Environment: Sounding off on seafood fraud

Public asked to help develop guidelines to identify species at risk from pirate fishing and mislabeling

A nice haul of blue crabs.

Blue crabs caught by a hobby fisherman in Florida. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Federal officials say the next step in reducing seafood fraud and pirate fishing is letting consumers weigh in to help determine what guidelines should be used to identify at-risk species — not a small matter considering that a recent study found that some sushi restaurants mislabel up to three-quarter of the food they sell.

The public input session is part of the Obama administration’s larger effort to thwart  illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud. The comments will be used to develop a list of species eligible for a risk-based seafood traceability program. Continue reading

Trouble ahead for the Great Barrier Reef?

A NASA satellite photo shows a slice of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

A NASA satellite photo shows a slice of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Ancient climate clues warn about impacts of modern human activities

Staff Report

FRISCO — Turbulent seas, loaded with sediment and nutrients at the end of the last ice age likely set back growth of the Great Barrier Reef by centuries, according to scientists who recently took a close look at the reef’s biological history.

The findings are important because those environmental conditions are similar to what the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing today as a result of human activities, including the controversial coal port dredging that’s seen as a huge threat to Australia’s cherished ocean landmark. Continue reading

Environment: do you want to sail the Ocean Blue with Jack Johnson and learn about plastic pollution?

Video contest will award winner with a spot on a six-day Atlantic research voyage

sdfg

Oceans or garbage dumps?

The winner of the 5 Gyres video contest will join the crew of the Mystic on a scientific sailing expedition. Photo courtesy % Gyres.

The winner of the 5 Gyres video contest will join the crew of the Mystic on a scientific sailing expedition. Photo courtesy 5 Gyres.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A short video about local solutions to ocean plastic pollution could put you aboard a six-day scientific sailing expedition aimed at learning more about the North Atlantic Gyre, where huge amounts of waste spin in a giant lazy ocean eddy — to the detriment of the ocean environment.

The contest is sponsored by the 5 Gyres Institute, named for the five major ocean circulations that trap garbage and debris. In some areas, rafts of floating garbage have enabled invasive bacteria to get a foothold in the ocean environment. Scientists have known about the problem for a long time, and they also know it’s getting worse. Continue reading

Giant oxygen-sucking eddies discovered in Atlantic

sdf

Large ocean dead zones are on the move and could someday affect sea life around islands in the Atlantic.

Scientists suprised by low oxygen level in massive swirls of water

Staff Report

FRISCO — Scientists probing the mysteries of the sea probably weren’t expecting to find giant oxygen-sucking eddies, but now that they have, the research could help understand, and even predict, fish kills, which sometimes seem to happen almost randomly.

The team of German and Canadian researchers discovered the areas with extremely low levels of oxygen in the tropical North Atlantic, several hundred kilometers off the coast of West Africa. The levels measured in these ‘dead zones’, inhabitable for most marine animals, are the lowest ever recorded in Atlantic open waters.

The dead zones are created in eddies, large swirling masses of water that slowly move westward. Encountering an island, they could potentially lead to mass fish kills. The research is published today in Biogeosciences, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union.

Dead zones are areas of the ocean depleted of oxygen. Most marine animals, like fish and crabs, cannot live within these regions, where only certain microorganisms can survive. In addition to the environmental impact, dead zones are an economic concern for commercial fishing, with very low oxygen concentrations having been linked to reduced fish yields in the Baltic Sea and other parts of the world.

The oxygen levels in the newly discovered areas are 20 times lower than the previously estimated minimum, not even close to enough oxygen to sustain life.

Normally, dead zones are found inhabited coastlines where rivers often carry fertilisers and other chemical nutrients into the ocean, triggering algae blooms. As the algae die, they sink to the seafloor and are decomposed by bacteria, which use up oxygen in this process. Currents in the ocean can carry these low-oxygen waters away from the coast, but a dead zone forming in the open ocean had not yet been discovered.

The newly discovered dead zones are unique in that they form within eddies, large masses of water spinning in a whirlpool pattern.

“The few eddies we observed in greater detail may be thought of as rotating cylinders of 100 to 150 km in diameter and a height of several hundred metres, with the dead zone taking up the upper 100 metres or so,” said Karstensen. The area around the dead-zone eddies remains rich in oxygen.

“The fast rotation of the eddies makes it very difficult to exchange oxygen across the boundary between the rotating current and the surrounding ocean, Karstensen explained.

This plant growth is similar to the algae blooms occurring in coastal areas, with bacteria in the deeper waters consuming the available oxygen as they decompose the sinking plant matter

“From our measurements, we estimated that the oxygen consumption within the eddies is some five times larger than in normal ocean conditions,” he said.

The researchers have been conducting observations in the region off the West African coast and around the Cape Verde Islands for the past seven years, measuring not only oxygen concentrations in the ocean but also water movements, temperature and salinity. To study the dead zones, they used several tools, including drifting floats that often got trapped within the eddies. To measure plant growth, they used satellite observations of ocean surface color.

Their observations allowed them to measure the properties of the dead zones, as well as study their impact in the ecosystem. Zooplankton – small animals that play an important role in marine food webs – usually come up to the surface at night to feed on plants and hide in the deeper, dark waters during the day to escape predators. However, within the eddies, the researchers noticed that zooplankton remained at the surface, even during the day, not entering the low-oxygen environment underneath.

“Another aspect related to the ecosystem impact has a socioeconomic dimension,” said Karstensen. “Given that the few dead zones we observed propagated less than 100 km north of the Cape Verde archipelago, it is not unlikely that an open-ocean dead zone will hit the islands at some point. This could cause the coast to be flooded with low-oxygen water, which may put severe stress on the coastal ecosystems and may even provoke fish kills and the die-off of other marine life.”

Study shows how ocean noise harms dolphins

Seismic airgun blasting, naval warfare training are key sources of harmful ocean noise pollution

ssadf

A dolphin the Gulf of Mexico. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — With ever more offshore oil and gas exploration proposed, conservation advocates have been warning that the cumulative effects of those activities will take a huge toll on dolphins, whales and other marine life.

Of particular concern are plans to ramp up seismic underwater airgun blasting, used in the search for oil and gas deposits beneath the seafloor. Federal officials recently adopted a final proposal that would allow the use of this controversial technology in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida.  Continue reading

Feds propose taking some humpback whale populations off the endangered species list

Conservation efforts seen as successful

asf

Some humpback whale populations are no longer endangered. Map courtesy NOAA.

A humpback whale in the Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A humpback whale in the Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — With humpback whales rebounding after 40 years of conservation efforts, federal biologists this week said they want to revise the marine mammals’ endangered species status, taking some of the geographically separate populations off the endangered species list.

Reclassifying humpbacks into 14 distinct population segments would enable tailored conservation approach for U.S. fisheries managers. Currently, humpback whales are listed as endangered throughout their range, but 10 of the 14 populations don’t need the highest level of protection anymore, according to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Continue reading

Genetics help pinpoint origins of lionfish invasion

sdfa

Red lionfish are swarming the western Atlantic and Caribbean. Photo courtesy USGS.

New data may help control efforts

Staff Report

FRISCO— Biologists and resource managers grappling with invasive red lionfish in the Caribbean have some new clues based on genetic research.

Without natural predators, lionfish have spread throughout the western Atlantic, displacing native fish and disrupting ecosystems.

In a new study released this week, U.S. Geological Survey researchers say the invasion probably started in multiple locations. Florida had been fingered as the likely source, but the analysis suggest that multiple introductions occurred, with some potentially coming from the more southern parts of the range. Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,503 other followers