Category: ocean conservation

Does industrial pollution from Asia cause oxygen-starved dead zones in the Pacific Ocean?

New research offers clues on global pollution pathways

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A new study shows  industrial pollution from Asia affects the health of tropical oceans. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Polluted dust from Asia is cutting oxygen levels in the tropical Pacific Ocean, researchers said this week, releasing a new study that traces a chain reaction that starts with land-based industrial pollution in China and other Asian countries.

“There’s a growing awareness that oxygen levels in the ocean may be changing over time,” said Taka Ito, an associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “One reason for that is the warming environment – warm water holds less gas. But in the tropical Pacific, the oxygen level has been falling at a much faster rate than the temperature change can explain,” Ito said.

The study found that the pollution raises levels of iron and nitrogen  in the ocean off the coast of East Asia. Ocean currents then carried the nutrients to tropical regions, where it feeds photosynthesizing phytoplankton. As those organisms feed on the nutrients, it has a negative effect on the dissolved oxygen levels deeper in the ocean. Continue reading “Does industrial pollution from Asia cause oxygen-starved dead zones in the Pacific Ocean?”

There’s more plastic debris in the oceans than we think

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Looking up through plastic trash floating on the surface of the ocean. Photo courtesy NOAA’s marine debris program.

Study shows ocean dynamics mixing microplastics deep into the water column

Staff Report

There’s no question that plastics pollution in the world’s oceans is a serious and growing problem. One recent study estimated that somewhere between 5 million and 13 million metric tons of plastic waste were dumped into the ocean in 2010 alone, for the sake of comparison, one metric ton is 2,200 pounds, about the weight of a small car.

Other studies focusing on the impacts of all the debris show that plastic poses a risk to sea turtles, crabs and seabirds, while research voyages have shown that the tiny microparticles are to be found nearly everywhere, including the Arctic.

And new research released in April suggests that most estimates of plastics pollution in the ocean may be far too low, because most attention has been focused on measuring the debris floating near the surface. But ocean turbulence may be mixing the plastic much deeper, beyond the reach of the surface sampling, according to University of Delaware physical oceanographer Tobias Kukulka. Continue reading “There’s more plastic debris in the oceans than we think”

Climate: UK public basically unaware of ocean acidification

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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

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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

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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”