Open-Ocean Aquaculture Would Harm the Gulf of Mexico

Statement of Recirculating Farms Coalition Executive Director, Marianne Cufone

Recirculating Farms CoalitionNew Orleans, LA, February 8, 2013 – Today, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council – the body that advises the National Marine Fisheries Service on fish and fishing in the Gulf – voted to push forward regulations that would permit industrial fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico. The Council did so in violation of a number of procedural laws, as well as in direct conflict with the members’ oath of office to conserve and manage the marine resources of the Gulf of Mexico for the benefit of the nation. Open water fish farming is well documented to be highly problematic for both people and our planet. [Read more…]

What Every Good “Shark Week” Fan Should Read While They Watch

Bluntnose Sixgill Shark Hexanchus griseus ? R. Dean Grubbs

Bluntnose Sixgill Shark Hexanchus griseus ? R. Dean Grubbs

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA. August 13, 2012 – At the close of the annual meeting of leading American shark and ray scientists, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) is releasing the first compilation of conservation status assessments for nearly 300 sharks, rays, and chimaeras (collectively known as chondrichthyan fishes) found in North American, Central American, and Caribbean waters conducted using the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species criteria. The report and supplementary materials can be downloaded from the IUCN website.

The report documents that 13.5% of the region’s shark, skate, and chimaera species qualify for one of the three “threatened” categories — Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable — associated with an elevated risk of extinction. Nine rays and 20 sharks qualify as Vulnerable. Sixteen percent of species are classified as Near Threatened, 27% as Least Concern, and 43.4% as Data Deficient. [Read more…]

Researchers Discover Planet’s Northernmost Coral Reef

Researchers have discovered the world's northermost coral reefs off Japan's Tsushima Island (Image: Kaoru Sugihara)

Researchers have discovered the world’s northermost coral reefs off Japan’s Tsushima Island (Image: Kaoru Sugihara)

Coral reefs are typically found in the warm, clear waters of the tropics and subtropics. Researchers in Japan have recently discovered a coral reef far north of any previously discovered on the planet, off the coast of Japan’s Tsushima Island at 34 degrees north latitude. As a reference, this would put the reef north of the city of Atlanta, Georgia. While cold water and deep water corals are found in polar regions, the types of reef-building corals discovered in Japan are generally much more sensitive to cold water and to cloudy or turbid waters, making this discovery all the more remarkable, especially in light of winter water temperatures of 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit), considered extremely low and most often fatal to most coral reefs. [Read more…]

Where Mercury in Fish Comes From and What Regulators are Doing About it

An Inconvienient Reality

Image by Nick Humphries via Flickr

Mercury in fish? Much of it comes from the sky. Coal-fired power plants emit tons of the toxic heavy metal into the atmosphere where it travels hundreds of miles before depositing on the surface of lakes, rivers and the oceans, where it is ingested and gradually works its way up to the top of the food chain where it becomes highly-concentrated in the flesh of the ocean’s predators, such as sharks, tunas, and dolphins.

The EPA issued a rule on mercury emissions, but there is now concern that they may weaken the ruling due to push back from electric utility companies. [Read more…]

Dolphin Deaths in Gulf of Mexico – “Perfect Storm” of BP Oil Spill and Cold Water

A C-130 Applies Dispersants During the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (USCG Photo)

A C-130 Applies Dispersants During the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (USCG Photo)

In a study published in PLos ONE, investigators studied a large die-off of dolphins in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. During the first four months of 2011, 186 bottlenose dolphins, 86 of which were very young perinatal calves, washed ashore from Louisiana to western Florida. For perinatal dolphins, this stranding rate was nearly 6 times higher than the average number of perinatal strandings in the region during the previous 8 years and nearly twice the historical percentage of total strandings. These dolphin deaths represent the largest marine mammal mortality event in the Northern Gulf of Mexico since 2004, when a red tide killed more than 100 bottlenose dolphins off the Florida panhandle.

What killed so many dolphins? Investigators point to a “perfect storm” of dolphins weakened by the BP oil spill, then killed by colder-than-normal water in the Gulf that took its toll on a vulnerable dolphin population. [Read more…]

Fertilizing the Oceans with Iron Sinks Carbon, But is it a Good Idea?

The Eddy and the Plankton

“The Eddy and the Plankton” A massive plankton bloom observed from space. (Image: NASA Earth Observatory via Flickr)

It’s a controversial idea that has been around for decades. Stimulate the growth of phytoplankton (plant plankton) in remote reaches of the oceans by fertilizing the oceans with iron. Previous studies concluded that such an approach would not be effective. However, the recent analysis of a 2004 ocean fertilization experiment in the Southern Ocean — published in the journal, Nature — shows that use of iron fertilization did stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, which sank into the deep sea after the algae died, serving as a “carbon sink” in the deep where the carbon would be held out of the atmosphere for centuries. [Read more…]

Study: More Than 90 Percent of Dead Pacific Northwest Seabirds in Pacific Northwest Had Ingested Plastic

Northern Fulmar

A pair of northern fulmars (Photo: annecarringtoncotton via Flickr)

There is great concern about the impacts of plastics on marine wildlife in the Pacific, but much of the focus has been in tropical regions like the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. A new study in Marine Pollution Bulletin and reported by Discovery News shows that plastics are impacting seabird populations in the Pacific Northwest as well, a region that researchers have compared to the highly-polluted North Sea with respect to plastic pollution.


[Read more…]

Do Dolphins Hunt with Mathematics?

White Spinner Dolphin, Kona Hawaii

White Spinner Dolphin (Photo: SteveD. via Flickr)

We know dolphins are smart, but a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A by Timothy Leighton at the University of Southampton, UK, raises the question as to whether dolphins are actually using complex nonlinear math tricks to hunt. Dolphins sometimes create a “bubble curtain” to corral and concentrate prey like sardines, making it easier to pick them off. But dolphins rely on their sonar when hunting, and all those bubbles would seem to interfere with a dolphin’s ability to distinguish its prey. Bubbles certainly interfere with man-made sonar systems. So the researchers wondered if dolphins, which vary the amplitude of their sonar clicks, use a complex nonlinear processing function to essentially separate the noise from the target. In their experiment, they used such mathematical functions to process the echoes of dolphin-like pulses from targets shrouded in bubble clouds. [Read more…]

Aquarius — World’s Last Undersea Lab — Loses Funding, Faces Decommisioning

Aquarius Reef Base

Aquarius Reef Base (Photo: NOAA)

For 25 years, the Aquarius Reef Base, an undersea laboratory that sleeps six?off of Key Largo, has served as host to numerous marine biologists and NASA astronauts. Even the Ocean Doctor has paid a visit to Aquarius. But after years of declining budgets, the Obama administration has eliminated the base’s funding, and the world’s last remaining undersea lab is faced with decommissioning — or finding its own funding. NPR reports that Dr. Sylvia Earle and other researchers are now conducting a mission of outreach and education in Aquarius to help save it.

[Read more…]

Judge Approves $880 Million Everglades Restoration

Everglades National Park

The Everglades (Photo: slack12 via Flickr)

The Environmental News Network (ENN) reports that a federal judge has approved an $880 million plan to restore the Everglades, a decision that could result in the settlement of numerous lawsuits spanning 25 years. In addition, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Kissimmee, Florida to announce an infusino of an additional $80 million from the federal government to support farmers and ranchers who voluntarily conserve wetlands on agricultural land in the northern portion of the Everglades Ecosystem. [Read more…]