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Oceans: Pacific bluefin tuna on the brink as feds seek input on new fishing regulations

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Even the imminent decimation of tuna populations hasn’t stopped sport fishermen from harvesting the desirable fish in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. bberwyn photo.

Not enough adults left to replenish populations

Staff Report

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FRISCO — Pacific bluefin tuna won’t last long at any sustainable level without immediate and drastic intervention by fisheries managers, according to ocean advocates who are urging the federal government to adopt strict limits on bluefin tuna catch.

Overall, many tuna populations are on the brink of collapse. Five of eight tuna species have been assigned threatened or near-threatened status on the international Red List maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spewed millions of gallons of oil into the species’ prime breeding grounds, and a 2010 report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed how illegal fishing and inadequate enforcement are decimating tuna stocks all over the world. Continue reading

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Environment: Microplastic pollution gets inside crabs via gills

Caption: This image depicts polystyrene microspheres inside the gills of a shore crab. Credit: Andrew Watts

This image depicts polystyrene microspheres inside the gills of a shore crab. Image by Andrew Watts, University of Exeter, UK.

Is there a risk higher up the food chain?

By Bob Berwyn

* Read more Summit Voice stories on ocean plastic pollution here.

FRISCO — By some estimates, humankind now produces about 288 million tons of plastic per year, and about 10 percent of that likely ends up in the world’s oceans as a finely ground, totally human-produced source of pollution. Floating about in the seven seas, the microplastics can form rafts that harbor non-native bacteria and scientists know that the plastic is being eaten  by marine critters. Continue reading

Seabed dredging linked to coral reef disease

Study findings to help inform coastal management

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Dredging near coral reefs can lead to chronic disease and decline.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Along with the stress of global warming and the disappearance of reef-grazing fish, corals are also beset by the increasing pace of coastal development — specifically dredging — which can increase the frequency of diseases affecting corals.

Australian researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies made their findings after studying a site near Barrow Island, off the West Australian coast, where an 18-month, 7-million cubic metre dredging project took place, developing a channel to accommodate ships transporting liquefied gas to a nearby processing plant. The site was in otherwise very good condition. Continue reading

Oceans: Feds finalize critical habitat designation for threatened loggerhead sea turtles

Beach nesting areas, open ocean habitat protected

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Room to roam for loggerheads. Photo by NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Loggerhead sea turtles  may have a better chance of surviving — and even thriving — after federal agencies designated 685 miles of beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines, as well as 300,000 square miles of ocean, as critical habitat. The decision came after more than five years of delays and court battles, as conservation groups sought protection for the turtles.

While the ocean habitat rule provides unprecedented habitat protection for loggerhead sea turtles, it only protects nearshore habitat for one mile off nesting beaches despite science showing the importance of habitat three miles from beaches for females and hatchlings. The rule also failed to identify critical habitat for the endangered North Pacific Ocean loggerhead, which is at risk due to Hawaii and California fisheries activities in areas overlapping with the loggerhead’s habitat. Continue reading

Better planning needed to protect ocean resources

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Zoning coastal waters could help preserve marine resources for future generations. bberwyn photo.

Scientists call for ‘zoning’ of coastal waters

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Piecemeal planning and conservation efforts won’t be enough to preserve valuable ocean resources for future generations, a leading group of environmental and marine scientists said last week, calling on countries around the world to cooperate on zoning coastal waters in an approach that would mirror common land-use planning efforts.

Effective long-term conservation is crucial because about 20 percent of the world’s population  — mostly in developing countries — lives within 60 miles of the coast. Growing populations and worsening climate change impacts ensure that pressures on tropical coastal waters will only grow, they warned. Continue reading

Oceans: Study shows whales are ecosystem engineers

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Healthy whale populations could buffer oceans from some global warming impacts

Staff Report

FRISCO — Whales may play a much bigger role in ocean ecosystems than previously thought, according to a University of Vermont researcher who studied how the great cetaceans recycle and move nutrients from one region to another.

“For a long time, whales have been considered too rare to make much of a difference in the oceans,” notes University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman.

That was a mistake, he said, explaining how his research shows that whales  have a powerful and positive influence on the function of oceans, global carbon storage, and the health of commercial fisheries. Continue reading

Study: plastic pollution pervasive globally

The five major ocean gyres.

The five major ocean gyres.

‘But probably, most of the impacts taking place due to plastic pollution in the oceans are not yet known’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Humankind’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude about garbage is slowly but surely turning the world’s oceans into a soup full of microscopic plastic particles that are probably passing into the marine food chain, Spanish scientists said this week, describing their findings from a nine-month research cruise around the world.

“Ocean currents carry plastic objects which split into smaller and smaller fragments due to solar radiation,” said Andrés Cózar, aresearcher with the University of Cadiz. “Those little pieces of plastic, known as microplastics, can last hundreds of years and were detected in 88 percent of the ocean surface sampled during the 2010 Malaspina Expedition,” Cózar said. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Pacific great white sharks may be more abundant than previously believed

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Are Pacific Ocean great white sharks endangered?

New study suggests there’s no need for endangered species listing

Staff Report

FRISCO — While California is considering endangered species status for great white sharks, some recent research suggests the apex ocean predators are doing just fine, and that populations appear to be growing.

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, said the wide-ranging study is good news for shark conservation. The study, to be published June 16 in the journal PLOS ONE, shows that conservation measures are working.

Scientists reanalyzed 3-year-old research that indicated white shark numbers in the Eastern North Pacific were alarmingly low, with only 219 counted at two sites. That study triggered petitions to list white sharks as endangered.

“White sharks are the largest and most charismatic of the predator sharks, and the poster child for sharks and the oceans in general,” said Burgess, whose research program is based at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “If something is wrong with the largest, most powerful group in the sea, then something is wrong with the sea, so it’s a relief to find they’re in good shape.” Continue reading

Study: White sharks rebound from exploitation

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New data suggests white sharks are making a comeback.

Research charts important habitat of apex predators

Staff Report

FRISCO — White sharks in the Atlantic Ocean may be making a comeback a few decades after expanding recreational and commercial fisheries appeared to have decimated populations of the apex predators. A new study sheds some light on population trends, showing were populations are most concentrated and which areas may serve as important nurseries.

“White sharks in the Northwest Atlantic are like a big jigsaw puzzle, where each year we are given only a handful of pieces,” said Tobey Curtis, a shark researcher at NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, Mass. and lead author of the study. “After decades of effort by a lot of researchers, we finally have enough puzzle pieces for a picture to emerge on distribution and abundance patterns. We are pleased to see signs of population recovery.” Continue reading

Iron a key link in ocean-climate system

‘If warming climates lower iron levels at the sea surface, as occurred in the past, this is bad news for the environment’

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The link between iron concentrations in the ocean and global temperatures may result in a feedback loop leading to yet more warming, a new study says.

FRISCO — Scientists with the University of Edinburgh say they may have pinpointed the granddaddy of all climate feedback mechanisms, saying that rising global temperatures could indirectly increase the amount of greenhouse gases released from the world’s oceans.

After studying the abundance of silicon and iron from the fossils of plankton  in a 26,000-year-old core sediment from the Gulf of California, the researchers found that, those periods when silicon was least abundant in ocean waters corresponded with relatively warm climates, low levels of atmospheric iron, and reduced CO2 uptake by the oceans’ plankton. Continue reading

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