Clown fish swimming in coral

Positive ocean news: April '24 edition

6 minute read

We've rounded up some of this month's good news stories for our seas, including a rewilding programme, a ban on bottom trawling and hundreds of wildlife species found in mangrove forests.

Wet wipes containing plastic to be banned across the UK

The ban prohibits the supply and sale of wet wipes containing plastic and follows the result of a public consultation in which 95% of respondents agreed with the proposals.

Wet wipe on beach Natasha Ewins

Credit: Natasha Ewins

The ban had previously been announced in England last year, but Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will now follow suit. An 18-month adjustment period will take place before the ban comes into effect so that retailers have time to prepare.

Wet wipes containing plastic persist for many years in the natural environment as they do not biodegrade naturally. They often end up as marine pollution, breaking down into microplastics and harming wildlife.

Plastic-free wet wipes are widely available, with several retailers such as Boots and Tesco having already stopped the sale of wet wipes containing plastic in their stores from 2022.

The Marine Conservation Society, which recorded more than 21,000 wet wipes on UK beaches in 2023, welcomes the announcement, which follows years of campaigning for such a ban to be introduced.

Read more about the campaign win on our site

21 million drinks containers returned in first two months of Irish Deposit Return Scheme

Water bottles on beach

Credit: Tim Hüfner

Ireland’s new Deposit Return Scheme, which was launched on the 1st of February, has seen over 21 million drinks containers returned in its first two months and over 2.2 million returned over St Patrick’s Day weekend alone.

The scheme involves paying a small deposit when purchasing bottles and cans of drinks. Consumers can then return their undamaged plastic bottles and metal drinks cans to the scheme’s ‘reverse vending machines’ and receive a cash refund for the deposit, or a voucher to use in-store.

The machines are located in various shops and supermarkets across the island’s Republic, with 2,300 in operation. It has been embraced positively by the public, with Ireland’s return rate higher than countries such as Slovakia, which has a similar scheme.

Read more on the Irish Times website

Rewilding programme sets out to restore zebra sharks

Zebra shark - Indo-Pacific Films

Credit: Indo-Pacific Films

A groundbreaking project has been set up to restore endangered native zebra shark populations in Indonesia.

The StAR rewilding project will transfer eggs from the Shark Reef Aquarium in Las Vegas to in the Raja Ampat archipelago in Indonesia, with a goal of releasing 500 zebra sharks within 10 years.

Zebra sharks are on the brink of extinction in Raja Ampat, with an estimated population of only 20 remaining in the region due to overfishing and habitat degradation. It’s hoped that the project will help restore a large and diverse breeding population.

The relocated eggs are kept in a hatchery, with hatched sharks kept in tanks until they’re strong enough to be released into the wild. Two have recently hatched and are being fed daily with food that is naturally available in their habitat to help prepare them for their release into the wild.

Read more on the Mongabay website

700 wildlife species discovered in Cambodian mangrove forest survey

A study of the Peam Krasop sanctuary and Koh Kapik Ramsar reserve in Cambodia has revealed that hundreds of wildlife species live in the mangrove forests, including hairy-nosed otters, smooth-coated otters and 74 species of fish.

Mangroves in water

Credit: Timothy K

Unlike other plants, mangroves can grow in salt or brackish water, forming dense, woody forests on tropical and subtropical coasts. They are a vital habitat, providing nurseries and breeding ground for commercially important fish, absorbing and storing carbon, slowing down coastal erosion and protecting coastal communities from storms and flooding.

However, around 40% of the world’s mangroves have been lost in the past few decades, largely due to being chopped down for beach resorts or agriculture.

The biologists conducting the survey in Cambodia were astounded at the array and abundance of species living in the endangered habitats and believe that deeper research could reveal even more.

The findings highlight the importance of mangrove forests in supporting various ecosystems and providing habitats for countless interconnected species which rely on the forests and the forests rely on.

Read more on the Guardian website

New global initiative seeks to improve transparency of tuna fishing

Giant Tuna Shoal Guido Montaldo

Credit: Guido Montaldo via Shutterstock

The Nature Conservancy has launched a new initiative to improve monitoring of tuna fisheries, with the Tuna Transparency Pledge aiming to achieve monitoring of all industrial vessels in tuna supply chains or jurisdictions by 2027.

Globally, it’s estimated that one in five fish (of all species) caught could be from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. With most tuna being caught on the high seas and out of sight, the risk of IUU caught fish entering the supply chain undetected is high unless monitoring is in place to check that fishing activities comply with regulations.

By encouraging the adoption of on-the-water monitoring for industrial tuna fishing, the Tuna Transparency Pledge can help combat overfishing and tackle unsustainable and illegal tuna fishing practices.

The first signatories of the Pledge are Walmart, Albertsons Companies, Thai Union, Belize, and the Federated States of Micronesia, with hopes that other retailers, businesses and governments will join soon.

Read more on the Oceanographic website

Record number of barriers removed from rivers in Europe

Salmon jumping in water - unsplash

Credit: Brandon (Unsplash)

Almost 500 barriers such as dams were removed from European rivers last year - an increase of 50% from the 2022.

Rivers across Europe have been disturbed and fragmented by dams, weirs and other barriers, many of which are no longer needed. With extreme weather such as heavy rainfall and flooding on the rise, barriers collapsing can cause rivers further harm and worsen nature loss.

Removing barriers and reconnecting rivers enables wildlife to travel more easily and means migratory fish can reach breeding grounds. By allowing water levels to vary throughout the year, it also leads to changes in habitats that can increase the diversity of plants and animals.

France removed the most barriers in 2023 (156), followed by Spain, Sweden and Denmark. The UK removed 36 barriers from its rivers.

Herman Wanningen, co-founder of Dam Removal Europe and director of the World Fish Migration Foundation encourages the removal of obsolete river barriers so rivers can flow freely, stating, “A river that does not flow freely is slowly dying.”

Read more on the Guardian website

Dominican Republic to protect 30% of its waters

The Dominican Republic has announced the first trans-boundary Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Caribbean, fulfilling its commitment to officially protect 30% of its seas by 2030.

Humpback whale

Credit: Craig Lambert Photography via Shutterstock

At COP15, the Dominican Republic pledged to protect 30% of its land, sea, and inland waters by 2030 in line with the Global Biodiversity Framework. The new MPA will see 30.8% of the Dominican Republic’s waters protected.

Crossing international borders, the MPA will straddle the Colombian sea border, protecting the Beata Ridge and Silver Bank.

Research identified Beata Ridge as an area of critical importance for whales, dolphins, seabirds, sharks and fish, acting as a feeding ground, nursery, and travel route for various species. The Silver Bank is a vital habitat for North Atlantic humpback whales, with thousands migrating each year to use it for breeding, birthing and nursing their calves.

As well as preserving important habitats and travel routes, it’s hoped the cross-border MPA will support the establishment of an MPA network across the Caribbean.

Read more on the Oceanographic website

Greece becomes first country in Europe to ban bottom trawling in all marine protected areas

marine life on sea floor

Credit: Erling Svenson

Greece has announced that it will ban the damaging fishing activity of bottom trawling from all of its national marine parks and protected areas, making it the first country in Europe to do so.

The announcement follows the designation of two further marine national parks, which will cover one third of Greek marine territorial waters and increase the country’s marine protected areas by 80%.

Bottom trawling is a fishing practice which involves dragging heavy nets along the seabed, destroying habitats and releasing carbon that is stored there.

The ban will come into effect in all of the country’s marine parks by 2026, with all of its marine protected areas to be protected by 2030. The ban will be enforced through surveillance which will include the use of drones.

Conservationists welcome the news and hope that other countries, in Europe and further afield, will soon follow suit.

Read more on the Guardian website

$11.3 billion in pledges raised for marine conservation at ocean conference

Governments, NGOs, academics and philanthropists came together for the ninth Our Ocean Conference in Athens and made 469 new commitments to help protect the ocean, worth over USD$11.3 billion.

Puffins Life On The Atlantic Edge

Credit: Kevin Morgans

At the Our Ocean Conference, delegates meet each year to discuss ocean conservation and protection, pledging actions to preserve and restore seas around the world.

Combatting climate change, protecting marine biodiversity, establishing marine protected areas (MPAs), and tackling combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing were among the commitments made this year.

The EU made 40 commitments worth €3.5 billion ($3.7 billion) which include supporting sustainable fisheries, implementing MPAs and preserving biodiversity in selected areas, developing blue economies and tackling marine pollution.

Pledges made by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are worth $103 million and are similar to many of the EU’s commitments.

Read more on the Mongabay website

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