Conservation and Environment in Cambodia: Monthly Updates
Conservation in Cambodia – Monthly update – May – July 2016
Community and Education
Together with the volunteers and our youth group, Green Protectors, we prepared for World Oceans Day which took place on 8 June. It was the first time that we celebrated at the local primary school. We made three different stations for each activity; arts and crafts, recycling and beach clean-up.
Grades 3 to 6 participated with more than 160 kids. We separated them into teams of 30 and each team took over a different station which was separated into two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The recycling station and arts and crafts where situated in the school and the beach clean-up was at the local beach with the older kids. They learned about marine pollution and why recycling is important to our environment and oceans. They had fun playing games of recycle-relay, fresco, colouring sea animal pictures and using reused plastic materials to make art and crafts. At the end of the event each child received an educational package which included note books, a pen, pencil, rubber, ruler and pencil sharpener. They all looked really happy and enjoyed the time we spent together. We are all excited for the next World Oceans Day and will bring this year’s experiences forward to next year.
Marine Pollution Activities
In this two month period Dive Against Debris activities removed 66 kg of trash and on land we gathered 54 kg of trash and 9 kg of recyclable plastic bottles and aluminium cans. This was less than previous months, but reflects a period of some of the worst weather we've had since the project has been here, which restricted diving and outdoor activities. We have also had fewer volunteers staying with us for the start of the rainy season, with a three week period of no volunteers at all. However, a milestone for the project was reached during the month of June where we surpassed 2 tonnes of marine debris which was collected from the local reefs. A major marine pollution project has also started to rehabilitate an area that was essentially a dump, and several hundred kilograms of trash have been burnt there on site.
The Marine Pollution presentation details topics including: Marine Pollution Overview, The Origins of Plastic in the Ocean, Microplastic and its potential problems for humans, Ghost Nets and their removal, “Refusing, Reducing, Reusing and Recycling,” Trash Management and Community Clean Up Projects. During the presentation volunteers are encouraged to ask questions about the issues raised and talk about possible solutions. Much discussion centres on the issues most prevalent at Koh Sdach, but touches on the serious global problems as well. After the presentation a short period of discussion is opened up to share ideas. During the May/June period the presentation was given to five new volunteers.
For this reporting period we conducted 11 dives that focused on marine debris removal. This was one of our smaller efforts, due both to low numbers of volunteers and some of the worst weather we have experienced during the project. We gathered 66.7 kg of debris which was mostly net, rope and chord used for fishing. As with the last period, the largest amount of trash was removed from Koh Ampel, at 37.8 kg.
The biggest event from this reporting period was that we surpassed 2 tonnes of debris collected (currently the figure is 2027 kg collected in 19 months). During this time entangled animals included sea cucumbers, round crabs and a cowrie shell. Four dead round crabs were counted and three living ones were released (often with a couple of legs missing once we had found them).
Only two coastal clean ups were conducted during May and June due to a low number of volunteers, poor weather keeping us indoors and the beginning of another major marine pollution related project. We managed to collect 54 kg of trash and 9 kg of recyclables during these clean ups.
The biggest activity in during May was that the staff, and often volunteers from the project, began a massive task of cleaning up a site known as ‘trash beach’. This activity was outside of our normal working hours and initiated by the staff that live in the neighbourhood. We invited the volunteers to have a look at the tragic site and some opted to help us out.
This site is a small stretch of beach that is situated between a few houses, and next to a walkway, in the neighbourhood where the staff members live. The area was completely covered in trash and many places were 60 to 70 cm deep in places. This was a huge task with over a tonne of rubbish likely there to be removed. The question of where to take the rubbish to be burned and how to get it there was also a big issue.
The project began when we observed two local men burning trash in the area on two consecutive nights. On the third evening we decided to bring down our two fairly newly built incinerators and help burn the waste. Local people from the neighbourhood helped us burn the trash, sort recyclable plastics into bags and pile dangerous glass bottles and sharp shells into an area for removal. For the first three nights staff members and volunteers that chose to work in their own time burnt hundreds of kilograms of trash and received assistance from neighbours and even local children. We have since continued to use the area to burn our own and the neighbours trash, and we continue to chip away at the large amount still at the site. In large areas we are down to the sand, but there is more work to do.
Throughout the process participants were provided with protection gear and we only worked on nights when the prevailing wind blew smoke and fumes out to sea rather than around local buildings. We have been halted often by the rainy season, but we are continuing to make progress. Once a little more space is made we will install a couple of bins so that local people can place bags of rubbish in them and members of the local community, including Projects Abroad staff, will burn them a couple of times per week.
Our project has continued to promote positive practices including the 4R's (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle), anti-littering and sustainable practices to both the local people and volunteers that come through our project. We've also continued to set a good example with our clean up practices and we hope that we are able to leave a lasting, visible example when the ‘trash beach’ clean up is completed. If we are able to get the community in that neighbourhood to burn their own trash instead of throw it into the ocean then we have had a large positive effect, where perhaps tens of thousands of pieces of plastic no longer end up in the marine environment. A potentially larger effect though is that perhaps not only do individual households burn their trash at the site, but a group actually forms to create a roster where people work together and a stronger community develops from it.
Seahorse Population Trends Study
The Endangered Species program conducted by Projects Abroad on Koh Sdach has two branches - sea turtles and seahorses. The latter are surveyed to study population trends within the archipelago. Our aim is to monitor these trends over time to be able to report to local resource managers whether the seahorse population is stable or their numbers are rising or falling. There are two sections to our surveying, comprising Underwater Surveys and Landing Surveys where we conduct land-based interviews of fishermen and sellers of dried seahorses. Each volunteer attending the project receives a detailed presentation regarding the biology, ecology, importance of and threats to seahorses. Part of the presentation is training in underwater survey techniques and an introduction to the Landings Surveys.
Seahorse surveys are completed in a formal, repeatable manner at sites where seahorses have been seen before or in areas with the most suitable habitats. These surveys are conducted on at least a fortnightly basis and perhaps more regularly when weather conditions and trained volunteer numbers are favourable. Any seahorses spotted during non-survey dives and snorkelling excursions are also observed, photographed (when possible) and the information recorded in our Seahorse Sightings Database. We partner with Project Seahorse, the managers of the world’s largest collection of seahorse sightings, in data sharing. We share the results of our detailed studies and upload pictures and data to their online database, iSeahorse.org.
The survey numbers were much lower than the previous three reporting periods. Fewer volunteers were staying at the project and some 10 to 15 days worth of diving were lost due to the weather. We completed 11 surveys, but only one seahorse was seen. Surveys were conducted at five of our six primary sites – Koh Toteong South, Koh Chan East, Poi Japon South, Koh Sdach South and Koh Kmauch South.
Sixty nine individual surveys were conducted when considering the number of searchers on each dive. This equated to 60 hours of search time. Our surveys covered a total length of transect of 14.5 km in these surveys.
During the reporting period no Seahorse Landings Surveys were conducted. No seahorses were spotted for sale in the market or reports of seahorses given to us by locals.
The trend which we have observed over the last 12 months has continued: the seahorse numbers in the shallow areas where we survey continued to diminish drastically in the lead up to and during the rainy season. Whilst our survey efforts were down in this last reporting period, only one seahorse was seen during what was effectively 60 hours of individual surveying. By comparison, the first 60 hours of surveying in 2016, during January and February, saw fifteen seahorses.
We still need to continue surveying for a lot longer to fully understand the truth of the observed trend and whether it is truly a seasonal variation that will occur every year, or a pattern that exists now due to other factors. To be able to make any strong conclusions about this trend we will have to wait for another year of surveying to have enough credible data.
We believe that the phenomenon comes about due to the preference for juvenile seahorses to inhabit very shallow areas in this region. These areas are sparsely inhabited compared to areas closer to reefs, which means there is less chance of predation and competition for food. However, these areas become very violent in terms of wave action during the rainy season and the small seahorses that have survived the dry season likely venture deeper during this time (and likely remaining there from their second year of life and beyond, perhaps returning for one more dry season in the shallows). To investigate this we will try some deeper surveys in front of formerly productive areas such as Koh Toteang South, Koh Chan East and south of Koh Sdach and Koh Kmauch, over the coming months.
During the various CoralWatch surveys, coral reef surveys and Dives Against Debris of the past three months, the Seahorse Dive Center Conservation Team has discovered the following species around the Koh Sdach Archipelago: Ghost Shrimp (Callianassidae family), Sacoglossan (Sea Slug) - Plakobranchus ocellatus, Nudibranch - Goniobranchus fidelis and Nudibranch - Platydoris species.
Conservation Manager, Cambodia