Some good news for a change…

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Some good news for a change…

As a conservationist, I dread checking the news every day. More often than not there is a new viral video of a turtle fighting for its life entangled in fishing line, or another species of whale has been listed as critically endangered. Let’s face it, the world just doesn’t seem like the most perfect place right now, especially when it comes to our oceans. But with the recent success of Plastic Free July, where over 230 million people participated to lower their waste, why not carry on the trend of positivity for a change.

There are thousands if not millions of people constantly working to save our planet, these include many of us here here on our small island of Koh Tao. Whether it’s through direct action such as a Dive Against Debris or instead educating newly certified PADI Open Water Divers how they can best preserve our oceans.


Success stories do in fact exist, and we must celebrate and share them as much as possible. So instead of some doom and gloom, here are 5 good things that happened in marine conservation recently…

1. Lets start close to home… Whalesharks have recently received the highest legal protection within Thailand

This news is wonderful, especially for all of us here at Koh Tao. These gentle giants have always frequented the island and we even experienced the highest number of whaleshark sightings throughout Thailand during 2017.

If you are lucky enough to dive with these spectacular animals and you have a camera, then help the global effort of identifying and tracking individuals. It’s simple: all you need is a picture of of the animal’s left hand side above the pectoral fin. The markings on each animal is completely unique and acts like a finger print, creating the perfect visual tool to build a database of the visiting populations. Make a note of where and when you saw the animal, and then submit the data to your dive school. Or if you see one here with us, you can post your photos and information directly onto the Facebook group ‘Koh Tao Whalesharks’.


With increasing pressure from the shark fin trade and risk of by-catch, tracking these animals is more important than ever and establishing their movements and territories is vital for conservation efforts. Just please remember to be respectful of the animal and give it plenty of space to keep yourself safe, and allowing the whale shark to swim around the dive site as it pleases.


2. West Papua, New Guinea have announced its plan to be the first ‘conservation province’

West Papua located in the Bird’s Head Seascape is one of the most bio diverse regions on Earth. It is home to more than 1,800 species of fish, three quarters of the world’s hard corals and new species are still being discovered every day. Sounds like a diver’s dream right? Well, this is exactly why this pioneering legislation is so important to conservation, and will hopefully lead the way for other countries.

From now on the province will ensure that any future economic activity and development will be sustainable, and protect some of the most healthy marine and terrestrial Eco-systems in the Southeast Asian archipelago. The chairperson of the West Papua Regional Representative Council, Pieter Kodjol, said, “The special regional regulation on sustainable development is to ensure that development in West Papua is carried out in accordance with environmental rules while ensuring community well-being.”


Nearly 95% of Indonesia’s coral reefs are threatened by coastal development and unsustainable fishing practices. This new legislation could greatly reduce this figure and safeguard globally significant biodiversity. All while supporting local livelihoods, and empower the Papuan communities through the protection of natural resource rights. Ensuring that all rural Papuan communities can continue to rely on nature for many more generations.


3. The Ascension Islands Council have announced a new Marine Protected Area

The Ascension island located in the South Atlantic ocean is a remote British Overseas Territory with a very rich biodiversity. In 2016 the Ascension Island council designated half of its waters as a no take zone, preventing all commercial fishing in the off shore area. Together with the UK government, the council have now allocated 443,000 square kilometres of ocean around the island to be fully protected with its newly assigned Marine Protected Area status. Therefore, successfully creating the largest highly protected marine reserve in the Atlantic. All commercial fishing is now banned across the territory’s offshore area, with the only exception being local Ascension fisherman who are restricted to catch within 12 nautical miles of the island.

The MPA will be a vital refuge for 173 different species of fish including highly valuable commercial species such as big eyed tuna, yellowfin tuna and swordfish. Sharks will also benefit from the newly assigned MPA as well as the healthiest green turtle rookeries in the Atlantic. Another dream dive site from the sounds of it.

Amdeep Sanghera, MCS UK Overseas Territories Conservation Officer, said “The waters around Ascension Island are amongst the last pristine marine wildernesses in our oceans. We commend the Chancellor’s bold decision to support the Ascension Island’s local government in creating the largest highly-protected marine reserve in the Atlantic.”


4. 41 Marine Conservation zones added to the ‘Blue Belt’

In a bid to meet the global goal of ‘protecting 30% of the ocean’ the UK has designated 41 new  protected areas, beginning at the coast of Northumberland and spanning south of the Isles of Scilly. These zones were created to aid a number of species including, seabirds such as the endangered Eider duck, stalked jellyfish, short-snouted seahorse and basking sharks.


When the sites were proposed consultations with the local fishermen, marine conservationists and the general public (48,000 responses!) were carried out to ensure full support. Luckily each site was given the all clear and 12 existing sites were even expanded.

Together with the newly announced sites, the UK has already established over 300 marine protected areas resulting in a grand total of over 222 000 square kilometres. This a great step forward for British marine wildlife and highly contributes towards the countries actions for #yearofgreenaction and hopefully more European coastal countries will follow suit.


5. Ocean Clean Up System 001/B is back in action

Back in 2017 a 18 year old Dutch boy Boyan Slat proposed the impossible, cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The task had been titled as far too advanced and even a waste of time. But this didn’t deter Slat, instead he persisted and eventually was granted funding. After years of consultations and numerous tests, System 001 or “Wilson” successfully reached its deployment location in October 2018 and began collecting plastic waste. However, like all great inventions the first test run didn’t exactly go to plan and System 001 ended up having to seek shelter in Hilo Bay, Hawaii for repairs and further consultation.

In June 2019 the newly dubbed System 001/B was back in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and ready to face the challenges of system fatigue and successful plastic retention.


Update – 23rd of August 2019:

The results are in! System 001/B has completed its test campaign and the main issues have been addressed and corrected. For months the engineering teams, oceanographers and marine biologists painstakingly worked to correct two key problems:

  1. Structural failure preventing the system from remaining at sea for the desired time and cutting testing short
  2. Retaining the plastic once it had been caught in the system

Adjustments to the physical structure were made in order to make the system lighter therefore, reducing the stress on the previous fracture points. The team hopes that the improvements will prevent any further fractures and make the system more durable.

The more difficult problem was trying to find a way to retain plastic while moving at a consistent speed. Only then would the project be considered “proven technology status” and the project can be scaled up to start the official clean up. Multiple theories were put forward but the most successful was the “slow-down approach” which makes use of a parachute anchor to slow down the system, letting natural winds and waves to push plastic into the system.

If these new modifications prove to be successful then the clean up will truly be underway and we could see the Great Pacific Garbage patch reduced by 50% in 5 years. What a relief for our oceans and for humanity.

It goes to show that we should never give up on our planet. It needs us just as much as we need it and the more we work together the better chance we have of making a difference. So I hope these 5 pieces of good news have inspired you to stay positive and continue striving for a cleaner and greener earth. After all you can’t do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good you can do.


Photo and video credit: Dan Lee, Unsplash, Koh Tao Whalesharks (#whalesharksTH), The Ocean Cleanup Project.

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