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Feds taking input on new Florida manatee plan

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Manatees at Crystal Springs, Florida. bberwyn photo.

Refuge managers seek to balance protection of marine mammals with demand for public access at Three Sisters Springs

Staff Report

FRISCO — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a careful management plan at a freshwater spring in Florida can help protect manatees and ensure public access to the popular Three Sisters Springs recreation area.

The agency this week started taking input on a draft environmental assessment for management actions to protect manatees and still allow public access at Three Sisters Springs during the winter season. Continue reading

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Study pinpoints threats to Mediterranean dolphins

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Can Mediterranean dolphins survive the rising tide of tourism? bberwyn photo.

Pollution, boat strikes contribute to decline of Balearic population

Staff Report

FRISCO — Growing tourism, fishing, pollution and general marine traffic is threatening a small population of bottlenose dolphins living in coastal waters off the Pityusic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea, according to a study led by University of Barcelona researchers.

The biologists said they were able for the first time to get an accurate population count of the dolphins during spring and summer, crucial seasons for the marine mammals. Continue reading

Environment: “Microplastics are everywhere’

The five major ocean gyres.

The five major ocean gyres.

Plastic waste infiltrating many ocean ecosystems

Staff Report

FRISCO — Plastic pollution is far more widespread and prevalent in all the world’s oceans than more previously believed.  Far from being contained in several well-known ocean garbage patches, those “gyres” are acting like shredders, breaking the pollution in smaller bits that are subsequently transported far and wide.

“When the 5 Gyres Institute formed in 2008, we set out to answer a basic question: how much plastic is out there?” said the group’s research director, Dr. Marcus Eriksen. “There was no data from the Southern Hemisphere, Western Pacific or Eastern Atlantic. We’ve found microplastic ocean pollution, in varying concentrations, everywhere in the world.” Continue reading

Oceans: Will new regs ease pressure on Atlantic bluefin tuna?

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Atlantic bluefin tuna are in trouble. Photo courtesy NOAA.

NOAA amends rules to protect Gulf of Mexico spawning areas

Staff Report

Federal resource managers this week said they’ll tweak fishing regulations to try and protect Atlantic bluefin tuna to help ensure compliance with international quotas set to maintain sustainable stocks of the commercially valuable fish.

The species is categorized as endangered on the IUCN red list. By some estimates, there has been a global decline of between 29 percent and 51 percent based on summed spawning stock biomass from both the Western and Eastern stocks over the past 21–39 years. Continue reading

Study: Human activities having a big impact on Pacific Ocean nitrogen cycle

At home in the ocean.

Along with changes to the carbon cycle, human activities are changing the net nitrogen balance of the Pacific Ocean.

‘The North Pacific is so vast it is hard to imagine that humans could impact the natural nitrogen cycle’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Scientists studying the North Pacific Ocean said this week they were surprised to find a significant human impact to the upper ocean nitrogen cycle, primarily resulting from industrial and agricultural emissions.

The rate of deposition of reactive nitrogen (i.e., nitrogen oxides from fossil fuel burning and ammonia compounds from fertilizer use) from the atmosphere to the open ocean has more than doubled globally over the last 100 years. Continue reading

Oceans: Tracking study to help shape hammerhead shark conservation plans

Hammerhead sharks received much-needed protection from unsustainable trade. Photo courtesy Florida Museum of Natural History.

Hammerhead sharks may need more protection in the Sea of Cortes. Photo courtesy Florida Museum of Natural History.

FRISCO — A young hammerhead shark tagged by scientists in the Gulf of California swam more than 3,300 kilometers, diving as deep as 270 meters in offshore waters — well away from areas set aside to protect ocean life, according to a new tracking study.

The 10-month research project led by biologists with the Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas, Mexico and the University of California, Davis shows how additional conservation measures in nursery areas and offshore feeding areas could help protect sharks and other species. Continue reading

Oceans: Researchers identify starfish-killing virus

Mutation or environmental changes may have triggered recent epidemic that has wiped out entire populations

This is a SSWD-affected star. The fatal disease leads to behavioral changes, lesions, loss of appendages, and disintegration. Credit: Photo by Neil McDaniel.

This is a SSWD-affected star. The fatal disease leads to behavioral changes, lesions, loss of appendages, and disintegration. Photo credit: Photo, Neil McDaniel.

Staff Report

FRISCO — With 10 million viruses in every drop of seawater, it wasn’t easy to identify the pathogen that’s caused a recent widespread die-off of starfish along North America’s Pacific Coast. Already, entire populations have disappeared in less than two years — 20 different species, from Alaska to Baja, have been affected.

But using museum collections, researchers from Cornell University and the California Science now say they can attribute the mass mortality to a Densovirus that has been present in echinoderms like sea stars and urchins for at least 72 years.

The study suggests the disease may have recently risen to epidemic levels because of sea star overpopulation, environmental changes, or mutation of the virus. The results may help marine biologists as they try to develop conservation strategies, important, because sea stars are voracious predators, with a key role in regulating the ecology of the ocean floor. Continue reading

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