DEEP TEACHES WATER CONSERVATION

March 29, 2018 Pinkey Ngewu

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust’s Environmental Education programme known as DEEP takes on a group of learners from Masakhane Primary school. In the first year they do a presentation to Marine Dynamics staff and in the second year, they present to their peers on a topic of importance. Last year marine pollution was covered and this year the topic was water conservation.

The key message around water was its scarcity and the fact that only about 3% of all earth’s water is fresh water. Most of this water is ice and only 1% of it accessible for human use. The students explained that we cannot live without water because 66% of our human body is water. People, companies, and governments have to practice water conservation by reducing water usage. The increase in population, increase in industries and agriculture and pollution contributes to water scarcity especially in times of lower rainfall.  The learners raised awareness about the water scarcity in Cape Town which is approaching Day Zero.

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SWEET LIFE OF A WHALE BIOLOGIST

March 22, 2018 Petra Neveceralova

Working with whales and protecting them was my dream since I was a little girl. I can´t say how much I am honoured to work with Dyer Island Conservation Trust as a PhD student.

I was born in the middle of Europe, in the landlocked country of Czech Republic. However, I am so lucky to have a great mom that has always supported me. In 2005 she took me on an incredible journey to Africa. For the first time I visited South Africa and the day when I celebrated my 17th birthday, I saw my first whale. It was a humpback whale, a mother with a little whale baby. I will never forget how amazed I was in the presence of the whale, and I still feel that whenever I am close to these magnificent animals.

I was very lucky to meet Mr. Wilfred Chivell in Gansbaai, a small town on the coast of Western Cape, South Africa. He was the owner and skipper of Whale Whisperer, a whale watching boat of his company Dyer Island Cruises. He invited me on his boat and for the first time I met southern right whales. Different from humpbacks in their behaviour, so friendly and relaxed in the water. I completely fell in love with these gentle giants. The moment I saw them I decided to study these whales and help protect them and conserve their environment.

Time went on and the Dyer Island Cruises company grew bigger and bigger and I volunteered for Wilfred several times. During that time I also managed to get my bachelor degree and then masters degree in general biology with the support of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, a non-profit founded by Wilfred. They provided me with data they collect during whale watching and I did some research on whale breaching and whale distribution in comparison with wind.

After I finished my masters, the question was what to do next. Nobody in the Central and Eastern Europe studied whales at that time and abroad universities were too expensive for me. But I was lucky again when I met Professor Pavel Hulva, Ph.D. from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. He is a leader of a group that studies wolf genetics and they use all data in conservation. When we met, he admitted that he always wanted to study whales. To use genetic data in conservation is an awesome modern research project with huge conservation impact – perfect for me! That was the very beginning of my PhD project that we named “Conservation genetics of southern right whale” and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Dyer Island Cruises became the most important partners.

As the PhD project is built on genetic data, we need samples from southern right whales. After certain whale behaviour like breaching, lobtailing or mating, pieces of whale skin can be found floating on the surface. This skin is perfectly suitable for the DNA extraction. Also from the whale faeces, sometimes found around the boat during whale watching, some DNA can be extracted. This is called “non invasive” sampling as the whale does not even know that we “sample” her. In cooperation with Dyer Island Cruises crew we collect all these samples and this has become one of the most effective method of getting DNA without disturbing the animals at all. As you can see, it is in high contrast with Japanese whalers, who claim that they must kill the whale for the genetic sampling and research.

In the end, what do we do with the DNA? DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is an information molecule that is present in every cell of every organism and it can be called “a plan of a life” as every protein molecule in the body is synthetized according to the DNA plan. You can obtain a variety of information from the DNA such as where the animal comes from, if it is male or female, if it has any genetic disease and you can track its parents, sibling or its offspring.

There are several goals for my PhD project. First of all, we would like to describe the population genetics of the South African right whales. Based on the population structure, we can guess the number of whales in the area, follow the gene flow and see if the same whales return to the same bays every year. Then we study immune genes - In a healthy population, it is necessary to have a certain variability among immune genes to ensure that the animals can resist any new virus or pathogen, so it is our goal to check the variability among local population. All this data will be used in conservation as the right whales went through so called “bottleneck effect”. This means that due to intensive hunting in the past several centuries their numbers dropped dramatically and this always means the drop in genetic variability, which is threatening for the population. It is important for us to know the genetic structure of our whales so we can protect them more effectively.

Thanks to the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Dyer Island Cruises, important research can be done on South African right whales. Their motto “Discover and Protect” shows their dedication to the conservation and knowledge I am lucky I to work with them to protect our beloved whales in the bay.

For more information about the PhD project please go to www.srw-project.webnode.cz

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LIVING SHORES BOOK LAUNCH

March 14, 2018 Dyer Island Conservation Trust

Award winning authors, Professor George Branch and his wife Margo, enthralled over 100 guests at the launch of their revised edition of Living Shores.  Their first book was published in 1981 and has been a standard reference for marine scientists and enthusiasts, but as Margo explained, “since then three key things happened – computers, digital photography and satellites; and now we can even measure continental drift.” With all the newly revealed information and climate change impacts, the book has been reworked to incorporate the many dramatic changes that our oceans and coasts have undergone over the past few decades.

Emeritus Professor George Branch started his scientific career studying limpets leading to a ground breaking paper on how limpets tend to their own garden patch. From there his keenly developed eye then looked at the different interactions he witnessed on the rocky shores and beyond. He studied invasive mussels, watched how prawns played and investigated algae and our impacts of commercial harvesting.  This led to involvement with the development of a new fisheries policy and the development of Marine Protected Areas. He met Margo at University of Cape Town and together they became the authorities on the smaller marine world. Margo is an accomplished author and illustrator with many books behind her name on topics such as marine, fynbos and mushrooms. Her passion is to instil conservation ethics by showing the wonder of the natural world.

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TURTLE STRANDINGS – TALK AT THE AFRICAN PENGUIN AND SEABIRD SANCTUARY

March 08, 2018 Dyer Island Conservation Trust

The Two Oceans Aquarium team recently did a road show to establish drop off points along the coastline and brief everyone on what to do should they find a stranded turtle. Guests at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary learnt what to do with a turtle and what they can do from an environmental perspective every day to help turtles and all our marine life. Key messages included not using straws, balloons, plastic bags or water bottles, cutting any circular plastic loops that could entangle animals, and correct disposal of cigarette butts, classified as one of the worst pollutants.

The team included Talitha Noble (Conservation co-ordinator and head of turtle rehab), Hayley McLellan (Environmental Campaigner and brainchild of the ‘Rethink the Bag Campaign’), Inge Adams (WWF intern at the Aquarium and Turtle Princess) and Zoku the fluffy toy (turtle mascot and cuddle buddy).

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