Dolphins ‘Popping’ in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique…

Dolphins ‘Popping’ in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique…

One of the most fascinating things about my work with the wild #dolphinsofponta  is being able to create a safe space were humans are able to observe this special species in their own environment.

Over the past couple of years I have filmed numerous events of a vocalisation I called tok, toking….Popping, a term coined by Richard C. Connor and Rachel A. Smolker in their article entitled ‘Pop’ goes the Dolphin, is of of those vocalisations that normally stops me mid swim! It’s done by the big boys and is sometimes followed by aggressive behaviours such as mock charges and open jaws!

In the coastal shallows of Shark Bay W.Australia three adult males were observed between 1987-88 in the company of one single female at a time. Over the period the female was seen to turn in towards the males and the authors concluded that popping is a threat vocalisation telling the female to stay close.

The series of low frequency pulse sounds are very distinctive and always accompanied by a series of bubbles. Through our in-water recordings in the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve in Mozambique we are able to associate the popping with the bubbles and the individuals – and guess what – they are all males too!

Since 2008 we have recorded some 30 events of popping. Interestingly enough though, most of our events included large nursery pods with adult male escorts. It seems that popping is also used on this side of the globe to keep the girls together.

On the 27th September I filmed an event with RemmyBoy and two other same age males together with a juvenile male who were in pursuit of Maria a young female.  It did look like the young boy was getting a lesson in popping and herding – with Maria being the consort this time! The adult males however this time slowed for a bit of circle swimming and conscious interaction with me before heading off in pursuit of Maria once more.

The #dolphinsofponta are part of a longterm monitoring project that was started in 1997 by DolphinCareAfrica; the research & conservation arm of the Dolphin Encountours Research Center in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique.

 

Reference: Connor, Richard & Smolker, Rachel. (1996). ‘Pop’ Goes the Dolphin: a Vocalization Male Bottlenose Dolphins Produce During Consortships. Behaviour. 133. 643-662. 10.1163/156853996X00404. 

Funding research through Dolphin Eco-Tourism

Funding research through Dolphin Eco-Tourism

One of my first memories of dolphins was as a child, Conservation standing with my Granny on the veranda of her holiday home in Ramsgate, southern KwaZulu Natal. She had spotted dolphins frolicking in the waves and was jumping up and down in excitement shrieking with joy each time one of the sleek, silvery-grey, torpedo-like creatures cleared the waves.

Text and images by Angie Gullan – Founder Dolphin Encountours in support of DolphinCare.Org

This joy is often relived now with guests I take to meet the Dolphins of Ponta.

Later on in life I was to learn that dolphins were revered amongst ancient civilizations and to ‘swim with dolphins’ ranked top on bucket lists. I discovered that dolphins are highly intelligent and are, in essence, persons. I learned that they are befriend-able and if approached in the right way, with the right attitude, these sentient beings would never cease to amaze.

The coastal waters off the east African seaboard are home to populations of semi resident Indo-Pacific, inshore bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus). These gregarious dolphins are different from their larger and more robust oceanic counterparts Tursiops truncates, the common bottlenose dolphin, in that they freckle on their bellies and have a longer and more slender beak.

The Dolphins of Ponta are one such population. Some 250 individuals live within a complex cross border network which traverses the towering ‘duned’ coastline and surrounding reef structures that makes up the Ponta Partial Marine Reserve in Mozambique and bordering the World Heritage site of iSimangaliso in South Africa.

Ponta do Ouro is home to the country’s first dedicated dolphin interaction and research project that was developed in the mid 90’s under the auspices of Dolphin Encountours. With the guidance of both scientific and spiritual advisers the special inwater program was developed to fund ongoing research through taking like-minded tourists to encounter dolphins in their natural environment.

The eco-tourism project served the growing need of people seeking to swim with dolphins as well as the need to assess the populations of marine mammals that frequented the area.

Priority number one was to create a safe space for human-dolphin encounters to take place and through the specially developed Dolphincare code of conduct this was made possible. Standard operating procedures were developed which included comprehensive pre-encounter briefings, snorkelling instructions and the collection of baseline data by means of a database that was compiled in collaboration with various institutes, mainly the Natural History Museum of the University Eduardo Mondalane in Maputo. As time passed we learned from the dolphins and were better able to understand, anticipate and distinguish different behaviours and postures, which offered a form of communication between them and us.

This understanding has led to some profound encounters with the Dolphins of Ponta. Some of these encounters leave one in a state of absolute bliss, finding both human and dolphin engaging in what seems to be a time of just being together.

If the situation arises a bout of seaweed interaction may take place and some energetic circle swimming will be had with people the individual dolphins know. They have been observed chasing sharks away from human swimmers and individuals have shown us the art of hunting and eating red-fang trigger fish. Mums and calves are observed in private time together where specific behaviours are taught and if something unusual happens to be in the area, the inquisitive dolphins will venture off to inspect, often leading us to wonderful sightings hidden down below.

Sadly the encounters sometimes leave us with a heavy heart as we realize and see first hand the impact human beings have on our finned friends. Mozambique’s pot of gold lies not only in tourism but in gas and oil exploration and industrial coastal development which will have adverse long term effects on marine mammals. Coastal tourism in Mozambique is growing exponentially and as its famed underwater kingdoms and fishing hotspots become accessible, more and more encounters with humans and their vessels are inevitable.

During the early 2000’s I was out guiding a dolphin session when we located two dolphins, one known to me as Spin. Spin was a young dolphin that enjoyed engaging with us. She was always the first on the bow and the first to initiate a circle swim.

On this day though, things were amiss. As the boat approached her, distressed vocalizing was heard and as I slipped into the water I could see why; the little dolphin was wrapped up in fishing line! I slowly unwrapped her, but found no way to remove the very large hook, which was by now deeply embedded in her belly. This was the last time I saw little Spin.

The DolphinCare.Org’s database comprises thousands of images, observational records, sound recordings and video recordings of semiresident dolphins and other marine mammals that frequent the area. Individual dolphins have their own files where relevant events are recorded with some of the individuals first being observed in the area when the project was in its pilot stage. Dolphin Encountours, the German Dolphin Conservation Society and volunteers primarily fund the project.

For more information on encountering the Dolphins of Ponta or finding out about how you can get involved and help the project please visit:

www.dolphin-encountours.com in support of www.dolphincare.org

Diving into conservation in the Seychelles

Diving into conservation in the Seychelles
Coco de Mer trees on Curieuse Island
Coco de Mer trees on Curieuse Island

When you arrive at the Seychelles International airport on Mahe you can spot a GVI volunteer from a mile off. In amongst the Louis Vuitton matching suitcases, and the Ralph Lauren polo shirts, a backpack stuffed to bursting point, often with a pair of diving fins strapped to the outside, causes them to stand out from the usual Seychelles crowd. Best known as a destination for honeymooning couples including members of the British Royal Family, the Seychelles is not your typical volunteer destination.

Text and images by Christophe Mason-Parker

The Seychelles is an archipelago made up of 115 islands scattered like jewels across the western Indian Ocean. The inner granitic islands are covered in lush vegetation and sit on top of the Mahe Plateau; home to the majority of the population of 90,000 people. The warm, shallow waters of the plateau are perfect for coral growth and numerous coral reefs, home to an impressive diversity of marine life, surround the tiny islands that rise up from the seabed.

A future marine conservationist trying out the Scuba equipment
A future marine conservationist trying out the Scuba equipment

The main industries in the Seychelles are fishing and tourism, with both relying heavily on the support of a healthy marine environment. In 1998, unusually high sea temperatures caused by an El Niño Southern Oscillation event led to widespread coral bleaching. Reefs were decimated throughout the tropics and the Seychelles was no exception. Within the inner islands, coral mortality in certain areas reached as high as 90%.

Following the bleaching event the Shoals of Capricorn Marine Programme, with funding by the Royal Geographic Society, began monitoring reef regeneration as part of a three-year programme. This was then taken over by Reefcare International as part of the Seychelles Marine Ecosystem Management Program (SEYMEMP).

In 2004 Global Vision International (GVI), under the invitation of the Seychelles National Parks Authority, began monitoring the coral reefs of northwest Mahe and almost ten years later they continue to collect critical data on reef health.

GVI dive instructor Joe explains how to set up your dive equipment with SNPA staff
GVI dive instructor Joe explains how to set up your dive equipment with SNPA staff

Volunteers unload the dive boat after a successful day of surveys
Volunteers unload the dive boat after a successful day of surveys

GVI is a social enterprise that runs conservation and community development programmes in numerous locations around the world. Whether it is Healthcare Projects in Nepal, Wildlife Research in South Africa or Community Development in Costa Rica, GVI has been making a real difference by sending volunteers into the field since 1998.

Aside from the backpacks and an obvious interest in conservation, stereotyping a GVI volunteer is not so easy. From gap year students and university graduates, to professionals and pensioners, volunteers come from all walks of life and from every conceivable part of the globe. Each has a different reason for joining, but all leave having given a little of their time and having made a significant contribution towards protecting the organisms that inhabit these fragile shores.

The expeditions are broken down into four-week blocks, with volunteers arriving for either four, eight or twelve weeks at a time. The main focus of the programme is coral reef monitoring and volunteers are allocated either fish or coral to study prior to arrival in the field. The species lists are extensive and have been developed in conjunction with the Seychelles National Parks Authority to cover those organisms that are frequently observed on the reefs, are commercially valuable or act as indicators of reef health.

Located on the northwest coast of Mahe Island and sandwiched between Cap Matoopa and the Morne Seychellois National Park is the Cap Ternay marine expedition base.  Situated adjacent to the Baie Ternay Marine Park it is the ideal location for training in survey techniques and provides quick and easy access to the coral reefs of northwest Mahe.

Quadrats are used to measure the rate of coral recovery
Quadrats are used to measure the rate of coral recovery

Upon arriving in the field, GVI volunteers immediately undergo an intensive science training programme, specifically designed to teach species identification and monitoring methodologies.  On completion of computer and in-water tests and after a suitable amount of practice they are then able to commence monitoring the coral reefs. Accuracy is paramount and only volunteers who have successfully passed these tests are allowed to collect data.

In 2004 Global Vision International, under the invitation of the Seychelles National Parks Authority, began monitoring the coral reefs of northwest Mahe and almost ten years later they continue to collect critical data on reef health.

In 2010 GVI opened its second expedition base in the Seychelles. Curieuse is the fifth largest of the inner islands and along with its surrounding waters was designated as a national park back in 1979. Initially the GVI expedition was to replicate the marine monitoring being undertaken on Mahe. However, since 2011 attention has shifted towards monitoring the terrestrial flora and fauna that inhabits the island.

The GVI Curieuse Island Research Base is located at Anse Jose overlooking Praslin Island. The ruins of a former leper colony have been developed over the years by GVI staff and volunteers and today provide an excellent example of a working research base. Photovoltaic panels provide the expedition’s energy needs, while a comprehensive rainwater harvesting system assists with the collection of water.

The Coco de Mer is highly sought after
The Coco de Mer is highly sought after

Curieuse along with neighbouring Praslin Island is home to the endemic Coco de Mer palm (Lodoicea maldivica). Its Latin name derives from when Maldivians used to find the nuts washed up on their shores and believed they came from submarine trees. A slow growing palm, the Coco de Mer has the largest seed in the plant kingdom.

The nuts are an iconic symbol within the Seychelles appearing on everything from postcards and t-shirts to company logos. Their resemblance to the female private part has in the past led to its use as an aphrodisiac and today they are highly sought after.

The nuts are traded under license and are valued between $200-$300 each. Their high value means poaching is a real issue and due to their slow growth rate and limited distribution could have severe implications for the future of the species. GVI volunteers alongside the SNPA are in the process of conducting the first complete census of the Coco de Mer trees on Curieuse Island.

GVI staff & SNPA rangers insert a tag into a giant tortoise
GVI staff & SNPA rangers insert a tag into a giant tortoise

The Giant Aldabra Tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) was once found throughout the Seychelles islands. Today the last remaining wild population exists on Aldabra, where 100,000 of these giants roam upon the coral atoll.  Between 1978 and 1982 almost 300 Giant Tortoises were translocated from Aldabra to Curieuse Island as part of a conservation programme designed to safeguard the future of the species. Thirty years later and GVI is assisting the Seychelles National Parks Authority to conduct a census of the Curieuse Island population. Passive Integrated Transmitters are injected into the tortoises near the base of the tail. These tags act as barcodes and when scanned provide unique information about the tortoise.

GVI staff & SNPA rangers check a giant tortoise for a p.i.t. tag
GVI staff & SNPA rangers check a giant tortoise for a p.i.t. tag
A GVI staff member administers a P.I.T. Tag
A GVI staff member administers a P.I.T. Tag

From September through to April much of the research on Curieuse Island focuses on nesting turtles. Hawksbill and Green turtles nest within the Seychelles, though Hawksbill turtles tend to favour the inner islands. They are currently listed on the IUCN Red List as ‘Crtitically Endangered’ with global populations having crashed by over 80% in recent years.

Hawksbill Turtles nest during daylight hours
Hawksbill Turtles nest during daylight hours

In the Seychelles prior to 1994 huge numbers of nesting females were taken from most islands each season. Though the trade in tortoise shell is now illegal, and on the decrease, the species continues to face many threats to its existence. Entanglements in fishing nets, destruction of nesting grounds, and predation of eggs by feral animals, have all contributed toward a continuing decline in population numbers. Today the Seychelles is home to the largest remaining Hawksbill nesting population in the Western Indian Ocean.

During nesting season GVI staff and volunteers, alongside national park rangers walk up and down the beaches of Curieuse Island, searching for turtle tracks. Assisted by the Hawksbill’s tendency to nest during daylight hours in this part of the world, when the teams encounter a turtle they wait for her to start laying before approaching to record vital information.

A green turtle swims slowly thought the shallows
A green turtle swims slowly thought the shallows

Aside from the scientific monitoring programmes, a large part of the work GVI Seychelles undertakes focuses on community involvement and capacity building. The National Scholarship Programme is free to all Seychellois over the age of 18 with an interest in conservation. Applicants can take part in either the marine or terrestrial expeditions and gain valuable practical field experience. To date GVI has trained several park rangers and university students in species identification and scientific monitoring techniques.

The idea of spending two months living in remote conditions with a group of people you barely know is not to everyone’s liking. The days are long and hard, the accommodation is often basic and access to the trappings of modern day life is extremely limited. Yet volunteering offers something that you won’t get from your traditional vacation. There is the opportunity to make lifelong friendships with like-minded people, to get up close to nature in a way that you would never have thought possible, and the ability to make a real difference towards protecting the natural environment and improving the lives of those people who depend upon it for their livelihoods.

Playing games at a GVI open day

Kid’s at Port Launay primary school try out the GVI dive equipment

For many, volunteering is a life-changing experience, providing them with a new direction in life or an alternative insight into how they view the world. As our lives become ever busier, driven by mobile technology and our 24-hour lifestyles, many of us have forgotten what it is like to connect with nature. Our planet is facing increasing threats from climate change, overpopulation, pollution and dwindling resources, so it is good to know that there are people out there who still care enough to want to make a difference.

The Seychelles has an enviable record of looking after its environment with much of the land and surrounding waters designated as national parks. Small-scale conservation projects such as the one run by GVI in conjunction with the Seychelles National Parks Authority can go a long way towards protecting biodiversity, educating communities and conserving the environment for future generations.

For more information on GVI’s projects in the Seychelles and around the globe, visit: http://www.gvi.co.uk/

GVI staff and volunteers join the local community for a beach clean
GVI staff and volunteers join the local community for a beach clean

Paddle Out for Sharks – 2013

Paddle Out	for Sharks – 2013
Image by Dori Moreno
Image by Dori Moreno

On the back of a successful Paddle Out for Sharks held in 2012, more than 130 shark conservationists, divers, anglers, and paddlers marked World Oceans Day 2013 by ‘paddling out’ to the shark nets at Scottburgh Beach, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa to highlight the plight of sharks in Southern Africa and demonstrate our collective concern for the way sharks are treated and perceived. We were joined on the beach by members of the public who share our vision.

 Text by Amanda Barratt

Image by Allen Walker
Image by Allen Walker

The Paddle Out for Sharks is founded on a crucial spiritual element of surfer culture – paddle outs are traditionally held in memory of a surfer who has died. Part of why I was drawn to the concept of the event was because paddle outs are a demonstration of the seamless connection between beach user and the  sea, a philosophy that I believe is essential to flipping dominant assumptions about sharks, and hopefully problematizing our relationship with the sea’s natural predators. I believe that common sense understandings of sharks and  a lack of respect for the natural world has put shark populations in danger, and that beach users, especially the participants of the paddle out, having had different experiences and understandings of sharks, must be mobilized to be proactive in attempting to challenge assumptions about these animals.

Sharks have roamed our oceans for 400 million years, but have been decimated by up to 90% in some parts of the world. They are a clade of animals that has been demonstrated to be related to the health of our oceans, and the killing of sharks is often given little attention, as the public so poorly perceives them. Millions of sharks fall victim to the long net of industrialised fishing, as they are killed for their fins, to feed the demand for shark fin soup, with many fisheries practising the undoubtedly inhumane practice of finning of live sharks that are then thrown back into the ocean to drown. The demand for fins has also resulted in many small-scale and artisanal fishermen feeding the market, in order to make a living as industrial fishing has destroyed many of their local fisheries.

Image by Dori Moreno
Image by Dori Moreno

Large sharks are also popular targets for sport fishermen who see sharks as fair game. While many fishermen engage in safe and responsible practices, many predatory sharks are fished purely as trophies, in effect removing slow reproducing animals that are vital to the conservation of lower trophic levels.

Another problematic practice is the implementation of gill nets that are installed with the purpose of protecting beach users. Their operation misunderstood, the nets, which run the length of popular beaches in KwaZulu-Natal as one example, systematically reduce shark numbers in the netted areas, while impacting on the marine life in the netted areas and beyond.

Image by Dori Moreno
Image by Dori Moreno

The above examples of the fundamental human relationship with sharks reflects the mark we leave on our planet and our oceans, and it is the Paddle Out’s philosophy, that our behaviour should be challenged.

Editor of African Diver Magazine, Cormac McCreesh, summed it up perfectly, when he stated,

we have it within ourselves to rise above everything, to be human and humane. Our oceans and seas are the last remaining wildernesses.  It’s never too late to start to look after what we have and the way we think of, and treat, sharks tells us something about how we treat our oceans.

Paddle Out For Sharks is reaching far, and looks to gain support for its philosophy, from like-minded people, and the public. The momentum that Paddle out envisages riding on, is an energy where we take back our custodial duties of our planet, and engage and interact with the public, challenging assumptions and demonstrating our collective passion for sharks and our marine environment.

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Image by Allen Walker

Paddle Out for Sharks focus is to challenge malignant discourses about sharks, encourage discussion that enables sustainable fishing, and we are firm that pressure for legislative changes need to come from the public, who must be proactive about the conservation of our planet.

Thus Paddle Out For Sharks is working to afford more value to the life of a shark, than a dead shark, by engaging the public and beach users, to educate them about the many different values of sharks, which we see as economic, cultural and effective, in the hope that we may challenge assumptions about sharks, and ultimately lobby authorities and law makers for the preservation of sharks in South Africa.

Images by Allen Walker and Dori Moreno
Images by Allen Walker and Dori Moreno
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