2016 has provided huge steps forward for combating climate change with the enforcement of the Paris Agreement and also steps backward from the newest US President elect rejecting the Agreement, despite the US being the world’s largest contributor to climate change. Frontier’s reaction is clear, to continue our efforts to address conservation goals in tropical and subtropical areas across the globe.
Frontier’s base camp on the island of Nosy Be hosts our forestry team and our marine team. Wildlife on and surrounding the island are particularly venerable to climate change and habitat degradation due to them only being found on the island, known as endemic species.
The forest team are studying several species including lemurs, reptiles, bird and butterflies found in the primary, secondary and degraded forests in the hope to influence protection and reforestation efforts. Frontier’s continuing hard work over this period has resulted in its encountering over 638 individuals and 43 reptile species, including the Nosy Be pygmy lead chameleon which only grows to a tiny 33mm! The team identified that the highest abundance of reptiles was in the primary forest but there was low species diversity of reptiles in all three types of forest habitat. The research into birds and butterflies found similar results to the previous reports, to the effect that the open habitat had a greater butterfly abundance and species richness in comparison with the closed habitat.
The marine team have been monitoring coral, sea grass and mangrove habitats as well as the fish and invertebrate species. The marine team discovered that fish species diversity was greater in live coral areas than dead coral areas, highlighting the importance of protecting these marine environments. The Frontier team regularly takes to the beach to remove debris. Marine debris is a growing presence in the marine environment and is detrimental. The most common marine debris is plastic, which is difficult to degrade and can be ingested by marine mammals and fish, causing death. Ties inhabiting them. The team continues to monitor marine debris, and come up with solutions for the reduction of marine debris in Madagascar.
Frontier has been working on the Osa Peninsula near Corcovado National Park to collect data on primates, big cats, turtles, neotropical otters, amphibians, birds and butterflies. Through this baseline data, Frontier aims to investigate the influence of climate change and various other anthropogenic effects, such as deforestation.
Mammal tracking data has identified 16 mammal species present in the Rio Carate area. Most tracks found were river otter but the team hopes to investigate futher to identify the population number of this species. Primate results were unexpected, with more primates being found in secondary and disturbed forests than in primary. One explanation is that the secondary and disturbed forests form corridors between primary forests but the team will investigate further through studying more different habitat types. Green turtles, hawkbills, olive ridley’s and leatherbacks all nest in Costa Rica and Frontier hopes to extend their study of nesting populations through tagging turtles next year. Bird species richness was higher in primary forest and new sound recording equipment will be used next to year to increase the data set and to investigate the effect of edge habitat type to species richness. The poison dart frog, in particular, is in decline with its population currently estimated at 83 individuals. The project is only in its third phase but the long term goal will be to use mark-recapture methods to create a database on its population size and distribution.
Frontier has been working in Tanzania for 27 years collecting data regarding the forest and marine habitats and collected the data that led to the setup of Mafia Island Marine Park in 1995.
Through continued work with the marine park on the new, Strategic Adaptive Management Framework (SAM), the gap between the scientific community and decision makers is decreasing. Frontier have been busy with beach cleans at Juani and assisting local organisations with turtle hatchings.
The important forestry habitats, including mangrove forests, wetlands and coastal forests, are at risk from deforestation for timber and agriculture. Frontier has continued to focus on the effects of agriculture, by comparing undisturbed and farmed habitats, such as wetlands and rice paddy fields and forest and cattle grazing sites. This quarter Frontier focused on developing a socioeconomic study to assess the opinions of farmers on the local hippo populations. This study is now being implemented in one village, with promising results indicating that local’s still feel positive towards the hippos, even though they are losing a large number of crops to them. This study is essential to protect this small and threatened population and will hopefully lead to action to limit this human-wildlife conflict.
The island of Caye caulker hosts one of Frontier’s newest projects, the marine conservation programme. In our baseline studies on coral health and fish diversity this quarter Frontier found that the sites in the marine reserve do not hold greater concentrations of commercially important fish species than more heavily fished areas. This may indicate a lack of recovery in the reefs, making them unable to support higher concentrations of fish, or indicate that fishing is still taking place in the reserve.
Queen Conch are currently being overfished and are suffering a serious population decline. Careful fishing limits and fishing periods should help preserve the queen conch.
The sea grass monitoring was divided between costal development areas and areas with little development. So far, with a little sample size there seems to be less sea grass in the coastal development but more mapping will be needed by the team to confirm this result.
Frontier’s newest project only started in the summer of 2015 but has already gathered valuable information on bottlenose dolphins, short-finned pilot whales, sperm whales and risso’s dolphins from land and tourist boats. We aim to create a database of cetacean fin shots in Tenerife, and use this to monitor diversity and individual activity to determine the health of the populations. The current species photo-ID catalogues consisted of 170 individual pilot whales and 70 bottlenose dolphins. A total of 789 cetacean encounters were recorded between June 2016 and October 2016. During this time, 577 encounters were with pilot whales and 212 bottlenose dolphins.
Whilst on the tourist whale-watching vessels, Frontier’s volunteers have been working hard to spread awareness about the project and the importance of protecting the marine environment. In addition, volunteers and staff have been implementing weekly beach cleans in the tourist hotspot of Los Cristianos.
Frontier has been monitoring the health of the marine ecosystems in and around Beqa Lagoon, an area hit by mass coral bleaching in 2002. Working closely with stakeholders and locals, Frontier hopes to inform fishing practices and help improve the overall health of the marine environment.
The coral cover remains healthy within the areas, however, fish species are declining since the previous year, indicating that the site suffers from extreme fishing pressure; with the result that longer term monitoring is needed to judge and clearly identify the influences and impacts on the reef.
Pilot snorkel surveys were conducted within two study locations to understand more about the abundance and distribution of the black tip reef shark in the area. Preliminary data shows promising signs that one of these could be a nursery, as a result of the fact that both juveniles and adults were spotted. Since the project is in its infancy, any conclusions at this stage are speculative, but, given that sharks are particularly susceptible to depletion as a result of overfishing and their low reproductive rate and limited dispersal, it is to be hoped that the initial indications are confirmed.
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By Meike Simms - Online Media Intern