Archive for the ‘Culebra Boating’ Tag

How Beach Cleanups Help Keep Microplastics out of the Garbage Patches 

 Lots of tiny pieces of plastic covering rocks.
Basket full of faded, old plastic bottles on a beach.
Cleaning up a few plastic bottles on a beach can make a big difference when it comes to keeping microplastics from entering the ocean. (NOAA)  Microplastics, tiny bits of plastic measuring 5 millimeters or less, are often the result of larger pieces of plastic breaking down on land before making it into the ocean. They can also come from cosmetics and fleece clothing. (NOAA)

JUNE 12, 2015 — These days plastic seems to be everywhere; unfortunately, that includes many parts of the ocean, from the garbage patches to Arctic sea ice.With this pollution increasingly in the form of tiny plastic bits, picking up a few bottles left on the beach can feel far removed from the massive problem of miniscule plastics floating out at sea.However, these two issues are more closely connected than you may think.But how do we get from a large plastic water bottle, blown out of an overfilled trash can on a beach, to innumerable plastic pieces no bigger than a sesame seed—and known as microplastics—suspended a few inches below the ocean surface thousands of miles from land?The answer starts with the sun and an understanding of how plastic deteriorates in the environment.

The Science of Creating Microplastics

Plastic starts breaking down, or degrading, when exposed to light and high temperatures from the sun. Ultraviolet B radiation (UVB), the same part of the light spectrum that can cause sunburns and skin cancer, starts this process for plastics.

This process, known as photo-oxidation, is a chemical reaction that uses oxygen to break the links in the molecular chains that make up plastic. It also happens much faster on land than in the comparatively cool waters of the ocean.

For example, a hot day at the beach can heat the sandy surface—and plastic trash sitting on it—up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The ocean, on the other hand, gets darker and colder the deeper you go, and the average temperatures at its surface in July can range from 45 degrees Fahrenheit near Adak Island, Alaska, to 89 degrees in Cannon Bay, Florida.

Back on that sunny, warm beach, a plastic water bottle starts to show the effects of photo-oxidation. Its surface becomes brittle and tiny cracks start forming. Those larger shards of plastic break apart into smaller and smaller pieces, but they keep roughly the same molecular structure, locked into hydrogen and carbon chains. A brisk wind or child playing on the beach may cause this brittle outer layer of plastic to crumble. The tide washes these now tiny plastics into the ocean.

Once in the ocean, the process of degrading slows down for the remains of this plastic bottle. It can sink below the water surface, where less light and heat penetrate and less oxygen is available. In addition, plastics can quickly become covered in a thin film of marine life, which further blocks light from reaching the plastic and breaking it down.

An Incredible Journey

In general, plastic breaks down much, much more slowly in the ocean than on land. That means plastic objects that reach the ocean either directly from a boat (say trash or nets from a fishing vessel) or washed into the sea before much degradation has happened are much less likely to break into smaller pieces that become microplastics. This also applies to plastics that sink below the ocean surface into the water column or seafloor.

Instead, plastic that has spent time heating up and breaking down on land is most likely to produce the microplastics eventually accumulating in ocean gyres or garbage patches, a conclusion supported by the research of North Carolina State University professor Anthony Andrady and others.

Of course, microplastics in the form of “microbeads” in face wash and other cosmetics or microfibers in fleece clothing also can reach the ocean by slipping through waste water treatment systems.

However, regularly patrolling your favorite beach or waterway and cleaning up any plastic or other marine debris can go a long way to keeping millions of tiny microplastics—some so tiny they can only be seen with a microscope—from reaching the garbage patches and other areas of the ocean.

The great thing is anyone can do this and you don’t have to wait for the International Coastal Cleanup each September to get started.Find more tips and resources to help you on your way:

Source: How Beach Cleanups Help Keep Microplastics out of the Garbage Patches | response.restoration.noaa.gov

For the First Time in Decades, Scientists Examine How Oil Spills Might Affect Baleen Whales

Several days of unseasonably warm weather in late September had Gary Shigenaka starting to wonder how much longer he and his colleagues would be welcome at Ohmsett, a national oil spill research facility in New Jersey.

March 16, 2016 Leave a comment

A North Atlantic right whale's mouth is visible at the ocean surface.

NOAA scientists and partners recently collaborated to examine how oil and dispersants might affect the function of baleen in humpback, bowhead, and right whales (pictured). Hundreds of baleen plates hang from these whales’ top jaws and allow them to filter food from the water. (Credit: Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Permit 15488)

They were working with whale baleen, and although the gum tissue anchoring their baleen samples had been preserved with formalin, the balmy fall weather was taking a toll. As a result, things were starting to smell a little rank.

Fortunately, cooler weather rounded out that first week of experiments, and the group, of course, was invited back again. Over the course of three week-long trials in People attaching baleen plates in a clamp to the moving bridge over a saltwater test tank at Ohmsett.September, December, and January, they were trying to tease out the potential impacts of oil and dispersants on whale baleen.

As a marine biologist with NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, Shigenaka’s job is to consider how oil spills might threaten marine life and advise the U.S. Coast Guard on this issue during a spill response.

But the last time scientists had examined how oil might affect whale baleen was in a handful of studies back in the 1980s. This research took place before the 1989 Exxon Valdez and 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spills and predated numerous advances in scientific technique, technology, and understanding.

Thanks to a recent opportunity provided by the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which runs the Ohmsett facility, Shigenaka and a team of scientists, engineers, and oil spill experts have been able to revisit this question in the facility’s 2.6 million gallon saltwater tank.

The diverse team that made this study possible hails not just from NOAA but also Alaska’s North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management (Dr. Todd Sformo), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Dr. Michael Moore and Tom Lanagan), Hampden-Sydney College (Dr. Alexander Werth), and Oil Spill Response Limited (Paul Schuler). In addition, NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program provided substantial support for the project, including funding and regulatory expertise, and was coordinated by Dr. Teri Rowles.

Getting a Mouthful

To understand why this group is focused on baleen and how an oil spill might affect this particular part of a whale, you first need to understand what baleen is and how a whale uses it. Similar to fingernails and hooves, baleen is composed of the protein keratin, along with a few calcium salts, giving it a tough but pliable character.

A hand holds a ruler next to oiled baleen hanging from a clamp next to a man.

Made of the flexible substance keratin, baleen plates have tangles of “fringe hair” that act as nets to strain marine life from mouthfuls of ocean water. This study examined how oil and dispersants might affect the performance of baleen. (NOAA)

Twelve species of whales, including humpback and bowhead, have hundreds of long plates of baleen hanging from the top jaw, lined up like the teeth on a comb, which they use to filter feed. A whale’s tongue rubs against its baleen plates, fraying their inner edges and creating tangles of “fringe hair” that act like nets to catch tiny sea creatures as the whale strains massive gulps of ocean water back out through the baleen plates.

Baleen does vary somewhat between species of whales. Some might have longer or shorter baleen plates, for example, depending on what the whale eats. Bowhead whales, which are Arctic plankton-eaters, can have plates up to 13 feet long.

This study was, at least in part, inspired by scientists wondering what would happen to a bowhead whale if a mouthful of water brought not just lunch but also crude oil from an ill-fated tanker traversing its Arctic waters.

Would oil pass through a whale’s hundreds of baleen plates and coat their mats of fringe hairs? Would that oil make it more difficult for the whale to push huge volumes of water through the oily baleen, causing the whale to use more energy as it tried? Does that result change whether the oil is freshly spilled, or weathered with age, or dispersed with chemicals? Would dispersant make it easier for oil to reach a whale’s gut?

Using more energy to get food would mean the whales then would need to eat even more food to make up for the energy difference, creating a tiring cycle that could tax these gargantuan marine mammals.

Testing this hypothesis has been the objective of Shigenaka’s team. While it might sound simple, almost nothing about the project has been straightforward.

Challenges as Big as a Whale

One of the first challenges was tackled by the engineers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. They were tasked with turning the mechanical features of Ohmsett’s giant saltwater tank into, essentially, a baleen whale’s mouth.

Woods Hole fabricated a special clamp and then worked with the Ohmsett engineering staff to attach it to a corresponding mount on the mechanical bridges that move back and forth over the giant tank. The clamp gripped the sections of baleen and allowed them to be held at different angles as they moved through the water. In addition, this custom clamp had a load cell, which was connected to a computer on the bridge. As the bridge moved the clamp and baleen at different speeds and angles through the water, the team could measure change in drag on the baleen via the load cell.

With the mechanical portion set up, the Ohmsett staff released oil into the test tank on the surface of the water, and the team watched expectantly how the bridges moved the baleen through the thin oil slick. It turned out to be a pretty inefficient way to get oil on baleen. “How might a whale deal with oil on the surface of the water?” asked Shigenaka. “If it’s feeding, it might scoop up a mouthful of water and oil and run it through the baleen.” But how could they simulate that experience?

They tried using paintbrushes to apply crude oil to the baleen, but that seemed to alter the character of the baleen too much, matting down the fringe hairs. After discussions with the Ohmsett engineering staff, the research team finally settled on dipping the baleen into a pool of floating oil that was contained by a floating ring. This set-up allowed a relatively heavy amount of oil to contact baleen in the water and would help the scientists calibrate their expectations about potential impacts.

Testing the Waters

Four black plumes of dispersed oil are released underwater onto long plates of baleen moving behind the applicator.

After mixing chemical dispersant with oil, the research team released plumes of it underwater in Ohmsett’s test tank as baleen samples moved through the water behind the applicator. Researchers also tested the effects of dispersant alone on baleen function. (NOAA)

In all, Shigenaka and his teammates ran 127 different trials across this experiment. They measured the drag values for baleen in a variety of combinations: through saltwater alone, with fresh oil, with weathered oil, with dispersed oil (pre-mixed and released underwater through a custom array designed and built by Ohmsett staff), and with chemical dispersant alone. They tested during temperate weather as well as lower temperature conditions, which clearly thickened the consistency of the oil. They conducted the tests using baleen from three different species of whales: bowhead, humpback, and right whale.

Following all the required regulations and with the proper permits, the bowhead baleen was donated by subsistence whalers from Barrow, Alaska. The baleen from other species came from whales that had stranded on beaches from locations outside of Alaska.

In addition to testing the potential changes in drag on the baleen, the team of researchers used an electric razor to shave off baleen fringe hairs as samples for chemical analysis to determine whether the oil or dispersant had any effects on baleen at the molecular level. They also determined how much oil, dispersed oil, and dispersant were retained on the baleen fringe hairs after the trials.

At this point, the team is analyzing the data from the experimental trials and plans to submit the results for publication in a scientific journal. NOAA is also beginning to create a guidance document on oil and cetaceans (whales and dolphins), which will incorporate the conclusions of this research.

While the scientific community has learned a lot about the apparent effects of oil on dolphins in the wake of the 2010Deepwater Horizon oil spill, there is very little information on large whales. The body of research on oil’s effects on baleen from the 1980s concluded that there were few and transient effects, but whether that conclusion holds up today remains to be seen.

“This is another piece of the puzzle,” said Shigenaka. “If we can distill response-relevant guidance that helps to mediate spill impacts to whales, then we will have been successful.”

Work was conducted under NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Permits 17350 and 18786.

NOAA Scientist Helps Make Mapping Vital Seagrass Habitat Easier and More Accurate 

Shoal grass seagrass on a sandy ocean floor.

Seagrass beds serve as important habitat for a variety of marine life, and understanding their growth patterns better can help fisheries management and restoration efforts. (NOAA)

MARCH 3, 2016 — Amy Uhrin was sensing a challenge ahead of her.

As a NOAA scientist working on her PhD, she was studying the way seagrasses grow in different patterns along the coast, and she knew that these underwater plants don’t always create lush, unbroken lawns beneath the water’s surface.

Where she was working, off the North Carolina coast near the Outer Banks, things like the churning motion of waves and the speed of tides can cause seagrass beds to grow in patchy formations.

Clusters of bigger patches of seagrass here, some clusters of smaller patches over there. Round patches here, elongated patches over there.

Uhrin wanted to be able to look at aerial images showing large swaths of seagrass habitat and measure how much was actually seagrass, rather than bare sand on the bottom of the estuary. Unfortunately, traditional methods for doing this were tedious and tended to produce rather rough estimates. These involved viewing high-resolution aerial photographs, taken from fixed-wing planes, on a computer monitor and having a person digitally draw lines around the approximate edges of seagrass beds.

While that can be fairly accurate for continuous seagrass beds, it becomes more problematic for areas with lots of small patches of seagrass included inside a single boundary. For the patchy seagrass beds Uhrin was interested in, these visual methods tended to overestimate the actual area of seagrass by 70% to more than 1,500%. There had to be a better way.

Seeing the Light

Patches of seagrass beds of different sizes visible from the air.

Due to local environmental conditions, some coastal areas are more likely to produce patchy patterns in seagrass, rather than large beds with continuous cover. (NOAA)

At the time, Uhrin was taking a class on remote sensing technology, which uses airborne—or, in the case of satellites, space-borne—sensors to gather information about the Earth’s surface (includinginformation about oil spills). She knew that the imagery gathered from satellites (i.e. Landsat) is usually not at a fine enough resolution to view the details of the seagrass beds she was studying. Each pixel on Landsat images is 30 meters by 30 meters, while the aerial photography gathered from low-flying planes often delivered resolution of less than a meter (a little over three feet).

Uhrin wondered if she could apply to the aerial photographs some of the semi-automated classification tools from imagery visualization and analysis programs which are typically used with satellite imagery. She decided to give it a try.

First, she obtained aerial photographs taken of six sites in the shallow coastal waters of North Carolina’s Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary System. Using a GIS program, she drew boundaries (called “polygons”) around groups of seagrass patches to the best of her ability but in the usual fashion, which includes a lot of unvegetated seabed interspersed among seagrass patches.

Six aerial photographs of seagrass habitat off the North Carolina coast, with yellow boundary lines drawn around general areas of seagrass habitat.

Aerial photographs show varying patterns of seagrass growth at six study sites off the North Carolina coast. The yellow line shows the digitally drawn boundaries around seagrass and how much of that area is unvegetated for patchy seagrass habitat. (North Carolina Department of Transportation)

Next, Uhrin isolated those polygons of seagrass beds and deleted everything else in each image except the polygon. This created a smaller, easier-to-scan area for the imagery visualization program to analyze. Then, she “trained” the program to recognize what was seagrass vs. sand, based on spectral information available in the aerial photographs.

Though limited compared to what is available from satellite sensors, aerial photographs contain red, blue, and green wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum. Because plants absorb red and blue light and reflect green light (giving them their characteristic green appearance), Uhrin could train the computer program to classify as seagrass the patches where green light was reflected.

Classify in the Sky

Amy Uhrin stands in shallow water documenting data about seagrass inside a square frame of PVC pipe.

NOAA scientist Amy Uhrin found a more accurate and efficient approach to measuring how much area was actually seagrass, rather than bare sand, in aerial images of coastal North Carolina. (NOAA)

To Uhrin’s excitement, the technique worked well, allowing her to accurately identify and map smaller patches of seagrass and export those maps to another computer program where she could precisely measure the distance between patches and determine the size, number, and orientation of seagrass patches in a given area.

“This now allows you to calculate how much of the polygon is actually seagrass vegetation,” said Uhrin, “which is good for fisheries management.”

The young of many commercially important species, such as blue crabs, clams, and flounder, live in seagrass beds and actively use the plants. Young scallops, for example, cling to the blades of seagrass before sliding off and burrowing into the sediment as adults.

In addition, being able to better characterize the patterns of seagrass habitat could come in handy during coastal restoration planning and assessment. Due to local environmental conditions, some areas are more likely to produce patchy patterns in seagrass. As a result, efforts to restore seagrass habitat should aim for restoring not just cover but also the original spatial arrangement of the beds.

And, as Uhrin noted, having this information can “help address seagrass resilience in future climate change scenarios and altered hurricane regimes, as patchy seagrass areas are known to be more susceptible to storms than continuous meadows.”

The results of this study, which was done in concert with a colleague at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have been published in the journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science.

Source: NOAA Scientist Helps Make Mapping Vital Seagrass Habitat Easier and More Accurate | response.restoration.noaa.gov

Sharks and Rays Without Borders

Sharks and Rays Without Borders

Although several countries have protections for sharks and rays in place, many species travel great distances, often crossing national boundaries. Their migratory routes are determined by nature, not by the borders we’ve drawn. International cooperation is vital to ensuring the survival of these exceptionally vulnerable migratory species. The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) – a global wildlife treaty with 120 Parties — is uniquely suited to facilitate such action.

TAKE ACTION

In November 2014 in Quito, Ecuador, CMS Parties (member countries) from all over the world debated and decided on an unprecedented number of proposals that could greatly improve the outlook for 21 species of imperiled sharks and rays. Project AWARE was there to represent the voice of the dive community and to work with partner NGOs to urge the CMS Parties to commit to regional protections for the proposed shark and ray species. Such actions bring responsibilities for member countries to work nationally and regionally to safeguard listed species and ensure the health of their habitats throughout migratory pathways.

 Project AWARE CMS campaign #SharksWithoutBorders

Send a letter – Our letter campaign direct to delegates is now closed. Thank you to everyone involved. 28,804 letters were delivered to decision-makers urging them to support the shark and ray proposals.

Thunderclap – On 4th November, 632 people with a social media reach of almost 550k sent a loud unified message #SharksWithoutBorders.

Your support made a difference for:

  • All five sawfishes, nine devil rays, and the reef manta – proposed for CMS Appendix I & II. Appendix I is reserved for migratory species that are threatened with extinction and brings an obligation for CMS Parties to strictly protect these animals, restore their habitats, and mitigate obstacles to migration.

  • Two species of hammerheads, all three threshers, and the silky shark – proposed for CMS Appendix II, which encourages regional cooperative initiatives to conserve shared populations.

  • Threats to their migration routes and habitat, including marine debris. Our trash underwater harms marine animals, entangles sharks and rays, and damages critical marine environments. Much like migratory animals, marine debris crosses political boundaries, moving from one territorial sea to the open ocean and ending up in another nation’s waters. As a multilateral environmental agreement, CMS can also address this issue, and thereby further improve the outlook for marine species.

Fact sheets on the newly listed species and how the listings might help them can be found here.

22 Shark and Ray Species Added to Scope of Global Agreement

22 Shark and Ray Species Added to Scope of Global Agreement

Signatories to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Sharks have unanimously agreed to add twenty-two species of sharks and rays to the MoU scope, and to accept the applications of six conservation groups as Cooperating Partners in fulfilling MoU objectives. Conservationists are, in turn, calling on countries to take concrete national and international actions to fulfill new commitments to the imperiled species.

Conserving Migratory Sharks & Rays: Priorities for Action Governments gathering to discuss the next steps in implementing the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Sharks have an important opportunity to make real progress in addressing the global plight of sharks and rays, particularly the 29 species currently listed on the CMS Appendices. Beyond adding species and working groups to the CMS MoU scope of work, there are multiple avenues for immediate, concrete action that can go a long way toward fulfilling CMS obligations for listed species, as well as broader commitments to cooperate toward better protection for these vulnerable animals. Our organizations welcomed the 2010 CMS MoU for the seven shark species listed between 1999 and 2008, participated in development of the 2012 Conservation Plan to promote MoU objectives, and celebrated the historic listing of 21 additional species (15 rays on Appendix I & II and six sharks on Appendix II) in 2014. Through the CMS Sharks MoU and Conservation Plan, signatories have agreed, inter alia, to: § facilitate a better understanding of shark populations and fisheries § set science-based catch limits in an effort to ensure sustainable fishing § prevent “finning” (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea) § cooperate toward shark conservation through international bodies, and § protect critical shark habitats. Shark species covered by the CMS Sharks MoU, after listings from 1999 to 2008: § Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) § White shark (Carcharodon carcharias) § Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) § Porbeagle (Lamna nasus) § Spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) § Shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) § Longfin mako (Isurus paucus) Shark & ray species listed in 2011 & 2014, not yet covered by the Sharks MoU: § All five species of sawfish (Family Pristidae) § All nine species of devil rays (Mobula spp.) § Both manta rays (Manta spp.) § All three thresher sharks (Alopias spp.) § Great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) § Scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) § Silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) CMS w 2NDMEETING OF SIGNATORIES TO THE SHARKS MOU w FEBRUARY 2016 As the first intergovernmental treaty dedicated to global shark conservation, the CMS MoU has bolstered efforts to safeguard these vulnerable species, through both awareness and action. Listings on the Appendices, in particular, have been a major factor in numerous domestic protections while also serving to highlight at-risk species for other international fora. Nearly four years after adoption of the Conservation Plan, however, concrete actions to fulfill MoU goals remain insufficient. For example, the following are regrettable: § The lack of species-specific regional plans for listed shark species, even the first to be listed (whale sharks) § The absence of Regional Fishery Management Organization (RFMO) catch limits for shortfin mako sharks § The repeated defeat of US and EU proposals to cap shortfin mako landings through ICCAT1 § Exceptions to the protections for manta and devil ray (mobulids) adopted last year by the IATTC2 § Continued fishing and lack of national protections for mobulid rays, particularly Mobula species § Weak national and international finning bans that rely on complicated fin-to-body ratios for enforcement § Little cooperation among countries aiming to recover shared porbeagle and spiny dogfish populations § The small proportion of Signatories submitting national reports. In addition to expanding the MoU’s scope to cover all shark and ray species listed on the CMS Appendices (adding the 22 species listed in 2011 and 2014 to MoU Annex I), and in line with appropriate amendments to the Conservation Plan (MoU Annex 3), associated work program, priorities and strategy, we urge CMS Parties and Non-Party Signatories to take the following concrete steps: § Ensure strict national protection for all Appendix I listed species, especially those listed by IUCN as Endangered or Critically Endangered (all sawfish in Family Pristidae and giant devil ray Mobula mobular) § Co-sponsor and actively promote EU/US-led efforts to establish shortfin mako catch limits under ICCAT § Develop and promote proposals to establish shortfin mako catch limits at other relevant RFMOs § Seek to end exceptions to the mobulid ray protections adopted in 2015 by IATTC § Develop and promote proposals to protect mobulid rays through other relevant RFMOs § Support proposals to list mobula rays, thresher sharks, and silky sharks under CITES3 Appendix II § Ensure national finning bans include best practice prohibitions on at-sea fin removal, without exception § Co-sponsor EU/US-led proposals to strengthen RFMO finning bans by prohibiting at-sea fin removal § Establish active inter-sessional working groups to focus on specific regional conservation priorities § Encourage neighboring countries to sign the Sharks MoU § Complete and submit in a timely manner national progress reports to the CMS Secretariat § Consider proposing to list depleted angel sharks and guitarfishes as well as heavily fished blue sharks. Our organizations are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Signatories as Cooperating Partners under the MoU. Through actions like those urged above, we can ensure a brighter future for sharks and rays. Shark Advocates International is a project of The Ocean Foundation working to safeguard sharks and rays through sound, science-based conservation policy. Supporting work in more than 35 countries, Humane Society International is one of the only international organizations working to protect all animals. The Shark Trust is a UK charity working to advance the worldwide conservation of sharks through science, education, influence and action. Project AWARE Foundation is a growing movement of scuba divers protecting the ocean planet – one dive at a time. Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities

New commitments and partners agreed by Signatories to Convention on Migratory Species Shark MoU

The CMS 2010 Shark MoU is the first global instrument dedicated to the conservation of migratory sharks and rays. The addition of 22 species (listed on the CMS Appendices in 2011 and 2014) brings the total number of species under the MoU’s scope to 29: white shark, porbeagle, spiny dogfish, basking shark, both makos, all three threshers, two species of hammerheads, whale shark, all nine devil rays, both mantas, all five sawfishes, and the silky shark. The number of MoU Signatories rose to 40 (39 national governments and the EU) with this week’s addition of Portugal.

“We are encouraged by the growing number of countries that are engaging in CMS shark and ray conservation activities, and welcome the expansion of the Shark MoU scope,” said Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International. “At the same time, we are eager for countries to follow up with concrete actions in line with these commitments, particularly strict protections for highly threatened rays, and fishing limits to ensure the long-term health of migratory shark populations.”

Through the CMS Shark MoU and associated Conservation Plan, signatories have agreed to facilitate a better understanding of shark populations and fisheries, set science-based catch limits, prevent “finning” (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea), protect critical shark habitats, and cooperate toward shark conservation through international fisheries and wildlife bodies. Shark Advocates International, Shark Trust, and Project AWARE were among the conservation groups accepted as Cooperating Partners in fulfilling Sharks MoU objectives.

“Our organizations are honored by the opportunity to serve as Cooperating Partners and thereby collaborate toward migratory shark and ray conservation with countries at the forefront of this critical work,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “This status gives us a special opportunity to share expertise and provide support while ensuring implementation of the associated Conservation Plan.”

CMS Parties are obligated to strictly protect the manta and devil rays and the five sawfishes (through listing on CMS Appendix I), and to work internationally to conserve the sharks listed on Appendix II.

“We applaud Costa Rica for hosting this important and successful meeting, and for the country’s past initiatives to secure international trade controls on hammerheads and to strengthen shark finning bans on a global scale,” said Ania Budziak, Associate Director for Project AWARE. “We are hopeful that new commitments made this week will lead to strict national protections for devil rays and sawfishes, and the end of Costa Rican opposition to regional fishing limits for hammerhead and silky sharks.”

Source: 22 Shark and Ray Species Added to Scope of Global Agreement

Marine Debris

Understanding the Problem

Marine Debris

Our ocean is under siege. From everyday trash like plastic bags, food wrappers and drink bottles, to larger items like car batteries, kitchen appliances and fishing nets, our debris is entering the sea at an alarming rate. Our ocean has become a dumping ground.

Marine debris is not only unsightly, it’s dangerous to sea life, hazardous to human health, and costly to our economies. Marine animals can become entangled in debris or mistake small particles of trash for food – often with fatal results. Divers, swimmers and beachgoers can be directly harmed by encounters with debris or its toxins. And, the costs of plastic debris to marine ecosystems are estimated at 13 billion dollars a year.

Join us and take action against marine debris.

Working Toward Solutions

Project AWARE fights for the prevention and reduction of marine debris. Through our Partnerships Against Trash, we work with governments, NGOs and businesses to affect change on a global scale. In order to achieve a long-term solution, we must influence policy at local, national and international levels and prevent trash from entering the ocean in the first place.

Global change is empowered by grassroots movement. We need you – ocean enthusiasts and the scuba diving community – to help by taking action in your local communities!

Through Dive Against Debris, Project AWARE supporters remove undersea litter collected while diving and report results. Trash removed during Dive Against Debris makes the ocean safer for marine life, and more importantly, information reported helps inform policy change. With your help, Project AWARE can use the information you report through Dive Against Debris to convince individuals, governments and businesses to act against marine debris.

Together, we can work towards a clean, healthy ocean planet. Dive Against Debristoday.

Understanding the Problem Our ocean is under siege. From everyday trash like plastic bags, food wrappers and drink bottles, to larger items like car batteries, kitchen appliances and fishing nets, our debris is entering the sea at an alarming rate. Our ocean has become a dumping ground.

Source: Marine Debris

In the Wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Gulf Dolphins Found Sick and Dying in Larger Numbers Than Ever Before | response.restoration.noaa.gov

Gulf Dolphins Found Sick and Dying in Larger Numbers Than Ever Before

Dolphin with oil on its skin swimming.

A dolphin is observed with oil on its skin on August 5, 2010, in Barataria Bay, Louisiana. (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries/Mandy Tumlin)

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Five Years Later

This is the third in a series of stories over the coming weeks looking at various topics related to the response, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment science, restoration efforts, and the future of the Gulf of Mexico.

APRIL 3, 2015 — Dolphins washing up dead in the northern Gulf of Mexico are not an uncommon phenomenon.

What has been uncommon, however, is how many moredead bottlenose dolphins have been observed in coastal waters affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the five years since. In addition to these alarmingly high numbers, researchers have found that bottlenose dolphins living in those areas are in poor health, plagued by chronic lung disease and failed pregnancies.

Independent and government scientists have undertaken a number of studies to understand how this oil spill may have affected dolphins, observed swimming through oil and with oil on their skin, living in waters along the Gulf Coast. These ongoing efforts have included examining and analyzing dead dolphins stranded on beaches, using photography to monitor living populations, and performing comprehensive health examinations on live dolphins in areas both affected and unaffected byDeepwater Horizon oil.

The results of these rigorous studies, which recently have been and continue to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, show that, in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and in the areas hardest hit, the dolphin populations of the northern Gulf of Mexico have been in crisis.

Troubled Waters

Left, scientists taking a blood sample from one dolphin in the water and right, a team of researchers in the water photographs a dolphin’s dorsal fin against a white square.

Left, in 2011 veterinary scientists took blood samples from bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, as part of an overall health assessment. Right, the same team of researchers photographed dolphins’ dorsal fins as a means of identifying individuals and monitoring populations in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (NOAA)

Due south of New Orleans, Louisiana, and northwest of the Macondo oil well that gushed millions of barrels of oil for 87 days, lies Barataria Bay. Its boundaries are a complex tangle of inlets and islands, part of the marshy delta where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico and year-round home to a group of bottlenose dolphins.

During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, this area was one of the most heavily oiled along the coast. Beginning the summer after the spill, record numbers of dolphins started stranding, or coming ashore, often dead, in Barataria Bay (Venn-Watson et al. 2015). One period of extremely high numbers of dolphin deaths in Barataria Bay, part of the ongoing, largest and longest-lasting dolphin die-off recorded in the Gulf of Mexico, persisted from August 2010 until December 2011.

In the summer of 2011, researchers also measured the health of dolphins living in Barataria Bay, comparing them with dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, an area untouched by the Deepwater Horizonoil spill.

Differences between the two populations were stark.

Many Barataria Bay dolphins were in very poor health, some of them significantly underweight and five times more likely to have moderate-to-severe lung disease. Notably, the dolphins of Barataria Bay also were suffering from disturbingly low levels of key stress hormones which could prevent their bodies from responding appropriately to stressful situations. (Schwacke et al. 2014)

“The magnitude of the health effects that we saw was surprising,” said NOAA scientist Dr. Lori Schwacke, who helped lead this study. “We’ve done these health assessments in a number of locations across the southeast U.S. coast and we’ve never seen animals that were in this poor of condition.”

The types of illnesses observed in live Barataria Bay dolphins, which had sufficient opportunities to inhale or ingest oil following the 2010 spill, match those found in people and other animals also exposed to oil. In addition, the levels of other pollutants, such as DDT and PCBs, which previously have been linked to adverse health effects in marine mammals, were much lower in Barataria Bay dolphins than those from the west coast of Florida.

Dead in the Water

Based on findings from the 2011 study, the outlook for dolphins living in one of the most heavily oiled areas of the Gulf was grim. Nearly 20 percent of the Barataria Bay dolphins examined that year were not expected to live, and in fact, the carcass of one of them was found dead less than six months later (Schwacke et al. 2014). Scientists have continued to monitor the dolphins of Barataria Bay to document their health, survival, and success giving birth.

Left, dolphin Y12 during a health assessment in August 2011 and right, after his carcass was recovered in January 2012.

Left, August 2011: Veterinarians collect a urine sample from Y12, a 16-year-old adult male bottlenose dolphin caught near Grand Isle, LA. Y12’s health evaluation determined that he was significantly underweight, anemic, and had indications of liver and lung disease. (NOAA) Right, January 2012: The carcass of Y12 was recovered on Grand Isle Beach. The visible ribs, prominent vertebral processes and depressions along the back are signs of extreme emaciation. (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries)

Considering these health conditions, it should come as little surprise that record high numbers of dolphins have been dying along the coasts of Louisiana (especially Barataria Bay), Alabama, and Mississippi. This ongoing, higher-than-usual marine mammal die-off, known as an unusual mortality event, has lasted over four years and claimed more than a thousand marine mammals, mostly bottlenose dolphins. For comparison, the next longest lasting Gulf die-off (in 2005–2006) ended after roughly a year and a half (Litz et al. 2014 [PDF]).

Researchers studying this exceptionally long unusual mortality event, which began in February 2010, identified within it multiple distinct groupings of dolphin deaths. All but one of them occurred after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which released oil from April to July 2010, and corresponded with areas exposed heavily to the oil, particularly Barataria Bay (Venn-Watson et al. 2015).

In early 2011, the spring following the oil spill, Mississippi and Alabama saw a marked increase in dead dolphin calves, which either died late in pregnancy or soon after birth, and which would have been exposed to oil as they were developing.

The Gulf coasts of Florida and Texas, which received comparatively little oiling from the Deepwater Horizon spill, did not see the same significant annual increases in dead dolphins as the other Gulf states (Venn-Watson et al. 2015). For example, Louisiana sees an average of 20 dead whales and dolphins wash up each year, but in 2011 alone, this state recorded 163 (Litz et al. 2014 [PDF]).

The one grouping of dolphin deaths starting before the spill, from March to May 2010, took place in Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain (a brackish lagoon) and western Mississippi. Researchers observed both low salinity levels in this lake and tell-tale skin lesions thought to be associated with low salinity levels on this group of dolphins. This combined evidence supports that short-term, freshwater exposure in addition to cold weather early in 2010 may have been key contributors to those dolphin deaths prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Legacy of a Spill?

A bottlenose dolphin swims in the shallow waters along a sandy beach with orange oil boom.

A bottlenose dolphin swims in the shallow waters along the beach in Grand Isle, Louisiana, near oil containment boom that was deployed on May 28, 2010. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began washing up on beaches here one month after the drilling unit exploded. (U.S. Coast Guard)

In the past, large dolphin die-offs in the Gulf of Mexico could usually be tied to short-lived, discrete events, such as morbillivirus and marine biotoxins (resulting from harmful algal blooms). While studies are ongoing, the current evidence does not support that these past causes are responsible for the current increases in dolphin deaths in the northern Gulf since 2010 (Litz et al. 2014).

However, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—its timing, location, and nature—offers the strongest evidence for explaining why so many dolphins have been sick and dying in the Gulf since 2010. Ongoing studies are assessing disease among dolphins that have died and potential changes in dolphin health over the years since the spill.

As is the case for deep-sea corals, the full effects of this oil spill on the long-lived and slow-to-mature bottlenose dolphins and other dolphins and whales in the Gulf may not appear for years. Find more information related to dolphin health in the Gulf of Mexico on NOAA’s Unusual Mortality Event andGulf Spill Restoration websites.

By Ashley Braun, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration Web Editor.

Source: In the Wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Gulf Dolphins Found Sick and Dying in Larger Numbers Than Ever Before | response.restoration.noaa.gov

Why PADI Divemasters Rock | Sport Diver

PADI Divemasters Rock

 They’re always there when you need them. See who’s giving a shoutout to their favorite PADI Divemaster.

Even for those who didn’t struggle, a Divemaster may have helped render your dives safer by ensuring your gear was donned correctly and buddy checks were properly conducted. For example, PADI Diver Patrick Loerbach wrote to PADI about the Divemaster who assisted him during his PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course at PADI Five Star Career Development Center Couples Resort in St. Ann, Jamaica, last summer.

“Divemaster Collin Whyte was always happy, chatty — and busy! He did such a great job of keeping us laughing that it was several dives before I came to see how organized and detailed he was in preparing the equipment, knowing the skills and experience of each diver, and making sure everyone was safe and comfortable. He was a stickler for making sure ascents and descents were done properly, and he had a knack for spotting cool things that we missed. Having Collin there always made for a better dive.”

First-Rate Boat Mates

Going on a boat dive? Don’t forget to bring along your favorite PADI Divemaster.

A Divemaster is often the person on the boat who assists you in getting ready to dive, from helping you set up your gear to making sure your air is on before you take that giant stride into the water. When you were new, it was most likely a Divemaster who helped you with your predive jitters by telling you funny stories. Once underwater, he led you to the best places to see the coolest creatures, helping you forget your nerves. Or, perhaps he trailed the dive group, ready to assist if needed, while ensuring the group stayed together and everyone returned safely back to the boat. Better still, at the end of your dive, it was probably the Divemaster who eased your passage out of the water by taking your fins and any other equipment you may have needed to hand off before climbing the ladder.

Are You Hero Material?

Aside from being heroically helpful, PADI Divemasters get to do some cool stuff — like live the dive life every day. They can travel the world, seeking employment at more than 6,200 PADI Dive Centers and Resorts; leading Discover Local Diving excursions, snorkeling tours and select PADI Adventure Dives; and teaching PADI ReActivate, PADI’s new scuba-refresher program. Divemasters can also apply to become Discover Scuba Diving leaders, Underwater Photographer instructors or Emergency Oxygen Provider instructors.

If you think you’d like to become a PADI Divemaster, visit padi.com for prerequisites for the course. If you meet the requirements, you can start your Divemaster program today with the PADI Divemaster Online course, or by enrolling at your local PADI Dive Center or Resort.

Source: Why PADI Divemasters Rock | Sport Diver

Dive Life: Girls Just Wanna Change the World

Our sport was once a male-dominated pursuit, but women are changing the face of the scuba diving. To celebrate PADI is launching Women’s Dive Day.

What was once a male-dominated sport has become a woman’s realm.

While diving once might have been considered a male pursuit, women are changing the face of our sport. Dr. Sylvia Earle was more than just a 2014 Glamour Woman of the Year; she was also deemed the first Hero for the Planet by Time magazine, and designated a Living Legend by the Library of Congress. The member roster of the Women Divers Hall of Fame is filled with similar women who have shaped the world of diving. It’s time to celebrate female divers’ contributions to the sport, so PADI is launching Women’s Dive Day on July 18 to honor them.

Women to Watch

Szilvia Gogh is a well-known underwater stunt woman and founder of Miss Scuba (miss-scuba.com), which was designed to bring together women who share an enthusiasm for diving from all over the world. She was also one of the youngest women ever accepted into the PADI Course Director Training Course and recently held a female-friendly course to develop the next generation of Dive Instructors. “What inspired them to become PADI Professionals, I believe, was that they saw me live out my dreams,”says Gogh. “I get to do what I love and, to me, this means everything.”

For others, like Georgienne Bradley, diving helped marry interests in biology and photography. She was instrumental in helping Cocos Island become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of her proudest achievements though has been her involvement in scholar expeditions for young girls. “These trips allow girls to open up, not be intimidated, and come into their own,” says Bradley.

The women of SEDNA Epic Expedition (sednaepic.com) are another great example. Expedition leader Susan R. Eaton is surrounded by a team of female scientists, explorers and photographers who will embark on a 1,864-mile journey, snorkeling from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, to Inuvik, Northwest Territories in Canada. Their goal is to increase awareness of climate change and to inspire action, especially among youth and women.

A Day to Remember

If you’re interested in organizing an event or participating in a local dive for Women’s Dive Day, please send an email to womendive@padi.com or visit padi.com/women-dive.

Source: Dive Life: Girls Just Wanna Change the World | Sport Diver

Latest NOAA Study Ties Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill to Spike in Gulf Dolphin Deaths

Spike in Gulf of Mexico Dolphin Deaths

Group of dolphin fins at ocean surface.

A study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that an unusually high number of dead Gulf dolphins had what are normally rare lesions on their lungs and hormone-producing adrenal glands, which are associated with exposure to oil compounds. (NOAA)

Using ultrasound to examine the lungs of live dolphins in Barataria Bay, Louisiana. “These dolphins had some of the most severe lung lesions I have seen in the over 13 years that I have been examining dead dolphin tissues from throughout the United States,” said Dr. Kathleen Colegrove, the study’s lead veterinary pathologist based at the University of Illinois.

MAY 20, 2015 — What has been causing the alarming increase in dead bottlenose dolphins along the northern Gulf of Mexico since theDeepwater Horizon oil spill in the summer of 2010?People taking an ultrasound of a dolphin's lungs.

Independent and government scientists have found even more evidenceconnecting these deaths to the same signs of illness found in animals exposed to petroleum products, as reported in the peer-reviewed online journalPLOS ONE.

This latest study uncovered that an unusually high number of dead Gulf dolphins had what are normally rare lesions on their lungs and hormone-producing adrenal glands.

The timing, location, and nature of the lesions support that oil compounds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused these lesions and contributed to the high numbers of dolphin deaths within this oil spill’s footprint.

“This is the latest in a series of peer-reviewed scientific studies, conducted over the five years since the spill, looking at possible reasons for the historically high number of dolphin deaths that have occurred within the footprint of the Deepwater Horizon spill,” said Dr. Teri Rowles, one of 22 contributing authors on the paper, and head ofNOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, which is charged with determining the causes of unusual mortality events.

“These studies have increasingly pointed to the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons as being the most significant cause of the illnesses and deaths plaguing the Gulf’s dolphin population,” said Dr. Rowles.

A System out of Balance

In this study, one in every three dead dolphins examined across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had lesions affecting their adrenal glands, resulting in a serious condition known as “adrenal insufficiency.” The adrenal gland produces hormones—such as cortisol and aldosterone—that regulate metabolism, blood pressure and other bodily functions.

“Animals with adrenal insufficiency are less able to cope with additional stressors in their everyday lives,” said Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson, the study’s lead author and veterinary epidemiologist at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, “and when those stressors occur, they are more likely to die.”

Earlier studies of Gulf dolphins in areas heavily affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill found initial signs of this illness in a 2011 health assessment of dolphins living in Barataria Bay, Louisiana. NOAA scientists Dr. Rowles and Dr. Lori Schwacke spoke about the results of this health assessment in a 2013 interview:

“One rather unusual condition that we noted in many of the Barataria Bay dolphins was that they had very low levels of some hormones (specifically, cortisol) that are produced by the adrenal gland and are important for a normal stress response.

Under a stressful condition, such as being chased by a predator, the adrenal gland produces cortisol, which then triggers a number of physiological responses including an increased heart rate and increased blood sugar. This gives an animal the energy burst that it needs to respond appropriately.

In the Barataria Bay dolphins, cortisol levels were unusually low. The concern is that their adrenal glands were incapable of producing appropriate levels of cortisol, and this could ultimately lead to a number of complications and in some situations even death.”

Swimming with Pneumonia

Boats with nets to capture dolphins in the ocean.

An earlier study described health examinations on live dolphins in Barataria Bay, one of the heaviest oiled parts of the Gulf of Mexico, in 2011, which found evidence of poor health, adrenal disease, and lung disease consistent with petroleum product exposure. (NOAA)

In addition to the lesions on adrenal glands, the scientific team discovered that more than one in five dolphins that died within the Deepwater Horizon oil spill footprint had a primary bacterial pneumonia. Many of these cases were unusual in severity, and caused or contributed to death.

Ultrasounds showing a normal dolphin lung, compared to lungs with mild, moderate, and severe lung disease.

Ultrasounds showing a normal dolphin lung, compared to lungs with mild, moderate, and severe lung disease. These conditions are consistent with exposure to oil compounds and were found in bottlenose dolphins living in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, one of the most heavily oiled areas during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (NOAA)

Drs. Rowles and Schwacke previously had observed significant problems in the lungs of dolphins living in Barataria Bay. Again, in 2013, they had noted, “In some of the animals, the lung disease was so severe that we considered it life-threatening for that individual.”

In other mammals, exposure to petroleum-based polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, known as PAHs, through inhalation or aspiration of oil products can lead to injured lungs and altered immune function, both of which can increase an animal’s susceptibility to primary bacterial pneumonia.

Dolphins are particularly susceptible to inhalation effects due to their large lungs, deep breaths, and extended breath hold times.

Learn more about NOAA research documenting the impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and find more stories reflecting on the five years since this oil spill.

Source: Latest NOAA Study Ties Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill to Spike in Gulf Dolphin Deaths | response.restoration.noaa.gov

What Happens When Oil Spills Meet Massive Islands of Seaweed?

Floating rafts of sargassum, a large brown seaweed, can stretch for miles across the ocean.

Floating bits of brown seaweed at ocean surface
                                                            (Credit: Sean Nash/Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)

The young loggerhead sea turtle, its ridged shell only a few inches across, is perched calmly among the floating islands of large brown seaweed, known as sargassum. Casually, it nibbles on the leaf-like blades of the seaweed, startling a nearby crab. Open ocean stretches for miles around these large free-floating seaweed mats where myriad creatures make their home.

Suddenly, a shadow passes overhead. A hungry seabird?

Taking no chances, the small sea turtle dips beneath the ocean surface. It dives through the yellow-brown sargassum with its tangle of branches and bladders filled with air, keeping everything afloat.

Home Sweet Sargassum

This little turtle isn’t alone in seeking safety and food in these buoyant mazes of seaweed. Perhaps nowhere is this more obvious than a dynamic stretch of the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of North America named for this seaweed: the Sargasso Sea. Sargassum is also an important part of the Gulf of Mexico, which contains the second most productive sargassum ecosystem in the world.

Some shrimp, crabs, and fish are specially suited to life in sargassum. Certain species of eel, fish, and shark spawn there. Each year, humpback whales, tuna, and seabirds migrate across these fruitful waters, taking advantage of the gathering of life that occurs where ocean currents converge.

Cutaway graphic of ocean with healthy sargassum seaweed habitat supporting marine life.

The Wide and Oily Sargasso Sea

However, an abundance of marine life isn’t the only other thing that can accumulate with these large patches of sargassum. Spilled oil, carried by currents, can also end up swirling among the seaweed.

If an oil spill made its way somewhere like the Sargasso Sea, a young sea turtle would encounter a much different scene. As the ocean currents brought the spill into contact with sargassum, oil would coat those same snarled branches and bladders of the seaweed. The turtles and other marine life living within and near the oiled sargassum would come into contact with the oil too, as they dove, swam, and rested among the floating mats.

That oil can be inhaled as vapors, be swallowed or consumed with food, and foul feathers, skin, scales, shell, and fur, which in turn smothers, suffocates, or strips the animal of its ability to stay insulated. The effects can be toxic and deadly.

Cutaway graphic of ocean with potential impacts of oil on sargassum seaweed habitat and marine life.

While sea turtles, for example, as cold-blooded reptiles, may enjoy the relatively warmer waters of sargassum islands, a hot sun beating down on an oiled ocean surface can raise water temperatures to extreme levels. What starts as soothing can soon become stressful.

Depending on how much oil arrived, the sargassum would grow less, or not at all, or even die. These floating seaweed oases begin shrinking. Where will young sea turtles take cover as they cross the unforgiving open ocean?

As life in the sargassum starts to perish, it may drop to the ocean bottom, potentially bringing oil and the toxic effects with it. Microbes in the water may munch on the oil and decompose the dead marine life, but this can lead to ocean oxygen dropping to critical levels and causing further harm in the area.

From Pollution to Protection

Young sea turtles swims through floating seaweed mats.

NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service havedesignated sargassum as a critical habitat for threatened loggerhead sea turtles.

Sargassum has also been designated as Essential Fish Habitat by Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service since it also provides nursery habitat for many important fishery species (e.g., dolphinfish, triggerfishes, tripletail, billfishes, tunas, and amberjacks) and for ecologically important forage fish species (e.g., butterfishes and flyingfishes).

Sargassum and its inhabitants are particularly vulnerable to threats such as oil spills and marine debris due to the fact that ocean currents naturally tend to concentrate all of these things together in the same places. In turn, this concentrating effect can lead to marine life being exposed to oil and other pollutants for more extended periods of time and perhaps greater impacts.

However, protecting sargassum habitat isn’t impossible and it isn’t out of reach for most people. Some of the same things you might do to lower your impact on the planet—using less plastic, reducing your demand for oil, properly disposing of trash, discussing these issues with elected officials—can lead to fewer oil spills and less trash turning these magnificent islands of sargassum into floating islands of pollution.

And maybe protect a baby sea turtle or two along the way.

Source: What Happens When Oil Spills Meet Massive Islands of Seaweed?

5 Facts About Successful Marine Protected Areas

Not all MPAs are created equal. Learn the features that help ensure environmental protection works.

 

Marine protected areas (MPA) are protected areas of seas, oceans or large lakes. MPAs restrict human activity for a conservation purpose, typically to protect natural or cultural resources.” – Wikipedia

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It’s not enough to merely designate a marine protected area — a few key features are essential to its success.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) help reduce stress on marine ecosystems and protect spawning and nursery areas, but not only animals benefit — people benefit from the storm protection provided by habitats such as barrier islands, coral reefs, and wetlands, and gain economically from tourism and fishing.

More than 1,600 MPAs in the United States protect about 41 percent of marine waters in some capacity, 3 percent within no-take protected areas.

The Convention on Biological Diversity — a coalition of 168 countries — set a goal of protecting 10 percent of ocean waters by 2020, but scientists say that figure needs to be closer to 25 or 30 percent. Either way, protecting a certain percentage of water isn’t enough — it must be the right percentage.

“Oceans are not homogeneous, and not all MPAs are created equal,” says Rodolphe Devillers, Ph.D., a researcher and professor at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada. “Protecting 1 percent one place does not equal protecting 1 percent somewhere else.” When Devillers and other researchers examined protected areas around the globe, they found that most MPA sites were chosen to minimize costs and conflict and, as a result, make almost no real contribution to conservation or protection of species or habitats. “MPAs are management tools to protect vulnerable marine life from human activities. Typically, areas most used by humans tend to be the ones that need the most protection — but they also are the hardest to sell politically.”

Overall, prohibiting extractive activities dramatically boosts MPA success. Yet only 1 percent of the world’s oceans and less than 3 percent of the U.S. MPA area is currently designated no-take.

In no-take reserves worldwide, research documented an average increase of 446 percent in total marine life. Density — or number of plants and animals in a given area — increased an average of 166 percent, and the number of species present increased an average of 21 percent.

No-take requires enforcement, another key feature of successful MPAs. This presents particular challenges in isolated locations, ironically another key characteristic of successful MPAs.

To overcome this challenge, the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C., and Satellite Applications Catapult in the United Kingdom created a virtual-monitoring system, which so far monitors 10 locations worldwide.

Other features of successful MPAs include an age of 10 years or older and a size larger than 100 square kilometers.

“People want to believe that MPAs are like a magic wand, that with one fell swoop you can achieve bold and aggressive conservation outcomes,” says Doug Rader, chief oceans scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “That unfortunately is not the case. But where MPAs are designed to achieve or contribute to a conservation goal, and where a fair and science-based need is recognized, I don’t think there is a case that has been unsuccessful.”

Behind Every Successful MPA…
Tortugas North Ecological Reserve, Florida
Established in 2001 as a no-take reserve.

» Three commercially important fish species increased in abundance/size within three years.
» Responses were stronger in the reserve than the fished MPA for two of the three species, and stronger for all three species in fully fished areas.
» No financial loss for commercial or recreational fisheries, as well as higher coral coverage in the reserve than the MPA and unprotected sites.

Kisite Mpunguti Marine National Park, Kenya
Established in 1973; fishing prohibited in the 1990s.

» Fish biomass 11.6 times higher inside the reserve than in fully fished areas, and 2.8 times greater than in a fished MPA.
» Greater biodiversity and better protection for branching corals than a fished MPA.
» Higher fish diversity, approximately 10 more fish species per area sampled than in a fished MPA.

Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, Baja California, Mexico
Created in the Gulf of California in 1995, no-take enforced by locals. Scientific surveys in 1999 and 2009 found no change in other Gulf of California MPAs, while at Cabo Pulmo:

» Predator biomass increased more than 1,000 percent.
» Total fish biomass increased 463 percent.
» Density of fish on the reef — 1.72 tons per acre — is some of the highest recorded anywhere in the world.

Five Easy Pieces
Successful marine protected areas around the world have five features in common, according to an analysis of 87 MPAs:

  1. No-take zone

  2. Effective enforcement

  3. Age greater than 10 years

  4. Size larger than 100 square kilometers

  5. Isolation

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Source: 5 Facts About Successful Marine Protected Areas | Sport Diver

10 Tips To Protect The Ocean Planet

Project Aware

Just like climbers and campers have an ethic or code to live by – so do scuba divers. Project AWARE first launched its environmental ethic more than two decades ago, which has helped guide millions of scuba divers on ways to do no harm and protect the underwater world.

Today, you can download and share the shiny, new10 Tips for Divers to Protect the Ocean Planet atprojectaware.org and stay tuned to upcoming issues of Sport Diver where we’ll explore these tips in more depth. Thank you for doing your part to protect the ocean and take these tips to heart each time you dive.

 

Divers share a deep connection with the ocean. You can make a difference for ocean protection every time you dive, travel and more.

1. Be a Buoyancy Expert
2. Be a Role Model
3. Take Only Photos – Leave Only Bubbles
4. Protect Underwater Life
5. Become a Debris Activist
6. Make Responsible Seafood Choices
7. Take Action
8. Be an Eco-tourist
9. Shrink Your Carbon Footprint
10. Give Back

Source: 10 Tips To Protect The Ocean Planet | Sport Diver

With Lobster Poacher Caught, NOAA Fishes out Illegal Traps from Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

July 11, 2014
4 Comments
This is a post by Katie Wagner of the Office of Response and Restoration’s Assessment and Restoration Division.

NOAA’s Restoration Center is leading the project with the help of two contractors, Tetra Tech and Adventure Environmental, Inc. The removal effort is part of a criminal case against a commercial diver who for years used casitas to poach spiny lobsters from sanctuary waters. An organized industry, the illegal use of casitas to catch lobsters in the Florida Keys not only impacts the commercial lobster fishery but also injures seafloor habitat and marine life.Casitas—Spanish for “little houses”—do not resemble traditional spiny lobster traps made of wooden slats and frames. “Casitas look like six-inch-high coffee tables and can be made of various materials,” explains NOAA marine habitat restoration specialist Sean Meehan, who is overseeing the removal effort.

A casita made of panels and cinder blocks on the seafloor.

The legs of the casitas can be made of treated lumber, parking blocks, or cinder blocks. Their roofs often are made of corrugated tin, plastic, quarter-inch steel, cement, dumpster walls, or other panel-like structures.

Poachers place casitas on the seafloor to attract spiny lobsters to a known location, where divers can return to quite the illegal catch.

“Casitas speak to the ecology and behavior of these lobsters,” says Meehan. “Lobsters feed at night and look for places to hide during the day. They are gregarious and like to assemble in groups under these structures.” When the lobsters are grouped under these casitas, divers can poach as many as 1,500 in one day, exceeding the daily catch limit of 250.

In addition to providing an unfair advantage to the few criminal divers using this method, the illegal use of casitas can harm the seafloor environment.

 A Natural Resource Damage Assessment, led by NOAA’s Restoration Center in 2008, concluded that the casitas injured seagrass and hard bottom areas, where marine life such as corals and sponges made their home. The structures can smother corals, sea fans, sponges, and seagrass, as well as the habitat that supports spiny lobster, fish, and other bottom-dwelling creatures.

A spiny lobster in a casita on the seafloor.

Casitas are also considered marine debris and potentially can harm other habitats and organisms. When left on the ocean bottom, casitas can cause damage to a wider area when strong currents and storms move them across the seafloor, scraping across seagrass and smothering marine life.

“We know these casitas, as they are currently being built, move during storm events and also can be moved by divers to new areas,” says Meehan. However, simply removing the casitas will allow the seafloor to recover and support the many marine species in the sanctuary.

There are an estimated 1,500 casitas in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary waters, only a portion of which will be removed in the current effort. In this case, a judge ordered the convicted diver to sell two of his residences to cover the cost of removing hundreds of casitas from the sanctuary.

To identify the locations of the casitas, NOAA’s Hydrographic Systems and Technology Program partnered with the Restoration Center and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In a coordinated effort, the NOAA team used Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (underwater robots) to conduct side scan sonar surveys, creating a picture of the sanctuary’s seafloor. The team also had help finding casitas from a GPS device confiscated from the convicted fisherman who placed them in the sanctuary.

After the casitas have been located, divers remove them by fastening each part of a casita’s structure to a rope and pulley mechanism or an inflatable lift bag used to float the materials to the surface. Surface crews then haul them out of the water and transport them to shore where they can be recycled or disposed.

For more information about the program behind this restoration effort, visit NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program.

Katie Wagner.Katie Wagner is a communications specialist in the Assessment and Restoration Division of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. Her work raises the visibility of NOAA’s effort to protect and restore coastal and marine resources following oil spills, releases of hazardous substances, and vessel groundings.

September 2013 Moon Phases

September  2013 Moon Phases

 
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1

Waning Crescent, 13% of full

Waning Crescent, 7% of full

Waning Crescent, 3% of full

Waning Crescent, 1% of full

New Moon, 0% of full

Waxing Crescent, 2% of full

Waxing Crescent, 5% of full

Waxing Crescent, 11% of full

Waxing Crescent, 19% of full

Waxing Crescent, 29% of full

Waxing Crescent, 39% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 51% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 62% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 73% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 82% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 90% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 96% of full

Waxing Gibbous, 99% of full

Full Moon, 100% of full

Waning Gibbous, 98% of full

Waning Gibbous, 94% of full

Waning Gibbous, 88% of full

Waning Gibbous, 81% of full

Waning Gibbous, 72% of full

Waning Gibbous, 63% of full

Waning Gibbous, 54% of full

Waning Crescent, 44% of full

Waning Crescent, 35% of full

Waning Crescent, 26% of full

Waning Crescent, 18% of full

 
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