Thank you for your amazing support of the Wildlife Conservation Society's efforts to save our oceans! Some great conservation news from Belize:
Seeking to gain a high-tech edge over illegal fishers, the Government of Belize will use “eyes in the sky” to enforce fishing regulations in the biodiverse Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve and other reef systems in what is the first use of conservation drones to monitor marine protected areas.
With technical assistance from WCS, the Belize Fisheries Department initiated a new monitoring program using unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e. conservation drones) to curtail unsustainable levels of illegal fishing. Besides coastal development, unregulated and unreported fishing are some of the largest threats to Belize’s fishing industry.
Conservation drones also are being used for wildlife monitoring and for support in the enforcement of terrestrial protected areas. The unmanned aerial vehicles can fly autonomously for over an hour at a time with a range of more than 50 kilometers, and are capable of taking high-resolution photographs and video.
Program participants from WCS, the Belize Fisheries Department, and Conservation Drones.org fully implemented the drone program in early June, following testing that began last July. The drones will enable government officials to remotely locate fishing vessels illegally operating in marine protected areas or in areas with seasonal closures. Once located, patrol vessels can conduct seagoing searches more efficiently.
Drones will also allow government officials to monitor for illegal activities in coastal areas, which are often hidden from view by mangrove forests. Fishers have been known to hide illegal conch catches in these coastal forests.
“This exciting new enforcement tool will help the government and local communities protect their most valuable assets—the fisheries and coral reefs of Belize’s coastal waters,” said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Executive Director of WCS Marine Conservation. “The world’s oceans are in dire need of low cost innovations for improving the cost efficiency and effectiveness of enforcement efforts. This represents an exciting pilot program for Belize, the wider Caribbean, and nearshore marine parks and fisheries around the world.”
Photo credit: Julio Maaz/WCS
From all of us at the Wildlife Conservation Society, thank you for your support of our marine conservation efforts!
Some good news to report: the Government of Indonesia has taken a major step to protect the world’s largest ray species, the giant and reef manta rays. Both are now considered protected species under Indonesian law, with fishing and trade prohibited.
In 2013, the two species were included in the list of species regulated under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). In order to preserve these animals, all 178 CITES countries will have to implement laws and regulations to protect the rays, as well as certain species of sharks. “By fully protecting these fishes, the Government of Indonesia has demonstrated its commitment to these new CITES rules while offering real hope for these species’ future in Indonesia and beyond,” said Dr. Stuart Campbell, Director of WCS’s Indonesian Marine Conservation and Fisheries Program.
Among the world’s largest fishes, manta rays have “wingspans” that can exceed seven meters. They are long-lived, reaching ages of 20-30 years, mature late, and typically give birth to a single pup every two years after a one-year gestation period. They are among the least productive of fishes and, thus, exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing.
Although manta rays have faced pressures from the commercial fishing industry in Indonesia, they are far more important economically to the country’s dive tourism industry. Recent reviews of the tourism value of manta rays have provided irrefutable evidence that these animals are worth far more alive than dead, with a single animal estimated to generate from $100,000 to as much as $1.9 million in dive tourism revenue over its lifetime, as compared with as little as $200 paid for a dead manta at a fish landing site.
“Manta rays are a huge draw for divers seeking out wildlife encounters along Indonesia’s coasts as well as in other parts of the world, such as the Maldives, the Philippines, and Mozambique,” said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director of WCS’s Marine Program. “We expect that other governments will now follow Indonesia’s lead by capitalizing on the non-extractive value of these fishes and conserving them as a renewable resource for the future.”
Thanks so much for your support of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s marine conservation efforts! Just wanted to share with you some great news about marine reserves: they can be good for sharks.
In Fiji's largest marine reserve, where fishing is banned, sharks are thriving. Marine researchers from WCS and the University of Western Australia have found that Namena Reserve—located on the southern coast of Fiji’s Vanua Levu Island—has two to four times more sharks compared to adjacent areas where fishing is permitted. The researchers say that the significantly higher availability of prey fish within Namena’s boundaries accounts for its shark densities. The 60-square-kilometer reserve was established in 1997 and is managed by local communities.
Outside the reserve, in areas where fishing is permitted, the researchers found fewer sharks. They note that, because local Fiji communities traditionally considered sharks to be sacred, eating them is typically taboo. But as demand for shark products grows, higher prices are driving some locals to catch sharks. The island country’s shark populations are also vulnerable to foreign fishing fleets. Worldwide, increasing rates of harvesting are leading to the depletion of many shark species.
“The news from Fiji gives us solid proof that marine reserves can have positive effects on reef shark populations,” said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director of WCS’s Marine Program. “Shark populations are declining worldwide due to the demand for shark products, particularly fins for the Asian markets. We need to establish management strategies that will protect these ancient predators and the ecosystems they inhabit.”
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