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Report: Utter mismanagement of plastic waste is devasting marine ecoysystems

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Some of the plastic marine waste accumulating in the oceans has become concentrated in the center of the Pacific Ocean by the North Pacific Gyre.

UCLA environmental and policy experts outline steps needed to tackle the problem

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new report on plastic pollution in the world’s oceans doesn’t mince words, calling the current state of affairs a “global mismanagement” of plastic waste.

Singling out plastic litter as one of the most significant problems facing marine environments, the policy brief from UCLA researchers documents the devastating effects of plastic marine litter and outlines why existing international legal mechanisms are inadequate to resolve the litter crisis.

It also offers a top-10 list of proposed actions, including a new international treaty with strong monitoring and enforcement mechanisms; domestic and local regulatory actions, such as bans of the most common and damaging types of plastic litter; extended producer-responsibility programs; and the creation of an “ocean friendly” certification program for plastic products. Continue reading

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Can coral reefs adapt to global warming?

A diverse coral reef in the U.S. Virgin Islands. PHOTO BY CAROLINE ROGERS/USGS.

A diverse coral reef in the U.S. Virgin Islands. PHOTO BY CAROLINE ROGERS/USGS.

Genetic adaptations may enable some species to persist in warmer oceans

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Some coral reefs may be able to adapt to warming seas through genetic adaptation — but only if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced dramatically, according to scientists who took a hard look at the rate of coral bleaching.

The study projects that some corals could reduce the currently projected rate of temperature-induced bleaching by 20 to 80 percent of levels expected by the year 2100, giving hope that some corals can survive through the end of the century.

“The hope this work brings is only achieved if there is significant reduction of human-related emissions of heat-trapping gases,” said Mark Eakin, Ph.D., who serves as director of the NOAA Coral Reef Watch monitoring program, which tracks bleaching events worldwide. “Adaptation provides no significant slowing in the loss of coral reefs if we continue to increase our rate of fossil fuel use.” Continue reading

Judge says feds must do better job of protecting Caribbean corals from fishing impacts

At the fish market in Negril, Jamaica.

Overfishing of parrot fish in the Caribbean is harming coral reefs. bberwyn photo.

Reef-grazing fish crucial to coral health

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered Caribbean corals got a little help this week from a federal court judge, who ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service must consider how fishing affects reef health.

According to the court, the federal agency erred by allowing fishing for depleted parrotfish and other algae-eating reef fish species without properly monitoring the fishery’s impacts on rare corals that depend on healthy fish populations.

The decision came in response to an Endangered Species Act suit filed in January 2012 by Earthjustice on behalf of two conservation groups, CORALations and the Center for Biological Diversity, and Mary Adele Donnelly. Continue reading

Are some Red Sea corals buffered from global warming?

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Coral in the Gulf of Eilat. Photo courtesy Amatzia Genin.

Reef systems near Eilat dominated by heat-tolerant species

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Coral reefs are struggling to survive in many areas around the world, but some heat-tolerant species may have a refuge, at least for the next several decades, in the northern Red Sea, according to scientists with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University have found.

The researchers announced their finding by claiming that the coral reefs near the resort city of Eilat  may have an advantage in the future over rival coral-viewing sites around the world. Continue reading

Global warming: Fossil record study shows coral reef collapse likely to wipe out numerous crustacean species

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A new study says some lobster species could disappear as coral reefs decline due to global warming. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The decline and potential collapse of coral reef ecosystems driven by global warming will have impacts to a multitude of other species. Reefs, often described as the nurseries of the sea, are important habitat for many crustaceans, and new research from the University of Florida suggests they will die out along with the corals.

By studying historic fossil records, the research shows a direct link between the health of coral reefs and decapod crustaceans, a group that includes shrimp, crab and lobster.

“We estimate that earth’s decapod crustacean species biodiversity plummeted by more than 50 percent during a sharp decline of reefs nearly 150 million years ago, which was marked by the extinction of 80 percent of crabs,” said Adiël Klompmaker, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus who started the study at Kent State University. Continue reading

Study: Sharks crucial to coral reef health

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Sharks, apex predators of many ocean ecosystems, play a key role in maintaining coral reef health. Photo courtesy NOAA.

As apex predators, sharks play an important role in regulating ecosystems, including coral reefs

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with the stresses of global warming and pollution, shark fishing may be another important factor in the decline of coral reefs, according to Canadian and Australian scientists.

“Where shark numbers are reduced due to commercial fishing, there is also a decrease in the herbivorous fishes which play a key role in promoting reef health,” said Jonathan Ruppert, a recent University of Toronto PhD graduate. Ruppert was part of a team engaged in long-term monitoring of reefs off Australia’s northwest coast.

Team leader Mark Meekan, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said the study suggests that, where shark numbers are reduced, there is a fundamental change in the structure of food chains on reef. Continue reading

Feds see more threats to Caribbean corals

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Elkhorn corals in the Caribbean are feeling the heat of global warming. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Fisheries Service gets deadline for recovery plan under court settlement

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Two key coral species around Florida need even more TLC than previously thought, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which wants to reclassify elkhorn and staghorn corals from “threatened” to the even more serious category of “endangered” because of their rapid decline.

The agency also agree to speed up finalization of a recovery plan under a court settlement that sets a 2014 deadline. These corals were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2006 because of threats from global warming and ocean acidification but, before today’s settlement agreement, had still not received the legally required recovery plan needed to save them from extinction. Continue reading

Global warming: Study shows far-reaching impacts of ocean acidification

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British Antarctic Survey scientists documented how increasingly corrosive water affects the shells of pteropods. Photo courtesy BAS.

German researchers see “ominous change” in increasing CO2 levels

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — There’s no question that the rapid acidification of the oceans will disrupt ecosystems and perhaps even wipe out some of the most sensitive species, including some shellfish.

British Antarctic Survey researchers last year showed how corrosive waters in the southern Ocean is destroying sea snail shells. Other studies suggest mussel beds in the Pacific Northwest may also be feeling the impacts, as the oceans absorb and process anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

As the atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid and causes the pH value of the oceans to drop, posing challenges for many species that live on the cusp of a delicate chemical balance. Continue reading

Oceans: Native predators won’t halt lionfish invasion

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Invasive lionfish won’t be controlled by native predators, leaving human intervention as the main option for management. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Active removal by humans probably the only option for removal

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Invasive lionfish have colonized the Caribbean and have moved up the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. as far as North Carolina, where they now threaten local fish populations, according to marine biologists at the University of North Carolina.

Not only that, but the spiny invaders are out-predating fish like sharks and barracudas, threatening to throw coral reef ecosystems out of whack. The only recourse is human intervention, the scientists said after publishing a paper in the journal PLOS ONE. showing that native predators won’t have much luck supressing the unwanted guests.

“Lionfish are here to stay, and it appears that the only way to control them is by fishing them,” said John Bruno, professor of biology in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and lead investigator of the study.  Continue reading

NOAA to update marine sanctuary guidelines

Pink coral at Rose Atoll in National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Pink coral at Rose Atoll in National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Agency taking comments to help shape the nomination and designation process

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wants to take a grassroots approach to designating new national marine sanctuaries, so the agency is launching a round of public input to update the criteria for the process.

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in 1995 deactivated the previous process for nominating national marine sanctuaries. Since then, members of Congress, state officials, tribes, non-governmental organizations, and others have expressed interest in pursuing new national marine sanctuaries. Continue reading

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