Shark week

It’s that time again. Shark Week on Discovery Channel. I haven’t been tuning in for the past few years because I’m always disappointed that they don’t discuss shark conservation more. What a missed opportunity! They are, of course, appealing to the masses so shark attacks are high on the list — but if sharks are such a huge draw that they devote a week to them each year, why not protect their investment and talk about the threats that are wiping shark populations out all over the world? Why don’t they discourage shark fishing, and discuss how shark finning is an inhumane brutal treatment of these magnificent animals? Why don’t they point out that sharks are a critical component of the marine ecosystem and that, without them, entire food webs are disrupted?

I doubt I’ll tune in to Shark Week this year either – I’ve seen enough documentaries about shark attacks. Though they do point out that shark attacks are rare I get really tired of the creepy narrator voice making sharks sound 100 times more ominous than they really are. Discovery should really focus on cultivating care for sharks – not fear.

Photo courtesy of Elasmodiver.com

Reaching the Boiling Point

Global Warming – Boiling Point by Gelbspan

David recently posted in the Plankton Forums about this book — I haven’t read it yet, but am planning to on our upcoming expedition. He says it’s a quick read and it’s not as depressing as it sounds so everyone interested in the future of civilization should read it. He pulled a few quotes from the book, that all occur before page 33: Continue reading

Coral reefs: the good news and the bad

Elkhorn coral, Bonaire August, 2004
The good news? A survey of how well the world’s coral reefs are being protected was conducted. The bad news? Less than 2% of the world’s coral reefs are being protected. This is the problem that I have with Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – theoretically it’s a great idea. But when put into practice, it seems most MPAs are too small to make much of an impact. Continue reading

Can I make a difference? The power of one.

I just ordered a copy of David Helvarg’s “50 Ways to Save the Ocean.” The concept of the book got me thinking – what can I do, as an individual, to protect and possibly restore the health of the ocean? The answer is, a lot. We can all do a lot as individuals, and collectively, we can make a huge difference. And we need to – before it’s too late and the damage already being done is irreversible. If we begin taking greater care of the ocean now, it will bounce back. The ocean has been around for millenia, and it’s resilient enough to recover from harm caused by human activity. What can we do? Well, there are at least 50 things according to Helvarg’s book. Continue reading

Great book on coral reefs and their conservation

In keeping with my recent coral reefs theme, I’m reading “The Enchanted Braid: Coming to Term with Nature on the Coral Reef” by Osha Gray Davidson cover to cover. We’re featuring corals in the upcoming MarineBio.org newsletter, so I was inspired to pick this book up again. And I’m glad I did.

I’ve read — and liked — bits and pieces of the book since I bought it four years ago. I can now see that I’ve been missing out on an immensely enjoyable book now that I’m reading it properly. Davidson is a journalist who developed an appreciation for coral reefs during time spent in the Florida Keys. Continue reading

Awesome dive expeditions to photograph big animals!

I was reading through an email update from Undercurrent this morning — great publication by the way — which mentioned Amos Nachoum’s Big Animal Adventures. In May/June of 2007, Big Animals is offering an expedition to Cocos and Mapelo Islands (off the coasts of Central/South America) with Sylvia Earle — I would give my left eyeball to go on this trip! To dive with Sylvia Earle? She’s my hero! (See blog entry below.) But also to have the opportunity to dive with a variety of shark species, including the famous schooling hammerheads of Cocos Island — what an amazing adventure. Continue reading

Excess CO2 Threatens Marine Life

Staghorn coral, Bonaire - Aug, 2004

By Rosanne Skirble, Washington, D.C.

The chemistry of the world’s oceans is changing with increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because of the burning of fossil fuels in cars and power plants. A report released recently by the National Center for Atmospheric Research says the change in the air is putting marine life and ecosystems at great risk. Continue reading

Global Warming – What You Need to Know

Global Warming – What You Need to Know, a 2 hour documentary on Discovery Channel last night, made me happy. Happy? Yes. I was happy to see that this issue is getting some attention in the mainstream mass media. This program, in addition to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and recent coverage in “Time” magazine, is a good indication that people are starting to wake up and smell the heat.

Global warming is very real and poses a very real threat if we don’t start making changes now. But people still don’t seem to take it seriously. In my full-time job I lobbied hard to be allowed to work from home a few days a week so that I can reduce my CO2-coughing 45 minute commute; they looked at me like I had 3 eyes.

This is no longer a “debate” — it’s real and if the US, who very likely created the “debate” by ignoring the science that was there 20 years ago, doesn’t lead the way by developing the collective will that’s also needed worldwide (yoohoo — China…) then by the end of our lifetimes, the world will be a very unhappy place — mass extinctions, major cities drowned resulting in enormous displaced populations, severe weather far worse than what we’ve seen in recent years, no more coral reefs….the list goes on. It’s so hard to fathom (pardon the pun) cities that are so iconic in the US — gone. New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston… Florida! I can’t imagine a world with no beaches. Continue reading

What are your favorite marine science books?

Today I made a “Listmania” list of MarineBio.org’s favorite references in our marine science library and realized how many books I’d read that had a huge influence on my passion for marine conservation. The first was Sylvia Earle’s “Sea Change: A message of the Oceans” - I dragged this book to the beach year after year during my annual vacation to the Florida panhandle but always pushed it aside in favor of sailing narratives or novels. When I finally sat down on the beach and began to read it – I couldn’t put it down. Dr. Earle takes us on a journey to the deep sea as she recounts her many adventures underwater. Continue reading

Global warming on the rise?

Global warming surpassed natural cycles in fueling 2005 hurricane season, NCAR scientists conclude

Hurricanes Ophelia, Nate, and Maria were among 15 hurricanes that raged across the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean in 2005.

BOULDER– Global warming accounted for around half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth in the waters of the tropical North Atlantic in 2005, while natural cycles were only a minor factor, according to a new analysis by Kevin Trenberth and Dennis Shea of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The study will appear in the June 27 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union.

“The global warming influence provides a new background level that increases the risk of future enhancements in hurricane activity,” Trenberth says. Continue reading

Endangered species still being sold for food

Why do endangered species tend to attract a higher demand in some markets? The higher the demand, the higher the price and the greater lengths fishermen will go to harvest them. Supply and demand, money and greed — how can we stop this vicious cycle? Here’s a recent story about a shipment that was seized by customs in Indonesia:

Humphead Wrasse

Indonesian airport authorities seized 36 endangered Humphead Wrasse Cheilinus undulatus on 30 June in Manado, Indonesia, the third seizure of this species in Indonesia this year.

The world’s largest coral reef fish, the Humphead Wrasse is a prized delicacy served in high-end restaurants with a price tag of over US$100 per kg. Hong Kong represents the largest known consumer market for this species, although upscale eateries in Malaysia, Singapore and mainland China are also known to offer servings of the electric blue fish. Continue reading

Jellyfish-Like Creatures and Carbon Dioxide

Transparent jellyfish-like creatures known as a salps, considered by many a low member in the ocean food web, may be more important to the fate of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the ocean than previously thought.

In the May issue of Deep Sea Research, scientists report that salps, about the size of a human thumb, swarming by the billions in “hot spots” may be transporting tons of carbon per day from the ocean surface to the deep sea and keep it from re-entering the atmosphere.

Salps are semi-transparent, barrel-shaped marine animals that move through the water by drawing water in the front end and propelling it out the rear in a sort of jet propulsion. The water passes over a mucus membrane that vacuums it clean of all edible material.

The oceans absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, including some from the burning of fossil fuels. In sunlit surface waters, tiny marine plants called phytoplankton use the carbon dioxide, CO2, to grow. Animals then consume the phytoplankton and incorporate the carbon, but most of it dissolves back into the oceans when the animals defecate or die. The carbon can be used again by bacteria and plants, or can return to the atmosphere as heat-trapping carbon dioxide when it is consumed and respired by animals.

Biologists Laurence Madin of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Patricia Kremer of the University of Connecticut and colleagues have conducted four summer expeditions to the Mid-Atlantic Bight region, between Cape Hatteras and Georges Bank, in the North Atlantic, since 1975. Each time the researchers found that one particular salp species, Salpa aspera, multiplied into dense swarms that lasted for months.

One swarm covered 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) of the sea surface. The scientists estimated that the swarm consumed up to 74 percent of microscopic carbon-containing plants from the surface water per day, and their sinking fecal pellets transported up to 4,000 tons of carbon a day to deep water.

“Salps swim, feed, and produce waste continuously,” Madin said. “They take in small packages of carbon and make them into big packages that sink fast.”

In previous work, Madin and WHOI biologist Richard Harbison found that salp fecal pellets sink as much as 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) a day. The scientists also showed that when salps die, their bodies also sink fast—up to 475 meters (1,575 feet) a day, far faster than most pellets. If salps are really a dead-end in the food web and remain uneaten on the way down, they could send even more carbon to the deep.

Salpa aspera swims long distances down in daylight and back up at night in what is known as vertical migration. Madin, Kremer and colleagues Peter Wiebe and Erich Horgan of WHOI and Jennifer Purcell and David Nemazie of the University of Maryland found that the salps stay at depths of 600 to 800 meters (1,970 to 2,625 feet) during the day, coming to the surface only at night.

“At the surface,” Madin said, “salps can feed on phytoplankton. They may swim down in the day to avoid predators or damaging sunlight. And swimming up at night allows them to aggregate to reproduce and multiply quickly when food is abundant.”

Because of this behavior, salps release fecal pellets in deep water, where few animals eat them. This enhances the transport of carbon away from the atmosphere.

In 2004 and 2006, Madin and Kremer studied salp swarms in a different ecosystem, the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. Some scientists have reported larger salp populations there in warmer years with less sea ice. If this proves true, and if Antarctica’s climate warms, salp swarms could have a greater effect on phytoplankton and carbon in the Southern Ocean ecosystem.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Access to the Sea program at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

SOURCE: http://www.whoi.edu/mr/pr.do?id=14272

What’s really being done?

So I spent some time this morning browsing through the UN Atlas of the Oceans — a solid hour of browsing — and I can’t figure out what the UN is really doing to protect the oceans and marine life. The Atlas is a HUGE resource – but there were a lot of blank pages when I clicked on some topics “sustainable fisheries” for example. And the primary focus appears to be the tsunami.

The UN has a “Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities” (what a mouthful!) — but it doesn’t seem to have accomplished a lot.

The most successful program appears to be the “Regional Seas Programme” – this seems to be the most sensible and manageable approach to global ocean management. The program is described as: “UNEP Regional Seas Programme has emerged over the last quarter century as an inspiring example of how to craft a regional approach to protecting the environment and managing natural resources. The Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans cover issues ranging from chemical wastes and coastal development to the conservation of marine animals and ecosystems.”

I’m curious, and obviously undereducated, about global efforts to ensure sustainable oceans and marine life. I plan to begin an education on this topic by delving deeper into the work of the UN and other international bodies to find out what’s really going on… input from those of you with a better understanding of this topic is welcome!

World’s coral reefs left vulnerable by paper parks

This is extremely troubling. What good are policies and plans if they’re written—then ignored or implemented but poorly monitored? What can we do to change this? Again, this seems a perfect example for why the world needs a global governing body with power to enforce and monitor policies. Is that too unrealistic to even consider?

World’s coral reefs left vulnerable by paper parks

First-ever analysis reveals that most coral reef protected areas are too small, far apart and are at risk from poaching and external human threats

Although 18.7% of the world’s coral reefs are within “Marine Protected Areas” (MPAs) less that 2% are within MPAs with sound management, scientists report in the June 23 edition of Science Magazine.

MPAs are designed to limit human activities in a particular location to protect the marine ecosystem within their boundaries. This new analysis provides an evaluation of the world’s coral reef MPAs based on their regulations on extraction, prevention of poaching, incidence of external human threats such as pollution, coastal development and overfishing, MPAs size and MPA distance to neighbor protected areas. Continue reading

Is The World Ready?

For the oceans to recover from more than 50 years of daily abuse worldwide from overfishing and pollution from a million sources, stronger measures are needed on a global scale and enforced on a global level. MarineBio poses the question: What if the following policies were put into place? Though some may seem a bit radical, the question is – what radical changes will the ocean suffer if the way we treat it is not radically changed? What if we had a global governing body that would provide oversight for global ocean management and enforce policies with strict penalties for violations? Continue reading