Guy Harvey, Sir Richard Branson Discuss Marine Conservation Issues

November 9, 2012

Left to right: Michael Ryan, Guy Harvey, Madeleine Ryan, Jessica Harvey and Sir Richard Branson.

I recently had an opportunity to meet with Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group. Sir Richard was in Grand Cayman to deliver the keynote speech at the recent “Alternative Investment Conference”, which was held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Grand Cayman. The event was organized and hosted by Michael Ryan and also featured such notables as former U.S. President George W. Bush and former world’s number one golfer Greg Norman.

After the conference, I was able to meet with Sir Richard for a few minutes to discuss the potential for collaborating with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. I gave Sir Richard a quick overview of the GHOF and briefed him on several of the projects the Foundation has supported, with specific details on studies involving tiger sharks, mako sharks, bluefin tuna and billfish.

I elaborated on the role that GHOF research has played in highlighting the importance of the Bahamas archipelago to many species of sharks. In a collaborative effort with the Bahamas National Trust and the Pew Environmental Group, we convinced the government of the Bahamas to protect all sharks from commercial exploitation within their 200 mile EEZ.

Here in the Cayman Islands, the GHOF in involved in a multitude of research projects that includes Nassau grouper conservation, lionfish eradication and recruitment, and climate change studies at CCMI in Little Cayman. We are also actively engaged in shark research and blue marlin migration studies.

Documentary film making has also been a priority, so during the last year the Guy Harvey Expeditions team of producer George Schellenger, Jessica Harvey and myself have been on location nine times to conduct shoots in Panama, Nova Scotia, Little Cayman, Cocos Island (Costa Rica), the Bahamas and Isla Mujeres (Mexico). Our group made three trips to Isla Mujeres in 2012, teaming up with Captain Anthony Mendillo and crew to complete shoots on sailfish, mako sharks and whale sharks. Sir Richard was particularly interested in the sailfish and whale shark work as he has visited Isla Mujeres on several occasions, also guided by Captain Anthony.  We discussed the limited research done on sailfish and whale sharks and the opportunity to collaborate with the Georgia Aquarium research team in future research and conservation efforts.

I went to some length explaining the value of catch and release sport fishing to Caribbean island and Central American economies. I emphasized the need for a regional approach as many of the large pelagic species cover great distances that cross several jurisdictions. This requires a coordinated effort in management and conservation as one country’s regulations may not be the same as its neighbors.

I also discussed the need for research work on all the species mentioned, as without the scientific data one cannot make management decisions and thus achieve sustainability and conservation. Fishing is the method by which we access many of these creatures for study, underwater photography, tagging and genetic work. Sir Richard was not keen on fishing but acknowledged it is a useful tool in this arena.

We moved on to some more local issues, the hot topics being the condition of the Cayman Turtle Farm and the issue regarding stingray conservation through law. Sir Richard was concerned that turtles could still be fished by local licensed fishermen, given that turtles are protected world-wide. I pointed out that none of the current license holders have continued with this activity. The turtle farm itself needed to be divested I said, and turned into a better marine attraction whose focus was more on turtle replenishment, research and husbandry than on the consumption of the turtle meat. Our belief is that there are hundreds of thousands of turtle lovers who would be willing to donate $5 or $10 towards a satellite tagging program that would allow the turtles to be set free so that they can  provide information about migrations and long distance journeys.

The treatment of the stingrays in the Caymans is another sore point for many locals. The resident stingray populations have been sabotaged and removed by unknown persons for at least the last two years, and our census studies have shown a 50% reduction in the population during that time (a decade of research by the GHOF and the Dept of Environment has provided the base line information about this population). Four tagged stingrays were recently discovered in the Dolphin Discovery tourist attraction. Though the four tagged rays were released, the owners of the attraction have refused to release six untagged rays. Sir Richard said it should be very simple to change the law and have stingrays enjoy full protection from poaching given their ecological importance and their value to the island. After all the people of the Cayman Islands and millions of visitors have an enjoyed and benefited from this unique experience for the last 30 years.

The proposed expansion of marine parks by the Dept of Environment was a good move and Sir Richard commented that fishing has been known to improve in areas adjacent to marine parks. He said there are models out now that show countries need to protect 40 – 50 % of their shallow reef areas to ensure long term survivability. I commented that the Cayman Islands were a world leader in the formation of marine parks and in the protection of the spawning sites of the iconic Nassau grouper.

Sir Richard was very gracious and listened to many of our comments and suggestions. The meeting was much appreciated by all involved and the GHOF look forward to collaborating with Sir Richard and his foundation on several projects. It is our collective responsibility to conserve the marine environment and maintain the biodiversity of the planet.

Fish responsibly, dive safely.  Guy Harvey PhD.

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New Tagging Research Reveals Remarkable Mako Shark Round-Trip Journey in High Resolution

October 30, 2012

DAVIE, FL— OCTOBER 29, 2012— A satellite reporting tagging device known as a SPOT tag, attached to a shortfin mako shark dubbed “Carol” in New Zealand five months ago, is providing scientists with remarkable and previously unknown details of the timing and long-distance migratory movements of this species.

The Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) at Nova Southeastern University is collaborating with the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) on the tagging experiment with Carol the shortfin mako shark.

The SPOT tag is revealing that Carol is spending a lot of time at the ocean’s surface, reporting her location to the satellite several times daily.

“The unexpectedly frequent daily detections are providing us with a really high resolution view of the migration of this animal,” said GHRI Director Dr. Mahmood Shivji. “We’ve found that Carol has traveled over 5,700 miles in five months, averaging 60 miles per day during some parts of her migration—and this is just a juvenile shark!”

CLICK HERE to see an interactive map of Carol’s travels.

“Conventional identification tags tell us little about the timing of mako shark movements, the route that they take or distance traveled,” said Dr. Malcolm Francis, who is leading the NIWA effort on this study.  “The SPOT tag, revealing Carol’s detailed travels from New Zealand to Fiji and back, shows theses sharks have an amazing internal navigation system that keeps them on course over long journeys.”

Given the high fishing pressure on makos for their fins and meat, this species is showing declining population trends in parts of its range, which has resulted in the species being listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Based on the amazing results from this initial trial, the GHRI and NIWA are expanding their mako migration study off New Zealand starting in January 2013, according to Dr. Shivji.  The GHRI and Dr. Guy Harvey are also working with Captain Anthony Mendillo of Keen M International to compare the migratory patterns of mako sharks in the Atlantic by tagging them off the coast of Isla Mujeres, Mexico.


Guy Harvey Launches Petition Drive to Protect Cayman Stingrays

October 15, 2012

Enactment of the National Conservation Law Postponed Last 10 Years

THE CAYMAN ISLANDS—OCTOBER 15, 2012— Marine wildlife artist and conservationist Dr. Guy Harvey is leading a petition drive calling on the government of the Cayman Islands to immediately put the National Conservation Law into effect, ensuring the safety and protection of all stingrays in the country’s territorial waters.

Currently, stingrays are only protected in the country’s designated Wildlife Interaction Zones, Stingray City and the Sandbar, two of the island’s best known tourist attractions.  Dr. Harvey said that outside of the zones there is no protection for stingrays and they can be removed and/or caught and eaten by local residents.

The National Conservation Act would close this loophole.

Recently four stingrays tagged for study were found at a local Dolphin Discovery facility and returned after a national outcry. However, six other untagged stingrays remain in captivity at the dolphinarium.

“The well-being of stingrays affects every single person in the Cayman Islands,” said Dr. Harvey, who pointed out that half a million visitors per year from around the world come to swim and interact with these charismatic animals.  “By signing this petition you are speaking out against the unconscionable acts of harming stingrays, especially when taking them out of their natural habitat.”

Time is critical, according to Dr. Harvey, a marine biologist, who calls The Cayman Islands home.

The goal is to reach 10,000 signatures.

“Maintaining the ecological health of these stingray populations for the long-term will require management and conservation programs based on a thorough knowledge of the biology of these animals,” said Dr. Harvey who initiated research work on the Cayman Island’s southern stingray (Dasyatis americana) population in 2012.

Dr. Harvey said the situation at the Sandbar in North Sound is unique, with a large number of wild rays that are not fenced or contained and inhabit the shallow clear water with accessibility every day of the year. The socio-economic value of the rays to the Cayman economy is enormous. Each animal may generate USD 500,000 in revenue per year and in its lifetime, assuming they live more than 20 years, may generate USD 10,000,000 in a lifetime.

From 2010, tour operators and casual observations indicated a sudden decline in the number of rays at the Sandbar. The Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) based at Nova Southeastern University conducted a census in January 2012 and sampled only 61rays in the standard three -day research period at the Sandbar which represents a significant (38%) decrease in number of rays compared to the last census in 2008.

This summer GHRI returned with the support of the Georgia Aquarium veterinary staff.  Over three days the team sampled 57 rays (only 5 males) at the Sandbar (down from 61 in January) with assistance from Department of Environment staff and several volunteers. The team spent a day at the original Stingray City and sampled 11 rays (2 males) and caught 3 rays (1 male) at Rum Point bringing the total to 71 rays sampled.  The low number of males generally is cause for concern.

“These iconic animals have given so much to benefit the Cayman Islands that its time the Government returned the favor by immediately approving the National Conservation Law,” said Dr. Harvey.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW & SIGN THE PETITION!


And the Mystery Eyeball Belongs to…

October 15, 2012

The mystery eyeball…

A winner has finally been declared in last week’s great debate. No, not the Biden vs. Ryan matchup. We’re referring to the 2012 Mystery Eyeball Debate! After a massive, lone eyeball washed up on the Pompano Beach shore, scientists, anglers and just about everyone else weighed in on what type of sea creature could have grown – and lost! – an eye that big. Guesses included a giant squid, the bigeye thresher shark, a great white, or perhaps a marlin or some other large billfish. Well, the mystery seems to be solved…the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission says they now know:

After examining an eye found on a south Florida beach this week, researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) believe the specimen came from a swordfish. Genetic testing will be done to confirm the identification.

“Experts on site and remotely have viewed and analyzed the eye, and based on its color, size and structure, along with the presence of bone around it, we believe the eye came from a swordfish,” said Joan Herrera, curator of collections at the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. “Based on straight-line cuts visible around the eye, we believe it was removed by a fisherman and discarded.”

The approximately softball-size eye was recovered by a citizen in Pompano Beach on Wednesday. FWC staff received the eye later that day. Swordfish are commonly fished in the Florida Straits offshore of south Florida at this time of year.

A highly migratory fish, swordfish can be found from the surface to as deep as 2,000 feet. Swordfish in the Atlantic can reach a maximum size of over 1,100 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Swordfish feed on a wide variety of fish and invertebrates.

…and a closeup of a swordfish eyeball. Mystery solved?


Guy Harvey Film, Research Inspires North Vancouver Mayor to Support Shark Fin Ban

October 15, 2012

NOTE: The following article appears courtesy of Huffington Post Canada.

A wave of bylaws banning the possession, trade, sale and distribution of shark fin products has swept across the province of British Columbia this past month. North Vancouver joined Port Moody and Coquitlam in introducing a ban on shark fin soup in restaurants, a popular Asian dish that supports a vast industry that is decimating shark populations worldwide and threatens many species with extinction.

Interestingly, Artists for Conservation played an important role in this policy change. Last year the mayor of the city of North Vancouver, Darrell Mussatto, attended the first annual Artists for Conservation Festival on Grouse Mountain. It was there where he first met legendary marine artist Dr. Guy Harvey, a leading advocate for the shark-fin ban, and founder of the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI).

Dr. Harvey’s documentary “This is Your Ocean: Sharks” premiered at the festival last November and Mayor Mussatto had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Harvey about his efforts to save sharks from extinction through his film. That encounter inspired him to support a shark fin ban in his city last month.

Read the Full Article


IGFA Praises Passing of Billfish Conservation Act

October 8, 2012

NOTE: The IGFA released the following statement in response to President Obama signing of the Billfish Conservation Act:

Today, President Obama signed the the Billfish Conservation Act into law, effectively banning the importation of all billfish into the continental United States. The signing marks the culmination of a united undertaking by a diverse coalition of angling and conservation organizations working in cooperation with a bipartisan group of congressional champions. Although there are no commercial fisheries targeting billfish in the US, the US has been the largest importer of billfish in the world, importing about 30,000 billfish annually.

“This is a tremendous success for these highly migratory species,” National Coalition for Marine Conservation President (NCMC) Ken Hinman said. “Marlin, sailfish, and spearfish do not know country boundaries and travel through three of the planet’s oceans. Giving them greater protection in the United States sets the stage for better protection worldwide.”

With the largest buyer out of the market, the NCMC and the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), who championed the bill, will now turn their attention to the international challenges facing these imperiled species. And with populations of three species of marlin having declined by more than 50%, their efforts come not a moment too soon.

“Recreational anglers and ocean conservationists have been the primary supporters behind the Billfish Conservation Act,” IGFA President Rob Kramer commented, “and I am confident that with this strong step by the United States, we will be able to raise support for more robust measures elsewhere.”

The support of the Billfish Conservation Act by groups like the American Sportfishing Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Keep America Fishing, the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association, OCEARCH and numerous partners in the environmental community played an integral part in the bill’s success.

“We have sound science that indicates that billfish are not doing well on a global level,” IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser added. “Better international protection for these fish benefits open ocean ecosystems and recreational anglers around the world.”


Guy Harvey Jewelry Giving Away Porpoise Earrings!

October 4, 2012

Win these earrings from Guy Harvey Jewelry! These sterling silver dangle earrings feature the porpoise design inspired by Guy’s artwork and hand-painted, hard-fired Caribbean Blue enamel color. Enter today at this link! The winner will be chosen Oct. 11th.