Saving the seas: marine conservation

From dolphins in the Gulf to turtles in the Caribbean, scientists reveal the best way to protect the world’s marine life is by getting to know it better

A pod of exhibitionist dolphins captivate onlookers off the coast of Dubai, whistling, leaping into the air and apparently dancing on the water before diving back below. This certainly warrants a call to the UAE Dolphin Project, a non-profit working to ensure the survival of the beautiful species. As well as using techniques such as transect surveys and photo-identification of species, the organisation is asking the public to report their own sightings.

Before the UAE Dolphin Project launched earlier this year, there was almost no information on the population status of the much-loved ocean-going mammal in the Gulf. Now scientists are working hard to lay down baseline data on how many there are, where they occur and how they use their habitat and at the same time ensure their survival.

“If you don't have clear information about the status of a species in a region it is virtually impossible to raise the attention of the national and international institutions with the authority to formulate and implement conservation measures,” comments Ada Natoli, the project’s director. “A lot of times a species can simply disappear unnoticed from an area.”

Across the globe in California, the Marine Conservation Science Institute is a small charity taking on an enormous task of uncovering the migratory behaviour of one of the planet’s most mysterious species, the Great White Shark. A project to tag the fish is a valuable way to learn more about them, including where they spend their time and what they are doing when they are there. Ultimately it hopes its efforts will help remove the fish from the endangered species list.

To raise funds for the valuable work, the marine researchers created an iPhone app, "Expedition White Shark”, to engage citizens with the cause of the iconic predator. The technology, which allows users to get close with the vulnerable fish species, displays a map with live tracking data. Real-time satellite tracking devices allow users to follow the migration of a dozen tagged sharks.

Meanwhile, in Latin America, the world’s largest living reptile, the leatherback turtle, is a threatened species whose numbers have dropped by 90 per cent in the last 20 years. It is estimated that each year approximately 50,000 leatherback turtles are caught by fisherman.

A recent study by the WWF Marine Turtle Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean works to compile and disseminate travel routes of the creatures as they cross the Atlantic ocean. The programme works with turtles from Panama, French Guiana, Uruguay and Gabon. Through fitting around 25 turtles with transmitters, the project identifies hot spots of interaction between leatherbacks and fisheries. The data from these tracking studies then helps inform policy on fishing regulations and other strategies for protecting the vulnerable sea creatures.

Many scientific studies have described the serious and worsening state of the world's oceans. It is hoped that reports such as these won’t just be a drop in the ocean but the springboards for safeguarding the wondrous life of the blue planet.