Thursday, 26 January 2012

Marine News Roundup

Welcome to the latest edition of the Respect Our Seas Marine News Roundup. Please share with your friends and, as always, feel free to comment below.

10 Marine Species on the Brink of Mass Extinction Due to Ocean Acidification
The ocean is a delicate place, and tiny changes to its composition can cause serious devastation. Adding carbon to the atmosphere contributes to global warming and climate change. Another less-discussed impact is ocean acidification - whereby carbon molecules diffuse into the ocean from the atmosphere, causing a steady rise in acidity - even though the impacts are already being felt by many species. Check out these beautiful photos of ten marine species currently under threat from ocean acidification.

Anchovy Explosion
They’re back. After a nearly half-century of rarity, big schools of anchovies - an important prey for both wildlife and humans - are again showing up in Europe’s North Sea. A new study tries to explain why, and finds climate shifts are probably playing a role.

Cargo boat and US navy ship powered by algal oil in marine fuel trials
Substituting biofuel for bunker fuel may bring about revolution in world's shipping fleets. Giant cargo boats and US navy warships have been successfully powered on oil derived from genetically modified algae in a move which could herald a revolution in the fuel used by the world's fleets – and a reduction in the pollution they cause. The results of substituting algal oil for low-grade, "bunker" fuel and diesel in a 98,000-tonne container ship are still being evaluated by Maersk, the world's biggest shipping company, which last week tested 30 tonnes of oil supplied by the US navy in a vessel travelling from Europe to India. Last month, the navy tested 20,000 gallons of algal fuel on a decommissioned destroyer for a few hours. Both ran their trials on a mix of algal oil – between 7% and 100% – and conventional bunker fuel.

Carbon Dioxide Affecting Fish Brains
Rising human carbon dioxide emissions may be affecting the brains and central nervous systems of sea fish, with serious consequences for their survival, according to new research. Carbon dioxide concentrations predicted to occur in the ocean by the end of this century will interfere with fishes' ability to hear, smell, turn and evade predators, the research found. The Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies said it had been testing the performance of baby coral fish in sea water containing higher levels of dissolved CO2 for several years.

Seal death mystery could stay unsolved
Scientists examining dead seal pups found on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula say the creatures are so badly decomposed it may not be possible to determine how they died. The bodies of 51 New Zealand fur seal pups and two young adults were found washed up near Port Lincoln and at Wanna Beach in the Lincoln National Park. Post-mortems have been carried out on three of the pups by University of Adelaide veterinary pathologists. There are no signs of malicious treatment. The seals were found along a six-kilometre stretch of shoreline and more bodies were expected to be found as volunteers search nearby beaches. New Zealand fur seals are a protected species found along Australia's south coast and along the coast of New Zealand's South Island. They can grow to weigh up to 250 kilograms, but males usually average about 125kg and are considered docile, although they will attack if provoked.

Man cited for allegedly poaching lobsters inside marine sanctuary State wildlife officials cited a Riverside County man Sunday for allegedly poaching dozens of lobsters inside one of Southern California's new marine sanctuaries, in what authorities called the first major violation of fishing restrictions that took effect January 1st. The state Department of Fish and Game said Marbel A. Para, 30, of Romoland and a companion were diving off Laguna Beach shortly after midnight when wardens stopped them and found 47 spiny lobsters, most of them below the legal size limit. Para was cited for several alleged poaching violations, including unlawful take and illegal possession of lobster and holding more than the legal limit of seven lobsters per diver. His companion was not cited. The lobsters were photographed and returned to the ocean.

Secret sex life to help save world's endangered seagrasses
Sex plays a much more important role in the reproduction of vitally important seagrasses than previously thought, according to important new findings by researchers from The University of Western Australia. Their work, published today as the cover story in the journal Bioscience, forms a major re-think of the way seagrass populations spread and is regarded as critically important to help conserve and restore endangered seagrasses meadows. The research is expected to lead to better ways to help manage and restore depleted seagrass meadows.

Group to develop deep-sea vehicle
A group of small factories mainly in Tokyo has launched a project to build a deep-sea research vehicle that would submerge to depths of roughly 8,000 meters. The group concluded a contract the same day with the state-run Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology to develop the vehicle, called the Edokko 1, aiming to finish it in about two years. The privately run Shibaura Institute of Technology and the state-run Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology will help the group in developing the vehicle, it said. The group plans to hold down development costs to about ¥20 million and said it plans to launch test runs of the vehicle this summer and to complete it in fiscal 2013, which starts in April that year. The team plans to build a research vehicle that can contribute to discovering seabed resources in waters around Japan.

Modified 'bugs' turn seaweed into fuel
Scientists have genetically engineered microbes to process brown seaweed into biofuel. The work could see large underwater farms become a source of renewable energy. Scientists focused on brown seaweed because its high sugar content provides a good biomass, and the seaweed doesn't compete with food crops for land and fresh water. Researchers successfully isolated a 36,000 base pair DNA fragment from V. splendidus which encodes enzymes that metabolise alginate. The researchers say if this process can be successfully scaled-up, seaweed could help meet the growing demand for sustainable fuel, with it being grown on long submerged ropes. Reasearchers hope that, by using three per cent of the world's coastlines, they can replace five per cent of total oil consumption. That's 60 billion gallons of fuel.

Australian divers reach record depths in caves
A group of Australian divers has broken yet another cave diving record in the depths of the Pearse River resurgence and revealed the underwater cave system is linked to Mt Arthur's Nettlebed Cave system. The group returned from the remote Motueka Valley river head after spending a fortnight exploring the intricate underwater cave system. Diver and explorer Craig Challen pushed the human limit, reaching 221m, breaking the 194m record he set in the river cave last January and setting an Australasian record. The 17-hour dive saw him stop four times at underwater "habitats" which were filled with trapped air. They provided a base for divers to rest and decompress before continuing their return to the surface. Team leader Adelaide's Dr Richard Harris said marker dye dropped by Nelson cavers in the Nettlebed system was seen by divers below 200m and indicated the system was more than 1000m long. However, the connection could be proved only when it was travelled and charted. It was the third time the group had explored the system in the last three years.

The cost of captivity - ball removed from dolphin's stomach
Doctors at a Jiangsu Province aquarium in Nanjing, issued an emergency plea yesterday for someone with long arms to retrieve a ball swallowed by a performing dolphin. The ball has now been successfully removed, but at what cost? The SOS issued yesterday by Nanjing Andover Underwater World, came after one of its performing dolphins swallowed his toy volleyball on Wednesday. Five-year-old Jiang Bo was playing with the ball, when he was observed taking it underwater and then resurfacing without it. Attempts to remove the ball had been unsuccessful, forcing Chinese doctors to issue a plea for help from someone with long arms. Eventually, it was removed and the operation was hailed a success. Others however, saw it simply as another sad side-effect of marine mammal captivity. What this dolphin endured during the entire three-hour process was nothing short of horrific, considering he was awake.

Alarms 'saving whales' from shark nets
An underwater alarm has reduced the number of whales becoming entangled in shark nets off Queensland, the state government says. The alarms, known as pingers, transmit a sonic warning to whales, alerting them they are close to the nets that are designed to protect swimmers. From 2000 to 2009, 27 whales were caught in shark control equipment in Queensland. There was just one in 2010 and another in 2011 after the pingers were introduced, Fisheries Minister Craig Wallace said last week. Both of those whales were apparently successfully released. There are 130 pingers between the Gold Coast and Cairns - four on every shark net.

Mussels in protection racket
A £7m fine and more for every day that horse mussels in Northern Ireland are not protected. That is what could be on the cards in a few weeks time following a complaint to Europe over an alleged breach of the EU Habitats Directive. The complaint is over the protection and restoration of reefs of horse mussels on the bed of Strangford Lough. They are one of the main reasons why the Lough enjoys some of the most stringent legislation in Europe. Its unique habitat includes hundreds of species that depend on the mussels for their survival.

Ningaloo manta rays under threat
Ningaloo Marine Park's manta rays are threatened by the growing worldwide demand demand for their gill rakers, according to a new report. The report also highlights the need for protection in Australia waters. Each year large numbers of Manta birostris and M. alfredi, the world's biggest ray species with wingspans of up to eight metres, visit the marine reserve as part of seasonal migrations. These migrations cover hundreds of kilometres, and may follow a similar path to Ningaloo's whale sharks, into Indonesian waters and beyond. Manta rays are filter feeders, and during daylight hours they tend to accumulate in large numbers around 'cleaning stations' where small fish species clean them of any parasites and algal growth. This habit, combined with their large size, makes them highly vulnerable to being harpooned from above, or caught in fishing nets. While they are protected from fishing in the waters of Ningaloo, once they leave the Marine Park, they are at risk of being targeted by fishermen - even in Australian waters where they have no protection.

87 marine mammals still eaten by people
Threats to marine mammals usually include climate change, drowning as by-catch, pollution and depletion of prey - but what about eating marine mammals? A new study in Biological Conservation finds that a surprising 87 marine mammals (including polar bears, small whales and dolphins) have been eaten as food since 1990 in at least 114 countries.

That's all for this edition - come back in two week's time for the next Marine News Roundup.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Marine News Roundup

Welcome to the first Marine News Roundup of 2012! Have you made nay marine-related New Year's resolutions? Perhaps you are going to spend more time at the beach, get involved with a beach clean, or do more to protect marine species? Whatever you're doing, leave us a comment and let us know!

Electrified cages jolt coral reef survival
A low-level electric current running through domed-shaped metallic structures in the waters off Bali is giving a jolt to coral reef survival there, according to news reports. The Biorock technology is seen by some conservationists as a means to repair coral reefs damaged by years of destructive cyanide and dynamite fishing practices, as well as steadily warming oceans.

Rare mussels found during marine surveys
The largest living collection of rare fan mussels in British waters has been discovered around Scotland’s Small Isles. More than 100 of the mussels, a species that fishermen used to believe fed on the bodies of drowned sailors, were located during a series of surveys of Scottish waters over the last year. Mussel fans were one of several rare species to be uncovered in waters where they were either unknown or hardly ever seen. They are the largest shellfish in British waters – growing up to 48cm long – and are among the rarest and most threatened.

Creatures found at deep-sea volcanic vent
A team of British scientists has captured images of very rare species, in some of the most inaccessible parts of the Indian Ocean. While they were surveying volcanic underwater vents, they found an array of creatures, including yeti crabs, scaly-foot snails and sea cucumbers. They believe some of the species may be new to science.

Marine surveys record 'brainless fish' off Orkney
Scotland's biggest horse mussel bed and a "faceless and brainless" fish-like creature were recorded during government-backed surveys this year. The work covered almost 2,200 square miles - equivalent to an area one and a quarter times the size of the Cairngorms National Park. The Scottish government has hailed the finds made during the surveys. WWF Scotland said the results highlighted the need to better protect the marine environment.

Seafloor "Bridges" Found to Span Earth's Deepest Trench
The Mariana Trench, located in the Pacific Ocean off the eastern coasts of Japan and the Philippines - at a depth of around 6.8 miles (11 kilometres) below sea level - is famous for being the deepest point on the planet's surface. Now, to add to the Mariana Trench's fame, marine geophysicists recently mapped a set of surprising seafloor features nearby. At least four underwater "bridges" span the depths of the trench, where the Pacific Plate dives under the Philippine Plate.

Whale and dolphin group reports big increase in strandings on coastline
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has said that the past year has seen a big increase in strandings of whales and dolphins compared to previous years. A total of 160 stranding and 1,565 sighting reports were logged during 2011. This is compares to 92 strandings in 2010.

World-first hybrid shark found off Australia
Scientists said on Tuesday that they had discovered the world's first hybrid sharks in Australian waters, a potential sign the predators were adapting to cope with climate change. The mating of the local Australian black-tip shark with its global counterpart, the common black-tip, was an unprecedented discovery with implications for the entire shark world.

Dead herring mystery for Norway as thousands wash up on beach
Norwegians have been left puzzled at the sight of thousands of dead herring carpeting a beach in the northerly district of Nordreisa with some wondering if a predator had driven them to their death or a storm had washed them ashore. Scientists were hoping to test the fish to see if they could ascertain the cause of death. Locals had more pressing concerns: how to clean up the 20 tonnes of dead creatures before they decay.

Tiny fish mimics octopus that mimics fish
A new film captures a circular game of copycat: a fish that mimics an octopus that mimics fish. First described by scientists in 1998, the remarkable mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) can shift its shape, movements and colour to impersonate toxic lionfish, flatfish and even sea snakes. Such mimicry allows it to swim in the open with relatively little fear of predators. The black-marble jawfish (Stalix histrio), on the other hand, is a small, timid fish. It spends most of its adult life close to a sand burrow that serves as its hideout if a predator comes along.

Marine biologist accused of feeding whales
A marine biologist who runs popular whale-watching tours on California’s Monterey Bay has been indicted for violating federal laws that protect marine mammals. The San Jose Mercury News reports Nancy Black was charged Wednesday in San Jose for the violations, including two alleging she fed a killer whale. Black is also charged with lying to investigators about altering a 2005 video to hide what authorities say was illegal contact with a humpback whale in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Prosecutors say charges were filed after an investigation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and US Department of Justice. Lawrence Biegel, Black’s lawyer, says she had a research permit to study the whales and denies she fed them.

High mercury levels found in Antarctic waters
A new study has found Antarctica is not as pristine as people might think. A team of French and Australian oceanographers have discovered the seabirds in the Southern Ocean have four times the mercury levels of aquatic birds elsewhere. The toxic element has come from both man-made and naturally occurring sources and while the birds seem to be coping, the same cannot be said for the region's fish. Seabirds like albatross and petrels are the mega-fauna above the water, while whales, seals and penguins are the big predators below.

Begging Whale Sharks Raise Concern In Philippines
Whale sharks begging for food in the central Philippines have sparked a debate on whether feeding the giant fish may ultimately be hurting the creatures, officials have said. While the mayor of the coastal town of Oslob insists that the practice of feeding the whale sharks does no harm and is good for tourism, environmentalists have recommended that it be halted. Fishermen in Oslob in the central resort island of Cebu have been feeding whale sharks with baby shrimp since the 1980s and now use this feeding to make the creatures rise to the surface of the water for the amusement of tourists. Expecting food, whale sharks might approach other boats and risk colliding with them. They also might be more vulnerable to poachers who will catch and kill them. Tourists are also barred from feeding or swimming with the whale sharks and the boatmen are required to use rowing boats and keep their distance to avoid hurting fish with their propellers or in collisions. The Philippines has banned the catching and killing of whale sharks and they have become popular tourist attractions in some towns.

Ocean waves power a prototype generator in Newport Beach
After testing their wave-powered turbine near the Wedge, the entrepreneurs behind Green Wave Energy Corp. want Newport Beach officials' permission to set up a more permanent trial. Waves at the Wedge are legendary for hurling bodysurfers into the air and sweeping tourists off their feet. But the walls of water that rise up at the end of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach also could serve a far more utilitarian purpose: producing electricity. A pair of Newport Beach entrepreneurs have been testing a wave-powered turbine near the famed bodysurfing spot for years and have now approached city officials for permission to set up a more permanent prototype, possibly off one of the city's two piers. But because of strict regulations and high costs, it will be a long time before their generators can be used for commercial purposes.

Crowds thrilled as whales feast on birds
A pod of four killer whales kept a crowd of wildlife watchers entranced for hours on a still afternoon in Shetland. An adult female orca led one immature whale and two even younger whales from the south west tip of Shetland at West Voe round to the east of the islands, swimming up to Mousa Sound where they were last seen in the afternoon as it got dark. More than 200 people were watching the whales by the afternoon, causing gridlock on the roads in the area as more people heard about their arrival.

Near Icy Waters, Marine Life Gets By Swimmingly
Almost two miles deep into the dark water off the coast of Antarctica, researchers say they've discovered about two dozen new species of marine animals lurking on the seafloor. Geyserlike hydrothermal vents are key to these creatures' survival. The vents release scalding-hot fluids with chemicals that support them. The Antarctic research team was able to take photos and video of the new species, including yeti crabs, starfish, barnacles, sea anemones - and potentially octopuses.

That's all for now - check back in two week's time for the next Marine News Roundup.