their return to the wild. Altogether, over 200 endangered black abalone were rescued. Unfortunately, researchers estimate thousands to tens of thousands likely perished in the numerous debris flows. For the lucky ones, they will wait in the rehab facility until they are able to be released to help repopulate the area back to healthy numbers. And then, with the continued monitoring of the species, and the help of dedicated scientists like Wendy Bragg, these abalone may one day aid in bringing their species back from the brink of extinction.

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By Hanli Prinsloo

Column

The apneist THOSE WHO CARE, WIN.

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oday I am working on a global campaign to end dolphin captivity. A friend just emailed that their office in Gaza got bombed last night. Another, in India, reached out about support for their women’s organisation that is heavily affected by the devastating surge in Covid fatalities. I get ongoing alerts regarding the gender based violence cases around South Africa and, every day when I wake up, I’m afraid there will be news of more police brutality or mass shooting headlines in the US. These are just a few of the causes I’m passionate about, that are current right now. And, reading what I just wrote, I wonder whether my energy is best spent today fighting dolphin captivity when the whole world seems so terribly fragile right now. So here’s what I think. Land, sea, animal, human… it’s crunch time for much of our planet at the moment. It feels like we just stagger from one disaster to another, hoping for a break, wondering which cause is most important and needs our most urgent attention. For me, for today - it’s the dolphin campaign. Not because I rank it higher than any of the other pressing causes but because it’s where I can have impact… today. Here’s the thing. I don’t think our hearts and our caring is a finite pool that we have to ration. We can (and must!) care deeply about it all, but pick where we can have impact and then act. Compassion without action can so easily become a depressing place where we observe suffering and start feeling hopelessness. But when you rise, act, speak up, help and engage… you feel your caring reach new depths and you find others who are on the same journey. Today, I connected with like-minded ocean lovers in Columbia, Miami, Sweden, London and a whole slew of other places, people like me with a love for the sea and a heart to see change. Rallying voices for dolphins, we urged travel companies to stop selling captivity. We educated the public on the intelligence of dolphins. Did you know they are conscious breathers? Did you know they can travel hundreds of kilometres a day? Did you know they have names and surnames (pod names!). Care, rally, educate, share, explain, listen… again and again. Millions of voices speaking as one. Suddenly the challenge doesn’t seem so daunting; we’re part of the same pod! Nobody has the strength to exist in the headlines of suffering all day every day, but everyone has the chance to open their hearts, feel, learn and act. Next week I will be raising my voice for oceans for all, speaking up for a blue space that is inclusive. The dolphins will still be there, in my heart, in my mind and whenever I can I will make their case. I need time in the ocean to recharge and reassess and come back refreshed. Letting salt water meet salt water when it just feels too heavy, too hard. Just a few hours suspended in the blue, listening to the crunch of the reef, feeling the sway of the swell and the touch of the sea. Deep ocean breaths, slow sweet dives meeting old friends in the flickering light of our aquatic home. Then leave it all behind to come out stronger. Strap on the gloves and enter the ring for round two, and three… and four. Your heart is big enough. Those who care, win. HP About Hanli Hanli Prinsloo is a South African freediver and ocean advocate. She is the founder of I AM WATER, a Durban-based charity that seeks to reconnect South Africa's underserved urban youth with the ocean. www.iamwaterfoundation.org

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Photograph by Peter Marshall


@hanliprinsloo

@hanliprinsloo

@hanliprinsloofreediver

“Just a few hours suspended in the blue, listening to the crunch of the reef, feeling the sway of the swell and the touch of the sea. Deep ocean breaths, slow sweet dives meeting old friends in the flickering light of our aquatic home.” Oceanographic Issue 19

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S OW I N G

sea meadows An EU-funded project seeking to sow new seagrass beds in the UK has undertaken its first large scale planting event. What is the process behind sowing an underwater meadow? Why are the restoration of these habitats so important?

Wo rd s b y M a r k Pa r r y P h o t o g ra p h s b y t h e O c e a n C o n s e r v a t i o n Tru s t

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“Each reproductive shoot can bear approximately 40 seeds. Within a one-hour collection dive the team can collect approximately 100,000 seeds. Each year of Recreation ReMEDIES has to harvest over one million seeds.”

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PREVIOUS PAGE: Mark Parry, project lead, dropping seagrass bags filled with sediment onto the seabed through a four-metre chute. OPPOSITE: First seagrass seedling shoots breaking through the hessian bag, which will degrade after five weeks on the seabed.

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rowing seagrass is a lot harder than you would think. Seagrasses are difficult to cultivate and the Ocean Conservation Trust has been trying to understand why they are so troublesome for the past seven years. We run the country’s largest aquarium, so you would think we would be able to achieve the task of growing seagrass, but it has proved harder to achieve than first thought. Many visitors to the British coastline would be forgiven for thinking everything that washes up on the strandline is some description of seaweed, but this is not always the case. At times, there are leaves mixed in with the algae, and occasionally it is possible to find a dislodged seagrass plant. Seagrasses are land plants that have evolved to live back in the ocean. Our terrestrial plants evolved from the ocean, which required large adaptions; seagrasses have evolved to live fully submerged back in salt water. Most people would consider them to be true plants with a root structure below the sand that hold them in place and allow them to absorb nutrients, similar to the plants in your back garden. They require sunlight and food, and they absorb carbon and emit oxygen. In Britain, they can form large dense meadows in sheltered shallow bays – the irregular coastline and sheltered estuaries are a good place for these plants to thrive when left undisturbed. But that is the issue: they are disturbed and the total area where we find seagrass growing is getting smaller. This would not be a big problem if seagrasses did not provide our environment with so many benefits. In 1997, a ground-breaking paper led by Robert Costanza took the first attempt at establishing the monetary value of different natural habitats worldwide. Seagrasses turned out to be one of the most valuable. Disturbance and decline of this valuable and vital habitat is leading to a decline in the benefits the environment and society gain from them. The significance of seagrasses has been recognised for many years and conservation measures have been put in place to safeguard them. Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) allocations are a good example of this, as where seagrasses exist they have become protected features of

MCZ’s and monitored regularly for health and coverage. Unfortunately, within many of the protected areas seagrasses are still in decline and in need of restoration. Currently, there are a small number of charitable organisations in Britain working to protect and restore seagrasses. Alongside this, there is an increasing interest in how we achieve large-scale restoration driven by nature-based solutions to climate change. In attempts to reduce the impacts of human-induced climate change, there is significant focus on the reduction of carbon emissions through various technologies, such as renewable energy and the creation of more sustainable forms of travel – to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The issue we hear less about is how we manage the excess carbon dioxide that has already been emitted. One of the answers is bio sequestration. Plants exchange gases in the opposite way to animals – animals use oxygen and expel carbon dioxide and plants use carbon dioxide and expel oxygen. In an effort to find nature-based solutions to climate change all vegetative habitats are being considered as combatants to the climate emergency. Marine plants around our coastlines store carbon in the sediment quicker than terrestrial habitats. It is not that the aboveground biomass is larger, rather that the mechanism via which organic carbon from outside the habitat is buried is quicker in water than on land. This is where the statement that 'seagrass, saltmarshes and mangroves store carbon quicker than forests' comes from. When carbon is stored within sediment it is considered to have been removed from the carbon cycle. Blue carbon is particularly efficient at doing this when compared to terrestrial habitats. Coupled with the fact that blue carbon habitats cannot catch fire, as well as the lack of air for decomposition, it is easy to see why there is such interest in using blue carbon habitats for biosequestration of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Seagrasses are marine flowering perennials. They have male and female parts and when pollinated they develop seeds on reproductive shoots. At the end of the summer and beginning of the autumn in the Northern Hemisphere the reproductive shoots die back, releasing seeds into the seed bank. If successful the seed will overwinter within the sediment and in the spring germinate to create a new seagrass plant. Providing the seed remains within the seed bank, new plants will continue to grow within the meadow. If the currents sweep the seed away to deposit it within an area where environmental conditions are right for the plant to grow, a new seagrass bed can emerge. Restoration of seagrass beds interrupts this process by collecting seeds in the late summer or early autumn to overwinter within a closed facility. The seeds are then introduced to areas where they stand the best chance of growing in the spring. Successful restoration depends on many factors, including hydrological, chemical and water quality influences. The magic formula is yet to be found but there are efforts underway to understand how we can restore at scale to gain the ecosystem services that these areas offer.

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TOP: Close up of fragile seagrass seeds being packed by Ocean Conservation Trust volunteers. MIDDLE: A volunteer packing seeds into a bag ahead of deployment. BOTTOM: Three seagrass bags packed and ready for the seabed.

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Restoration work in Plymouth Sound is being undertaken via a partnership through the European Union Life Recreation ReMEDIES project. The partnership is led by Natural England, in partnership with the Royal Yachting Association, the Marine Conservation Society, SeaSearch Dive Programme, Plymouth City Council and the Ocean Conservation Trust. The collaboration is working to safeguard five Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) between the Isles of Scilly and Essex with a focus on maerl beds and seagrass beds. Maerl is a purple-pink hard seaweed that forms underwater carpets on the seabed, known as maerl beds. As a type of coralline algae, maerl deposits lime in its cell walls as it grows, creating a hard, brittle skeleton. The project has numerous work streams that include engagement and education, the introduction of Advance Mooring Systems and restoration. This restoration effort is targeting four hectares within Plymouth Sound SAC and four hectares in the Solent Maritime SAC over the course of three years, to 2023. For Recreation ReMEDIES to achieve this target, at the beginning of the growing season it monitors known beds for the development of reproductive shoots. The harvesting of seeds by divers is an expensive part of the restoration effort, so it is important resources are not wasted visiting areas with few seeds. Ensuring there is a high reproductive count within the known areas of seagrass also helps. Flowering is the result of a stress influence and not all seagrass beds produce the same abundance of reproductive shoots. During early summer, reconnaissance through dive reports feed back the number of reproductive shoots in each location. The permission to harvest seeds from each location is then sought through the Marine Management Organisation, along with a Marine Wildlife License due to seagrass beds being considered a prime habitat for Britain’s native seahorses. Each reproductive shoot can bear approximately 40 seeds. Within a one-hour collection dive the team can collect approximately 100,000 seeds. Each year of Recreation ReMEDIES has to harvest over one million seeds. Given the collection window is just a few short weeks, a considerable planning effort is required – too early and the seeds will not be viable, too late and the shoots will have started to decay and the seeds will disburse. Weather also has a vital part to play in this process – if surface conditions do not permit safe diving the collection team has no choice but to reschedule. Once the reproductive shoots are harvested, the process of allowing the seeds to naturally fall from the spathe begins. Over the following four weeks, viable seeds are separated from decaying vegetative material, until only clean seeds remain. At this stage the 'restoration' process has involved reconnaissance, planning and the logistical effort of harvesting the seeds - not as simple as going to the garden centre and buying a box of grass seed! The harvested seeds need to be stored in sea water

“With the help of 74 volunteers the seeds were packed into 16,000 biodegradable bags and either planted in the cultivation lab to help germination or seed bombed into the restoration site at Jennycliff Bay in a water depth of five metres.”

until they are ready for planting. This is another tricky decision: Plant before winter, the seeds are exposed to the natural triggers for germination, but also winter storms; wait for more settled weather conditions in the spring, the seeds may miss their natural germination triggers. A further challenge is germination rate. Seagrasses exhibit low germination rates, so large amounts of seed material is needed to have any hope of restoration at scale. The OCT through the Recreation ReMEDIES project has created the country's first seagrass cultivation laboratory at the National Marine Aquarium where water chemistry and lighting are controlled to promote strong seedling growth before being planted into restoration areas. Recreation ReMEDIES is trying both approaches of seedling development within the cultivation laboratory and seed bombing at the correct time of year. The first large-scale planting event took place in April 2021, slightly differently than planned due to national pandemic-related restrictions. With the help of 74 volunteers the seeds were packed into 16,000 biodegradable bags and either planted in the cultivation lab to help germination or seed bombed into the restoration site at Jennycliff Bay in a water depth of five metres. Recreation ReMEDIES will continue to monitor the recovery of the meadow over time to understand the success of the planting and how quickly recruitment of marine life takes place at the site. More than a hectare has already been planted within Plymouth Sound but there is a long way to go to reach the eight hectares targeted by the project. For the next two years the project team will be collecting information on reproductive shoot counts, seeking permission to harvest seed and caring for that seed so that in each following year the material can be used to promote the formation of a new meadow. Seagrass restoration is not a panacea for the climate emergency, but one that is being seriously considered by policy makers as part of the fight against climate change. Restoring ocean habitats such as seagrass beds is also, clearly, good news for the overall health of our ocean – a re-wilding and biodiversity net gain.

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By Hugo Tagholm

“In nature there is never one leader, there are only specialists, each the most equipped, experienced and resourced to carry out a vital function for their place in the mind-bogglingly beautiful spectacle of life.”

The ocean activist NO PERSON IS AN ISLAND

About Hugo Hugo leads the national marine conservation and campaigning charity Surfers Against Sewage. He is part of the Edinburgh University Ocean Leaders programme and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science by Exeter University for his services to the marine environment.

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Photograph Nick Pumphrey @nickpumphreyphoto


@hugotagholm

@hugoSAS

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s the Ocean Decade begins, in what must surely be a new age of environmentalism, society is beginning to recognise the importance of the complex ecosystems and the role they play in providing the very foundations on which thriving and healthy communities exist. Multifaceted, established ecosystems have helped deliver the stability, climatic conditions, global systems, nutrients and resources for humans to prosper and proliferate on Planet Ocean. Without the complexity, without the extreme variety of specialist organisms, without the almost magical interdependencies of life, we would never have arrived where we are today. We have to be grateful for the specialists. In nature there is never one leader, there are only specialists, each the most equipped, experienced and resourced to carry out a vital function for their place in the mindbogglingly beautiful spectacle of life. Whilst it is understandable that we talk of leadership in society, particularly when we have so many big global moments to tackle environmental issues – the Ocean Decade, COP15, COP26, the G7 Summit and many others – the most important point for us to reflect on is niches within leadership. We must encourage all people to come forward with their specialism at a time when the world needs society to unite in the face of the converging ocean, climate, biodiversity and environmental crises, and what these mean for all human life. I feel fortunate to have been selected as part of the first cohort of the Edinburgh Ocean Leaders programme, which brings together diverse voices and specialisms from around the globe. What I recognise most is how different we all are. We need more of this. I’ve often heard it said that leaders should surround themselves with brilliant people – the experts, the advisers, the scientists, the specialists and whoever else. This is something we should all do in our lives – create networks, groups and contacts that can help us navigate the myriad issues, projects, professional and personal challenges we face. Leadership is a two-way process and we all rely on the leadership of others around us. High-level, international moments often seem to promote a monoculture of leadership thinking which might, directly and indirectly, discourage people from thinking about their own leadership role and expertise, wherever that fits into the jigsaw puzzle of life on Earth. There is no overall leader in nature, just specialists, fulfilling a role that is vital to both their own and others existence. In my day job running the marine conservation and campaigning charity Surfers Against Sewage, I rely on specialist leadership around me every day. From the team running the database, campaigns or fundraising, to the scientists we work with around the world and the Regional Reps who are expert leaders for their own stretch of coastline. The more diverse this network becomes, the more I listen to and engage with these specialist leaders, the better the impact we can have and the stronger the solutions we can help deliver on the ocean issues we work on. Leadership is about recognising both the strengths and limitations of ourselves, when we can help others and where we need help. In this decade of environmentalism, it’s crucial that we reflect on emerging, diverse and different leadership, and encourage a new wave of thinking, particularly amongst young people. After all, current ‘leadership thinking’ hasn’t solved the converging environmental, societal and equality crises that we face. The most successful and healthy ecosystems are ones where specialism is leadership, and the interdependencies of specialisms create a truly circular system which delivers continuous benefits and positive services for all. Whilst we live in a global society, we must reconsider and elevate the role of local leadership, specialisms and knowledge as we look to protect, restore and revive large swathes of our land and sea. No individual leader can make this happen. Only a complex ecosystem of specialists with shared goal. Encouraging and supporting leadership at every level will be critical to our success in this challenge. We must support, value and listen to new and different voices and create a more inclusive and equitable approach to protecting the natural foundations we all rely on. We must find new ways of thinking, listening and understanding, and help create the space for new narratives, opinions and solutions to take hold. Solutions that we might not even believe possible today will come to light if we follow new pathways and listen to voices that might have been previously marginalised. No person is an island. In society, just as in nature, nothing exists alone. We may well be entering the most exciting decade of human existence, where innovation, environmentalism, disruptive thinking and technology, and inclusivity truly combine to deliver the world we all need. Leaders exist everywhere, in everyone. HT

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T H E C L I M AT E C R I S I S IS HERE

The ocean is our best ally The twin crises of global heating and biodiversity loss are an existential threat to humanity. The protection and restoration of ocean ecosystems are an essential part of the solution, says Steve Trent, director and founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation, who has worked on these issues for over 30 years. Wo rd s b y S t eve Tre n t P h o t o g ra p h s c o u r t e s y o f t h e E n v i ro n m e n t a l Ju s t i c e Fo u n d a t i o n

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“THIS MEANS WE MUST RECOGNISE THE OCEAN AS A CRUCIAL ALLY, JUST AS WE MUST TURN OFF THE CARBON TAP AND END ALL USE AND EXTRACTION OF CARBON-BASED FUELS.”

go Kainbuweh’s face is split ear to ear with a broad grin. He shouts something to me as he manoeuvres the boat through the waves, but I can’t hear him over the sound of the throttle. We are bouncing through a brisk chop in a small boat off the coast of Sierra Leone, looking back at Ngo’s hometown, the tiny coastal fishing community of Bonthe in the far south of the country. Ngo laughs again and gestures across the waves. I don’t know why he seems so happy. On shore this morning, in the compound of our operating base, our talk was of a desperate situation, about the foreign – mainly Korean – industrial illegal fishing vessels, devastating livelihoods and lives across the coastal communities of his country. In Sierra Leone, industrial trawlers illegally invading the near-shore exclusion zone that is reserved for canoe fishers are able to hoover up vast quantities of fish. Fish that should be feeding local people and providing vital income for the fishers and their families. I’d been working with these communities, training fishers to gather evidence, such as geotagged photos, on the industrial vessels they saw stealing their fish. In the boat, Ngo and I are now passing Banana Island, where once American slave ships passed. Now the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) was using it as a surveillance point for the foreign vessels destroying Sierra Leone’s fisheries. Looking for the Korean and other illegal fishing boats, filming and documenting their actions or taking officers from the Sierra Leone Maritime Wing out in our speed boat to intercept and arrest the offenders. That was over a decade ago. Now, the illegal fishing has not stopped, and Sierra Leone is also on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Droughts mean poor harvests and when the rains do come, they come in sharp bursts, causing flooding and lethal landslides. On the coasts, sea-level rise is weakening foundations, contaminating ground water and exacerbating flooding. The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss combined are an existential threat to humanity. If we do not completely reshape our relationship with the natural world, we will be the authors of our own harm and suffering. Basic freedoms and rights will be curtailed, communities ripped apart, millions forced from their homes, lives lost. This is why we have no real choice but to act now, and act decisively, to halt this crisis while putting environmental justice at the centre of our world view. And this means we must recognise the ocean as a crucial ally, just as we must turn off the carbon tap and end all use and extraction of carbon-based fuels. Why? Our ocean gives us every second breath. It absorbs around a third of the CO2 we pump out, and has taken in over a nuclear bomb’s worth of heat every second PREVIOUS: A busy fishing port in Tumba, Sierra Leone. The mangrove forests that line much of Sierra Leone’s coastline provide vital nursery grounds for marine life and support fisheries. LEFT: A local fisher paddles a canoe through carbon-rich mangrove forest in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh.

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“PROTECTING THE 'BLUE CARBON’ IN THRIVING COASTAL AND OCEAN ECOSYSTEMS IS A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY. IT WOULD NOT ONLY HELP TACKLE GLOBAL HEATING, BUT ALSO SAFEGUARD FOOD SECURITY, LOCAL LIVELIHOODS AND PROTECT WILDLIFE.”

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for the past 150 years. It regulates our climate while providing livelihoods and food for billions of people around our world. It underpins the ecological system that keeps our planet habitable. As the famed undersea explorer and marine biologist Sylvia Earle has eloquently said: “We need to respect the oceans and take care of them as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.” Protecting the ‘blue carbon’ in thriving coastal and ocean ecosystems is a golden opportunity. It would not only help tackle global heating, but also safeguard food security, local livelihoods and protect wildlife. Mangrove forests, for instance, can store up to four times more carbon per hectare than terrestrial tropical rainforest, at a rate of 22.8 million tonnes every year. In total, mangroves currently store an estimated 6.2 billion tonnes of carbon, most of which is in their briny soils and tangled roots. But as with all thriving ecosystems, mangroves are not only good for one thing. They also provide protection from the increasingly violent storms that are forming under the climate crisis and the flooding that sea-level rise is causing. In 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, the importance of mangroves was thrown into stark relief. Those villages which had degraded or destroyed mangrove belts suffered severe damage and high numbers of deaths. Those who had escaped relatively unscathed were surrounded by healthy mangrove forests that were able to buffer the wind and wave energy before it reached land. Other forests of the sea also provide astounding benefits. Seagrass meadows store even more carbon than mangroves – up to 19.9 billion tonnes in total, absorbing it at a rate of 27.4 million tonnes a year. These unique ecosystems can store twice as much carbon as terrestrial soils, making them one of the most efficient carbon sequestration ecosystems in the world. Like mangroves, they also play a vital role in food security and nurturing the biodiversity that forms the backbone of our life support systems. According to a study published in the Society for Conservation Biology, over 20% of the most commercially important fish species occupy seagrass meadows at critical stages of their development, and a single acre of seagrass meadow can host as many as 40,000 fish and 50 million small invertebrates. Beyond these coastal forests, out in deep ocean, swims an even more surprising ally. Whales have inspired our

imaginations for millennia. The thrall they hold makes them a perfect fit as the charismatic faces of conservation campaigns, but they are also ecosystem engineers. The ‘whale pump’ is a key example. As whales travel from the ocean depths where they catch their food, to the surface to breathe, they release faeces. This rich matter is full of nutrients and stimulates the growth of phytoplankton – these tiny algae of the sea produce at least half of the world’s oxygen and capture an estimated 40% of all CO2 produced. The impact of the whales’ fertilization is especially pronounced as they travel from their food-rich wintering habitats to their nutrient-poor breeding grounds. Like all animals, whales also store carbon in their bodies. But unlike us, they are often in the deep ocean when they die, where their carcass sinks before rotting completely away. This ‘deadfall’, coming gently to rest on the deepest seafloors, locks the carbon away rather than releasing it as CO2. Even in death these gentle giants are providing the planet, and us, a service. So, these ocean ecosystems represent a perfect opportunity for us to safeguard people and planet. However, their very power as carbon sinks means they are a major risk if left unprotected or degraded. The current annual loss of seagrass meadows around the world is estimated to release around 299 million tonnes of carbon every year, and for mangrove forests that figure rises to up to 450 million tonnes. Despite this, blue carbon has been neglected in international climate policy. Countries’ ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) are at the heart of the Paris Agreement. Here, every nation lays out what their climate goals are and crucially, how they will achieve them. A total of 151 countries around the world boast either mangrove forests, seagrass meadows or saltmarshes or some combination of the three. Yet of the 87 countries that reference blue carbon ecosystems in their NDCs, the overwhelming majority is in terms of climate adaption. These ecosystems can indeed provide valuable qualities for adaptation, but their potential for a central role in the prevention of climate breakdown must not be ignored. This year marks two international pressure points that will define the future for generations to come. In October, in Kunming, China, the Convention on Biological Diversity will set out the global biodiversity framework – we must reinvent our relationship with nature to avoid a mass extinction and the degradation and loss of our

A fishmonger collects a handful of fish ready to be smoked and processed in Robertsport, Liberia.

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“SINCE INDUSTRIAL FISHING BEGAN IN THE EARLY 1950'S, 90% OF THE WORLD’S LARGE OCEAN FISH - SUCH AS SHARKS, COD AND SWORDFISH HAVE BEEN LOST.”

TOP: In Liberia, mangrove belts stretch along the coastline, supporting a huge range of wildlife, absorbing carbon, and protecting coastal communities from waves and storms. BOTTOM: Off the coast of Banana Island in Sierra Leone, a fisher paddles his canoe in the shadow of an industrial trawler.

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Oceanographic Issue 19


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life support systems. In November in Glasgow, UK, the COP26 climate talks are our last real chance to avoid outright climate breakdown. Together, these meetings will set us on the road to either a sustainable future for humanity or conflict, suffering and species extinctions. In an open letter signed by over 4,000 climate, ocean and human rights experts and others we urge all governments currently considering their climate and biodiversity targets and negotiating position to consider three crucial actions. First, include specific, legally binding targets to protect and restore blue carbon environments in their updated Nationally Determined Contribution implementation plans; second, designate 30% of the ocean marine protected areas (including all ecologically representative habitats) by 2030; third, agree an international moratorium on deep sea mining to protect the deep sea from irreversible, large-scale harm. Along with the inclusion of blue carbon in climate policy a firm, time-bound target for protection is vital. Our ocean needs real, enforced protection that gives ecosystems a chance to thrive. These areas must be truly protected, not ‘paper parks’ that look good on a map but are left open to degradation as many have been. International enforceable guidelines on exactly what constitutes a marine protected area (MPA) still lack clarity and it is at each country’s discretion which conservation measures they implement. Their level of protection varies substantially: only 3.6% of declared MPAs have been implemented, and only 2% are fully protected. That means that even within the marine areas we have declared worth protection we are failing our ocean 98% of the time. For the high seas, which lie outside of national jurisdictions, we already have a protection plan that would work. Researchers have analysed each of the 25,000 squares of 100x100 km that cover the high seas, they have found the 30% of each marine habitat that would be best for wildlife and climate. These protections are crucial to give marine ecosystems a chance to recover. Since industrial fishing began in the early 1950s, 90% of the world’s large ocean fish - such as sharks, cod and swordfish - have been lost. Unsustainable fishing around the world has meant that nearly 90% of the world’s fisheries are either fully- or over-exploited and illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing represents up to a staggering one third of the world’s reported catch. It is not just Sierra Leone where fishermen in canoes have been forced to watch helplessly as illegal trawlers take their catch from them. In Ghana, industrial vessels are deliberately using illegal nets to target the staple catch of local communities – small pelagic species known as the ‘people’s fish’ – selling it back to the very communities that they stole it from. These practices are precipitating the collapse of an entire fishery and costing the nation millions of dollars. Ocean restoration and protection must be recognised as the essential action and cost saving that it is.

If we are really to make the most of great whales as our climate allies, for instance, a wholesale redressing of the balance is needed. Whales have been reduced to a fraction of their former populations despite the decline in whaling, but if they were restored, they would provide carbon gains that – while small in comparison to the world’s mangroves and seagrasses – are equivalent to some costly and untested geoengineering projects that have been proposed, such as iron fertilization of the ocean. Rebuilding the blue whale population in the southern hemisphere alone would sequester 3.6 million tonnes of carbon in living tissue, according to a 2010 study titled The Impact of Whaling on the Ocean Carbon Cycle – equivalent to preserving around 43,000 hectares of temperate forest. Other damaging practices that are allowed to rip destructively through marine ecosystems must also end. Global Fishing Watch data analysed by Oceana and published in the Guardian reveals more than 97% of British marine protected areas are being dredged and bottom trawled. That is like designating a forest park and then clear felling it. Deep sea mining, while still a new phenomenon, is set to take off in a major way, with an area the size of Mongolia lined up for exploitation. Currently, not even 20% of the seafloor has been properly mapped, and every time scientists examine an area slated for future mining, they find previously unknown species. In one recent expedition to the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Pacific, more than half were new to science. A moratorium is urgently needed to halt the destruction of undiscovered worlds before they are lost forever. As we take these vital steps, each one must have a firm grounding in environmental justice, putting the participation of local communities, and especially the leadership of Indigenous peoples, at the heart of policymaking. Many of those most dependent on ocean and coastal ecosystems, especially in developing nations, are marginalised, impoverished or otherwise vulnerable communities who are often the worst affected by pollution, overfishing or climate-driven disasters. Back in Sierra Leone, I remember Ngo leading me through his hometown, along the many pathways lined with oyster shells collected from the mangroves that hug the nearby coasts. Sadly, this harvesting had become destructive, with the mangrove roots destroyed in the process and the wood used as fires to cook the shellfish. To work on a solution with the community, before the forests were too degraded to recover, we helped them build oyster beds – a sustainable alternative that allowed them to preserve the mangroves and benefits they give in food security and income, storm protection, fish nurseries and carbon storage. It is estimated that more than 3 billion people depend on marine biodiversity around the world, but ultimately, ocean protection is vital to all our futures. It is central to securing a stable climate, and a prosperous and safe world for the generations that follow us.

Oceanographic Issue 19

109


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