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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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Oceans: Lights out for Pacific bluefin tuna?

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Wrangling over bluefin tuna conservation continues.

Activists call for consumer boycott

Staff Report

FRISCO — It may be lights out for Pacific bluefin tuna after the National Marine Fisheries Service last week reversed an earlier decision to restrict fishing for the dwindling species.

According to the emergency rule from the agency, the fishery will reopen until the 500 metric ton catch limit is reached. In a federal register notice, the agency said it imposed the closure prematurely.
Continue reading

New maps detail ocean acidification patterns

n northern winter, the Bering Sea, dividing Alaska and Siberia, becomes the most acidic region on earth (in purple) as shown in this February 2005 acidity map in pH scale. Temperate oceans are less acidic. The equatorial Pacific is left blank due to its high variability around El Niño and La Niña events. (Takahashi

During the northern hemisphere winter, the Bering Sea, dividing Alaska and Siberia, becomes the most acidic region on earth (in purple) as shown in this February 2005 acidity map in pH scale. Temperate oceans are less acidic. The equatorial Pacific is left blank due to its high variability around El Niño and La Niña events. Map courtesy Taro Takahashi.

New benchmark data will help track future changes

Staff Report

FRISCO — The world’s oceans are acidifying at a rate of about 5 percent each decade, a trend that could cost the global economy $3 trillion a year in lost revenue from fishing, tourism and other intangible lost ecosystem services.

At that pace, warm-water corals by the end of the century could be living in waters 25 percent more acidic than they are today, raising questions about the long-term survival of coral reef ecosystems.

To paint a more detailed picture of potential impacts, scientists have created an ocean acidification map, showing how how acidity levels vary across the world’s oceans. The data should help provide a benchmark for the future, as enormous amounts CO2 from fossil fuels ends up in the sea. Continue reading

Russia, China block Antarctica conservation plans

Proposals for vast marine preserves fail for the fourth time

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Plans to protect the Antarctic environment are still on hold. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Russia and China have once again showed their unwillingness to participate in global efforts to protect the environment in Antarctica by blocking a plan to create new marine reserves off the shore of eastern Antarctica and in the Ross Sea.

Both countries are more interested in exploiting natural resources in the region than in establishing a collaborative framework for sustainable management of the fish and krill. Russia voted for the fourth time to block the proposal for new marine protected areas, while China opposed the plans for the first time. Continue reading

Feds launch ocean biodiversity monitoring network

A pelican perch along the coast in Englewood, Florida.

A pelican perches along the coast in Englewood, Florida.

Florida, California and Alaska sites will host pilot phase of research effort

Staff Report

FRISCO — Federal agencies are launching an ambitious $17 million pilot project to monitor ocean biodiversity, recognizing that fragile coastal and marine ecosystems face increasing threats, including climate change.

“To mitigate and adapt to such threats, we need a fuller, more integrated, picture of how the biodiversity within these ecosystems may be changing, especially since marine biodiversity is a key indicator of ocean health and critical to sustaining natural resources such as fisheries,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a press release. Continue reading

New governance model needed for sustainable fisheries

Trawl nets grab any and all forms of marine life, laying waste to the ocean floor. The total area bottom trawled is nearly 150 times the area of forest that is clearcut annually around the world. Credit: Sarah Foster

Trawl nets grab any and all forms of marine life, laying waste to the ocean floor. The total area bottom trawled is nearly 150 times the area of forest that is clearcut annually around the world.
Credit: Sarah Foster

Focus on large commercial fishing operations misses big part of the picture

Staff Report

FRISCO — Ignoring small-scale fisheries risks irreversible harm to ocean ecosystems, scientists warned this week, calling for on governments to adopt new models for regulating small coastal fishing operations that account for about 90 percent of the world’s fishers — about 100 million strong.

Most of those fishermen depend on the ocean for their livelihoods and many catch fish and other marine animals at unsustainable levels. Governments, conservationists, and researchers around the world must address the enormous threat posed by these unregulated and destructive fisheries, marine scientists wrote in Science. Continue reading

Environment: Report warns against unsustainable exploitation of deep ocean resources

global warming ocean changes

Unchecked exploitation of deep ocean resources could have unforeseen impacts, researchers warn.

Planning should include consideration of deep-ocean ecosystem benefits

Staff Report

FRISCO — Scientists are warning against unchecked exploitation of deep ocean resources in the coming decades, saying that the lack of a regulatory framework for areas outside territorial waters opens the door for unsustainable development.

The analysis, published in Biogeosciences, outline the societal benefits of the deep oceans.

“The deep sea is the largest habitat on Earth, it is incredibly important to humans and it is facing a variety of stressors from increased human exploitation to impacts from climate change,” said Andrew Thurber, an Oregon State University marine scientist and lead author on the study. “As we embark upon greater exploitation of this vast environment and start thinking about conserving its resources, it is imperative to know what this habitat already does for us,” Thurber said. Continue reading

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