(a blog post by our marine scientist, Naomi Clark-Shen)
Our planet is under immense pressure, and coral reefs are one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world.
So what does this mean for The Dorsal Effect, which relies on healthy coral reefs to give an alternative livelihood to shark fishermen through eco-tourism?
We set out to try and answer this question.
Introducing Yale-NUS YNSEA….
In December 2016 a group of students from the Yale-NUS College Singapore Scuba Environments Association (a student initiated club) joined The Dorsal Effect for 3 days to survey Lombok’s coral reefs.
Our mission; to provide clarity on the current state of coral reefs, identify threats, and understand if there’s a future for eco-tourism.
Setting the scene…
Before journeying out to sea, we visited Tanjung Luar fish market to watch the shark landings. There is no stronger way to show people just why The Dorsal Effect does what it does than this.
On our first morning there were none, but the second morning was unlike anything I – or the students – have ever seen.
The boats pulled up to the beach, and one by one, more than 100 dead sharks were thrown overboard and left in piles on the beach. They were then carried to the auction platform – their massive size and weight straining the poles used to carry them.
The friendly fishermen were happy; this was a good catch. They let us get close and spoke to us. They’re not the enemy many media outlets would have you believe.
Now that we have seen the problem, let’s check out a solution…
The shark fishermen we engaged for this trip (and so weren’t a part of the morning’s catch) are patiently waiting for us with their boats.
It seems symbolic that we board the boats at the shark market itself. The noise, smells and chaos of the shark market linger around us as we step into the boats and head out to fresher territory.
The coral reef surveys…
We use the first day to train the Yale-NUS students in survey methods. For these surveys we want to assess coral health, and the abundance of marine creatures. The students use underwater measuring tapes as they do transects, as shown below!
Despite the short training time, and bad weather (it was monsoon season!) the students were vigorous, and we managed to survey 6 different sites.
|So how are the coral reefs faring?|
It’s mixed. Some sites were relatively pristine with healthy coral and schools of colourful fish – just what you would want from a snorkelling experience. Despite this, even the best sites showed signs of bleaching, with beautiful branching coral sporting white tips.
In stark contrast, some sites were completely decimated. Coral was reduced to grey rubble on the sea floor and there were no marine creatures. Why? Dynamite fishing reportedly still occurs in the area, and can completely wipe out entire swathes of reef. There was also evidence of boats having dropped their anchor on corals and breaking them.
|While The Dorsal Effect has strict regulations for it’s operations – such as no anchor dropping on corals, or kicking of coral by guests – we have sadly seen other tour operators that do not. We have witnessed a once pristine reef completely ruined because of this.|
And of course, with 8 million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean each year, we had our encounters with plastic pollution too. Bags drifted in the water column, while a poor sea urchin was completely wrapped in plastic.
|So what does the future look like?|
It’s hard to say. For now, there are still beautiful reefs that we can use for eco-tourism, but this won’t be the case for long if they aren’t looked after.
- Tourist operators must understand that to profit from these reefs, they must stay in good condition. No one wants to see dead coral reefs devoid of marine creatures but full of plastic.
- The presence of dynamite fishing is something we cannot control – but can only hope that regulations become stricter as the locals realise the reef is worth more when kept healthy and alive.
- The looming issue of climate change is always there. It is already showing signs of the reefs, and we can only hope this does not get worse.
We are currently thinking of ways to engage others in Lombok to make the above clear and find solutions, so we can collectively benefit from coral reefs in a way that does not harm them.
Thank you to the Yale-NUS students…
Not many people can learn marine survey methods for the first time and execute them as well as these students did.
We will now use this data to understand which sites are best for eco-tourism, and what needs to be done to protect Lombok’s coral reefs. We will continue to keep an eye on the coral reefs and monitor their health.
In a world where environmental degradation is so intertwined with our existence, we hope Lombok’s reefs can stay safe and healthy, so that Lombok’s people can sustainably benefit from them for years to come.
Trip and activities carried out made possible thanks to the support of: