Friday, 26 August 2011

Marine Debris

When you think about being on the beach, you probably picture a beautiful sunny day, golden sands, shimmering seas, buckets and spades… But what about litter? Marine debris is prevalent on our beaches and includes any human-made waste that deliberately or accidentally ends up on our beaches and in our seas, such as plastic bottles, food packaging and clothing, as well as things like cotton bud sticks, balloons, fishing line, nets, crab pots and even sewage.

So where does all this litter come from? There are many sources, but the top four, consistently, are shipping, sewage, fishing and the public. Most of it is preventable, yet levels of debris are increasing every year. Results of Marine Conservation Society surveys indicate that there are, on average, nearly 2,000 items of litter per kilometre on Britain’s beaches. Beach litter is at its highest levels since records began – it has almost doubled in the last 15 years and rose by 6% between 2009 and 2010.

Litter can cause huge problems in the marine environment. Not only is it an eyesore, it can harm marine wildlife and beach visitors too. Beachgoers can be injured by items of marine debris and can become ill from swimming in seawater contaminated with sewage. Shellfish grown in sewage-contaminated water can cause food poisoning to consumers due to a build-up of toxins in their tissues. Marine debris costs local authorities thousands of pounds every year in lost tourism revenue and cleanup costs, and the fishing industry also loses out when their gear becomes fouled by debris and catches are contaminated.

Marine litter kills more than one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals every year through ingestion and entanglement. Discarded fishing nets cause problems through ‘ghost fishing’, whereby marine life continues to be caught by nets left behind in the sea. The animals cannot escape and suffer slow deaths whilst trapped. The nets also pose a threat to divers, who can become entangled and trapped in them. A recent story from Honolulu has highlighted the dangers of debris after nine Hawaiian monk seals were rescued from fishing nets and other marine debris, which they had become entangled in. One of the seals was a female pup caught up in an 800lb mess of buoys, fishing nets and clothes baskets.

Marine animals often mistake litter, such a plastic bags and balloons, for food. A recent study has shown that plastic is rapidly becoming a significant "food" item for fishes living in the northern Pacific Ocean. Turtles are particularly susceptible to ingesting plastic, as they frequently mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish, their main food source. The plastic bags block their stomachs, frequently leading to death through starvation. Seabirds also ingest floating plastic litter, mistaking it for food – over 90% of fulmars found dead around the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs. A study by Scottish scientists has also found that 83% of Langoustines, also known as Scampi or Norway lobster, have indigestible plastic fibres in their stomachs, usually in the form of clogging balls.

In fact, plastics account for more than half of all litter items found on UK beaches and the number of plastic items found annually has increased by 135% since 1994. They are a particular problem because they persist in the marine environment for hundreds if not thousands of years. Every single piece of plastic ever made still exists today. Eventually, plastic breaks down into microscopic particles or ‘snow’, which may be consumed by filter feeding animals such as barnacles. Pollutants can also be attracted to the surface of plastics, posing a previously unrecognised threat to marine animals once ingested. These pollutants may be passed up through the food chain by bioaccumulation to fish, and ultimately to human consumers. The toxic substances released by plastics as they break down can also effect the growth and development of marine animals.

Plastics can accumulate in the marine environment across large areas and there are known trash vortexes in each of the five major ocean gyres. The North Atlantic Garbage patch was originally documented in 1972 and is estimated to be hundreds of kilometers wide, with a density of more than 200,000 items of debris per square kilometer. The existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was predicted by researchers in 1988 and it was subsequently discovered in 1997. It is frequently referred to as an exceptional example of marine pollution but mostly consists of tiny plastic particles that are invisible to the naked eye; more like a "plastic soup". It is consequently difficult to estimate the size of the patch, but it is believed to range somewhere between 700,000 to 15,000,000 square kilometers in size. Researchers say that it is, “growing exponentially and threatening to become one of the greatest ecological disasters of our time”. It is estimated that 80% of the debris originates from land-based sources, and the remaining 20% from shipping. The Indian Ocean Garbage Patch, discovered in 2010, does not appear as one continuous field of debris. Researchers from the 5 Gyres Project are currently investigating this garbage patch, along with those in the South Atlantic and South Pacific.

So what can we do about all this debris in our oceans and on our beaches? At a local level, you can make sure you don’t leave litter behind on the beach and don’t drop it in the street, don’t flush litter down the loo, and don’t take part in events such as balloon releases. You can reduce the amount of waste you produce, reuse items and recycle as much as you can. You could even create your own art installation! You can support charities that work towards acheiving cleaner seas, such as the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), through membership or fundraising. You can get involved with local beach cleans – the MCS uses data from beach cleans around the UK to target litter at source, at local, national and international levels. Their Beachwatch Big Weekend takes place over the third weekend in September each year and coincides with Project AWARE’s ‘International Cleanup Day’. If you dive, you can take part in the Project AWARE ‘Dive Against Debris’ campaign. To tackle the issue of marine debris on a larger scale, the MCS wants:

  • Government to formulate coherent marine litter action plans.
  • Industry to improve water treatment storage capacity and combined sewer overflows to reduce the discharge of untreated sewage and sewage related litter to rivers and the sea during heavy rainfall.
  • The public to reduce their use of plastic packaging, and reuse and recycle wherever possible. First steps can be as simple as avoiding plastic shopping bags, bottled drinking water and over packaged goods.

So next time you’re at the beach, take a good look around you. If you want to preserve that idyllic seaside experience for future generations and ensure our seas stay fit and healthy, make sure you don’t add to the already huge problem of marine debris in our environment. On a national level, more effective legislation and enforcement of litter laws is needed. But every piece of litter has an owner – every single person can make a difference and has a responsibility not to drop litter or flush it down the toilet. Remember: bag it and bin it; don't flush it!

Useful Links

Beach litter categories
5 Gyres Project
Project AWARE
Marine Conservation Society

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Marine News Roundup

The best marine news stories from throughout the week, hand-picked for you. Please feel free to comment and tell us what you think!

"Seeking Protection for Coral Sea 'Hotspot'"
The Coral Sea is best known for the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest barrier reef, which was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1981. The Australian government designated the area a marine park in 1975 due to it's extensive biological diversity and richness, so some activities (e.g. fishing) are regulated in some areas and banned completely in others. A new report, "Australia's Coral Sea: A Biophysical Profile", by Pew Environment Group, is now suggesting that a similar level of protection should be extended to the sea as a whole, creating the world's largest marine park covering an area of nearly 1 million square kilometers or 386,000 square miles. The report notes that the Coral Sea contains 18 shallow reef systems which, due to their, "small size, isolation from each other and high exposure to cyclones and storms," may actually be more vulnerable than the better-known Great Barrier Reef. The Coral Sea is a global biological hotspot and some species are endemic, i.e. found nowhere else in the world. However, the report also notes that 341 bird and animal species in the sea are listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with 51% of these showing declining population trends. This is why Pew Environment Group are calling for protective action for the area. The Australian government has established a Coral Sea Conservation Zone whilst it assesses the area's potential designation as a permanent marine reserve, meaning that most commercial activities in the region now require permits. The government is expected to announce a formal decision later this year.

"Monster Algae Bloom Off Jersey Shore"
Images from a NOAA satellite have identified a "monster" algae bloom off the New Jersey coast, stretching from Brooklyn all the way down to Cape May, a distance of more than 100 miles. The bloom could soon affect fishing and beach goers and, when the algae dies within the next couple of weeks, it could create a huge 'dead zone' just off shore that will impact on marine life if the oxygen in the area in not replaced. The bloom was caused by, "an unfortunate combination of southwesterly winds that allowed the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich waters to come to the surface... [that] gave the algae so much food they could quickly multiply". Some of the nutrients appear to have come from New York Harbour, where heavy rains have caused an overflow of sewage and storm drain systems. As bacteria feed on the dead algae, they consume the oxygen in the water which can suffocate fish, or drive them away to more oxygen-rich waters. This could impact on fishing, and beachgoers may notice a brown foam on their skin as they get out of the water.

"BBC/Discovery 'Life' Giant Cuttlefish sequence"
This beautiful video of Australian Giant Cuttlefish mating strategies was filmed by cameraman Doug Anderson in South Australia.

"Sea Jelly Blooms in the UK: research continues to point towards manmade causes"
Mass gatherings of jellyfish of various species are becoming more frequent worldwide and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has reported that the UK's seas are becoming more like a jellyfish 'soup' as huge swarms appear during summer. Scientists are unsure as to why, as little is known about these invaders. Research is now suggesting that pollution, overfishing and climate change may be responsible. Pollution run-off from the land into the sea can boost jellyfish numbers by causing plankton blooms, which they feed on along with fish. Overfishing removes jellyfish predators and competitors which usually regulate population growth. Climate change may cause more favourable conditions for jellyfish, "with their adaptability giving them an advantage over some other sea creatures." Jellyfish swarms can have serious economic consequences and in more developed nations, they can spoil entire commercial catches. Jellyfish numbers are a important indicator as to the state of our seas so do keep an eye out for them and report any sightings to the MCS for inclusion in their jellyfish survey data.

"Public urged to report whale shark sightings"
The Dubai-based research body, Sharkwatch Arabia, are asking members of the public to report any sightings of whale sharks in the wild, dead or alive, to them after a missed opportunity in Musandam last week. A dead whale shark washed ashore but was not reported to anyone, so scientists missed the opportunity to take tissue samples and analyse the whale's stomach contents. It is globally a very rare occurrence for a whale shark to wash ashore and scientists are keen to gather as much information as they can in order to determine where whale sharks feed, whether they are from a genetically different population or native to the area, sex, breeding maturity and possibly cause of death. If you see a whale shark contact Whaleshark Arabia as soon as possible, on

"NOAA rescuers free whale calf from fishing line"
NOAA officials have managed to rescue a 5-month old humpback whale that had become entangled in a buoy line. Tourist boats spotted the calf and it's mother and helped to keep track of them until NOAA were on the scene. Luckily the buoy, believed to have possibly come from a crab or shrimp pot, was only wrapped around the calf. The team analysed the ropes and realised they could remove it with a single snip, which they managed to do successfully after a few hours. A small of line remained on the calf but the team believe it will drop off on it's own.

"Scottish seas in good shape, say scientists"
A team of researchers from the University of Plymouth have been studying how acid can affect the sea, and ultimately the fish life within it. By focusing on a series of giant underwater volcanoes that emit CO2, they have established that the waters around Scotland are in good condition and should be able to survive the rising levels of carbon dioxide that are causing serious problems in other parts of the world. Scottish waters contain more food, which is likely to make them less vulnerable to acidification. Acidification can have dramatic consequences for marine life and is set to get worse, as more chemicals and materials are dumped into the sea.

"Experts start work on finding solutions to shark attacks"
Following the recent shark attacks in the Seychelles, it looks like the Seychelles government has now listened to concerns about indiscriminate sharks hunts. They have called in two experts from South Africa to work out what factors have led to the attack, and how best shark attacks can be avoided in the future. The experts are also attempting to work out the species of shark behind the attacks, now believed to have been a Great White or a Tiger shark. The swimming ban is still in place in Anse Lazio, Petit Anse Kerlan, Anse Georgette, Curieuse and St Pierre with swimmers and divers being asked to take necessary precautions in other areas. Air Seychelles pilots are flying over the area regularly on the lookout for sharks and the Government has stated that it does not want a bounty being put on the shark responsible for the attacks, nor an indiscriminate cull of sharks.

"Orphaned seal pups 'fall in love' after charity rescue"
This lovely story was spotted by Seal Scotland. The Scottish SPCA in Oban rescued two orphaned seal pups in June after they became separated from their mothers. The two pups, Jellyfish and Sand, have formed an unusually close bond whilst being cared for together, touching noses and sniffing each other frequently and even sleeping side by side. This is unusual behaviour for seals but they can't seem to bear being apart. The seals are set to be released together when they are old enough to fend for themselves and there is, "every chance" they will remain together in the wild.

"Shark Bay dolphins astound university researchers"
Researchers at Murdoch University have found an increased number of dolphins practicing the technique of 'conching' in Western Australia. The behaviour was first observed in bottlenose dolphins in 2007 and again in 2009, and involves the dolphin trapping small fish in an empty conch shell with it's beak, then taking the shell to the surface and shaking it, causing the water to drain out and the fish fall into it's mouth. The previously rarely witnessed phenomenon appears to be spreading, possibly through close associates of 'conching' dolphins watching them and then imitating the behaviour. Researchers are excited at the possibility of watching this learned behaviour spread, and hope to set up experiments to test how the dolphins are using the conch shells to trap small fish.

That's it for this week - please do leave your comments below and let us know what you think!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Seychelles Shark Attack

On Tuesday 16th August, Ian Redmond, 30, from Lancashire, was fatally wounded by a shark as he snorkeled near the shore of Anse Lazio beach on the island of Praslin in the Seychelles. Mr Redmond was on honeymoon with his wife, Gemma Redmond, 27, whom he had married 10 days before. She was sunbathing on the beach when she heard his screams for help. Mr Redmond was pulled onto a small boat and brought onshore, conscious, but died at the scene from his injuries and blood loss, despite attempts to save him. The incident has been heavily reported worldwide and our condolences go out to his family and friends.

Mr Redmond was not the first tourist in the area to have been killed by shark attack recently. In the same month, 36-year-old French diver Nicolas Virolle was also fatally injured by a shark. Mrs Redmond has told the media that they had not considered that the waters were unsafe and that she had been told there were no sharks in the area. This has been disputed by authorities in the Seychelles, who say that, whilst there were no warning signs up on the beach, they had police patrolling the beach and warning tourists of the previous attack. However, they have also added that, in hindsight, they could have done more to warn people of the possible dangers of swimming in the area and could have closed the beach. It is possible that Mr Redmond's death could have been avoided if there were more obvious warnings present or the beach had in fact been closed to swimming following the death of Mr Virolle just over two weeks before.

Several species of sharks are known to inhabit the waters around the Seychelles but attacks are not common. The species of shark which killed Mr Redmond is currently unknown, but is believed to have been a Bull shark or Tiger shark. According to local media reports, the last fatal attack in the Seychelles before these latest two incidents occurred in 1963. Reports have suggested that increased pollution in the waters around the islands is attracting more sharks to the area. A large number of yachts are believed to empty their waste and sewage into the sea and sharks, which are opportunistic feeders, have moved in to take advantage of this food source. Shark expert Jeremy Cliff has warned the local authorities to close beaches as they have, "a serious problem". He believes that changes to the sharks’ environment, possibly caused by fishing methods (e.g. by fishermen discarding part of their catch in shallow water), are bringing sharks closer to the shore. He also said there could be issues with the sea bed or reef, and that changing conditions could also attract sharks.

Fatal shark attacks are uncommon worldwide, with an average of just 4.3 people being killed by shark attack each year between 2001 and 2010. The Seychelles authorities have enlisted the help of the Navy and Coastguard, as well as shark experts from South Africa, to help them catch the shark, or sharks, responsible for the latest two attacks. Seychelles fishermen have also joined in the hunt, with local businesses offering a £3,000 reward for it's capture. However, several groups, including The Global Shark Conservation Initiative and Support Our Sharks, are calling for an end to the hunt as they believe that many 'innocent' sharks may be killed in the hunt for a shark that may not be found, with several species of shark already threatened with extinction due to overfishing. Marine biologists says there are now only 10% of the sharks that were in the oceans 15-20 years ago and this is likely to have a devastating impact on the marine ecosystem.

It is clear that the reasons behind these attacks need to be investigated and improvements made within the local area to keep people safe from possible future attacks. If sharks are being encouraged into the area by discharge from boats and fishing discards, then these practices will have to be changed and new rules and legislation set in place by the authorities. We do not believe that a shark hunt aimed at capturing the "killer shark" in reaction to the recent deaths would be at all beneficial, particularly when the species of shark responsible for the deaths has not yet been determined. Sharks are important apex predators and maintain balance within the marine environment, and they are already being fished to extinction. Whilst the recent deaths have been extremely tragic, many 'innocent' sharks may be killed during the hunt in the hope that the shark responsible for the deaths is caught. Whilst the shark attacks may have a temporary affect on tourism in the area, particularly given the sensationalist reporting we have seen on the incident, the sudden removal of a large number of sharks would undoubtedly have a negative impact on the marine ecosystem in the Seychelles and this itself would impact tourism in a much larger way over a more sustained period. Whilst the authorities must be seen to be doing something, we would not encourage anyone to fish any of these already threatened species and would instead urge the authorities to look at what they can do to discourage large sharks from feeding in the local area.

If you would like to oppose the shark hunt in the Seychelles, you can sign the online petition, or alternatively use The Global Shark Conservation Initiative's 'standard letter' to write to the tourism authorities in the Seychelles.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Shark Finning

Thanks to films like 'Jaws' and sensationalist reporting by the media, many people have come to fear sharks. In truth, on average only 12 people are killed by sharks each year. More people are killed each year by falling coconuts, or by donkeys, or by being struck by lightening whilst playing golf, than by sharks. But did you know that humans are killing millions of sharks each year? Most sharks deaths are through 'finning', a topic which we will explore in this blog post. This post has also been featured on The Global Shark Conservation Initiative's website as a guest blog.

Shark finning is a process that involves the removal and retention of fins from a shark. Shark finning takes place at sea and, as shark meat is considered to be of low value (around US$650 per ton), most fishermen do not consider it worthwhile to transport the bodies. The sharks are hauled on board and the fins are removed, usually whilst the shark is still alive, with the finless body of the shark then being thrown back overboard into the sea. The shark, unable to swim, then sinks towards the bottom and dies through suffocation, blood loss, starvation, or through predation by other species.

This practice is widespread with more than 100 countries involved in the trade of shark fins, and is largely unmonitored and unmanaged. Most countries act as exporters, with the main consumer nations being mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. The United States and the European Union also import significant quantities for use in their local Chinese communities. Where figures exist, they suggest that shark fin trading by Hong Kong accounts for an estimated 50% of all shark fin trading.

Shark finning is a multi-billion dollar industry and chiefly takes place due to the high demand for shark fin soup and traditional cures. Shark fin soup is considered to be an Asian delicacy and can cost as much as US$100 per bowl, with one pound of dried shark fin retailing for US$300 or more. Due to their high value, shark fins are highly prized by fishermen. Consequently, much of the shark fin trade is illegal and often involves organised crime. The trading of shark fins has even been used as a way to launder drug money. The only thing in the world more lucrative than the shark fin industry is the illegal drugs trade.

The increasing demand for fins for shark fin soup, coupled with improved fishing methods and improved market economics, has led to an increase in the number of sharks killed each year. Studies of shark fin markets in Hong Kong have shown that the number of sharks represented is three to four times greater than shark catch figures reported to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). This suggests that much of the shark fin trade is “off the books” of the world’s legal fisheries. Upper estimates suggest that as many as 73 million sharks are caught and finned each year. That’s three sharks every second!

In addition to its rather barbaric nature, shark finning presents several problems. It is a hugely wasteful practice, with the wet fins accounting for less than 5% of the total of a shark’s body weight. The discarded carcasses could provide a valuable protein source, particularly in developing countries. Shark fishing is also an unsustainable fishery. Shark populations decline rapidly when targeted by fisheries as sharks grow slowly, mature late and give birth to few large pups after a long gestation period. Populations recover slowly, if at all, when fished. Shark finning is indiscriminate as any sharks are taken, regardless of species, size or age. Sharks are often caught on longlines, which are the most significant cause of loss to shark populations worldwide. As a result, sharks are now at threat from over-fishing and this is pushing many shark species to the brink of extinction. Since the 1970s, the populations of several species have been decimated by over 95%. Experts estimate that most species of shark will be lost within a decade because of longlining. Sharks are apex predators and scavengers and maintain balance within the marine ecosystem. They play an important role in eliminating diseased and genetically-defective animals and help to stabilise fish populations. The loss of sharks threatens the stability of the marine environment, and also threatens the socio-economically important recreational fisheries.

Shark finning is illegal in several countries and is contrary to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s International Plan for the Management of Sharks. Many areas try to regulate fishing fleets by a fin-to-carcass weight ratio, with several stipulating that fins must arrive in a 5% weight ratio of the shark carcasses on board. Only a few countries demand that sharks arrive in port with fins attached. However, weak legislation and ineffective enforcement often undermines these regulations and fishing fleets routinely ignore them. International seas are largely un-policed and the enforcement of shark finning regulations is sorely lacking worldwide. The high value of shark fins further encourages the exploitation of regulatory loopholes.

Some organisations have called for a complete ban on shark finning on the grounds that it is an inhumane practice, fins provide no flavour or nutrition to shark fin soup (which is commonly flavoured with pork or chicken) and have been shown to contain dangerously high levels of mercury poison, and shark fishing is decimating shark populations with unknown consequences for the marine environment. Government bodies are starting to listen, with California currently awaiting the result of the AB376 Shark Fin Ban Bill. This Bill would ban the possession, trade and sale of shark fins in the State of California. There has been opposition to a complete ban though, with some arguing that it would unfairly target certain cultures. A complete ban would also be difficult to regulate and enforce, with most shark fishing taking place on the high seas. Even if fishermen land the entire shark in compliance with shark finning laws (rather than removing the fins and discarding the bodies at sea), the shark meat is not always marketable and is often sold as fertiliser or for animal feed.

The core issue is that sharks are being fished at an unsustainable rate. Work is being done by many organisations to change public opinion towards shark fishing and therefore reduce demand for shark fins and meat. For example, Sea Shepherd Singapore is running a campaign aimed at decreasing the number of couples offering shark fin soup at their weddings. A successful petition has recently seen the Food Network stop promoting shark meat on its website and network. The AB376 Bill is still being discussed by the Senate Committee in California. Not enough is known about marine ecology to understand what impact the loss of so many sharks will bring about, but there will be consequences. It has become overwhelmingly clear that we must act, and act quickly, to prevent the loss of entire shark species from our oceans.

There are many campaigns worldwide that you can get involved with, if you too are concerned about the future of sharks. If you would like to know more about sharks, shark finning and what you can do to help, why not check out the links below for further information.
Petition to ban the use, sale and import of shark fin products in the UK
Information on the successful petition to the Food Network
Update on the AB376 Bill

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Marine News Roundup

Welcome to our second edition of the Marine News Roundup; hand-picked stories we feel you will find interesting! Please feel free to comment and tell us which stories you liked best, as well as any feedback.

"Shell North Sea Oil Spill Worst in a Decade"
Last week, Shell's Gannet Alpha production platform, 112 miles off Aberdeen, began to leak oil into the North Sea. So far it has discharged around 218 tonnes (1,300 barrels) of oil, making it the biggest spill on the UK continental shelf since the spill in the Hutton field in 2000, when around 350 tonnes of oil were released. An enquiry has been launched by inspectors from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and it is already known that the oil is not originating from the well, which has been shut off, but from the network of pipes on the seabed 300ft below the platform. Shell have said that the initial leak point was sealed off last Thursday, but a smaller "residual" flow was still leaking from another source, as yet unidentified but believed to be a relief valve within the same area of piping. Conservationists have expressed fears about potential harm to seabirds and other marine life. The oil spill has received national news coverage, for example from The Independent and The Telegraph. With reports of fish still falling sick in the Gulf, for which the BP oil spill is being blamed, and oil companies now claiming they can drill "safely" in the Arctic Ocean, questions are being raised as to what would happen if there was on oil spill in the Arctic? It is a fragile and more forbidding environment and already suffering the effects of climate change. Shell Oil have this month been granted conditional approval to drill four exploratory wells next summer in Alaska's Beaufort Sea. Campaigners and scientists are currently monitoring the oil companies’ plans closely and hope to win more protections to keep coasts safe from oil spills.

"Offshore Windfarms May Promote Biodiversity"
A new Dutch study has found that offshore wind farms may promote biodiversity. The base of the turbines and surrounding rocks can provide habitats for marine animals that live on the sea floor, and can attract numerous fish species and even porpoises. Location and sea depth play a crucial role in minimising the effects of a wind farm, and strategic placement of wind farms can prevent them from interfering with birds' flight patterns. However, offshore wind turbines generate undersea noise that can disorient or damage the eardrums of cetaceans such as whales and porpoises. Greenpeace and the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation advocate the use of a 'bubble curtain' to soften noises around construction sites and protect cetaceans' hearing, and construction should wait if cetaceans are present. Further studies will be needed to verify the results of this study.

Are Unicorns Real?
BBC Earth's latest blog takes a light-hearted look at their Top 5 Mythical Creatures. Check out number 4 - Mermaids. According to BBC Earth, "...these marine temptresses are more real than their mythology suggests." It is believed that sightings of mermaids could in in fact have been dugongs ('sea cows'), manatees or dolphins, which deluded sailors mistook for women with fish tails.

What is so special about the white whale?
In an earlier BBC Earth blog post, Adelle Havard delved into the lives of Beluga and Narwhal whales. Beluga whales were nicknamed the 'Sea Canary' by early Arctic sailors and are social marine mammals, using high-pitched whistles, screeches, clicks and squeaks to communicate. These noises can even be heard through the hulls of ships! Narwhals are also very vocal, and love cold water and deep sea diving. Their tusks can be up to 3m long and perform a function similar to a lion's mane or a peacock's tail feather. Narwhal's are unique in their ability to hunt in the deep waters in winter, and shallow waters in summer. The blog also discusses Narwhal migration and mating.

"Seabirds on the Decline"
The RSPB has said that the population of UK seabirds is in decline. The UK has long been renowned for it's populations of seabirds but the RSPB has claimed that too many seabird sites are no longer being protected. Most seabird nesting sites are protected, but the areas where they feed at sea are not.

"GBR: Rising Turtle Deaths Prompt Warnings of Wildlife Crisis"
Unusually large numbers of dead and dying turtles are washing up dead along the coast of the Great Barrier Reef. Researchers believe this may be linked to cyclones and flooding earlier in the year which wiped out the seagrass beds that turtles feed on. 649 turtle deaths were reported in the first seven months of 2011, an increase of 200 in the same period last year. Dugongs are also suffering, with 96 reported dead in the first seven months of 2011, compared with 79 in the whole of 2010. Environmental groups have warned of a wildlife crisis in the region, with WWF urging the Queensland government to overhaul regulations surrounding fisheries and coastal development, and reduce the amount of pollution released into the sea.

"Blue shark saved by amateur fishermen"
A fisherman in Malta has saved a blue shark by removing a plastic ring that was wrapped around it's body. The fisherman was out at sea on a fishing trip last weekend when he encountered the shark, and observed that the ring was already putting pressure on the shark's skin. He used a fillet knife to remove the ring of plastic from the shark's body. Had he not removed it, it would have started to dig in to the shark's skin as it grew and would have caused the shark difficulties.Nature Trust (Malta) have encouraged anybody who encounters plastic at sea to collect it and dispose of it properly on land, preferably by recycling it, as plastic can cause numerous problems in the marine environment. At least this shark has had a lucky escape!

"Human Pathogen Killing Corals in the Florida Keys"
Human sewage has been identified as the source of a pathogen that is killing coral the Florida Keys. The research team from Rollins College, Florida, and the University of Georgia have found that the pathogen causes white pox disease in Caribbean elkhorn coral. This species, which was once the most common coral in the Caribbean, was listed for protection under the United States Endangered Species Act in 2006 after suffering greatly from white pox disease. Researchers hope to solve the problem with advanced waste water treatment facilities.

"Scientists Study 'World's Most Robust Marine Reserve'"
A study of Mexico's Cabo Pulmo National Park, near the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, has been completed after a decade of research and has determined that the location is the, "most robust marine reserve in the world". Researchers from the Scripps Institution completed the ten-year study and found that the previously fishing-depleted area has experienced a 460% increase in total biomass from 1999 to 2009. This increase represents tons of new fish produced every year and no other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery. Ten years ago the reserve only had medium-sized fishes; now, there are large parrot fish, groupers, snappers and even sharks. Whilst the percentage of recovery isn't unprecedented, the density of the fish (4 tons per hectare) is the best the researchers have seen anywhere on record.

"Debris Month of Action"
 September sees the launch of Project AWARE’s new Dive Against Debris program, coinciding with their Marine Debris Month of Action. Participants are asked to collect critical data whilst taking part in underwater cleanups, to help address marine debris problems at their source. The data collected will help initiate policy change to prevent debris in the future. Project AWARE are looking for both organisers and volunteers to take part in a Dive Against Debris next month.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Focus on: Seal Scotland

Seal Scotland is a Stakeholder Group made up of a number of organisations and individuals committed to end the Scottish Seal Cull. It was created on 15th March following on from a Facebook group set up for 'International Day for Seals', in response to the Scottish Government giving permission for more than 1,000 seals to be shot this year. They aim to protect Scotland's seals and help tourism and business in Scotland.

We first came to notice Seal Scotland through their active Twitter account. They also have an active Facebook page in addition to their website, so there are many ways you can read about them and show your support.

Their website states,

"Seals are seen as scapegoats, they have even been blamed for the decline within our fisheries and fish, they are seen as a menace to salmon anglers and a curse to fin fish aquaculture; the term, “The only good seal, is a dead seal” has been quoted on numerous occasions.

As with mythology, stories grow and change over time, what are the facts and are seals culprits in need of being shot, or convenient excuses for our own miss-management of our seas?

The Facts:
• Most of our Global commercial fisheries are in decline, overfishing is a known cause.
• There has been a dramatic decline in common seals in the UK.
• There has been a marked change in the reproduction rates of grey seals, so much so that the modelling techniques used to count greys has had to be changed to take into account the stable or slowly increasing rate of reproduction.
• Seals are shot regularly by; Salmon farmers, fishermen, salmon netsmen, & salmon anglers.

...The Future
Currently the future for British seals looks bleak, unless the current situation changes. The wildlife tourist industry has the potential to suffer; seals pictured in glossy tourist brochures might say, “What we used to see” or they could even be placed into history books, over the top comment, possibly; but local extinctions are a very real possibility.

...People power works; a massive success in the Canadian seal hunts took place in Europe recently, when the EC banned the imports of seal products. The UK governments may tell you that there is not a “seal cull” going on in this country; but with the licensing of nearly 1400 seals to be shot in Scotland and repeated calls from fishermen for a cull… What do you think?"

Please do take a look at Seal Scotland and show your support for these beautiful marine animals. Seal Scotland have links to several iPetitions you can sign, as well as a list of other seal sites you can check out. Don't forget to stop by the gallery and YouTube channel to see some gorgeous seal images and remind yourself what you're helping to protect!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Do your bit to protect sharks

Sharks are often portrayed as dangerous marine animals who prey on humans. In fact, more people are killed by coconuts each year than by sharks! Sharks are apex predators and maintain balance in the marine ecosystem. The sea provides 70% of the world’s oxygen, essential for life.

However, three sharks are killed every second – that’s 73 million sharks each year. They have inhabited the world’s oceans for 400 million years but humans are now driving them to extinction. Much of this is due to the vast international demand for shark fins for soup. The only thing in the world more lucrative than the shark fin industry is the illegal drugs trade.

The disappearance of sharks could have devastating consequences for the marine environment – not to mention the whole planet. So what can you do to help?

Project AWARE are "a global force for divers" and are currently running an online campaign asking divers to sign their Shark Petition. Sport Diver are also supporting this campaign - and so are we! You can sign the petition by filling in the simple form, below. Please spread news of this campaign to your friends, family - anyone who will listen! You do need to be aged 18 years or older to sign the petition but by doing so, you can help give sharks a fighting chance.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Marine News Roundup

Welcome to the first of our Marine News Roundups. Below you will find some hand-picked stories that we hope will be of interest to you.

Please feel free to share this blog with others!

"Behind the Speed - The Fastest Fish in the Sea"
The BBC Earth's Life Is Team has created a new blog to share some of nature's most amazing stories, images and videos. Their latest blog post concerns the Atlantic Sailfish, "one of nature's greatest speed demons". The post also features a rather amazing photograph by Hugh Miller.

Captain Morgan's Shipwreck Discovered?
A dive team near Panama City may have discovered a wreck belonging to the famous pirate Sir Henry Morgan. They have discovered the hull of a 17th Century ship, 52-foot long by 22-foot wide, and are trying to piece together the case that this, "was once part of the legendary pirate's fleet". The hull was found near the recent discovery of cannon's believed to have come from Captain Morgan's fleet (see the Our Amazing Planet post).

"Another beluga hunting area shuts down to Nunavik hunters"
Beluga whale hunters in Nunavik will have to wait until next year to land more belugas along the eastern Hudson Bay because they have already reached their total allowable take for 2011 of nine.

"Fish Masquerades as Coral to Hide in Plain Sight"
The harlequin filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris) has evolved polka-dot marking to match it's coral home in an ingenious move to avoid being eaten by predators.

"Arctic sea ice in free fall: new record low for July"
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) have shown that the average Arctic sea ice extent hit a new record low for July. If the melt continues at it's current rate, the sea ice extent could hit it's lowest point since record-keeping began 32 years ago.

"Balloon dangers to wildlife"
You may not realise, but balloons can be dangerous to marine wildlife. When let go, they may drift into the ocean and can cause problems through ingestion as animals, especially turtles, may mistake them for food. Balloon strings can also entangle marine life, including birds, and cause further problems. The Marine Conservation Society's "Don't Let Go" campaign is already working to encourage organisations not to hold balloon release events and aims to get every council to ban balloon releases on their land.

"Beachgoers urged to report endangered leatherback turtle sightings"
The Marine Conservation Society is asking all beachgoers to be on the lookout for endangered Leatherback turtles, which are visiting our waters to feed on huge numbers of jellyfish. You can report sightings of Leatherbacks, jellyfish and more, direct to the MCS.

Fish Fight Campaign
"Half of all fish caught in the north sea are thrown back overboard dead." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's highly influential campaign continues and supporters can now download a free iPhone application, which contains contains MCS' easy-to-use lists of Fish to Eat and Fish to Avoid with illustrations, tips and videos. Also included is Fish2Fork's restaurant guide, making it easier for you to eat out sustainably, and fish recipes from Hugh and other chefs involved in the Selfridges Project Ocean Campaign. At the time of writing, there are currently 739,850 signatures on the Fish Fight petition - have you signed up yet?

"Offshore wind farms are good for biodiversity"
A Dutch study has found that birds avoid offshore wind turbines, whilst marine life find shelter and new habitats. Professor Han Lindeboom, from the Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies at Wageningen University and Research Centre, said that this new study has revealed little evidence of negative effects on local wildlife.

"Lost baby whale stranded on Australia beach is reunited with mother after dramatic rescue"
A 1.5 tons baby humpback whale has been reunited with it's mother after taking a wrong turn at an Australian beach. Rescuers from Sea World on Queensland's Gold Coast fought for 12 hours to save the baby whale's life after it became beached but mother and baby have now found each other again.

That's all for now - check back soon for more updates!