Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sun screen: A new threat to a vulnerable reef

Is it our health for theirs? Gili Lankanfushi begins an eco-sunscreen revolution.

Sun screen is a holiday essential - from children covered in a thick layer, to the bald spot on Dad’s head. We think sun screens are safe, but is this the reality? A key ingredient in more than 3,500 sun protection products is oxybenzone. This chemical is absorbed into our bloodstream, can cause allergic reactions and very worryingly was last tested as far back as the 1970’s. It is also possible that oxybenzone may act similarly to a related chemical, benzophenone which attacks DNA when illuminated, and can lead to cancer. Studies are currently being carried out. Annually four to six thousand tonnes of these chemicals enter our ocean through wastewater effluent, and by swimmers slathered up with sunscreen. Acting like an oil slick, the chemicals settle on marine life and the reefs become suffocated.

Reef safe sun screen with no oxybenzone
Corals are animals called polyps that share their home with algae called zooxanthellae. They work together in a symbiotic relationship which means both parties benefit. The coral animal produces a skeleton to shelter the algae whilst building the reef and the algae through photosynthesis provide the coral animal with 95% of its food. In the Maldives, the reefs are under severe external pressure. Sun screen is an added significant hazard which threatens the resiliency of the coral to climate change.

Healthy coral with blue-green chromis population 
Bleaching is the term used when coral loses its symbiotic algae; this can happen for a variety of reasons. A study by R. Danovaro and a team of scientists showed that oxybenzone promotes latent viral growth in the symbiotic algae. In the study, fragments of coral were taken throughout the tropics and incubated with seawater containing small quantities of sunscreen (10 microlitres). Bleaching occurred within four days, whereas in the control group which had no sunscreen there was no bleaching. Water samples taken 18 – 48 hours after sunscreen exposure showed that the symbiotic algae, instead of being a healthy brown colour were pale/transparent and full of holes. Additionally viral particles were abundant; 15 times more viral particles where found in water samples exposed to sunscreen than in the control group. This suggests that the coral animal or algae contain a latent virus activated by chemicals in sunscreen. This latent infection is found globally. Oxybenzone is a photo-toxicant, which means that its negative effects are accelerated by light - something which the Maldives does not lack. In other studies, oxybenzone has been found to alter the larval stage of the coral from a healthy swimming state to a deformed motionless condition. It has also been found to cause DNA lesions and endocrine disruption, resulting in coral larvae encasing themselves in their skeletons and dying. The severity of this is proportional to chemical concentration.

Bleaching experiment by R. Danovaro and his team. They tested the effects of 100-μL sunscreens on Acropora divaricata nubbins after 24-hr incubation at various temperatures. (A) control; (B) nubbins incubated at 28°C; and (C) nubbins incubated (photo credit to R. Danovaro and his team)
In some parts of the world oxybenzone found on the surface has reached concentrations that indicate the potential for bio accumulation of this chemical within reef organisms. Since oxybenzone mimics oestrogen it is causing male fish to change into females. This has been particularly noticed in turbot and sole feeding near sewage outlets. Since a healthy fish population is vital for reef survival this feminisation of fish will have a devastating long term impact.

As the effects of sunscreen are becoming more apparent positive action is being taken. In Mexico, several marine reserves have banned the use of none marine safe sun protection products after high mortality was noted in reef organisms and currently Hawaii is trying to ban the sale of harmful sunscreen. In addition, the development of eco-friendly sunscreens is now booming.

We at Gili Lankanfushi want to become part of this movement and understand that we need to protect our delicate marine environment, which is why the boutique is now selling a range of marine safe products, so next time you are here please help us protect our reef!

Reef safe sun screen that Gili Lankanfushi sells in the Boutique
Please refer to this link for more information and to purchase reef safe sunscreen. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

World Children’s Day at Gili Lankanfushi

Children are the future. 

Inspiring children to make sustainable and environmentally minded decisions is paramount to the future success of our environment. Gili Lankanfushi has exciting and environmentally educational activities for all age groups and World Children’s Day is an amazing opportunity for Gili Lankanfushi to highlight these.

We have a dedicated Marine Biology Shack called Gili Veshi where guests, staff and school groups are educated about the marine environment. Gili Veshi is equipped with a digital microscope so hands on experience with scientific equipment is available.  Children collect non-living samples like coral, shells and leaves on a beach walk and investigate the samples by viewing the images on a large screen. Children can gain in-depth knowledge of natural structures in addition to learning how to use a microscope.

Viewing coral under digital microscope 
To engage children in nature we hold a treasure hunt that leads participants around the island in search of questions which answers unlock the next location. During the search, we combine the treasure hunt with our Eco Tour which highlights important marine and terrestrial life together with our sustainable initiatives. Interesting plant and animal life are identified, and information is provided for a positive learning experience. Along the jetty, black tip reef sharks, guitar sharks, turtles and eagle rays can be spotted allowing for an interactive experience where knowledge from ID guides and Fish Workshops can be applied in real time. The tour also explores the Eco Centre which is the central recycling and composting hub on the island and helps to sustain the Chef’s Garden which contains a variety of leaves and herbs grown on site.

Chef's Garden
For competent swimmers over eight years old, guided snorkels are available along our house reef with our resident Marine Biologists. A presentation covering likely fish encounters is followed by a 45 minute snorkel along the shallow and deep areas of our reef. Children are able to put theoretical knowledge into practical experience and identify different fish species. During the snorkel, turtles, sharks, rays and napoleon wrasse can be spotted along with thousands of other fish, so keeps your eyes peeled!

Coral line project 
Our coral line project is a reef rehabilitation project that currently has almost 200 lines.  Each line contains 50 fragments spaced along a five metre nylon rope. Guests are able to donate a coral line with our marine biologists which is then transferred to our house nursery and monitored over the next year. Every three months growth and survival rates are measured and photographs are taken, so you can stay updated with line’s progress online. After three years the line can be transplanted to the house reef so you may even snorkel past it in the future!

Gili Veshi’s Fish Workshop engages all ages of children. Young children can colour pictures, whilst older children can read the descriptions and use an ID guide to accurately colour the fish.  We encourage children to document the marine life seen and bring photos and descriptions to Gili Veshi. Together can we search through ID guides until the correct fish is found. This provides an insight into the fish and allows children to understand the complexity of the marine environment.

If you fancy sitting back and relaxing then regular presentations are given on manta rays, sharks, turtles, reef fish and whale sharks. We also conduct longer, more in-depth presentations twice a week or play environmental movies for children. We can arrange different presentations and movies that are tailored to our audience’s interest. You are more than welcome to come and learn with us!

Manta Ray presentation
Bringing your children to Gili Lankanfushi isn’t just a fantastic holiday; it’s a fun and interactive learning experience. We can’t wait to see you!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Support Sea grass

We all could do with reducing our carbon footprint and one easy way is to support local and global sea grass conservation initiatives.

Known as the lungs of the ocean, sea grass can produce 10 litres of oxygen per 1m2 everyday! Sea grass meadows are also a fantastic carbon sink as they sequester carbon dioxide from the water and this can slow the effects of ocean acidification created by global warming. This beautiful plant could be the key to stabilising the negative effects of climate change.

Yet despite this, 29% of global sea grass beds have already disappeared with 7% more being lost per year. In an attempt to address this issue, the Marine Biology team at Gili Lankanfushi is conducting a sea grass regrowth experiment. At the resort we have sea grass growing in shallow lagoons around the island and in a 10m2 area on the south east side of the island, we have been collecting data on how fast sea grass regrows after it has been removed.

The experiment has currently been running for six months, so it is too early to be accurate, but results currently show that 10% of the area has signs of regrowth.  To date, we are only seeing shoots of a robust species of sea grass called E.acoroides.  This is a species found in the tropics in water depth of one to three metres with light wave action. 

Aerial view of Lankanfushi Island and sea grass beds.
In the beds we find nursery fish, crustaceans, worms and sea cucmbers using the leaves as a nursery and haven against the current.  We also often see resident green sea turtles feeding on sea grass as it is their primary diet and they consume 2kg per day!

Marine Biologists are very pro sea grass because sea grass beds stabilise sediment and reduce erosion by creating a network of roots. They also increase the water clarity and quality by soaking up nutrients or chemicals that run into the water.  If given the choice, we would  regenerate the meadows surrounding the island as with an increased meadow size, the resort would benefit from cleaner and clearer water and an increased population of nursery fish species and green sea turtles. By regenerating the full size of our sea grass meadows we would also offset some of our carbon footprint. 

We have been in touch with sea grass specialists from Seagrass Watch and SeagrassSpotter and hope to work with these global conservation projects in the future. We have learnt from their wealth of experience that it takes around 3-4 years to naturally replenish a small sized, single species sea grass meadow and around 10 years to replenish a large sized multi-species meadow.  If we helped regrowth by planting sea grass seeds, the areas would be replenished in around 2 years.

This brilliant plant could be the key to stabilising the negative effects of climate change. We hope resorts in the Maldives consider regenerating their sea grass beds to help offset their carbon footprint.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sustainability training: Gili Lankanfushi says no to an ocean full of plastic

We at Gili Lankanfushi realise that being sustainable starts with us.

August marks the commencement of our biannual sustainability training at Gili Lankanfushi. The first training, conducted in 2016, increased hosts’ knowledge and awareness about sustainability issues and this led to a marked decrease in water and electricity consumption in the host village. Naturally, over time, we have noticed a slight increase in electricity, water and litter, so to address this we decided to raise awareness within our team once again.

The training program aims to increase host knowledge regarding sustainability, with particular focus on plastic pollution and reducing food waste, water and electricity use. The training will achieve this by educating the hosts on exactly what plastic is, how much plastic pollution is in the ocean and what the effects of plastics are. There will be heavy emphasis on what hosts can do to protect our oceans and our health. The second part of the training will explore methods that will make the resort more sustainable. This will be achieved through slides explaining how electricity and water on the island is generated and by activities which will allow hosts to understand how much electricity and water is required for certain activities. Information will also be provided regarding food waste and the easy everyday changes that hosts can put into place to conserve resources. In addition to the above there will also be brief mention of black-naped tern conservation.

Example of one of the slides in the sustainability training - what hosts can do

We are focusing primarily on plastic during the training as plastic in the oceans is a monumental problem. Currently we have a no plastic policy with guests. But plastic still arrives on the island via tide or from Malѐ. To address this, Gili Lankanfushi is currently in the process of launching a plastic recycling project with Parley an international NGO. Parley’s project is the first of its kind in the Maldives and we are training our hosts so that they can recycle their plastic and get involved too. We will collect clean plastic like water bottles; these will be put into recycled plastic bags, when full they will be emptied into a main jumbo bag which is sent to Malѐ. Parley collects this bag and recycles it. We currently have these plastic collection bags in the dive centre, with the gardeners and in the management accommodation. During training we will roll this out in the host area.

Plastic recycling in the dive centre
Plastics are polymers containing hydrocarbons. These polymers are made from natural gas, oil, coal, minerals or plants. In addition to natural plastics (rubber from rubber trees is an example of plastics produced by nature) there are synthetic plastics - polyethylene, polystyrene and polypropylene. The first synthetic plastics were derived from cellulose heated with chemicals.  In 1600BC, Mesoamericans used natural rubber for balls, bands, and figurines. In the 1800s plastic development boomed in order to protect scarce resources, for example turtle shell and ivory which was used to make billiard balls. Plastics are desirable materials due to their flexible properties which can be altered by chemists to suit the needs of the product. The plastics that we produce today can take up to 1000 years to degrade which is why our oceans are running into serious problems.

One of the activities is for hosts to guess how long it takes for certain materials to degrade
Currently, it is estimated that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of floating plastic debris in our oceans and it has been predicted that if we stay on this current path there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. A study in the North Pacific Central Gyre in 2001 found that the mass of plastic was approximately six times that of plankton. Plastic affects every living organism, from micro plastics being ingested by fish ultimately ending up on our plates, to oceanic dead zones, to marine life entanglement and to surfers, swimmers and divers involuntarily swallowing plastics. In addition, plastic can kill marine life in a variety of ways, for example by causing starvation as their stomachs are so full of plastic they can’t eat, or by entanglement and entrapment from plastic structures. We are also affected by plastics; plastic exposure can lead to reproductive problems, hormonal changes, birth defects, diarrhea, Parkinson’s disease, brain and nervous system damages, rashes and the list goes on. This is why training our hosts about plastic waste is so critical for the ocean to survive and also for the health of all life on earth.

Host training will highlight the negative impacts of plastic pollution; more importantly the training will focus on what hosts can do to further reduce plastic pollution on Gili Lankanfushi. Hosts will leave the training knowing everyday changes they can make to help the environment and themselves. Examples include: using cloth bags and diapers, changing what they buy so reusable items are selected over single use items, such as disposal razors, water bottles and straws. In addition to educating their friends and family about the impacts of plastic pollution, hosts can also get involved in reef and beach cleans.

Hosts getting involved in host village clean up
Although our battle with plastic is just beginning, we will assist Parley with the rolling out of the plastic recycling project on the local island of Himmafushi. We are constantly working to become more sustainable and training our hosts is such an important part of our progress.

Please read our next blog for updates on how the training went and information on electricity, water and food waste!