Oceans: Study identifies risk hotspots for leatherback sea turtles

New data could help reduce bycatch of endangered turtles

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A leatherback sea turtle at sea. Photo courtesy NOAA.

A leatherback sea turtle at sea. Photo courtesy NOAA.FRISCO — A new mapping effort may help prevent accidental deaths of leatherback sea turtles, one of the most endangered animals in the world — if resource managers use the information to establish timed seasonal fishing restrictions.

By Summit Voice

The research shows use-intensity distributions for 135 satellite-tracked adult turtles and distributions of longline fishing areas in the Pacific Ocean. The overlap of these distributions in space and time allows prediction of bycatch risk.

Leatherback populations have declined by more than 90 percent since 1980. One of the greatest sources of mortality is industrial longlines that set thousands of hooks in the ocean to catch fish, but sometimes catch sea turtles as well. Using modern GPS technology, researchers are now able to predict where fisheries and turtles will interact and to reduce the unwanted capture of turtles by fishermen. Continue reading

Ocean ecosystems unraveling from overfishing

‘Tipping points are real …’

Illegal fishing threatens the viability of legal fleets. Bob Berwyn photo.

Fishing boats pierside in Apalachicola, Florida. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Over-harvesting fish in the world’s oceans has already tipped some ecosystems over the brink, according to Florida State University researchers who led a major review of fisheries data showing the domino effect that ensues when too many fish are harvested from one habitat.

The loss of a major species from an ecosystem can have unintended consequences because of the connections between that species and others in the system. Moreover, these changes often occur rapidly and unexpectedly, and are difficult to reverse.

“You don’t realize how interdependent species are until it all unravels,” said Felicia Coleman, director of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory and a co-author on the study. Continue reading

Deep ocean ecosystems not shielded from global warming impacts

New study says ‘trickle-down’ impacts likely to have profound effect on seafloor organisms 

A Patagonian toothfish, sometimes sold in stores as Chilean sea bass. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

Fish dwelling deep in the ocean will also feel the impacts of global warming, according to a new study by scientists with the National Oceanography Centre. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Warming ocean temperatures will have a cascading effect reaching even the deepest parts of the ocean, researchers with the UK’s National Oceanography Centre warned in a new paper published in the scientific journal Global Change Biology.

Their study quantifies future losses in deep-sea marine life, finding that marine life on the ocean floor will decline by up to 38 percent in the North Atlantic and by more than 5 per cent globally during the next century.

These changes will be driven by a reduction in the plants and animals that live at the surface of the oceans that feed deep-sea communities. As a result, ecosystem services such as fishing will be threatened. Continue reading

Environment: Dolphins hit by Deepwater Horizon spill are suffering from lung disease and hormone deficiencies

‘”I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals …”

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Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is making dolphins very ill.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Dolphins exposed to heavy doses of oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster are experiencing lung disease at five times the rate of dolphin populations in other areas, federal researchers reported in a new study published this week. The scientists also found that 25 percent of the Barataria Bay dolphins were significantly underweight and the population overall had very low levels of adrenal hormones, which are critical for responding to stress.

“I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals — and with unusual conditions such as the adrenal hormone abnormalities,” said lead author Dr. Lori Schacke, who announced similar findings in March 2012. Continue reading

Environment: Loggerhead sea turtles need protection at sea and in feeding grounds, not just on nesting beaches

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NOAA/Marco Giuliano.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NOAA/Marco Giuliano.

New research to help inform conservation

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Protecting nesting beaches is an important part of the loggerhead sea turtle recovery effort, but it may be even more critical to protect older juveniles and sub-adults to ensure they reach maturity and breed multiple times, according to new research by federal, state and university biologists.

NOAA last summer proposed designating nearshore reproductive habitat, breeding areas, and migratory corridors as critical habitat for the species.

“Our study suggests that the cumulative survival from hatchling to maturity, which may take 30 years, combined with present-day climate effects on mature females, has a greater influence on annual nesting population size than does the exclusive impact of survival during the first year of life as hatchlings,” said biologist Vincent Saba.  “The first year of life represents only 3 percent of the time elapsed through age 31.”

Saba, a research fishery biologist at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center , and his study co-authors used annual nest counts from Florida and a time-series of climate data in turtle-nesting population models. These models were then used to assess observed changes in nest counts and to project future nesting trends in the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle population, the largest in the world. Continue reading

Conservation groups challenge feds on naval training

Lawsuit highlights potential impacts to marine mammals from sonar and underwater explosives

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An orca and calf. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation advocates say federal authorization of a five-year U.S. Navy plan for testing and training activities off Hawai‘i and Southern California doesn’t do nearly enough to protect marine mammals from the impacts of sonar noise and underwater explosions.

The plan acknowledges that the training could cause up 9.6 million instances of harm to whales and dolphins and other marine mammals. The use of active sonar and explosive are known to cause permanent injuries and deaths to marine mammals.

According to the lawsuit filed this week Hawai‘i federal court, the plan violates federal environmental laws. The National Marine Fisheries Service didn’t evaluate alternative plans that would have required the Navy to avoid biologically important areas, the conservation groups said in a press release. Continue reading

Climate a huge factor in endangered species managment

New research helps narrow range of outcomes for resource managers

Dolphins off the coast of Florida have been exposed to more mercury than captive dolphins fed a controlled diet. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

New research shows how global warming may affect aquatic species. bberwyn photo.

Staff report

FRISCO — The ecological playing field has changed dramatically since the Endangered Species Act was passed 40 years ago. Along with continued environmental threats like pollution and habitat loss, global warming has emerged as a huge factor in the survival of numerous species.

Resource managers and scientists are still grappling with how warmer temperatures will affect ecosystems, but the range of possible outcomes is starting to become more clear. This month, federal fisheries scientists published a series of papers outlining several scenarios for the coming decades, including case studies for species ranging from chinook salmon to steelhead to 82 different types of coral. Continue reading

Study finds 5 distinct humpback whale populations

Findings of genetic study to help inform conservation strategies

A breaching humpback whale. PHOTO COURTESY OF WHIT WELLES.

A breaching humpback whale. Photo courtesy Whit Williams.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Humpback whales in the Pacific likely choose their migration routes, feeding grounds and breeding areas based on cultural preferences, marine researchers said last week, announcing that a comprehensive genetic study of the great cetaceans has identified five distinct populations.

The findings come as federal biologists consider a proposal to designate North Pacific humpbacks as a single “distinct population segment” under the Endangered Species Act and illustrate the complexity studying and managing marine mammals on a global scale. Continue reading

Speed limit set to protect North Atlantic right whales

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Lower speeds reduce deaths from collisions by 80 to 90 percent

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered North Atlantic right whales may have a little better chance of avoiding deadly collisions with ships, as the National Marine Fisheries Service this week set a permanent speed limit for large ships. Under the rule, ships longer than 65 feet have to slow to 10 knots (about 11 mph) when they’re around whales.

“This is really great news for Atlantic right whales and will help put this magnificent species on the road to recovery,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Speed limits for large ships are a simple and effective way to avoid deadly collisions that have been a significant threat to these whales’ survival.” Continue reading

Satellite images suggest over-fishing in Persian Gulf

Google Earth images used to track fishing practices

Shoreline fish traps may be depleting the Persian Gulf's marine resources at an unsustainable rate. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

Shoreline fish traps may be depleting the Persian Gulf’s marine resources at an unsustainable rate. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Canadian fisheries scientists say they’ve used Google Earth images to show that Persian Gulf states may be catching six times as many fish as they’re officially reporting to United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Time and again we’ve seen that global fisheries catch data don’t add up,” said Daniel Pauly, principal investigator with the Sea Around Us Project and the study’s co-author. “Because countries don’t provide reliable information on their fisheries’ catches, we need to expand our thinking and look at other sources of information and new technologies to tell us about what’s happening in our oceans,” Pauly said. Continue reading

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