The oceans are invaluable to our planet’s ecosystem, but our marine environments face truly staggering problems. Thankfully, where governments and international bodies seem to let us down, an increasing number of marine conservation organizations are making a difference when it comes to protecting the oceans.
Olive Ridley Project
Along with the Kemp’s ridley, the olive ridley is the smallest of all sea turtles. They measure a little over two feet long (70 cm) and weigh 100 pounds (45 kg) at most. Its olive-green, heart-shaped shell gives the olive ridley its name. Olive ridleys take 15 years to mature. Although they’re the most abundant sea turtle, they’re nonetheless classified as vulnerable.
Ghost nets represent one the largest threats to these turtles, as well as to other marine life. These discarded or lost fishing nets float in the ocean currents, trapping and killing marine life. The Olive Ridley Project aims to reduce the massive threat posed by ghost gear in the Indian Ocean to a non-detectable level. This involves a reactive effort — the physical removal of ghost gear — and preventive measures. Herein the organization educates and works with local fishermen to increase awareness of the problem.
HEPCA should be a familiar name to those divers who regularly visit Hurghada, Egypt. Standing for Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association, HEPCA actively works to protect and preserve the Red Sea’s natural resources. The agency also promotes conservation and sustainable-tourism practices. As a non-profit organization, HEPCA works closely with partners including the Egyptian government. It relies on a huge network of members who perform field work.
Since it was founded 20 years ago, HEPCA has initiated everything from research and grass-roots mobilization to ambitious projects. These have included waste-management plants designed to handle the vast accumulation of human waste and debris plaguing the Red Sea. You’ve probably seen the red HEPCA trash cans if you’ve been to Hurghada on vacation. The HEPCA Mooring Team also works to ensure safe and non-damaging mooring at many favorite dive spots. HEPCA also helps raise public awareness with activities targeting the local community, schools, tourism sector and service providers. HEPCA’s core goals have always been community development and projects to encourage sustainability among locals, and these number as some of its greatest achievements.
HEPCA’s campaigns have been directly responsible for the amendment of over 32 laws, articles and decrees. And impressively, the agency has achieved all this without funding from any national-park fee, marine-park fee, environmental tax or reef-protection tax levied on the dive industry within Egypt.
Marine Megafauna Foundation
Most divers dream of seeing large marine animals, such as whale sharks or manta rays. The Marine Megafauna Foundation formed to help protect these charismatic species: sharks, rays, marine mammals and turtles. The MMF was founded in 2003 to research, protect and conserve the large population of marine megafauna found along the Mozambican coastline. In recent years, MMF researchers have expanded their efforts worldwide.
As the name so aptly suggests, the MMF focuses specifically on research and conservation for threatened marine-megafauna species. These animals are key components of marine ecosystems. But, as they are long-lived and have low reproductive rates, human pressures usually affect their populations first. Fortunately, they are also among the planet’s most charismatic animals and generate a lot of public interest in their biology and conservation. This makes them useful ambassadors for the entire marine environment.
Mozambique is a hotspot for whale sharks, manta rays and several other threatened marine species. Fisheries elsewhere in the world have decimated many of these species. The MMF’s primary objective is to conduct scientific research that can be directly applied to conserving the large marine species in this region. The MMF examines issues that are directly related to both the management of marine life along Africa’s eastern coast, and the continued survival of these animals worldwide. More broadly and much like HEPCA, MMF works to support the sustainable development of the Mozambican tourism industry and to promote education initiatives in local schools and communities. In addition to their world-leading research programs in Mozambique, MMF’s principal scientists also work in Ecuador, Mexico, Belize, Myanmar, Indonesia, Qatar, Tanzania and Brazil.
Coral Reef Alliance
As divers we’re all familiar with both coral’s delicacy and importance. Today’s coral reefs face large-scale threats from climate change as a whole, as well as the touch of careless divers.
Stephen Colwell founded Coral Reef Alliance in 1994 in Berkeley, California. The group’s aim was simple: to engage the diving community in coral-reef conservation. Currently, the Coral Reef Alliance’s mission to unite communities for coral-reef conservation has led to a much broader scope of work.
To help disseminate communication and news, the CRA started a website in 1995. One of the organization’s first projects was a grant of $72,000 to the Palau Conservation Society to support protection of Rock Island Marine Park.
In 2005, CRA adopted a new approach, the Coral Reef Sustainable Destination (CRSD) model. The scientific community still uses and validates it today. The CRA now adheres to five main goals:
- Reducing local threats to reefs, including overfishing, poor water quality and unsustainable development.
- Helping communities benefit socially, culturally and economically from conservation.
- Improving reef management so those responsible for the creation, enforcement, and durability of protected areas have the tools and financial support they need to be successful.
- Working directly with the tourism industry to decrease its environmental footprint and to educate visitors about the beauty and importance of coral reefs.
- Ensuring that what we learn within these project sites has a global impact.