Category: Marine biology

Ocean acidification puts Dungeness crab fishery at risk

Study shows how changing ocean chemistry slows life cycle

Dungeness crab
Ocean acidification will slow the reproductive cycle of Dungeness crabs, according to a new study. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

Ocean acidification could take a bite out of the economically important Dungeness crab fishery along the Pacific Northwest coast. As the oceans absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere, the increasingly corrosive water is likely slow development and reduce survival of the crab’s larval stages, according to new research by  the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

Ocean acidification is one of the most serious effects of increasing CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Based on what we know about emissions trends, the average pH of surface waters off the Pacific Northwest Coast is expected to drop to about 7.8, and even more when periodic upwelling carries deep water to the surface. Acidification has already been found to slow coral growth, impair shark feeding, and speed the spread of invasive species, among other impacts.

The study, recently published in the journal Marine Biology, shows that the crab larvae hatched at the same rate regardless of pH, but those that hatched at lower levels showed signs of slowed development. The researchers suggested that the lower pH may reduce the metabolic rate of embryos. That could extend their vulnerable larval period, or could jeopardize the timing of their development in relation to key food sources, the scientists said. Continue reading “Ocean acidification puts Dungeness crab fishery at risk”

Vaquita population drops to brink of extinction

Continued poaching is pushing the vaquita toward extinction. Photo courtesy Paula Olsen/NOAA.

New survey results show as few as 60 remaining vaquita porpoises in the Gulf of California

Staff Report

The population of vaquita porpoises in the Gulf of California may be down to just 60 individuals, according to conservation advocates, who released the results of recent surveys in a press release last week.

The vaquita is the world’s smallest and most endangered porpoise and could be extinct in less than a decade without stringent conservation measures, especially a complete and well-enforced ban on gill nets in the northern Gulf of California. The new vaquita population estimate is based on observer data and acoustic monitoring conducted during a joint Mexico-U.S. vaquita research cruise last fall. Continue reading “Vaquita population drops to brink of extinction”

Climate: UK public basically unaware of ocean acidification

Love oysters? Then you should be worried about ocean acidification. @bberwyn photo.

Marine life is at risk from CO2 emissions

Staff Report

The reality of global warming may be setting in for many people, but some of the more subtle and unseen impacts of climate change are not so easy to grasp.

A recent survey in the UK showed that only 20 percent of the population are aware of ocean acidification. Even fewer — just 14 percent — say they have a basic understanding of what that means, even though scientists have been reporting their findings on the topic for many years. Continue reading “Climate: UK public basically unaware of ocean acidification”

Environment: Study tracks recovery of Oregon sea stars after massive wasting disease epidemic

Scientists say some species may recover quickly

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

Staff Report

Sea stars along the Oregon coast are recovering from a widespread die-off caused by a viral disease, scientists have reported in a new study published May 4 in the journal PLOS ONE.

The researchers took a close look at the sea star wasting epidemic, which affected 20 species from Baja California to Alaska, making it among the largest marine epidemics on record. They found that, in Oregon, the disease occurred during a phase of cool water upwelling along the coast and so wasn’t directly linked with the over-heated “blob” of Pacific Ocean waters that persisted off the West Coast of the U.S. the past few years. Continue reading “Environment: Study tracks recovery of Oregon sea stars after massive wasting disease epidemic”

Global warming starting to rob oceans of oxygen

New research detects climate change pattern

New climate study pinpoints ocean deoxygenation. @bberwyn photo

Staff Report

Deoxygenation caused by global warming is already detectable in some of the world’s warmest ocean areas, climate scientists said last week, announcing the results of a new study that shows how increasing global temperatures will play out.

Based on their modeling, the researchers said they could detect the influence of human-caused climate change in the southern Indian Ocean and parts of the eastern tropical Pacific and Atlantic basins. They expect to be able to detect similar signs in many other ocean areas between 2030 and 2040. Continue reading “Global warming starting to rob oceans of oxygen”

U.S. and Cuba to partner on Caribbean conservation efforts

Cuban coral reefs thought to be among region’s most pristine

Ocean conservation efforts in the Caribbean could benefit from collaboration between U.S. and Cuban scientists. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Tourists won’t be the only beneficiaries of easing tensions between the U.S. and Cuba. Scientists working in the Caribbean will also be able to find new opportunities for collaboration, according to federal officials.

“Ocean currents know no boundaries,” said Billy Causey, regional director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries‘ Southeast Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region. “They’re a conveyor belt, moving important marine life between our countries. Working together will help us better preserve these natural resources to benefit people in both our countries,” Causey said.

In fact, information-sharing has been ongoing since late last year, when NOAA, the U.S. National Park Service and Cuba’s National Center for Protected Areas agreed to share research to help the countries work together on some of the Caribbean’s most ecologically significant resources. Continue reading “U.S. and Cuba to partner on Caribbean conservation efforts”

Mass coral reef die-off reaches record duration

Global warming, El Niño combine for double whammy

NOAA tracks coral reef hotspots with a special website. Click on the image to visit the page.
NOAA tracks coral reef hotspots with a special website. Click on the image to visit the page.

Staff Report

Coral reefs around the world are getting hit by the double whammy of global warming and an intense El Niño this year. Record and near-record warmth spread across large parts of the world’s major oceans are prolonging the longest global coral die-off on record.

“We’re maybe looking at a 2- to 2.5-year-long event. Some areas have already seen bleaching two years in a row,” said Mark Eakin, a biological oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in College Park, Maryland, and coordinator of the agency’s Coral Reef Watch.

When corals are stressed by conditions such as high temperatures, they expel the symbiotic algae that live in their tissues. Without the algae, corals lose a significant source of food and are more vulnerable to disease. In a severe bleaching event, large swaths of reef-building corals die. This causes reefs to erode, destroying fish habitat and exposing previously protected shorelines to the destructive force of ocean waves. Continue reading “Mass coral reef die-off reaches record duration”