Conservation and Environment in Cambodia: Monthly Updates
Conservation in Cambodia - Monthly update - January - February 2015
These months have been very productive for our project. Since we started at our new site in December new activities and programs have been implemented and the methodologies improved. Our volunteers learn and help in every aspect of the project, and each of them leaves us a memorable “footprint” that remains for the new volunteers to come.
We have established new measures to reduce the usage of unnecessary plastic within our project, such as plastic bottles, cups and straws, by offering more sustainable alternatives to these items like reusable water containers, glass mugs and bamboo straws, respectively. We have even gone one more step forward and created the plastic-free week of the month, during which the purchase of plastic materials are not allowed. The volunteers are excited with the idea as they feel they contribute a bit to lower the massive usage of plastics every day!
The coral reef methodology has been improved, as well as the seahorse landings questionnaires, which are now more accurate and offer more information. We continue with our surveys, dives against marine pollution, and beach clean-ups both with just volunteers and with the community as well. Lots of garbage is collected each time, and even trying to recycle as much as possible, still we have to burn the unrecyclable part as there’s no other way of trash collection or delivery to the mainland yet.
The community has started to know us better and about our work here. Volunteers and staff are now learning the basics of Khmer language which is very helpful to be able to communicate with, and brings us closer to the local people. We are also very excited to announce that the local school has accepted us to teach English and marine environment to the children at grades 4, 5 and 6 on a regular basis. This is great news as it will allow us to establish a positive and long term relationship with the local community.
Our partners from Fauna & Flora International (FFI) have come to the island to meet the local government, to set the basis for the establishment of the second large-scale marine protected area of Cambodia in the Koh Sdach archipelago. Together with them we have visited some of the potential areas and we are very happy to be able to share our data and contribute to this awesome project which we hope will soon become true!
Coral reef project
Following the move of Projects Abroad Marine Conservation Project to Koh Sdach in December 2014, new reef surveys have been designed and tested, and are now being implemented around the archipelago. The first couple of months involved the design and fine-tuning of survey design and exploratory dives, with focus primarily on Koh Kmauk and Koh Toteong. February has now seen the collection of data by the final survey design which will be used across the whole of the archipelago. The aims and objectives for the first 3 months have been to design a suitable survey technique, to make preliminary investigations at both Koh Kmauk and Koh Toteong (to look for possible correlations and relationships between sites), and then to begin and continue collection of reef data with the focus solely on these 2 islands. The next couple of months, once the data has been collected for these two islands, will focus on Koh Chan and Koh Andech.
Results Initial results for the reef surveys identify a few potential trends that we can monitor with the continuation of the reef surveys around the rest of the archipelago. Initial results show that there is higher hard coral cover at 5m sites compared with 8m sites (figure 1). The 8m sites have more rubble and sand than 5m sites. Comparing between the two islands the main difference shows that more sand is found at Koh Toteong and more silt is found at Koh Kmauk. Hard coral cover for all southern dive sites around Koh Toteong was less than 50%, compared to on Koh Kmauk where hard coral cover in the south was recorded as 6.3% and 70.6%. In general the hard coral cover at Koh Kmauk survey sites was higher than at Koh Toteong.
The invertebrate surveys show that the Diadema urchin is the most abundant invertebrate found at the survey sites, with some sites having >200 Diadema urchins recorded (figure 2). At three sites surveyed on the south side of Koh Toteong the Diadema urchin numbers were all above 200 individuals. Feather duster worms and christmas tree worms are the next most abundant species identified, with feather duster worms being identified at 12 of 13 survey sites. Other invertebrates identified only sporadically, such as the drupella, giant clam and nudibranch. Groupers appear to be the most common fish to find at each dive site with observations at 11 of the 13 dive sites surveyed. Consistent with previous literature, fusiliers have the highest observation numbers with schools of >100 recorded. Wrasse, Rabbitfish, Butterflyfish and sergeants were also commonly recorded at survey sites. Fish abundance is consistently higher at all northern dive sites compared with all southern dive sites.
Observations The initial surveys have highlighted potential trends we can look for as we build up the reef data across the archipelago, such as the higher abundance of corals found at 5m compared with 8m. There may be a link between invertebrates found and location of the island, for example there is an indication of a relationship between dive sites on the south of the island and increased abundance of Diadema urchins. With further research on other islands we will be able to build up a more robust dataset to see if this initial trend and other trends prove to be more than just coincidence. Once we have more survey sites completed we will be able to give more conclusive results on what we find.
Emma is always working hard looking for ways to improve the data collection methodology and the training of the volunteers, in order to collect accurate and reliable scientific data. Thanks to the long term volunteers’ valuable work we can gather enough data to add to our growing data base!
During December, January and February 2015 we have been actively looking for seahorses and their habitats. We have done this on land (landings) and underwater, and this report details the results we have collected so far. During this time we have seen a total of six seahorses. Three have been spotted underwater, while the other three have been spotted on land (dried). The species we have seen are Hippocampus trimaculatus and Hippocampus spinosissimus. We have done 22 surveys in total, 11 of each type.
Off Koh Chan Island (top arrow) and Koh Smach (bottom arrow) we saw H. spinosissimus. Off Ghost Island (middle arrow) we saw H. trimaculatus. Two of the seahorses were seen on actual survey dives, whereas the third one was seen during a deep dive, for an advanced open water course.
At the moment it appears to be that seahorses are rare in the Koh Sdach archipelago, although it is important to bear in mind that seahorses have excellent camouflage. According to PhD Tse-Lynn, on sandy bottoms surveyors have ~40% chance of spotting a seahorse if it is there. When we bring this into consideration our results seam a lot more promising, and more data is needed before we can begin to comment on the abundance of seahorses in the Koh Sdach Archipelago.
Seahorse landings are informal interviews with local shopkeepers or fishermen. Reassuringly, the majority of fisherman we spoke to where not actively looking to catch seahorses. Out of 11 surveys, only two fisherman deliberately caught seahorses. From these two fisherman, one was looking for snails (but would take seahorses if he found them) and the other was looking only for seahorses. The rest of the fisherman caught seahorses as by catch, normally using a fishing net from a small boat. Due to the large amount of trawling boats in the area, the abundance of seahorses in an area can change very quickly.
The figure 3 shows all the locations that fishermen have reported catching seahorses. Interestingly, none of the fishermen we have talked to have reported catching seahorses in the places we have found them. The reason for this could be that we are looking for seahorses within the archipelago, whereas the fishermen go much further afield.
Observations Due to the relatively few seahorses we have seen, at this point it is only possible to make observations about the seahorses found in the Koh Sdach Archipelago. The biggest result is that there are at least two species of seahorse present here. When the project first started, we didn’t know for sure that there where seahorses present here, so this is a big achievement for us. We have seen that seahorses are caught, dried and sold on Koh Sdach, and seeing a seahorse underwater is fairly rare.
In the future we will continue doing underwater surveys and landings, in the hope that we can establish the abundance of seahorses here. In the more long term future we want to identify seahorse trends – whether the number of seahorses is increasing, decreasing or staying stable.
Marine Pollution Project
We keep conducting dives to collect marine debris, as well as beach and coastal clean-ups on a regular basis. The amount of trash collected was huge all around the archipelago, especially of fishing nets and plastics. The figure 4 shows the nature of the debris collected around the island of Koh Kmauk during the Dive Against Debris dives, and clearly the amounts of fishing nets outnumber the other materials, indicating the strong presence of fishing boats along the archipelago. The plastic debris is found mainly near the populated areas as the plastic ends up into the ocean as it gets washed out from the village.
In some areas where we regularly conduct beach clean-ups we can see the difference before and after. Now the beach called Australia Beach looks much nicer without the amount of trash that we have collected along these months. The local people have also observed this difference and seem happy with the idea of keeping the coast and the town free from trash.
We will continue to work hard with our volunteers towards a cleaner ocean and coastal environment, and this way we can all enjoy this beautiful island!
Community & Education project
During this time we have established a fix and long-term program for a local group of enthusiastic local kids called Green Protectors. They gather every Friday in our main room to receive Sea’s lessons about the marine environment, with the assistance of our volunteers. Some Fridays the kids just receive classes, and others they conduct beach and town clean-ups, or are taken for snorkeling sessions to learn about the marine wildlife more practically. They are learning about the phyto- and zooplankton, and the main higher levels of marine organisms, which finally interconnect in an intricate food web typical of each marine ecosystem (coral reefs, mangroves forests, and seagrass meadows)
More recently we had a meeting with the local school director to agree with a fixed schedule to work with the school children of grades 4, 5 and 6. Our volunteers will teach them English as well as about the marine environment with the help of Sea doing the translations into Khmer. We are very happy with this opportunity as to get closer to the community, especially with young kids!
We have organized a Khmer cooking class for our volunteers, with a local cook who lead them along the market to buy the ingredients, and taught them how to elaborate three different typical Khmer dishes. Two groups have cooked the same dishes and the competition has been very exciting! All the volunteers have worked during the process of peeling, cutting and chopping the ingredients, and mixing the spices to elaborate tasty and delicious food. The local neighbors have tested the dishes afterwards and have approved our volunteer’s culinary abilities.