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Sea Around Us project newsletter, issue 58, March/April 2010 Bailey, Megan; Sea Around Us Project Mar 31, 2010

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Sea Around UsThe Sea Around Us Project NewsletterIssue 58 – March/April 2010A Predatory ParadoxGrey Reef Sharks. Viti Levu, Fiji.Photo by D.  Al-AbdulrazzakContinued on page 2 - Sharksby Dalal Al-AbdulrazzakIn 2007-2008, I was a recipient of aThomas J. Watson Fellowship, whichprovides recent college graduates a yearof independent, purposeful exploration andtravel outside the United States and theirhome country. Unlike most fellowships,there is no tangible output required,emphasizing that the grant is an investmentin a person, rather than a project. Over thecourse of the year, I traveled to Panama, theBahamas, New Zealand, Fiji, Palau, theSeychelles and South Africa, to assess howcultural context affects shark conservation.One of my goals was to gather folklore andstories of shark encounters in order tobetter understand the relationship betweenhumans and sharks. One way I did this wasby shadowing shark-diving operations andconducting informal interviews with theoperators and tourists.  I envisioned anexciting year, full of close calls, startlingstories, and electrifying adventures.However, what I found was much morefrightening and dangerous: boredom. Liketoddlers in a room full of toys with nothingto do, it’s now all too easy for your averagetourist to come face-to-face with an apexpredator, take some snapshots for proof, andhead home. I recall a dive off Dyer Island,South Africa where after a phenomenalencounter with a fifteen-foot great whiteshark, I was left buzzed and awed, willing tostay underwater until my lips turned bluefrom the cold in hopes of another glimpse.It has taken me over three hundred dives tosee a great white in the wild! Howeverupon surfacing, I was amazed at the sombertone on the boat. On surveying the otherdivers about their experience I was mainlygreeted with comments about the coldwater, poor visibility, and seasickness. Therewas no discernible emotion about havingjust survived breathing through a hose inthe presence of something with teeth thesize of carving knives. The nuances of thesegreat animals and their place on theplanet—alongside us—seem entirely loston most people.Though western society oftensensationalizes sharks in negative ways,other societies admire them, viewing themas symbols for justice and divine ancestralPage 2Sea Around Us – March/April 2010The Sea Around Us project newsletter ispublished by the  Fisheries Centre at theUniversity of BritishColumbia. Six issues ofthis newsletter arepublished annually.Subscriptions arefree of charge.Our mailingaddress is: UBCFisheries Centre,Aquatic EcosystemsResearch Laboratory, 2202Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia,Canada, V6T 1Z4. Our fax number is (604)822-8934, and our email address isSeaNotes@fisheries.ubc.ca. All queries,subscription requests, and electronicaddress changes should be addressed toMegan Bailey, Sea Around Us NewsletterEditor.The Sea Around Us website may be foundat www.seaaroundus.org and contains up-to-date information on the project.The Sea Around Us project is a scientific collaborationbetween the University of British Columbia and the PewEnvironmental Group. The Trusts support nonprofit activitiesin the areas of culture, education, the environment, healthand human services, public policy and religion. Based inPhiladelphia, the Trusts make strategic investments to helporganizations and citizens develop practical solutions todifficult problems. In 2000, with approximately $4.8 billion inassets, the Trusts committed over $235 million to 302 nonprofitorganizations. ISSN 1713-5214   Sea Around Us (ONLINE)Sadly, manyof thetraditionalmyths andfolklore thathave longserved as areminder ofour place innature havebeen lost.Sharks - Continued from page 1power. Sadly, many of thetraditional myths and folklorethat have long served as areminder of our place in naturehave been lost. In most of thevillages I visited, I found thatshark encounters have becomeso rare that many of thesestories are not preserved. Eldersno longer incorporate sharksinto their story-telling traditions.In fact, while spending timewith a Kuna family in San Blas,Panama, I was offered aconsolation prize for my unfruitfulattempts to uncover the myth ofTio Tiburon; the matriarch would instead make mea Mola (traditional reverse-appliqué cloth panel) ofa shark. A week later, I was presented with a Moladepicting a creature resembling a cross between aporpoise and sturgeon. I graciously accepted thegift, despite the irony of the situation.Perhaps it is up to the dive operators, the verypeople who are putting the last of these wildanimals on daily display, to either truly feel the thrillfor the first time, or to at least to pretend to feel it.Too often theyshrug theirshoulders withcool machismoat how “well-trained” thesharks are,rather thanmarveling attheir restraint.Theirpromotionalline is that noone has everbeen bitten,but of course we all know that it is not true. Whilein Fiji, I witnessed a shark handler get bitten by agrey reef shark. The handler attempted to continueto feed the sharks, despite the alarming amount ofblood seeping out of his wound. After some initialconfusion, the show was stopped, and we werefrantically herded onto the boat. The injuredhandler spent the return boat ride in the cabin,away from our sight. There was no debriefing andnot a single word was uttered about the incident. Ilater found out that the handler nearly had histhumb bitten off and needed several stitches.Although shark-diving encounters have donemuch to dissipate the “ferocious man-eater” myththat prevails around the world, perhaps it has gonetoo far. Perhaps, we have taken these magnificentcreatures, which for centuries have invokedfeelings of wonder and awe, and paraded themaround in aquariums and ` eco-adventure’ tours tothe point of dullness. We have demystified themystical. This is why story-telling is so important.Stories counteract the prevailing nonchalancesurrounding alpha predators. They serve to help usrediscover our place in nature and revel in theremarkable intimacy of a rare encounter.Great White Shark. Dyer Island, South Africa.  Photo by D.  Al-Abdulrazzak.Page 3 Sea Around Us – March/April 2010Harvestingof seaturtles forthe trade oftheir meat,oil, shells,and eggshas reducedpopulations...Understanding the role of greenturtles in the Caribbean and Hawai‘iby Colette WabnitzFollowing the submission of my doctoraldissertation for external review, I packed mysuitcase and boarded a flight to Hawai’i. I wasfollowing up on the kind invitation that had beenextended to me by George Balazs, Leader of theMarine Turtle Research Program at NOAA, NationalMarine Fisheries Service (NMFS), to give apresentation at NMFS in Honolulu and visit some ofthe sites at which he and his team conduct turtleresearch. The plan specifically included a visit toKaloko Honokôhau, a National Historical Parklocated on the Kona coast (west coast of the BigIsland) and the focus of one of my dissertationchapters.At the start of my PhD, I, together with my co-supervisors Drs Karen Bjorndal and Alan Boltenfrom the University of Florida, submitted a proposalto NMFS to model the potential ecosystem effectsa recovering Caribbean green turtle population, inresponse to their protection throughout the region,would have on seagrass communities. In theCaribbean, green turtles’ preferred forage isseagrass, a flowering plant that occurs in shallowcoastal environments. My research focus wastherefore to be on the likely impacts broughtabout by the increased grazing activity of a largenumber of green turtles, and concomitant declinein habitat complexity at the ecosystem level (i.e.,reduction in refuge capacity of seagrass for smallfish and invertebrates). NMFS offered to financiallysupport the study1, but asked that my research alsoinclude the investigation of the role of greenturtles on reefs in Hawai‘i, where, unlike theCaribbean, green turtles primarily forage on algae,and ancillary data demonstrate the population isapproaching carrying capacity.Harvesting of sea turtles for the trade of their meat,oil, shells, and eggs has reduced populations thatonce numbered in the millions to the brink ofextinction. While many countries now haveregulations in place to limit this trade, or havebanned it altogether, an increasing demand forsubsistence and local markets, and a suite of otherthreats contribute to the continued decline of anumber of sea turtle populations. With a fewnotable exceptions, many populations areconsidered depleted or declining.In response to these dramatic declines, scientistsand conservation practitioners throughout theworld have accelerated their attempts to aid in therecovery of sea turtle populations. Given currentlydepleted green turtle numbers, their importanceand likely impact at historic abundance levels isdifficult to imagine (and oft forgotten). To answerthe question of whether sea turtle species arecentral to healthy ecosystem processes,knowledge of their ecology needs to be integratedinto the trophic matrix of the system within whichthey are found. Important aspects to consider aretheir (a) direct impact as consumers, including theirdietary preferences and food consumption rates;and (b) indirect impact resultingfrom foraging behaviour (e.g.,changes to the structure of theirforaging habitat and associatedbehavioural changes in otherspecies). I addressed (a) focusing onthe green turtle aggregation atKaloko and (b) looking at a seagrass/reef/mangrove system and greenturtle population in Puerto Rico andthe US Virgin Islands.CaribbeanResults from a Caribbean ecosystemmodel (developed using the freesoftware Ecopath with Ecosim –www.ecopath.org) showed thatAt Kaloko Honokôhau with a green turtle in the foreground.Continued on page 4 - TurtlesPage 4Sea Around Us – March/April 2010The fact thatgreenturtles feedon non-nativealgae,includingmacroalgae,furtherstrengthenstheircontributionto thepromotionof reefresilience...recovery of a species whose grazing activitystrongly alters habitat structure at the ecosystemlevel may lead to potentially dramatic changes inspecies biomass and composition. Findings alsodemonstrated that by considering multiplepredator-prey interactions, in addition to therefuge capacity of a primary producer, simulatedecosystem responses are more complex thansuggested by simple predator-prey experiments.Results underscored the importance of inter-habitat exchanges (i.e., between reef, mangroveand seagrass) and how recovery of green turtlesmay potentially affect these linkages and/or therole of individual habitats as nursery areas for avariety of species, including commerciallyimportant fish. These findings demonstrate that therecovery plans for sea turtle populations need tobe more detailed than merely aiming for a targetof species’ abundances. Using green turtles as anexample, they should explicitly acknowledge therole that green turtles play in structuring seagrassbeds, and highlight the need to (i) gain greaterunderstanding of what the implications of this rolemay have for the ‘functioning’ of seagrass bedstoday and into the future, and (ii) perhaps helpredefine at what levels green turtle populationsmay be considered to have made a full recovery.Hawai‘iHawai‘i represents a unique setting to investigatethe role of green turtles as consumers.  As notedearlier, these eastern Pacific green turtles feedchiefly on algae rather than seagrass, as in theCaribbean. A turtle fishing ban implemented in thelate 1970s has resulted in a dramatic increase inthe number of green turtles at foraging areas, withseveral lines of evidence suggesting thataggregations are reaching carrying capacity.Results from an Ecopath model developed torepresent trophic connections at Kalokodemonstrated that the combined grazing pressureof the different herbivorous groups (i.e., reef fish,sea urchins, and green turtles) matched total algalproduction. Numerous studies have highlightedthe role that large herbivores (e.g., parrotfish in theCaribbean) play in maintaining reef resilience. Theresults presented here underscore that, at healthyabundance levels, green turtles contribute to theresilience of reefs in the face of disturbance. Thefact that green turtles feed on non-native algae,including macroalgae, further strengthens theircontribution to the promotion of reef resilience, asherbivorous fish often show a preference forfilamentous algae, limiting the ability ofmacroalgae-dominated reefs to revert to coraldominated states. Green turtles’ functional rolethus needs to be explicitly included in futurestudies of reef dynamics.The Hawai‘i model also provided a functional toolfor Kaloko managers to make informed decisionsabout natural resource management in the light ofcoastal urban expansion plans, while incorporatingan ecological perspective. By integrating knowninformation from a wide variety of sources, andhelping to organise and track information thatwould not be possible otherwise, the model alsohighlighted future research foci. These includedthe collection of more detailed consumption anddiet information for some of the grazers, theirspatial distribution on the reef and nutrient inputtime series data. Such data will increase themodel’s ability to produce realistic projections,particularly in light of ongoing development, andthe desire by park managers to use the model tohighlight future management opportunities as wellas trade-offs.Notes1Sections of my thesis were also supported by theSea Around Us Project, a scientific cooperationbetween UBC and the Pew Environment Group, aMia Tegner Grant,  and a Disney WildlifeConservation Fund grant.Holding a green turtle in company of one of the students fromthe Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy who regularly help out withturtle tagging campaigns.Turtles - Continued from page 3

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