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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Albatross Adoption - To Benefit North Paciific Albatross

Laysan Albatross chick ready to fledge - Midway Atoll © W. Sentman
Oceanic Society has been bringing visiting to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (MANWR) since 1997.  Over that time, our travelers have become acutely aware of the impacts on wildlife of plastic pollution accumulating in our oceans. 
Oceanic Society visitor group Eastern Island Midway Atoll NWR
In spite of its remote location in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, Midway Atoll serves as the “poster child” for plastic pollution and the oceanic gyres that is concentrates in. As the atoll’s primary residents, and with feeding areas alongside these gyres, the Laysan and Black-footed albatross are seemingly the most impacted.  These seabirds are known to ingest some of the highest amounts of plastic of any seabird species. Adult albatross consume the plastic trash when foraging out at sea, and unknowingly pass it on to their own developing chicks. 
Plastic pollution found inside dead albatross © W. Sentman
The chicks are not able to regurgitate objects until later in their lifecycle, so many of them basically become repositories of plastic waste, and a “test tube” for the impact our increasing dependence on single use – “disposable plastic” may be having on wildlife and ultimately us. The breeding albatross at the far northwest of the Hawaiian Island chain (Kure and Midway Atolls) consume some of the highest amounts of plastic relative to the other breeding sites.
To date we do not have a full understanding of what impacts this plastic may be having on the overall albatross populations in the North Pacific. However, most agree that on seeing, either through graphic photos of dead chicks with chest cavities full of plastic, or with firsthand experience through visits to their breeding grounds, any amount of plastic pollution ending up in these majestic birds and their vulnerable chicks is something we as a community, should take responsibility for, regardless of impacts. Just as 100% of the albatross chicks on Midway & Kure Atoll have plastic in them, 100% of visitors who depart these grand wildlife sanctuaries, leave wanting to do more to help remedy this terrible problem.  
It is with great excitement that Oceanic Society launches their Albatross Adoption Program in 2015
·      To address these concerns more effectively
·      To develop a program that will engage people to become more aware of their role in the problem 
·      To generate greater attention on the global issue of plastic pollution in our oceans, alongside a fact-based awareness of the possible impacts on seabirds. 
The public has already begun to adopt Laysan and Black-footed Albatross chicks   on the Oceanic Society website , and enthusiasm for the Albatross Adoption Program is building. 
Volunteers outplanting native species on albatross breeding grounds
Each adoption directly aids albatross population resiliency by supporting both habitat restoration programs as well as monitoring efforts on their key breeding colonies in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. The work on the ground is being done by our partners, the Friends of Midway Atoll and the Kure Atoll Conservancy. With a generous initial pledge from Spiritual Revolution Yoga (who are producing a PVC-free “Soaring Albatross” yoga mat that directly supports our AlbatrossAdoption campaign) we are ready to start creating an army of Albatross Ambassadors. 
By adopting an albatross you will help to make a difference: 
  • By supporting the efforts to counteract the potential impacts of plastic pollution
  • You will receive monthly updates over the course of the breeding season (Nov. - July)
  • In May of each adoption year plastic from the breeding colonies in the North Pacific will be sent to you so you can help educate others about the problem. 
  • Your will help be part of a global movement to advocate for cleaner oceans.
    Laysan Albatross in flight Midway Atoll NWR © W. Sentman

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Whale Research – A Key to Protecting Raja Ampat and the Coral Triangle

The islands of (the not so) Secret Bay of Raja Ampat

This past February Oceanic Society fielded its inaugural group on the famed Raja Ampat liveaboard the Pindito. The Pindito pioneered underwater exploration in the region and has been one of its longest active leaders in working to promote marine conservation.  We were a group of 13 avid snorkelers excited to be spending 12 days exploring the most biodiverse tropical reef ecosystem on the planet, the Bird’s HeadSeascape. Accompanying our group was cetacean researcher Benjamin Kahn. Benjamin is based in Bali and has been studying the whales of the coral triangle for over a decade. One of Benjamin's main research interest are the Indo-Pacific migratory corridors of east Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands; and the importance of these narrow yet deep passages for large migratory marine life such as Blue and Sperm whales. 

Snorkeler in Raja Ampat above lush Soft Corals

Our group charter was going to provide him with valuable research time in the Raja Ampat waters, where we would spend the mornings and afternoons snorkeling and then the mid-day surveying for cetaceans. Benjamin has been doing these surveys alongside divers for the last 4 years, but we were his first group of snorkelers. Over the years Benjamin has observed more than 12 species (of the 30 present in the Coral Triangle) of cetaceans in Raja Ampat, and on a few occasions the groups have even managed to get in the water with the whales. These opportunities to have long days out on the water provide valuable data points for Benjamin about where whales are found in these areas and more importantly, how they are using them. Through the use of directional hydrophones and dedicated deck top observation time we were able to spot multiple groups of whales over the days we were there. The clang of the ship bell and the yell of “blow” punctuated many of our afternoons. 

Something that makes the Coral Triangle a unique area in addition to the marine biodiversity found there (over 450 species of coral, 1750 species of fish) is the fact that it has so much deep water habitat adjacent to shallow water habitat. In fact, almost 85% of the Coral Triangle waters are over 200m in depth, therefore you find exceptional marine diversity with high overlap of near shore and deep sea habitats. Benjamin is using these sighting efforts to identify whale hotspots in the area and look to see how these hotspots overlap with development plans. In order to properly conserve and regulate the marine protected areas within the Coral Triangle it is vital to understand how things like shipping lanes and potential extractive industries development may overlap with whale migration corridors.

Our days on the Pindito were full of exciting snorkeling opportunities along multiple islands, and many afternoons having intimate encounters with Bryde’s and Sperm whales as well as many species of dolphin. 

Map of our groups journey over the 12-day voyage

The additional benefit of dedicating some of our afternoons to whale surveys was that we also had saw many other animals that we might have missed had we just been motoring through. During these times we saw sailfish and manta rays jumping, marine turtles, and large bait balls that were attracting multiple seabird species.  

Manta seen jumping during whale survey efforts
Our group had truly wonderful experiences and at the same time was able to substantially contribute to the conservation research of the region.
Bumphead Parrotfish schooling

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Photographic Highlights of 2014

2014 was a very busy and exciting year for me. In my first full year as Director of International Ecotravel for the Oceanic Society - having led educational ecotourism and research programs for Oceanic since 1998, to be in charge of the long term development of our travel programs was both exciting and challenging. Along the way in 2014, nature once again provided the inspirational backdrop required to stay grounded and astounded by what I was able to share with our groups -

Incredible Raja Ampat

Aljui Bay in Raja Ampat

Lioness in Masai Mara

Cheetah cub in Mara

Komodo Island

Penemu, Raja Ampat

Nudibranch - Komodo Island
Bison - Yellowstone NP