Last April, a group of divers from Nottingham Trent University teamed up with a local dive centre and NGO in Blue Bay Mauritius to organize a series of Dive Against Debris events and reef surveys.
The diving team led by Dr Nicholas Ray (Senior Lecturer in Environmental Ecology and PADI MSDT), with the help of Coral Diving Centre staff, surveyed the lagoon and outer reef surrounding the south east corner of Mauritius.
Blue Bay Marine Park was declared a National Park in October 1997 and subsequently declared a "Marine Protected Area" and designated as a "Marine Park" in June 2000. The park occupies a marine zone of 352 hectares and hosts a large diversity of corals associated with rich and varied fauna and flora (mangroves, algae, sea weeds, fish and other marine organisms). September 2008 saw Blue Bay Marine Park officially classified as a Ramsar site in Mauritius. Consultation with the Government and Nottingham Trent University, Eco-Sud has defined the actions which must be initiated as a matter of priority on the site to protect the marine ecosystem and traditional fishing practices.
The dives and snorkelling transects formed part of the research carried out by Nicholas Ray and Graham Shelbourne (Nottingham Trent University) in collaboration with the Mauritian NGO Eco-Sud under ‘theLagon Bleu project’. The project aims to quantify abundance and diversity of fish and coral species but also to protect the marine environment from biodiversity degradation in coastal marine ecosystems and coral reefs (linked mainly to human activities e.g. overfishing and pollution inputs).
Over two weeks, the team collected several plastic bottles, a discarded lobster pot engulfing the coral, fishing nets and tackle, sunglasses, bin liners and clothes from various dive sites in and around the lagoon and outer reef.
Mr Graham Shelbourne (Senior Lecturer in Animal Studies and trainee PADI Divemaster) initially set up collaboration links with Eco-Sud during an expedition with students to Mauritius five years ago and now is an established and renowned visiting academic in the area.
Taking a back seat from the marine research for the second week, Graham led a team of 8 student volunteers doing several Dive Against Debris surveys and beach clean-ups along the beaches of Blue Bay, and offshore islands of Ile aux Aigrettes, Ile De La Passe and Ile aux Fouquets.
The bags of debris collected during the transects were taken back to base where identification and recording of the different types of plastics were completed. The final Saturday morning of the trip, Eco-Sud organised a clean-up in the Marine Protected Area of Blue Bay. This was publicised locally and all volunteers were invited and welcome to join in and help with the underwater and beach clean-up. Once again Nottingham Trent University staff and students took the lead and headed out into the Bay in the Lagon Bleu boat.
In just three hours a total of 10 bags filled to the brim with mainly plastic debris and various lengths of wood and metal were recovered from the bottom of the Bay generating a great deal of interest from the locals.
"It is hoped that the continued efforts of Eco-Sud under the Lagon Bleu project name and the presence of more student volunteers to help with the marine research will highlight the need for further Dives Against Debris and bring the local community together to continue to protect and preserve their local marine environment" said Dr Nicholas Ray.