Excerpt: A study of marine life in the temperate coastal waters of the northeast Pacific Ocean shows a reversal of competitive dominance among species of algae, suggesting that increased ocean acidification caused by global climate change is altering biodiversity.
The study, published online January 15, 2014, in the journal Ecology Letters, examined competitive dynamics among crustose coralline algae, a group of species living in the waters around Tatoosh Island, Washington. These species of algae grow skeletons made of calcium carbonate, much like other shelled organisms such as mussels and oysters.
As the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the water becomes more acidic. Crustose coralline algae and shellfish have difficulty producing their skeletons and shells in such an environment, and can provide an early indicator of how increasing ocean acidification affects marine life... http://www.uchospitals.edu/news/2014/20140115-mccoy.html University of Chicago Medical Center
2013-12-24. When Whale Watching Turns Deadly. Excerpt: Humpback whales are facing new dangers in Hawaiian waters, where more than 10,000 of the cetaceans congregate from December to April to calve and breed. That’s the conclusion of an analysis of historical records of ship strikes on humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the seas around the Hawaiian Islands between 1975 and 2011. In that 36-year period, 68 such strikes were reported, ...more than 63% of the collisions involved calves and subadults, ...younger animals are particularly susceptible to being struck, most likely because they spend more time at the surface to breathe than do adults. ...the number of strikes has steadily increased over the years, ...and not because there are more whales. Instead, the increase is apparently due to tourism. The majority of vessels that have collided with whales in Hawaii are small- to medium-sized boats, less than 21.2 meters in length, the scientists say, which happens to be the size of commercial whale-watching vessels. Federal regulations require these boats to remain at least 100 yards distance from the humpbacks. ...The majority of collisions occurred when the vessels were travelling at 10 to 19 knots, ...too fast to avoid colliding with the very animals the skippers and tourists have come out to watch. http://news.sciencemag.org/plants-animals/2013/12/scienceshot-when-whale-watching-turns-deadly. Virginia Morell, Science.
2013-11-03. U.S. agency proposes rules to protect bluefin tuna. Excerpt: Pity, for a moment, the poor Atlantic bluefin tuna. It’s not bad enough that its population has been decimated by diners’ seemingly insatiable appetite for sushi. Or that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred at the height of its spawning season, in its only known Western spawning grounds. No, bluefin also are plagued by another long-standing problem: They are inevitably caught by long-line fishermen trying to hook bigger, healthier schools of yellowfin tuna, swordfish and big-eye tuna. Under government regulations, the fishermen are allowed to bring a small number of the carefully regulated and valuable fish to shore for sale, but most of them die on hooks hanging from 20-mile fishing lines and are discarded at sea. ...By one estimate, 111 metric tons of bluefin were killed this way in one year. The “bycatch” problem is slowing efforts to rebuild the bluefin population in the western Atlantic, which is at 36 percent of the 1970 level, according to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. ...Now, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the U.S. government agency that regulates offshore fishing, ... is proposing ... sharply cut back the number of bluefin tuna that individual fishing vessels are allowed to capture accidentally, setting a quota for each boat and requiring fishermen to include the bluefin they discard at sea under that cap. The NMFS also would change the long-standing formula by which it calculates the number of pounds of bluefin tuna that a long-liner may legally bring to shore for sale. Any vessel that exceeds its cap for accidentally caught bluefin wouldn’t be able to leave the dock to fish for other species, according to the proposal.... http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/us-agency-proposes-rules-to-protect-bluefin-tuna/2013/11/03/e3b653d8-4339-11e3-a624-41d661b0bb78_story.html. Lenny Bernstein, Wachington Post.
2013-10-29. Just how badly are we overfishing the oceans? Excerpt: Humans now have the technology to find and catch every last fish on the planet. Trawl nets, drift nets, longlines, GPS, sonar... As a result, fishing operations have expanded to virtually all corners of the ocean over the past century. ...That, in turn, has put a strain on fish populations. The world's marine fisheries peaked in the 1990s, when the global catch was higher than it is today. And the populations of key commercial species like bluefin tuna and cod have dwindled, in some cases falling more than 90 percent. So just how badly are we overfishing the oceans? Are fish populations going to keep shrinking each year — or could they recover? ...The pessimistic view, famously expressed by fisheries expert Daniel Pauly, is that we may be facing "The End of Fish." One especially dire 2006 study in Science warned that many commercial ocean fish stocks were on pace to “collapse” by mid-century — at which point they would produce less than 10 percent of their peak catch. ...Other experts have countered that this view is far too alarmist. A number of countries have worked hard to improve their fisheries management over the years, including Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. "The U.S. is actually a big success story in rebuilding fish stocks," Ray Hilborn, a marine biologist at the University of Washington, told me last year. Overfishing isn't inevitable. We can fix it.... http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/29/just-how-badly-are-we-overfishing-the-ocean/. Brad Plumer, The Washington Post.
2013-09-11. Seachange--The Pacific's Perilous Turn. Excerpt: Globally, overfishing remains a scourge. But souring seas and ocean warming are expected to reduce even more of the plants and animals we depend on for food and income. .... http://apps.seattletimes.com/reports/sea-change/2013/sep/11/pacific-ocean-perilous-turn-overview/. By Craig Welch, The Seattle Times.
2013-06-10. Small and wild: how to feed fish to the world. Excerpt: ...Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, ...ocean conservation organization, ..."People need to give up shrimp," he said, explaining that the fine nets used to catch them result in one of the highest levels of bycatch. The farmed fare isn't much better, since it requires that tropical forests and mangroves be cleared, and leaves destroyed earth in its wake, on account of the chemical additives and pesticides used. ...his new publication The Perfect Protein, ...suggests ...using wild ocean fish. Farmed fish ...fed by other fish are what we might call the danger fish: they do the most damage because we use up the wild fish we should really be eating.... Farmed salmon ...requires about five pounds of fishmeal to grow one pound. That meal typically comes in the shape of highly nutritious, rapidly reproducing forage fish like anchovies, sardines, and herrings. ..."Farmed mussels, farmed oysters, farmed clams," said Sharpless, "are... dependent on healthier ocean bays where these are raised, shellfish farmers are what Sharpless calls "a wonderful ally for conservationists," because they're motivated to uphold healthy habitats. ... eating more of the small fry that exist lower down the food chain, the authors argue, like sardines and anchovies, [that] reproduce more quickly, grow faster, many exist around the world and they "are at least equally nutritious to the ones at the top of the food chain." They're also less likely to harbour toxins.... His book lists several recipes for dishes that explore the flavours of small forage fish: anchovies, sardines, and mackerel. Others call for farmed bivalves like clams and mussels. Tilapia, salmon, and catfish are deemed suitable too, if they come from sustainable wild populations. ...prawns aren't featured.... http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/world-on-a-plate/2013/jun/10/fish-fishing. Emma Bryce, The Guardian.
2013-05-31. Climate change study: 82 percent of Calif. native fish species risk extinction. Excerpt: Climate change may cause the extinction of 82 percent of California's native fish species, including iconic ones such as Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt, according to a new study. The peer-reviewed study by fishery experts at UC Davis created a framework to measure how vulnerable numerous species are to climate change. It assesses habitat conditions, climate change projections and temperature sensitivity for the 121 native and 50 nonnative fish species that inhabit California. It found that 82 percent of the native species are at risk of extinction in the next 100 years, largely because climate change will make water temperatures too warm. For nonnative fish, which are generally more adaptable to warm water, only 19 percent are likely to die off. ...The study is available online at http://ht.ly/lyRR8 .... http://www.sacbee.com/2013/05/30/5459758/climate-change-study-82-percent.html. Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee.
2012 October 01. Worrisome Measure of Decline at Great Barrier Reef. By Emma Bryce, The NY Times. Excerpt: A study released today by the Australian Institute of Marine Science shows that the Great Barrier Reef — a Heritage Site frequently held up as one of the world’s most striking coral conservation successes — has experienced considerable decline since 1985, and without intervention, live coral cover is projected to decrease another 5 to 10 percent over the next 10 years. Over the last 27 years, the study found, coral cover across the 133,000-square mile stretch of the Great Barrier Reef has fallen to 13.8 percent over all, from 28 percent. The study broke down the causes of the decline, attributing 48 percent of coral loss to cyclones, 10 percent to coral bleaching and the remainder — 42 percent — to excessive spawning of destructive crown of thorns starfish. The starfish, believed by researchers to prosper when artificial nutrients increase in oceans, consume and destroy more than their fair share of live coral cover.....
2012 Sept 18. Getting Bluefin Tuna Off the Hook. By Kelly Slivka, The NY Times. Excerpt: In the Gulf of Mexico, many fishermen use longlines to fish for swordfish and yellowfin tuna, but they also end up catching Atlantic bluefin tuna, among other species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Atlantic bluefin as a threatened species and the Gulf of Mexico is known to be one of its spawning grounds, so purposefully fishing for the species has been forbidden in the gulf since 1982. However, the fishermen are allowed to catch some bluefins while fishing for other species — a loophole that the Pew Environment Group would like to close, said Tom Wheatley, who manages the organization’s Gulf Surface Longline Campaign…[by] collaborating on a pilot project with gulf swordfish and yellowfin tuna fishermen that involves testing two alternative fishing methods that tend to have a far smaller bluefin bycatch…
2012 July 06. Once-abundant West Coast oysters near extinction. By Paul Fimrite, SFGate. Excerpt: A disturbing nationwide decline in oysters and the life-giving reefs that they build is particularly dramatic in California, where the once-abundant native species has been virtually wiped out, according to a recent scientific study. The report, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, said Olympia oysters, once an integral part of the Native American diet and a staple during the San Francisco Gold Rush, are functionally extinct…The loss of native oysters - not to be confused with the farm-raised Japanese Pacific oysters - is a serious issue…oysters clean the water by filter feeding. A single oyster can filter up to 30 gallons of water a day, removing nitrogen and other pollutants…The oyster beds, or reefs, they create provide habitat for myriad fish, crabs and other creatures.….
2012 June 25. ‘Nature’s Masons’ Do Double Duty as Storytellers.
By Sean B. Carroll, New York Times. Excerpt: GUBBIO, Italy —
…Limestone is composed largely of crystallized calcium carbonate. Some
of it comes from the skeletal remains of well-known creatures like
corals, but much of the rest comes from less appreciated but truly
remarkable organisms called foraminifera, or forams for short. Forams
have been called “nature’s masons,” … these single-celled protists
construct surprisingly complex, ornate and beautiful shells to protect
their bodies. After forams die, their shells settle in ocean sediments….
While tiny relative to ourselves …, forams are extremely large for
single-celled organisms, … largest forams can reach a few centimeters.
...Forams are a vital part of a “biological pump” that removes carbon
dioxide from the atmosphere. When carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater,
one reaction product is carbonate. In making their calcium carbonate
shells, the large mass of so-called planktonic forams floating in the
upper levels of the oceans sequester about one quarter of all carbonate
produced in the oceans each year.
The increasing levels of carbon dioxide in our planet’s atmosphere, now
at a greater level than at any time in the past 400,000 years, threaten
to overwhelm this biological pump by inhibiting the formation of calcium
carbonate shells. As more carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, the
waters acidify, decreasing the concentration of carbonate and making it
more difficult for these organisms to form calcium carbonate shells….
Read the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/26/science/natures-masons-do-double-duty-as-earths-storytellers.html?_r=1&emc=eta1
2012 May 15. Saving the Wonders of the Sea of Cortez. By Tim Folger, OnEarth. Excerpt: In 2009…a research team…conducted an extensive survey of the Sea of Cortez, documenting the effects of overfishing and habitat loss. Fish have completely disappeared from some reefs in the northern part of the sea. The absence of grazing fish may explain why bacteria now cover the reefs, a phenomenon referred to by one of the researchers as the rise of the slime. For much of the past decade, Aburto Oropeza has been working with scientists in the United States and Mexico to identify habitats that are crucial for the long-term viability of fisheries in the Sea of Cortez. His research suggests a practical and economical conservation strategy: to save the sea, and the livelihoods of those who depend on its bounty, it might be enough to protect -- with effective enforcement -- a few key clearly defined areas…Since the 1970s, parts of the Sea of Cortez have lost more than a quarter of their mangrove forests, and nationwide the rate of destruction has accelerated, with some 2 percent of the remaining mangroves across Mexico now being cleared each year....
2012 May 12. Sonar, blasts could hurt more sea life, Navy says. By Associated Press, SF Gate. Excerpt: The U.S. Navy says its training and testing using sonar and explosives could potentially hurt more dolphins and whales in Hawaii and California waters than previously thought. In the study, the Navy estimates its use of explosives and sonar could unintentionally cause more than 1,600 instances of hearing loss or other injury to marine mammals in one year. The service calculates that its use of explosives could inadvertently cause more than 200 marine mammal deaths a year....
2012 Apr 21. A Ban on Some Seafood Has Fishermen Fuming. By Abby Goodnough, The New York Times. Excerpt: GLOUCESTER, Mass. — Standing on the deck of his rusted steel trawler, Naz Sanfilippo fumed about the latest bad news for New England fishermen: a decision by Whole Foods to stop selling any seafood it does not consider sustainable. …Starting Sunday, gray sole and skate, common catches in the region, will no longer appear in the grocery chain’s artfully arranged fish cases. Atlantic cod, a New England staple, will be sold only if it is not caught by trawlers, which drag nets across the ocean floor, a much-used method here. “It’s totally maddening,” Mr. Sanfilippo said. “They’re just doing it to make all the green people happy.” Whole Foods says that, in fact, it is doing its part to address the very real problem of overfishing and help badly depleted fish stocks recover. It is using ratings set by the Blue Ocean Institute, a conservation group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. They are based on factors including how abundant a species is, how quickly it reproduces and whether the catch method damages its habitat. …Some question the need for grocery stores to reject certain American-caught fish when the government has already imposed its own conservation measures. Many of the nation’s fishermen now operate under federally created systems that allocate a yearly quota of fish…. Read the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/us/to-new-england-fishermen-another-bothersome-barrier.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120422
2011 Nov 21. Northwest Oyster Die-offs Show Ocean Acidification Has Arrived. By Elizabeth Grossman, Yale Environment 360. Excerpt: …It’s hard to imagine that the fate of the oysters being raised here at the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery is being determined by what came out of smokestacks and tailpipes in the 1960s and ‘70s. But this rural coastal spot and the shellfish it has nurtured for centuries are a bellwether of one of the most palpable changes being caused by global carbon dioxide emissions — ocean acidification….
…Ocean acidification — which makes it difficult for shellfish, corals, sea urchins, and other creatures to form the shells or calcium-based structures they need to live — was supposed to be a problem of the future. But because of patterns of ocean circulation, Pacific Northwest shellfish are already on the front lines of these potentially devastating changes in ocean chemistry….
...Because of the way seawater circulates around the world, the deep water now washing ashore in Oregon and Washington is actually 30 to 50 years old and absorbed its CO2 long before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This time lag is important because oceans absorb about 50 percent of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels, emissions that have been rising dramatically in recent decades. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ocean acidity has increased approximately 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution, and if we continue our current rate of carbon emissions, global oceans could be 150 percent more acidic by the end of the century than they have been for 20 million years…..
2011 August 7. The Last of the Lobstermen, Chasing a Vanishing Treasure. By Barton Silverman, The New York Times. Excerpt: It has been 12 years since a great die-off of lobsters in Long Island Sound rocked the local industry and stumped researchers. It lasted three days but wiped out an estimated nine-tenths of the catch, compared with two years earlier. Scientists blamed global warming, citing increased temperatures in the lower waters where lobsters live. Another culprit was pesticides like those deployed against the West Nile virus. The die-off began around the same time that the remnants of Hurricane Floyd swept over Long Island and, lobstermen believe, flushed pesticides into the Sound. The past 12 years have not been kind. Adding to the misery is a bacterial invasion that causes deformities in lobster shells and “reduces the marketability of the product,” said Antoinette Clemetson, a marine fisheries specialist with New York Sea Grant. “We’re in the worst possible environmental combination of factors. They’re simultaneous"…
2011 July 18. California mussels: 1st warming casualty? By Pat Brennan, The Orange County Register. Excerpt: The iconic California mussel could be among the first casualties of oceans made more acidic by global warming, a new study of the coastal shellfish shows. Scientists who grew mussel larvae in a bath of acidified water thought to match expected changes in ocean chemistry report thinner, weaker shells and smaller bodies in a newly published study.
"Indications from records are that acidity increased by about 30 percent in the last 250 years," Gaylord said.
…With little sign of a slackening of carbon dioxide, or CO2, emissions, changes in ocean chemistry seem almost inevitable, he said.
"These changes are going to proceed even if we stop emitting anymore CO2," Gaylord said. "Humans have made the commitment to an altered environment."
2011 July 9. Answer for Invasive Species: Put It on a Plate and Eat It. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The NY Times. Excerpt: …An invasive species, the lionfish is devastating reef fish populations along the Florida coast and into the Caribbean. Now, an increasing number of environmentalists, consumer groups and scientists are seriously testing a novel solution to control it and other aquatic invasive species — one that would also takes pressure off depleted ocean fish stocks: they want Americans to step up to their plates and start eating invasive critters in large numbers.
“Humans are the most ubiquitous predators on earth,” said Philip Kramer, director of the Caribbean program for the Nature Conservancy. “Instead of eating something like shark fin soup, why not eat a species that is causing harm, and with your meal make a positive contribution?”….
…Scientists emphasize that human consumption is only part of what is needed to control invasive species and restore native fish populations, and that a comprehensive plan must include restoring fish predators to depleted habitats and erecting physical barriers to prevent further dissemination of the invaders….
2011 June 20. World's oceans in 'shocking' decline. By Richard Black, BBC News. Excerpt: The oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists.
In a new report, they warn that ocean life is "at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history".
They conclude that issues such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognized….
…The panel was convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), and brought together experts from different disciplines, including coral reef ecologists, toxicologists, and fisheries scientists….
2011 June 20. Is It Too Late for the Damba? By John S. Sparks and Christopher B. Braun, The NY Times. Excerpt: [Narrative of an ichthyologist working in Madagascar]…The native Paretroplus are striking fish, deep bodied forms that bear a close resemblance to their closest relatives on the Indian subcontinent, the genus Etroplus, despite being isolated since the Late Cretaceous period. There are less than 15 species of Paretroplus, and all but two are restricted to northwestern Madagascar. It is no exaggeration to state that a majority of these 15 species have some of the most restricted ranges of any vertebrates, frequently comprising only a short stretch of river or single small lake. Only Paretroplus polyactis has a widespread distribution along the eastern coast. Regrettably, most species of damba are on the verge of extinction, perhaps as a result of this strict endemism….
…For every endemic fish collected, huge stringers of introduced tilapia are captured. We have to leave this once diverse river and wonder if the damba are going to suffer the same fate as other Malagasy endemics….
2011 May 25. New View of Undersea Giant Kelp Forest "Canopy"--From Satellites Above. By Cheryl Dybas, National Science Foundation. Excerpt: …In a melding of data from the beneath the waves and from the skies above, researchers have developed a method for studying how environmental factors affect the kelp forests.
The results have allowed scientists to look at changes in giant kelp across hundreds of square miles in California's Santa Barbara Channel over 25 years, from 1984 through 2009….
2011 May 7. Man-made rock reef is part of a welcome seaweed change. By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times. Excerpt: …It was a gamble when Southern California Edison crews pushed basketball-size chunks of rock from a barge off San Clemente three years ago.
Eventually, the utility company hoped, the artificial reef it had assembled 50 feet below the waves would support a new kelp forest and fulfill state-imposed requirements to offset the damage its nearby nuclear power plant causes to marine life....
…Now, giant kelp has bounced back in the last few years, not because of made-man reefs but largely in response to a series of mild summers and an influx of cool, nutrient-rich water….
…For Edison, which has invested $39 million in the reef, there is hope its design will make up for the ups and downs of the ocean environment....
2010 November 22. Florida Keys Declare Open Season on the Invasive Lionfish. By Erik Olsen, The NY Times. Excerpt: …Officials and scientists are seeking to bring attention to the potential damage caused by this voracious, rapidly breeding fish and to control its spread, which in the Florida Keys has been so quick that wildlife managers are having a hard time adapting…
…One potential solution is to promote the fish as food for another voracious predator: man. Lionfish are considered excellent eating. Indeed, after the lionfish derby here, participants feasted on fried lionfish nuggets...
2010 October 16. From Beautiful Nudibranchs to Coral Graveyards: Marine Research in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. By Dr. Terry Goslinger, Climate Storytellers. Excerpt: ...For almost three decades I’ve been studying nudibranchs in the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. Nudibranchs are beautiful and brightly colored sea slugs that thrive on healthy coral reefs. While that has been exhilarating, it is the changes that I’ve seen on these reefs that make me sit upright in bed in the middle of the night. Climate change is seriously endangering these richest reservoirs of marine biodiversity....
2010 October 14. Caribbean Coral Die-Off Could Be Worst Ever. by Eli Kintisch, ScienceNow. Excerpt: Scientists studying Caribbean reefs say that 2010 may be the worst year ever for coral death there. Abnormally warm water since June appears to have dealt a blow to shallow and deep-sea corals that is likely to top the devastation of 2005, when 80% of corals were bleached and as many as 40% died in areas on the eastern side of the Caribbean.
2010 September 4. Taming the Wild Tuna. By Paul Greenburg, The New York Times. Excerpt: ...Researchers at a European Union-financed program, Selfdott, said they had succeeded in spawning the Atlantic bluefin in captivity without hormonal intervention.
If they can solve the problem of raising the offspring to adulthood — a challenging prospect — the bluefin may soon join Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, branzino, yellowtail, turbot, shrimp, catfish and tilapia as an industrially farmed staple of the modern fish market. Which brings up an interesting question: Can a farmed version of bluefin tuna be better for the earth — and the species?
...Seafood today is roughly where landfood was 10,000 odd years ago. Just as Neolithic humans launched a domestication project after the last Ice Age and eventually replaced many wild mammal populations with tame ones, so, too, are modern humans parsing and domesticating the ocean, fish by fish.
Cultivating Atlantic bluefin tuna, environmentalists argue, could be even more harmful to the ocean than salmon farming. Atlantic bluefin are already ranched in great numbers — taken from the wild and fattened in net pens with wild forage fish like herring and sardines. ...The effect on forage fish, the foundation of the oceanic food chain, could be devastating. A worldwide overharvest of forage fish could damage not just bluefin tuna populations but other important commercial species that also rely on these fish for sustenance.
...If Atlantic bluefin is not farmed, it will most likely become an even more scarce luxury item. Global fishing moratoriums on the species have been proposed (and then rejected by the many nations that catch bluefin).
2010 June. Under the Water -- Diving to see the Disaster. ABC News video with Philippe Cousteau Jr. (grandson of Jacques Cousteau) showing underwater views of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
2010 June 1. Deep Underwater, Oil Threatens Reefs. By John Collins Rudolf, NY Times. Excerpt: …“We flipped on the lights, and there was one of the largest coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico sitting right in front of us,” said Erik Cordes, a marine biologist at Temple University and chief scientist on the vessel, the Ronald H. Brown.
...Nine months later, the warm thrill of discovery has cooled into dread. The reef lies just 20 miles northeast of BP’s blown-out well, making it one of at least three extensive deepwater reefs lying directly beneath the oil slick in the gulf.
...Studies on the effects of oil and chemicals on coral are limited to the shallow-water variety, however. Essentially no research has been conducted on their slow-growing deepwater cousins. So BP’s spill has prompted scientists to embark on a sudden crash course on the interaction of deep-sea biology with these toxins.
…“It might be locally catastrophic, particularly if there’s an oxygen-depleted mass that develops,” said Jeffrey Short, Pacific science director for Oceana, a conservation group, and a former research chemist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration specializing in oil pollution.
2010 May 18. Gulf Oil Again Imperils Sea Turtle. By Leslie Kaufman, The NY Times. Excerpt: …Now Thelma and others of her species are being monitored closely by worried scientists as another major oil disaster threatens their habitat. Federal officials said Tuesday that since April 30, 10 days after the accident on the Deepwater Horizon, they have recorded 156 sea turtle deaths; most of the turtles were Kemp’s ridleys. And though they cannot say for sure that the oil was responsible, the number is far higher than usual for this time of year, the officials said.
…The turtles may be more vulnerable than any other large marine animals to the oil spreading through the gulf. An ancient creature driven by instinct, it forages for food along the coast from Louisiana to Florida, in the path of the slick.
…Then came the blowout on the Ixtoc 1. The deepwater well dumped three million barrels of crude into the gulf, covering the beach at Rancho Nuevo. Nine thousand hatchlings had to be airlifted to nearby beaches. Although the role of the oil in killing the turtles was never confirmed, by 1985, there were fewer than 1,000 Kemp’s ridleys left.
2010 Feb 18. A Battle at Midway. By Greg Boustead, SEED Magazine. Excerpt: What happened to that disposable Solo cup—the one you used once at a work party—after you tossed it into the garbage? For that matter, what happens to any of the countless plastic products (shopping bags, coffee stirrers, water bottles, etc.) we use and then discard on a daily basis? Of course, conventional plastic doesn’t readily biodegrade; so where is it now? If you live in North America or Asia, there’s a chance that cup is trapped in a broad ocean current, known as a gyre, in the middle of the northern Pacific Ocean along with an untold number of other pieces of litter in what has been named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
...Chris Jordan, a photographer whose work on visualizing impossibly large numbers we featured last week, traveled to the Midway Islands last year to document the Garbage Patch. What he returned with is visually shocking: a series of ghastly images of Albatross carcasses bursting with wholly undigested bits of plastic waste. The photographs quickly spread throughout the internet, bringing worldwide awareness to the potential threats of treating the ocean as a garbage disposal. Seed’s Greg Boustead recently caught up with the artist-cum-activist to talk about his trip, the art of capturing a nigh-invisible phenomenon, and what his pictures of grotesque, plastic-filled carcasses tell us....
2009 Nov. Video: Saving Sea Turtles, One Nest at a Time. By Shayla Harris, The NY Times. Global warming and coastal development are decimating Pacific sea turtle populations. In Costa Rica, a group of one-time poachers is giving baby sea turtles a chance at survival.
2009 Nov. Rubbish in the Pacific. NY Times slide show. In a remote patch of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from any national boundary, the detritus of human life is collecting in a swirling current so large that it defies precise measurement....
2009 Nov 9. Afloat in the Ocean, Expanding Islands of Trash. By Lindsey Hoshaw, NY Times. Excerpt: ...Light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks and tiny pieces of plastic, each the size of a grain of rice, inhabit the Pacific garbage patch, an area of widely dispersed trash that doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas. But one research organization estimates that the garbage now actually pervades the Pacific, though most of it is caught in what oceanographers call a gyre like this one — an area of heavy currents and slack winds that keep the trash swirling in a giant whirlpool.
Scientists say the garbage patch is just one of five that may be caught in giant gyres scattered around the world’s oceans. Abandoned fishing gear like buoys, fishing line and nets account for some of the waste, but other items come from land after washing into storm drains and out to sea.
Plastic is the most common refuse in the patch because it is lightweight, durable and an omnipresent, disposable product in both advanced and developing societies. It can float along for hundreds of miles before being caught in a gyre and then, over time, breaking down.
But once it does split into pieces, the fragments look like confetti in the water. Millions, billions, trillions and more of these particles are floating in the world's trash-filled gyres....
2009 October 29. Dining Out In An Ocean Of Plastic: How Foraging Albatrosses Put Plastic On The Menu. ScienceDaily. Excerpt: The North Pacific Ocean is now commonly referred to as the world's largest garbage dump with an area the size of the continental United States covered in plastic debris. The highly mobile Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), which forages throughout the North Pacific, is quickly becoming the poster child for the effects of plastic ingestion on marine animals due to their tendency to ingest large amounts of plastic.
...Dr. Lindsay Young of the University of Hawaii and her colleagues examined whether Laysan albatrosses nesting on Kure Atoll and Oahu, Hawaii, 2,150 km away, ingested different amounts of plastic by putting miniaturized tracking devices on birds to follow them at sea and examining their regurgitated stomach contents. Surprisingly, birds from Kure Atoll ingested almost ten times the amount of plastic compared to birds from Oahu.
...The most common identifiable items they found were paraphernalia from the fishing industry such as line, light sticks, oyster spacers, and lighters....Unfortunately, while the albatross examined in this study were able to purge themselves of the plastic by regurgitating it, thousands of albatross die each year as a result of ingesting plastic debris. Plastic ingestion leads to blockage of the digestive tract, reduced food consumption, satiation of hunger, and potential exposure to toxic compounds to name but a few of its detrimental effects....
2009 October 8. NSF Releases Online Multimedia Package on Marine "Dead Zones". NSF Release 09-192. Excerpt: The Earth currently has more than 400 so-called "dead zones"--expanses of oxygen-starved ocean covering hundreds, or even thousands, of square miles that become virtually devoid of animal life during the summer; the worldwide count of dead zones is doubling every decade.
Most dead zones, such as the Gulf of Mexico's notorious dead zone, are caused by pollution that is dumped into oceans by rivers. But every summer since 2002, the Pacific Northwest's coastal waters--one of the--one of the U.S.'s most important fisheries--has been invaded by massive dead zones that are believed to be caused by an entirely different and surprising phenomena: changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation that may, in turn, be caused by climate change....
2009 July. One Ocean, Shaken and Stirred. By Kathleen M. Wong, ScienceMatters@Berkeley. Phytoplankton, the algae which supports most sea life, rely on wind, wave and current conditions to fuel their own growth. Berkeley professor Thomas Powell has pioneered the study of ocean cycles and their impacts on the marine food web....
2009 June 18. Mekong dolphins 'almost extinct'. BBC News. Excerpt: Pollution in the Mekong river has pushed freshwater dolphins in Cambodia and Laos to the brink of extinction, the conservation group WWF has said. Only 64 to 76 Irrawaddy dolphins remain in the Mekong, it says, and calls for a cross-border plan to help the dolphins.
Toxic levels of pesticides, mercury and other pollutants have been found in more than 50 calves that have died since 2003.
..."These pollutants are widely distributed in the environment and so the source of this pollution may involve several countries through which the Mekong river flows," said WWF veterinary surgeon Verne Dove in a press statement.
..."Necropsy analysis identified a bacterial disease as the cause of the calf deaths," Dr Dove said in the WWF report. "This disease would not be fatal unless the dolphin's immune systems were suppressed, as they were in these cases, by environmental contaminants," he said.
Researchers found toxic levels of pesticides such as DDT and environmental contaminants such as PCBs during analysis of the dead dolphin calves. These pollutants may also pose a health risk to human populations living along the Mekong - who consume the same fish and water as the dolphins - the group suggested.
High levels of mercury were also found in some of the dead dolphins, which directly affects the immune system making the animals more susceptible to infectious disease....
2009 April 14. Coral Transplant Surgery Prescribed for Japan. By Martin Fackler, The NY Times. Excerpt: SEKISEI LAGOON, Japan — Beneath the waves of this sapphire-blue corner of the East China Sea, a team of divers was busily at work.
Hovering along the steep, bony face of a dying coral reef, some divers bored holes into the hard surface with compressed-air drills that released plumes of glittering bubbles. Others followed, gently inserting small ceramic discs into the fresh openings.
Each disc carried a tiny sliver of hope for the reef, in the shape of fingertip-size sprigs of brightly colored, fledgling coral.
This undersea work site...is part of a government-led effort to save Japan’s largest coral reef, near the southern end of the Okinawa chain of islands. True to form in Japan, the project involves new technology, painstaking attention to detail and a generous dose of taxpayer money.
The project has drawn national attention, coming after alarming reports in the last decade that up to 90 percent of the coral that surrounds many of Okinawa’s islands has died off....
...“We have been replanting forests for 4,000 years, but we are only just now learning how to revive a coral reef,” said Mineo Okamoto, a marine biologist at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, who has led development of the palm-size ceramic discs. “We finally have the technology.”
Critics, however, say the project might be wasted effort. They say transplanting is futile without addressing the problems that caused the reefs to deteriorate in the first place, like coastal redevelopment and chemical runoff from terrestrial agriculture. There is also the bigger problem of rising ocean water temperatures, for which there may be no easy fix....
2009 Feb 25. Sylvia Earle: Here's how to protect the blue heart of the planet (TED Prize winner!) The Ocean as life-support, a life-support in trouble. How long will it take before we really understand that we cannot do whatever we want to nature...
(18 minute video)
2009 March 16. Leatherback Turtle Threatened By Plastic Garbage In Ocean. ScienceDaily. Excerpt: ...They're descendants of one of the oldest family trees in history, spanning 100 million years. But today leatherback turtles, the most widely distributed reptiles on Earth, are threatened with extinction themselves...
We've seen reference to the dangers plastic poses to marine life..., but how clearly have we received the message? Not well enough according to a recent article in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin co-authored by Dalhousie University's Mike James.
“We wanted to see if plastics ingestion in leatherbacks was hype or reality,” says Dr. James, senior species at risk biologist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and adjunct professor with Dalhousie’s Department of Biology.
“It was a monumental effort that looked back at necropsies over the last century from all over the world,” he explains. (Necropsies are post-mortem examinations performed on animals.) “After reviewing the results of 371 necropsies since 1968, we discovered over one third of the turtles had ingested plastic.”
...Once leatherbacks ingest plastic, thousands of spines lining the throat and esophagus make it nearly impossible to regurgitate. The plastic can lead to partial or even complete obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in decreased digestive efficiency, energetic and reproductive costs and, for some, starvation.
...“The frustrating, yet hopeful aspect is that humans can easily begin addressing the solution, without major lifestyle changes,” says Dr. James. “It's as simple as reducing packaging and moving towards alternative, biodegradable materials and recycling.”...
2009 March 8. Proof on the Half Shell: A More Acidic Ocean Corrodes Sea Life. By David Biello, Scientific American.Excerpt: The shells of tiny ocean animals known as foraminifera—specifically Globigerina bulloides—are shrinking as a result of the slowly acidifying waters of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. The reason behind the rising acidity: Higher carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere, making these shells more proof that climate change is making life tougher for the seas' shell-builders.
...The researchers found that modern G. bulloides could not build shells as large as the ones their ancestors formed as recently as century ago. In fact, modern shells were 35 percent smaller than in the relatively recent past—an average of 17.4 micrograms compared with 26.8 micrograms before industrialization. (One microgram is one millionth of a gram; there are 28.3 grams in an ounce.)
"We don't yet know what impact this will have on the organisms' health or survival," [says study co-author William Howard, a marine geologist at ACE], but one thing seems clear: the tiny animals won't be storing as much CO2 in their shells in the form of carbonate. "If the shell-making is reduced, the storage of carbon in the ocean might be, as well."
That's bad news for the climate, because the ocean is responsible for absorbing at least one quarter of the CO2 that humans load into the air through fossil fuel burning and other activities—and it is the action of foraminifera and other tiny shell-building animals, along with plants like algae that lock it away safely for millennia....
2009 January 19. Growing Taste for Reef Fish Sends Their Numbers Sinking. By Jennifer Pinkowski, The New York Times. Excerpt: ...The fierce appetite for live reef fish across Southeast Asia — and increasingly in mainland China — is devastating populations in the Coral Triangle, a protected marine region home to the world’s richest ocean diversity, according to a recent report in the scientific journal Conservation Biology. Spawning of reef fish in this area, which supports 75 percent of all known coral species in the world, has declined 79 percent over the past 5 to 20 years, depending on location, according to the report.
Overfishing in general, and particularly of spawning aggregations that occur when certain species of reef fish gather in one place in great numbers to reproduce, may be the culprit, says Yvonne Sadovy, a biologist at the University of Hong Kong who wrote the report along with scientists from Australia, Hong Kong, Palau and the United States.
...Since the 1980s, Hong Kong has been the epicenter of the live fish trade. That trade has greatly expanded in the last decade to an $810 million business, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, which monitors the market. Rising wealth in mainland China may be a contributing factor to the increase in the trade with the demand for exotic fish especially high in Shanghai and Beijing. Destinations popular with Chinese tourists are seeing an increase, too....
...Even locals unaffiliated with the tourist trade are aware of the surge. Across the street from the Port View, Malays at the famous Night Market speak with awe about the Chinese tourists who spend “a thousand ringgits a week just eating fish.”That’s about $280....
Archive of Past Articles for Chapter 7
NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program has a new website designed to assist the general public in learning about America's 13 National Marine Sanctuaries and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve as well as provide resources for teachers to support ocean literacy in America's classrooms. The site also provides access to NOAA's "Dive into Education Marine Science Program," designed to provide K-12 teachers with professional development using hands-on, standards-based, ocean science activities. ...Visitors to the web site can pilot the "Deep Worker" submersible in Monterey Bay's kelp forests or learn about a year in the life of a Northern Elephant seal. Another feature is a virtual sanctuary tour, with opportunities for watching underwater video clips and exploring image galleries...
Coral Reef Photo Monitoring Survey Image Archive http://reefreliefarchive.org - an excellent source of photo coral reef photos; see e.g. Rock Key catalogs to see photographic chronological survey of an Elkhorn coral reef in the Florida Keys. Also Catalog Sand Key buoy 10. Submitted by Craig Quirolo, Reef Relief - Key West Fla/New Plymouth Bahamas
European Community on Protection of Marine Life - http://www.ecop.info/ -- List of projects and campaigns working on the preservation of the marine biosphere and the biodiversity of the oceans.
Nature Conservancy Global Marine Initiative