Human activity in an urban marine reserve (Shikmona, Haifa):
As part of the EU project, Mare Nostrum, for one year, we have documented and monitored the human activity in the urban marine reserve of Shikmona (established in 2008) on the Haifa coast. This was done of a larger project called Hayam Shelanu (our Sea) led by the Dr. Ziva Kolodni from the Haifa Monicipality. The reserve shoreline is dominated by vermetid reefs and at the back there is a narrow national park. So far, regulations are poorly enforced due to the lack of a dedicated ranger.
This study was originally planned as a Citizen Science initiative. It was meant to be implemented mostly by volunteers using a smartphone application, specially developed for this project, to perform scientific human activity surveys along the coast. This process aimed to provide a dual benefit: (1) scientists were to get baseline data on human activities and pressures on the shore that can be later linked to ecological data for the area and also be useful to managers, both the in the Haifa Municipality and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), while (2) volunteers were supposed to be empowered by taking part in the scientific process, gain knowledge and help disseminate it in their community.
During one year, much information on human activity and wildlife was successfully gathered, mostly by IOLR people, and a very useful dataset is now available for scientists and managers alike. Unfortunately, the public participation aspect was less successful. Despite our best intentions, overly-optimistic scheduling and difficulties in communication with the application developers delayed the launch of the application beyond the scheduled volunteer recruitment period. The main lesson to be learned from this experience is that Citizen Science projects must be planned as multi-annual long-term studies. In conjunction with the application development, we also developed scientific manual surveys as backup for the smartphone, and these were eventually used to supplement the Citizen Science process.
A total of 142 manual 1 hour walking surveys were performed in which human and wildlife activity on the beach was monitored. These included 115 surveys in the Shikmona Marine Reserve (SMR) and 27 in the southern bathing beach located just south of the reserve (SB). Survey results indicated that there were considerable differences between study areas, and that some of the 86 human uses identified appeared in one of the two areas and not the other. There were more uses and users in SB; however wildlife observations, and especially seabirds, were much more diverse and abundant in SMR. More than 80% of the visitors to SMR stayed on the promenade\trail at the back of the beach and moved fast, typically walking/running/biking, and of the fewer visitors on the beach, fishermen were particularly dominant.
In order to increase public awareness to environmental issues we conducted a pilot tar cleaning operation, in which volunteers adopted and cleaned reef surfaces from remnants of decades-old oil spills. The operation helped rid a small section of the reserve from tar and received media and internet coverage and attention.
Both legal and illegal fishing was noted in the reserve, with the majority of fishers using legal rod & reel gear. Illegal fishing included mainly spearfishing and fishing from vessels. The shore-based rod & reel creel survey that we conducted revealed that although catch in both areas was modest, this did not interfere with fisher satisfaction, and that while SMR fishers were evenly spread out on the reefs, the fishers in SB were densely concentrated on two breakwaters. The small amount of fish extracted may be perceived as a low anthropogenic threat; however, in fact, it attests to the scarcity of fishes in an area that was once rich with marine life (as indeed many locals remember it), which is reason for environmental concern and merits improved conservation and enforcement.