Sun screen: A new threat to a vulnerable reef

Is it our health for theirs? Gili Lankanfushi begins an eco-sunscreen revolution.

Sun screen is a holiday essential – from children covered in a thick layer, to the bald spot on Dad’s head. We think sun screens are safe, but is this the reality? A key ingredient in more than 3,500 sun protection products is oxybenzone. This chemical is absorbed into our bloodstream, can cause allergic reactions and very worryingly was last tested as far back as the 1970’s. It is also possible that oxybenzone may act similarly to a related chemical, benzophenone which attacks DNA when illuminated, and can lead to cancer. Studies are currently being carried out. Annually four to six thousand tonnes of these chemicals enter our ocean through wastewater effluent, and by swimmers slathered up with sunscreen. Acting like an oil slick, the chemicals settle on marine life and the reefs become suffocated.

Reef safe sun screen with no oxybenzone

Corals are animals called polyps that share their home with algae called zooxanthellae. They work together in a symbiotic relationship which means both parties benefit. The coral animal produces a skeleton to shelter the algae whilst building the reef and the algae through photosynthesis provide the coral animal with 95% of its food. In the Maldives, the reefs are under severe external pressure. Sun screen is an added significant hazard which threatens the resiliency of the coral to climate change.

Healthy coral with blue-green chromis population

Bleaching is the term used when coral loses its symbiotic algae; this can happen for a variety of reasons. A study by R. Danovaro and a team of scientists showed that oxybenzone promotes latent viral growth in the symbiotic algae. In the study, fragments of coral were taken throughout the tropics and incubated with seawater containing small quantities of sunscreen (10 microlitres). Bleaching occurred within four days, whereas in the control group which had no sunscreen there was no bleaching. Water samples taken 18 – 48 hours after sunscreen exposure showed that the symbiotic algae, instead of being a healthy brown colour were pale/transparent and full of holes. Additionally viral particles were abundant; 15 times more viral particles where found in water samples exposed to sunscreen than in the control group. This suggests that the coral animal or algae contain a latent virus activated by chemicals in sunscreen. This latent infection is found globally. Oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant, which means that its negative effects are accelerated by light – something which the Maldives does not lack. In other studies, oxybenzone has been found to alter the larval stage of the coral from a healthy swimming state to a deformed motionless condition. It has also been found to cause DNA lesions and endocrine disruption, resulting in coral larvae encasing themselves in their skeletons and dying. The severity of this is proportional to chemical concentration.

Bleaching experiment by R. Danovaro and his team. They tested the effects of 100-μL sunscreens on Acropora divaricata nubbins after 24-hr incubation at various temperatures. (A) control; (B) nubbins incubated at 28°C; and (C) nubbins incubated (photo credit to R. Danovaro and his team)

In some parts of the world oxybenzone found on the surface has reached concentrations that indicate the potential for bioaccumulation of this chemical within reef organisms. Since oxybenzone mimics oestrogen it is causing male fish to change into females. This has been particularly noticed in turbot and sole feeding near sewage outlets. Since a healthy fish population is vital for reef survival this feminisation of fish will have a devastating long term impact.

As the effects of sunscreen are becoming more apparent positive action is being taken. In Mexico, several marine reserves have banned the use of none marine safe sun protection products after high mortality was noted in reef organisms and currently Hawaii is trying to ban the sale of harmful sunscreen. In addition, the development of eco-friendly sunscreens is now booming.

We at Gili Lankanfushi want to become part of this movement and understand that we need to protect our delicate marine environment, which is why the boutique is now selling a range of marine safe products, so next time you are here please help us protect our reef!

Reef safe sun screen with no oxybenzone

Please refer to this link for reef safe sunscreen: http://scubadiverlife.com/top-four-reef-safe-sunscreens/

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

Support Sea grass

We all could do with reducing our carbon footprint and one easy way is to support local and global sea grass conservation initiatives.

Known as the lungs of the ocean, sea grass can produce 10 litres of oxygen per 1m2 everyday! Sea grass meadows are also a fantastic carbon sink as they sequester carbon dioxide from the water and this can slow the effects of ocean acidification created by global warming. This beautiful plant could be the key to stabilising the negative effects of climate change.

Yet despite this, 29% of global sea grass beds have already disappeared with 7% more being lost per year. In an attempt to address this issue, the Marine Biology team at Gili Lankanfushi is conducting a sea grass regrowth experiment. At the resort we have sea grass growing in shallow lagoons around the island and in a 10m2 area on the south east side of the island, we have been collecting data on how fast sea grass regrows after it has been removed.

The experiment has currently been running for six months, so it is too early to be accurate, but results currently show that 10% of the area has signs of regrowth. To date, we are only seeing shoots of a robust species of sea grass called E.acoroides. This is a species found in the tropics in water depth of one to three metres with light wave action.

Aerial view of Lankanfushi Island and sea grass beds

In the beds we find nursery fish, crustaceans, worms and sea cucumbers using the leaves as a nursery and haven against the current. We also often see resident green sea turtles feeding on sea grass as it is their primary diet and they consume 2kg per day!

Marine Biologists are very pro sea grass because sea grass beds stabilise sediment and reduce erosion by creating a network of roots. They also increase the water clarity and quality by soaking up nutrients or chemicals that run into the water. If given the choice, we would regenerate the meadows surrounding the island as with an increased meadow size, the resort would benefit from cleaner and clearer water and an increased population of nursery fish species and green sea turtles. By regenerating the full size of our sea grass meadows we would also offset some of our carbon footprint.

We have been in touch with sea grass specialists from Seagrass Watch and SeagrassSpotter and hope to work with these global conservation projects in the future. We have learnt from their wealth of experience that it takes around 3-4 years to naturally replenish a small sized, single species sea grass meadow and around 10 years to replenish a large sized multi-species meadow. If we helped regrowth by planting sea grass seeds, the areas would be replenished in around 2 years.

This brilliant plant could be the key to stabilising the negative effects of climate change. We hope resorts in the Maldives consider regenerating their sea grass beds to help offset their carbon footprint.

PADI’s guest blogger Clare Baranowski introduces herself:

I am a marine zoologist from the UK who has worked throughout the tropics researching mega fauna and reef ecosystems in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. I have experience monitoring and restoring coral and surveying manta, turtle and dolphin populations. I began my career as a science communicator before moving into research and management roles, this is why I incorporate outreach and education into every project I work on and I hope to continue this at Gili Lankanfushi.

Crown of Thorns Eradication

As the corals of the Maldives are already vulnerable our understanding and removal efforts of the crown of thorns starfish is paramount to the health of our reef.

Everyday Gili Lankanfushi has sightings of the voracious crown-of-thorns starfish (COT) Acanthaster planci. Native to coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region and the largest species of starfish (Asteroidea), they are generally seen at depths of up to 30 metres. However, they have also been known to travel between Atolls at great depths of around 200m. There are four species of COT, but it is A. planci which is responsible for coral mortality in the Northern Indian Ocean and the coral triangle. COTS are corallivores and during optimal conditions can grow to over half a meter in diameter and have more than 30 arms.

Crown of Thorns

Generally COTS can be considered a keystone species because they can maintain healthy coral reef diversity by primarily feeding on fast growing corals, such as staghorn and plate (Acropora sp.) and enable the slower massive corals to establish and develop. When coral coverage is low, often resulting from COT outbreaks, COTS will eat PoritesMontipora, sponges, algae and encrusting organisms. One COT can consume all the coral in a 6 to 10m square radius annually, so the impact on an already vulnerable reef is catastrophic. The feeding behaviour is dependent on population density, water motion and species composition. COTS are covered in venomous spines coated with saponin which causes irritation and pain at a puncture wound. The spines are long, sharp and lowered to avoid drag.

Fossil evidence suggests that COTS developed millions of years ago. However, COT outbreaks have only occurred in the last 60 to 70 years and with increasing frequency and intensity. The first recorded outbreak occurred in the 1950s in the Ryukyu Islands off Japan. Combined with anthropogenic threats and other stresses outbreaks are greatly detrimental to coral reef survival and the fish associated with the reef.

Crown of Thorns destruction: 1 – healthy coral, 2 – freshly killed coral, 3 – recently killed portion colonised by algae and bacteria, 4 – long dead coral

COT outbreaks in the Maldives are relatively recent; the first recorded outbreak was in the 1970’s, the second in the 1990’s. Currently we are experiencing an outbreak which started in 2013. It began in North Male Atoll and has spread through to Ari Atoll, Baa Atoll, Lhaviyani Atoll, South Male Atoll and large densities have recently been documented in Shaviyani Atoll.

Outbreaks result for a variety of reasons. Firstly, when there is an excess of nutrients entering the water as a consequence of runoff from sewage, fertiliser and other island practices. The resulting eutrophication leads to increased plankton for the COT larvae and decreased juvenile mortality. Secondly, loss of COT predators; napoleon wrasse, lined worm, harlequin shrimp, starry puffer fish, titan and yellow margin triggerfish and triton’s trumpet (red and spangled emperor and parrotfish have been known to feed off young COTS before they have spines).

COT being predated upon by Triton’s Trumpet.

Loss of predators occurs due to overfishing for the souvenir trade, bycatch and habitat destruction. This leads to a drop in already low predation pressure and results in a COT population surge. Finally, COTS have excellent adaptations as they are resilient organisms with an selected life history (high growth rate, typically exploit less crowded ecological niches and produce many off spring). COT females can produce 65 million eggs annually between October to February. The eggs are released into the water column and are fertilized by clouds of sperm from nearby males. After fertilisation larvae are in their planktonic form and remain that way for weeks. After settling on the sea floor and developing into their adult form they develop their spines and start feeding off coral. This process can take around a year. COTS are most vulnerable before their spines are developed. Additionally, they can survive between 6 to 9 months without food, and body parts lost due to stress or predation can regenerate within 6 months.

Short and long term methods are being established around the world to minimise the effects of current outbreaks and to help prevent future outbreaks. The marine biology team at Gili Lankanfushi is focused on the removal of COTS. Our primary aim is removing these creatures from the overwater villas and jetty’s. Guests and hosts report sightings of COTS, and our team of marine biologists will remove them by injecting them with vinegar. This method is labour intensive and is carried out as regularly as possible by both the Marine Biology team and the Dive Centre.

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

 

Deep Blue Divers became 100% AWARE partner

Deep Blue Divers at Six Senses Laamu this week partnered with Project AWARE, a global non-profit organization, to join their growing number of 100% AWARE Partners who put ocean protection at the heart of their business. From August, 2017 Deep Blue Divers will make a regular donation to protect the underwater world our dive business relies on.

100% AWARE is a Partner Giving Program. All student divers who complete a course with a 100% AWARE dive center receive a Project AWARE limited edition card. It’s a great way to remind divers that the place where they learned to dive or furthered their diving education made a gift to protect the ocean on their behalf.

Deep Blue Divers at Six Senses Laamu is proud to join dedicated dive centers across the world who act locally and think globally.” says General Manager Marteyne van Well “We take pride in knowing that our donation to Project AWARE for every student diver who completes a diving course with us not only helps educate divers about ocean conservation but also supports Project AWARE’s mission to mobilize the world’s divers into a global force to protect the ocean one dive at a time.”

Deep Blue Divers has shown dedication to ocean conservation through their participation in Project AWARE activities. Their commitment to the 100% AWARE program makes them shine as they not only lead by example but demonstrate to their students the importance of supporting ocean protection. Thank you for leading the way,” says Alex Earl, Executive Director Project AWARE Foundation.

For additional information about Project AWARE’s 100% AWARE Partner program and to join the global movement for ocean protection, visit www.projectaware.org.

Please visit the website of Six Senses for more information

Colonies of Hope

Blog written by guest blogger and marine biologist Clare Baranowski

Preserving coral reefs is a growing concern in the Maldives

At Gili Lankanfushi, we are recovering our coral reefs through the Coral lines Project. By growing small fragments of coral on hanging ropes (lines) and then transplanting them to our house reef near One Palm Island, we hope to see regeneration and aim to kick start the health of our house reef.

Our Coral Lines Project started three years ago and currently holds around 7484 coral colonies. We are consistently adding small fragments of coral to the already growing population on 153 lines.

Josie monitoring our 153 coral lines

The vulnerable nature of coral populations mean that they undergo cycles of disturbance and recovery. Our house reef was affected by warmer waters created by the El Nino event in 2016 which bleached much of the corals. Yet against all odds, most fragments in our coral lines nursery survived.  They have also been faced with a Crown of Thorns (coral predators) outbreak this year and have still remained intact.

In some cases, the corals in our lines are no longer present on shallow reefs in the area.

Now, is the perfect time to begin stage two of our coral restoration project by moving coral from our nursery to our house reef.  Transplanting coral is a delicate procedure with a lot of trial and error. We began slowly by creating a test site with a small number of coral colonies to ensure we would not lose healthy coral unnecessarily.

Josie beginning the process

We found a site with conditions not too dissimilar to the nursery. The area had to be flat and solid, with no loose material and space for growth.  It also had to be an area that is easily accessible for monitoring, but nowhere in danger of tampering or accidental damage.  We chose a depth of 8 metres in the middle of house reef drop off where we regularly snorkel. Another major concern was the Crown of Thorns Starfish, so we placed the coral in an area visited regularly by Harvey Edwards, Ocean Paradise Dive Centre manager, who has been removing these starfish from the reef for months.

Clare cutting the coral from the line

The next step was to cut the colonies from the lines in the nursery, and transport them in mesh bags in the water. We decided to use three different Acropora species to begin with as they are fast growing and like a lot of light and a moderate current. Once at the site, we cleaned the area of algae and attached the coral to ensure protection from extreme water movement. We placed them an equal distance apart to allow quick growth and attached the coral using epoxy, which is a clay like cement. We were aware from previous studies that Miliput (epoxy clay) has been seen to kill the part of the coral it is attaching, so we placed small amounts of putty at the base of the coral.

Once a week, for a total of six weeks, we will measure growth and survivorship of the coral.  We hope to replicate the test at different depths and locations to find a suitable site to start a larger restoration project. However, we will hold off on most of the major transplantation until after the monsoon season.

Attaching the colonies using epoxy

Due to the fragility of coral species, our rehabilitation plans are very flexible, and subject to a long monitoring period.  We expect to adapt our approach and long term management to ensure we keep up with the changing environment of the reef. Previous restoration plans have been hindered by external threats, so we are so excited to finally begin this project. We will be producing scientific data along the way which we hope will contribute to current coral reef rehabilitation knowledge.

Although our transplants are working well so far, we will still have many question to answer in the future such as: are the corals on the house reef still reproducing? As these corals survived the last bleaching, will they be more genetically suited to future hostile conditions? The answers to these questions are all just a work in progress and we will have to keep on watching and learning as we replant and monitor these corals over the next few years. As our house reef sustained a lot of mortality and the coral cover is low, we hope that this new project will help to rejuvenate the reef and raise awareness.

PADI’s guest blogger Clare Baranowski introduces herself:

I am a marine zoologist from the UK who has worked throughout the tropics researching mega fauna and reef ecosystems in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. I have experience monitoring and restoring coral and surveying manta, turtle and dolphin populations. I began my career as a science communicator before moving into research and management roles, this is why I incorporate outreach and education into every project I work on and I hope to continue this at Gili Lankanfushi.

In Depth: Dive Against Debris Specialty

Many divers are taking action to help fight marine debris. Teaching the Dive Against Debris® Distinctive Specialty is a great way to encourage your students to comprehend the global threat of marine debris and take meaningful steps to protect our oceans.

Who can teach Dive Against Debris®?
All renewed PADI instructors can apply to teach the Project AWARE®’s Dive Against Debris® Distinctive Specialty after completing a Dive Against Debris® Distinctive Specialty Instructor Course with a PADI Course Director, or by direct application.                                                                        

What do I need to be able to teach Dive Against Debris®?
You will need the Dive Against Debris® Instructor Guide and the Dive Against Debris® Specialty Course toolkit.

How can I link this with other courses?

The revised and updated PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course gives your students the chance to experience a Dive Against Debris® Adventure Dive – if you’re certified as an instructor in the specialty, and the student diver meets the specialty prerequisites.

If you conduct your PADI Open Water Diver course open water dives over 2 days, you may consider adding the Dive Against Debris® Distinctive Specialty as an optional dive once your students have completed their final PADI Open Water Diver Course dive.

Dive centres with a dive club, can offer the Dive Against Debris® course to club members, so they can collect debris and record their data, which may not already be monitored.

Also make sure you ask your students to choose a Project AWARE version of their PADI certification card to support a clean and healthy ocean.

 Schools and youth groups
The Dive Against Debris® course is a great opportunity to promote scuba diving to local schools and youth groups. School children will learn about the PADI Open Water Diver course, which covers various curriculum subjects including physics and physiology, and also about global conservation whilst having the opportunity to contribute to marine debris citizen science by logging their data on the Project AWARE website.

If you are not already registered as a PADI Approved Youth Centre (available for UK dive centres only) download the PADI Approved Youth Centre information pack. Send your completed PADI Approved Youth Training Centre application (located in the Appendix of the PADI Approved Youth Centre information pack) to your Regional Training Consultant su-li.wong@padi.com or emily.petley-jones@padi.com.

 

Kuredu Prodivers became 100% AWARE Partner

Pro divers logoProdivers this week partnered with Project AWARE, a global non-profit organization, to join their growing number of 100% AWARE Partners who put ocean protection at the heart of their business. From May, 2016 Kuredu Prodivers will make a regular donation to protect the underwater world our dive business relies on.

100% AWARE is a Partner Giving Program. All student divers who complete a course with a 100% AWARE dive centre receive a Project AWARE limited edition card. It’s a great way to remind divers that the place where they learned to dive or furthered their diving education made a gift to protect the ocean on their behalf.Clean up

Kuredu Prodivers is proud to join dedicated dive centers across the world who act locally and think globally.” says Hannah Olbrich “We take pride in knowing that our donation to Project AWARE for every student diver who completes a diving course with us not only helps educate divers about ocean conservation but also supports Project AWARE’s mission to mobilize the world’s divers into a global force to protect the ocean one dive at a time.”

Kuredu Prodivers has shown dedication to ocean conservation through their participation in Project AWARE activities. Their commitment to the 100% AWARE program makes them shine as they not only lead by example but demonstrate to their students the importance of supporting ocean protection. Thank you for leading the way,” says Alex Earl, Executive Director Project AWARE Foundation.

PALogoWeb_copy

For additional information about Project AWARE’s 100% AWARE Partner program and to join the global movement for ocean protection, visit www.projectaware.org.

Please visit the Website of the beautiful Island of Kurdeu or visit the Prodivers Website for more information.

 

 

Adopt a Dive Site This Earth Day

Adopt a Dive SiteOn Earth Day, April 22, Project AWARE® announces its latest initiative supporting the fight against marine debris: Adopt a Dive Site™. Harnessing the unique underwater skill set of the scuba diving community, Adopt a Dive Site urges scuba diving leaders around the globe – including dive instructors, dive centres and resorts – to engage in ongoing, local protection and monitoring of our underwater playgrounds.

Adopt A Site MaterialsSeated within Project AWARE’s flagship citizen-science program, Dive Against Debris™, Adopt a Dive Site is tailored to the global nonprofit organization’s most dedicated dive leaders: participants commit to carry-out monthly Dive Against Debris surveys, reporting types and quantities of marine debris found underwater each month from the same location. To support its community, Project AWARE will provide Adopt a Dive Site participants with a full suite of new survey tools to help implement their actions, a yearly report on the state of participants’ local dive sites and recognition tools for dive centers, resorts and leaders to share their stewardship with local customers and community.

Take your Dive Against Debris™ to the next level with Project AWARE’s new Adopt a Dive Site global campaign.  Read the full press release and Sign Up Today!

Beneath the Waves with Project AWARE

Our-ocean-2015

In preparation for the Our Ocean 2015 international conference in Chile on October 5-6, US Secretary of State John Kerry has posed the question, “What will you do to protect the ocean?

Project AWARE’s answer? Taking action against trash through Dive Against Debris. Scuba divers everywhere are taking a stand against the onslaught of marine debris. With our underwater skill set, we’re uniquely positioned to shine light on what we see beneath the waves – the negative impacts of underwater debris on ocean ecosystems and wildlife.

Share your underwater marine debris photos on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #BeneathTheWaves. Project AWARE will add them to their global “Beneath the Waves” photo collage to show decision-makers your underwater perspective and urge for long-term, global solutions to the marine debris issue.

We have just 30 days to show what lurks beneath the waves – share your photos of trash underwater today!

The Our Ocean 2015 conference aims to promote voluntary governmental and institutional commitments to care for the ocean. Over 400 political, academic and civil society figures as well as industry, philanthropy and nonprofit leaders will discuss solutions to topics such as illegal fishing, marine plastic pollution, ocean acidification and climate change.

Through Dive Against Debris, Project AWARE divers remove and report marine debris found beneath the waves. The trash you remove during Dive Against Debris makes the ocean safer for marine life, and more importantly, the information you report helps inform policy change. Our Ocean 2015 offers divers the opportunity to use grassroots action to empower global change.

 

World Oceans Day 2015: Project AWARE explains the Ugly Journey of our Trash

Ugly Journey of our Trash 2015

How does our trash make its way from land to sea? Project AWARE’s new animated infographic explains the ugly journey, and shines light on the dangers our litter poses to marine ecosystems and wildlife along the way. While the marine debris issue may at first appear daunting, there is hope! With our underwater skill set, the dive community is uniquely positioned to contribute to global solutions by participating in Dive Against Debris, Project AWARE’s year-round underwater debris removal and reporting program.

We all want a healthy ocean and healthy planet – join Project AWARE in the fight against marine debris – become a Debris Activist this World Oceans Day and all year long!
Ugly Journey of our Trash Video

Our ocean is under siege. From everyday trash like plastic bags, food wrappers and drink bottles, to larger items like car batteries, kitchen appliances and fishing nets, our debris is entering the sea at an alarming rate. Our ocean has become a dumping ground.

Marine debris is not only unsightly, it’s dangerous to sea life, hazardous to human health, and costly to our economies. Marine animals can become entangled in debris or mistake small particles of trash for food – often with fatal results. Divers, swimmers and beachgoers can be directly harmed by encounters with debris or its toxins. And, the costs of plastic debris to marine ecosystems are estimated at 13 billion dollars a year. Better information about sources and impacts is extremely important to drive changes in infrastructure and waste management policies at all levels.

Who is responsible? All of us. Together we can help prevent and clear up this mess for a clean, healthy ocean planet.

Download and share “The Ugly Journey of Our Trash” to educate your community on how our rubbish becomes the ocean’s problem.