New Science is Essential to Protecting Marine Life from Seismic Testing for Oil and Gas
WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–February 21 – Today, more than 100 marine scientists and conservation biologists sent a letter to President Obama and his administration urging them to “use the best available science before permitting seismic surveys for offshore oil and gas in the mid- and south Atlantic.”
Excerpt from the letter:
“It is essential to incorporate these guidelines into this PEIS in order to accurately estimate auditory injuries and disturbances to marine mammals from proposed seismic surveys, so that this important information can guide the most appropriate mitigation measures.
Contact: Jeff Burgett, PICCC Science Coordinator 808-687-6149 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Honolulu, Hawai’i.
Coral reefs are home to more than 25% of all known marine fish species. Photo: Glassy sweepers, Polynesia. Credit: Thomas Vignaud.
Honolulu, Hawai’i. February 18, 2014 – An international team of coral reef scientists has used the latest global climate models to reveal timelines for the accelerating decline of the world’s coral reefs through the end of the century. If global emissions of greenhouse gases keep rising at or near the current rate, “within 40 years, nearly all coral reefs globally will be subjected to stressful conditions so regularly that reefs are unlikely to persist as we know them,” says study co-lead Dr. Ruben van Hooidonk.
Dr. van Hooidonk and his co-lead Dr. Jeffrey Maynard developed interactive online maps of their study results, showing the timelines for when each coral reef area will experience critical levels of temperature stress and ocean acidification. The study is published in Global Change Biology in its January 2014 issue.
Coral reefs provide food and commercial fisheries, protect coastlines from waves, support tourism, and are inextricably interwoven into the cultural foundations for millions of people throughout the tropical oceans. Seychelles Ambassador for Climate Change and Small Island Developing State Issues, Ronald Jumeau noted that, "It is a common misconception that sea level rise is the greatest threat to small island countries, when in fact the decline of the coral reefs that help feed and protect us and contribute to our wealth and well-being is a more immediate threat to the economic viability and the very physical existence of many of our islands."
In the Pacific, island societies already are struggling with effects of global climate change on the habitability of their homelands. Coral reef decline will further affect the ability of these nations to navigate a changing future. Minister Tony DeBrum of the Republic of the Marshall Islands states, “Our islands and cultures have always been defined by our ability to interact with our marine and terrestrial environment. The impacts of climate change threaten the very existence of our unique identity as people and our sovereignty as a nation – a recognized member of the global community.”
Deanna Spooner of the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative that provided funding for the research said, “This study makes complex information about climate change impacts on coral reefs available for the first time in an accessible format. Now, coral reef managers and other decision makers can see what the future likely holds for their region’s reefs and better communicate about the need for immediate conservation actions.”
This is another important scientific study that demonstrates the peril facing coral reefs today and into the future,” says Dr. Robert Richmond of the University of Hawai’i. “There is a clear urgency in responding to greenhouse gas emissions. Unless effective actions are undertaken at the global level, the future of coral reefs and those who depend on these incredible ecosystems is bleak.” Coral reef managers attempt to protect reefs and increase their resilience to stress by minimizing human impacts such as overfishing, polluted runoff, and invasive aquatic species. Strengthening these efforts through better land-use practices and the use of marine protected areas is also essential, Dr. Richmond stresses, “in order to buy time to address the ever-increasing problems caused by climate change.”
What the Study Reveals
Abnormally high ocean temperatures cause corals to “bleach” or lose the symbiotic algae that give them color and provide nutrients (food). Prolonged bleaching events can kill corals over large reef areas, and repopulation by corals, fish and other reef species may take a decade or more. As global warming proceeds, the temperature stress that causes bleaching is projected to become more severe and recur more often, eventually happening every year. It’s unlikely that most coral reefs can survive annual bleaching events. In addition, rising carbon dioxide concentrations will cause increasing ocean acidification, gradually reducing the ability of corals to form the stony skeletons that give reefs structure.
The study shows that the decade in which these stresses to reefs reach critical levels varies by latitude, and depends on rates of global greenhouse gas emissions. Annual bleaching is projected to occur sooner near the equator and later at higher latitudes. However, these high-latitude reefs will have more time to be exposed to ocean acidification. The online maps, hosted by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, use Google EarthTM and allow users to select emissions scenarios, coral sensitivity levels, and different levels of ocean acidification. Users can then see when climate models suggest stressful bleaching events will occur or when various levels of acidification will be reached.
This work was supported by the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with additional support from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.
The Google Earth tool can be accessed at this link:
High resolution images can be accessed at this link:
Full citation for the Global Change Biology article: van Hooidonk, R., Maynard, J. A., Manzello, D. and Planes, S. (2014). Opposite latitudinal gradients in projected ocean acidification and bleaching impacts on coral reefs. Global Change Biology 20: 103–112. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12394
The Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative (PICCC) is a self-directed, non-regulatory conservation alliance whose purpose is to assist those who manage native species, island ecosystems and key cultural resources in adapting their management to climate change for the continuing benefit of the people of the Pacific Islands – http://piccc.net
A new coral species, Psammogorgia hookeri, has been collected by scuba divers from rocky ledges at depths to 25 meters in Peru's Paracas National Reserve. The corals' hand-sized colonies are slightly smaller than the colonies of their closest relative. Costa Rican researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Costa Rica have named the coral for Yuri Hooker, biologist and naturalist at the Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University in Lima, Peru. Researchers also found bits of coral attached to mussels from Independence Bay at a local fish market. Read more at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203133612.htm
Benzophenone-2 (BP-2) is an additive to personal-care products and commercial solutions that protects against the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. BP-2 is an “emerging contaminant of concern” that is often released as a pollutant through municipal and boat/ship wastewater discharges and landfill leachates, as well as through residential septic fields and unmanaged cesspits. Although BP-2 may be a contaminant on coral reefs, its environmental toxicity to reefs is unknown. This poses a potential management issue, since BP-2 is a known endocrine disruptor as well as a weak genotoxicant. We examined the effects of BP-2 on the larval form (planula) of the coral, Stylophora pistillata, as well as its toxicity to in vitro coral cells. BP-2 is a photo-toxicant; adverse effects are exacerbated in the light versus in darkness. Whether in darkness or light, BP-2 induced coral planulae to transform from a motile planktonic state to a deformed, sessile condition. Planulae exhibited an increasing rate of coral bleaching in response to increasing concentrations of BP-2. BP-2 is a genotoxicant to corals, exhibiting a strong positive relationship between DNA-AP lesions and increasing BP-2 concentrations. BP-2 exposure in the light induced extensive necrosis in both the epidermis and gastrodermis. In contrast, BP-2 exposure in darkness induced autophagy and autophagic cell death. Read more at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10646-013-1161-y
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is asking for public comment on guidelines updating the effects of human-made sounds on marine mammals.
Marine mammals rely on their sense of sound for survival. “They use it for feeding, locating mates, and just generally understanding what’s going on in the world around them,” says NOAA fisheries biologist Amy Scholik-Schlomer, who is also an acoustic specialist.
She says the guidelines update the levels at which human-made sounds affect marine mammals temporarily and permanently. NOAA calls these threshold shifts. A marine mammal experiencing a temporary threshold shift is like going to a rock concert. “Your hearing is temporarily affected but it fully recovers, while permanent threshold shift would be something that your hearing is affected but it doesn’t fully recover. You have some permanent loss. It doesn’t mean you’re deaf and it doesn’t mean that it affects your entire hearing range; it just means that you can’t hear quite as well as you could before,” Scholik-Schlomer explains. Read more
Some harmful algae produce potent toxins which cause illness or death in humans and other organisms, including endangered species. Other harmful algae are non-toxic to humans and wildlife but degrade ecosystems by forming such large blooms that they can adversely affect corals, seagrasses, and organisms living on the sea-bottom. Human health and ecosystem impacts of HABs and management responses to lessen those impacts can have significant economic and sociocultural consequences. Read more
Caloosahatchee Condition Summary: For the past 5 weeks the salinities have exceeded the MFL "harm" threshold of 10 psu. Legacy nutrients from the summer's high flows continue to feed algal blooms within San Carlos Bay and Pine Island Sound and along the hard bottom surfaces within the Gulf of Mexico and are washing up on coastal beaches during cold fronts.
USACE Action: On Friday, 1/17/14 a 10-day pulse was initiated, with average flows of 650 cfs including two days of no flow at the end of the pulse.
SCCF Recommendation: The Caloosahatchee is the only user currently being cut back from water needed to protect the estuary's resources. We recommend supplemental flows be provided to keep salinity in the upper estuary below the 10 psu 30-day moving average harm threshold. Projections show only a 10% probability that Lake levels will fall into the Water Shortage Management Band by June 1. Current water management protocols are causing harm even though sufficient water supplies are available for all users.
Past reports and background information on Caloosahatchee conditions are available online at: http://www.sccf.org/content/
Jan. 22, 2014 — The gradual warming of the North and Tropical Atlantic Ocean is contributing to climate change in Antarctica, a team of New York University scientists has concluded. The findings, which rely on more than three decades of atmospheric data and appear in the journal Nature, show new ways in which distant regional conditions are contributing to Antarctic climate change.
"Our findings reveal a previously unknown — and surprising — force behind climate change that is occurring deep in our southern hemisphere: the Atlantic Ocean," says Xichen Li, a doctoral student in NYU's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the study's lead author. "Moreover, the study offers further confirmation that warming in one region can have far-reaching effects in another." Read more
- Xichen Li, David M. Holland, Edwin P. Gerber, Changhyun Yoo. Impacts of the north and tropical Atlantic Ocean on the Antarctic Peninsula and sea ice. Nature, 2014; 505 (7484): 538 DOI: 10.1038/nature12945
01/22/2014. Ocean State University
CORVALLIS, Ore. – It may take a legion of scuba divers armed with nets and spears, but a new study confirms for the first time that controlling lionfish populations in the western Atlantic Ocean can pave the way for a recovery of native fish.
Even if it’s one speared fish at a time, it finally appears that there’s a way to fight back.
Scientists at Oregon State University, Simon Fraser University and other institutions have shown in both computer models and 18 months of field tests on reefs that reducing lionfish numbers by specified amounts – at the sites they studied, between 75-95 percent – will allow a rapid recovery of native fish biomass in the treatment area, and to some extent may aid larger ecosystem recovery as well.
It’s some of the first good news in a struggle that has at times appeared almost hopeless, as this voracious, invasive species has wiped out 95 percent of native fish in some Atlantic locations.
“This is excellent news,” said Stephanie Green, a marine ecologist in the College of Science at Oregon State University, and lead author on the report just published in Ecological Applications. “It shows that by creating safe havens, small pockets of reef where lionfish numbers are kept low, we can help native species recover.
“And we don’t have to catch every lionfish to do it.”
That’s good, researchers say, because the rapid spread of lionfish in the Atlantic makes eradication virtually impossible. They’ve also been found thriving in deep water locations which are difficult to access. Read more at http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2014/jan/war-lionfish-shows-first-promise-success
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Consumers Can Take Action & U.S. Can Protect Endangered Marine Mammals by Cracking Down on Foreign Fisheries Supplying Some of America’s Favorite Wild-Caught Seafood Like Shrimp, Tuna, Crab, Lobster, and Salmon.
LOS ANGELES (January 7, 2014) – In order to put wild-caught seafood on dinner tables, more than 650,000 marine mammals are killed or seriously injured every year in foreign fisheries after being hooked, entangled or trapped in fishing gear, and enforcement of a U.S. law to protect marine mammals could help prevent tens of thousands of these deaths, according to a new report issued today by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Net Loss: The Killing of Marine Mammals in Foreign Fisheries finds that 91% of seafood consumed in the United States is imported and nearly every foreign fish product sold in the U.S. violates a federal marine mammal protection law. The wild-caught seafood most enjoyed by Americans – shrimp, tuna, crab, lobster, and salmon – present a particularly significant risk to marine mammals due to the dangerous fishing practices associated with them abroad. Until the U.S. enforces the law, which requires importing countries to prove they are meeting American standards, consumers can play a role in protecting whales, dolphins and sea lions by choosing American-caught seafood.
“No one wants their shrimp cocktail to come with a side of dolphin, but that’s essentially what’s happening when we eat imported fish that isn’t held to the same standard as American seafood,” said Zak Smith, attorney with NRDC and co-author of the report. “For 40 years, federal watchdogs have failed to enforce a law that could save thousands of whales and dolphins from negligent foreign fishing practices. At the same time, well-meaning U.S. fishermen are being undermined by their own government, which holds them accountable, but not their foreign counterparts.”
This report examines the failure of the U.S. government to enforce protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which requires countries exporting fish products to prove the fish were not caught in violation of U.S. standards that limit serious injury and death of marine mammals. It identifies the primary species and populations at risk of extinction that would be helped by enforcement of the U.S. import protections law, the key fishing practices that endanger marine mammals, and regions of the world where bycatch is a critical concern. The unintentional capture of animals in fishing gear, or bycatch, is pushing some marine mammal populations to the brink of extinction.
Species most affected by seafood exports for American markets:
· North Atlantic right whale: at risk from Canada’s lobster and crabbing practices
· New Zealand sea lion: at risk from New Zealand’s squid industry
· Mediterranean sperm whale: at risk from Italy & Turkey’s lack of enforcement
· Vaquita: at risk from shrimp fisheries not complying with Mexico’s regulations
· Spinner dolphins: at risk from India and Sri Lanka’s tuna industry
· Baltic and Black Sea harbor porpoises: at risk from inadequate regulatory measures
· J-Stock minke whale: at risk from a range of Japanese and South Korean fishing practices
· False killer whale: at risk from Pacific Ocean tuna, swordfish and marlin fishing practices
“Bycatch isn’t just a moral issue, it’s simple economics,” said Acy Cooper, vice president of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association. “Foreign fishing companies can undercut our prices because they don’t have to invest in ensuring that their exports to the U.S. were caught in a manner that protects marine mammals. Until foreign fleets see real consequences for failing to abide by the law, marine mammals will continue to be harmed around the world and American fishermen will be disadvantaged.”
The key types of fishing gear that threaten marine mammals around the world include:
· Gillnets: mesh nets that can be set on the sea floor or floated in the water column depending on the targeted species. Marine mammals that dive for food around gillnets tend to become entangled and drown when they are unable to surface for air.
· Purse seines: nets that hang vertically in the water column using weights at the bottom and buoys at the top. They can enclose marine mammals in the nets, along with fish.
· Trawls: funnel-
· Bottom-set traps: (commonly called “pots”) crustacean traps with ropes that connect them to surface buoys and to one another. Large whales are particularly prone to getting entangled in the ropes, which wrap around their bodies, making it difficult for them to move or feed.
· Longlines: baited hooks on lines varying in length from 15 to 100 kilometers set with floating buoys or sunk with weights depending on the targeted species. Sea lions, fur seals, toothed whales, and other marine mammals can get caught on the hooks or tangled in the lines.
However, there are smart and targeted methods that can be employed to reduce risk and harm to marine mammals from dangerous gear, including time and area exclusions, warning systems, and gear modifications that make escaping entanglement more likely. An aggressive, science-based plan adopted by the U.S. in 1994 has reduced marine mammal bycatch bynearly 30% over 20 years and put special measures in place to save populations at highest risk.
“In many parts of the world, poor fishing practices are driving populations and species of marine mammals to extinction,” said Dr. Andrew J. Read, Stephen Toth Professor of Marine Biology, Division of Marine Science & Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University. “We have lost one species already and several others are in imminent danger. Most Americans would be shocked to learn of the hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, and porpoises killed each year in bringing wild seafood to our tables.”
For other countries to take action, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency with jurisdiction over the interpretation and enforcement of the MMPA, needs to hold other nations to the same bycatch standards. These include requiring all imported fish or fish products be accompanied by information on the status of affected marine mammal populations, proof that protective measures were utilized, and proof that fisheries were monitored for their compliance and are working towards a goal of zero marine mammal deaths. In response to petitions and comments filed years ago by NRDC and other environmental groups, the administration began preparing regulations to enforce the law, but has not released them.
Until the U.S. enforces the law, consumers can also play a role in protecting marine mammals by purchasing American-caught seafood that abides by U.S. safety standards. It is critical to identify wild-caught seafood as American, due to the significant threat posed to marine mammals by imported shrimp, tuna, crab, lobster, and salmon. Federal law requires seafood be clearly marked with the country of origin, but consumers should also ask the retailer, restaurant and producer for more information about where the fish was caught.
“It is time to enforce our laws protecting the world’s marine mammals,” said Smith. “American consumers and fishers as well as some of the world’s most unique and captivating creatures deserve no less. Fortunately, after years of neglect, the federal government is developing rules to enforce the provision. We need to hold them to it.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.