What is a Marine Protected Area?

A Marine Protected Area (MPA) is simply a protected marine environment. What does that actually mean and how do people interpret it?

The goal of an Marine Protected Area

The goal of a Marine Protected Area is to let the marine environment recover to a state essentially unaffected by humans. It progresses from the affected stage to the unaffected stage, it’s natural stage.  This state depends on where it is geographically and the natural equilibrium it would attain based on what surrounds it. In ecological terms it reaches it’s climax community.

An unpolluted Marine Protected Area will accumulate species that would naturally occur in that environment. Polar species for a polar environment, temperate for temperate etc.  Those species would, when left alone, essentially fight it out amongst themselves. An ecosystem would develop that is the same as an environment where there are no humans.

The goal of a Marine Protected Area therefore is to allow that to happen. That is to leave it alone. To leave it alone implies no harvesting and no external anthropogenic influences.

Marine Protected Area Underwater camera
The protection allows fish to live long and reproductively successful lives
How to create a Marine Protected Area

Firstly MPAs require a local desire (usually national) to protect the area. Laws sometimes come into effect that impose an obligation to local populations to leave the area alone.

At times, military occupation of an island or archipelago ensures that. The environment is off limits as a result of the entire region being protected for strategic purposes.  e.g. The Chagos islands.

In rare circumstances such as on Bikini atoll in the Marshall islands, nuclear weapon tests meant that the area was off limits for decades due to being  toxic. The depopulated environment recovered despite the initial poisoning.

Once an MPA is announced,  it requires people to be kept out of it. This can be achieved by laws alone. But because people break the law, policing of the area is often required. Severe deterrents to would-be poachers need to be publicized and enforced.

drone pilot palau illegal fishing
Illegal Fishing boats were burnt in 2015 to demonstrate Palau’s intentions to enforce it’s National Marine Sanctuary.

This previous post highlights the development of surveillance in Palau’s National Marine Sanctuary.

The degree of protection attained is governed by numerous factors and that influences the outcome and overall ecology of the area.

What happens if total protection isn’t attained?

Firstly, total protection is rarely attained. Nowhere on earth is completely free from human influence. Even the very deepest marine trenches are showing signs of human pollution.

What is Pristine?

If “Pristine” is completely untouched (0% human influence) a Marine Protected Area is trying to get as close to zero as possible.

Marine Protected Area, aerial view, DJI drone
The Orona atoll in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, was once inhabited but now deserted.
Natural balance

So basically, if you remove one or a significant portion or number of any species, it will have an effect on the entire ecosystem. The ecosystem shifts to compensate for the imbalance.  Ecologists call this Trophic Cascade. Trophic levels are essentially what separate plant from herbivore, herbivore from predator.

So by reducing the numbers of predators, the prey species numbers will increase. This will have an effect on what they in turn hunt or harvest. Once those species populations change that will then change what they influence. Imagine a line of dominoes that spreads out into a web. One influences another which then influences more again. These changes in populations not only affect populations either side of them of them but they can also affect the very chemistry of the environment. If there are more of less plants in a system, there would be more or less Oxygen or CO2 available.

Altering the physical chemistry of a system also causes ecological cascades. Increase or decrease in temperature is like changing it’s geographical location. Adding chemicals will also change ecosystems. Farmers increase productivity of their fields with fertilizers and similarly, plant growth can increase if certain compounds of Nitrogen or Phosphorous are added. A process called Eutrophication. Too many plants and not enough herbivores to eat them means systems can be overrun by plant life, choking and shading what was there before.

Benefits of MPAs

The lack of human harvesting from an MPA means that fish numbers and overall biomass increases. (There are more living things). Eventually the biomass increases to the point where it spreads out into the surrounding waters. This overflow can then be harvested. Within the MPA the fish live longer, breed more often and attain greater sizes which means their breeding potential is also greater. (Larger fish produce more eggs and milt and therefore more babies.)

Marine Protected Area Palau Fish spawning
When left alone fish populations literally explode in this case Bohar Snapper in Palau
Harvesting from MPAs

In some parts of the world, MPAs have been established but the local population still harvests from them. This is sometimes for indigenous cultural reasons, however in some locations these cultural excuses are abused and the harvesting is too regular to be sustainable. A overexploitation situation occurs. Local groups citing cultural exception harvest instead of allowing the MPA spillover to repopulate the regular fishing grounds.

The future

In a report from Pew Charitable Trusts: By 2018, there are 15,600 Marine Protected Areas globally, some 25 million square kilometers. This equates to only 7% of the planets oceans. The aim is by 2020 to have 10% of the oceans protected but it seems we are falling well short of this goal. What is worse is that of that 7%, less than half are actually no take zones. Many are still open to harvesting either by indigenous groups or by commercial operations. So it seems we still have a long way to go.

Humans build bigger and bigger fishing boats. The demand for seafood increases with the human population. The pressure on the worlds oceans increases.

It is vital to respect the natural capacity of the oceans. This capacity is not only of the economic kind. How many fish swim in it or how many we can catch etc, but also how well it can recover. Recovery is fastest when the ocean is healthy. A healthy ocean has a greater ability to accept losses, not only amongst it’s inhabitants populations but also losses to it’s own intrinsic health.

Humans are affecting the very chemistry of the worlds oceans.

Natural damaging cycles such as El Nino events are becoming more common. Whilst natural environments before could recover from these warming periods because there was a long time between them. Now these events are happening too regularly for the reefs to fully recover. Each time the damage occurs, the environment has only recovered 50% of it’s potential health. The one step forward two steps back scenario.

The healthiest reef or any environment for that matter is one that is in it’s natural state. This is why it’s so important for us to set aside as much of our Planet as possible. A Marine Protected Area or any conservation area needs to left alone. They should all be left alone and there should be more of them. It is these natural wild spaces that will be the saviors of us all as we strip everything else bare.

For more information on conservation themed filming projects, head over to www.lightningstrikeproductions.co.uk

Fish communication

Fish Communication

Fish aren’t traditionally perceived as having personalities, but they’re anything but the dumb automatons that our ancestors would have us believe.

Underwater organisms don’t have the facial musculature that we as primates have evolved. Quite simply they haven’t needed it, therefore they haven’t acquired it through natural selection.  However they have  been evolving and surviving on this planet for over 500 million years.

And they do communicate to each other.

How do fish sense each other?

In a Darwinian world where survival is paramount, the lateral line has become their first defense and sensory organ. This first level of communicating allows the individual to feel what’s around it. The layer of sensory cells that run along the flanks of most fish, detect the pressure changes in the surrounding environment. This system has evolved to the point where fish react with an almost simultaneous motion to an external stimulus.

silver fish

school-silver-fish-evade-predators-footage-007763027_main_xl.mp4

How do fish school in such dense numbers without colliding?

Fish have a sensory barrier around them, a kind of bubble that they can perceive. This bubble is squashed as objects or animals move around the individuals perception. They can sense their immediate surroundings in this fashion.

Some fish such as the freshwater knife-fish even generate electric fields. These fields are influenced by their surroundings, especially other animals, and the knife-fish react to that reflection of their own electric field and use it to locate prey.

Sharks have an extremely sensitive network of electroreceptors that can detect the smallest electric fields from other animals.

Vision is also important in the depths of the ocean especially in the upper Euphotic zone (where photosynthesis can occur). Most of the longer, lower energy wavelengths are lost quickly, absorbed by the water column. Red light disappears first, then orange, then yellow… leaving only blue as you descend to the furthest depths of the Photic zone (The depth that light can penetrate through water).

How do fish display their intentions?

Contrast over actual color makes a big difference at depth and aquatic animals can use that to their advantage to display their intentions. Humbolt squid for example can change their entire body from red to white and back like you can flick a light switch. They do this at depths far beyond red light can be seen (200m-700m) so appear in this twilight world as if they are going from black to white like individual morse code signals. What they are saying to each other is beyond our understanding.

Closer to the surface we have fish species that utilize many more frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum including the ultraviolet wavelengths.

underwater fish
The stripes behind the eyes of this saddleback Toby reflect ultraviolet wavelengths.

On a more day to day scenario, most SCUBA Divers and snorkelers who pay attention will have noticed that some species of reef fish can have drastically different colourations. Take the Big eye crescent tail as an example.

school of silver and red fish
The red phase can bleach out to a silver within seconds

When it’s calm an individual will be a deep red, when stressed it can bleach to a silver. Similarly when fish such as the Big-nose Unicornfish visit cleaning stations they can display complex patterning only for it to fade to black once the fish swims away.

When fish think about sex

During spawning aggregations many fish species undergo drastic color changes that signal their readiness to participate. The bumphead parrotfish are pretty obvious during their aggregation as their heads bleach white from the usual green.

Bumphead Parrotfish spawning coloration
Bumphead Parrotfish spawning coloration

In the Caribbean, Nassau groupers migrate in groups to their annual spawning grounds and are often led by an individual who sports a drastically different body patterning. Once at the spawning site they all adopt an even more extreme color change. For further reading see this article.

Bohar Snappers have a variety of different colorations during their spawning aggregations, sometimes two small white spots appear on their dorsal area, others adopt a bleached blue hue rather than their usual russet red. Others adopt a mixture of the two with a red belly, a white stripe down their flanks and a bluish dorsal area. As I pour over the many spawning rushes I’ve filmed of this species I cannot see any distinguishable pattern in whether a female adopts a certain body color prior to her egg releasing rush.  A pattern may emerge after further observations though.

See this clip of a small group interacting in preparation for spawning. The female with the broken dorsal fin is being nudged by a number of males. Maybe this nudging is meant to initiate her egg releasing rush. Maybe it’s the males trying to ascertain if she is ready or not….?

Bohar snapper spawning aggregation
Bohar snapper spawning aggregation

For a really in depth look at this behavior and other similar color changes seen during spawning, Tony Wu has written an excellent series of articles that are well worth a read.

Additional articles and films of Palau’s spawning aggregations can be found here.

Communication between species

It has been shown that fish communicate between species. In the case of the Grouper and Moray Eel, the Grouper will shake it’s head next to the Eel to signal an intention to start hunting. The strategy has been shown to be more successful at catching prey. 

fish communication
Grouper, Moray cooperative hunting. Palau
Underwater acoustics in fish

Underwater acoustics is not just the tool of marine mammals, many fish  are also extremely vocal. Have you ever swum over a reef and heard all the clicking noises? This is a medley of fish and crustaceans each with their own message. Usually the message is “this is my territory, keep out”. Sound is an extremely useful form of communication in the aquatic environment as sound travels much further than light. A fish can remain hidden whilst  letting an intruder know that it’s encroaching. Groupers often growl or rumble from within their hiding place. The behavior across a multitude of species was documented here and demonstrates the rich complexity in coral reefs.

Can we talk to fish?

So in conclusion, whilst fish and other aquatic organisms like cephalopods might not be able to convey their intentions through facial cues like we can, they are extremely in tune with and aware of their environment. They are able to send messages that even other species can understand. The fact that we might not be able to understand them is perhaps our failure rather than theirs.

Have you had any interesting interactions with aquatic wildlife? I’ve not begun to get started with the marine mammals here, whole different kettle…..so there’s still a load more to talk about. Feel free to leave a comment in the section below. Do you know the difference between a head nod and a shake in Moray Eels, can you predict when a Stingray is about to lift up and depart from it’s resting place? So many more topics and examples for the future.

For more info on filming underwater  and learning about your subjects this article may well be helpful.

Until next time, Cheers!

Richard

 

References

http://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/13/2515

The evolution and development of vertebrate lateral line electroreceptors

Clare V. H. BakerMelinda S. ModrellJ. Andrew Gillis

Filming in Palau. Professional Media Production, things you need to know.

Filming in Palau

Are you thinking of filming in Palau?  Are you looking for a reliable and professional media company to assist with your production?

Lightning Strike Productions has over 20 years filming experience. We have been filming in Palau for over 12 years. We can help you with all aspects of your production. Filming permits, accommodation, land transport, boat hire, rental camera equipment. Interviews, underwater camera operators, drone pilots, on camera talent…..

Over the last 12 years we have filmed everywhere in Palau. From the far northern reefs of Velasco, to the far south and it’s remote islands of Helen,  Tobi and  Sonsorol.

 

Filming in Palau. Underwater wildlife of Palau
Underwater icons found on almost every dive in Palau
Location Palau

The Republic of Palau has a huge variety of healthy and almost pristine ecosystems. Palau provides a huge wealth of opportunities for content. It is visually stunning with tropical islands, coral reefs, jungles and plentiful iconic species.

There are numerous conservation stories available.  Tuna Fisheries, Marine  enforcement,  mangrove protection, migratory shorebirds, climate change resilience.

We have WW2 wrecks, their de-mining and recovery of human remains. Extensive underwater caverns and of course the many marine lakes with their millions of Jellyfish.

filming in palau underwater filming
A huge range of underwater environments……

Additionally the other side of the coin is also available. Stories on illegal fishing and the black market trade in protected species. The need to balance tourism and development with conservation. Tuna economics, Climate Change, Ocean acidification, renewable energy, coral bleaching….

There are stories waiting to be told and new technologies waiting to tell them with and since we are based in Palau we can start production quickly.

filming in palau aerial filming
Drone filming services expand shot range with a reasonable budget
How Lightning Strike Productions can help you

Lightning Strike Productions has worked with numerous broadcast entities in Palau over the years. Clients include the BBC, CNN, Arte, Thalassa 3, ABC, Channel 9 Australia, Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery Channel. It’s also a regular contributor to online news media through it’s stringer services.

Our cameras, both underwater and drone mounted output Raw footage, ensuring the very highest in 4K 16 bit quality.

filming in palau aerial of 70 islands
Postcard perfect Palau

Because of our long experience filming in Palau we can help you organize filming permits, arrange transport, accommodation, rental equipment, interviews and talent.

Whilst things have improved, Palau is still remote and does not have a huge amount of media production resources. There are no dedicated camera stores and spare parts etc need to be ordered in from overseas, which can take at least a week at best.

It’s regional and national government structures can be tricky to negotiate for filming permits and site access. We can help you navigate and succeed in this local arena.

If you are considering filming in Palau it’s well worth contacting us to find the lay of the land and get a bespoke solution for success.

360 VR by Drone
Aerial VR in Palau
Palau Stock Footage library

If you need footage quickly or something specific but time consuming, there is always the option of stock footage. As a result of filming here for over 12 years we have a huge stock footage library available.

Almost all our work has something to do with the environment. It’s well worth seeing what we can offer in stock footage.

See our latest show reel here

Filming in Palau with Lightning Strike Productions

Lightning Strike Productions has the experience and the expertise to help you with any element of your filming in Palau. Feel free to contact us for more information.

 

Cheers

 

Richard

Plastic Pollution in Pristine Palau

Reality Check

Even in Palau Plastic Pollution is becoming a serious problem. Whilst filming on location in one of Palau’s most beautiful locations of  Kayangel the other day it was horribly apparent what a enormous issue it is. I put together this short film on what we found there.

 

We are killing our environment

Human activities are impacting everywhere on the small fragile planet, from the deepest oceans to the upper atmosphere. By far the biggest cause is the sheer number of people. Population control must be tackled immediately if we are to have any hope of bringing other environmental problems to acceptable or sustainable levels.

plastic pollution

Our species consumes so many natural resources and creates so much pollution, it is literally killing it’s own environment. Just like anything that lives beyond it’s environments ability to support it, we will die off as the environment we need to survive fails.

Our oceans are filling with plastic. So many millions of single use bottles. How many can you see in the above image alone?

Watch the film above and listen to the admittedly windy dialog, but the message here is that we should be aiming to cut down on those single use plastic containers. Bottled water or drinks are one of the biggest contributors. Please think about purchasing reusable bottles and taking them with you. If you think that the above photo is just a couple of square meters of one beach the unbelievable scale of this problem might begin to dawn on you. Please make the effort to cut down on your plastic use. This issue is not going away.

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post on her efforts to cut down on plastic usage, read it here.

Check out this link for positive thinking companies in Indo who specialize on lowering their impact on the World.

For more information about filming in Palau on location scouting visit our web page or contact us here

Cheers

Slow shutter speed using ND filters for Time-lapse

Why use ND filters for Time-lapse?

I’ve been struggling with creating a good panning time-lapse using Circular Polarizers since…well since I started using the combination. The sky is never consistent and the darkening effect uneven.. So I invested in a professional level ND filter system from Lee, a UK based filter company.

It’s not cheap to start but the quality is incredible. There is no colour cast on the image, all the filters do is limit the light. This means I can either open up the iris for really shallow depth of field or keep the shutter open for much longer and still have a properly exposed shot.

This shutter dragging is what I’ve been looking for with Time-lapse sequences and the Lee system allows me to stack multiple filters together to really dial in the effect. The system also allows me to start with say 3 filters then as the sun goes down I can remove them one at a time whilst adjusting the camera’s exposure to transition from day to night.

Yesterday was the first field test so I packed my gear and headed for one of Palau’s secluded waterfalls.

Using a 0.75 filter I could drag the shutter to 1.3 seconds blurring the water nicely.

 

Time-lapse photographyWatch this space for more insights into these freshwater environments or check out this section of my portfolio for creatures I’ve already filmed at other waterfall and freshwater locations in Palau.

This showreel contains Time-lapse footage shot with both the Little and Big Stopper filters from Lee, find their website here.

 

Cheers

 

Richard

Documenting the marine lakes of Palau using a drone

Palau has a huge number of Marine Lakes locked within it’s limestone islands and I’ve wanted to explore them since I’ve been here but they are very hard to get to, usually surrounded by thick jungle growing out of razor sharp rocks. The world famous Jellyfish lake of Palau is one of them.

Because of this few people have managed to explore them so I thought I would use a drone to take a look and see them from a new perspective. Aircraft such as planes and helicopters have of course flown over them but I don’t think anyone has actually descended into one before.

So I used Google Earth to locate a few that were 1 mile or less from a suitable take off point and set to flying over and into them.

Some are impressive like the one in the video above, others no more than a depression with some shallow water in that dries quickly without rain.

What are Marine Lakes?

Marine lakes form in limestone islands  where certain areas of the limestone erode away quicker than their surroundings. This erosion can create a depression or bowl and if that bowl is close enough to the ocean it may fill with sea water percolating through the porous limestone.

What makes Palau’s Marine Lakes special is that sometimes in a few places certain organisms such as Jellyfish have flowed in and remained there.

Some have nothing living in them but maybe frogs, others can have millions of Jellyfish. I’m looking forward to the day I spot one of Palau’s Saltwater Crocodiles……

After months of recon flights over one particular lake, I decided to find a way to film what was inside it. A little local know how told me a route and one day I set off to film there. See this film here for my findings……

The Marine Lake environment is extremely fragile but incredibly interesting. For further reading consider this article.

Winged Ambassadors of Palau

Protecting Migratory Shorebirds in Palau

Many thousands of migratory shorebirds stop-over in Palau to rest and feed, one of them is the Whimbrel. In Palau it is called the Okak. The Okak has a larger much rarer cousin, the Far Eastern Curlew, so rare only around 5 birds get spotted here each year. This is the largest species of Curlew and is also know in Palauan tradition as the money bird. The story goes that it visits these shores and leaves gifts behind. It swallowed traditional money and flew to parts of Palau, where if it was left to settle and not disturbed it would eventually defecate out the money and the residents would become rich.

You can find the symbols all over traditional meeting housings and Government buildings.

The Delerok or Far Eastern Curlew or Money Bird in Palau
The money bird as depicted on the Capital Building, Melekeok.
Camera gear for filming birds

Today I utilized my new canon 70-300 lens coupled to a 2x teleconverter and managed to get some nice stable footage of this Whimbrel even at full zoom. The Image stabilization of the canon lens is amazing!

migratory shorebirds palau
The Whimbrel also known as the Okak
Wildlife conservation in Palau

The NGO spearheading this initiative to raise awareness about the plight of these birds is the Palau Conservation Society but this is far from the only work they do. See their website for more information and how to help them achieve their goals.

Palau Conservation Society commissioned me to make a film highlighting the status of Palau’s migratory shorebirds and for about 9 months we collaborated with local bird and conservation experts to create this film which is being shown across Palau:

360 VR comes to Palau

360 VR Palau

Just out today is a new 360 VR film we helped produce here in Palau in collaboration with production company Parable VR.

Load it onto your phone or tablet or better yet watch it with VR goggles…

The film was shot over a period of 1 week using a 6 GoPro Hero 4 cluster. We used the Abyss 360 underwater housing available from 360Rize.

This website is an incredible resource for filming 360 VR content

How to 360 VR

If you’d like to see more insights into VR production in Palau and get tips on Aerial 360 VR production see this post.

10 things I’ve learnt from 10 years of Media Production in Palau

Media Production Palau

I’ve been a Media Producer in various guises in Palau for 10 years now, initially as an underwater cameraman with a little bit of topside work thrown in, then diversifying into Time-lapse, run n’ gun, aerials (drone and aircraft), interviews etc.

Palau has changed a lot in those 10 years and this has made me change with it.

Here are 10 things (actually 11) I’ve learned about Media Production in that time:

So many cameras
  1. Now more than ever people have cameras, as a dedicated cameraman I’m being squeezed by the ready availability of cameras. Everyone over the age of 5 seems to have one (gross over generalization, I know). So now more than ever I have to be inventive with my imaging, flexibility and the old cliche of thinking outside the box are more important than ever before. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques, think about a sequence or image you want to acquire, no matter how crazy or impossible it first appears to be, then work out how to do it. Dare to be different.
aerial media production palau
Go Pro sticky pads are very sticky….I’m in the cabin with a WiFi feed to my iPad directing the pilot for good framing…..
Underwater Time-lapse. Underwater camera, underwater media production, underwater photography.
Underwater Time-lapse of Coral Bleaching using a firmware hack to provide my Canon with an intervalometer, repeat visits over a 4 month period.

Continue reading “10 things I’ve learnt from 10 years of Media Production in Palau”

Palau’s Extreme Reefs

Expedition Palau

Palau’s northernmost island Ngurangel and it’s southernmost Helen Reef are separated by little over 400 miles of island peppered ocean but are remarkably similar. Both are low lying sandy features surrounded by huge atoll reefs which makes them a haven for both marine and bird life. Their isolation is what makes them so special.

Helen Reef

Helen reef  is a long thin spit of land, sparsely vegetated. It has a resident population of 4 rangers, 3 dogs and about 5000 sea birds.  The rangers have their own accommodations and  keep an eye out for illegal fishing activities. It lies closer to Indonesia than it does Palau’s capital Koror.

Continue reading “Palau’s Extreme Reefs”