Conservation and Environment in Cambodia: Monthly Updates
August - September - October 2016 Report
The Local Environmental Knowledge Survey, or LEK survey, is a land-based questionnaire aimed at local fishermen and other members of the Koh Sdach community. It contains questions regarding types of fishing gear used and fishing effort, landings of sharks, rays, turtles and seahorses, and various discussion topics about the change in fishing effort, fish stock quality and pollution in recent times.
This survey is a valuable tool for acquiring unwritten past and present information about the state of the archipelago’s fauna and flora, with a particular interest in elasmobranchs, sea turtles and syngnathids (seahorse relatives). It offers general insight into the state of the local fishery. It is also useful for maintaining good ties with members of the local Community Fishery, while providing both the Project and the Community with the possibility of sharing knowledge and a better understanding of the local environment. Moreover, all collected findings may later be used for the implementation of a suitable Marine Management Area and adequate protected areas.
The LEK survey, pending a translation into Khmer and training of local staff, will be carried out at least once a month by Projects Abroad volunteers and staff.
Over the past three months, seven surveys have been carried out in Koh Chan and Koh Sdach reefs in a random sampling manner. The former monitoring site has been temporarily discarded because of the high risk of destroying corals due to shallow waters (1-3 meters), rough seas and newly trained divers (the monitoring site will be re-established during the dry season as a snorkel survey). Using the newly created CoralWatch app, inputted data showed the promising signs of recovery from the past year’s major bleaching event, which didn’t surpass 40% and is almost non-existent in some shallow reefs (5 meters deep). This low incidence of coral bleaching is thought to be due to the coral’s adaptation to high temperatures year-round, from 28°C in June/July (rainy season) to 32°C in April/May (dry season).
These surveys will continue to occur at least once a month and all data sent to CoralWatch will help provide a global understanding of coral reef resilience and recovery.
Much work has been put into developing a database of all of the Projects Abroad photos and videos in a user-friendly manner making files easily obtainable by the use of keywords and tags. Along with newly acquired marine animal identification books, this has allowed for a great advance in the Species List, now containing around 160 species of fish and 100 species of both motile and sessile invertebrates, and still counting. This list is expanded to cover animals found in other terrestrial and coastal habitats around the Koh Sdach Archipelago, and alongside fisheries. The data will help provide a record of Cambodia’s rich marine fauna and flora, much of which remains unknown.
Seahorse Population Trends Study – October Update 28/11/16
During the last reporting period we managed to complete 13 seahorse surveys and saw an increasing number of individuals compared to the rainy season months. Five individuals were observed during our surveys and a further five were seen during other diving and snorkelling activities. All were H. kuda (Common Seahorse), and one was the H. mohnikei (Japanese Seahorse). Only one of these ten individuals was a male seahorse.
Our recent efforts towards our population study included 59 individual surveys when considering the number of divers on each run. This amounted to 41 “people-hours” of search time and covered a total length of transect of 13.5 km. This period also saw us reach two years of surveying at the project. In this time we have completed surveys running in a straight line totalling 115 km and by area approximately 20 km2.
During this reporting period we made a major overhaul of our Seahorse Landings Surveys. To increase the value of these surveys (which often would return no seahorse sightings) we have transformed them to include questions about many other fishery and environmental factors as well. Now known as the Local Environmental Knowledge survey, questions still include everything necessary for our seahorse landings, but have expanded to ask questions about sea turtles and sharks, information about the types of fishing gear used and information on the costs of running and maintaining their fishing practices.
Now that the project has reached two years of operation, it is possible to do a structured analysis of the data we have collected and look at producing a detailed scientific report into local populations. By doing this, we can establish what our benchmark figures are here so that we have something concrete to compare future survey results to. Analysis here will give us information such as how frequently each species is seen and the places where they are most likely to be. Biological data is also very important such as frequency of seeing males versus females, how commonly and at what time of year we find pregnant males and also the average size of each species seen, which is valuable in assessing overfishing.
The ongoing role of the Seahorse Program in the future will be to keep undertaking at least six underwater surveys per month, exploring new areas such as some deeper environs and continue our strong partnership with Project Seahorse by providing valuable information to their global database. We should also add more information about the fishing effort here by conducting more regularly scheduled Landings Surveys.
Our role too will be to influence decision making processes on Marine Protected Areas that are gazetted for the region, with the hope that some of the identified key seahorse habitats in the archipelago are included in their boundaries. The ultimate aim of a project such as ours should be to start to influence or enact management policies with local legislators. After management objectives are defined and actions planned and put into place, the next step is to predict population responses to these protections and continue to evaluate the population to understand how successful the plans have been. Lastly, these ongoing studies should inform managers of ways to adapt and refine the actions to best help seahorses locally.
Marine Pollution Activities of Projects Abroad Cambodia Conservation Project – October Update
In this two month period, Dive Against Debris (DAD) activities removed 53.8 kg of trash while on land we gathered 74 kg of trash and 81 kg of recyclable plastic bottles and aluminium cans. These figures are much higher than the previous reporting period; it reflects the less than perfect, but improving weather conditions and an increased number of volunteers staying in the project for longer periods. In this time we managed to involve The Green Protectors - the local teenage sustainability group - in a clean-up and educational activities. This netted 53.8 kg of recyclables on one occasion. We also began using a great new tool to collect and share information about the types and amounts of trash we are removing from local environments.
The Marine Pollution presentation details topics including; Marine Pollution Overview, The Origins of Plastic in the Ocean, Microplastic and its potential problems for humans, Ghost Nets and their removal, Refusing, Reducing, Reusing and Recycling, Trash Management and Community Clean-Up Projects. During each presentation, volunteers are encouraged to ask questions about the issues raised and talk about possible solutions. Much of the discussion focuses on the issues most prevalent at Koh Sdach, but touches on the serious global problems as well. After the presentation a short period of discussion is opened up to share ideas. During the September/October period, the presentation was given to eight new volunteers.
For this reporting period we conducted four dives that focused on marine debris removal. This was our smallest effort to date (however small pieces of trash are often removed but not recorded during our survey and diver training activities). It has become increasingly hard to find debris in our most frequented northern sites and the southern sites, which still have large enough amounts of debris worth focusing entire dives on, have proved very difficult to visit during this period. The wind direction changes during these months and visibility is very poor in those area and the waves often too large.
We did manage to collect 53.85kg of debris which, by count, was mostly net, rope and chord used for fishing. A large part of this sum was a single tyre however, but it will be reused in some way by the project; the space that it has opened up will become inhabited by natural growth there over time. Once again the main marine creatures caught in these nets were the large Red Egg Crabs (Atergatis intergerrimus).
Coastal clean ups in this period yielded a total of 155kg of rubbish. It was removed from local beach areas. More than half of this was plastic and aluminium containers that were recycled. In total 74kg of trash and 81.05kg of recyclables were gathered. This was a much greater return than the last, quieter period.
In October, the project began using a fantastic new tool for collecting and storing trash collection data. Released by The Ocean Conservancy - one of our partner organisations - the Clean Swell app captures data about site locality, length of a clean-up, weight collected and the breakdown of the discarded items. Participants use the app on a phone or tablet and once the clean-up commences, they click on one of 24 icons that represent trash from different sources ie: Food Wrappers, Bottle - Plastic, Bottle - Glass, Fishing Equipment, Plastic Pieces, Straw etc.
The reason this data is useful is that the app is linked to a global database that informs the Ocean Conservancy about the breakdown, and hence the sources, of pollution around the globe. Responses to the global plastic pollution problem vary from country to country and even between regions within each. The information we are contributing to this database (the World’s largest) is the only source in Cambodia at this stage. We will continue to do at least one of these clean-ups each month (usually with three groups cleaning and recording to separate devices) to keep adding to this valuable source of data. Conducting these clean-ups takes more time and resources and results in a little less trash collected (due to counting every item), but we feel the activity as a whole is another feather in our cap at this project.
Community and Education report for August, September and October 2016
During the rainy season the schools were closed and this gave us the opportunity to repaint and decorate two old classrooms. Volunteers and staff rolled up their sleeves and put in a lot of effort to make the classrooms look like new again. We also decorated each classroom with a fresco on the wall to display marine life from the local area. This is a great activity, with very immediate and visual results. Volunteers did a great job on this one and we will continue to repaint and help the school with other projects.
The next one on the list is a recycle station which will help the school to sort their recyclable materials. During this period, we also developed a new lesson plan for 2016-2017. The marine environment, conservation and recycling will be a reoccurring subject in all the lessons we will give. We are looking forward to start up with the school again, and this year we have been allocated more time than previous years!
The Public Health team arrived again in August and October to continue their bi-monthly visits on our Island. For both of their visits, they arrived with six volunteers and two staff members, and in total they saw over 200 patients.
They also went to the school to teach the kids about general and dental hygiene. At this visit they handed out 65 toothbrushes with toothpaste and 120 bars of soap.
The volunteers from both project seemed to enjoy themselves and each other’s company, we are looking forward to the next visit from the Public Health team.
In this period, we went to our local mangrove and did a survey of the area. The volunteers gathered samples from the trees to verify species and put it into our own database. While we were there, we also completed a beach clean-up and a seahorse survey. Unfortunately, that piece of land has been leased out from the National park which makes it difficult to establish a reforestation project. However, we have been researching other mangrove projects in the area and one in Prey Nob looks promising. We will go there at the beginning of November.
Conservation Manager, Cambodia