Conservation

Guest Review of Triton Bay

Check out Paolo Isgro’s review on Wetpixels forum following his stay with us last year.  We are looking forward to seeing more of his amazing photographs after his second stay with us this December.  Below are a few of the images showcased in his trip report.  Thanks Paolo for sharing.

http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=60852

 

Tagging Whale Sharks

In early February, our guests had the opportunity to observe a team from Conservation International (CI) mount a satellite tag on a whale shark.  The satellite tags record location, depth, and water temperature, and transmits that data every time the dorsal fin of the shark breaks the surface.  This information will allow them to monitor the whale sharks movements over the next two years.  According to CI, their program is the only one of its kind in the world.  They currently have tagged less than 20 whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay and only 4 in Triton Bay as of Feb 2017.

Very little is known about whale sharks.  CI’s monitoring and ID program here and in Cenderawasih Bay indicate that well over 90% of the 100+ individuals who have been identified so far are young males.  They don’t know where the females or the adults are, and it is becoming apparent that Cenderawasih & Triton Bay must be some kind of nursery for young whale sharks.  Of the sharks that we have seen ourselves here, most are between 3~9m.  Our guests help contribute to the database by providing photos of the area around the shark’s left dorsal fin for identification.

Triton Bay Divers would like to thank Dr. Mark Erdmann, Abraham Sinapar, and the team from CI for the opportunity to observe them in their work.  To learn more about CI’s whale shark monitoring program, please check out this link:

http://blog.conservation.org/tag/whale-sharks/

Triton Bay’s Bryde’s Whales

Bryde's Whale for blogEven before my first visit to Triton Bay, I had known there was a resident population of Bryde’s whales here.  But throughout the first few months we never saw them, and I admit I had doubts as to their existence.    When I finally saw a water spout (but not the whale itself) I knew the reports were true.  Eventually we did see the whales, but it was well into our first season.  Sightings are still rare and far between.

Bryde’s Whales (pronounced as “broo-dess”) are baleen whales and are similar in appearance to minke, fin, and sei whales.  There are two, maybe three different types of Bryde’s whales; the ones around Kaimana are coastal and are here year round.  This particular species prefers warm water – it is the only baleen whale that spends all its time in tropical or sub-tropical water.  They feed on anchovies (which are also favored by the whale sharks here!) and krill and grow to a maximum size of around 16m.  For more information on this species, please check out this link.

These whales are not easy to approach as they just submerge if the boat gets too close.  One August day coming back from Kaimana we saw them breaching from afar.  We approached slowly, killed the engines, and waited.  The hope was that they would come check us out, and one did, allowing me to get some video.  This particular whale was about 10m long judging from the distance between his dorsal fin and his blow hole.  There were at least two of them, and most likely more as we saw the whales surface from at least 3 different directions around us.  It was such a thrill to see this animal up close and words just can’t come close to describing the feeling.

Jimmy

El Nino: Impact on West Papua & Coral Bleaching

El Nino refers to the warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean along the equator from the International Date line to around the west coast of South America.  It impacts weather and water temperature around the world and we have begun to see the effects of the current one.  Expected to persist throughout the winter of 2015-16, this El Nino will be the strongest yet according to scientists.

Weather

In Indonesia, a strong impact has already been felt.  Although the waters of the eastern Pacific are warming, the waters of the western Pacific are cooling, as we can attest to.  In Triton Bay, we saw water temperature around 23 degrees in Sept, 2~3 degrees colder than normal for this time of the year.  The other major impact is on rainfall.  Southern California is expected to get much needed rainfall, but drought is widespread throughout Indonesia.  In our neighbouring country of Papua New Guinea the drought is now 3 months, crops are failing, and water shortages are a major problem.  West Papua, the Indonesian province where we are located, shares the island of New Guinea with the country of Papua New Guinea.

So is El Nino related to climate change?  There is no consensus as more data is required, but as with the Polar Vortex during the winter of 2013~14 (which we blogged about here), what is not in doubt is that we are seeing more frequent extreme weather events, and the combination of these two phenomena will have a devastating effect on the world’s coral reefs.

Coral Bleaching

Coral is actually made up of organisms called polyps, and these polyps have microscopic algae called zooxanthellae which carry out photosynthesis, give coral their color, and help the corals build reef structures.  Under certain “stressful” conditions (for example, changes in water temp, salinity, oxygen levels, and the presence of herbicides and even sunscreen ingredients), the coral polyps will expel the zooxanthellae.  When ocean surface temperatures rise for an extended period, the zooxanthellae are expelled and the coral lose their color and appear to be “bleached”.  If the zooxanthellae do not eventually return, the coral polyps will die off.  Studies have shown that coral bleaching has occurred when water temperature rises as little as 1 degree above the normal summer maximum, though the temperature at which coral colonies bleach differs from location to location.

On October 8, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared the onset of the third global bleaching event this year.  The first two global bleaching events, in 1998 and 2010, were both El Nino years and this third mass bleaching event is expected to be the biggest yet, impacting more than one third of all coral reefs around the world.  Already rising ocean water temperature due to climate change coupled with El Nino conditions are the two main factors.  Coral bleaching has already hit Hawaii hard this year, and is spreading to Florida and the Carribean.  By next year, due to El Nino, coral bleaching will spread to the Indian Ocean (Maldives) and the south-eastern Pacific (Australia’s Great Barrier Reef).

Why is this a problem?  Because coral reefs, which cover less than 0.1% of the ocean floor, are some of the most biodiverse environments on the planet and are home to countless species of fish and coral.  The loss of these reefs would damage the fisheries that help to support hundreds of millions worldwide as well as the tourism industry, which is one of the best drivers of sustainable development in developing countries.  Reefs also act as natural barriers that protect coastlines from flooding and erosion, and the organisms found on reefs have the potential to provide new medicines to science.

What Can be Done?

According to Jennifer Koss, acting program manager for NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, “We need to act locally and think globally to address these bleaching events. Locally produced threats  to coral, such as pollution from the land and unsustainable fishing practices, stress the health of corals and decrease the likelihood that corals can either resist bleaching, or recover from it.  To solve the long-term, global problem, however, we need to better understand how to reduce the unnatural carbon dioxide levels that are the major driver of the warming.”

Thermal Stress Watch Feb to May 2016

Here are some articles we researched for this blog post:

4 million in the Pacific without food or drinking water

A Strong El Nino is Here

El Nino from the other side of the Pacific pond

Massive Coral Bleaching Event Underway

NOAA declares third bleaching event

Coral Reefs Die as El Nino Hots up

Polar Vortex, Rain in Indonesia Consistent with Climate Change

Polar VortexThe severe winter storms of 2013-2014 in North America and the UK, and increased rainfall in Indonesia and the western Pacific Ocean are both consistent with global warming, according to a joint report issued by the UK Meterological Office and the UK Office of Ecology and Hydrology.  The report suggested that both events were the result of changes to the jet stream (fast flowing currents of air high in the Earth’s atmosphere) over North America and the Pacific.  Higher than normal ocean temperatures in the Pacific resulted in increased rainfall there and increased the flow of the Pacific jet stream, deflecting it northward.  This in turn lead to the creation of a much stronger North Atlantic jet stream that brought polar air down to Canada and the United States and storms to the UK.

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/news/2014/uk-storms-and-floods

Ultimately, all weather on this planet is related and the causes of these increasingly intense weather phenomenon are often found half a world away.  As can be seen by the intensity of this year’s winter weather in North America, global warming is too complex to be described by generalizations such as “winters should be warmer and summers should be hotter”.  Deniers of climate change say that the Earth’s climate has been constantly changing for billions of years, however what they fail to realize is that the changes over the past 100 years have in the past taken millions of years to play out.  Sadly, it is likely we will have to deal with more frequent and extreme weather phenomenon before we, as a global community, acknowledge our role in their creation.

Endangered Sharks Used for Fish Liver Oil

IMG_4258WildLifeRisk, a Hong Kong based conservation group, recently investigated a shark processing plant in China’s ZheJiang province. Article below from the South China Morning Post:

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1415351/inside-worlds-biggest-shark-abattoir-shocking-pictures-show-scale

As divers, we’re all aware of the threat to shark populations from shark-fining, but do you know that endangered species such as basking sharks, whale sharks, and great whites are being processed for fish oil and other non-essentials such as lipstick, face cream, and other health supplements? The oil wouldn’t be called “shark liver oil” but rather “fish liver oil”. In addition, whale shark skins are sold to Chinese restaurants in Europe as fish skins or fish gelatin.

This plant produced over 20 tons of oil from basking sharks, 100 tons of oil from blue sharks, and went through over 600 whale sharks last year…please spread the word as education and awareness will help stop the killing.