Le Méridien is one of many resort hotels on the motus (little islands) on the archipelago of Bora Bora. However, we heard this one had set up something called an Eco Centre and that they were positively contributing to protecting and helping sea life in Bora Bora. Obviously we wanted to go check it out and see the kind of work they were doing and hopefully speak to some like-minded conservationists. I’m very pleased to report that they're doing some great marine conservation work over there!
We contacted the biologist over there named Melanie and she very kindly invited us over for a visit and a tour. They have a lovely facility based in the grounds of the resort that is doing quite a few different things and Melanie hopes to expand even further soon to do more research on a wide range of cool topics.
The focus of their work at the moment is sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation. They are regularly contacted by local people who see injured or ill turtles and the Eco Centre collects them and tries to fix them up, give them some TLC and then when they’re ready release them back into the ocean. Common issues they encounter in the turtles they rescue are infections from wounds, injuries from boat propellers and just simple disorientation and weakness. They work closely with a vet to give them a full health check (and things like antibiotics if needed), feed them up to get them strong again and if possible release them back into the wild.
Generally, when they arrive they are not very strong swimmers due to their injuries or illnesses and so they’re kept in a special holding facility where they can be monitored closely and fed properly. However, when they’re ready they are taken to a shallow lagoon for some daily exercise to help them get their strength back and get them ready for release.
The Eco Centre also has a classroom with which it runs educational sessions for French Polynesian school groups and resort guests on turtle conservation. At the back of the classroom is a mini museum with some marine artifacts and a display of conservation and sea themed artwork by local artists and kids that have visited. They also have a few little aquariums set up to show not only school groups but also all visitors to the Eco Centre and Le Méridien the amazing marine life that Bora Bora has to offer. This is the area Melanie hopes to expand into next; to do some research into coral bleaching and the problems effecting reefs not just here but across the world. Everything here is set up to add educational value to their guests visit which is great; whether that’s through talks on threats to sea turtles or info up about Bora Bora fish life. All in all, a very positive and inspiring little trip!
It was great to see the work they’re doing now and hear about work they want to start. Hopefully we’ll hear from them soon to find out how they get on with their research. Huge thanks to Melanie and her team for showing us around.
I want to start this post by showing you a little clip of another totally awesome manta ray we met this week! On her approach we snapped away with our cameras her trying to capture that all important spotty belly as she passed on by then after she had disappeared into the blue we continued on our merry way. A few minutes later we were lucky enough to encounter another friendly manta who eagerly swam on over to meet us and again we snapped away taking photos. A little further on, what luck! Another very friendly manta ray came gliding out of the gloom, rather intently it seemed, towards us. At this point, upon viewing her belly, we cottoned on to what was happening. We were seeing the same manta ray over again because she was looping around to pass us. This inquisitive ray returned to see us multiple times throughout our dive, at one point whilst we were swimming along we turned around to catch her chasing us from behind like a giant, friendly shadow! She definitely seemed as interested in us as we were in her and I really didn’t want to leave the water at the end of our dive and say goodbye. We’ve decided to name her Boomerang and I really hope we meet her again.
Another much smaller acquaintance we have made recently is a beautiful little Hawksbill sea turtle who has been hanging around the manta site for over a week now, absolutely gorging himself on coral. He is so chilled out and so intent on munching away that he seems to barely notice us hovering in the background and taking pictures. We've named him Prince because he is a miniature maverick!
Encounters with characters like Boomerang and Prince make the thought of losing these incredible creatures even more distressing but it is a real possibility if we don’t take action against the threats that they face. A few weeks ago I wrote about overfishing for the gill plate trade for Traditional Chinese Medicine, this week I want to tell you a little about bycatch.
What is bycatch? Well that’s the name given to animals caught unintentionally by a fishery. Each year a tenth of the world’s global catch is thrown back into the ocean, dead because it has been caught accidentally. That equates to many millions of tons of discarded animals including sea turtles, sharks, sea birds, manta and mobula rays. It also includes many perfectly edible fish that are simply not in demand; aside from the environmental impact this kind of food waste is pretty disgraceful.
The problem is that many of the methods used to catch fish are totally indiscriminative, catching anything and everything. Bottom trawlers, for example, can have nets large enough to hold 13 jumbo jets which are dragged across the seabed catching everything in their path and smashing up vital marine habitats as they go. Longlines are laid out by boats, they have baited hooks at intervals to catch big predators such as tuna and swordfish, but there is nothing to stop any other hungry animals from taking a bite too. Each line can be 60miles long and contain thousands of hooks. Tuna is one of the most sought after fish species in the world and sadly many of the fishing methods used to catch it have huge bycatch levels including manta rays and sea turtles.
The good news is that we can all help to stop this by simply eating the right things. So how do you know what’s sustainable seafood and what’s not? Of course going for a vegetarian option is always a fail-safe, commendable way to ensure that you are not eating anything caught using destructive fishing methods. However, if you sometimes fancy some seafood and you want to support fisheries seeking more environmentally friendly techniques then...
Thanks for reading!