Oceans: Whale sharks get a little love from tuna fishermen

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Whale sharks are getting some protection from purse-seining in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

New fishing regs protect world’s largest fish from harmful tuna netting practices

Staff Report

FRISCO — Whale sharks in the Pacific Ocean are getting a little help from an international fishing group that recently banned the practice of placing purse-seine tuna nets around the world’s largest fish.

Whale sharks are so docile that humans often swim alongside them without concern, snapping photographs of their incredible size. But it is exactly their enormous bulk that made them an accidental target of commercial fishermen, who know that tuna like to gather in schools around whale sharks (as well as other large floating objects).

Tuna fleets often use fish-aggregating devices to attract tuna to an area, making it easier to find and encircle the tuna in the purse seine nets much more efficient. When fishermen deploy nets around whale sharks to capture tuna swimming beneath it, the encircled whale sharks are often caught in the net, where they are injured or die. Continue reading

Oceans: What triggers phytoplankton blooms?

New study will deepen understanding of plankton’s role in global carbon cycle

A European Space Agency satellite image shows a phytoplankton bloom near the Falkland Islands.

A European Space Agency satellite image shows a phytoplankton bloom near the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Scientists working in the Gulf of Mexico are tracking BP's spilled oil as it works its way up the food web, from bacteria to plankton. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

How does ocean phytoplankton respond to global warming?

Staff Report

FRISCO — It’s well-known that ocean phytoplankton are a key link in the global carbon cycle, and a new study this year will help expand that understanding.

A researcher with Oregon State University will lead a $30 million NASA-funded study to look at a phytoplankton hot spot stretching from Woods Hole, Massachusetts to the Azores and north to Greenland’s southern tip.

The research could challenge conventional wisdom about when and why phytoplankton bloom and help show how global warming will change the oceans. Continue reading

Research suggests sea turtles rely on magnetic imprints to find traditional nesting sites

Slight geomagnetic changes shift nesting areas

A loggerhead sea turtle off the coast of New England. Photo courtesy NOAA/Matthew Weeks.

A loggerhead sea turtle off the coast of New England. Photo courtesy NOAA/Matthew Weeks.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Sea turtle reproduction and survival are tenuous at best in the modern world, so it’s not surprising that multiple generations see out the same spots when it’s time lay eggs. Successful nesting requires a combination of environmental features that are relatively rare: soft sand, the right temperature, few predators and an easily accessible beach.

This week, scientists said they’ve learned that turtles are able to maneuver back to their traditional breeding sites by honing on on unique magnetic signatures along the coast. Continue reading

NOAA reports major coral bleaching in 2014

Hawaii bleaching the worst on record

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Coral reefs experienced major heat stress in 2014. Map courtesy NOAA Climate.gov – Dan Pisut.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Even without a surge of El Niño ocean heat, there was widespread coral bleaching across parts of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean this past summer.

Reefs in the Florida Keys saw their worst bleaching episode since 1997-1999, when a major El Niño was followed by strong La Niña conditions, NOAA scientists reported recently. The surprising intensity of bleaching across multiple ocean basins in 2014 has scientists wondering what to expect in 2015, when El Niño is forecasted to finally develop. Continue reading

Climate: Invasive tropical fish already changing ocean ecosystems in eastern Mediterranean Sea

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Rabbitfish are changing ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea.

Studies document loss of kelp forests and overall biodiversity

Staff Report

FRISCO — Tropical fish are moving north as the global climate warms, in some cases with devastating impacts to ocean ecosystems. In parts of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, rabbitfish have reduced the algae canopy by 65 percent with a cascading effect on ecosystems, including a 40 percent decrease in the total number of plant and animal species.

“The introduction of tropical fish into more temperate regions is troubling and this new study gives a vivid example of what can happen when non-native species occupy a new ecosystem,” said Fiona Tomas Nash, a courtesy professor of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University and a co-author on both studies. Continue reading

Scientists eye tsunami debris for invasive species

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NOAA is tracking marine debris from the 2011 tsunami.

Winter weather patterns expected to bring another wave of flotsam

Staff Report

FRISCO — Ocean scientists in the Pacific Northwest say winter winds and currents are set to deliver another load of debris from the deadly 2011 tsunami that swept Japan. Last year, about 30 fishing boats washed ashore along the coast of Washington and Oregon, many covered with living organisms native to Asia.

Some of the Asian coastal species could pose a threat to native ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest, said John Chapman, an Oregon State University marine invasive species specialist at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. Continue reading

Environment: Plastic microfibers building up in deep sea sediments

Do you know where your plastic shopping bag ends up?

Do you know where your plastic shopping bag ends up?

‘It is alarming to find such high levels of contamination, especially when the full effect of these plastics on the delicate balance of deep sea ecosystems is unknown’

Staff Report

FRISCO — After researchers found plastic litter even in some of the remote reaches of the Arctic Ocean a few years ago, it’s probably not surprising to learn that the deep sea is becoming a collecting ground for plastic waste.

Floating mats of plastic have become a breeding ground for bacteria that could bring invasive pathogens to the open sea, and in another study, researchers documented how crabs are ingesting plastic through their gills.

A new study, published this week in Royal Society Open Science, shows how plastic debris breaks down into microfibers that are piling up in the deepest parts of the sea. The scientists with the Plymouth University and Natural History Museum say there could be around four billion microscopic plastic fibers could be littering each square kilometer of deep sea sediment around the world. Continue reading

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