Thursday, 23 February 2012

Marine News Roundup

Welcome to the latest edition of the Marine News Roundup - all the best marine news stories from the last two weeks!

Amazon 'backs down' on sale of whale meat
The online retailing giant Amazon appears to have responded to pressure against whale meat sales on its Japanese language website. The Seattle-based business, which wholly owns its Japanese subsidiary, has a stated policy of prohibiting the sale of unlicensed or illegal wildlife products including endangered species, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency. But EIA found 147 different whale products for sale on, including some from listed endangered species, in a December survey. Others came from Japan's legally disputed research whaling program. A check of the site early today using the Japanese symbol for whale meat found dozens of items still listed, but hours afters news of the investigation was published, the same search found no listings.

Rare Bangladesh Olive Ridley turtles 'need protection'
Conservationists in Bangladesh have urged the government to take immediate steps to protect endangered Olive Ridley turtles. Their call comes after at least 25 Olive Ridleys were washed up dead over the last week near the beaches of Cox's Bazaar and on Saint Martin Island. Many of the turtles had been entangled in fishing lines. From October to March, thousands of Olive Ridleys come ashore from the deep sea to lay their eggs. While many turtles die after getting entangled in fishing nets, some are killed by fishermen who say the turtles damage their equipment. Conservationists say that there are five main species of turtle - Green Turtles, Olive Ridleys, Logger Heads, Hawksbills and Leatherbacks - and all are currently found within Bangladesh's maritime boundaries. According to campaign groups, the Olive Ridleys are endangered because of their relatively high mortality rates - they are particularly susceptible to industrial pollution in coastal areas and sometimes stray dogs attack them or eat their eggs. Senior wildlife department officials say that plans are now afoot to declare beaches frequented by turtles as marine protected areas. They say that more guards will be deployed on these beaches.

NOAA to open new world class marine science facility
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are set to open a state-of-the-art Marine Science and Storage Facility. The facility will enable NOAA and its scientific partners to conduct critical marine research, study and monitor data gathered throughout the Pacific Region, and provide a site to rehabilitate endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals and various green sea turtles. In addition to the blessing, NOAA administrator will announce the establishment of a new partnership with the Oahu Visitors Bureau and the Waikiki Aquarium to integrate the Pacific Regional Centre into an Ocean Education Experience program.

Dead Sperm Whale Too Much for Tunisian Municipality to Handle
Disposal of a 12 meter long, 15 ton Sperm Whale carcass has proven to be too large a task for the municipality of El Houaria to handle. The leviathan’s massive body has been lying on the beach of Sidi Daoud for the past five days. The head of the El Houaria Fishing Association complained that the carcass, through the process of decomposition, has been releasing blood onto the beach. Given that sperm whales typically inhabit deeper waters, it is likely that the whale lost it’s way on a migration route. An official at the municipality of El Houaria said that the disposal of the whale will require a coordinated effort between multiple government agencies. While the cause of death of the whale has not been confirmed, marine pollution often impacts the ability for whales to hear, leading them dangerously off course from their regular migration routes. There is also a possibility that the whale suffered from a disease that weakened it, according to the Tunisian National Institute for Marine Science and Technology.

CCW tackles invasive sea squirt in Holyhead harbour
The Countryside Council for Wales has started work to eradicate an invasive sea squirt in Holyhead harbour, which is threatening to smother native marine life in Wales. The carpet sea squirt (Didemnum vexillum), which originates from Japan, has established itself on the marina’s floating pontoons and mooring chains and mooring buoys in the harbour. If left unchecked, it could spread rapidly, colonising natural habitats and threatening the important mussel industry in the Menai Strait. The carpet sea squirt has had devastating impact on marine life in other parts of the world where it has been accidentally introduced, such as New Zealand. There, it has literally carpeted acres of sea bed, making these areas unsuitable for native marine plants and animals. The sea squirt was most likely brought into Holyhead harbour on the hulls of leisure craft. The Countryside Council for Wales made a pilot attempt to clear the seasquirt in the winter 2009. Now, building on this experience, CCW’s marine staff will be working intensively to completely eradicate the creature. The work involves fixing massive bags around the underwater structures of the marina. By stopping clean flows of water from reaching the sea squirts, they will suffocate and die. If eradication techniques are successful here, CCW could advise other affected areas in the UK on how to get rid of the species. The owners of Holyhead Marina are supporting CCW’s efforts. The target is to completely rid the harbour of sea squirt by spring 2012 before it can spread more rapidly in the spring and summer.

Squid Can Fly to Save Energy
Squid can save energy by flying rather than swimming, according to calculations based on high-speed photography. Squid of many species have been seen to 'fly' using the same jet-propulsion mechanisms that they use to swim: squirting water out of their mantles so that they rocket out of the sea and glide through the air. Until now, most researchers have thought that such flight was a way to avoid predators, but a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, has calculated that propelling themselves through the air may actually be an efficient way for squid to travel long distances. The creatures are rarely seen flying, so some researchers argue that the mode of travel is not widespread in migration, but over years of study hints have been gathered that suggest the behaviour is more common than was thought.

Sea turtle deaths up in 2011; foreign volunteer numbers down
Four-hundred-and-seventy turtles washed up on Greek shores in 2011, up from 450 the previous year, according to Greek sea turtle protection society Archelon, which cites illegal fishing practices and injuries from speed boat propellers as the main cause of death among the turtle population. Meanwhile, according to the group's annual report, more Greeks offered their time to Archelon's efforts last year, with the number of volunteers working for the environmental protection group reaching 468, though organisers have seen a marked drop in non-Greek volunteers. Archelon's rescue centre in the southern Athenian suburb of Glyfada treated more than 50 injured and sick turtles in 2011, the report added, conducting 20 operations and 34 releases, while the biggest number of deaths was noted in the Ionian island of Zakynthos. The rise in turtle deaths may be linked to an increase in their population. The non-governmental organization also warned against the unchecked development of facilities for beach-goers on sea turtles' traditional nesting sites along the coasts of the Peloponnese and Crete, such as bars that stay open at night, casting light on the beach and playing loud music, and the prevalence of umbrellas and sun loungers.

Some corals like it hot
Corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have fallen on hard times recently. But on the opposite side of the continent, their West Coast brethren have been living the good life for at least a century, a new study finds. Global warming may be helping these creatures out - at least for now. To compare how reefs in different places have been doing, researchers collected samples of Porites coral at six spots off Australia in the southeastern Indian Ocean. Porites build skeletons with layers that, like tree rings, can be used to measure growth from year to year. None of creatures had slowed their growth in the last 110 years. Those at the southernmost sites have even been building reefs faster as surface waters there have warmed markedly. On the Great Barrier Reef, the same type of coral is stressed. Porites grew 13 percent slower in 2005 than in 1990, a 2009 study found. This slowdown has been blamed on both warming waters and increases in ocean acidity caused by carbon dioxide. About a third of all atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions are soaked up by the world’s oceans, where the gas reacts to make carbonic acid. That lowers the water’s pH and the amount of dissolved carbonate, the raw material used by corals to build their skeletons.

Whales and dolphins 'should have legal rights'
Campaigners who believe that dolphins and whales should be granted rights on account of their intelligence are to push for the animals to be protected under international law. A group of scientists and ethicists argues there is sufficient evidence of the marine mammals' intelligence, self-awareness and complex behaviour to enshrine their rights in legislation. Under the declaration of rights for cetaceans, a term that includes dolphins, whales and porpoises, the animals would be protected as "non-human persons" and have a legally enforceable right to life. If incorporated into law, the declaration would bring legal force to bear on whale hunters, and marine parks, aquariums and other entertainment venues would be barred from keeping dolphins, whales or porpoises in captivity.

Shark left in Yoyogi has cops fishing for motive
A dead shark found in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park has sparked an investigation into who brought it there, an officer at Yoyogi Police Station said Monday. A park security guard called the police at 7 a.m. Sunday after finding the shark, which was covered by a blue tarp and measured about 1.5 meters long, the police said. The shark had been gutted and was found near a parking lot for bicycles near one of the entrances leading to JR Shibuya Station. Okano wouldn't disclose any other details because the matter is still under investigation as an illegal dumping case. On Twitter, dozens of posts from February 14th to early on February 15th said a shark was being exhibited in front of a sushi restaurant in Shibuya. The tweets later said someone had taken it away. The sushi restaurant, Daidokoroya, said Monday that it could not rule out the possibility that the shark dumped at the park is a salmon shark it bought at Tsukiji fish market on February 14th. Daidokoroya, which initially bought it for consumption at the outlet, said the 102kg creature was too large to carry into the kitchen. Eventually, at 5am the next day, it was given to a self-styled artist who wanted to use it for art. The restaurant owner said in a statement that the eatery failed to identify the person.

Coasts in peril plan ahead for rising seas
Scientists warn that by the end of this century, the sea level along North America's west coast will rise by about a meter due to global warming and melting arctic glaciers. That presents a scenario that few people in the world's coastal and island communities want to think about - the end of their water's edge way of life, their homes flooded, their farming fields drenched and rendered useless. But one coastal port in British Columbia has begun to plan for this grim future with the help of scientists who created computer images that show exactly what their town will look like when it is inundated with water. Those include building larger sea walls and dykes to hold the water back, crafting barrier islands to absorb some of the tides and reinforce the shores, moving entire towns inland, or building everything higher by raising homes on stilts and elevating roads. The costs of re-crafting modern life along the water's edge are certain to be enormous, with hundreds of millions of people affected by sea-level rise in communities worldwide.

Assessment Could Streamline Great Barrier Reef Coastal Development
The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the core of the world's largest reef, will be assessed to ensure future development along Queensland's coast is sustainable and the reef's unique natural values are protected, the Australian and Queensland governments said Saturday. The two governments have signed a new agreement with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that all three parties say will be the most comprehensive and complex strategic assessment ever carried out in Australia. The assessment is being conducted at the request of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which designated the 34.8 million hectare (134,633 square mile) World Heritage Site in 1981. On the northeast coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area contains a huge diversity of species, including 1,500 species of fish, about 360 species of hard coral, 5,000 species of mollusc and more than 175 bird species. It is an important breeding area for humpback and other whale species. The site includes feeding grounds for the endangered dugong and nesting grounds of world significance for two endangered species of marine turtle, the green and the loggerhead, as well as habitat for four other imperilled species of marine turtle. At least four port developments, either being planned or now underway, could put the reef at risk. The World Heritage Committee fears these expansions will mean more shipping through the reef, increasing the likelihood of groundings and oil spills. During the strategic assessment, state and federal environmental planning issues will be covered in a single process that provides a big-picture study under a national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The outcome of the assessment will be a streamlining of development approvals say Commonwealth and state officials. Once a development program has been endorsed under the EPBC Act, individual projects will not need any further approval under national environmental law if done in accordance with the approved program.

High Definition Polarisation Vision Discovered in Cuttlefish
Cuttlefish have the most acute polarisation vision yet found in any animal, researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered by showing them movies on a modified LCD computer screen to test their eyesight. Cuttlefish and their colourblind cousins, squid and octopus, see aspects of light - including polarised light -- that are invisible to humans, giving them a covert communication channel. The Bristol study, published in Current Biology, found that cuttlefish were much more sensitive to polarisation than previously thought. With collaborators at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, the team gave cuttlefish an eye exam; but instead of measuring their acuity they measured the smallest difference in the angle of polarisation the cuttlefish could detect. Since the team could not ask the cuttlefish what they could see, they took advantage of the chameleon-like colour changes that cuttlefish use for camouflage as a way of measuring whether the animals could detect the polarised stimuli. In addition to measuring the limits of polarisation vision in the cuttlefish, the team also modelled how underwater scenes might look to an animal that has such high-resolution polarisation vision. Using colours instead of changes in polarisation angle they created images of the polarised world that humans can see and showed that there is much more information available in the polarisation dimension than was previously known.

Necropsy Finds Parasites in Dolphin That Died in Ocean City
Preliminary results of a necropsy performed on the dolphin found dead in a bayside Ocean City lagoon on February 12th show a, "heavy load of parasites channelling into the brain". Similar parasites were found in a dolphin found dead on a Delaware Bay beach in Lower Township on February 12th and in a dolphin that died shortly after stranding in Stafford Township off Barnegat Bay on February 13th. All three animals were common dolphins, a species that typically travels in groups at least 20 miles off the coast of New Jersey. The necropsies were conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Centre in Kennett Square, PA. The parasites occur naturally and can be spread in many ways - from exposure to a pod's own fecal waste to consumption of raw fish. None of the animals had any food in the stomach - a sign of their distress, given they likely had ample food available to them. The Penn veterinarians will continue to compare lab results and collaborate with scientists investigating the stranding of 177 common dolphins on Cape Cod (with 124 dying) in Massachusetts as they work to determine an exact cause of death.

Ocean acidification turns climate change winners into losers
Adding ocean acidification and de-oxygenation into the mix of climate change predictions may turn “winner” regions of fisheries and biodiversity into “losers,” according to research released today by University of British Columbia researchers. Previous projections have suggested the effects of warmer water temperature would result in fish moving pole-ward and deeper towards cooler waters - and an increase of fish catch potential of as much as 30 per cent in the North Atlantic by 2050. Accounting for effects of de-oxygenation and ocean acidification, however, some regions may see a 20-35 per cent reduction in maximum catch potential by 2050 (relative to 2005) – depending on the individual species’ sensitivity to ocean acidification. For example, in the Norwegian Sea, ocean warming by itself may result in a 15 per cent increase in fisheries catch potential. However, accounting for acidification and de-oxygenation, the increase turns to a decrease of 15 per cent, and the region from a “winner” to a “loser.” “Loser” regions in the tropics could become poorer and will require better strategies to mitigate potential food security issues. Climate change and the associated physical and chemical changes in the ocean decrease oxygen in the water in some region. Meanwhile, approximately one-third of the carbon dioxide that humans produce by burning fossil fuels is being absorbed by the ocean, gradually causing the oceans to become more acidic and affecting biological processes of various marine organisms. Rebuilding global fisheries may increase the capacity of marine species to handle the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

That's all for this edition - check back in two weeks for the next Marine News Roundup.

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