Conservation in Cambodia – Monthly update – January – February 2016
The project continued to conduct many underwater and coastal clean ups throughout January and February. Through DAD activities 169.8 Kg of trash was removed from local Coral Reef sites and on land we gathered 115 Kg of trash and 50.1 Kg of recyclable plastic bottles and Aluminum cans.
During the period we conducted a clean-up at the local Medical Centre as a great example to the local people as to what can be achieved with just a little effort. Another clean-up was held near a local Mangrove Estuary on the Mainland. We ran a clean-up day at the local school and presented the idea of reducing plastic use from the school canteen to the teachers there. Other miscellaneous activities occurred in relation to this area of our project.
Marine Pollution Presentations
The Marine Pollution presentation exists in the form of a projected PowerPoint display which details topics including; Marine Pollution Overview, the Origins of Plastic in the Ocean, Micro plastic and its potential problems for humans, “Ghost Nets” and their removal, “Refusing, Reducing, Reusing and Recycling,” Trash Management and Community Clean Up Projects. The presentation is given by the staff member in charge of the Marine Pollution project and volunteers are encouraged to ask questions about the issue's raised.
Much discussion centers 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 November/December period the presentation was given to 11 volunteers.
Dives Against Debris
During the first two months of 2016 we conducted 20 Dives Against Debris. Once again the overwhelming majority of material gathered was fishing net, rope and monofilament fishing line. Perhaps 10 % or less by weight was plastic objects and a few aluminum cans. Our efforts were equal to the equivalent of someone removing this debris from the reef over a period of 5558 minutes, or nearly 93 hours.
The largest amount of trash was removed from Koh Smach, at 75kgs, with 15 to 25kgs removed at each of 5 other island sites. In total we gathered 169.8 Kg of material. During January we reached another major milestone, surpassing 1500 kg of debris removed from local reefs.
Coastal Clean Up
The Coastal Clean Up activities were conducted mostly on Koh Sdach during this reporting period, with a single visit to the Mainland and a nice beach area adjacent to the Mangrove Estuary there. We gathered 115 Kg of trash (which was burnt in a fire pit on site or returned to our base for later burning) and 50.9 Kg of recyclable material, which was gifted to local recyclers. A total of 60 hours of work was completed when all individual efforts are looked at combined.
One of the highlights of the CCU's in January was a clean-up at the local Medical Centre. There had been a concert there for three nights in a row and we set out to clean the place up thoroughly. We figured that a Medical Centre should present a picture of cleanliness and hygiene and being situated in the middle of town, in a prominent place, we had hundreds of people notice our activities as they went by. Many people stopped to watch for a little bit, and one or two actually chipped in and helped. We also received a little help from one of the doctors and a few of his staff and overall made a major difference to the site. We didn't actually weigh the material that we burnt and estimated it at 20 kg, but I suspect it was much more.
A big achievement here also was that a very large amount of glass bottles and broken glass were removed (which isn't included in the weight estimate). The area is a favourite play area for local kids and there's a volleyball court there that is used multiple times a day, so I feel we made a difference in protecting people from cuts as well.
Another highlight in this period was a big clean up that was done along a stretch of lovely, uninhabited beach near a Mangrove Estuary on the mainland. We removed virtually all the rubbish along a 100 m stretch (burning 35 kg of trash) and also returned 15 kg of recyclable material to the mainland. We plan to return there soon to clean another stretch of this beach.
Other Pollution Related Activities
A memorable event here was the launching of a boat made from bamboo and plastic bottles. The project was a personal one for our volunteer Nikolaj Buhl, and along with some help from our staff members Meng and Tah, he managed to build a boat that could easily hold up 3 people with much buoyancy to spare. The buoyancy of the boat was created using some Styrofoam and about 500 plastic water bottles that were collected during our clean ups and from a recycling bin that Nikolaj installed near the local market. To top off this momentous achievement, during one of the weekends, Nikolaj and another volunteer, Rocio, circumnavigated the island of Koh Sdach over a period of nearly 8 hours, using paddles made from washed up pieces of wood.
Another activity that was completed, in late February, was a clean-up at the local school with the primary school children, and at which time our staff members Sea and Sigourney took the chance to do a presentation for the school teachers. They presented a talk and slide show about the problems of plastic pollution which focused on what the local school could do to help. They highlighted just how many pieces of plastic were being used each year and how much waste and money could be saved if we work together to design a system to use lunchboxes and refillable drink bottles, rather than Styrofoam containers and single use plastic drink bottles.
Our positive activities on Koh Sdach and its surrounds continued during the start of 2016. Our anti-debris activities managed to save many corals and mobile animals from death and injury due to otherwise unmitigated effects of the loose litter. During this period we decided to focus a lot of our efforts upon the school and the children of the village.
A large number of surveys were conducted once again in January and February and a large number of Seahorses were seen. On one occasion three were spotted during a single survey. In this two month period we conducted 12 surveys and there were 15 Seahorses observed on these (a new record for any two month period). When multiplying the dives by the number of divers present, this created 59 individual “runs” of survey, or 53.62 hours of searching. The area surveyed during these dives equates roughly to a strip of substrate 2 metres wide and about 317 metres in length per run, or a strip 2 m wide and 18.70 km long in total over the two months.
There were six surveys conducted around Koh Toteong, three off Koh Sdach, two at Koh Smach and one at Ghost Island. Seahorses were seen on all survey dives, except for the two conducted at Koh Smach.
In terms of the Biological data collected, the only species seen was Hippocampus kuda. This population was comprised of 13 females and 2 males, neither of which were pregnant. The sizes ranged from 1.5 cm torso lengths, up to 4.2 cm, which is still considered to be juvenile's in this species. All specimens were black in colour, with tiny white spots, especially around the facial area. The habitats were all similar with large stretches of sand, with Seagrass or Macroalgae in sparse, intermittent coverage. Holdfasts were either non-existant, or was commonly Macroalgae, with single incidences of a Seahorse holding a worm tube constructed of sand and tiny gravel, and a tube Anemone on another occasion.
Our partner, Project Seahorse featured one of our sightings as it's photo of the day on Twitter in January. The group responsible for running iSeahorse, iNaturalist, also featured another of our sightings as part of one of its Fish of the Week maps (a type of weekly summary of global fish observations) in February.
Once again the number of sightings increased compared to previous time periods and may reflect one or more of several possible factors or combinations thereof. It is likely that the prevalence of these Juvenile sightings indicates that the local Seahorse population, of H. kuda at least, went through a breeding period or season some time before November last year (and likely after July by best estimates).
With time and continued surveys we will be able to better tell if this is the case. If the numbers start to disappear and then increase again in November 2016 to February next year, then it might be concluded that there is a prevalence of sightings after the breeding season, which drops away due to predation and migration as we move beyond that time.
Other possibilities include the chance that with experience we are targeting locations better suited to H. kuda than before and also that staff members at least are getting better at spotting these small creatures. Staff members first locate the Seahorses far more often than volunteers and this may be some evidence supporting such a notion.
Conservation Manager, Cambodia