Jessica Rabbits On


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Ibiza! La biodiversidad Ibicenca

When you think of Ibiza you instantly think of World Heritage sites, protected areas, endemic species and important habitats for migratory birds right?!
It was by complete happy accident on holiday this summer that I stumbled across ‘Isla Formentera’, an utterly stunning Baleriac island, just across from the infamous white isle.

Me and the girls hopped on the hour long ferry to Formentera and in true eco-warrior fashion hired bicycles to check out the local beaches and beauty. We cruised past signage for ‘Parc Natural de Ses Salines’ one of the two protected areas, the other being ‘Reserva Natural de Cala d’Hort.’
The stretch of sea between the islands is covered with a meadow of Posidonia oceanica, also known as Neptune grass. This plant is endemic to the Mediterranean, supports an extraordinary array of marine life and is a vitally important fish hatchery. Its extensive roots systems also prevent coastal erosion and act as a carbon sink. Due to its conservation significance pitted against increasing threats from both pollution and boat trafficking, it was identified as a priority ecosystem for protection under the Habitat 2000 Directive. It has been designated as a World Heritage Site.
This map helps to visualise it:

Please see the attached IUCN documentation for more details of the designation (1999) if you are interested: WORLD HERITAGE NOMINATION – IUCN TECHNICAL EVALUATION IBIZA, BIODIVERSITY AND CULTURE (SPAIN)

To quickly summarise, other than that nifty Neptune grass:
• 11 species of strictly endemic plants,
• 56 species of endemic invertebrates
• 11 species of endemic terrestrial reptiles
• AND 5 species of mammals- i.e. only found in Ibiza and Formentera!
Also 205 different bird species have been recorded, particularly around the coastal lagoons and salt flats (Las Salinas). Areas of well-preserved juniper forest persist, which was once typical coastal vegetation but now only remains in a few sites.
Isn’t it funny how the most amazing biodiversity can be present without you even knowing about it- I will never look at the Mediterranean in the same way again!


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Cambridge Botanic Gardens

Toward the end of August 2016 my sister and I visited Cambridge botanic gardens. It was a lovely day and I hope you agree that all the colours of the flora really stood out!

A Cambridge speciality is the Fenland plants bed. There is also a linear chronological bed, starting with plants introduced to the UK in ancient Roman times and building up to the modern day. It reveals how our gardens have changed over time, particularly with the more recent introductions of ornamental plants. This was fascinating, but my absolute favourite at gardens is always the rainforest greenhouses! I also discovered the arid habitat surprisingly engaging, filled with spiky cacti and interesting succulents.

 

 

 


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Poster of Dissertation Research for DICE Symposium

Cayman Turtle Farm

For better detail please click here:Conservation, Turtle Trade and Media, Friends or Foes

Here is the poster I am presenting of my dissertation work so far at an international wildlife trade conference this week held at Kent University: ‘Towards a sustainable and legal wildlife trade.’ http://www.kent.ac.uk/sac/events/ITC_DICE/symposium.html

There looks to be some really interesting speakers, I can’t wait!

To read my full dissertation, please see: dissertationjwalker

I’d love to hear what you think!


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Gweek Seal Sanctuary

Gweek Seal Sanctuary

Our third MSc fieldtrip for marine conservation was to Gweek seal sanctuary in Cornwall, the largest unit of its kind in the UK. Through the horizontal rain we drove to visit these enigmatic aquatic mammals. We had a talk about the work the sanctuary does and got to have a wander round and check out the impressive facilities.

The sanctuary gets called out to rescue stranded or injured seals and brings them in to the seal hospital. This is almost always pups who have been separated from the mother, been attacked by aggressive males, or got caught up in fishing tackle. The recover here until they can feed themselves fish (the mothers would usually teach them this- the youngest pup they’ve had in was 1 day old) and are deemed fit and healthy.

looking a bit sad and battered- seal pup in hospital

looking a bit sad and battered- seal pup in hospital

When they are strong enough they are relocated to a pool with the long-term residents. These are here for a mixture of reasons, for example one has suspected brain damage, many others have eye-problems such as cataracts, and one they think was actually born blind. This is a great opportunity for the little pups to get socialised, and they quickly learn who they can steal fish off (or not!) This steep learning curve is really important as they need to know how to manage male aggression in the wild, otherwise they might wind up back in the hospital. As release is the priority contact with the keepers is kept to an absolute minimum, and they throw in the fish whilst hiding behind a pillar. The seagulls swoop down in hope of fish at feeding time, so it really is a competitive atmosphere! The sanctuary has released around 1500 seals, and tags those to track how they are doing. Based on the reports so far they have a high success rate and some seals have gone on to have their own pups, which is the ultimate goal.

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The most common seal off the UK coast is the grey seal but the sanctuary also has common seals, some re-homed Californian sea lions (the males were too much for their previous aquarium to handle). These are managed in a very different way; as they unfortunately cannot be released they are trained by highly skilled keepers to respond to training poles and voice commands. This allows them to health check them easily and keep them mentally stimulated.

This seal (Alfie) even growled at me...so he must be able to see something moving beyond those cataracts!

This seal (Alfie) even growled at me…so he must be able to see something moving beyond those cataracts!

penguins

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hubert penguins

and the cutest little otters.

 

arghhh cuteness overload

arghhh cuteness overload

Overall the sanctuary is doing fabulous work as a sanctuary, there is no denying that.

But what is its role in conservation? This I was less convinced of as seals are not massively endangered. In the wild seals get bashed against the rocks and chased by angry males, it’s simply what seals do. Are we playing god? Seals that are harmed by anthropogenic means, such as being caught up in fishing nets, I fully understand saving; but then again who are we to decide which individual lives or dies? Or could you argue that we have a responsibility to save all our rare seals, considering we have the capacity (money, vets, technology and knowledge) to do so? Do we really have a duty of care towards seals? Should we have a duty of care towards all of our British wildlife equally, and not just enigmatic mammalian species?

The sanctuary does also educate the public and raise awareness about protecting marine species. It may even inspire the next generation of marine biologists and vets. Some ideas to think about…let me know your opinions in the comments below.


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National Marine Aquarium and Conservation Psychology

After a morning at the National Lobster Hatchery (please see: https://jessicarabbitson.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/hes-your-lobster/ ) we headed on to the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. We had a really interesting talk from the head of education about the impact an aquarium can have on conservation. He introduced the field of conservation psychology…broadly speaking this involves attitudes towards conservation, motivations to get involved and people’s connection with nature. He is concerned that the phrase ‘increasing awareness’, which is so often bookmarked as the job of aquariums, is actually dangerously ineffective at producing any meaningful change once visitors leave the site. This may be because the general public tend to switch off when you mention conservation, and think you are going to start whining on at them to ‘try harder’.
This is where social marketing comes in. There is an idea, championed in the book ‘what makes people tick’, that people can (rather generally) be split into 3 groups based on core values: settlers, prospectors and pioneers. To stereotype, settlers are traditional family driven, union jack flying, pub going, NIMBY types. Prospectors are the flashy stylish type, who are driven by how well they appear to be doing and what other people think of them. Pioneers are more of a self-driven group however, and are likely to be the early adopters change, or a technology for example. The population has been estimated to have a fairly even split of these 3 value modes. In conservation we need to consider effectual behaviour change, so this concept may be useful. For example, pioneers may be the early adopters of change, the prospectors will follow if other people are doing it, and the settlers will eventually be dragged along when the behaviour becomes the norm. Some critics of this theory argue that separating personalities in this way may encourage selfish consumerism to continue. Please see Tom Crompton’s blog, valueandframes.org.
So how can an ethically minded business implicate these theories on the ground? The idea is that peoples are different, so we need to stop trying to provide an all encompassing solution. Appealing to different value groups in various ways might prove more fruitful. A book called ‘fostering sustainable change’ was suggested as a useful practitioners guide to going about this. Basically, identify the perceived barriers to change, and then try to remove them. It is evident the NGOs are using social marketing more and more for their campaigns.

My favourite charismatic species; but will everyone respond in the same way to the elegance of a seahorse?

My favourite charismatic species; but will everyone respond in the same way to the elegance of a seahorse?

We had a tour of the aquarium and our guide explained the exhibits start off just focussing on our ‘connection’ with nature, for example rockpools and watersports. There are no strong conservation messages displayed at this early stage, as that may turn certain people off. Rather, there is more of an emphasis on ‘look at how awesome our British sea life is!’

So how would you describe your connection with the ocean?

So how would you describe your connection with the ocean?

As I walked round the aquarium the number of conservation based information boards did seem to increase, especially towards the Great Barrier Reef section at the end. There was also some ipads dotted around testing what kind of ‘fish’ you are, but really they are collecting data on the core value types I discussed earlier, under a fishy guise.

GBR section

GBR section

We were then shown the ‘reconnect’ project. This is exploring our relationship with seafood and trying to promote sustainable fishing. It works with the local area (hospitals, schools etc) to try and make us think about what is on our plates and the journey it took to get there. Afterwards I got stuck in a shark show (classic half term), where an excellent demonstrator was convincing the kids how cool sharks are!

Reconnect project

Reconnect project

getting stuck at the shark show

getting stuck at the shark show- can only really see the rays here though, sorry!

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So is ‘raising awareness’ always as effective and important as we think it might be? How can we measure resultant behaviour change? How can we tailor conservation messages to hit home? How can we implicate sneaky advertising techniques for a cause that is more important than lipsticks and shampoo? After all, if you can’t beat them, join them. I went home with lots to think about, but you can be sure, there is certainly more behind the glass tank front than meets the eye.

jellies

jellies


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‘He’s your lobster!’

Today the masters students taking the marine conservation module hit the road to go visit the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow. Padstow has earnt the amusing nickname ‘Padstein’ due to Rick Stein’s involvement in buying up the local area, and has put its seafood firmly on the foodies map. The demand for seafood is putting lobster populations under severe pressure, in fact in Norway the stocks have collapsed completely. There is now research looking at introducing some of our Cornish lobsters back up to Norway. The economic importance of the seafood industry is massive, and the effects on livelihoods in the UK are far-reaching, so it is in everyone’s interests to find a sustainable solution. Lobster fry are pretty pathetic in the wild and are more often than not dinner for other marine creatures. The juveniles are also slow growing, and can only grow between moults. A lobster can grow up to 25% bigger each moult! For these reasons the wild stocks could do with a helping hand…

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So how does the hatchery work? Females carrying eggs are brought in by fishermen or selected from a wholesaler; it is otherwise illegal to remove berried hens from the ocean. If the eggs are red it means they are almost ready to hatch and the hatchery will prioritise them. If they are black however, they will be put on ice to slow down development until there is space at the hatchery. The female lobsters are given back to the fishermen to either sell, or put back to sea to grow a bit bigger. Some fishermen put a v-notch in the tail meaning they cannot legally be caught until the notch has grown out and they are at an appropriate size. Once the eggs hatch they grow into juveniles in a cone shaped apparatus filled with flowing water to simulate as natural conditions as possible. Only about 20% survive this stage as (unfortunately for us) they are cannibalistic! The bad-ass lobbies that make it through are released from the hatchery at about 3 months old by divers and fishermen. It is difficult to quantify a return on effort investment (tracking tiny lobsters is currently impractical), but anecdotally fishermen have reported more landings.

Cones growing up juveniles

Cones growing up juveniles

sometimes it pays to go with the flow

sometimes it pays to go with the flow

maternity ward for females before being handed back to the fishermen. Notice the claws are taped to prevent fights...

maternity ward for females before being handed back to the fishermen. Notice the claws are taped to prevent fights…

Meet Claudia, she came with no claws (they aren't sure why) and had to be put in isolation as the others kept bullying her!

Meet Claudia, she came with no claws (they aren’t sure why) and had to be put in isolation as the others kept bullying her!

juveniles separated pre-release

juveniles separated pre-release

The hatchery is also involved in research such as optimising juvenile growth conditions, genetics work, and creating a sort of lobster farm out at sea. The later would be the natural progression for the project and is envisaged to be in a cage stacking lobsters in dairylea type triangles ( separately to reduce munching tendencies!) To find out more please see: http://www.nationallobsterhatchery.co.uk/whats-it-all-about/marine-conservation/behind-the-scenes/ Seeing all the work that goes into this process really makes you think before you indulge in a bit of lobster luxury.

a very rare white lobster morph, typically they are blue-grey (til they are cooked!)

a very rare white lobster morph, typically they are blue-grey (til they are cooked!)

spot the baby cuttlefish

spot the baby cuttlefish

spider crab, spider crab, does what ever a spider crab does...

spider crab, spider crab, does what ever a spider crab does…

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Flicka foundation horse and donkey sanctuary

Please see: http://www.flickafoundation.org.uk/
At the weekend my housemates and I went to visit the flicka foundation horse and donkey sanctuary just outside Penryn with my uni’s volunteering society.
We got a tour of the sanctuary’s facilities and met the gentle creatures that live here. The miniature donkeys were very sweet at enjoyed being fussed over! We were filled in on the moving back stories that had landed them there. About 5 new arrivals were out in the padock before being moved in with the others. Even with a busy stables the foundation will always try to accommodate animals in need.
One particular donkey called Marybelle is an incredible success story- the sanctuary bought her back from death’s door, full of lice and starving thin (more details on the website) , and I can attest for her great condition now as I got to groom her!
Another donkey was particularly striking, Bertie the French Poitou. He is super fluffy, which is actually why he’s here! Due to his ‘lack of good looks’ he can’t be used as a stud, so nobody wanted him! I’m sure you agree he is awesome:

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We think you’re pretty Bertie…

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nap time

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community cuddles

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grooming

photos courtesy of Chloe Lumsdon
The sanctuary accepts volunteers of differing commitment levels; if you’re down in Cornwall go check it out!