Hi Cyclone family! We’re back this month with a Cyclone update and we’re heading over to Brazil to meet the team our there, and we also find out how the Manta Trust celebrated World Ocean’s Day.
The fact that you are a Cyclone Member means you are more than likely aware of the dangers threatening our oceans. On June 8th, the world came together to celebrate World Ocean’s Day and raise awareness of those very issues. Although our project team members work tirelessly all year round to improve the health and prospects of our oceans, we want to share with you what we got up to on this special day.
Our ‘Meet the Team’ series is back this month, and we would like to introduce you to Guilherme (Gui) Kodja, the founder of the Brazilian Marine Megafauna Project. Find out how he ditched a life of law, military and sky diving for scuba diving and marine protection.
Thank you for being part of the The Cyclone family, and don’t forget you can order your discounted Cyclone hoodies and t-shirts here.
Digital Media & Communications Manager
WORLD OCEANS DAY 2019
The 8th of June saw conservationists, youth activists, divers, ocean lovers, and people from all walks of life come together to celebrate World Ocean’s Day.
If you turn on the news these days there are more and more headlines about how the natural world is under threat from human activity. The oceans bear a massive brunt of this destruction; plastic waste, rising sea temperatures, habitat destruction, ocean acidification, and most significantly, over-fishing. World Ocean’s Day provides a great opportunity to shine a light on these threats and to discuss ways we can work to alleviate them. Here is how some of our teams around the world celebrated this day.
On World Ocean’s Day this year, we teamed up with Marine Savers and the staff at Four Seasons Resort at Landaa Giraavaru to clean up the beach on a neighbouring local island. Much of the plastic waste that washes up on the shore does not actually originate from the Maldives and it just goes to show how global and connected these threats are.
During the ‘Environment In Isla Mujeres’ fair many other local non-profits and organizations got together to raise awareness about biodiversity and the importance of taking care of the natural resources within the Island. We played "Pin the tail on the Manta" with the kids which caused quite an excited stir!!
The Hurawalhi World Ocean’s Day celebrations were a huge success! Whilst our guests enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the 5.8 Undersea Restaurant we discussed the importance of our oceans, some of the challenges they are facing, and how we can protect them. We even had a very special appearance by a Hawksbill turtle which stopped by and upstaged our marine biologists.
About as far removed from the ocean as you can get, I am currently travelling through the rolling hills of northern Thailand. Although I am desperate to get back in the water with my flappy friends, I am conscious that what I do here many miles away from the nearest mantas, can still have an impact on mantas and their habitat. Here are a few simple things I did on World Ocean’s Day to lessen my impact.
I carry my own wooden chopsticks and reusable coffee mug and metal straw with me when I’m out and about so I don’t use single use chopsticks wrapped in plastic, single use cups, or straws.
Refill my water bottle at stations. It’s also a 10th of the price of a new bottle!
I try to buy local. Pick fruits and vegetables that are in season and haven’t been flown half way around the world.
I also try to limit the amount of meat in my diet, and I don’t eat seafood. Why anyone would eat seafood so far from the sea is beyond me!
It is important to remember though, that our actions and choices can impact the oceans every day of the year. Head over to our Eat Sustainably page to learn more about how you can help to reduce the greatest threat to the oceans.
Digital Media & Communications Manager
MEET THE TEAM: Guilherme (Gui) Kodja, founder OF the BRAZILIAN MARINE MEGAFAUNA PROJECT
Tell us about your first manta ray encounter.
That’s easy – the first time you meet a manta ray is one you never forget! It was winter in 2002 and I was diving in Laje de Santos State Marine Park, in Brazil. Suddenly I felt as if the sun had gone behind a cloud, and when I looked up a large oceanic manta ray was flying above me – I was just in awe as it sailed overhead only two metres above us. The feeling was just incredible - it was a moment I will always remember.
What was your journey that led you to set-up the Brazilian Marine Megafauna Project?
I was born and raised in Santos, a coastal city in southern Brazil's São Paulo state. After a stint in the army and then studying to become a lawyer, I felt an obligation to get involved in the conservation and protection of our local Marine Park, Laje de Santos. Despite living by the ocean, I had never been scuba diving, I had always been a sky diver! However all that changed in 2000, I got my diving qualifications and started exploring the waters of Laje de Santos, where the warm surface waters and cold deeper waters support a high level of marine biodiversity.
A few years later I took a sabbatical from my law career, and joined a local dive centre to pursue my love of diving. As luck would have it, I met two ladies who had an interest in studying manta rays and marine life, and in 2004 they invited me to join the NGO called Laje Viva, and we developed a PhotoID database to record oceanic manta rays in Brazil. Fast forward to 2010 and after years juggling my work as a lawyer and researching and identifying manta rays, We set up ‘Mantas do Brasil’ with sponsorship from Petrobras. We focused on raising awareness of manta rays and educational visits to school across Brazil, and through this awareness we started to get more PhotoID of manta rays sent to us – with around 40% of contributions coming through our ‘citizens science’ project.
I was then luckily enough to work with Andrea Marshall on a manta ray satellite tagging project, and in 2015 I left ‘Mantas do Brasil’ to focus my energies and expertise on more conservation and research. This is when I set up the Brazilian Marine Megafauna Project (locally known as Projeto Megafauna Marinha do Brasil) to assess the population size and structure of Brazil’s manta rays and investigate their migration patterns and reproductive strategies, as well as the anthropogenic threats faced by these animals.
We also have a strong focus on working with local dive centres and training divers to become engaged in citizen science, plus an outreach programme to education the next generation in Brazil about our amazing marine life.
Over the last seven years we have been working with Michel Guerrero, an Ecuadorian marine biologist, who co-founded Proyecto Mantas Ecuador, and more recently with Erick Higuera, a marine biologist and underwater filmmaker in Mexico to gather robust data on oceanic manta rays through satellite tagging, photo-ID, behavioural observations and genetic sampling. This has lead to a new collaboration called the Latin American Oceanic Manta Ray Alliance, and will help us to track the journeys of these pelagic ocean travellers.
What legacy would you like to leave in your field of research/conservation?
I am proud to have been involved in three areas which will have a positive impact on the future for oceanic manta rays and marine life in Brazil.
Firstly a proposal that I presented in July 2009 became a reality in March 2012, with a total ban on fishing in the seas surround the Laja de Santos State Marine Park, covering an area of almost 56,000 hectares. There were some difficult discussions with local fisheries and the local government, but I was delighted that they implemented a total exclusion zone for fishing around the marine park. There are now paid staff with dedicated boats and equipment to patrol the boundaries and protect the park.
Secondly, I played a key role in creating the Brazilian article proposing mantas for international protection which was taken to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in 2013. This resulted in securing international protective legislation for both species of mantas (oceanic and reef species) – a great day!
Thirdly, following the achievement at CITIES in 2013, I successfully campaigned to get legislation passed by the Brazilian Government to protect all species of mobulas along the 9,200km of Brazilian coastline.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
One of the hardest parts of my work is fundraising to ensure we can continue to build on our conservation successes. In 2018 I made a public decision that our NGO wouldn’t accept any public money or government sponsorship (following being sponsored previously at ‘Mantas do Brasil’ by Petrobras, which turned out to be Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal). This ethical decision has made it hard, as we rely on donations and also working strategically with the local diving companies and fishing communities. Luckily we have some great partnerships and this is invaluable to us.
However with more funding we could tag more manta rays and carry our more frequent research trips, providing vital data to help create marine protected areas and change legislation. It is wonderful to have the support of the Cyclone Members, and I thank them for making this research at the Manta Trust possible and helping to raise awareness of all our work.
What is the most surprising thing you have learnt about manta/devil rays?
Many people are impressed by the sheer size of manta rays, but for me, it’s the size of their brains which is the most impressive! When you are diving with one in the water you can observe their intelligent behaviour, such as the way they move around you taking care not to hit you with their fins. After nearly 17 years diving with them I still find them incredible and I am still uncovering more about them.
If you could ask people to do one thing to help - what would it be?
My wish is to see all the large fishing nets removed from the seas altogether. Ghost nets and the huge commercial fishing net are such a threat to manta rays, as thousands are caught as by-catch or entangled in ghost nets each year. Everyone can make a difference – whether it’s choosing sustainably caught seafood, questioning suppliers and shops, or talking to family and friends about the issues. Don’t be afraid to stand by your convictions and speak up for manta rays.
Brazilian Marine Megafauna Project Founder