Fisheries biologist surveying COVID-19 impact on marine life

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Fisheries biologist Brent Tibbatts says there may be possible impacts that the COVID-19 stay at home orders may have on our ocean and marine life.

Reports from around the world are surfacing on social media indicating a return of wildlife to various areas where home isolation orders are in effect … areas that are normally filled with human activity.

Rats in Louisiana, cougars in Chile, goats in Wales, wild pigs in Paris, bears in California, monkeys, turtles and even dolphins in India. All around the world, a decrease in human activity appears to have led to many animals being sighted in places they are normally not seen.

Guam is no different. PNC spoke with the Department of Agriculture’s fisheries biologist to see what impacts the COVID-19 pandemic may have on our island’s sea life.

NOTE: Brent Tibbatts’s name was inadvertently misspelled in the video. We apologize for the error.

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Here on the island, stay at home orders have been in effect for several weeks, but what impact is it having on our environment?

Fisheries biologist Brent Tibbatts says there may be possible impacts that the COVID-19 stay at home orders may have on our ocean and marine life.

“Less people going to the beach, less trash getting into the water … that’s a positive thing. Unfortunately, when you do go out, you see people standing on coral and breaking coral, and less of that is happening as well because there are less people in the water,” he said.

But he says its too soon to determine the definitive impacts on the health of reefs and to sea life. He says the Department of Agriculture is working with the Guam EPA and the UOG Marine Lab to conduct surveys to measure the effects on the ocean.

“That’s something that we have planned. As soon as we’re able to go back to work, we are going to get out and do a bunch of surveys. We did do some surveys a few months before it started and we will go back and re-survey the areas that we surveyed before and see if we get any changes in there. And them our plan is to do more surveys over the next several months after things get back to normal and see if we see any changes going forward as well,” Tibbatts said.

Some of the areas which have been surveyed are the Coco’s Lagoon, the Achang Marine preserve, the Piti Bomb hole, Pago Bay, Tumon Bay and East Agana. The survey will focus on primarily the number of fish, the number of species of fish, and then the average sizes of fish.

“And we try to cover a variety of habitats. We cover seagrass habitat, coral ruble habitat, sandy habitat, and a coral habitat as well. We try to compare changes in population in those areas with the different habitats and also the different locations,” he said.

While he suspects that they may see fish moving in closer to shore, and higher numbers of fish, he isn’t going into the survey with this perception. Instead, he says, the data collected will speak for itself.

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Jolene Toves
Jolene joined the PNC team in 2017, as a producer, co-anchor and investigative reporter covering law enforcement, courts and crimes. Notable coverage includes the Ehlert case, the Mark Torre Jr. trial, the Allan Agababa trial, exclusive pieces on the Life of a Drug Dealer/Addict, and Life behind bars...the story of Honofre Chargualaf and Kevin Cruz. In 2019, she was promoted to Assistant News Director and Lead Anchor. From 2015 to 2017 she served as Public Relations and Promotions Manager, for the Hotel Nikko Guam handling local radio and advertorial promotions, as well as produced and directed tv commercials for the hotel. Prior to this she worked with KUAM for three years as a reporter and segment host. She began her journalism career in 2012, working with Glimpses of Guam contributing to the Guam Business Magazine, R&R magazine, MDM magazine and the Marianas Business Journal.