&Beyond Supports Formation of World's Biggest Protected Marine Area
Renowned and celebrated for its ongoing commitment to conservation, luxury experiential travel company &Beyond has extended its core ethos of Care of the Land to our planet’s oceans by sponsoring marine advocate and pioneering swimmer Lewis Pugh in his Great Antarctic Ice Challenge. His series of five record-breaking swims in the freezing Antarctic Ocean form part of an initiative to help save the Ross Sea from irreversible damage.
A deep bay situated in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, the Ross Sea is one of the world’s most pristine marine ecosystems and is home to an array of species found nowhere else on earth. Inhabited by extraordinary creatures such as the Antarctic toothfish, the colossal squid and the emperor penguin, the area’s dense ice has also preserved records of the earth’s evolution.
With the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Antarctica governed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, Pugh’s initiative is designed to focus the world’s attention on the conservation of this magnificent area. The proposed Ross Sea MPA would cover an area of 1.35 million km² (more than half a million square miles) and is set to become the largest protected area in the world, on land or on sea.
“Over the past 30 years I have seen the devastating impacts of overfishing and climate change on our oceans. If we allow the Ross Sea to go the same way, its unique riches may be lost forever,” explains Pugh.
With two of &Beyond’s lodges situated on tropical islands, the company is committed to marine conservation and its support of this groundbreaking initiative is just the latest of &Beyond’s continued efforts to preserve the integrity of the world’s oceans.
“We believe that protecting the world’s oceans is crucial, not only to preserve our planet’s marine diversity, but also because of the role that healthy seas play in our environment. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the rainforests that produce the majority of the world’s oxygen, but rather the ocean. Approximately 70% of the earth’s oxygen comes from the marine plants in our ocean. This is only one of the many reasons why we have become involved in marine conservation,” comments &Beyond CEO Joss Kent.
Since 2005, &Beyond has worked with the Zanzibar Department of Fisheries and members of local Zanzibari fishing communities to form the Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area (MIMCA) in the waters surrounding &Beyond Mnemba Island, off the coast of Zanzibar. The establishment of this protected area officially demarcated specific areas for snorkelling, diving and fishing. The agreement also resulted in the introduction of a daily recreational fee for the use of these areas. The revenue generated by this levy was used to fund local community projects and benefit local fishermen. One of the main objectives of the establishment of MIMCA was to reduce the incidence of net fishing in the shallow waters off the coral reefs and encourage fishing for fewer and larger species further out, in deeper waters. Several measures were introduced to encourage this practice. The boundaries of MIMCA have now been extended to include a far larger portion of the Zanzibar coastline.
&Beyond continues to work with local villagers to implement localised and sustainable conservation plans, as well as to implement more effective netting techniques that don’t damage the reefs.
The staff on &Beyond Mnemba Island are also involved in a regional green turtle tagging programme that monitors the movements of these rare animals and documents all breeding activities. On the globally endangered list, green sea turtles are on the brink of extinction due to the uncontrolled harvesting of eggs and killing of vulnerable egg-laying females. &Beyond Mnemba Island provides an undisturbed haven for them to nest.
Since 1998, turtles nesting on the island have been tagged and measured for size, while their nests have been protected and hatchings meticulously recorded. This information is shared with both local and international conservation organisations, including the World Wildlife Fund, the Department of Environment in Zanzibar and the East African Wildlife Foundation.
With an average of 34 turtles nesting on the island per year and an average of 100 hatchlings per nest, more than 50 000 hatchlings have been born on Mnemba in the past 15 years. Thanks to the island’s few predators, over 90% of these hatchlings reach the sea safely.
The biggest land crab in the world, so little is known about the coconut crab that they do not even have a conservation status with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), being listed as ‘data deficient’. &Beyond Mnemba Island has a small but stable population of these crabs and recently hosted two researchers from Gothenburg University in Sweden, who conducted a study of the coconut crabs at Mnemba and nearby Chumbe Island. This was the first study of its kind conducted in Africa, as any previous research has taken place in the Asia-Pacific region.
The primary goal was to count the coconut crab population, calculate their ages and take blood samples to determine if they are from the same family and if there are any genetic differences between them and the crabs found in the Asia-Pacific. The initial output of the research shows that &Beyond Mnemba Island’s coconut crabs are showing evidence of breeding behaviour, with one adult female photographed carr ying a clutch of eggs.
&Beyond’s ethos of Care of the Land also extends to the waters surrounding the Bazaruto Archipelago, where the company’s other luxury beach destination, &Beyond Benguerra Island, is situated. These waters were declared Mozambique’s first marine protected area in 1971, established to protect an elusive and rare marine mammal, the dugong.
Allegedly mistaken for mermaids by lonely sailors in times long past, the dugong are now listed as vulnerable to extinction. With little more than 50 000 of these mysterious animals remaining globally, their numbers are even lower in the waters off Mozambique, where a small and threatened group of just 250 of these animals represents their last stronghold along East Africa’s coastline.
Although listed as a protected species, Bazaruto’s dugong remain vulnerable to a number of risks, including illegal gill net fisheries originating from the nearby towns of Vilanculos and Inhassoro. While not targeted by the fishermen, the dugong are prone to becoming entangled in the unattended nets and drowning.
Recognising the threat that dugong could become extinct in as little as half a century, the Endangered Wildlife Trust has established the Dugong Emergency Protection Project, which is based at &Beyond Benguerra Island and supported by the lodge. The goal of the project is to ensure the security of the dugong herds and their habitat by eliminating threats and to strengthen local conservation initiatives to ensure that the protection measures put into place remain sustainable.
&Beyond believes that the Dugong Emergency Protection Project is crucial to preserving the rich marine diversity of the Bazaruto Archipelago. As part of the company’s support of this initiative, &Beyond provides office space and housing for Karen Allen, the project’s manager, who has recently been honoured with the 2015 Future for Nature Award.
&Beyond supports Lewis Pugh as he embarks on his arduous and both physically and mentally demanding challenge and believes that this story of hope will unite nations and successfully encourage the formation of the world’s largest protected conservation area.