Really, Australia?

The Unesco world heritage committee’s decision on the Great Barrier Reef’s ‘in danger’ status is currently scheduled for 23 July. Photograph: James Cook University/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been a couple months since we asked anyone the fundamental question. Ok, we acknowledge our not being qualified to make the scientific judgement on whether the Great Barrier Reef is in sufficient danger to be listed as such, officially. But UNESCO has the qualified scientists, so let them do their job without undue influence. It sure seems likely to help the entire world to see how fossil-fueled climate change is impacting such natural wonders. It would raise consciousness in a way that might even be good for Australia–whose government obviously thinks otherwise. Hopefully UNESCO will stick to its principles and resist this lobbying. When oil-based economies come to lend a hand, watch out for conflict of interest:

‘Fossil fuel friends’: Saudi Arabia and Bahrain back Australia’s lobbying on Great Barrier Reef

Exclusive: oil rich nations back push against Unesco recommendation to have reef placed on world heritage ‘in danger’ list Continue reading

When Farming Is Good For Biodiversity

Mariko Wallen and Louis Godfrey tend to the seaweed on their farm in Placencia, Belize. This farm grows two species: Eucheuma (for consumption) and Gracilaria (used for skin treatments and cosmetics). The farm is part of a program sponsored by TNC to bring seaweed aquaculture to the area in cooperation with the Placencia Fishermen Cooperative.

Thanks to the Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science website for this:

Aquaculture Adds Value to Habitat

Bivalve and seaweed farming systems result in measurable increases in fish and invertebrate abundance and diversity, new research from The Nature Conservancy, University of New England, University of Melbourne, and the University of Adelaide finds. Continue reading

About That Convenience

Guardian graphic | Source: Morales-Caselles et al, Nature Sustainability, 2021

Thanks, Damian Carrington, for getting us the data that Morales-Caselles et al compiled making us wonder whether convenience is worth this cost:

Takeaway food and drink litter dominates ocean plastic, study shows

Just 10 plastic products make up 75% of all items and scientists say the pollution must be stopped at source

Plastic items from takeaway food and drink dominate the litter in the world’s oceans, according to the most comprehensive study to date. Continue reading

Colombia’s Blue Carbon Initiatives

Thanks to YaleE360 for this brief explanatory note on Blue Carbon Projects from a Colombian perspective:

New Approach to Blue Carbon Projects Underway in Colombia

A mangrove preservation project along Colombia’s Caribbean coast is using a more comprehensive method to calculate how much carbon is stored in coastal and marine ecosystems, potentially boosting global efforts to conserve so-called blue carbon. Continue reading

Blue Carbon Credits Better Understood

A seagrass meadow near Atauro Island, Timor-Leste. PAUL HILTON FOR CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL

Thanks to Nicola Jones, as ever, and to Yale e360 for publishing this explanatory article on a relatively new topic:

Why the Market for ‘Blue Carbon’ Credits May Be Poised to Take Off

Seagrasses, mangrove forests, and coastal wetlands store vast amounts of carbon, and their preservation and restoration hold great potential to bank CO2 and keep it out of the atmosphere. But can the blue carbon market avoid the pitfalls that have plagued land-based programs?

A mangrove forest on the Leizhou Peninsula at the southern tip of China. KYLE OBERMANN

Off the shores of Virginia, vast meadows of seagrass sway in the shallow waters. Over the past two decades, conservation scientists have spread more than 70 million seeds in the bays there, restoring 3,600 hectares (9,000 acres) of an ecosystem devastated by disease in the 1930s. The work has brought back eelgrass (Zostera marina) — a keystone species that supports crustaceans, fish, and scallops, and is now absorbing the equivalent of nearly half a metric ton of CO2 per hectare per year. Continue reading

Kelp Forests And Invasive Urchins

Purple sea urchins have boomed off Northern California, destroying kelp forests that provide a crucial ecosystem. Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS

Kelp is being farmed now, but where it is a naturally occurring forest it needs help. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this:

In Hotter Climate, ‘Zombie’ Urchins Are Winning And Kelp Forests Are Losing

They’re purple, spiky and voracious, and just off the West Coast, there are more of them than you can count.

Purple sea urchins have exploded in recent years off California, covering the ocean floor in what divers describe as a “purple carpet.” Continue reading

Late 2020 Happy Whale News

Researchers said that the blue whale song that crackled through the team’s underwater recordings was unlike any they had heard. Robert Baldwin/Environment Society of Oman

Thanks to Katherine J. Wu for this, especially for sharing the recordings of the whale song, and the musical reference for how to think about the difference between this whale population’s song and the that of other whale populations:

A New Population of Blue Whales Was Discovered Hiding in the Indian Ocean

The whales in the group seem to sing a unique song.

Weighing up to 380,000 pounds and stretching some 100 feet long, the blue whale — the largest creature to have ever lived on Earth — might at first seem difficult for human eyes and ears to miss.

But a previously unknown population of the leviathans has long been lurking in the Indian Ocean, leaving scientists none the wiser, new research suggests. Continue reading

Big Wins for Marine Conservation in Belize

Ray Jacobs (left) hands over his gillnet to Janelle Chanona, Oceana’s Vice President in Belize. Also pictured is Fidel Audinett (center), a Belizean fisher who had been petitioning the government to ban gillnets since 1997. Photo Credit: © Oceana/Alex Ellis

Wonderful news out of Belize!

Tackling a triple threat: Belize banned bottom trawling, offshore drilling, and now gillnets

For a country that’s slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts, Belize boasts an inordinate number of ocean wonders. It’s home to the world’s second longest barrier reef, which Charles Darwin once described as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies.” Here, you’ll find more than 500 unique fish species – enough to give every Belizean island its own mascot and still have about 50 left over.

Because this little Caribbean country has a lot worth protecting, it has enacted some of the strongest ocean conservation laws in the world – and they just got even stronger. Following hard-fought victories that banned all trawling and offshore oil drilling in Belize’s waters, the country has now outlawed gillnets, a fishing gear that kills turtles, manatees, and many other marine animals.

In addition to implementing a nationwide gillnet ban, the Belizean government signed an agreement with Oceana and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries to help licensed gillnet fishers transition to other jobs. As a result, Belizean resources and livelihoods will be protected well into the future.

As Janelle Chanona, Oceana’s head in Belize, put it: “This is a historic moment for Belize, her people, the Caribbean Sea and, most importantly, for everyone who depends on the country’s marine resources for their livelihoods.” Continue reading

Reef Rescuers

Members of a team calling itself “the Brigade” work to repair hurricane-damaged corals off the coast of Mexico.

An inspiring example of collaborative efforts that bring environmentalists and the insurance industry together to protect fragile marine ecosystems.

A Race Against Time to Rescue a Reef From Climate Change

In an unusual experiment, a coral reef in Mexico is now insured against hurricanes. A team of locals known as “the Brigade” rushed to repair the devastated corals, piece by piece.

When Hurricane Delta hit Puerto Morelos, Mexico, in October, a team known as the Brigade waited anxiously for the sea to quiet. The group, an assortment of tour guides, diving instructors, park rangers, fishermen and researchers, needed to get in the water as soon as possible. The coral reef that protects their town — an undersea forest of living limestone branches that blunted the storm’s destructive power — had taken a beating.

Now it was their turn to help the reef, and they didn’t have much time.

“We’re like paramedics,” said María del Carmen García Rivas, director of the national park that manages the reef and a leader of the Brigade. When broken corals roll around and get buried in the sand, they soon die. But pieces can be saved if they are fastened back onto the reef.

“The more days that pass, the less chance they have of survival,” she said.

The race to repair the reef is more than an ecological fight; it’s also a radical experiment in finance. The reef could be the first natural structure in the world with its own insurance policy, according to environmental groups and insurance companies. And Hurricane Delta’s force triggered the first payout — about $850,000 to be used for the reef’s repairs.

The success or failure of this experiment could determine whether communities around the world start using a new tool that marries nature and finance to protect against the effects of climate change. The response to Delta was a first test. Continue reading

A Step To Reduce Overfishing, Even A Modest One, Is Better Than No Step

Research has found that sustainably managed oceans can provide six times more food than today. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

It is too few countries protecting too little ocean space, but it is a step in the right direction:

Global sustainable fishing initiative agreed by 14 countries

Governments to reduce pollution in oceans and end subsidies that contribute to overfishing

Governments responsible for 40% of the world’s coastlines have pledged to end overfishing, restore dwindling fish populations and stop the flow of plastic pollution into the seas in the next 10 years.

The leaders of the 14 countries set out a series of commitments on Wednesday that mark the world’s biggest ocean sustainability initiative, in the absence of a fully fledged UN treaty on marine life.

The countries – Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau and Portugal – will end harmful subsidies that contribute to overfishing, a key demand of campaigners. They will also aim to eliminate illegal fishing through better enforcement and management, and to minimise bycatch and discards, as well as implementing national fisheries plans based on scientific advice.

Each of the countries, members of the High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy, has also pledged to ensure that all the areas of ocean within its own national jurisdiction – known as exclusive economic zones – are managed sustainably by 2025. That amounts to an area of ocean roughly the size of Africa. Continue reading

Major Marine Sanctuary, An Unexpected Gift Of 2020

The marine sanctuary off Tristan da Cunha will be the fourth largest in the world. Photograph: Andy Schofield/RSPB/PA

The Guardian shares some welcome conservation news from a lesser-known bit of land surrounded by plenty water-based wildlife:

Tiny Atlantic island takes giant leap towards protecting world’s oceans

UK overseas territory Tristan da Cunha’s new marine protected area will be fourth largest sanctuary of its kind

Rockhopper penguins on Tristan da Cunha will be among a wealth of marine life to benefit. Photograph: Trevor Glass/RSPB/PA

A community of 250 people on one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth has made a significant contribution to marine wildlife conservation by banning bottom-trawling fishing, deep-sea mining and other harmful activities from its waters.

The government of Tristan da Cunha, a volcanic archipelago in the south Atlantic and part of the UK’s overseas territories, has announced that almost 700,000 sq km of its waters will become a marine protected area (MPA), the fourth largest such sanctuary in the world. Continue reading

Marine Ecosystem Restoration Success Stories

Seagrass beds off Virginia’s Eastern Shore went from barren sediment to abundant meadows in 20 years in the world’s largest restoration project. credit: JAY FLEMING

Thanks for Science News for this wonderful example of successful ecosystem restoration.

How planting 70 million eelgrass seeds led to an ecosystem’s rapid recovery

The study is a blueprint for capitalizing on this habitat’s capacity to store carbon

In the world’s largest seagrass restoration project, scientists have observed an ecosystem from birth to full flowering.

As part of a 20-plus-years project, researchers and volunteers spread more than 70 million eelgrass seeds over plots covering more than 200 hectares, just beyond the wide expanses of salt marsh off the southern end of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Long-term monitoring of the restored seagrass beds reveals a remarkably hardy ecosystem that is trapping carbon and nitrogen that would otherwise contribute to global warming and pollution, the team reports October 7 in Science Advances. That success provides a glimmer of hope for the climate and for ecosystems, the researchers say.

The project, led by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and The Nature Conservancy, has now grown to cover 3,612 hectares — and counting — in new seagrass beds. By comparison, the largest such project in Australia aims to restore 10 hectares of seagrass.

The results are “a game changer,” says Carlos Duarte. Continue reading

Common Octopus, Uncommon Story

My Octopus Teacher is available on Netflix

I was not avoiding it, exactly, but by night time my attention span diminishes. From a reluctant start at 7:30pm yesterday, assuming I would fall asleep less than half way through, my absorption became total from the first minute and remained so until the end. It was a compelling conclusion to a very long day. Film reviews rarely appear here, but New Scientist gives me good reason to share more than my own opinion:

My Octopus Teacher review: The strange lives of cephalopods up close

In many ways, the octopus is a tough proposition: a soft-bodied mollusc that carries the bulk of its brain in its arms, that can render itself solid without a skeleton or liquid despite its beak, that evolved separately from nearly every other organism on Earth. That otherness is at the heart of our fascination with octopuses: can we even aspire to understand something so foreign? A new Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, follows one man’s attempt. Continue reading

Brilliant & Ominous

When you genuinely smile and then recoil a moment later, you are responding to what this artist wants you to see and then understand. The animation is brilliant and its short message on how ocean litter/marine plastic is harming marine life is ominous. The  Artist Statement that accompanies it is not required reading, but it is there for the taking:

Two years ago, an experience on a small island inTaiwan changed my life. It was the closest I’d lived to the sea, being only a ten minute drive away. Everyone can enjoy the beach with its white sand and turquoise ocean. At the time, I went snorkeling almost every week. Seeing such alluring tropical fish and coral reefs still lingers in my mind. However, I also cannot forget the scenes of tons of human waste lying around the shore as if it was a part of nature. Continue reading

Scientific Expeditions Then, Considered Now

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The HMS Challenger set sail from England in 1872 and changed the course of scientific history (Credit: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy)

Thanks to the BBC for reminding us of the value of such voyages in earlier centuries, and their contributions to science, among other things:

HMS-Challenger: The Voyage That Birthed Oceanography

The 3.5-year voyage to the furthest corners of the globe reshaped marine science and permanently changed our relationship with the planet’s oceans.

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During the four-year journey, the ship uncovered many new species and shaped our understanding of the seas (Credit: LeeYiuTung/Getty Images)

In the foyer of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, England, stands a ship’s painted figurehead. It towers well above head height and depicts an armoured knight with a silver chest plate, a raised visor and a thick handlebar moustache. The knight’s eyes have a faraway gaze in them – and well they might. This wooden statue is the sole remnant of a square-rigged ship that once embarked on a three-and-a-half-year voyage to the furthest corners of the globe, reshaping marine science, unearthing all manner of underwater oddities and permanently changing our relationship with the planet’s oceans. The vessel’s name was HMS Challenger. Continue reading

Mangroves for the Win

Mangrove restoration in Madagascar. Photograph: Alamy

Our previous posts about the multiple positives of planting trees in response to climate change and toward the goal of economic recovery didn’t take coastal ecosystems into account. These regions tend to be extra vulnerable to the increased pressures of extreme weather, not to mention being the home of many vulnerable populations.

This type of investment seems like a win/win.

Oceans panel presses coastal states to invest in ‘blue recovery’

Report says there are substantial economic benefits to be had from ocean conservation

Investing in the marine environment offers many coastal states the possibility of a “blue recovery” from the coronavirus crisis, according to a report setting out substantial economic benefits from ocean conservation.

Ending overfishing and allowing stocks to recover while ensuring fish farms operate on a sustainable basis would generate benefits of about $6.7tn (£5.3tn) over the next 30 years, according to an assessment of ocean economics by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.

This would require reforming perverse subsidies that encourage overfishing, and better regulation of fish farming, but the returns on such investment would repay the outlay 10 times over, the report says.

Mangrove restoration on tropical coastlines offers a quick way to generate jobs in seeding and planting, and returns of about $3 for every $1 spent, in the form of more productive fisheries as well as storm protection.

The costs of offshore wind energy generation have plummeted in recent years, making clean energy generation at sea a viable prospect for many countries for the first time. The UK has long been a pioneer in the field, but many other countries have been slow to take it up.

The report found that the technology has matured so quickly that investors can generate returns of up to $17 on each $1 spent, opening up a potential bonanza globally of $3.5tn by 2050 if governments put the right conditions in place.

Ngedikes Olai Uludong, Palau’s ambassador to the UN and one of the panel members, said offshore wind energy could spell an explosion in highly skilled green jobs. “Technologies like offshore wind offer a rate of return that makes more and more sense,” she told the Guardian. “It looks like it is taking off. I’m seeing interest from countries that I’ve never seen interested before.”
Continue reading

Citizen Science: 89 Years Old and Counting

Microscopic plankton: they provide a food source for fish, seabirds and other marine life, as well as absorbing CO2 emissions

Although we’ve highlighted citizen science so many times on these pages, it never occurred to me that some of these projects have spanned nearly 9 decades.This particular project’s device is called a continuous plankton recorder (CPR). An apt acronym, indeed.

Tiny plankton tell the ocean’s story – this vast marine mission has been listening

Since 1931 ‘citizen scientists’ on ships have enabled data collection on the tiny building blocks of the sea. Now this research could shape how we tackle the climate crisis

On a clear day, from their small, unassuming warehouse on the south Devon coast, Lance Gregory and Dave Wilson can see right across Plymouth Sound to the Eddystone lighthouse. Today, they’re watching a ferry from Brittany, the Armorique, pull into dock.

Behind it, the ferry is towing a one-metre-long device shaped like a torpedo. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s part of the planet’s longest-running global marine survey.

The device is called a continuous plankton recorder (CPR), and it’s one of 53 such devices that Gregory and Wilson manoeuvre using forklifts in their warehouse, surrounded by racks of distinctive yellow boxes and clipboards covered in spreadsheets.

They dispatch these CPRs in bright yellow boxes to “ships of opportunity” – ferries, cargo or container vessels that have agreed to volunteer for the mission. Once a ship leaves port, the crew attach the device to the stern using steel wire, then toss it overboard.

Trailing along behind the ship, it collects data for the CPR survey. The mission is vast but the subject is minuscule: plankton, the tiny organisms that drift in the ocean. Every marine ecosystem relies on plankton for its basic food source, and it generates half the oxygen we breathe. Perhaps more than any other organism, it is crucial to all life on our planet.

The CPR survey is the longest-running marine science project of its kind. It began in 1931 when the scientist Sir Alister Hardy investigated how herring were influenced by plankton in the North Sea. This month the distance surveyed will reach an impressive 7m nautical miles, equivalent to 320 circumnavigations of the Earth.

Since that first tow from Hull to Germany 89 years ago, the equipment has hardly changed. So far a quarter of a million samples have been analysed, representing a vast geographical spread over the course of the past century. The immense scope has allowed scientists to see dramatic patterns in ocean health, across both time and space, building a much clearer picture of how our marine environments are changing.

It is also, says Gregory, “one of the oldest citizen science projects in the world”. Continue reading

Counting Turtles


Great Barrier Reef LogoAt first glance, it looks like art. As most great nature photography, whether amateur or taken by professionals, often does. But this is tech-driven professional science. Thanks to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation for this primer:

COUNTING TURTLES IS A SCIENCE

So how do you count more than 64,000 turtles at once?

With drones – and now we have the science to prove it.

Our Raine Island Recovery Project researchers are investigating the best way to count all the turtles at the world’s largest green turtle nesting area. The highly respected PLOS ONE journal has just published their findings (see the paper). Continue reading

Oceans’ Call to Action

© Alexis Rosenfeld

We’re a day behind on World Oceans Day, but John Tanzer’s words are lasting, despite the date.

Don’t Waste A Crisis – A World Oceans Day Call to Action.

By John Tanzer, Oceans Practice Leader, WWF International

It was early March when the realization hit. Our Year of Ocean Action wasn’t going to happen — at least not in the way so many had been planning. 2020 would be extraordinary, but for all the wrong reasons. Our Super Year was meant to be the launch platform for a decade of strong global efforts to restore the ocean. Clearly, the attention and resources we had hoped to harness have been in much demand elsewhere.

I was not looking for a “silver lining” to the suffering and loss caused by the coronavirus, but somewhere in the back of my mind was a quote about not letting a crisis go to waste. Was it Winston Churchill who said it? Or a contemporary politician?

It turns out, it was not Churchill, and it wasn’t even a politician. The line can be traced back at least as far as 1976, to M. F. Weiner’s article in the journal Medical Economics, “Don’t Waste a Crisis — Your Patient’s or Your Own.” Weiner apparently meant that a medical crisis can be used to improve all aspects of a patient’s well-being.

So, it wasn’t a callous sentiment about seizing the upper hand in a moment of chaos. It was an acknowledgement that a crisis may arise which so disrupts the norm that all preconceptions are set aside, and all solutions are on the table.

Continue reading

Virtual Ocean Dialogues

Another example of Costa Rican leadership and team action. The Virtual Ocean Dialogues, held by the World Economic Forum, “bring to light ambitious and inspiring solutions as well as tangible opportunities for positive change, and galvanize urgent global action for a healthy ocean. It will also spotlight some of the solutions that emerged as critical for the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, including the role of the ocean in building the resilience that our economies and communities need to recover and eventually face other potential future shocks.”

The opening address by Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado Quesada included statements about present and future actions.

“Costa Rica has historically been a leader in conservation,” Quesada says. It has doubled forest coverage in recent years and is aiming for a zero-emission economy by 2050.

Now it wants to turn its attentions to the sea. “We are working towards a sustainable approach for ocean management,” he says.

It is “committed to promoting a global blue economy transformation”, prioritizing mangrove forests, aquaculture and coastal biodiversity.

Continue reading