In an age of constant knowledge sharing and over-consumption, the future often appears bleak for our blue planet, with the headlines dominated by doom and gloom. We'd like to counter that mindset and focus instead on some good news stories. While a host of issues do face our oceans and seas (from pollution and plastic to harmful fishing practices), there are also thriving ecosystems in many of the previously most-imperiled places, despite the odds stacked against them. Mother nature is one resilient workaholic, adaptive and creative in how she responds to ocean threats. For some of her best work (with a little help from an ocean warrior or two), read on.
There is no hope for a healthy ocean without sharks. As apex predators, their role is to keep fish populations in check, picking off the weak and ill for the better health of the whole. And while Hollywood and horror stories have given them a bad rap over the years, we divers know different. Aside from bringing a dose of adrenaline each time a thresher or tiger shark swims past, reefs and seas around the globe are so stunning in part due to the presence of these predators. Those destinations who dedicate themselves to the protection of these top dogs reap the rewards of healthier habitats from the bottom up.
Knowledge grows daily from the constant monitoring and research around the globe focused on marine life habits, breeding and birthing grounds. From studying the spawning aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Cayman Islands and the snapper and bumphead parrotfish in Palau, 'no-take' zones were established, resulting in a resurgence of fish on the verge of decimation. After recording manta ray pupping havens in Mexico as well as shark nurseries in the mangrove channels of the Bahamas, marine protected areas were established to safeguard these species at the most crucial moments in their life cycle, ensuring not only survival, but solidifying future generations as well.
When a massive bleaching event affected almost 90% of Australia's Great Barrier Reef in 2016-2017, the world gave a collective shudder at the implications. In a series of realisations about climate change, this last large-scale hit was an especially loud alarm of the ravishes a warming planet will ensue. We're now witnessing the resilience of nature though, with a remarkable rebound of this world-famous ecosystem. Not only that, but looking to historically warmer waters (like those around Oman and Egypt), scientists have found heat resistant corals that are impervious to warming waters. With coral restoration projects kicking off around the globe, the idea that we can help these hardier corals replace dying ones means catastrophic bleachings will hopefully one day be a thing of the past.
Local Practices and Novel Mindsets
We tend to shy away from destinations overrun with tourists, instead seeking out those places where stewardship of the natural resources is a core ethos of the community. Off the island of Lombok in Indonesia, shark fishermen have given up their rods and reels and taken to guiding snorkellers. On Pemba Island, off the coast of Tanzania, the Kwanini foundation taps the local community to preserve and monitor no-take zones, compensating for lost income from fishing with a surge in tourism experiences. In the Maldives, local researchers have taken up the mantle of manta research, monitoring numbers, documenting and tagging individuals and creating programs to extend their protection.