The Cove showing in Kyoto

by Mimi AuYeung, Oceanic Defense Japan

Today, “The Cove” was shown to the public in Kyoto for the first time since the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) in Tokyo in October. I’m not sure how much advertising, if any, was done because the turn out was much less than I had hoped for.

The organizers were David Kubiak, who was the representative of OPS in Japan, and Shoei-san from the organic farm “Minga Village Farm” in Kyoto.

David was a professor at Ritsumeikan University and also has a website concerning the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. He is also starting up a website to inform people about the mercury poisoning issue with respect to the dolphin and whale hunts in Taiji: http://www.suigin-iranai.jp which will be up and running from January 1st, 2010.

Shoei-san, is the owner of “Minga Village Farm” in Kyoto, near Lake Biwa. It is an organic farm, that has a delivery service as well as a help centre for children with disabilities. Shoei-san herself has a daughter with a slight disability.

I arrived with my daughter at 1pm, and were the first ones there, greeted by Shoei-san. Masahiko-san, a friend of Nao-san’s, arrived soon after. The poster outside of the seminar room said viewing of the cove, ¥2,000, ¥2,500 at the door. This was the original plan for the event. However, there were problems in the days before the movie was going to be screened. Apparently, the person/company that bought the rights to showing the movie in Japan was blocking the Kyoto showing. After contacting “The Cove” producer, Louie Psihoyos, it was learned that as long as there was no charge for the movie, it wouldn’t be a problem. So, the show when on, and donations were being accepted. Unfortunately, less than 20 people showed up, including myself and daughter and Steven Thompson and family, David Kubiak and Shoei-san and Minga.

During the showing, the audience was basically quiet. A few people seemed to have a hard time following the subtitles, especially one elderly woman who was sitting behind me. Perhaps the dubbed version would have been a better choice than the subtitled one. After the film was finished, David asked the Japanese audience their thoughts on the movie, and if they thought that it was “Japan bashing” in any way.

After a bit of silence, the people started to want to share their story. The first was a young woman who said she had heard about the issue while living in Melbourne, Australia. She had been working and doing volunteer work there when she found out about dolphin hunts in Japan.

Next, a man explained that he had been in Shirahama for an onsen spa trip, and when to Taiji as a side trip. He visited the whale museum there and enjoyed the Taiji experience. On the way through the town, he noticed a cove that had dolphins in it. He became curious and started to ask around. One woman started to answer him, but people around her told her she shouldn’t say things. It was such a strange situation, he checked the Internet when he got back home and found information and saw news reports about “The Cove”. He said that he wanted to do whatever he could to help the cause and end the slaughter.

Next, Shoei-san explained her reason for becoming interested in the dolphin issue: She said that she had heard a lot about dolphin therapy for children with disabilities. She took her daughter, who was about 9 at the time, to Hawaii to experience swimming with dolphins in the wild. That is when she noticed a change in her daughter and changed her way of thinking. Before the swim with dolphin experience, her daughter was not able to sing. She had heard many songs, but was not able to sing them. Almost immediately after the swim with dolphin experience, her daughter started to sing. She was singing songs that she had heard over the years, but had never been able to reproduce. Shoei’s family was so surprised at the effect the dolphins had had on their daughter. So, when she heard about the Taiji dolphin slaughter, she felf she should do something about it. She would like to see the fishermen change their ways, and possible start up a program for disabled children. She knows that the fishermen need jobs and cannot just stop fishing, but if they could use their skills to help the disabled, they could really benefit society.

Steven talked about his “Taiji Visti Program” and his recent experiences in Taiji. He also brought a DVD showing the fishermen assault him. In the short 2 minute video, the fishermen repeatedly told him not to take pictures of their faces. When Steven didn’t put down his camera, one of the fishermen knocked the camera out of his hand, damaging it. Going to the police apparently didn’t help, because they said that there was nothing they would/could do about it.

A foreign woman asked what kind of options the fishermen had if they stopped dolphin hunting.
David talked about the fishermen’s earnings. He said that they get about $10,000 for 1 dolphin, but sell about 20-30 dolphins a year. So, they are not making a huge amount of money from the dolphins for captivity. Mostly they make their money by selling the meat for consumption and there are only about 25 prefectures that by the meat from them. He also mentioned eco-tourism and how one fisherman from Futo was now making about double his income as a dolphin tour guide compared to when he was a fisherman. (Ishi-san)
I added that the fisherman I talked to in Taiji told me that off season, they fished whatever they wanted to. I thought that if dolphin hunting was banned, they still could fish for other kinds of fish. But ultimately, I think they will need to create an industry for themselves because there is really nothing there for them to change jobs to.

I had to leave early, but I think the people who were in attendance want to and are willing to help spread the word about the dolphin hunts in Taiji.
There are more movie screenings being planned for Osaka and Tokyo in the new year. Stay tuned for more updates.


To Save the Planet, Save the Seas

Published: December 26, 2009

FOR the many disappointments of the recent climate talks in Copenhagen, there was at least one clear positive outcome, and that was the progress made on a program called Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Under this program, key elements of which were agreed on at Copenhagen, developing countries would be compensated for preserving forests, peat soils, swamps and fields that are efficient absorbers of carbon dioxide, the primary heat-trapping gas linked to global warming.

This approach, which takes advantage of the power of nature itself, is an economical way to store large amounts of carbon. But the program is limited in that it includes only those carbon sinks found on land. We now need to look for similar opportunities to curb climate change in the oceans.

Few people may realize it, but in addition to producing most of the oxygen we breathe, the ocean absorbs some 25 percent of current annual carbon dioxide emissions. Half the world’s carbon stocks are held in plankton, mangroves, salt marshes and other marine life. So it is at least as important to preserve this ocean life as it is to preserve forests, to secure its role in helping us adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Sea-grass meadows, for example, which flourish in shallow coastal waters, account for 15 percent of the ocean’s total carbon storage, and underwater forests of kelp store huge amounts of carbon, just as forests do on land. The most efficient natural carbon sink of all is not on land, but in the ocean, in the form of Posidonia oceanica, a species of sea grass that forms vast underwater meadows that wave in the currents just as fields of grass on land sway in the wind.

Worldwide, coastal habitats like these are being lost because of human activity. Extensive areas have been altered by land reclamation and fish farming, while coastal pollution and overfishing have further damaged habitats and reduced the variety of species. It is now clear that such degradation has not only affected the livelihoods and well-being of more than two billion people dependent on coastal ecosystems for food, it has also reduced the capacity of these ecosystems to store carbon.

The case for better management of oceans and coasts is twofold. These healthy plant habitats help meet the needs of people adapting to climate change, and they also reduce greenhouse gases by storing carbon dioxide. Countries should be encouraged to establish marine protected areas — that is, set aside parts of the coast and sea where nature is allowed to thrive without undue human interference — and do what they can to restore habitats like salt marshes, kelp forests and sea-grass meadows.

Managing these habitats is far less expensive than trying to shore up coastlines after the damage has been done. Maintaining healthy stands of mangroves in Asia through careful management, for example, has proved to cost only one-seventh of what it would cost to erect manmade coastal defenses against storms, waves and tidal surges.

The discussions in Copenhagen have opened the way for all countries to improve the management of oceans and coasts to harness their immense potential to mitigate climate change — especially over the next decade, while the world’s politicians, scientists and engineers develop longer-term strategies for stabilizing the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.

In their continuing negotiations on climate change, nations should now make it a priority to produce a single map of the world that documents all the different types of coastal carbon sinks, and identify the ones that are in most immediate need of preservation. New studies should be undertaken to better understand how best to manage these areas to increase carbon sequestration. Then, following the example of the forests program, it will be possible to establish formulas for compensating countries that preserve essential carbon sinks in the oceans.

We urgently need to bring the ocean into the agenda alongside forests so that, as soon as possible, we can help the oceans to help us.

Dan Laffoley is the marine vice chairman of the World Commission on Protected Areas at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the principal specialist for marine at Natural England.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/27/opinion/27lafolley.html

Federal agencies to probe reef damage

Slabs ‘destroyed’ live coral
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer

Two federal agencies will investigate an incident in which concrete blocks dropped by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources off Keawakapu earlier this month damaged live coral.

Dan Polhemus, administrator of the department's Division of Aquatic Resources, said the department requested the federal investigation so that the inquiry would be independent. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are expected to provide an initial "emergency assessment" of the coral damage by mid-January. A more complete "rapid ecological assessment" is expected in March, including the total amount of damage and recommendations for penalties and corrective action. That could involve mitigation efforts that would leave the blocks in place, if the investigation concludes that more damage would be caused by attempting to move them.

The DLNR will cooperate by providing any documents or other materials requested by the federal investigators, Polhemus said. The DLNR also will conduct an internal investigation by a branch of the department that didn't participate in the original incident, with the results to be released alongside the federal assessment, Polhemus added.

"We have two parallel independent investigations," he said. "We thought that's the only credible way to do it."

On Dec. 2, the department sank 1,400 one-ton concrete blocks off Keawakapu to enhance an existing artificial reef, but reported the next day that some of the slabs had fallen on live coral.

Polhemus said last week that it appeared about 50 of the slabs had been dropped on the reef, while the remainder of the blocks fell on sand.

Divers entered the water after all the slabs had been dropped because it was unsafe for them to be in the water while the operation was under way, he said. They immediately recognized the problem and reported it to officials.

The DLNR has placed a moratorium on its artificial reef program statewide, "until we sort out what happened and why," Polhemus said.

He declined to speculate on how the mistake happened, saying he would wait for the results of the investigations.

Some divers familiar with the area said they were encouraged by the department's plan for an independent federal investigation, but they thought the state was underestimating the amount of damage to the reef.

Commercial dive instructor Gary Ahrnsbrak said that after diving in the area to look at the damage, he judged that the department's estimate that 50 blocks fell on coral was too low.

"From what I saw, I would guess it's closer to 100 slabs," he said.

Where they fell, the damage was extensive, he said.

"It just totally destroyed it," he said. "Each one of those slabs is a ton. It totally smashed everything beneath it."

Dive instructor Rene Umberger also estimated that between 80 and 100 blocks fell on coral, based on her own dive in the area and on photographs and videos of the damage.

"Where I dove, one slab hit the reef and slid down it like a sled," she said.

She was concerned about how the department would try to fix the damage, saying that removing the slabs might only make it worse.

"I can't even imagine how they would be able to move it," she said. "Finger coral is really fragile."

Umberger said she wanted any fines imposed to be an appropriate amount, and said the money should be applied toward conservation efforts on Maui.

"It's good they're having someone independent come in," Arnsbrak said. "We'll see what happens from there."

Commercial boat operators who have caused damage to coral in the past have faced steep fines.

Maui Snorkel Charters was fined $396,000 after its tour boat Kai Anela sank off Molokini in 2006 and salvage efforts worsened coral damage. A fine of $543,000 was proposed for Makena Boat Partners after its Kai Kanani catamaran dragged its anchor over coral off Makena in 2007, but a settlement of $130,000 is being considered.

"We're going to hold ourselves to the same standard," Polhemus said, noting that the federal investigation of the Keawakapu reef damage would include recommendations for penalties.

The department's artificial reef program involves dropping the concrete blocks to create structures on the ocean floor that attract fish. Polhemus said the program has been very popular with local fishermen, but that it had been about 10 years since there had been any project on Maui.

The artificial reef at Keawakapu was started in 1962.

Ahrnsbrak said the natural reef that was damaged in the incident was a system of "very healthy" finger coral that served as a habitat for young and small fish. It was rarely dived, leaving it largely unaffected by humans, he said.

The entire reef system is very large, so a large part of the reef escaped damage, he said.

Umberger said the reef was a "recruitment area" for larval and juvenile fish.

"They love finger coral because it provides good cover, they can hide easily," she said.

Source: http://www.mauinews.com/page/content.detail/id/526889.html


MARES Initiative To Provide Comprehensive View Of South Florida Marine Ecosystems

MIAMI, Florida -- Marine and Estuarine Goal Setting for South Florida (MARES) is a new collaborative initiative, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), designed to guide regional resource managers in protecting the fragile marine coastal environment in South Florida. Through MARES academic scientists, federal and state agency experts and non-governmental organizations will work closely with federal and state environmental managers, private industry and the general public to develop comprehensive ecosystem models and reach consensus as to feasible management goals for the South Florida coastal ecosystem from Charlotte Harbor south to the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas and the lower East Coast up to the St. Lucie. The three-year study will also develop an annual report card (Total Marine Ecosystem Assessment Report) that allows resource managers to evaluate their management strategies to adequately protect the local ecosystem.

"Here in South Florida we have a unique subtropical environment – we are home to the only coral reefs in the continental United States, most of our population lives along the coast and our economy hinges on the protection of our marine environment," said Dr. Peter Ortner, professor of biological oceanography at the University of Miami and director of the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS). "Human society is part of the larger ecosystem. A unique feature of MARES is the specific consideration of societal processes through the inclusion of human dimensions science, to study what is taking place within the ecosystem and how we are impacting its sustainability."

Input from agencies and the community will be gathered during a series of public meetings leading to a "Total Marine Ecosystem Assessment Report". The first in a series of technical workshops to develop the groundwork for the report is scheduled to take place in Miami, December 9 and 10, 2009 at FIU's MARC Pavillion. Additional information for public meetings throughout the region will be publicized as they are scheduled.

MARES builds upon NOAA's 15 year commitment to improve the understanding of the South Florida coastal ecosystem and associated changes resulting from Everglades Restoration activities. The outcomes from MARES will be used to focus and prioritize future research and management of South Florida coastal waters for NOAA and the other federal and state agencies.

"This is the first time a "Total Marine System" analysis will be developed as a resource management tool", said Joseph Boyer, Director of the Southeast Environmental Research Center at Florida International University. "The results of this effort will also assist South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force managers in 'defining success' with respect to Everglades Restoration."

Source: http://www.underwatertimes.com/news.php?article_id=68411030259


T'was the Night Before Xmas at Oceanic Defense

by: Samantha Whitcraft, Director of Conservation Biology & Research

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the ocean
All the whales were singing their pods’ sweet devotion.
The Sea Shepherds were at sea to take care
In hopes one day all would be safe out there...

Shark divers were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of Whites and Blues swam in their heads;
With some in their OD shirts and others in Pro Dive caps
The ocean tribes settled down for a long winter’s nap…

When out in the bay there arose such a clatter

Every diver and snorkeler awoke to check on the matter.
Away to my window I dashed in a flash
Tore open the hurricane shutters and sash.

The moonlight on the bay’s tidal flow

Gave the luster of mid-day to the objects below.
When, what in my grateful gaze should I see,
But an orca, named Lolita, finally wild and free.

With a pod of Taiji dolphins, so lively and quick

I knew in a moment it wasn’t a trick;
Saved, alive and well, from the Cove they certainly came
They were Rissos, Bottlenose, and Pilot whales by name…

Now Humpbacks!, now Tuna! now coastal sharks and more!
Then seals! Then fishes! Then life from the sea floor!
Filling up the bright bay! up to the tallest sea wall!
We’re here to protect you! Each one and then ALL!

As their numbers before me then grew and grew,
I knew my Christmas dreams had finally come true.
So down to the shore I quickly did flee,
And there found the Aquatic Army just waiting for me.

And then, with a roar, I heard the Army exclaim
There’ll be dancing and singing, in victory proclaim!
As I joined the excitement and jumped in the sea
The waters rose up in greeting to thank you and me!

The whales how peaceful; the sharks now care-free,
The tuna and fishes; and corals how key.
Every mother and child sporting real OD style
While sharing the ocean and a huge Christmas smile!

Merry Christmas, Aquatic Army!



Rise in Human-Made Carbon Dioxide Affects Ocean Acoustics

Breaking waves generate low-frequency sound in the ocean in addition to other natural and man-made sources. In the layer of water at the depth of minimal speed of sound (deep sound channel), low-frequency sound can travel thousands of kilometers in the ocean. (Credit: Photo credit Steven Businger)

ScienceDaily — Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities aren't just warming the planet. Another problem of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide is that CO2 is being absorbed by the oceans, which increases seawater acidity (lowers the seawater pH). This process, termed 'ocean acidification', has received growing scientific and public interest because it threatens certain groups of marine organisms, including corals. Only recently have researchers realized that human-made carbon dioxide not only warms and acidifies the ocean -- it also affects acoustical properties of seawater, making it more transparent to low-frequency sound.

Oceanographers Tatiana Ilyina and Richard Zeebe of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, together with Peter Brewer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute write in the journal Nature Geoscience that seawater sound absorption will drop by up to 70% during this century. The scientists have examined the effects of man-made carbon dioxide under business-as-usual emissions and provide projections of the magnitude, time scale, and regional extent of changes in underwater acoustics resulting from ocean acidification.

When carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, it produces carbonic acid and increases the hydrogen ion concentration (acidity). The seawater pH has declined by about 0.1 units compared to preindustrial levels -- corresponding to about 25% increase in acidity. These changes may appear small, but pH is measured on a logarithmic scale -- analogous to the Richter scale, which measures the strength of Earthquakes. For example, a drop of pH by one unit implies a ten-fold increase in acidity. Low-frequency sound absorption depends on the concentration of dissolved chemicals such as boric acid, which in turn, depends on seawater pH. This is the reason why changes in seawater pH affect ocean acoustics.

"If we continue to emit carbon dioxide at business-as-usual rates, the pH of surface seawater will drop by 0.6 units by the year 2100. As a result, the absorption of 200 Hz sound would decrease by up to 70%," says Tatiana Ilyina. For example, the middle C of the piano is tuned to 261.6 Hz; in the ocean, sound around this frequency is produced by natural phenomena such as rain, wind, and waves), by marine mammals, and by human activities such as construction, shipping, and use of sonar systems.

"Most people know that when they turn on the air conditioner or drive a vehicle, they emit carbon dioxide, which causes climate change and ocean acidification. The surprise now is that it also affects sound absorption in the ocean," says Zeebe. "What is happening over time is that the low frequencies become louder at distance. It's similar to the effect when you slowly turn up the bass on your stereo."

However, underwater sound propagation is much more complex; it depends on spatial distribution of sound sources and environmental parameters. Some areas in the ocean will be affected more strongly than others. Areas with large sound absorption reduction and intense noise sources, for example from shipping, could become "acoustic hot spots" in the future. The largest changes are projected to occur in the surface ocean waters in high latitudes, for instance, in the North Pacific and in the Southern Ocean, and in the areas of deep water formation such as the North Atlantic, where man-made CO2 invasion is the greatest.

Sound can travel farther at depth of about 1000 m (the depth of the so called deep sound channel) than at the surface. Most of the anthropogenic and natural sounds are generated at the surface, but they can leak into the deep sound channel, bend there, and travel over thousands of kilometers in the ocean (see Figure). "With time, as anthropogenic CO2 penetrates into the deep ocean, the changes in sound absorption will also propagate well below the deep sound channel axis," says Ilyina. "Sound absorption will continue to decrease even after reductions in CO2 emissions because ocean pH will continue to decrease."

Human activities such as naval, commercial, and scientific applications extensively use low-frequency sound due to its long-range propagation. Also marine mammals rely on low-frequency sound to find food and mates. As a result, ocean acidification may not only affect organisms at the bottom of the food chain by reducing calcification in plankton and corals, but also higher trophic level species, such as marine mammals by lowering sound absorption in the ocean.

"We don't fully understand what the impacts of these changes in ocean acoustics will be," says Ilyina. "Because of decreasing sound absorption, underwater sound could travel farther, and this could lead to growing noise levels in the oceans. Increasing transparency of the oceans to low-frequency sounds could also enable marine mammals to communicate over longer distances." The scientists say that further research is needed to address these questions.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091222105507.htm


Endangered Turtle Flies Home, in Passenger Cabin of Commercial Airplane

ScienceDaily — An endangered turtle named Anita made history on Dec. 15, when she became one of the only live marine turtles to ever fly in the passenger cabin of an airplane, thanks to a one-time exemption by American Airlines and the dedication of a University of North Carolina Wilmington marine biology professor.

UNC Wilmington professor Alina Szmant was teaching a coral reef ecology course on the Island Territory of Curacao in Feb. 2007, when students found Anita the turtle struggling to swim in a shallow pool. The Curacao Sea Aquarium staff surmised that the small hawksbill turtle was hit in the head by a boat, suffering nerve damage that prevented her from swimming correctly.

On the advice of UNCW turtle researcher Amanda Southward and North Carolina State University marine veterinarian Craig Harms, Szmant obtained medications needed to treat Anita that were not available in Curacao. The medicines were brought to the island by UNCW researcher Rob Whitehead.

Szmant and her students oversaw the daily care of Anita -- feeding her and massaging her crooked neck several times a day for six weeks. When Anita was diagnosed with a hyper-inflated right lung, Szmant outfitted Anita with a small lead plate velcroed to her shell to counter-weight the extra air in her body cavity. This helped her level off as she floated in her tank. Shortly after, Szmant and her students had to return to the U.S.

The staff of the Sea Aquarium kept up Anita's care and she became a favorite with the children's snorkel club. She was eventually able to open her mouth and eat on her own, but her damaged lung and crooked neck did not improve. When Szmant returned to Curacao with a new group of UNCW students in spring 2009, she found that Anita was still seriously impaired and required daily hand feeding. The Sea Aquarium feared they could not care for her much longer, so Szmant began an effort to find Anita the home and help she needed.

Ryan Butts, director of the in Marathon, Fla., Hidden Harbor Marine Environmental Project, referred to as "The Turtle Hospital," offered to take Anita in if Szmant could get her to the U.S. Because Anita is an endangered species of marine turtle, her travel required two export permits -- one from Curacao and another from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which took six months to acquire.

After a tireless effort by Szmant and her colleagues, Anita arrived at her new home on Dec. 15. At the Turtle Hospital, Anita will receive a complete veterinary evaluation and possibly have her lungs surgically repaired. If rehabilitated, the turtle may be released to breed and contribute to the recovery of this endangered species.

American Airlines employees were instrumental in obtaining the special permission needed for Anita to ride in the passenger cabin and providing a complimentary ticket for Szmant to fly the turtle to Miami.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091218125537.htm


Scientists discover deepest undersea erupting volcano below Pacific Ocean

Washington: A team of marine scientists gas discovered the deepest undersea erupting volcano, which is nearly 4,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, in an area bounded by Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

Known as the West Mata Volcano, it has been found by scientists funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

"For the first time we have been able to examine, up close, the way ocean islands and submarine volcanoes are born," said Barbara Ransom, program director in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences.

"The unusual primitive compositions of the West Mata eruption lavas have much to tell us," she added.

According to the expedition's chief scientist Joseph Resing, a chemical oceanographer at the University of Washington, "We found a type of lava never before seen erupting from an active volcano, and for the first time observed molten lava flowing across the deep-ocean seafloor."

"It was an underwater Fourth of July, a spectacular display of fireworks nearly 4,000 feet deep," said co-chief scientist Bob Embley, a marine geologist at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Newport.

"Since the water pressure at that depth suppresses the violence of the volcano's explosions, we could get an underwater robot within feet of the active eruption. On land, or even in shallow water, you could never hope to get that close and see such great detail," he added.

Imagery includes large molten lava bubbles three feet across bursting into cold seawater, glowing red vents exploding lava into the sea, and the first-observed advance of lava flows across the deep-ocean floor.

Sounds of the eruption were recorded by a hydrophone and later matched with the video footage.

The West Mata Volcano is producing boninite lavas, believed to be among the hottest on Earth in modern times, and a type seen before only on extinct volcanoes more than one million years old.

According to University of Hawaii geochemist Ken Rubin, the active boninite eruption provides a unique opportunity to study magma formation at volcanoes, and to learn more about how Earth recycles material where one tectonic plate is subducted under another.

Further study of active deep-ocean eruptions will provide a better understanding of oceanic cycles of carbon dioxide and sulfur gases, how heat and matter are transferred from the interior of the Earth to its surface, and how life adapts to some of the harshest conditions on Earth.

Source: http://www.dnaindia.com/scitech/report_scientists-discover-deepest-undersea-erupting-volcano-below-pacific-ocean_1324942

Ancient Pygmy Sea Cow Discovered

ScienceDaily— A McGill researcher has discovered a near-complete skull of a primitive "dugong" illuminating a virtually unknown period in Madagascar fossil history.

The discovery of a Middle Eocene (48.6-37.2 million years ago) sea cow fossil by McGill University professor Karen Samonds has culminated in the naming of a new species. This primitive "dugong" is among the world's first fully-aquatic sea cows, having evolved from terrestrial herbivores that began exploiting coastal waters. Within this ancient genus, the newly discovered species is unusual as it is the first species known from the southern hemisphere (its closest relatives are from Egypt and India), and is extremely primitive in its skull morphology and dental adaptations. The fossil is a pivotal step in understanding Madagascar's evolutionary history -- as it represents the first fossil mammal ever named from the 80-million-year gap in Madagascar's fossil record.

The research is to be published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology on December 12.

"The fossils of this ancient sea cow are unique in that it has a full set of relatively unspecialized teeth whereas modern sea cows have a reduced dentition specialized for eating sea grass, and most fossil species already show some degree of reduction. It may also be the first fully aquatic sea cow; confirmation will depend on recovering more of the skeleton, especially its limbs," says Samonds.

Samonds is a Curator at the Redpath Museum and an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Anatomy and Cell Biology, and the Faculty of Dentistry. Her discovery may be the tip of the iceberg to unlocking the secrets of 80-million-year gap in Madagascar's fossil record. The presence of fossil sea cows, crocodiles, and turtles, (which are generally associated with coastal environments), suggests that this fossil locality preserves an environment that was close to the coast, or even in an estuary (river mouth). These sediments may potentially yield fossils of marine, terrestrial and freshwater vertebrates -- animals that lived in the sea as well as those that lived in forests, grasslands and rivers close to the ocean. Dr. Samonds plans to continue collecting fossils at this site, starting with a National Geographic-funded expedition in summer 2010.

"My hope with the discovery of these fossils is that they will illuminate how, when and from where Madagascar's modern animals arrived," said Samonds, "helping us understand how Madagascar accumulated such a bizarre and unique set of modern animals."

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091217130549.htm

Toxic algae could be the next big threat

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- With a new theory surfacing that toxic algae rather than asteroids killed the dinosaurs, scientists are still trying to unravel the mystery of what caused a massive algae bloom off the Northwest Coast that left thousands of seabirds dead and may have sickened some surfers and kayakers.

The bloom, which stretches roughly 300 miles from Newport, Ore., north to the Canadian border, still persists, though it's a shadow of its September and October peak.

Whipped by waves and storms, the microscopic phytoplankton, which had turned the ocean a rust color, broke apart, releasing toxins and creating meringue-like foam that coated the feathers of birds like spilled oil. Up to 10,000 birds died of hypothermia in September, and researchers are still trying to come up with a count for October.

Researchers are also checking reports that surfers and kayakers who came in contact with the foam may have suffered cold-like symptoms, including temporary loss of smell and taste. The toxins also may have become aerosolized and affected beachcombers. In another strange twist, pathologists performing necropsies found that some of the birds lacked normal bacteria in their stomachs and other internal organs.

"It's definitely a warning sign of something," said Julia Parrish, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington. "We don't know what."

Blooms of the single-cell, saltwater algae species known as Akashiwo sanguinea have been found in Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere around the world. The bloom off the Northwest coast, however, is huge compared with others. At its height, there were 1.5 million algae cells per quart of water. The bloom was up to 65 feet deep and miles wide.

In only one other instance - a smaller bloom in 2007 in California's Monterey Bay - have the cells broken apart to create a toxic froth. And this particular specie of algae usually likes warmer water than that found off the Northwest Coast.

No one is sure what ignited the bloom. Some scientists think it could be caused by climate change, which has raised ocean temperatures and made the water more acidic - both conditions could favor this algae species. Others say it could be the result of such weather conditions as El Nino or the Pacific decadel oscillation, a long-lived El Nino-like pattern of Pacific climate variability.

The bloom could have been fed by nutrients washed down the Columbia River from farms in eastern Washington and Oregon, or from an ocean condition known as upwelling, where cold water rich with nutrients is pushed toward the surface by the wind.

Or, it could just be the rhythms of the ocean, which scientists are just starting to understand.

"The ocean does have a natural pulse," said Vera Trainer, a Seattle-based research oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Is this part of the pulse or is this something different? We want to find out. But some of this is very unusual. We are looking at this very intensely."

Even as Trainer, Parrish and others study the bloom off the Northwest Coast, one of the scientists who developed the theory linking toxic algae to mass extinctions said it fit in with the research he and his partner were working on.

"That's exactly what we are talking about," said John Rodgers, an ecotoxicologist at Clemson University in South Carolina, who along with James Castle, a geologist at Clemson, developed the killer algae theory.

Rodgers was on the road last week in the Midwest, collecting samples of algae to analyze back in his lab. He said he and Castle have found ancient deposits of blue-green algae that produce toxins and deplete oxygen that coincide with five mass extinctions millions of years ago. Though he said algae may not have been the only cause for the extinctions, he said it was a major factor.

The blue-green algae was freshwater algae in ponds, lakes and rivers that could have been ingested by prehistoric animals. The toxins also may have been absorbed by plants that were later eaten by animals or become airborne and breathed in by animals.

"They certainly didn't die on the same day or week," Rodgers said. "This happened over hundreds of years."

Even though there are thousands of species of algae, only several hundred produce toxins, he said.

Though the bloom off the Northwest coast is in salt water rather than fresh water, Rodgers said such blooms were well worth keeping an eye on.

"They are changing, expanding their ranges into places never seen before and in densities never seen before," Rodgers said. "It's hard to ignore, and as the data grows, we are becoming more and more convinced."

Rodgers said his theory has been peer reviewed and is gaining acceptance among scientists.

Current climate conditions are becoming strikingly similar to those that existed during the time of the mass extinctions, he said.

In a paper published in March in the journal Environment Geosciences, Rodgers and Castle wrote that their findings "gives us cause for concern and underscores the importance of careful and strategic monitoring as we move into an era of global climate change."

Scientists studying the bloom off the Northwest are wary when asked about Rodgers' and Castle's theory.

"I would be cautious about it," Trainer said.

Raphael Kudela, a toxic algae expert and ocean sciences professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, thinks algae blooms such as those off the Northwest Coast are becoming more frequent.

"It is consistent with climate change," Kudela said, adding that a bloom like this in the chilly waters of the Northwest was "very unusual."

As for the killer algae theory, Kudela said, "People who study harmful algae don't dismiss it. But it can't be proved."

Parrish doesn't quite know what to make of the theory that algae killed dinosaurs. Back when life was just starting, she said, algae and other single-cell organisms excreted oxygen that created the atmosphere.

"The claim algae had a humongous effect on the atmosphere is correct," Parrish said. "Whether it caused mass extinctions, I don't know."

Source: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics/AP/v-fullstory/story/1379798.html


Underwater sculptures installed in Cancun

An underwater exhibition is being installed in the Mexican Caribbean.

Located in the National Marine Park, on the west coast of Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc, the sculpture museum will include 400 statues that will be laid on the seabed over the next 13 months.

The gallery was created by Jaime Gonzalez Cano of The National Marine Park, Roberto Diaz of The Cancun Nautical Association and renowned British underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor.

Designed to celebrate the region's Mayan history it is hoped the underwater museum will heighten environmental awareness in the area, by creating an artificial reef in the hurricane hit region.

Laying the first three sculptures this December, the project has been 18 months in the making.

"It has been very challenging," revealed 35-year-old Mr deCaires Taylor.

"It has taken about one-and-a-half years to plan, so to see the sculptures going in is great. It's wonderful seeing the fruits of all the labour."

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/6778231/Underwater-sculptures-installed-in-Cancun.html

Copenhagen climate summit: ocean acidification an ‘underwater time-bomb’

Ocean acidification is an "underwater time-bomb" that threatens fish stocks, marine life and coastal communities around the world, a Natural England report has warned.

The summary of the latest science of the “souring” of the oceans found ocean acidity has increased by a third since pre-industrial times because of a rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

It is feared that if greenhouse gases continue to go up, sea water acidity could increase by 120 per cent by 2060 – greater than anything experienced in the past 21 million years.

This would destroy coral like the Great Barrier Reef as well as cold water corals around Britain.

The mass extinction of plants and animals on the ocean floor would lead to a fall in fish stocks, affecting the economy of coastal communities in many of the world’s poorest areas and threaten food shortages. Shell fish and fish larvae will also be affected.

Ocean Acidification: The Facts was presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen

Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said the report highlighted the importance of bringing greenhouse gases under control.

“Acidification of our seas is being directly linked to the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and our oceans are struggling to cope,” she said.

“The threat to the delicate balance of the marine environment cannot be overstated - this is a conservation challenge of unprecedented scale and highlights the urgent need for effective marine management and protection.”

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/copenhagen-climate-change-confe/6777099/Copenhagen-climate-summit-ocean-acidification-an-underwater-time-bomb.html

"Alien" Jellyfish Found in Arctic Deep

In the black depths of the frigid Arctic Ocean, scientists on a 2005 expedition found a splash of color: The brilliant, blood-red Crossota norvegica jellyfish (pictured).

The creature was spotted by a remotely operated vehicle 8,530 feet (2,600 meters) underwater during a two-month National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expedition to the Canada Basin, the deepest and least explored part of the Arctic waters.

Though C. norvegica is not a new species, several new deep-sea animals were discovered during the expedition--some of which were announced in recent research papers in 2009.

Biologist and team member Kevin Raskoff, of Monterey Peninsula College in California, was surprised at the diversity of jellyfish living in the extreme polar seas.

"We knew there were going to be interesting jellies up there," Raskoff said by email, "but the reality surpassed all of our imaginations!"

Biologists captured a so-called sea angel, Clione limacina (pictured), at about 1,148 feet (350 meters) during a 2005 research expedition to the Arctic Ocean.

This little angel apparently doesn't mind showing a little skin: It's actually a naked snail without a shell, scientists said in December 2009.

Such marine snails--most of them the sizes of lentils--are widely eaten by many species, making them the "potato chip" of the oceans, biologist Gretchen Hofmann, of the University of California, said in a 2008 statement.

A new genus and species of narcomedusa--a group of common jellyfish--was discovered from one specimen in 2002 and by the hundreds in 2005 (pictured, an individual spotted in 2005), a scientist said in December 2009.

That scientists could discover a new genus of such a well-known jellyfish group highlights how little we know about the Arctic, Monterey Peninsula College's Raskoff said by email.

Jellies are among the least understood groups of animals on Earth, Raskoff added. "They seem about as alien as animals get."

Each siphonophore, such as the one seen above in 2005, is actually a colony of creatures related to jelly fish—such as the nectophores, or swimming bells, on the right half above, which provide propulsion for the colony. The members of the colony share a tubular stem (shown in orange), which delivers nutrients.

Reaching 10 feet (3.1 meters) in length, some siphonophores are among the largest animals in the deep sea, Monterey Peninsula College's Raskoff said in December 2009.

This red-and-purple Crossota millsae, collected deep in the Arctic Ocean in 2005, is also found off of California and Hawaii, a scientist said in December 2009.

Biologists are realizing that jellyfish are more common predators in the oceans than thought, Monterey Peninsula College's Raskoff said by email.

"They are a very underappreciated and understudied group that have big roles to play in the food webs of the deep sea."

Sminthea arctica (pictured in 2005) is the most common jellyfish found in the Arctic Ocean, a scientist said in December 2009.

Scientists plan to research more of the unexplored Arctic waters before warming and ice melt drastically transforms the ocean environment, according to NOAA's Web site.

-- Photos by Kevin Raskoff --

Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/12/photogalleries/091211-alien-jellyfish-pictures-arctic/index.html


How Arctic Food Webs Affect Mercury in Polar Bears

ScienceDaily — With growing concerns about the effects of global warming on polar bears, it's increasingly important to understand how other environmental threats, such as mercury pollution, are affecting these magnificent Arctic animals.

New research led by biogeochemists Travis Horton of the University of Canterbury and Joel Blum of the University of Michigan lays the groundwork for assessing current and future effects of mercury deposition and climate change on polar bears.

The study appears in the December issue of the journal Polar Research.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element, but some 150 tons of it enter the environment each year from human-generated sources such as coal-burning power plants, incinerators and chlorine-producing plants. Deposited onto land or into water, mercury is picked up by microorganisms, which convert some of it to methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish and the animals that eat them. As bigger animals eat smaller ones, the methylmercury is concentrated -- a process known as bioaccumulation. Sitting at the top of the food chain, polar bears amass high concentrations of the contaminant.

Although that much is known, the details of how mercury moves through different food webs -- particularly in the Arctic, where snow and ice contribute to mercury deposition -- are not well understood. To tease out that information, Horton, Blum and co-workers studied polar bear hair samples from museum specimens collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before mercury emissions from human-generated sources began to escalate.

By looking at three chemical signatures -- nitrogen isotopes, carbon isotopes and mercury concentrations -- the researchers learned that polar bears get their nutrition (and mercury) from two main food webs. At the base of one web are microscopic plants that float on the surface of the ocean (known as phytoplankton). The foundation of the second web is algae that live on sea ice.

The study showed that polar bears that get most of their nutrition from phytoplankton-based food webs have greater mercury concentrations than those that participate primarily in ice algae-based webs.

While it's tempting to speculate that declining sea ice, due to global warming, may force polar bears to depend more on phytoplankton-based webs, thus increasing their mercury exposure, the study doesn't directly address that issue. It does, however, provide other useful information, said Blum, who is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Geological Sciences and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

"If you want to understand the potential effects of changing ecosystems on polar bears, you need to be aware of the existence of these two food webs, which may possibly be affected by sea ice," Blum said. "This work provides background information that will be important in our in-depth understanding of mercury bioaccumulation in polar bears."

In addition to Horton and Blum, the paper's authors are Zhouqing Xie, who was at U-M when the research was done and now is at the University of Science and Technology of China; Michael Hren, who was at Yale University when the work was done and now is a postdoctoral fellow at U-M; and C. Page Chamberlain of Stanford University.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091208170915.htm


New Southern California underwater marine habitats approved

LOS ANGELES - State authorities approved new underwater marine habitats off Southern California's coast Wednesday, restricting fishing and diving in areas where stocks have been severely depleted in recent decades.

The move by the California Dept. of Fish and Game Commission comes after months of wrangling over details of the plan, which establishes new, protected marine habitats around the Channel Islands, Palos Verdes Peninsula and near the Bolsa Chica wetlands, among other areas.

Perhaps most controversial for local recreational anglers is the inclusion in the plan of fishing restrictions near Rocky Point - a popular spot off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. While some areas near Point Vicente will fall under protection, large swaths will remain open for fishing and lobster diving.

Scientists have long promoted the creation of underwater marine reserves as a way to protect wildlife and submerged environments - much like national and state parks do on land.

The development of the new zones - or marine protected areas - is the result of a 1999 law known as the Marine Life Protection Act, which established the need for protected wildlife preserves off California's 1,100 miles of coastline.

Biologists believe that by protecting critical breeding and feeding areas, fish and other sea creatures

will eventually return to healthy population levels, creating a "spillover" effect that will ultimately benefit commercial and recreational anglers.

But drawing up the boundaries of those zones has been the subject of a long, heated debate involving marine biologists, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers and business owners for the past year.

In the end, the network of protected areas approved by the Fish and Game Commission during Wednesday's hearing in Los Angeles combined a mix of commercial and environmental priorities.

"It doesn't scratch everybody's itch...but we think it's the best possible approach to lead us into a sustainable future," said Cathy Reheis-Boyd, chairwoman of the Fish and Game task force that drew up the map.

The new rules begin phasing in around late 2010.

See Map here: http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site204/2009/1209/20091209_080147_MLPA%20MAP.pdf

Source: http://www.presstelegram.com/news/ci_13962234

Time is running out for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna - YOU can help them

Our friends at PEW Environmental Group need your help. They are trying to get the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to reconsider new fishing regulations that could speed the depletion of Atlantic Bluefin tuna.

Atlantic Bluefin tuna is close to population collapse. Studies show that the western Atlantic population has declined 82% since 1970. Scientists estimate that there are only 41,000 reproductively mature bluefin tuna left in the western Atlantic. In March 2010, nations around the world will vote on a proposal to prohibit the international commercial trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna. The United States must lead the world in protecting these imperiled fish, and those efforts begin at home.

Unfortunately, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently unveiled a proposal to increase the killing of bluefin tuna in U.S. waters. At a time of great uncertainty and risk for this depleted species, NMFS should slow down and not rush to implement these new fishing regulations. In addition, NMFS must consider closing the Gulf of Mexico to pelagic longline fishing, because this wasteful fishing practice incidentally kills hundreds of imperiled bluefin tuna that use this area for reproduction each year.

You can help protect bluefin tuna today! Please send a letter to the NMFS before December 21, and tell them to slow down this misguided proposal.



Earth More Sensitive to Carbon Dioxide Than Previously Thought

The temperature response of the Earth (in degrees C) to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from pre-industrial levels (280 parts per million by volume) to higher levels (400 parts per million by volume). (a) shows predicted global temperatures when processes that adjust on relatively short-term timescales (for example sea-ice, clouds, and water vapour) are included in the model (b) includes additional long-tem processes that adjust on relatively long timescales (vegetation and land-ice). (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Bristol)

ScienceDaily — In the long term, the Earth's temperature may be 30-50% more sensitive to atmospheric carbon dioxide than has previously been estimated, reports a new study published in Nature Geoscience.

The results show that components of the Earth's climate system that vary over long timescales -- such as land-ice and vegetation -- have an important effect on this temperature sensitivity, but these factors are often neglected in current climate models.

Dan Lunt, from the University of Bristol, and colleagues compared results from a global climate model to temperature reconstructions of the Earth's environment three million years ago when global temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations were relatively high. The temperature reconstructions were derived using data from three million-year-old sediments on the ocean floor.

Lunt said, "We found that, given the concentrations of carbon dioxide prevailing three million years ago, the model originally predicted a significantly smaller temperature increase than that indicated by the reconstructions. This led us to review what was missing from the model."

The authors demonstrate that the increased temperatures indicated by the reconstructions can be explained if factors that vary over long timescales, such as land-ice and vegetation, are included in the model. This is primarily because changes in vegetation and ice lead to more sunlight being absorbed, which in turn increases warming.

Including these long-term processes in the model resulted in an increased temperature response of the Earth to carbon dioxide, indicating that the Earth's temperature is more sensitive to carbon dioxide than previously recognised. Climate models used by bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change often do not fully include these long-term processes, thus these models do not entirely represent the sensitivity of the Earth's temperature to carbon dioxide.

Alan Haywood, a co-author on the study from the University of Leeds, said "If we want to avoid dangerous climate change, this high sensitivity of the Earth to carbon dioxide should be taken into account when defining targets for the long-term stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations."

Lunt added: "This study has shown that studying past climates can provide important insights into how the Earth might change in the future."

(a) shows predicted global temperatures when processes that adjust on relatively short-term timescales (for example sea-ice, clouds, and water vapour) are included in the model

(b) includes additional long-tem processes that adjust on relatively long timescales (vegetation and land-ice).

This research was funded by the Research Council UK and the British Antarctic Survey.

Souce: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091206162955.htm


Marine Reserves Can Be An Effective Tool For Managing Fisheries

Monitoring of marine protected areas ranges from scuba surveys of fish to intertidal surveys of invertebrates and algae. (Credit: Photos by Robert Schwemmer/NOAA)

ScienceDaily — Studies conducted in California and elsewhere provide support for the use of marine reserves as a tool for managing fisheries and protecting marine habitats, according to biologists at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

A recent study in the Gulf of California, for example, confirmed the validity of a key concept behind marine reserves--the idea that offspring produced in a protected area can replenish the stocks of harvested species outside the reserve.

"It seems really obvious, but it had never been tested," said Peter Raimondi, professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC and coauthor of a paper describing the findings in the journal PLoS One.

"We created a model to predict the dispersal of larvae outside the reserves, and the results were completely consistent with our predictions," he said.

Raimondi is involved in a collaborative project (called PANGAS) in which researchers are working with Mexican fishing communities to study and manage fisheries in the northern Gulf of California. Local fishermen in the area of Puerto Peñasco set up a network of marine reserves as part of a community-based effort to manage their resources. Ecological and social studies conducted before, during, and after the establishment of those reserves enabled the researchers to track the results.

Raimondi emphasized that resource managers have a wide range of tools at their disposal and must take into account both biological and social factors in choosing the best approach. Many species, such as tuna and squid, move around too much to be protected by setting aside certain areas. For species that tend to stay put, marine protected areas can range from no-take reserves to various levels of limited harvesting, and sometimes involve restrictions on who can harvest fish in an area rather than how much can be taken.

The establishment of marine protected areas along the California coast, as called for in the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), has been controversial. A network of protected areas was established on the Central Coast in 2006, and a plan for the North-Central Coast was adopted in August 2009. In Southern California, a task force will soon make recommendations to the state Fish and Game Commission, while on the North Coast the planning process is just getting started.

Raimondi and Mark Carr, also a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC, have been actively involved in this initiative. In addition to serving on science advisory teams, they are engaged in an intensive monitoring program to track the effects of the reserves that have already been established.

"We are monitoring those areas at unprecedented levels. It's a comprehensive effort to characterize the populations and the ecosystems so that we can compare the responses to different types of protection," Carr said. "Monitoring studies around the globe systematically show positive responses within protected areas. We want to really identify what aspects of reserve design are important in influencing those benefits."

According to Carr, it will take a few more years of monitoring to see the effects of the Central Coast reserves. In the Channel Islands, however, where reserves were established in 2003 (separately from the MLPA process), surveys have yielded the kinds of results scientists expect to see in protected areas. For example, fish species targeted by fishermen tend to be bigger and more plentiful within the reserves.

This effect is important, because studies have shown that larger, older females are much more important than younger fish in maintaining healthy populations of species such as West Coast rockfish.

"When you have a protected population, you not only get spillover effects when fish swim out of the reserve and get caught, you also have major effects on larval production," Carr said. "The bigger, older fish in the reserve produce a lot of larvae that replenish the fished populations outside."

Carr, who contributed to a report on the first five years of monitoring in the Channel Islands, said that the conclusions are limited by a lack of data collected before the reserves were created. It is possible that some of the observed differences existed before the areas were protected, but such doubts will be erased if current population trends continue, he said.

In Puerto Peñasco, the shellfish harvested by local fishermen grow and reproduce quickly. As a result, the fishermen saw beneficial effects within a year after they had established a network of reserves. Subsequent events, however, underscored the role of social factors in the success of fishery management efforts. A second paper, published in PLoS ONE in July, describes how, after its initial success, the local reserve system collapsed due to poaching by outsiders.

"The whole thing got wiped out due to disruption of the social structure that had supported it," Raimondi said. "Scientifically it was really interesting, but for the people who experienced it on the ground, it was terrible."

Richard Cudney-Bueno, a research associate at UCSC's Institute of Marine Sciences and cofounder of the PANGAS project, is the lead author of both papers. "Here was a group of fishermen that had already seen some declines in the shellfish they harvested. This led to the implementation of community-based efforts to manage their resources, including the establishment of marine reserves," he said. "We found that local control of community resources can work, but there has to be broader government support to back up the local efforts."

A native of Mexico City, Cudney-Bueno has been working with Mexican fishing communities and conducting ecological and social research in the Gulf of California since the mid-1990s. He now has a joint position with UCSC, the University of Arizona, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The first reserve in the Puerto Peñasco area was established in 2001 around an island. Cudney-Bueno and other researchers, working with a Mexican nonprofit organization (Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Océanos), trained the fishermen to monitor shellfish populations in and around the reserve. "The response was really quick, so they could see a classic reserve effect one year later," Cudney-Bueno said. "That led to more areas being closed, and the first paper shows the effects of the network of reserves."

The cooperative was so successful it was recognized by the Mexican government with a Presidential Conservation Award. But word spread quickly along the coast about the thriving shellfish populations in Puerto Peñasco, and other fishermen from outside the community began to move in and poach from the reserves. After poaching began, the system of cooperation that had established and protected the reserves broke down.

Now, the situation is beginning to improve again, Cudney-Bueno said. The Mexican government has created one of a handful of exclusive fishing zones in the Gulf of California, giving the local cooperative the exclusive legal right to harvest shellfish in the Puerto Peñasco area.

"They now have a strong management plan with legal rights and government support, so I think they will be able to get back to where they were before the poaching started," Cudney-Bueno said. "I see it as part of the evolution of a management system. Social change takes time, and it really hasn't been that long. A lot is happening now in Mexico and around the world as local people are increasingly asking for control over their resources. Various fishing communities in Mexico, including lobster and abalone fishermen in Baja California, have moved forward with the establishment of their own marine reserves and government-backed forms of territorial-use rights."

The PANGAS project, which brings together experts from UCSC, the University of Arizona, and several collaborating academic institutions and nonprofit organizations in Mexico, is working with other fishing communities in the Gulf of California to develop management plans for the region's marine resources.

"PANGAS is now working with the Mexican government to build management plans for a series of species in the northern Gulf of California," Raimondi said. "It's interesting to compare that with the MLPA process in California. The approaches are very different, and it has to do with differences in government and social structures."

According to Carr, the California MLPA process is now being used as a model in other parts of the world, most notably in the United Kingdom.

Souce: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091109142129.htm


Florida considers protection for lemon sharks

Lemon sharks are being considered for protection. (Walt Stearns, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / November 19, 2009)

Undersea predators called vital to health of reefs
By David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel

They are the lords of the reefs, powerful 10-foot sharks that prowl shallow coastal waters, snatching stingrays, crabs and mullet.

But while lemon sharks can hold their own in the undersea jungle, they face a tougher time against the predators equipped with powerboats, baited hooks and satellite tracking devices.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission this month is considering a ban on the catch of lemon sharks, hoping to protect a species that plays an important role in maintaining the health of coral reefs.

The proposal for the ban came from a group of scientists and environmentalists clustered around University of Miami professor Samuel Gruber, the world's foremost lemon shark expert. They fear that restrictions on catching other shark species over the past couple of years are leading fishermen to turn their attention to lemon sharks. Since 2004, the Florida lemon shark catch has risen more than 400 percent.

Because these sharks take years to mature and bear few young, they have difficulty recovering from heavy fishing pressure. In the 1980s in the Florida Keys, for example, where Gruber was tagging sharks, the entire population had virtually disappeared by 1986.

"It was targeted by commercial fishermen," he said. "They set huge gill nets and everything they caught went to the fish house for 10 cents a pound."

Adding to the lemon shark's vulnerability is the species' bizarre habit of assembling in large, stationary groups on the ocean floor. A couple of miles off Jupiter, for example, lies the biggest known aggregation of lemon sharks, with groups of up to 100 visible during the winter.

"They're lying on the sand, nose into the current, basically shoulder to shoulder like cars in a parking lot," said Walt Stearns, a professional undersea photographer from Palm Beach Gardens, who brought the assemblage of sharks to the attention of scientists.

Gruber describes this as the largest known congregation of lemon sharks on the East Coast of the United States, and he said it highlights the danger to the sharks from people.

"They could target and catch them and wipe them out in a matter of weeks," Gruber said.

Fort Pierce shark fisherman Joe Klosterman takes his 37-foot boat Gale Mist II up to 25 miles out to sea, where he deploys a longline baited with mullet, bluefish and bits of shark. He says he hasn't noticed a decline in lemon sharks and that a catch ban won't do the sharks much good.

Although he would be required to throw back any banned sharks he catches, he said that doing so will do little for the shark since at that point it would probably be dead.

"Some sharks die real quick on the lines," he said. And throwing one back would cost him the $300 or so he could have earned for the shark's fins alone, which are exported to East Asia for shark fin soup, a delicacy.

"Most fisherman are all for conservation," he said. "You want to see a sustainable fishery. But I don't see where this is going to save more sharks."

Lemon sharks, named for their yellow-brown color, live in coastal waters from the mid-Atlantic states to southern Brazil. They rank 13th in attacks on people, far below the "big three" for shark attacks: the great white, tiger and bull sharks, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. There have been no known fatal attacks by lemon sharks.

The sharks play an important role in maintaining the health of shallow ecosystems, such as coral reefs, by preventing lesser predators from multiplying out of control, Gruber said. They hold down the population of stingrays, for example. Without this service, the stingrays would devastate the lobsters, with further consequences down the food chain.

"The lemon shark is one of the largest predators on the reef," Gruber said. "If you were to take away the predator pressure, you will cause an ecological disruption in the balance of species."

The wildlife commission will decide whether to approve a draft ban on lemon shark catches at its Dec. 10 meeting in Clewiston.

The commission's ban would apply only to state waters, which extend three miles off the east coast and nine miles off the west coast. But the federal government, which regulates fishing up to 200 miles off the coast — except where that zone would run into the Bahamas — may follow Florida's lead if the state requests it. Karyl Brewster-Geisz, fishery management specialist for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said states normally request comparable regulations in federal waters for consistency.

Staci-lee Sherwood, a Lighthouse Point animal rights activist who filed comments with the commission in support of the ban, said lemon sharks have far greater economic value if they remain in place to be seen by dive boats full of tourists, rather than killed for a few hundred dollars worth of fins and meat. But beyond that, she said, they have value beyond any use by human beings.

"I'm against any kind of cruelty to animals," she said. "I wouldn't justify killing any animal just for its fins or ivory or fur."

David Fleshler can be reached at dfleshler@SunSentinel.com 954-356-4535.

Source: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/florida/fl-lemon-shark-20091203,0,3793198,full.story


Sumo-sized jellyfish throwing Japan's fishing industry into chaos

Jellyfish in Japan the size of sumo wrestlers are wreaking havoc on thefisheries industry.

AN invasion of jellyfish the size of sumo wrestlers is throwing Japan's fishing industry into chaos, the UK's Sky News Online reports.

The vast stinging creatures have appeared on Japan's Pacific coast after floating from Chinese and Korean waters where they breed every year.

The Echizen jellyfish grow up to 2.2m in diameter and can weigh over 300kg.

Their size means they are capable of ruining fisherman's nets and poisoning and crushing catches.

One fishing boat was even capsized after a mammoth creature got caught in its net.

A local fisherman said: " I have never seen anything this big before."

Much about the jellyfish swarms remains a mystery but some scientists believe global warming and rising sea temperatures may be a factor.

Japan's Meteorological Agency says the waters of the Sea of Japan are warming at a speed three times faster than the global average.

Source: http://www.news.com.au/weird-true-freaky/sumo-sized-jellyfish-throwing-japans-fishing-industry-into-chaos/story-e6frflri-1225806901682

Motors may be nixed in part of Everglades

FLORIDA CITY, Fla., (UPI) -- Outboard motors may be banned from use in a portion of Florida Bay as part of an effort to protect seagrass in Everglades National Park, officials said.

Matthew Schwartz, Everglades chairman of the Broward Group of the Sierra Club, said the proposed no-motor zone would allow seagrass areas in the Florida park to recover from damage done by boat propellers, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Saturday.

"This is really a historic step for the National Park Service," Schwartz said. "It would actually be the first time in their history they took a piece of the marine environment and made it off-limits to motorized recreation."

Boaters traveling through the proposed no-motor zone would be required to move their vessels using push poles and paddles instead of motors.

The popularity of Florida Bay as a fishing destination has resulted in significant damage to the bay bottom, fishing guide Richard Grathwohl told the Sun-Sentinel.

"It's got a whole bunch of motor scars," Grathwohl said. "Every effort we put into this is going to help up in the long run."

Source: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2009/11/29/Motors-may-be-nixed-in-part-of-Everglades/UPI-17121259525361/


Blue Whale Song Mystery Baffles Scientists

All around the world, blue whales aren’t singing like they used to, and scientists have no idea why.

The largest animals on Earth are singing in ever-deeper voices every year. Among the suggested explanations are ocean noise pollution, changing population dynamics and new mating strategies. But none of them is entirely convincing.

“We don’t have the answer. We just have a lot of recordings,” said Mark McDonald, president of Whale Acoustics, a company that specializes in the sonic monitoring of cetaceans.

McDonald and his collaborators first noticed the change eight years ago, when they kept needing to recalibrate the automated song detectors used to track blue whales off the California coast. The detectors are triggered by songs that match a particular waveform. Every year, McDonald had to set them lower.

Since then, he and Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers Sarah Melnick and John Hildebrand have gathered thousands of blue whale recordings made since the 1960s, spanning populations from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific to the East Indian Ocean. Their analysis, published in October in Endangered Species Research, shows that the songs’ tonal frequency is falling every year by a few fractions of a hertz.

“It’s a fascinating finding,” said John Calombokidis, a blue whale expert at the Cascadia Research Collective. “It’s even more remarkable, given that the songs themselves differ in different oceans. There seem to be these distinct populations, yet they’re all showing this common shift.”

According to McDonald, the first explanation to come to mind involved noise pollution caused by increased shipping traffic. Ambient ocean noise has increased by more than 12 decibels since the mid-20th century. But if whales were trying to be heard above the din, they’d sing at higher rather than lower pitches, said McDonald.

It’s also possible the whales are responding to changing dynamics in how sound travels through water that’s become warmer as Earth heats up, absorbing more carbon dioxide and growing more acidic than before. “But those factors are so small, and this is such a huge shift in frequency,” said McDonald.

Another explanation involves the recovery of blue whale populations, which were nearly hunted to extinction during the first half of the last century. It’s only since hunting ceased that they’ve been recorded. Maybe songs were higher-pitched when recording started, because the whales had to sing extra-loud in order to reach their scattered brethren. Now that there are more, they can lower their voices and their pitch.

But even in populations that escaped the carnage relatively unscathed, where population densities have remained steady, songs are getting lower.

“That’s the first place to look for an answer, but it doesn’t fit more-localized patterns. The population of blue whales off the U.S. west coast hasn’t shown a dramatic upwards trend in numbers, but its pitch is declining,” said Calombokidis.

Those whales are the best-studied of all blue whale populations, and their song pitch has dropped by 31 percent since the late 1960s.

Because only male blue whales sing, the answer may involve mate choice and sexual selection. The researchers hypothesize that as larger, ostensibly more virile whales tend to produce deeper songs, other males may be trying to emulate them, just as human guys might lower their voices when trying to impress a woman.

That the largest animals in the world could feel the need to inflate their size is an appealing idea, but Calombokidis warned that very little is known about how blue whales use their songs, or how social dynamics could affect them. “We need a better understanding of the songs, and a better understanding of their reproductive habits,” he said.

Hal Whitehead, a Dalhousie University biologist who specializes in cetacean communication, emphasized that whale song is a cultural affair. Humpback whales are known to learn from each other, and whales have extraordinarily large and complex brains. They appear to share many social and cognitive traits with people.

“The exciting possibility, I think, is that they’re all listening to each other,” said Whitehead. “This is a worldwide cultural phenomenon, and that’s very cool.”

Source: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/12/blue-whale-song-mystery/


Rip Currents Pose Greater Risk To Swimmers Than To Shoreline, Study Suggests

ScienceDaily — Rip currents — powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from the shore — represent a danger to human life and property. Rip currents are responsible for more than one hundred deaths on our nation's beaches each year, according to the United States Lifesaving Association, and if rip currents persist long enough they can cause beach erosion.

Henry Bokuniewicz, Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, and Ph.D. candidate Michael Slattery found that rip currents at East Hampton Village Beach lasted on average a little over one minute, not long enough to substantially alter the shoreline. They will present their findings October 14th at the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association's 2009 National Coastal Conference, "Integrating Coastal Science & Policy."

With funding from the East Hampton Beach Preservation Society and the Halpern Foundation, Dr. Bokuniewicz and graduate student Michael Slattery set up a video camera to record an image of a half mile stretch of the East Hampton Village Beach every 20 seconds. In the images, rip currents can be detected as a gap in the line of incoming waves. They collected over 500 hours of video images and observed hundreds of rip currents in this short stretch of coast.

The monitoring showed that the rip currents were not associated with man-made structures and they were short lived, with the most persistent rip currents lasting no more than a few minutes. "Most rip currents we observed did not last long enough to change the character of the shoreline, although they could pose a risk to swimmers unfortunate enough to encounter them," said Dr. Bokuniewicz.

Besides gathering statistics on the occurrence of rip currents, Dr. Bokuniewicz and Michael Slattery are studying the wave patterns that lead to rip currents. Rip currents are generated by a combination of waves, including, long, low, barely perceptible waves that appear along the ocean shoreline, called "infragravity waves." Infragravity waves cannot be measured directly and computer models are inadequate for predicting them. Bokuniewicz and Slattery are using a novel approach to study these waves; they deploy seismometers to measure the noise created by breaking waves.

"It appears that very slow, long-period changes in the amount of wave noise are precursors to the generation of rip currents," said Dr. Bokuniewicz. "We are hopeful that seismometers can be used to measure wave patterns that we can't easily observe in any other way. In the future, we hope to utilize this method to monitor and ultimately forecast wave conditions that cause rip currents."

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091013132131.htm