Jul 27

The UK has been experiencing some uncharacteristically hot weather over the last few weeks, so what better time to get out to our beautiful coast? Take this opportunity to find out more about the fantastic diversity of species and habitats we have off our shores, and join in The Wildlife Trusts’ annual National Marine Week! This celebration of all things marine actually runs for more than two weeks, from Saturday 27 July to Sunday 11 August, to make the most of the tides.

Velvet swimming crab image

Velvet swimming crab

We are fortunate in the UK to have an awe-inspiring range of habitats and species around our coasts. From shallow seagrass meadows and kelp forests to gullies and canyons over 2,000 metres deep, these habitats provide homes and feeding grounds for countless species, including colourful sea slugs, charismatic fish such as the tompot blenny, and the bottlenose dolphin, one of 11 species of whale, dolphin and porpoise regularly seen in our waters! Our seas are also home to the second largest fish in the world, the basking shark. This gentle giant can be spotted in the summer as it comes close to the shore, filter feeding micro-organisms.

Basking shark image

Basking shark

All around our coasts, Wildlife Trusts staff and volunteers will be sharing their knowledge, so whether you want to find out more about minke whales or molluscs, velvet swimming crabs or strawberry anemones, breadcrumb sponges or butterfish, and seals or seabirds, there will be events where people can enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the sea and learn more about its riches.

The Wildlife Trusts hold these events to showcase some of the UK’s marine wildlife, and to educate and enthuse people about this fantastic resource on our doorstep. As well as being a source of wonder, our seas are also a playground, a food supply, a conduit for our imports and exports, and a climate regulator that absorbs vast quantities of greenhouse gases while releasing the oxygen we breathe. We are an island nation, and the sea is a vital part of our national identity.

Jewel anemone image

Jewel anemones

However, the seas are not as productive as they once were. For years, we have taken too much with too little care. Our seas’ resources are not inexhaustible, and their ability to cope with the pressures we put on them – damage from fishing, industrial pollution and the impacts of a changing climate – is limited. Much of our marine wildlife is in decline. Two species of whale and dolphin have become extinct in UK waters in the last 400 years, and basking shark numbers have declined by 95%. Commercial species are also under pressure, and in 2009 the EU Commission declared that 88% of marine fish stocks were overexploited.

Grey seal image

Grey seal

In order to provide better protection for our marine environment, here at The Wildlife Trusts we are campaigning for an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas – areas that offer protection not just to our most rare and vulnerable species, but to the full range of species and habitats found in the seas.

These areas will protect marine life within their boundaries, and with careful management they can also have an influence beyond these boundaries, as burgeoning populations spill out into the surrounding sea. A well-designed and effectively managed network will help boost the health of the marine environment as a whole, helping it to recover from past impacts and sustain current pressures. Although we have made a start on our network, we still have a long way to go, and at the moment progress towards achieving the network is slow.

The Wildlife Trusts’ National Marine Week and our events provide us with a crucial opportunity to highlight the need to continue to put pressure on UK Governments to ensure that this vital ambition is achieved. It offers countless opportunities for people to savour the seaside and find out so much more about what our coasts have to offer. Why not head over to The Wildlife Trusts’ marine wildlife weeks page to find an event near you!

Ali Plummer, Living Seas Officer for The Wildlife Trusts

Jun 18

Manta ray photoWhile the oceans of our planet cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, we still know so little about what goes on beneath the waves.  There are vast areas, great depths and even hundreds or perhaps thousands of species that we still barely understand.  Manta rays can certainly be classed as one such species that we know little about and that is why in January 2012, The Manta Trust came into being; a UK registered charity aiming to improve our understanding of these animals and promote their long-term conservation.

What is the Manta Trust?

Manta Trust LogoThe Manta Trust is a growing group of scientists, photographers, film-makers, conservations and advocacy experts who have joined forces to co-ordinate global research and conservation efforts for both manta rays and their close cousin’s, the mobula rays.

Manta ray photoThese rays are among the most charismatic creatures that inhabit our oceans. With the largest brain of all fish, their intelligence and curiosity is often compared to that of a large mammal, making encounters with them a truly unforgettable experience.

However, despite their popularity with divers and snorkelers many aspects of these creature’s lives remain a mystery, with only snippets of their life history currently understood. More worryingly, in recent years a targeted fishery for these animals has developed, causing devastating declines in global manta ray populations.

The Manta Trust brings together a number of research projects from around the globe. By conducting long-term, robust studies into manta populations in these varying locations, we aim to build the solid foundations upon which governments, NGOs and conservationists can make informed and effective decisions to ensure the long term survival of these animals and their habitat. By coupling this research with educational programmes and raising awareness, we hope to be able to make a lasting difference to the future of our oceans.

What are manta rays?

Manta and mobula rays are cartilaginous elasmobranch fishes. Like other rays this means they are a close relative of the shark. However, unlike most rays which spend at least a portion of their lives hugging the seabed, mobulids live pelagic existences – meaning they spend their time swimming in open water.

They’re also completely harmless to humans, feeding on zooplankton, the often microscopic animals which live in the water column and are the base of many ocean food chains.  This food source means that these amazing rays are at the mercy of the oceans, often migrating thousands of kilometres to track down their next meal!

Manta ray photo

Manta rays are also the largest rays in the world.  There are two species of manta, the reef mantas and the larger oceanic mantas that grow to over 7m diameter from wingtip to wingtip.

We believe manta rays to be incredibly long lived, probably living to at least 50 years old or possibly longer! This characteristic, coupled with the fact that they mature late, reproduce infrequently and give birth usually to a single pup at a time, make them very vulnerable to exploitation by fisheries.

Are there any threats to mantas?

Gill plate photoUnfortunately yes, manta and mobula rays are fished for their gill plates, the intricate apparatus which helps them to both breathe underwater and to strain their microscopic planktonic food from the water.

This fishery is quite a recent development, with the gill plates being sold in Asian markets where they are prepared as a tonic to treat a variety of ailments.

Due to the vulnerable nature of these animals this has the potential to have catastrophic implications for their fragile populations.  In fact populations in some areas have already seen declines of up to 86% due to fisheries.

Where does the Manta Trust work?

One of the main aims of the Manta Trust is to unite and co-ordinate work being undertaken with these rays in all corners of the globe.  So far we are working in 17 countries!  By co-ordinating our research in this way the hope is that we can share in each other’s successes (and failures), learning what works and what doesn’t, ultimately achieving global successes for these species.

What does the Manta Trust want to achieve?

Our vision is “A sustainable future for the oceans where manta rays thrive in healthy, diverse marine ecosystems.”  We’d like to achieve this by conducting robust scientific research whilst educating and raising awareness of the issues which face these animals.

We know that good conservation requires a holistic approach. Therefore the Manta Trust researchers and volunteers work closely with tourists, local communities, businesses and governments to ensure the preservation of these amazing animals through a combination of good science, education, community based initiatives and government legislation. As the scope of the Trust’s work continues to grow our goal is to keep expanding these efforts globally.

In March 2013, the Manta Trust was part of a consortium of NGOs behind the successful listing of both species of manta ray on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).  This listing means trade in manta ray parts between the 178 signatory nations will be closely controlled and restricted when this legislation comes into force in September 2014.

Manta Trust photo

This is a huge victory, however much still needs to be achieved for these animals until this legislation comes into force, especially to aid those in the involved fishing industry to transition to more sustainable futures.

How can you help The Manta Trust?

Manta ray photoOne of the best ways you can help is to swim with mantas! By showing governments that manta-based tourism is important and that it provides a sustainable long term industry in which people can earn a living whilst co-existing with these animals, we will be taking positive steps towards long-term solutions for these rays.

If you’ve been lucky enough to swim with mantas why not send us your pictures?  Each manta is uniquely identifiable by the pattern of spots on their ventral (belly) surface.  We are collating manta images from around the world as part of our global IDtheManta database.

You can learn more about it here.  By collecting this information on a global scale we hope to learn more about these amazing and mysterious animals.

We also accept volunteers! Check out our Volunteer page on The Manta Trust website and follow us on Facebook to see the latest opportunities as they are announced. In fact following our work on our blog, website, Facebook and Twitter pages and sharing what we do with your friends is also an amazing way to spread the manta message!

Jun 8
Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni)

Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni)

Species: Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The male Banggai cardinalfish broods its eggs and young inside a special pouch in its mouth, and does not eat during this period.

Its striking colouration and long, elegant fins have made the Banggai cardinalfish hugely popular in the aquarium trade. This species is unusual for a marine fish in the extreme levels of genetic diversity between its populations, caused by its very limited ability to move between different areas. The Banggai cardinalfish also lays relatively few eggs compared to other marine fish, and the eggs hatch after being brooded inside the male’s mouth for about 20 days. The young then continue to develop inside the male’s mouth for a further ten days before being released. The Banggai cardinalfish lives in shallow, tropical coastal waters around coral reefs or seagrass beds, and feeds on planktonic crustaceans.

The Banggai cardinalfish is found only at certain sites around islands in the Banggai Archipelago in Indonesia, and is under serious threat from over-collection for the aquarium trade. Many individuals die during transport, and many more are rejected due to being in poor condition. Habitat destruction and the illegal use of dynamite and cyanide in fishing for other species is also a threat to this small fish. A successful captive breeding programme has now been developed for the Banggai cardinalfish, although a proposal to regulate trade in this fish under CITES was rejected due to a conflict of interest. Fortunately, the Banggai Conservation Project is now working to protect the Banggai cardinalfish and its habitat.


Find out more about conservation of the Banggai cardinalfish at the New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences and The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

See images and videos of the Banggai cardinalfish on ARKive.

Read about World Oceans Day on the ARKive blog, and have a go at our virtual scavenger hunt!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 13
Photo of angel shark resting, camouflaged on the seabed

Angel shark (Squatina squatina)

Species: Angel shark (Squatina squatina)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: With its flat body and large pectoral fins, the angel shark more closely resembles a large ray than a shark.

The angel shark is a large, stocky fish with strong jaws and sharp, needle-like teeth. An ambush predator, it spends the day lying buried in mud or sand with just its eyes protruding, and bursts out with impressive speed to catch fish, crustaceans and molluscs. Female angel sharks give birth to up to 25 pups after a gestation period of 8 to 10 months. The angel shark historically occurred from Norway to North Africa, the Canary Islands and the Mediterranean and Black Seas, but it has now vanished from many parts of its former range.

Although the angel shark is not a major target of fisheries, its habit of lying on the ocean bottom makes it vulnerable to becoming bycatch in trawl fisheries. As a result, its populations have undergone a dramatic decline. Like other Squatina species, the angel shark is protected within three Balearic Islands marine reserves, where fishing for these sharks is banned. However, more research is needed to better understand the status of the angel shark across its range, so that appropriate conservation measures can be put in place to protect it.

Find out more about the conservation of sharks and rays at Save Our Seas Foundation, Project Aware and The Shark Trust.

See images and videos of the angel shark on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 16
Photo of green sawfish resting

Green sawfish (Pristis zijsron)

Species: Green sawfish (Pristis zijsron)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The green sawfish uses its bizarre saw-like snout to swipe at shoals of fish and to rake crustaceans and molluscs out of the sediment.

A type of ray, the green sawfish is easily recognised by its highly elongated snout, known as a saw. This strange structure bears up to 37 pairs of teeth and is often held upwards at an angle as the fish rests on the ocean floor. The green sawfish is the largest sawfish species, occasionally reaching over seven metres in length. It gives birth to live young, and the saws of the young fish are covered in a gelatinous coating at birth to protect the mother. The green sawfish is found in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean, where it inhabits muddy or sandy bottom habitats in inshore areas or the lower parts of rivers.

The main threat to the green sawfish is accidental bycatch in fisheries, with its large size and long saw meaning it easily becomes entangled in nets and is difficult to set free. This species has also been deliberately caught in fisheries and its fins used to make shark fin soup. Habitat degradation is an additional threat to this large fish, and its slow reproductive rate makes it difficult for its populations to recover. Although once common, the green sawfish has now been lost from many parts of its former range. International trade in this species is banned by CITES, but strict legal protection is needed, together with further research into its distribution and ecology, and monitoring of bycatch levels.

Find out more about the conservation of sharks and rays at Save Our Seas Foundation and Project AWARE.

See images of the green sawfish on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author


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