Jean-Luc Solandt: diving into marine conservation
Submitted by celius on 24 September 2010
Jacques Cousteau’s beautiful images of colourful and bizarre underwater sea life have inspired millions of people around the globe – including Jean-Luc Solandt. “I became interested in science after learning about Cousteau’s explorations; they made the marine world seem smaller – yet wondrous.” These days, as the biodiversity policy officer at the Marine Conservation Societyw1, Jean-Luc Solandt helps to safeguard this wondrous world.
“The reefs of the tropic are similar to the great plains of the Serengeti, but instead of the large numbers of ungulate [hoofed] grazers, these are replaced by colourful parrotfish and surgeonfish, which are vital for keeping the algae in check and allowing the hard corals to grow. In a healthy reef system, the balance between these herbivores and the algae are vital to keep the coral healthy.”
His growing interest in marine conservation then led him to Tanzania to work as an expedition scientist for Frontierw2 (a UK-based conservation expedition organisation), and then to the Philippines and Fiji with Coral Cay Conservationw3. His responsibilities included training the volunteers – many of whom knew little about marine biology. They soon learned, however, to identify more than 75 fish species and 40 coral species, as well as many other invertebrates that they then recorded during scuba surveys.
“On a typical day, you wake up at six in the morning, organise the dive, meet the volunteers, lecture them, tend to sores and headaches, go on the dive, record and enter the data, lunch on rice and beans, fill the air tanks, teach the volunteers, go on a second dive, go into town to resupply fuel, food and the repair kit, and then carry on entering data,” Jean-Luc says.
The oceans harbour many diverse and co-existing ecosystems, and have always been a dependable source of food for humans – but the vulnerability of these ecosystems is becoming increasingly evident. As shown by recent data, “commercial fish stocks have been reduced by about 95% in UK waters alone in the past 100 years [Thurstan et al., 2010],” notes Jean-Luc. Moreover, 88% of Europe’s fish stocks are overfished or depleted. For this reason, the Marine Conservation Society campaigns worldwide to establish areas where marine wildlife can recover and flourish. These could either be marine protected areas, in which one or more features are protected, or marine reserves, which offer the highest level of protection: no fishing or catch of any kind, and no dumping, dredging or other modification of the environment.
Marine reserves not only benefit the ecosystem within the reserve but also affect what happens outside their boundaries. “In a phenomenon called ‘fishing the line’, catches are higher around the edge of the reserve than further away: 73% of the haddock fished in the north-eastern Atlantic is caught within 5 km of the Georges Bank reserve boundaries. This helps fishermen to be more certain of catching fish, whilst reducing their overheads, because they do not have to waste time and fuel searching for fish,” Jean-Luc says. So even the fishermen benefit from the reserve. This effect has also been recorded for lobster and fish catches around small Mediterranean marine reserves (Goñi et al., 2008).
In 2007, the project succeeded in making it illegal to fish or trade basking sharks or their body parts in EU waters. On behalf of the Marine Conservation Society, Jean-Luc records and maps sightings by the general public of basking shark: since 1987, the Marine Conservation Society has compiled more than 12 000 reports of over 25 000 sharksw5. “It is partly due to this data set that there has been such interest in the species, allowing the UK government to support the protection of the basking shark in international waters. So public participation can lead to greater protection for vulnerable species.”
The people who report sightings of basking sharks, vote for a marine protected area or take part in dive surveys are concerned and knowledgeable about the condition of our seas. Unfortunately, most people simply care less about the health of the seas than the health of the land. This is one reason why Jean-Luc believes that science education is vital – to demonstrate that with the help of conservation science, we can have both a more productive fishing industry and healthier seas. Furthermore, he stresses, individuals can make a difference. “To help safeguard our oceans, you can eat sustainably sourced fishw8, vote for a marine reservew7 or support organisations like the Marine Conservation Societyw1.”
Goñi R et al. (2008) Spillover from six western Mediterranean marine protected areas: evidence from artisanal fisheries. Marine Ecology Progress Series 366: 159-174. doi: 10.3354/meps07532
This article is freely available from the Marine Ecology Progress Series website: www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps
Lester SE et al. (2009) Biological effects within no-take marine reserves: a global synthesis. Marine Ecology Progress Series 384: 33-46. doi: 10.3354/meps08029
This article can be downloaded free of charge from website of the Partnership of Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (www.piscoweb.org) or via the direct link: http://tinyurl.com/336rvm6
Thurstan RH et al. (2010) The effects of 118 years of industrial fishing on UK bottom trawl fisheries. Nature Communications 1: 15. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1013
w1 – The Marine Conservation Society is a UK charity dedicated to the protection of the marine environment and its wildlife. See: www.mcsuk.org
w2 – Learn more about Frontier, the UK’s leading conservation expedition organisation, here: www.frontier.ac.uk
w3 – Coral Cay Conservation is an award-winning specialist in coral reef and tropical forest conservation. See: www.coralcay.org
w4 – To learn more about the Danjugan Islands Marine Reserve, see: www.prrcf.org
w6 – If you would like more information about Seasearch, see: www.seasearch.org.uk
w7 – For more information about the Marine Conservation Society’s ‘Your seas your voice’ project, see: www.yourseasyourvoice.com
Some scientists recommend that 20-30% of ocean habitats should be set aside as marine reserves. Currently less than 0.0005% of UK waters are in marine reserves. As a result of a campaign by the Marine Conservation Society and other organisations, however, the Marine and Coastal Access Act was passed in November 2009, ensuring that a network of marine protected areas will be established around the English coast by 2012. To learn more, see the website of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (www.defra.gov.uk) or use the direct link: http://tinyurl.com/3yugxxx
w8 – To find out which fish are sustainably fished, see: www.fishonline.org
If you enjoyed this article, you might like to browse the other biodiversity-related articles published in Science in School. See: www.scienceinschool.org/biodiversity
To see the other scientist profiles published in Science in School, see: www.scienceinschool.org/scientists
Karin Ranero Celius obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics and psychology, and then an MSc in museum studies. Her passion for educating others about the wonders of science has led her to become a science communicator. She has been dedicated mainly to outreach and education, first at the IAC (Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias) in the Canary Islands, Spain, and then at ESO (the European Southern Observatory) in Munich, Germany.