Protect Marine Ecosystems in Mexico

by Global Vision International Charitable Trust
Vetted

As the Marine turtle festival is coming soon we would like to share an article about environmental education and marine turtle conservation in Quintana Roo state. Thanks to Ana Mancera, Lluvia Soto and all the people involved in writing it. We hope you will enjoy it and get to know more about the work that is done in the Area!!

Environmental education is an instrument to raise awareness in the community regarding both global and local environmental threats, and the relationships and interactions between man and his environment. In addition, it helps serve to inform and remind us about the importance of all living beings and ecosystems on Earth, and to promote their use in a way that guarantees the sustainability and quality of life for current and future generations.

The State of Quintana Roo is the primary tourism destination in Mexico, visited annually by national and international tourists, who are attracted by the beauty of our beaches, the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the presence of the third largest barrier reef system in the world, Mayan culture, and the native plants and animals found in its ecosystems.

Given these characteristics, and considering its 865 kilometers of coastline along which sea turtles nest, environmental education is of great importance. Through it, participants learn about the species of sea turtle found along our beaches; their biology (physical characteristics, feeding behaviors, reproductive cycles, etc.); their distribution, and their interactions with the coastal ecosystems.

This type of environmental education needs to be directed towards the diverse sectors found in our State:

1. The general population of Quintana Roo
2. Tourists, both national and foreign
3. Service providers (guides, tour operators, etc.) that lead sea turtle
observation activities either near the reefs or on beach walks at night
4. Operators of large and small hotels along the coast
5. Governmental agencies, which experience personnel changes with the
periodic changing of administrations

Through workshops, talks, public events, brochures and documentaries it is possible to explain the importance of the presence of sea turtles, what to do when we encounter them on the beach, and why we should avoid consuming sea turtle products. In addition, it can ideally help us in building a culture of conservation, in which green practices are applied for dealing with environmental problems, helping to promote sustainable development.

The invasion of lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, into the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea is not only one of the most rapid in marine history but also having extremely detrimental effects to local species and ecosystems.

Recently introduced via un/intentional release, they have spread extremely quickly throughout the Caribbean, since their first sightings around Florida in 2000, they have spread as far south as Venezuela within 10 years1.         

While in their native habitat, lionfish breed seasonally, invasive lionfish in the Atlantic have been documented breeding all-year round2. They can produce between 4000 and 30,000 eggs each time they spawn which are then dispersed great distances along oceanic surface currents, during an estimated pelagic larval duration of 20 to 35 days, before settlement3. Unlike other fish species, Lionfish can settle on and inhabit nearly all marine habitat types and depths between surface levels to over 300m, in temperatures between10-35 degrees Celsius4,5. However, with the rising sea temperatures due to global warming, this potentially invasive region is increasing. Lionfish are also generalist carnivores that can consume over 70 species of fish, up to half their own body length, including commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species6. On heavily invaded sites, lionfish consume native fish at unsustainable rates. As such, food competition can also lead to depleting food sources for native carnivores.

Here at Pez Maya we have been collecting information on the invasive lionfish so as to document its effects on the local ecosystem. So far this year the average number of sightings per dive per week has been slowly increasing.

As well as a steady increase in the average number of sightings per dive, there is also a noticeable increase in the sizes of lionfish seen on our dive sites. This general increase in size supports theories that invasive lionfish are larger than they are in their native ranges7, suggesting higher levels of local prey consumption and lionfish reproduction this year. In fact, we caught three individuals, one male and two females, that had fully developed and spawning capable gonads or very developed gonads nearing spawning capability.                                                                                                            

Lionfish can inhabit nearly all habitat types, including important nursery areas such as mangroves and lagoon areas, and other areas with high levels of trophic interaction such as the fore-reef and reef crest. As such we have frequently observed lionfish within the reserve at our inner-reef dive sites, such as “Gardens”, which are commonly used as a nursery habitat for juvenile reef fish.
 
Invasive adult lionfish, however, have been documented as having a preferred microhabitat of complex topographical structures, especially overhanging structures, and lots of coral cover8, such as our dive site “Special K”. As such, the invasive lionfish exhibited similar patterns of microhabitat occupancy as two local, and already over fished, species; the Grouper and Snapper complex, as seen at our local dive site “Hang 10”. The additional stress put on these species through this direct food competition is hindering any efforts to replenish the declining Grouper and Snapper populations.

As discussed before, on heavily invaded reefs lionfish can consume prey faster than their production on, or recruitment to, the reef. As such, the additional stress put on these species through this direct food competition is hindering any efforts to replenish the declining Grouper and Snapper populations. Also, the lionfish is having a negative impact on the Meso-American barrier reef system through the unsustainable consumption of newly recruited herbivorous species by invasive lionfish is limiting algal grazing on a reef system that is already in threat of a shift to an algal dominated reef.

Lionfish feed primarily on teleosts, fish with bony skeletons, which include the majority of the local marine species, and few other crustaceans, primarily shrimps, more commonly consumed by smaller classes of lionfish. However, lionfish are generalist consumers and will quickly abandon their usual diet for any abundant food source.

Because lionfish captured and removed from an area would “be replaced largely through larval recruitment rather than migration of older individuals”9, “localized control efforts would need to be carried out frequently in order to maintain a  younger, smaller population”10, which can be very costly and  makes eradication programs extremely difficult.

However, the data collected here is very useful for future planning of local control efforts and will hopefully be used to co-ordinate our future lionfish control efforts which, if implemented well, can control local populations and even generate income for local communities. Also, and possibly more importantly, lionfish ceviche is a very welcome addition to base cuisine

---

1:  Morris, J (2009): Biology, Ecology, Control and Management of the Invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish: An Updated
 ntegrated Assessment

2:    Morris, J (2011): Oogenesis and spawn formation in the invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans)

3:    Green, S (2011): Potential effects of climate change on a marine invasive: The importance of current context

4:     Biggs, C (2011): Multi-scale habitat occupancy of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans) in coral reef environments of Roatanm Hondorus

5:      Kimball, M: (2004) - Thermal tolerance and potential distribution of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans/ miles complex) on the east coast of the United States.

6:   Green, S (2012):  Invasive Lionfish Drive Atlantic Coral Reef Fish Declines

7:   Green, S (2011): Indo-Pacific lionfish are larger and more abundant on invaded reefs: a comparison of Kenyan and Bahamian lionfish populations

8:     Biggs, C (2011): Multi-scale habitat occupancy of invasive lionfish (Pterois volitans) in coral reef environments of Roatanm Hondorus

9:     Barbour, A: (2011): Evaluating the Potential Efficacy of Invasive Lionfish (Pterois volitans) Removals.

10:  Ibid

Today we are lucky enough to have a diary extract from one of our staff members in Pez Maya, Joanna Richardson...

Having completed my volunteer and scholar phases at Punta Gruesa (Mahahual) 'turtling' as it's referred to was new to me. I was so excited to find that we have turtles nesting on the base beach. In the morning a staff and volunteer member walk the beach playing detective, looking for turtle tracks and locating nests. This I found exciting enough, but last night we decided to take an impromptu turtle walk, we kept as quiet as possible, pointing at anything that could possibly be a turtle, then from the sea about 20 meters infront of us emerged a large Green turtle, it was an amazing sight watching her pull herself out of the water and navigate the steep sand bank that had formed infront of her, she made three false nests, which included a period where she disappeared off into the mangroves, we watched on for a further 45 minutes until she returned to the water leaving some very excited staff and volunteer members behind.

The excitement continued this morning when whilst on our way to beach clean we discovered a newly hatched hawksbill turtle, unfortunately it had a slightly stunted front flipper and so was quickly named Nemo by the volunteers. With a little help he found the sea and happily swam off to begin his many adventures, may he be as lucky as his namesake!

Every week, Staff and volunteers in Pez Maya, Mexico clean two hundred meters of beach on the stretch of coastline we live by. Over the course of twelve weeks we clean a transect of about two km in length and the amount of rubbish that we collect is quite simply staggering.

The vast majority of this rubbish is plastic; unsurprising considering that it is estimated that about 90% of all rubbish in the oceans is plastic.

In 1950, when plastic became “mainstream” approximately 50 million tons were introduced into public circulation. In 2008, to sustain our disposable lifestyle approximately 245 million tons were produced, the majority of which could be found in products intended to be thrown away. It is worth remembering that plastic does not decompose and that the original 50 million tons produced in 1950, as well as every piece of plastic produced since, are still with us in one form or another. In the last ten years we have produced more plastic than we produced in the whole of the 20th century.

This plastic, for the most part, finds its way to the ocean where the pieces break down into smaller and smaller particles causing problems including but not limited to:

  • Death of the ingesting organism. Over 250 species have been observed to have ingested, or become entangled in, plastic.
  • Increase in plastic pollution has resulted in a corresponding increase in species invasion.
  • The UN estimates that the greatest threat to the world’s oceans, as identified by the Global Environment Facility is pollution from land-based sources.

Plastics absorb chemicals (most commonly POPs) from the surrounding water resulting in absorbed concentrations which are orders of magnitude above the levels in the surrounding water. If the plastics are washed up on the beach the chemicals are leached by the action of sun and rain allowing the chemicals to run back into the sea at elevated levels where they are directly introduced to coral reefs resulting in bleaching and high incidence of coral disease.

If the plastics are ingested by an organism the toxins collect in its tissue, not necessarily causing death but being passed up the food chain as each organism is preyed on in turn. Ingestion by humans of the contaminated flesh of these organisms has been linked to cancer, altered immune systems and developmental problems in children.

So back to where we started, Volunteers and Staff collecting plastic and other pollutants from the beach.

When we first began using the method from The Ocean Conservancy at the end of 2011 we collected, in 12 weeks from 2 km of beach, 580 kg of non-recyclable waste (including nearly 4000 plastic bottle caps), and 65kg that was recyclable- this was the first time that we had completed the new 2km transect and so we expected to take a lot of rubbish off the sand. At the start of 2012 in the first 12 weeks we collected approx. 450 kg of non-recyclable waste and again approx. another 10% that was recyclable. Then with the start of the storm season came the plastic…

After collating all of the data from the most recent transect, in the last twelve weeks we have collected 1113 kg of rubbish, over a tone. From a beach that had been completely cleared twice previously in the last 5 months.

This is not a local problem, this is happening on every beach in the world. Please, if you can’t get to a beach to clean up the rubbish, contribute by not creating the rubbish in the first place, think about the items that you are using, refill your plastic water bottles, try not to use plastic bags or other ‘disposable’ items and please, pass the message on.

This week we have an update straight from the project, from one of our volunteers, Ben:

Another week has flown by! It is hard to believe that the 4 week volunteers are almost finishing their time here at Pez Maya.

We have witnessed a great deal of diversity in the area this week. Incidentals sightings have included a baby Hawksbill  Turtle, a Loggerhead Turtle, Spotted Eagle Rays, an Electric Ray and more crocodiles. We also excavated a turtle nest and counted a whopping 118 hatched eggs!!! Also, 3 Least Tern Chicks were spotted during our daily bird watches. Following a lecture on shark species and behaviours this week, we are all keeping our eyes open for the first shark sighting of the phase.

It was another beautiful week at Pez May! With the exception of a quick thunderstorm on Wednesday, our daily schedule has been packed full of dives giving volunteers ample time to study the reef. The volunteers continued their Emergency First Responder training by reviewing the skills we learned last week. We're all nervously awaiting the spontaneous practical session that the stuff speak of.
 

 

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Organization Information

Global Vision International Charitable Trust

Location: Exeter, Devon - United Kingdom
Website: http:/​/​www.gvi.org
Project Leader:
Kate Robey
St Albans, Herts United Kingdom

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