Conservation and Environment in Cambodia: Monthly Updates
Cambodia Marine Conservation Project – June 2012
June was a very exciting month as we were lucky enough to have two of the UK’s leading seahorse experts come and visit. They offered great insight into the lives and hardships that seahorses face all over the world. The Conservation project here is now taking on much more of a seahorse orientated focus as we have such a unique opportunity here with seahorse populations being so accessible.
All volunteers are now trained in reef check methodology and are looking forward to the first week in July when we will be doing a week of intense reef surveys on the surrounding sites. Reef surveys will take place at the beginning of each month. The data from these surveys will show the health of the reefs in the surrounding ecosystem, we are hoping to discover if there is any correlation between the health of the reefs and seahorse populations.
Volunteers have set up permanent transects on two shallow reefs; House Reef and Boatman’s Bay. These permanent transects will also be surveyed once a month. Permanent transects allow us to very closely monitor a specific area, especially looking at changes in substrate and invertebrates which are less mobile.
Collaborating with The Seahorse Trust and Save Our Seahorses
As already mentioned we had two of the UK’s leading seahorse experts visit the project, Neil Garrick-Maidment from The Seahorse Trust in England and Kealan Doyle, from Save Our Seahorses in Ireland. It was a great honour to have them visit our project and impart their knowledge and ideas on us. After spending time with them we have restructured and refocused a lot of our work in this area.
In Cambodia and actually everywhere in the world very little is known about seahorses in the wild, this is one of the reasons for the project focusing so heavily on seahorses. However they also reminded us of the importance of focusing on the ecosystem as a whole and trying to understand as much as possible that is going on in our local waters.
There are so many basic unanswered questions and after Neil and Kealan dived here we quickly realised that what they had learnt from years studying European seahorses would not necessarily work for Cambodian seahorses. Some of the questions left open for us to discover what Cambodian seahorses are up to are:
- Do they have territories?
- Are they mating opportunistically or taking a partner?
- Is there a reason that the pencil urchin is their preferred holdfast?
- What are they eating?
These are just of a few of the questions we will start trying to answer and we know that with each question and each subsequent conclusion it will just open more and more researchpossibilities.
One of the long term goals is to find out exactly where we are seeing the seahorses. We trained volunteers in firstly how to find seahorses while diving, as they are quite cryptic and take a little practice to find them. Then volunteers learnt how to identify species, sex of seahorse and to take basic measurements with as little stress to the seahorse as possible.
The methodology for this type of random survey is basic. In buddy teams volunteers go out diving with a slate to record all the details and with a surface marker buoy (SMB) to send to the surface when they find a seahorse. From the boat there is someone with a GPS that will mark the position of the seahorse, after the dive that point is put onto Google maps with all the data about the individual added. So far we have recorded 5 seahorses.
On the seahorse breeding grounds there are anti-trawling blocks we are in the process of finding and marking them with floats. We will be monitoring them as artificial reefs to see what is living on and around them. So far two have been marked and they are covered in lots of shells and hydrozoans, we have also found seahorses in the general area around the blocks.
Volunteers as always have been cleaning up the beach and around the village. We have been using a lot of the plastic that we find on the clean ups as markers for our transects and anti-trawling blocks, we have even found a few proper floats which are perfect markers.
The school is going very nicely, a lot of the focus is on correct sentence structure and grammar as the children have a fairly extensive vocabulary already. One of the big tasks is to get the children to use their English outside of the classroom. Classes for the older Khmer staff have also continued, you can see a real confidence in the English that they use every day.
I just wanted to thank the Projects Abroad head office for allowing Neil Garrick-Maidment and Kealan Doyle to come visit the project. Also a big thank you to Neil and Kealan for coming over and offering invaluable insight into future long term projects all with the aim of increasing our knowledge of seahorses and using that to try and stop the destruction of seahorse populations in the wild.
A sobering thought to leave with: if something is not done to protect seahorses from illegal fishing and trade, within 10 years seahorses could be just another extinct species in the wild.
Project Coordinator, Cambodia