Oceans: Satellite data shows leatherback sea turtles ranging far and wide in search of jellyfish

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A leatherback sea turtle at sea. Photo courtesy NOAA.

New study to help inform conservation efforts along East Coast and Caribbean

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Threatened leatherback sea turtles like to hang out off the northeastern U.S. coast in late summer and fall, when mature jellyfish are abundant in the area, scientists said last week, sharing the results of a long-term study based on satellite data of tagged sea turtles.

“Our study provides new insights about how male and immature turtles behave, how they use their habitats and how that differs from adult females,” said University of Massachusetts researcher Kara Dodge. “Resource managers for protected marine species have lacked this key understanding, especially in coastal regions of the U.S. and Caribbean where leatherbacks and intense human activity coincide.” Continue reading

Do farmed salmon threaten wild populations?

Salmon species.

Salmon species.

Millions of escaped domestic salmon could overwhelm genetic pool of wild fish

Staff Report

FRISCO — Farmed salmon represent a clear threat to wild populations based simply on the sheer numbers of domesticated fish that escape their pens. Millions  of farmed salmon escape captivity each year, potentially with huge consequences for the genetics of wild populations, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia.

The researchers concluded that, while farmed salmon are genetically different to their wild counterparts, they are just as fertile. With full reproductive potential to invade wild gene pools, farmed salmon should be sterilized, the study concluded. Continue reading

More whales moving north through Bering Strait

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Scientists see changes in the way marine mammals use the Bering Strait. Photo courtesy NASA.

Scientists say mitigation needed to protect marine life in the region

Staff Report

FRISCO — American and Russian scientists studying the Bering Strait say that global warming is changing the way marine mammals use the area. Species at home farther south are using the narrow passage to the Arctic Ocean much more often, the researchers said after monitoring the area for three years with underwater microphones.

The recordings show Arctic beluga and bowhead whales migrating seasonally through the region from the Arctic south to spend winter in the Bering Sea. They also detect large numbers of sub-Arctic humpback, fin and killer whales traveling north through the Bering Strait to feed in the biologically rich Chukchi Sea. Continue reading

Common sunscreen compound mutates corals

A coral reef at the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy Jim Maragos/USFWS.

A coral reef at the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy Jim Maragos/USFWS.

Consumers should choose products carefully

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — All that sunscreen you slather on at the beach may help you prevent sunburn, but it’s not, as long suspected, the best for coral reefs. Turns out that a chemical used in many sunscreens, along with soap, cosmetics and body fragrances, is highly toxic to corals.

Research by scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science shows that even very low concentrations of benzophenone-2, or BP-2, can quickly kill juvenile corals. The additive has been used in personal-care products since the 1960s to protect against the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. Continue reading

Study documents ‘heartbreak’ after Gulf oilspill

Former Breckenridge resident Andy Cook, who owned and operated Ma's Po Boy restaurant on Park Avenue, cleans a yellowfin tuna he caught in the rich fishing waters near the mouth of the Mississippi River, just off Venice, Louisiana.

Former Breckenridge resident Andy Cook cleans a yellowfin tuna he caught in the rich fishing waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River near Venice, Louisiana. bberwyn photo.

Exposure to PAHs disrupts basic cellular function of heart muscles

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — When BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drill rig spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists immediately began documenting impacts to natural resources, finding dead corals on the seafloor, sick dolphins in Barataria Bay and remnant oil in the splash zone along Florida beaches.

Even low levels of oil pollution can damage the developing hearts of fish embryos and larvae, reducing the likelihood that those fish will survive. Scientists have known of this effect for some time, but the underlying mechanism has remained elusive.

But recent research by scientists with NOAA and Stanford University, shows how oil-derived chemicals disrupt the normal functioning of the heart muscle cells of fish. The findings, published in the Feb. 14 issue of Science, describe how toxic oil-based chemicals disrupt cardiac function in young bluefin and yellowfin tuna by blocking ion channels in their heart muscle cells. Continue reading

Study finds serious pollution in seabottom sediments of Guánica Bay, Puerto Rico

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Trouble at the bottom of the Caribbean, as researchers document high concentrations of toxics in sediments.

Toxins may be harming coral reef ecosystems

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Standing along the shore of Guánica Bay, Puerto Rico, the dazzling aquamarine Caribbean waters look normal. But deep below the surface, there may be trouble brewing, according to researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Pollutants measured in the sediments of the bay are among the highest ever measured by NOAA’s National Status & Trends, a nationwide contaminant monitoring program that began in 1986. The pollutants include PCBs, chlordane, chromium and nickel, according to the new NOAA study. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Counting whales — from space

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New satellite technology could help biologists getter more accurate estimates of whale populations  NOAA photo.

New method could help with marine mammal conservation planning

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After using satellite images to discover new emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica, scientists with the British Antarctic Survey said they’ve also been able to use similar technology to count whales.

Marine mammals are extremely difficult to count on a large scale and traditional methods, such as counting from platforms or land, can be costly and inefficient, so the new method could lead to breakthroughs in estimating populations of whales and other marine mammals. Continue reading

Sea turtle conservation efforts need more international collaboration

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A leatherback sea turtle. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Long-line fishing still seen as key threat

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Efforts to protect leatherback sea turtles urgently require better communication between scientists and fisheries managers, a team of researchers said after analyzing satellite data on sea turtle migration.

The last large populations of the leatherback turtle are at risk because their migratory routes in the Atlantic Ocean clash with the locations of industrial fisheries, according to the study.

The researchers used data from satellite transmitters attached to the turtles to track their movements across the Atlantic Ocean. These movements were then overlapped with information on high pressure fishing areas to identify where the turtles are most susceptible to becoming entangled and where they may drown.

The international study was jointly led by Dr. Matthew Witt, of the University of Exeter and Dr, Sabrina Fossette, of Swansea University, found that urgent international efforts are needed to protect the iconic species. Continue reading

Oceans: Iceland faces sanctions over whaling

Whale is on the menu in some Iceland restaurants. bberwyn photo.

Whale is on the menu in some Iceland restaurants. bberwyn photo.

U.S. officials say whaling trade violates international conservation treaty

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Iceland may face trade sanctions after U.S. officials formally declared that the island nation’s whaling is undermining an international ban on commercial trade in whale products.

The declaration by U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell may have been spurred in part by Iceland’s December announcement that commercial whaling will continue for the next five years. As many as 154 endangered fin whales and 229 minke whales could be killed each year under Iceland’s self-allocated quotas which are set to run from 2014 to 2018.

Iceland killed 35 minke whales and 134 fin whales, massive animals second only to blue whales in size, during the 2013 whaling season. Whaling has deep cultural and economic roots in Iceland, and the fishing industry is by far the largest sector of the country’s economy, but wildlife and animal rights advocacy groups say it’s time for Iceland to rethink its whaling activities. Continue reading

Groups seek more protection for West Coast orcas

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Can West Coast orcas survive?

New studies map important coastal habitat

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Ocean conservation advocates say the latest research shows a need to protect more habitat for orcas along the west coast.

Based in part on tracking studies showing orca movements, the Center for Biological Diversity last week petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the whales’ winter foraging range off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. The petition points out that only 81 killer whales remain in the Southern Resident population. Continue reading

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