Category: ocean conservation

Feds eye better control of ocean noise pollution

A draft plan to reduce noise pollution impacts on ocean life is open for public comment. @bberwyn photo.

NOAA releases draft strategy for public comment

Staff Report

With more than enough scientific evidence showing that noise pollution is harming marine life, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week said it wants to do more to to try and address those impacts. Citing large increases in underwater noise generated by human activity, the agency posted a draft Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap for managing noise impacts.

Last fall, a group of leading scientists called for global standards on noise pollution, singling out the impacts of seismic blasting in the quest for oil and gas as being especially harmful. Another scientific article advocated for quiet ocean zones that could serve as sanctuaries and reference areas to learn more about how noise affects marine life. Naval warfare training is another big concern, and federal court recently spelled out how military plans have failed to account for impacts to marine mammals. European scientists have also documented how seismic blasting causes displacement of fin whales more than 150 miles from the source of the noise. Continue reading “Feds eye better control of ocean noise pollution”

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”

Debris-free beaches aid sea turtle nesting

loggerhead sea turtle
A loggerhead turtle heads toward the sea at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

New study shows how to help recover endangered loggerheads

Staff Report

Nobody likes a dirty bedroom and sea turtles are no exception.

New research by scientists at the University of Florida shows that removing beach debris helps sea turtle nesting. At cleared beaches, the number of nests rose by as much as 200 percent, the study shows, while leaving the detritus decreased the number by nearly 50 percent.

With many sea turtle species classified as endangered or threatened, restoring nesting habitat is critical to keeping them alive, said Ikuko Fujisaki, the study’s lead author and an assistant research professor of wildlife ecology and conservation with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Continue reading “Debris-free beaches aid sea turtle nesting”

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”

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

New research offers clues on global pollution pathways

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

ocean plastic pollution
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

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”