An Update from The Dolfin Project – The 2019 Conservation Awards Runner Up
The Runner Up in the 2019 Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards was The Dolfin Project, lead by Nicola Harris. We recently caught up with Nicola to see how the project is progressing, and how funding from our Awards continues to support their development. Read Nicola’s update:
The DolFin project was launched in early 2019 in response to a sharp rise in sightings of cetacean species within the Guernsey Bailiwick. This increase in marine diversity in our waters stands in sharp contrast to the worldwide biodiversity loss, however very little information is known about why we are suddenly seeing more cetaceans in our local waters, or even if the species we see are visitors or residential to the area. The major species seeing an increase has been bottlenose dolphins and in order to find out more about these dolphins the project has been using citizen science to gather images and sightings records so a database of individual dolphins can be built.
Dolphins fins are like fingerprints, they get scarred through social interactions with others in their pod in addition to interactions with their environment. Their fin does not heal as efficiently as the rest of the dolphins’ body, and lost tissue will not regrow. The resulting nicks and notches are unique. This means through receiving clear photographs of fins (alongside time and location information) we can monitor individuals to see the frequency of appearances, who they travel with and which areas of the bailiwick they “stay at”, and much more. By asking for help from the public we have been able to inform the public about the species we see and have been able to drive forward the message of how to interact with cetaceans in a responsible manner.
The photo-ID technique has been used for many years by cetacean monitoring organisations including the Normandy based GECC (Group d’Etude des Cetaces du Contentin) for bottlenose monitoring. In the future by collaborating with this French organisation it is possible to see if individuals are making long journeys between Guernsey’s bailiwick and Normandy, or if they are becoming resident to the Channel Islands.
Funding provided by the ICCI has been used in several different ways for the project both to enhance its capacity to gain information, and in increasing public awareness.
Firstly the funding has allowed the project to buy marine grade binoculars for sea and land watches. These binoculars can be loaned out to volunteers and have been regularly used with the public during watch events over the summer. Secondly the funding has been used to subsidise dedicated boat-based cetacean survey watches so that environmentally interested members of the public can join to learn how to survey and monitor for these species (alongside gaining valuable photographs for ID’s). The surveys are created by the Sea watch Foundation, with the results going towards both local and national databases for use in wide ranging marine conservation efforts. These surveys started off during the National Whale and Dolphin week (28th July-4th August), but due to the huge public interest additional survey trips were able to be set up for later in the year. It is with huge thanks to Out the Blue for offering their services that these trips could run.
This year we had been slightly unfortunate with the boat surveys in that we were not able to sight dolphins, though plenty of other wildlife was seen. Dolphins had often been seen either day of the boat trips, but we hope that in following trips they will not be so camera shy. The popularity of our project has been continually increasing thanks to events and the project has huge potential for expansion; while this year we have focussed much of our attention of bottlenose species there are many other cetacean species in our waters that can be monitored, and many other techniques for observation that can be used.
Alongside this we hope to bring even more public awareness in about cetaceans through talks, events and workshops in the following year. Will will also be reviewing and analysing the data we have obtained from the public to see if we can spot patterns within the dolphins sightings.
2020 is the 30th year for the Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards, which will be launching soon! Keep an eye out for an announcement as we look to make it to best year yet!
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