A study reveals that an error in the classification of the species has meant researchers have failed to see just how close to the brink it is.
The French team reports its findings in the journal Aquatic Conservation.
Marine biologist Nicholas Dulvy from Simon Fraser University in Canada says the skate is now "the most precarious marine species on Earth".
The team's genetic studies have revealed that what is referred to as the common skate is actually two clearly distinct species - the flapper skate (Dipturus intermedia) and the blue skate (Dipturus flossada).
The fish were originally categorised separately, but an influential study in 1926 recognised only one valid species - Dipturus batis. This classification has been unchallenged since.
The 80-year error has ensured that fisheries have not been catching what they thought, explained Dr Dulvy, who is also co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN's) shark specialist group.
The result has been that catches of the smaller, more resilient blue skate has entirely masked the decline of the flapper skate.
The research team, led by Samuel Iglesias from the Marine Biology Station in Concarneau on the west coast of France, paints a very bleak picture for the future of the flapper skate.
Dr Iglesias and his team spent over a year working with French fisheries and taking DNA samples from the skate that was caught.
His findings finally revealed that the larger D. intermedia species was indeed in serious decline.
Dr Iglesias said: "The threat of extinction for European Dipturus together with mislabelling in fishery statistics highlight the need for a huge reassessment of population for the different Dipturus species in European waters.
"Without revision and recognition of its distinct status the world's largest skate, D. intermedia, could soon be rendered extinct."
Dr Dulvy added: "As far as we can tell, [humans have] not yet driven anything fully to extinction by over-fishing."
He and many other marine scientists are now very concerned that this skate species will be the first.
By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News
Pacific Ocean at sunset. The world's oceans are absorbing less carbon dioxide, a Yale geophysicist has found after pooling data taken over the past 50 years. With the oceans currently absorbing over 40 percent of the CO2 emitted by human activity, this could quicken the pace of climate change, (Credit: Copyright Michele Hogan)
ScienceDaily — The world's oceans are absorbing less carbon dioxide (CO2), a Yale geophysicist has found after pooling data taken over the past 50 years. With the oceans currently absorbing over 40 percent of the CO2 emitted by human activity, this could quicken the pace of climate change, according to the study, which appears in the November 25 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.
Park, professor of geology and geophysics and director of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, used data collected from atmospheric observing stations in Hawaii, Alaska and Antarctica to study the relationship between fluctuations in global temperatures and the global abundance of atmospheric CO2 on interannual (one to 10 years) time scales. A similar study from 20 years ago found a five-month lag between interannual temperature changes and the resulting changes in CO2 levels. Park has now found that this lag has increased from five to at least 15 months.
"No one had updated the analysis from 20 years ago," Park said. "I expected to find some change in the lag time, but the shift was surprisingly large. This is a big change."
With a longer lag time, atmospheric CO2 can no longer adjust fully to cyclical temperature fluctuations before the next cycle begins, suggesting that the oceans have lost some of their ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Weaker CO2 absorption could be caused by a change in ocean circulation or just an overall increase in the surface temperature. "Think of the oceans like soda," Park said. "Warm cola holds less fizz," Park said. "The same thing happens as the oceans warm up."
Increases in CO2 levels have tended to precede increases in temperature over the past century, with the human influence on climate accumulating over many decades of burning fossil fuels and clearing forests. However, this relationship is reversed on interannual time scales, with multiyear temperature cycles leading multiyear cycles in CO2 levels.
Park found particularly strong correlations between sea-surface temperatures and CO2 levels in tropical ocean areas. Conversely, in places with a lot of trees and other biomass to soak up much of the atmospheric CO2, there was little or no correlation between temperature and CO2 on interannual time scales. In those places, such as the vast forests of North America and Eurasia, a large annual CO2 cycle synchronizes with the seasonal growth and decay of plants.
"Researchers have used climate models that suggest the oceans have been absorbing less CO2, but this is the first study to quantify the change directly using observations," Park said. "It strengthens the projection that the oceans will not absorb as much of our future CO2 emissions, and that the pace of future climate change will quicken."
Source: Science Daily
In the past, the Commonwealth has suspended several countries for human rights reasons. Now, campaigners, politicians and scientists have proposed suspending Canada because of its climate policy.
This weekend's summit of Commonwealth leaders beginning in Trinidad is the last major international gathering before the Copenhagen climate change conference in December. Here too, climate change will be on top of the agenda.
The Commonwealth’s 53 members include not only developed countries like Britain, Australia and Canada, but also emerging economies like India and South Africa as well as poor developing states comprising some of the world’s most vulnerable to global warming, like the Maldives and Bangladesh.
In the past, the Commonwealth has suspended Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa for electoral or human rights reasons. Now, The World Development Movement, the Polaris Institute in Canada and Greenpeace have called for Canada to be suspended from the Commonwealth over its climate change policies, the Guardian reports.
"Countries that fail to help (tackle global warming) should be suspended from membership, as are those that breach human rights," says Clare Short, the former International Development Secretary according to the Guardian.
"If the Commonwealth is serious about holding its members to account, then threatening the lives of millions of people in developing countries should lead to the suspension of Canada's membership immediately," says Saleemul Huq, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change according to the newspaper.
Canada's greenhouse gas emissions are among the world's highest, and the country will not meet the cut required under the Kyoto protocol: by 2007 its emissions were 34% above its reduction target. Canada's environment department has refused to comment on the call for the country to be suspended, the Guardian reports.
ScienceDaily — Kelp forest ecosystems that span the West Coast -- from Alaska to Mexico's Baja Peninsula -- are at greater risk from overfishing than from the effects of run-off from fertilizers or sewage on the shore, say scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The findings have important implications for the design of California's Marine Protected Areas.
In an article published in the May 26 issue of Science, scientists describe the first study to compare the top-down versus bottom-up human influences on the food chain of the kelp forest ecosystems.
The study was conducted by scientists at UCSB's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, known as NCEAS, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.
"This study shows that California is on the right track by limiting fishing in certain areas in an effort to comply with the Marine Life Protection Act," said first author Ben Halpern, project director at NCEAS.
Kelp are giant algae that reach up to 120 feet in height and support diverse ecosytems. They provide beautiful settings for scuba diving and are rich areas for commercial and recreational fishing.
The research team took data from four years of marine life surveys by the National Park Service. The park service regularly checks 16 different kelp forest sites around the Channel Islands off the coast of Central California. They maintain data on 46 different species.
Next, the scientists matched the park service data to data provided by SeaWiFs, a satellite monitoring project that photographs and analyzes ocean color for information about ocean life. This information can then be used to estimate nutrient levels in the ocean.
Organic coastal run-off -- from fertilizers and sewage overflow -- increases the amount of organic material in the near shore ocean. According to the study, differences in the amount of organic material do not have much effect on the delicate food chain of the kelp forest ecosystem. However removal of the fish at the top of the food chain has a profound effect.
When the predator species, such as rockfish, at the top of the food chain are removed, then the species that they normally eat, such as snails and barnacles, begin to increase in number. Many of these are herbivores that eat kelp. When their numbers increase, they decrease the amount of kelp, in turn changing how kelp forests look and the type of species that are associated with the kelp forest.
"Kelp forests are so sensitive," said Halpern. "If you remove some of the predators, then you can have an effect on the entire kelp forest ecosystem."
He explained that until now studies of kelp forests looked at either overfishing or increased nutrients. This is the first study to put both variables together to see which is more important.
Kelp beds are declining in their diversity, according to a new study. (Credit: Enric Sala/Scripps Institute of Oceanography)
ScienceDaily — The kelp forests off southern California are considered to be some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on the planet, yet a new study indicates that today's kelp beds are less extensive and lush than those in the recent past.
The kelp forest tripled in size from the peak of glaciation 20,000 years ago to about 7,500 years ago, then shrank by up to 70 percent to present day levels, according to the study by Rick Grosberg, professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology and the Center for Population Biology at UC Davis, with Michael Graham of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory and Brian Kinlan at UC Santa Barbara.
Kelp forests around offshore islands peaked around 13,500 years ago as rising sea levels created new habitat and then declined to present day levels. The kelp along the mainland coast peaked around 5,000 years later.
This transition from an extensive island-based kelp system to a mainland-dominated system coincided with conspicuous events in the archaeological record of the maritime people in the region, suggesting that climate-driven shifts in kelp ecosystems impacted human populations that used those resources.
Understanding the past history of a population is crucial to understanding its genetics in the present, Grosberg said.
"Kelp is interesting because it disperses only over short distances," Grosberg said. "Populations can become genetically isolated from one another even if they are quite close together."
"We wanted to know how connected the coastal kelp populations were since the last glacial maximum," he said.
On land, scientists can reconstruct the history of a forest or grassland from fossilized pollen or leaves. But kelp do not make pollen, and marine sediments do not preserve a good record of the plants.
The researchers used depth charts of the southern California coastline and information from sediment cores on past nutrient availability to reconstruct potential kelp habitat as sea levels changed over the last 20,000 years.
"We could reconstruct changes in kelp cover at a scale of 500 years and determine how fragmented or connected the populations were," Grosberg said.
People have lived off the produce of kelp forests when resources on land dwindled, and those changes are recorded in shell middens and other traces. That archaeological record can now be compared with the ecological history to get a more complete picture of California's coast.
"Now we know what was happening with kelp, what was happening with the ecology on land, and what the people were doing," Grosberg said.
The study was published online Oct. 21 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Visitors to a national park in Cancun could soon come face-to-face with life-sized sculptures in human form fixed in the seabed, as plans to create what could be the world's largest underwater museum start to become a reality.
On 19 November, four sculptures are due to be submerged in the Caribbean waters, off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico's eastern state of Quintana Roo.
They will be the first of many hundreds of figures, which will be dotted around an area of the region's national park.
The sculptures will be made of PH-neutral concrete, which, it is hoped, will attract algae and marine life and give the local ecosystem a boost.
According to the park's director Jaime Gonzalez, one of the aims is to reduce the pressure on the natural habitat in other areas of the park by luring tourists away from existing coral reef, which has suffered damage from hurricanes and human activity.
Some 750,000 people visit the park a year, said Mr Gonzalez, with about 450,000 of them visiting Punta Nizuc, an area of just four hectares.
Fewer visitors could allow the coral in the area to regenerate, giving it a greater chance of withstanding hurricane damage, said Mr Gonzalez.
One of the first sculptures to be installed is called La Jardinera de la Esperanza, which features a young girl lying on garden patio steps, cultivating pot plants. Situated just four metres below the surface, it will include propagated coral that is expected to prosper in its new environment.
"It all happens rather quickly - within two weeks, we will see green algae," says artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who is in charge of the project. "Then within a few months, juvenile algae will appear and the project will progress from there."
The sculptures have been designed to be durable and, according to Mr deCaires Taylor, will have no detrimental effect on the local ecosystem.
"We carried out an environmental survey beforehand," he said.
The conservation of coral is at the forefront of many environmentalists' minds.
Coral reefs make up less than a quarter of 1% of the ocean's floor. Yet they are a key source of food, income and coastal protection for around 500 million people worldwide.
The project has an initial budget of $350,000 (£210,000), with a significant proportion of the funding being provided by the Mexican government. The rest has been donated by individuals and organisations with an interest in promoting the area.
Mr Gonzalez said: "We already have $160,000 but if this is successful, then who knows when the project will end."
Mr deCaires Taylor is travelling around the country looking for people from various backgrounds to pose for the exhibition.
"The other day I was in a cafe and saw a really fascinating man with strong character lines and expressions, so in my bad Spanish went over to him to explain about the project. Next thing, he was in his underpants in my studio being cast in plaster alginate."
One aim of the subterranean museum is to attract more tourism to the region.
This year, 4.6 million international tourists visited Mexico compared with 5.2 million in the same period last year.
Robert Diaz, president of one of the project's key sponsors, Cancun Nautical Association, said the area had been badly affected by the recession and other factors, such as Mexico's narcotics war and negative publicity surrounding the H1N1 (swine flu) virus.
Dr Paul Jepson, a lecturer in conservation at the UK's University of Oxford, welcomed the idea of the museum.
"Conservationists need to find different ways of engaging with the world. Artists should get involved in environmental matters so it is not just scientists trying to get the message out there," he said.
The idea of underwater museums are not new. A number already exist around the world.
In Egypt, Unesco has voiced its support for a planned underwater museum in Alexandria, which would host treasures belonging to Queen Cleopatra. And in May this year China's Baiheliang Underwater Museum in Chongqing opened to the public.
Made from a natural ridge in the Yangtze River, visitors can see inscriptions by poets and writers, some of which are thousands of years old.
Researchers: Oceans' Uptake Of Man-made Carbon Slowing; 'We Cannot Count On These Sinks Operating In The Future'
NEW YORK, New York -- The oceans play a key role in regulating climate, absorbing more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans put into the air. Now, the first year-by-year accounting of this mechanism during the industrial era suggests the oceans are struggling to keep up with rising emissions—a finding with potentially wide implications for future climate. The study appears in this week's issue of the journal Nature, and is expanded upon in a separate website.
The researchers estimate that the oceans last year took up a record 2.3 billion tons of CO2 produced from burning of fossil fuels. But with overall emissions growing rapidly, the proportion of fossil-fuel emissions absorbed by the oceans since 2000 may have declined by as much as 10%.
Some climate models have already predicted such a slowdown in the oceans' ability to soak up excess carbon from the atmosphere, but this is the first time scientists have actually measured it. Models attribute the change to depletion of ozone in the stratosphere and global warming-induced shifts in winds and ocean circulation. But the new study suggests the slowdown is due to natural chemical
and physical limits on the oceans' ability to absorb carbon—an idea that is now the subject of widespread research by other scientists.
"The more carbon dioxide you put in, the more acidic the ocean becomes, reducing its ability to hold CO2" said the study's lead author, Samar Khatiwala, an oceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
. "Because of this chemical effect, over time, the ocean is expected to become a less efficient sink of manmade carbon. The surprise is that we may already be seeing evidence for this, perhaps compounded by the ocean's slow circulation in the face of accelerating emissions."
The study reconstructs the accumulation of industrial carbon in the oceans year by year, from 1765 to 2008. Khatiwala and his colleagues found that uptake rose sharply in the 1950s, as the oceans tried to keep pace with the growth of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. Emissions continued to grow, and by 2000, reached such a pitch that the oceans have since absorbed a declining overall percentage, even though they absorb more each year in absolute tonnage. Today, the oceans hold about 150 billion tons of industrial carbon, the researchers estimate--a third more than in the mid-1990s.
For decades, scientists have tried to estimate the amount of manmade carbon absorbed by the ocean by teasing out the small amount of industrial carbon—less than 1 percent—from the enormous background levels of natural carbon. Because of the difficulties of this approach, only one attempt has been made to come up with a global estimate of how much industrial carbon the oceans held—for a single year, 1994.
Khatiwala and his colleagues came up with another method. Using some of the same data as their predecessors— seawater temperatures, salinity, manmade chlorofluorocarbons and other measures—they developed a mathematical technique to work backward from the measurements to infer the concentration of industrial carbon in surface waters, and its transport to deep water through ocean circulation. This allowed them to reconstruct the uptake and distribution of industrial carbon in the oceans over time.
Carbon released by fossil fuel burning (black) continues to accumulate in the air (red), oceans (blue), and land (green). Credit: Samar Khatiwala
Their estimate of industrial carbon in the oceans in 1994—114 billion tons—nearly matched the earlier 118 billion-ton estimate, made by Chris Sabine, a marine chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization in a 2004 paper in the journal Science.
Sabine, who was not involved in the new study, said he saw some limitations. For one, he said, the study assumes circulation has remained steady, along with the amount of organic matter in the oceans. "That being said, I still think this is the best estimate of the time variance of anthropogenic CO2 in the ocean available," said Sabine. "Our previous attempts to quantify anthropogenic CO2 using ocean data have only been able to provide single snapshots in time."
About 40 percent of the carbon entered the oceans through the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean, around Antarctica, because carbon dioxide dissolves more readily in cold, dense seawater than in warmer waters. From there, currents transport the carbon north. "We've suspected for some time that the Southern Ocean plays a critical role in soaking up fossil fuel CO2," said Khatiwala. "But our study is the first to quantify the importance of this region with actual data."
The researchers also estimated carbon uptake on land, by taking the known amount of fossil-fuel emissions and subtracting the oceans' uptake and the carbon left in the air. They were surprised to learn that the land may now be absorbing more than it is giving off.
They say that until the 1940s, the landscape produced excess carbon dioxide, possibly due to logging and the clearing and burning of forests for farming. Deforestation and other land-use changes continue at a rapid pace today—but now, each year the land appears to be absorbing 1.1 billion tons more carbon than it is giving off.
One possible reason for the reversal, say the researchers, is that now, some of the extra atmospheric carbon—raw material for photosynthesis--may be feeding back into living plants and making them grow faster. "The extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may be providing a fertilizing effect," said study coauthor Timothy Hall, a senior scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Many other scientists are now working to determine the possible effects of increased carbon dioxide on plant growth, and incorporate these into models of past and future climates.
Khatiwala says there are still large uncertainties, but in any case, natural mechanisms cannot be depended upon to mitigate increasing human-produced emissions. "What our ocean study and other recent land studies suggest is that we cannot count on these sinks operating in the future as they have in the past, and keep on subsidizing our ever-growing appetite for fossil fuels," he said.
Source: Underwatertimes.com News Service
Navigating the world's oceans can be a difficult task for anyone.
For a tiny seahorse with only small fins and a tail for locomotion it seems an impossible task.
However, a seahorse that lives on the western coast of the Atlantic has been found in the Azores almost 5000km away from its possible home.
Researchers suggest the seahorse may have completed the epic journey using its prehensile tail to hitch a ride on a raft of floating sea grass.
An international team of researchers from the UK and the Azores publish their discovery in the Journal of Fish Biology.
Lost at sea
The seahorse was found by a fisherman on the isolated Azores archipelago in the eastern Atlantic.
Two species of seahorse Hippocampus guttulatus and Hippocampus hippocampus are native to Europe and the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal.
The researchers compared the morphology and DNA of the seahorse with the two native species and found it was a lined seahorse Hippocampus erectus usually found along the Atlantic coast and Caribbean sea coasts of North, Central and South America.
"We were surprised to identify the unknown seahorse as H. erectus, as this species is found thousands of kilometres away," says molecular ecologist Dr Paul Shaw from the Royal Holloway, University of London, UK.
"The specimen DNA sequence was almost identical to DNA sequences from individuals of H. erectus collected in the US, and very different to DNA sequences of H. guttulatus and H. hippocampus which are native to this region," Dr Shaw explains.
The researchers say that this is the first record of the species in the eastern Atlantic.
Seahorses are cryptic animals and blend into their habitat living among seaweed in shallow water along coastlines.
So exactly how it arrived on the other side of the Atlantic in the Azores was a puzzle for the researchers.
They suggest the seahorse may have been released by someone who had kept it in an aquarium.
Another possibility is that the fish may have been transported to the Azores in the ballast water of a ship.
However, the most likely explanation, the researchers believe, is that the seahorse hitched a ride across the ocean on a floating raft.
"The seahorse attaches itself to some floating material such as seaweed or other vegetation, then this 'raft' is carried by prevailing Gulf Stream currents away from the American coast and across the Atlantic to the Azores," Dr Shaw says.
Dr Lucy Woodall, also from Royal Holloway, University of London, led the study.
She belongs to the international research group Project Seahorse and explains how genetic studies suggest that other seahorse species may have undergone long range dispersal.
Seahorses have also been observed in the middle of the ocean holding on to floating seagrass with their prehensile tail, hinting that this transient seahorse may have done the same.
"In the open ocean, fish are found under these type of 'rafts', as they provide protection and harbour small prey items, therefore [it is not unusual] for seahorses to use these structures," Dr Woodall says.
Dr Woodall believes that although the seahorses are hard to find in the wild, due to their excellent camouflage, a lack of sightings in the Azores and Europe suggests it is unlikely that it occurs in greater numbers on the eastern side of the Atlantic.
"It's interesting and points that further research is required, but it cannot lead to the conclusion that there are more H. erectus in the Eastern Atlantic," she concludes.
"We just don't know."
Few people are better qualified to inspire the protection of the oceans than the world’s finest underwater photographers and that’s why the UK’s pioneering shark and marine conservation organization, Bite-Back, turned to them for help.
The result is a remarkable 2010 calendar that combines stunning images and arresting commentary that, Bite-Back, hopes will help motivate a sea-change in attitude for the marine world.
The unique collaboration features breathtaking images of sharks, turtles, rays, eels and whales from 12 internationally acclaimed and award-winning photographers such as David Doubilet, Amos Nachoum, Doug Perrine, Jeff Rotman, Brian Skerry and Michael Aw.
Enthused by Bite-Back's ongoing campaigns to combat over-fishing, coral degradation and marine pollution, the photographers chose favorite images from different corners of the globe including the coastal waters of Hawaii, Tonga, Bahamas, Guadalupe, West Papau, South Africa and Borneo.
Hinting at the urgent need for marine conservation to capture the imagination of the developed world, Jeff Rotman said: “Since the early 1970s I have become a witness to our ever increasing race to empty the oceans. Now, almost 40 years later, we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. We have fished to the point where marine stocks can no longer maintain a reproductive population. In my opinion, it’s way past midnight.”
The project has enormous significance to the marine conservation group, Bite-Back. Its campaign director, Graham Buckingham, said: "Over-fishing is the single biggest threat to the marine environment. By highlighting the issues of over-fishing we’re creating a dialogue with supermarkets, restaurants, chefs and fishmongers to motivate responsible sourcing and ethical retailing. Our goal is simple – to change the nation’s commercial relationship with the marine environment.”
It is a view that is echoed by calendar contributor and underwater cameraman for BBC’s Life series, Roger Munns. He said: “The oceans are a magical place full of beauty and surprises, but now they are under serious threat as human populations continue to grow and destroy the marine environment in pursuit of its many resources.”
Since its launch Bite-Back has motivated supermarkets including ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose to drop certain threatened species such as shark, swordfish, marlin, monkfish and orange roughy. Its campaigns have also seen Holland & Barratt stop selling shark cartilage capsules and the world’s only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant, Hakkasan, stop selling shark fin soup.
Graham Buckingham said: “Bite-Back’s ambition to defend the high seas by changing the high street is working and soon there will come a time when we’ll look back in shame that these fish ever appeared on supermarket shelves or restaurant menus.”
Bite-Back’s 2010 calendar can be ordered online for just £7.99 (+ p&p) via bite-back.com.
A biologist walks into a sushi bar and orders some tuna. What does he get? Escolar, a nasty fish with buttery flesh that can cause bizarre episodes of diarrhea, accompanied by a waxy intestinal discharge.
It’s not a joke. It happened five times to the same scientists during a brief research project. The results of that study were published Wednesday in PLOS One.
“A piece of tuna sushi has the potential to be an endangered species, a fraud or a health hazard,” wrote the authors. “All three of these cases were uncovered in this study.”
The team of researchers from Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History ordered tuna from 31 sushi restaurants and then used genetic tests to determine the species of fishes in those dishes. More than half of those eateries misrepresented, or couldn’t clarify the type of fish they were mongering. Several were selling endangered southern bluefin tuna.
Although their results were shocking, exposing sloppy sushi joints wasn’t their main goal. The scientists were trying to improve on a new species-identification technique, called DNA barcoding. A coalition of labs has been collecting fish, reading their genes and uploading the information to a database called FISH-BOL.
Their goal is to build a catalog of every fish species on earth so that anyone with a handheld DNA reader could definitively identify fish within minutes. Wildlife officials could use that technology to spot-check fish markets, and fine people who are selling protected species.
Right now, the FISH-BOL database is roughly 20 percent complete, but zooligsts can’t seem to agree upon the best way to condense the genetic information from each fish into a concise signature. That’s where this study comes into play. By checking 14 carefully selected spots on a gene called cox1 and matching them up with the database, the scientists could accurately identify any kind of tuna.
Citation: Lowenstein JH, Amato G, Kolokotronis S-O, “The Real maccoyii: Identifying Tuna Sushi with DNA Barcodes – Contrasting Characteristic Attributes and Genetic Distances.” PLoS ONE 4, 11, 2009, e7866.
Photo: Spicy tuna roll
Omar Mulla, 16 year old Oceanic Defense Youth Ambassador
Here at Oceanic Defense, we understand that to effectively communicate a lasting message about the importance of aquatic conservation, we must reach all generations and every demographic. We seek out people of all ages that have a passion for and a dedication to protect our fragile blue planet.
We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the ocean community and, most importantly, the support of young people that will inherit a suite of our environmental problems – created, primarily, by us, their elders caught up in mindless consumerism and over-consumption.
Oceanic Defense looks to the future, and we believe we are in good hands if our youth membership is any indication. For example, Omar Mulla; a 16 year old student from Daphne, Alabama, a dedicated ocean advocate, and now an Oceanic Defense Youth Ambassador.
Omar contacted Oceanic Defense a few month ago through his school’s environmental group inquiring about assistance with a shark conservation program. It was immediately clear that Omar was on a mission to protect sharks.
Shortly after meeting Omar we knew he was a member of our Aquatic Army. With his determination and our guidance, Omar went on to lead an education outreach effort in his community about 100% Catch and Release shark fishing tournaments. He reported back to us and to the shark conservation community about the Destin Shark Saturdays Tournament (currently a catch & kill format) and some of his carefully collected information was successfully presented to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s recent public workshop in support of increased protections for Lemon sharks. After discussions with Omar and his family, we agreed that he should be our very first Oceanic Defense Youth Ambassador.
A position of great responsibility and potential; an OD Youth Ambassador is empowered to communicate to and motivate his/her peers to encourage positive change and promote conservation.
It is with great pride that we introduce: Omar Mulla, Oceanic Defense Youth Ambassador.
What's your name, how old are you and where do you live?
My name is Omar Mulla, I am 16 years old and I live in Daphne, Alabama.
How did you get interested in ocean conservation?
Conservation has always been a passion of mine, and so has the ocean. My interest in ocean conservation really took off when I started realizing how serious the problems facing our oceans are, and how important it is that we protect what we have in every way possible. When I saw that so many environmental problems were being overlooked and ignored (while worsening), I started feeling frustration and I wanted to get up and do something about it; I decided I wasn’t going to lie down while our planet deteriorates because of ignorance, greed, and lack of education. With my decision came the realization that I as an individual have the power to do something about what I see is wrong with the way our planet is being treated.
What do your friends & school mates think of your efforts?
My friends and school mates are very supportive of my efforts, and many have looked at what I’ve done and admire that I am taking a stand for something I feel strongly about. My actions have even influenced my friends and caused them to think more about why they too should take a stand by getting involved, and many have already taken that initiative. It’s great to see fellow peers branching off of my ideas to form their own. For example, I took the lead in my school’s environmental club this year, and I began to introduce ideas such as fundraising for conservation organizations, expositions, and even more direct things like campaigning for shark conservation (which we did this year in Destin, FL). These ideas were much bigger and called for more involvement in real-world issues than what the club was used to doing. When students saw how many opportunities they had to really do something on a large scale, they started thinking and putting their own ideas into motion. It’s a great thing to see how just one person and one voice can bring about a unified effort of so many different people.
What else do you like to do?
I have a wide variety of interests aside from conservation and helping the environment. For example, another passion of mine that involves the ocean is surfing –it’s an unparalleled experience that I absolutely love. My other outdoor activities include things like kayaking (I’m a member of my school’s kayak club), cycling, and hiking. I also enjoy gardening; right now I’m planning to construct a raised vegetable garden (I’m waiting until spring) so that our household can be a little more self-sufficient. Another big hobby of mine is also designing and building radio controlled vehicles. I like to learn and practice various martial arts, and I also practice meditation and yoga. I like to cook as well and I have a great appreciation for the culinary arts. In school I have been involved in activities such as Cross Country, Chess Team, Tennis, and Science Olympiad.
Do you scuba dive?
I do not currently scuba dive, nor do I have any scuba experience. However, I would love to be able to descend into the underwater realm and I definitely want to give scuba diving a go. I’m big on the idea of achieving a unity with the ocean, and I feel like I’d be able to do just that while visiting the world beneath the waves.
If you could change anything about the way we treat the ocean what would it be?
If I could change anything about the way we treat the ocean, I would build our respect for it by changing our attitude. Many people don’t care about what happens to the ocean and don’t understand the impact of their actions. They believe that the ocean is nothing to worry about and that it can magically heal itself no matter what we do to it. The way I would put it would be to treat the ocean much like we treat ourselves. We’re careful about maintaining a healthy body –we wouldn’t want to be putting things like plastics and chemicals into our systems. Those are things that could potentially be fatal, and they are equally harmful to the ocean. We know that our bodies aren’t going to “magically heal” on their own if we treat them like that; the same is true for the oceans. If this same attitude and respect are shown for the oceans, then not only would we improve the health of our planet, but people would also have a deeper understanding of our connection with the ocean and its importance.
As a youth ambassador for Oceanic Defense what do you hope to accomplish?
As a youth ambassador, I plan to go by Oceanic Defense’s motto of “Activation through Education”. I hope to educate people in my community and elsewhere about the environmental issues our oceans are facing and why it is important that we do something about it. In addition to educating people, I want to bring these issues into a new light; I want to help people see them in a new way that will motivate them to act and do their part in ensuring the healthy survival of our planet for generations to come. I want to show people that we CAN fix these problems and that although so much destruction is going on, this doesn’t have to be the determined fate of our planet. I also want to set an example for the younger generation because they are the future. If they can feel inspired and empowered to act, then they will have so much potential behind them that bringing about a huge change will be within their reach.
What are you interested in doing once you get out of school?
When I graduate from high school, I know that I want to get into conservation on an even greater scale. For me, conservation is a passion that I want to pursue throughout my life. It’s different from a phase that I am going to drop once I get out into the “real world” because this is as real as it gets. In the most effective way possible, I hope to apply my education and experience to bettering the planet; I want to give back to the world after all it has given me.
photo by: Omar Mulla
You've been involved in shark conservation and the Destin Shark Saturdays tournament. What has surprised you the most?
While campaigning for shark conservation in Destin this year, what surprised me the most was the attitude people there had towards sharks. They saw them as nothing more than blood-thirsty killers. It may have been because I didn’t see any other conservation groups on site, but I really felt a sense of how alone we were out there amongst so many uneducated people who found entertainment in the senseless killing of such beautiful and vital creatures.
photo by: Omar Mulla
It was shocking that these people could continue blindly destroying sharks with such a negative and incorrect perception of them without any concern or thought put towards what they were actually doing. I also noticed a lot of irony; these were people that have most likely never set foot in the water with a shark or taken the time to understand them, yet they viewed sharks as monsters whose sole purpose is to kill humans.
On the contrary, anyone that actually spends time in the water knows that they are not so. For example, I see at least one shark almost every time I’m out surfing. You could ask any other surfer in the water about sharks and they’d tell you the truth about how much of a "threat" they actually are. Recently when I was out surfing before Tropical Storm Ida hit, I was amongst a group of surfers when we saw a shark within 15 yards of us just cruising along. While looking at the shark, I asked one of the guys next to me if he had seen any others that morning. He answered, “Yeah they’re always out here, but don’t worry about it man, they never bother you. Just watch out for it.” From another surfer I talked to that day: “Just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t in the water with us.” This was something I really liked hearing. It dropped the needed dose of reality by asking why, for the millions of people that spend time in the ocean every day, there are so few shark attacks. I always enjoy talking with fellow surfers in the water because the amount of respect they have for the ocean is amazing. Destin, however, is a fishing village, and with no shark education programs or awareness campaigns in the area, the general public is not completely to blame for its lack of education or concern. For this reason, I am glad that I went out there because I was able to introduce the needed education and awareness while provoking thought in the correct manner.
What would you like to tell people your age about the ocean?
Every action has a reaction. Everything you do impacts the ocean in some way. That impact can either be positive or negative, and the choice is yours. You don’t have to be an adult to take action against the problems facing our oceans and our planet as a whole. There’s no reason to sit around and wait until you’re older to do something about the problems we’re facing right now. I don’t think education is the biggest issue with young people, especially now growing up in a world that is becoming increasingly conscious of the need to protect our environment. Instead, I think the biggest issue holding them back is the thought: “Well even if I did something, I wouldn’t make a difference.” If you take a stand as an individual and do your part, you can influence and inspire others to do the same, and that will surely make one heck of a difference. One of the most powerful tools you have is your youth. As a young person, people will respond to you better. When a bright youthful person gets up to talk about something like the importance of protecting our oceans, not only does that gather more attention, but it also provokes insight as people start to see the depth of the cause and all the different people (age groups) involved. Going back to what I was saying earlier -You can be a huge inspiration for others your age. Those that don’t feel as though they can really make a difference will be able to look at what a difference you’ve made, and will feel the motivation to act in a positive way. The power is in your hands; the choice is yours.
Talk to Omar: firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you know someone that should be a youth ambassador? Email us directly at: email@example.com
For more information about Oceanic Defense visit our website: http://www.oceanicdefense.org
or join us on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/OceanicDefense
An eco-labelling scheme intended to encourage people to eat fish from sustainable sources is being criticised by conservationists.
The collaboration between the conservation group WWF and Unilever, until recently one of the world’s biggest seafood retailers, now gives its stamp of approval to $1.5 billion (£900 million) of business every year. There is concern, however, that the scheme’s blue label, which is put on packaging, is being awarded to fisheries whose stocks are not properly managed or where the ecosystem is being damaged.
The scheme was established ten years ago by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), based in London. There are 58 certified fisheries, with a further 114 in the process of being assessed. It is intended to benefit fishermen by ensuring long-term sustainability of their livelihood and boosting the price of their catch.
The source of the New Zealand hoki — a bug-eyed, deep-water fish once used for McDonald’s Filet O’Fish — was one of the first fisheries to be certified in 2001. Stocks promptly crashed and quotas were slashed from 250,000 tonnes to just 90,000 tonnes by 2007.
While the hoki industry cites the reduced quotas as a sign of pre-emptive good management, conservationists say that they are a sign of underlying problems with the science of how stocks are judged sustainable.
At the other end of the Pacific, the same argument rages over the pollock used to make many of Britain’s fish fingers. The MSC-certified Alaskan pollock fishery is worth nearly $1 billion a year, but despite being rigorously managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service the stock’s assessments are controversial. Populations appear to have halved since 2004, and last year quotas were cut by nearly 20 per cent. Jeremy Jackson, of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, said: “Economic pressures to keep on fishing at such high levels have overwhelmed common sense.”
The MSC prides itself on its transparency and well-regulated objections process, but there are signs that it is not fulfilling its function. Southeast of the pollock grounds, the Pacific hake fishery was in the closing stages of certification earlier this year. The Monterey Bay Aquarium and Oceana, a marine conservation group, filed an objection, pointing out that the stock was at the lowest level ever observed, down nearly 90 per cent from the 1980s. The claim was dismissed.
To date, no objections have resulted in a rejected application. Only one fishery — for lobsters, in British waters — has been turned down after an assessment has been paid for The MSC uses independent companies to assess fisheries, which critics say leaves the door open to “special arrangements” between them and the fishing companies which pay to be evaluated. The fees are typically between £9,000 and £72,000.
Moody Marine International does about half of all MSC certifications around the world. Like the other certifiers, Moody will provide fisheries with a pre-assessment to assess their likelihood of being accepted. But as Andrew Hough, one of Moody’s lead assessors, admits, “as the market has increased, far more enquiries we get now lead to pre-assessment, and most of those lead to full certification”.
“I wouldn’t say they’ve all come out smelling of roses ... Each fishery has some area of weakness,” he said.
A report by Consumer Focus, formerly the National Consumer Council, adds to criticism of the scheme today, saying it is not convinced supermarkets give the information shoppers need to decide whether fish are from sustainable stocks.
“In theory certification is a great idea, but this scheme has never fulfilled its potential,” said Barry Weeber, of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “The bar has always been set far too low.”
Rupert Howes, CEO of the MSC, said: “Fisheries science is an evolving business. At some stage in the future standards will be reviewed. In the interim, don’t let expectations of perfection obscure the significant progress that is being delivered.”
A deep-sea marine biodiversity survey of seamounts on the Chatham Rise has produced a bounty of new species.
The finds were made by National Institute of Water Atmospheric Research (Niwa) research vessel Tangaroa, on 18-day voyage in July along the Chatham Rise.
The rise stretches for 1000km from near the South Island eastward.
The finds include a coral genus Narella and nicknamed "Rasta" because of its long white dreadlock-like branches; a tiny squat lobster measuring 1cm across; and some specimens of sea urchin which are commonly known as Tam O'Shanters due to their similarity to the Scottish hat.
"There are three new corals that we are confident are new species from the area," said scientist Di Tracey.
One of the places surveyed was the Shipley Seamount -- named after a former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley -- which is as big as Mt Taranaki but over a kilometre under the ocean surface.
Voyage leader Malcolm Clark said other sites visited included the Graveyard Seamounts with names in keeping with a ghoulish theme: Morgue, Graveyard, Zombie, and Gothic.
Three surveys of the Graveyard region since 2001 have revealed high levels of biodiversity, and many undescribed species.
They include benthic macroinvertebrates -- animals without backbones that are larger than millimetre long -- such as corals, sponges, seastars, snails, lobsters, clams, and marine worms.
The first survey alone showed 15 percent of the species collected were unknown in the New Zealand region, plus 14 species new to science. Six new species of lace coral were discovered in the second survey in 2006.
Seamounts can be ecologically valuable as hotspots of biodiversity and economically valuable and they are often the target of commercial fishing.
But the Chatham Rise -- where the fishing industry wiped out the commercial viability of the orange roughy through overfishing -- is also being targeted by miners eyeing its multi-billion dollar phosphate resources.
Widespread Energy and its parent company Widespread Portfolios applied in August 2007 for a prospecting licence over a 3048 square kilometre area of the rise.
It hoped that 100 million tonnes of phosphorite (rock phosphate) valued at more than $50 billion can be scraped off the seabed.
And an Auckland company Chatham Phosphate Ltd has applied for another 71,750sq km around the Widespread prospect.
Source: Ortago Daily Times
Miami Beach , Florida, November 08, 2009. -- Oceanic Defense is honored to announce our partnership with The Great Barrier Reef Swim. This unprecedented conservation effort features two world class swimmers; Rob Hutchings & Todd Cameron. The guys will swim the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef to educate and activate people on our ocean's plight.
Canadian swimmers Rob & Todd are also joined by Toni Nossitler the founder of Walk For Awareness. Toni will perform her Reef Walk simultaneously to bring more land based interest and support.
This conservation event is a first in the history of The Great Barrier Reef. The swim/hike will cover 2300km and is set to start between October 15 & November 01, 2010. Rob and Todd will meet Toni in selected locations along the way promoting aquatic conservation issues and chatting with children, community groups and the media.
Watch our website for more important announcements including the launch of the Great Barrier Reef Swim website wholly sponsored by Oceanic Defense.
In the meantime you can follow the GBRSwim's blog here: http://greatbarrierreefswim.blogspot.com
If you would like to donate to the Great Barrier Reef Swim you can do so by Direct Debit in Australia: Account name: Great Barrier Reef Swim BSB: 015 367 Account No: 4790 62552
For more information visit:
Great Barrier Reef Swim on Facebook
Walk For Awareness
ScienceDaily — Coral reefs, the rainforests of the sea, feed a large portion of the world's population, protect tropical shorelines from erosion, and harbor animals and plants with great potential to provide new therapeutic drugs. Unfortunately, reefs are now beset by problems ranging from local pollution and overfishing to outbreaks of coral disease and global warming. Although most scientists agree that reefs are in desperate trouble, they disagree strongly over the timing and causes of the coral reef crisis. This is not just an academic exercise, because different answers dictate different strategies for managers and policymakers intent on saving reef ecosystems. The cover story published this month in Geology helps focus the debate.
A team led by Richard Aronson of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama took cores through reef frameworks in Belize to reconstruct the history of the reefs over the past several thousand years. Although some scientists have suggested that reefs began their decline centuries ago due to early overfishing, Aronson's team found that coral populations were healthy and vibrant until the 1980s, when they were killed by disease and high sea temperatures. The research effort was supported by the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation.
As Aronson points out, "Protecting fish populations is important in its own right, but it won't save the corals. Corals are being killed at an unprecedented rate by forces outside local control. Saving coral reefs means addressing global environmental issues--climate change in particular--at the highest levels of government."
ScienceDaily — One of the first set of studies to examine what tourists and recreation enthusiasts actually think about coral reef ecosystems suggests they are a rare exception to controversies over human use versus environmental conservation -- their stunning beauty is so extraordinary that almost everyone wants them protected in perpetuity.
That core belief is often strong enough that if it means people have to be kept out, so be it.
The analysis, done in Hawaii by researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Hawaii, found that most people visiting the state's coral reef ecosystems care deeply about these areas and very much enjoy visiting them, but will generally endorse whatever amount of management is needed to protect them.
"It was really quite astonishing, almost shocking how much people wanted this resource protected for its own sake," said Mark Needham, an assistant professor of forest ecosystems and society at OSU. "We fish and hunt wildlife for food or sport, we cut trees for timber. In most natural resource issues, we find conflicts over management for economic value versus environmental preservation or protection, but we really didn't see that here.
"Our surveys found overwhelmingly that people visiting coral reef areas did not think that human use and access were the most important issues when it came to these areas," he said. "And if anything was to have a deleterious effect on reef ecosystems, they would want it stopped."
That attitude was also of interest, Needham said, because in Hawaii coral reef ecosystems are a major draw for the tourism industry -- seven million people a year who spend more than $11 billion, in part, to enjoy the glistening waters, multi-colored corals, and myriad tropical fish. They are a destination for everyone from snorkelers and scuba divers to tourists in glass-bottom boats and toddlers wading knee-deep, all who come to see the incredible diversity of marine life. More than 80 percent of Hawaii's visitors recreate in the state's coastal and marine areas, and a majority go snorkeling or diving.
Past research has been done in many places around the world to analyze physical damage or other pressures placed on coral reefs, which in some cases has resulted in steps to reduce human use or educate visitors on reef protection. But until now, resource managers had no real barometer on just how much public support there was for such measures, especially among hobbyists and tourists who use this resource.
These recent surveys obtained attitudes and opinions from more than 3,500 residents and tourists visiting seven coral reef sites in the Hawaiian Islands, including state marine protected areas, fisheries management areas, and a county beach park. The surveys also measured attitudes about overuse and crowding, and opinions about management needs.
Opinions about coral reefs varied, Needham said, but were mostly just variations on how much protection might be needed, with some people feeling more extreme than others. Virtually no one wanted expanded use of coral reefs to the extent it might degrade them for enjoyment by future generations, and many were willing to endorse any level of protection needed, even if it meant banning human use. These views toward coral reefs reflected peoples' core personal values and are unlikely to change much, scientists said.
The studies showed that acceptance of potential future management strategies would be driven largely by perceived health of coral reefs and changes to these ecosystems.
"Litter, facilities, and crowding were not as important as coral reef conditions in influencing support or opposition to management actions such as limiting human use and increasing public information," Needham said. "This is surprising because in many parks and protected areas on land, social issues such as crowding and litter heavily influence attitudes toward management.
"In a marine context," he added, "it appears that environmental conditions may be more important."
More education and interpretation was commonly sought to help address issues of concern, such as people damaging corals by standing on them, the report found. The studies were supported by the Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative and State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources. Some results of this work have been accepted for publication in professional journals.
This research should be considered good news for managers seeking support for their marine protection and conservation efforts, Needham said.
However, further studies are needed in other states and countries and with other segments of the public, he said, including some that have a much stronger orientation toward managed use instead of recreation or environmental protection. Needham is now working with Brian Szuster, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Hawaii, to examine this topic in other areas of Hawaii and in other countries.
New research confirms that the volcanic processes at work beneath the Ethiopian rift are nearly identical to those at the bottom of the world's oceans, and the rift is indeed likely the beginning of a new sea. (Credit: Imagery (c) 2009 TerraMetrics. Map data (c) 2009 Europa Technologies / Courtesy of Google Maps)
ScienceDaily — In 2005, a gigantic, 35-mile-long rift broke open the desert ground in Ethiopia. At the time, some geologists believed the rift was the beginning of a new ocean as two parts of the African continent pulled apart, but the claim was controversial.
Now, scientists from several countries have confirmed that the volcanic processes at work beneath the Ethiopian rift are nearly identical to those at the bottom of the world's oceans, and the rift is indeed likely the beginning of a new sea.
The new study, published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly break apart in large sections, instead of little by little as has been predominantly believed. In addition, such sudden large-scale events on land pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events, says Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester and co-author of the study.
"This work is a breakthrough in our understanding of continental rifting leading to the creation of new ocean basins," says Ken Macdonald, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and who is not affiliated with the research. "For the first time they demonstrate that activity on one rift segment can trigger a major episode of magma injection and associated deformation on a neighboring segment. Careful study of the 2005 mega-dike intrusion and its aftermath will continue to provide extraordinary opportunities for learning about continental rifts and mid-ocean ridges."
"The whole point of this study is to learn whether what is happening in Ethiopia is like what is happening at the bottom of the ocean where it's almost impossible for us to go," says Ebinger. "We knew that if we could establish that, then Ethiopia would essentially be a unique and superb ocean-ridge laboratory for us. Because of the unprecedented cross-border collaboration behind this research, we now know that the answer is yes, it is analogous."
Atalay Ayele, professor at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, led the investigation, painstakingly gathering seismic data surrounding the 2005 event that led to the giant rift opening more than 20 feet in width in just days. Along with the seismic information from Ethiopia, Ayele combined data from neighboring Eritrea with the help of Ghebrebrhan Ogubazghi, professor at the Eritrea Institute of Technology, and from Yemen with the help of Jamal Sholan of the National Yemen Seismological Observatory Center. The map he drew of when and where earthquakes happened in the region fit tremendously well with the more detailed analyses Ebinger has conducted in more recent years.
Ayele's reconstruction of events showed that the rift did not open in a series of small earthquakes over an extended period of time, but tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. A volcano called Dabbahu at the northern end of the rift erupted first, then magma pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began "unzipping" the rift in both directions, says Ebinger.
Since the 2005 event, Ebinger and her colleagues have installed seismometers and measured 12 similar -- though dramatically less intense -- events.
"We know that seafloor ridges are created by a similar intrusion of magma into a rift, but we never knew that a huge length of the ridge could break open at once like this," says Ebinger. She explains that since the areas where the seafloor is spreading are almost always situated under miles of ocean, it's nearly impossible to monitor more than a small section of the ridge at once so there's no way for geologists to know how much of the ridge may break open and spread at any one time. "Seafloor ridges are made up of sections, each of which can be hundreds of miles long. Because of this study, we now know that each one of those segments can tear open in a just a few days."
Ebinger and her colleagues are continuing to monitor the area in Ethiopia to learn more about how the magma system beneath the rift evolves as the rift continues to grow.
Additional authors of the study include Derek Keir, Tim Wright, and Graham Stuart, professors of earth and environment at the University of Leeds, U.K.; Roger Buck, professor at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, N.Y.; and Eric Jacques, professor at the Institute de Physique du Globe de Paris, France.
ScienceDaily — The vast muddy expanses of the abyssal plains occupy about 60 percent of the Earth's surface and are important in global carbon cycling. Based on long-term studies of two such areas, a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that animal communities on the abyssal seafloor are affected in a variety of ways by climate change.
Historically, many people, including marine scientists, have considered the abyssal plains, more than 2,000 meters below the sea surface, to be relatively isolated and stable ecosystems. However, according to Ken Smith, a marine ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and lead author of the recent PNAS article, changes in the Earth's climate can cause unexpectedly large changes in deep-sea ecosystems. Based on 18 years of studies, Smith and his coauthors show that such ecosystem changes occur over short time scales of weeks to months, as well as over longer periods of years to decades.
The recent paper covers two time-series studies -- one at "Station M," about 220 kilometers off the Central California coast, and a second on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, several hundred kilometers southwest of Ireland. The flat, muddy seafloor at these sites lies between 4,000 and 5,000 meters beneath the ocean surface.
In this cold, dark environment, very little food is available. What food there is takes the form of bits of organic debris drifting down from the sunlit surface waters, thousands of meters above. During its long descent, this organic matter may be eaten, excreted, and decomposed, drastically reducing its nutritive value. It is estimated that less than five percent of the organic matter produced at the surface reaches the abyssal plains.
Research by Smith and his coauthors has shown that the amount of food reaching the deep sea varies dramatically over time. For example, at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, the amount of organic material sinking from above can vary by almost an order of magnitude from one year to another.
Such variations in food supply have several causes. On a seasonal basis, algal blooms near the sea surface send pulses of organic material to the deep seafloor. Other factors may also come into play, including how much of the algae is eaten by marine animals, and how the material is moved by ocean currents.
The authors point out that global climate change could affect the food supply to the deep sea in many ways. Some relevant ocean processes that may be affected by climate change include wind-driven upwelling, the depth of mixing of the surface waters, and the delivery of nutrients to surface waters via dust storms. Climate-driven changes in these processes are likely to lead to altered year-to-year variation in the amount of organic material reaching the seafloor.
As one example of ongoing changes in deep-sea ecosystems, the authors point to the fact that one of the most important groups of fish on the deep seafloor, the grenadiers, doubled in abundance between 1989 and 2004 at Station M. They speculate that change may be linked to a combination of climate change and commercial fishing.
In another example, some previously common species of sea cucumbers at Station M virtually disappeared after 1998, while others became much more abundant. These changes were tied to a significant El Niño event in 1997-98. Similar dramatic year-to-year changes were observed at Porcupine Abyssal Plain, where they were linked to changes in both the quantity and type of food reaching the seafloor.
Based on their observations, the authors conclude that long-term climate change is likely to influence both deep-sea communities and the chemistry of their environment. According to Smith, "Essentially, deep-sea communities are coupled to surface production. Global change could alter the functioning of these ecosystems and the way carbon is cycled in the ocean."
Changes in deep-sea carbon cycling are not considered in most climate models, an oversight that the authors believe should be corrected. In order to obtain the information needed to include seafloor-community changes in global climate models, the authors suggest that long-term, automated systems must be developed for monitoring the deep sea.
Smith and his colleagues point out that deep-sea ecosystems are prime targets for monitoring using cabled ocean observatories, new seafloor moorings, and robots, which can provide continuous data to capture both long-term and short-term changes in seafloor conditions. As coauthor Henry Ruhl put it, "What we need is to move beyond fragmented research programs and transition to a comprehensive global effort to monitor deep-sea ecosystems."
The research at Station M was sponsored by grants from the National Science Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Research at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain Sustained Observatory site was supported by the European Union and the Natural Environment Research Council of the United Kingdom.
The very aquatic environments we strive to protect comprise a diverse, interconnected system of unique organisms each playing an integral part in its overall function. Healthy aquatic ecosystems function as a whole -- at first glance it is not always evident how interconnected our underwater environment truly is, yet each and every different and unique component serves a vital role.
We have taken the same philosophical approach when considering Oceanic Defense's advisory board members. We are forming a group as diverse as the ocean and the many challenges we face in working to protect it.
We are pleased and honored to present the first members of our new advisory board.
Founder | Executive Director
Advisory Board November 2009
Bill Bushing PhD
Doctor of Philosophy PhD- Ecology, Evolution and Marine Ecology,
Dr. Bill as he is known received his undergraduate degree from Harvard and conducted scientific research with his major professor for eight years after graduation. He developed a 10-course field oriented science curruculum for his students when he taught at the Catalina Island School. During this time Bill also worked closely with Jean-Michel Cousteau, Dr. Richard Murphy, Dr. Sylvia Earle and others on Cousteau Institute educational programs. Bill later worked for Jacques Yves and Jean-Michel Cousteau on a two-hour TV documentary as part of their Rediscovery of the World documentary series.
[Read Dr. Bill's bio here]
Shaun Monson’s credits include the award-winning documentary Earthlings, which focuses on the suffering of animals used for food, fashion, pets, entertainment and medical research and is narrated by Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix. He is currently working on Unity, volume two of the trilogy. His comedy Bad Actors, a certified Dogme 95 film, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001.
[Read Shaun's bio here]
5 Time Grammy Nominated Composer
A multi-platinum selling Pianist/Composer/Producer who's received 5 Grammy Award nominations in the last 6 years. He's scored over 100 Television and Film Productions including 11 On and Off-Broadway dramatic plays. He's performed all over the world and is a proud recipient of the Environmental Leadership Award from the United Nations.
[Read Peter's bio here]
Producer, Photographer & Motivational Speaker
Annie AKA "OCEAN ANNIE" has become one of America’s leading ocean-environ educators. Founder of www.DiveIntoYourImagination.com, her company changes the way a new generation views the ocean. As an underwater cinematographer and educator, Annie has created a series of award winning books, DVDs, motivational art series and has become a Les Brown Platinum Speaker.
[Read Annie's bio here]
About Oceanic Defense:
A worldwide nonprofit Florida based organization with members in over 60 countries, spanning 6 continents, with 1 mission: Healthy aquatic ecosystems free from human abuse and neglect.
Our mantra is "Activation Through Education". We empower people by giving them the tools they need to protect our oceans by taking personal responsibility for their actions.
visit us on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/OceanicDefense
visit our official website: http://www.oceanicdefense.org
Photo: PTTEP ERG Media
You might recall back, in mid August 2009, when Matthew noted that an oil rig of the NW coast of Australia had sprung a leak. A rather bad leak that was expected to take some time to plug. Well, it's now November 2009, more than 70 days and four failed attempts later, the oil continues to gush into the Timor Sea, at an estimated rate of somewhere between 400 and 2,000 barrels per day. (A barrel contains 159 litres or 42 US gallons.)
But the news gets worse. On Sunday 1 November the West Atlas oil rig caught on fire, and oil company PTTEP Australasia admit they don't know how they are going to put it out. Should the rig collapse, the opportunities to plug the still leaking oil, pouring from the well bore 2.6km under the seabed, decline markedly. And the bad news keeps on coming.
Bob Brown, leader of the Greens in Australia, has called for the resignation of the government's Resources Minister over the 10 week catastrophe, particularly given that the he has apparently award PTTEP new drilling licenses while all this has been unfolding.
The Australian newspaper reported in mid October that over $5 million AUD of taxpayers' money has been spent at that time, to try an quell the oil spill, and yet PTTEP Australasia had only repaid the Australian Maritime Safety Authority $3.8 million.
Because such little information has been forthcoming on the environment impact of the oil spill in the Montara oil field, from either the government or the oil company, WWF Australia sent their own team to investigate.
They observe that PTTEP, the company responsible for the oil slick, reported high levels of mortality among oil- affected seabirds.
WWF's Director of Conservation Dr Gilly Llewellyn, noted that, "Clearly, wildlife is dying and hundreds if not thousands of dolphins, seabirds and sea-snakes are being exposed to toxic oil. The critical issue is the long term impact of this slick on a rich marine ecosystem, taking into consideration the magnitude, extent and duration of the event. "
"We know that oil can be a slow and silent killer. Impacts from the Exxon Valdez disaster are still being seen 20 years later, so we can expect this environmental disaster will continue to unfold for years to come."
Of particular concern is the largely remote north Australian coast line in an area known as the Kimberley. Eariler in 2009, Dr Steve Blake, Chief Executive of the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI), remarked that, "Undoubtedly the Kimberley is one of the last true marine wildernesses in the world." He was commenting on the discovery that the Kimberley region is not only home to oil exploration, but what be one of the largest humpback whale nurseries in the world. Which has moved the West Australian government to look at creating a Marine Park to protect their habitat.
A Wikipedia page has been posted on the Montara Oil Spill, providing updates as they come to hand, which were almost weekly, but at the moment seems to be daily, what with PTTEP issuing media statements in a constant flurry.
The latest attempt to plug an oil well that has been leaking for more than two months in the Timor Sea has been delayed.
Oil began flowing from a well at the Montara oilfield, more than 200km off Western Australia's northwest coast, on August 21.
Three attempts by the company which operates the oilfield, Thai-based PTTEP Australasia, to plug the leaking well with mud have failed.
A fourth attempt was to be made on Friday, but PTTEP Australasia said that would now take place over the weekend.
A spokesman for the company said an overnight analysis of electro magnetic surveys after drilling activities on Thursday meant a specialised guidance tool would have to be used to align the drilling assembly in the well bore to intercept the leaking well.
"The drilling team on board the West Triton rig will deploy the alignment tool down the intercept well to accurately guide the drilling assembly towards the target," the spokesman said.
"Following a successful intercept, heavy mud will be pumped from the West Triton down into the relief well, displacing the oil, gas and water and stopping the flow."
The well casing being targeted is 25 centimetres in diameter.
Late on Thursday, PTTEP said a small piece of cement recovered near the site of the leaking well showed repair crews could be close to finally stemming the spill.
PTTEP said the well was initially leaking at a flow rate of 400 barrels of oil a day.
But the Greens said data from Geoscience Australia, revealed in Senate estimates hearings on Wednesday, revealed the flow could be about 2,000 barrels a day, plus condensate.
Conservationists have been critical of the response to the spill.
On Friday, WWF said PTTEP had confirmed the deaths of 16 seabirds out of 25 affected by the oil spill.
WWF conservation director Dr Gilly Llewellyn said dolphins, migratory seabirds, sea snakes and marine turtles have been found in the slick-affected area during a recent expedition by the group.
A survey report, released on Friday, painted a picture of a rich marine environment under toxic threat from the Montara leak.
"We recorded hundreds of dolphins and sea birds in the oil slick area, as well as sea snakes and threatened hawksbill and flatback turtles," Dr Llewellyn said.
PTTEP said there were no reports of any whales or dolphins in trouble and tests undertaken on fish specimens to date showed no contamination by oil.
"Clearly, wildlife is dying and hundreds if not thousands of dolphins, seabirds and sea snakes are being exposed to toxic oil," Dr Llewellyn said.
"The critical issue is the long-term impact of this slick on a rich marine ecosystem, taking into consideration the magnitude, extent and duration of the event."
Oil could be a slow and silent killer, Dr Llewellyn said.
"Impacts from the Exxon Valdez disaster are still being seen 20 years later, so we can expect this environmental disaster will continue to unfold for years to come," she said.
Environs Kimberley director Martin Pritchard said the attempts to plug the leak were farcical.
"This feels like Groundhog Day. It's turning into a farce and the big players need to step in because this is an environmental disaster for marine life off the Kimberley Coast," Mr Pritchard said.
The oil leak had tainted the whole oil and gas industry's reputation and had occurred in an area teeming with marine life, Mr Pritchard said.
"It's not a good look for an industry that wants to continue drilling in this environmentally sensitive area and we know ... that Australians are really concerned about this oil leak and want places like the Kimberley coast protected from the risks of the oil and gas sector," he said.