Category: Marine biology

Satellite mapping could help avert whale-ship crashes

Naval training exercises off the coast of California could pose a threat to endangered marine mammals.
A new satellite mapping program could help avert collisions between whales and ships . Photo courtesy NOAA.

‘No ship captain or shipping company wants to strike a whale’

Staff Report

Satellite data about whale movements and ocean conditions have helped scientists create monthly whale hotspot maps that could help avert collisions between ships and marine mammals.

Developed by researchers with NOAA Fisheries, Oregon State University and the University of Maryland, the WhaleWhatch program alerts ships where there may be an increased risk of encountering these endangered whales.  NASA helped fund the project, which draws on ocean observations from NASA and NOAA satellites. Continue reading “Satellite mapping could help avert whale-ship crashes”

Pacific bluefin tuna may get endangered species status

A rampant black market and lax regulations are quickly leading to the demise of the eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Overfishing is pushing bluefin tuna toward extinction.

Unsustainable fishing is pushing the species to the brink of oblivion

Staff Report

Federal regulators are one step closer to putting Pacific bluefin tuna on the endangered species list, as humankind’s insatiable appetite for resources drives the fish to the edge of extinction. The announcement by the National Marine Fisheries Service came in response to a petition filed by conservation groups, who say bluefin tuna populations have declined by about 97 percent since the advent of industrial fishing operations. Continue reading “Pacific bluefin tuna may get endangered species status”

New federal study outlines impacts of seismic air gun blasting in Gulf of Mexico

Oil and gas exploration would have widespread effects on marine mammals

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Seismic blasting is bad for marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Conservation advocates have long been saying that blasting the Gulf of Mexico with seismic airguns to find more oil and gas beneath the seafloor would result in unacceptable harm to marine mammals and other marine life, and a new draft environmental study by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management seems to confirm those concerns.

The study was completed under the terms of a court-ordered settlement of a lawsuit brought by environmental groups. It shows that the blasting would have widespread impacts on marine life, including injuries to endangered sperm whales and Bryde’s whales. The draft report outlines possible mitigation measures, including closure areas where seismic blasting would be banned, and reductions in the amount of activity permissible each year. Continue reading “New federal study outlines impacts of seismic air gun blasting in Gulf of Mexico”

Study eyes tourism threat to sustainable fisheries in Caribbean

A spiny lobster in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.
A spiny lobster in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Under-reporting of catches documented by nonprofit research group

Staff Report

The marine environment around some Caribbean islands is still threatened by unsustainable fishing, according to a new study that documents the under-reporting of catches in the Turks and Caicos Islands. According to the research, catches on the islands were 86 percent higher than what was reported to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, a finding with troubling implication for sustainable fisheries efforts.

The research team from the nonprofit Sea Around Us program says urgent policy action is needed to ensure the future sustainability of the fishing industry in this archipelago nation. The findings were published in open-access journal Frontiers in Marine Science. Continue reading “Study eyes tourism threat to sustainable fisheries in Caribbean”

New study documents biodiversity in proposed deep sea mining zone

Researchers call for balance between mining and ecosystem protection

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A species of cnidarian in the genus Relicanthus with 8-foot long tentacles attached to a dead sponge stalk on a nodule in the eastern Clarion-Clipperton Zone. These are closely related to anemones. Photo credit: Diva Amon and Craig Smith, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.

Staff Report

New research shows that proposed mining on the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean would likely have a huge impact on marine biodiversity. A study published in the journal Scientific Reports, documents an “impressive abundance and diversity among the creatures” on the seafloor in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone — an area in the equatorial Pacific Ocean being targeted for deep-sea mining.

“We found that this exploration claim area harbors one of the most diverse communities of megafauna (animals over 2 cm in size) to be recorded at abyssal depths in the deep sea,” lead author Diva Amon said in a press release.

The researchers explained that a combination of biological, chemical and geological processes formed a high concentrations of polymetallic “manganese” nodules on the deep seafloor in the CCZ–an area nearly the size of the contiguous United States. These nodules are potentially valuable sources of copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese, among other metals, which has led to an interest in mining this region. Continue reading “New study documents biodiversity in proposed deep sea mining zone”

Conservation groups seek trade sanctions against Mexico in effort to save the endangered vaquita

Continued illegal gill net fishing cited in push for ban on Mexican seafood

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There may be as few as 60 endangered vaquita remaining in the Gulf of California. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

In what could be a last-ditch effort to save imperiled vaquita in the Gulf of California, conservation advocates are urging the Obama administration to launch economic sanctions against Mexico to halt that country’s trade in totoaba. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the sanctions would be justified because Mexico is violating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) by not enforcing the ban on totoaba trade.

The June 28 letter to high level U.S. Cabinet officials is the latest step in a long-running an complex struggle to prevent extinction of vaquitas, an endangered porpoise that lives in only a small section of the upper Gulf of California. My some estimates, there may only be 60 individuals remaining. Continue reading “Conservation groups seek trade sanctions against Mexico in effort to save the endangered vaquita”

Sea star die-off spurred trophic cascade in B.C. coastal waters

Northern rainbow star afflicted with sea star wasting disease. This species had virtually disappeared from central California kelp forests as of February 2014. Photo: Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS
Northern rainbow star afflicted with sea star wasting disease. This species had virtually disappeared from central California kelp forests as of February 2014. Photo: Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS.

Booming sea urchin population takes bite out of ocean kelp forests

Staff Report

Some sea star populations along the Oregon coast may be recovering from a massive wasting epidemic that all but wiped out some species of the echinoderms, but that’s not the case in Howe Sound, a scenic fjord-like sound on the coast of British Columbia.

There, the die-off had a clear ecological trickle-down effect, called a trophic cascade by biologists. After the sea stars died, populations of their favorite prey, green sea urchins, quadrupled. The urchins quickly gobbled up kelp, reducing by 80 percent. Undersea kelp forests are critical to near-shore ocean ecosystems, providing cover and food for many marine species.

The findings were reported by Simon Fraser University marine ecologists Jessica Schultz, Ryan Cloutier and Isabelle Côté, who studied the after-effects of the die-off that hit the area in 2013, described as one of the largest  wildlife mass mortality events ever recorded. Continue reading “Sea star die-off spurred trophic cascade in B.C. coastal waters”