Conservation and Environment in Cambodia: Monthly Updates
Conservation in Cambodia - Monthly update - November - December 2015
Marine Pollution Activities
During the months of November and December both our Coastal Clean Ups (CCU's) and our Dives Against Debris (DAD's) recovered significantly more waste than the previous few months. Indeed, the two months saw the greatest amount of trash and recyclable material removed from local beaches for any recorded period to date. Through DAD activities 242.3 Kg of trash was removed from local Coral Reef sites and on land we gathered 256 Kg of trash and 64.1 Kg of recyclable plastic bottles and Aluminium cans. The issue of Marine Pollution was again raised with the local community. We conducted a workshop titled The State of the Reef – a 12 month project update, at the Community Fishery, with a total of about 25 attendees, plus our staff and 6 volunteers. One of the three presentations was an update on the amount of marine debris recovered in the first 12 months, presented by our volunteer, Camilla. The importance of Coral Reefs, the damage that “ghost nets” can do and our progress in removing them were all presented. Some positive outcomes came from the meeting and after a period of discussion it was raised by the Community Fishery that they would change a few practices to help protect the reef from discarded plastic and fishing gear. Lastly, we conducted a village clean up that saw 54 people participate. Efforts centred around the village Temple and surrounds and yielded 87.5 Kg of trash and 23 Kg of Recyclable material. Many of the participants were children and this bodes well for future efforts.
State of the Reef Workshop
A workshop was planned and held at the Headquarters of the Community Fishery, Beauty of Koh Sdach, in December. Invites were sent to local dignitaries, business people, members of the Community Fishery and local fishermen. It was attended by around 40 people in total, including presenters and volunteers. The three presentations were; State of the Fishery and Overfishing Issues, State of the Coral and Potential Threats and Marine Pollution Update. In the latter, the major facts that were presented included that the Project spent 448 person hours conducting DAD's in the 12 month period and that around about 1440 Kg of trash was removed.
Part of the presentation highlighted the dangers of Marine Pollution to marine animals and Humans. One section briefed attendees on the amounts of trash collected from each individual island in the Archipelago and we also informed them that our efforts will shift towards more regular visits to the Islands of Koh Sdach and Koh Ampel, as those locations have a lot of debris and seemingly high coverage of living corals. After the discussion period it was announced by the Head of the Community Fishery that members of their group would be encouraged to avoid the damaging practice of discarding broken fish traps and torn nets back into the ocean. We see the presentation as having had a really positive effect upon those that attended.
Dives Against Debris
DAD's were conducted at all Islands within the archipelago, except for Koh Kmauch, during the reporting period. Sites around the islands were chosen based upon weather conditions and wind direction. Dives were conducted between depths of 3 to 13 metres the majority of the time and the substrate was usually made up of both living and dead Coral encrusted rock.
We conducted the most number of DAD's and collected the most amount of debris for any reporting period, completing 21 dedicated DAD's. In terms of “person hours” committed, we saw 116 hours of work done, which is more than a quarter of all DAD effort in the 12 months to date. A total weight of 242.3 Kg of Trash was removed, with the largest amounts coming from Koh Sdach and Koh Toteang. During our recovery attempts the most numerous living entanglements were Sea Cucumbers, Crabs and Whip, Fan and Acropora Coral for benthic organisms.
Coastal Clean Ups
The Coastal Clean Up activities were conducted mostly on Koh Sdach during this reporting period, with a single visit to Koh Ampel the only exception. We gathered 256 Kg of trash (which was burnt in a fire pit on site or returned to our base for later burning) and 64.1 Kg of recyclable material, which was gifted to local recyclers. A total of 136 hours of work was completed when all individual efforts are combined.
One of the highlights of the CCU's in November was a dedicated Styrofoam clean up at the northern tip of the island. This area is the location of our Draft Management Plan, which highlighted the high level of Styrofoam accumulation there. Ten volunteers working for about 75 minutes, were able to collect more than 13 large rice bags worth of foam, which weighed in at 40 Kg. The Styrofoam was burnt at the site and very little ash or slag remained.
Another highlight for the period was a village clean-up, that saw 54, mostly Khmer people, participate. Efforts centred around the village Temple and surrounds and yielded 87.5 Kg of trash and 23 Kg of Recyclable material.
Marine Pollution Management Plan – Pilot Project
A Draft Management Plan was completed by volunteers for a small, but aesthetically pleasing section of the Island, in late November. The plan details factors at the site such as current and former land uses, areas at high risk of pollution, species lists for flora and fauna at the site, possible projects to increase the recreational potential of the area and a table of Issues, Objectives and Solutions. Much of the focus is upon litter at the site, as it accumulates a lot by wave action which deposits a lot of rubber, plastic and Styrofoam in the tidal rocks and along the shore edge.
During the assessment phase we conducted underwater surveys of Fish, Invertebrates and Coral Substrate, but further work will continue in this area. Land surveys of Flora and Fauna were also conducted, but we are still lacking some detail here with difficulties identifying many plant species in particular. An interview was conducted with the closest business, Octopuses Garden Dive Centre, asking them 12 questions about their uses of the land, whether improved amenity will help their business, their knowledge of the history of the site, notable flora and fauna they've observed and whether they would like to help remedy and maintain the area. We also mapped the site using GPS and transferred the details to a GIS program to create an accurate map. We conducted transect surveys of the litter at the site at four locations (tidal rocks, water’s edge, walking track and grassland) to determine the composition of the litter and areas most affected. Lastly, we conducted three clean ups at the site and removed over 70 Kg of trash and 10 Kg of recyclable materials.
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. There are two sections to our surveying, comprising of underwater surveying and land-based interviews of fishermen and sellers of dried Seahorses (known as Landings Surveys). 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 conducted 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 from our Seahorse sightings to their online database, iSeahorse.org.
November and December at the Project saw much greater effort put into Seahorse Surveys than the previous two month period. This was due to a combination of factors which included the waning of the Wet Season, a greater number of volunteers in attendance and an abundance of Seahorse sightings creating great enthusiasm for work in this area. In the two month period there were 9 official surveys conducted. When multiplying the dives by the number of divers present, this created 43 individual “runs” of survey, or 35.9 hours of searching. The area surveyed during these dives equates roughly to a strip of substrate 2 metres wide and about 350 metres in length per hour of survey. There were three surveys conducted around Koh Toteong, two off Koh Sdach, two alongside the mainland and one each at Koh Chan and Ghost Island. The only Seahorse sightings to occur were at Ghost Island, with two Hippocampus kuda females being recorded on that dive. The details of these surveys were submitted to Project Seahorse.
The sudden increase in the number of Seahorse Sightings likely reflects some seasonal pattern in the biology of the two species spotted in recent months. The sightings have occurred at locations where we have visited before (except for the two sightings next to the mainland) and I doubt the sudden appearance of H. kuda juvenile's at several different locations is a coincidence. However, we have learned valuable lessons about some of the preferred habitats of these guys in this period. It's long been apparent to the project that the Seahorses in this area (or if the overfishing pressures we imagine to exist here are true, the Seahorses “left in this area”) do not reside on the reef itself and even appear not to be found on the silty rubble grounds bordering the reef. These recent sightings though have shown us that the juvenile's at least seem to be found in November and December in depths of 1.5 to 4 m over sand. At these locations they seem to shelter in depressions (craters) in the sand created by wave motion and burrowing worms.
Reef Survey Report
Survey training and Reef Surveys have occurred regularly during the November-December period, thanks to good weather. Many un-surveyed areas of Koh Chan were covered, and now all but 2 sites around the islands of Koh Andech, Koh Chan and Koh Toteong have been surveyed at least once during the year, providing us with a baseline dataset for Substrate cover and Invertebrate & Fish abundance. Surveys have been carried out more recently around Koh Ampel, even with the low underwater visibility of the area.
The species database of the Koh Sdach Archipelago reefs is still underway, with new additions almost daily. Volunteers have been asked to help with compiling photos, as well as providing their own photos. A new underwater camera and invertebrate identification guide will be purchased to aid in this task, and volunteers receiving the PADI Underwater Photography Speciality will be able to receive valuable training while working on this project.
Community and Education Report
Education is an important part of any conservation project and we have been busy with local primary schools in helping paint their classrooms and teaching as well. Our long term aim is to implement recycling programs and waste management to help reduce the pollution both at the school and in the surrounding area. These initial activities help earn trust and respect and will aid our future plans to help out with local education.
The Green Protectors
Our class with the Green Protectors is going well as we planned. We will take them snorkeling to see the coral reef and marine life in the next month. We want them to remember marine life’s name and about the importance of food chains in the ecosystem. Now we are planning to offer them three weeks for lessons and the last week for field activities. This means that after classroom learning they get to see everything in practice.
We organized workshop with CFi (Community Fisheries Organization) in the middle of December. Our workshop’s topic was about damage on coral, overfishing and marine pollution. CFi invited around 50 of their stakeholders and most of them are fishermen. We aimed to spread awareness and educated people about their impact on the coral and marine life. After the workshop we had a lot of discussion with them and their concerns about their natural resources were encouraging. We strongly support the CFi’s work to protect their fisheries resources here. We hope we will find more workshops or ideas to help them continue to improve and reduce their impact on the ocean.
Conservation Manager, Cambodia
7th January 2016