Oceans: Study highlights threats to sharks and rays

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Majestic manta rays are among the species identified as facing a significant threat. Photo courtesy NOAA.

‘Unless binding commitments to protect these fish are made now, there is a real risk that our grandchildren won’t see sharks and rays in the wild …’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Overfishing is putting about 25 percent of the world’s sharks and rays at risk of extinction, according to ocean experts who took a close look at the global distribution, catch, abundance, population trends, habitat use, life histories, threats and conservation measures.

Previous studies have documented local overfishing of some populations of sharks and rays, but this is the first survey of their status throughout coastal seas and oceans. According to the findings, 249 of 1,041 known shark, ray and chimaera species globally fall under three threatened categories on the IUCN Red List.

“We now know that many species of sharks and rays, not just the charismatic white sharks, face extinction across the ice-free seas of the world,” said Nick Dulvy, a Simon Fraser University Canada Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. “There are no real sanctuaries for sharks where they are safe from overfishing,” Dulvy said. Continue reading

Study tracks natural variability of ocean acidity

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Ocean acidification will have impacts on most life in the coastal zone. bberwyn photo.

‘For vulnerable coastal marine ecosystems, this may be adding insult to injury …’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — In addition to the long-term threat of ocean acidification resulting from increased atmospheric greenhouse gases, marine organisms also must deal with short-term spikes of increased acidity.

Those acute episodes are caused by a variety of natural factors, including temperature and algal activity, according to a new study led by researchers with Duke University, who took a close look at natural cycles of acidity in a North Carolina estuary.

“The natural short-term variability in acidity we observed over the course of one year exceeds 100-year global predictions for the ocean as a whole,” said  Zackary I. Johnson, a molecular biologists at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. 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

Report highlights challenges for Costa Rican fisheries

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A sea turtle comes up for a breather. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Long-lining a huge threat to sea turtles and sharks

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Despite its reputation as an eco-haven, some research suggests that Costa Rica’s longline fisheries pose a significant threat to sea turtles and sharks.

Ecologists studying the impacts suggest that more regulation is needed. Well-timed and targeted closures in critical areas could go a long way toward protecting sensitive species — and to ensuring a sustainable fishing industry.

The findings from a recent round of studies were published recently in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, based on research conducted by a team including scientists from Drexel University, the Costa Rican non-profit conservation organization Pretoma andThe Leatherback Trust, a U.S. non-profit working in Costa Rica. Continue reading

Antarctic conservation plans hit snag, as some countries challenge legality of creating large new ocean preserves

Conservation commission still striving for consensus during special 2-day meeting in Bremerhaven, Germany

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Proposed new marine protected areas would protect Antarctic biodiversity. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A long-running global effort to establish new marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica hit a stumbling block this week, as Russia and Ukraine challenged the world community’s legal basis for proposing the reserves.

The new hurdle emerged this week during a special meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in Bremerhaven, Germany, called specifically to address the proposals for the Ross Sea region MPA proposal and the East Antarctica MPA proposal.

Other issues that cropped during the first day of the Bremerhaven meeting were related to the size of the protected areas, as well as the duration of the agreement, with some member nations requesting a 50 year review term. Other commission members said they want to make sure a management plan is in place when the protected areas are established. Continue reading

Oceans: Study assesses sonar impacts to blue whales

Biologists find nuanced response to simulated noise pollution

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Some blue whales abandon feeding areas when exposed to sonar-like noise pollution, scientists found after tagging some of the cetaceans in the California Bight. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Biologists are a little closer to understanding how the use of sonar during naval training exercises affects blue whales, with a new study showing that some tagged whales feeding in deep water stopped eating and sped up or moved away from sonar-like noise

The study, funded by the U.S. Navy, showed that the response to noise pollution is nuanced, depending in part on the what the whales are doing at the time. To assess the impacts, the researchers tagged whales and simulated mid-frequency sonar sounds significantly less intense than the military uses.

“Whales clearly respond in some conditions by modifying diving behavior and temporarily avoiding areas where sounds were produced,” said lead author Jeremy Goldbogen of Cascadia Research. “But overall the responses are complex and depend on a number of interacting factors,” he said. Continue reading

Agreement protects Gulf of Mexico marine mammals

Feds, oil companies agree to some limits on seismic airgun testing

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Marine mammals like coastal bottlenose dolphins will get some relief from seismic airgun blasting in the Gulf of Mexico. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Whales, dophins and other marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico will enjoy a little more peace and quiet under a new agreement that limits seismic airgun testing.

Under the deal, oil companies and the federal government will make some biologically important areas off-limits to testing. The agreement will also expand protection to additional at-risk species, and require the use of listening detection devices to better ensure surveys do not injure endangered sperm whales. Continue reading

Huge dead zone expected in Gulf of Mexico this year

About 153,000 metric tons of pollutants washed down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers in May

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Mapping the size of the Gulf Dead zone helps assess the impacts to marine ecosystems and potential costs to commercial and recreational fisheries.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Big runoff in the Mississippi River could lead to a record or near-record dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, according to a forecast from scientists preparing to measure the oxygen-starved waters where fish and other organisms struggle to survive.

The dead zone in Chesapeake Bay is expected to be smaller than average, based on several NOAA-supported forecast models developed by researchers at the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Continue reading

EPA takes small step toward addressing ocean acidification

A pteropod shell damaged by corrosive water. Photo courtesy British Antarctic Survey.

A pteropod shell damaged by corrosive water. Photo courtesy British Antarctic Survey.

Work group to discuss possible new water quality standards that would help assess acidification threats

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The EPA is taking a step toward tackling the issue of ocean acidification, which is leading toward a huge marine biodiversity catastrophe. The agency recently said it will task a panel of scientists to discuss a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity that requests new water quality standards to enable better detection and monitoring of acidification.

Some of the carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere is finding its way to the seas, where it’s changing the basic chemistry of the water and starting to have an impact on corals, shelfish and other marine organisms. One recent study showed exactly how ocean acidification is dissolving the shells of tiny sea snails in the Southern Ocean.

The federal government also has an interagency working group, with scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies working on the issue. Continue reading

Study links whale songs with specific behavior

Humpback whales in the Northwest Atlantic. Credit: NEFSC/NOAA

Humpback whales breaching in the Northwest Atlantic. Photo courtesy NEFSC/NOAA.

Acoustic research breakthroughs could help inform conservation efforts

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Breakthrough software is enabling scientists to better analyze humpback whale songs. For the first time, researchers have provided the a detailed description linking humpback whale movements to acoustic behavior on a feeding ground in the Northwest Atlantic.

“We have monitored and acoustically recorded whale sounds for years, and are now able to ‘mine’ these data using new computer software applications and methods, “ said Sofie Van Parijs, who heads the passive acoustics group at the Woods Hole Laboratory of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. Continue reading

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