e360 digest
Oceans


28 Aug 2012: Arctic Ice Reaches Record Low

The extent of ice covering the Arctic Ocean has reached a new record low and will likely continue to retreat until mid-September, when re-freezing begins to occur, according to satellite observations. NASA and the

Click to enlarge
Arctic Sea Ice Extent, Aug. 27

NSIDC
Arctic sea ice extent, Aug. 27
U.S.-funded National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported that sea ice extent fell in the past few days to 1.58 million square miles (4.1 million square kilometers), breaking by 27,000 square miles the previous record low extent, set in September 2007. Summer sea ice extent has declined by more than 40 percent since satellites began tracking it in 1979, and sea ice now covers less than 30 percent of the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice experts say that both the extent and thickness of Arctic summer sea ice has declined so precipitously in the face of rapidly rising temperatures that the Arctic basin appears to be heading for largely ice-free summers within a decade or two. “Parts of the Arctic have become like a giant slushy,” said Walt Meier, a research scientist at the NSIDC. The disappearing sea ice is creating ever-larger areas of dark, heat-absorbing waters, which is further increasing temperatures in the Arctic and hastening the melting of Greenland’s massive ice sheets.
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24 Aug 2012: Drought Conditions Trigger
Smallest Gulf ‘Dead Zone’ in Years

U.S. scientists say the nation’s worst drought in five decades has had at least one positive effect: the smallest so-called “dead zone” seen in the Gulf of Mexico in years. In a 1,200-mile research cruise conducted in the
Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone
NASA.
Algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico
waters of the gulf this month, scientists from Texas A&M University found only 1,580 square miles of oxygen-depleted, or hypoxic, water in the gulf, compared with 3,400 square miles last August. The hypoxic zone is created when algal blooms, caused by large amounts of fertilizer and nutrients washing into the gulf, remove oxygen from the water and suffocate marine life. According to the researchers, hypoxia was found only in the waters near the Mississippi River delta, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of all freshwater runoff in the gulf; no hypoxia was observed off the Texas coast. “What has happened is that the drought has caused very little fresh-water runoff and nutrient load into the gulf, and that means a smaller region for marine life to be impacted,” said Steve DiMarco, an oceanographer at Texas A&M.
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16 Aug 2012: Ocean Health Index Evaluates
State of Waters Around the Globe

An international team of researchers has released a new tool that evaluates the state of the world’s oceans, a so-called Ocean Health Index that its creators say provides the first comprehensive assessment of the relationship

Click to enlarge
Ocean Health Index

Ben Halpern, et al/Nature
The Ocean Health Index
 
between the planet’s marine regions and human communities. While previous assessments of ocean health were based on the level of “pristineness,” this index is framed in terms of the benefits humans derive from the oceans and the extent to which communities maintain a sustainable marine environment. Using a wide range of criteria — including water quality, marine biodiversity, and the condition of coastal areas — the researchers ranked ocean areas worldwide on a scale from 0 to 100. According to their analysis, published in the journal Nature, the global ocean received an overall score of 60, while scores for individual areas ranged from 36 to 86. The waters around Jarvis Island, near Hawaii, ranked highest; the waters off the West African nation of Sierra Leone ranked lowest.
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01 Aug 2012: New Whale Recordings Hint
at Bowhead Recovery off Greenland

A wide array of whale songs recorded in the icy waters off Greenland indicates that populations of the endangered bowhead whale, nearly hunted to extinction in the last two centuries, may be experiencing a rebound. After
Greenland bowhead whale
Kate Stafford
A bowhead whale
collecting 2,144 hours of audio recordings in the waters between Greenland and Norway from September 2008 to July 2009, an international team of scientists detected a surprising variety and duration of whale songs. Not only did the recordings yield roughly five months of near-continuous singing, but they revealed more than 60 unique “songs,” most likely belonging to individual whales, according a study published in the journal Endangered Species Research. Since scientists believe male bowheads sing during mating season — and because most whale species are believed to sing the same song throughout their lives — the findings could suggest that bowhead populations in that area exceed 100 whales, far more than previously believed; only 40 bowhead sightings have been reported in that area since the 1970s, according to the researchers.
Listen to the bowheads’ song
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31 Jul 2012: Low Levels of Caffeine Found
In Waters of U.S. Pacific Northwest

In a new study, scientists document low levels of caffeine pollution in the waters off the Oregon coast, fresh evidence that contaminants from human waste are entering marine ecosystems with unknown risks to wildlife and human health. In a series of tests conducted at 14 coastal locations, researchers found that caffeine levels were higher — about 45 nanograms per liter — in remote waters, while levels were below reporting limits (about 9 nanograms per liter) near “potentially polluted” areas such as sewage treatment plants, the mouths of rivers, and larger communities, National Geographic reports. According to the findings, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, the higher levels are likely occurring near sites with on-site waste disposal systems that are subject to less monitoring than larger wastewater treatment plants. While the environmental effects of such low-level contamination are not known, experts say they are a reminder of the range of pollutants — from pharmaceuticals to artificial sweeteners — entering natural ecosystems through human waste.
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Unusual Number of Grizzly and
Hybrid Bears Spotted in High Arctic

Two Canadian biologists have reported sighting a handful of grizzly bears and hybrid grizzly/polar bears at unusually high latitudes in the Arctic, indicating that the interbreeding of the two bear species is becoming more common as the climate warms and grizzlies venture

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Grizzly Bear Hybrid

Photo courtesy of Jodie Pongracz
A hybrid polar/grizzly bear in the Canadian Arctic
 
farther north. The sightings of three grizzly bears and two hybrid bears, made in late April and May by biologists from the University of Alberta, represent an unprecedented cluster of these animals at such high latitudes. The biologists even took DNA samples from a grizzly bear at 74 degrees North latitude. Scientists suggested that some grizzly bears may be leaving the Canadian Arctic mainland and traveling roughly 400 miles over sea ice as they pursue a caribou herd that annually migrates over ice from the mainland to Victoria Island in the High Arctic. Unable to get back because of rapidly melting ice, some of these grizzly bears have evidently managed to adapt to life in the polar bear’s world, eating seals as they overwinter and mating with polar bears.
Read more
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25 Jul 2012: Entire Greenland Ice Sheet
Experiences Significant Surface Melting

New NASA satellite images show that the surface of virtually the entire ice sheet covering Greenland experienced melting in mid-July, a phenomenon not

Click to enlarge
NASA Greenland Ice Melt July 2012

NASA
Extent of Greenland ice melt, July 8-12
 
seen in three decades of satellite observations. Temperatures rose so high that ice on the Greenland’s highest peak, Summit Station, turned to slush, NASA said. Until the severe melting earlier this month, the greatest extent of surface melting observed by satellites over the past three decades covered about 55 percent of the ice sheet; on July 12, 97 percent of the ice sheet experienced surface melting. Ice cores from Greenland show that such melting events have occurred roughly every 150 years, but Greenland’s ice sheet has been experiencing rapid melting in the past decade and if another major melting event occurred within the next 10 years it could disrupt the stability of the ice sheet, said Thomas Mote, a climatologist at the University of Georgia. “When we see melt in places that we haven’t seen before, at least in a long period of time, it makes you sit up and ask what’s happening,” NASA scientist Waleed Abdalati told the BBC.
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Maya Lin: A Memorial to
A Vanishing Natural World


The woman who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is now focused on the mass extinction of species, a threat she is highlighting on a dynamic interactive Web site. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Maya Lin talks about the origins of her What is Missing? project, the media techniques she and her collaborators are using to draw attention to the biodiversity crisis, and the actions that give her hope that we can reverse the tide of nature’s destruction. “I am going to try to wake you up to things that are missing that you are not even aware are disappearing,” Lin said.
Read more and listen to an audio podcast
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19 Jul 2012: Iron-Seeding Experiment
Shows Ability to Trap CO2 in Ocean

An eight-year German research effort has shown that under the right conditions seeding the ocean with iron can trigger phytoplankton blooms that suck carbon out of the air and trap it deep in the ocean, a potentially important breakthrough in the nascent field of climate geoengineering. Reporting in the journal Nature, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research said that adding 14 tons of iron sulfate to the Southern Ocean near Antarctica resulted in a significant phytoplankton bloom extending more than 300 feet deep. That bloom consisted of large masses of algae, mainly composed of diatoms, which absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. More than 50 percent of the carbon-rich algae then sunk to a depth of more than 3,000 feet, where it is likely to be trapped for centuries. The German research team conducted the iron-seeding experiment in 2004 and then spent eight years analyzing the data. Previous iron-seeding experiments have had difficulty tracking the path of CO2 pulled out of the atmosphere because of swirling currents and other complications. But the Wegener team said its experiment had succeeded because scientists found a 40-mile-wide column of water that was isolated from other ocean currents.
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16 Jul 2012: Warmer Ocean Waters
Lead To a Glut of Lobsters in Maine

Warmer Atlantic Ocean temperatures off the coast of Maine have caused the state’s bountiful supply of lobsters to shed their shells and come onto the market six weeks earlier than normal, creating a glut that has driven prices sharply down. The state’s 5,000 lobster fishermen are receiving less than $3-per-pound at the dock for their catch, which is below the $4-per-pound break-even point. As a result, many lobsterman have stopped fishing and are waiting for the oversupply of lobster to ease before heading back out on the water. An extremely mild winter and spring in New England has increased ocean temperatures, which in turn has caused Maine’s lobsters to shed their shells far earlier than normal. The abundance of so-called soft-shelled lobsters led to the largest lobster harvest on record in June, state officials said. The warmer temperatures also caused a boom in lobsters in Canada, which has exacerbated the glut. Soft-shelled lobsters are more difficult to ship out of state than hard-shelled ones, meaning Maine’s processing plants are overflowing with the crustacean, causing prices to plummet.
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10 Jul 2012: Corals Facing Open Ocean
More Vulnerable to Warming, Study Finds

U.S. scientists say coral reef systems exposed to the open ocean are most vulnerable to warming ocean temperatures. In a new study, researchers at the University of North Carolina write that three distinct coral zones located within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System in Central America — including the foreef (closest to the ocean), the nearshore (closest to the shore), and the backreef (directly behind the reef crest) — saw an increase in average summer sea surface temperatures from 1982 to 2008. But while they observed a decline in skeletal growth in corals facing the ocean during that period, coral growth rates in the other two zones remained relatively stable. According to their findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the ocean-facing corals were more vulnerable to warming conditions because historically they had experienced cooler and more stable seawater. “However, because backreef and nearshore coral colonies have historically been exposed to warmer and more variable seawater temperatures, they seem to be less affected,” said Karl Castillo, a postdoctoral researcher at UNC and lead author of the study.
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09 Jul 2012: Aquaculture Output To Rise
33 Percent Over Next Decade, UN Says

The global aquaculture sector could produce 33 percent more fish for human consumption over the next decade, an increase in production that will help feed a growing world population even as fisheries are overexploited, a new UN report predicts. More than 79 million tons of farmed fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic plants are expected to be produced from 2012 to 2012, a 33 percent growth compared with just a 3 percent growth from capture fisheries, according to the report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. By 2018, the amount of fish raised in aquaculture will exceed the amount caught in the wild for the first time and will account for 52 percent of the total by 2021, the report states. This increased reliance on farm-raised fish comes as an increasing number of fisheries worldwide are exploited, with about 30 percent of fish stock now overexploited and another 57 percent fully exploited or very close to maximum sustainable production.
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06 Jul 2012: Coral Reef Systems Collapsed
During Earlier Changes to Climate

An increase in ocean temperatures that occurred 4,000 years ago triggered a collapse of coral reef systems in the eastern Pacific that lasted for about 2,500 years, according to a new study. In an analysis of 17-foot core samples taken from the frameworks of coral reefs off the Panama coast, scientists from the Florida Institute of
Coral Reef
NOAA
Technology found that the reefs stopped growing during a period that coincided with the start of a period of dramatic swings in the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, including periods when ocean temperatures elevated significantly. They say this gap in growth also occurred in reef systems as far away as Japan and Australia. “For Pacific reefs to have collapsed for such a long time and over such a large geographic scale, they must have experienced a major climatic disturbance,” said Lauren Toth, a co-author of the study published in the journal Science. While the scientists said the results may foretell similar catastrophic events for reef systems worldwide as ocean temperatures rise as a consequence of climate change, they noted that it also suggests that coral systems may have the resilience to rebound if climate change is mitigated or reversed.
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02 Jul 2012: Leatherback Turtle Declines
Will Escalate As Climate Warms, Study Finds

A warming climate could exacerbate threats facing leatherback turtle populations in the eastern Pacific Ocean, creating conditions that could trigger a 75 percent reduction in turtle numbers by the end of the century, a new study says. Even under existing
Leatherback turtle
USFW
conditions, turtle births ebb and flow each year, researchers say, with eggs and hatchlings more likely to survive in cooler, rainier seasons, and a greater number of male hatchlings occurring in predominantly female leatherback populations in these conditions. After modeling these population dynamics in light of projected changes in temperature and precipitation in the turtles’ critical nesting areas, particularly the beaches of Costa Rica, researchers from Drexel and Princeton universities projected an increase in egg and hatchling mortality. According to their findings, leatherback populations could decline 7 percent per decade through 2100. A key in preserving turtle populations in the future will be manipulating beach conditions to encourage as many good hatchlings as possible, the researchers say.
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27 Jun 2012: BP Oil Spill Accelerated
Erosion of Louisiana Marshlands

The 2010 BP oil spill hastened the loss of Louisiana’s already fragile salt marshlands, a new study says. In a comparison of erosion rates at three healthy marsh sites and three areas affected by the oil spill, University of Florida scientists found that oil from the spill coated thick grasses on the outer edge of some wetlands, killing off salt marsh plants 15 to 30 feet from the shoreline. When those grasses died, the deep roots that held the soil sediment died as well, causing the rate of erosion on shore banks to more than double. In Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, for instance, oiled marshes have receded nearly 10 feet per year after the spill — about twice the normal rate of erosion in a region already losing huge areas of marshland as a result of channelization of the Mississippi River and rising sea levels. “We already knew that erosion leads to permanent marsh loss, and now we know that oil can exacerbate it,” said Brian Silliman, a University of Florida biologist and lead author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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25 Jun 2012: U.S. Atlantic Coast Already
‘Hotspot’ of Sea Level Rise, Study Says

A 600-mile stretch of the U.S. East Coast is experiencing rates of sea level rise that are three to four times greater than the global average, according a new study. In a new analysis, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that sea levels from Boston, Mass. to Cape Hatteras, N.C. have risen 2 to 3.7 millimeters per year since 1990, compared with a global average of 0.6 to 1 millimeters per year. According to the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, sea levels appear to be rising in this mid-Atlantic region because a major Atlantic current that carries tropical water to the north is slowing down; that warmth expands seawater, which can lead to higher sea levels. “Many people mistakenly think that the rate of sea level rise is the same everywhere as glaciers and ice caps melt… [but] as demonstrated in this study, regional oceanographic contributions must be taken into account in planning for what happens to coastal property,” said Marcia McNutt, director of the USGS.
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14 Jun 2012: Australia to Create
World’s Largest Marine Reserve

Australia has announced that it will create the world’s largest marine reserve, a network of protected areas that will cover 1.2 million square miles, more than one-third of the country’s waters. Environment Minister Tony Burke, making the announcement in advance of the Rio+20 sustainability summit, said the action will expand the number of Australia’s marine reserves from 27 to 60 and will protect waters of the Coral Sea and other key ocean habitats. “It’ time for the world to turn a corner on protection of our oceans, and Australia today is leading that next step,” said Burke. “What we’ve done is effectively create a national parks estate in the ocean.” Limited fishing and oil drilling will be allowed in some areas, and the fishing industry will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for reducing or eliminating commercial fishing in numerous tracts of ocean.
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13 Jun 2012: Ban on Fish Discards
Is Approved by the European Union

The European Union has decided to end the controversial practice of allowing fishermen to select high-value species from their nets and then discard the remainder of dead fish, a practice that leads to the destruction of an estimated 1 million tons of edible fish a year in EU waters. The EU Council announced its intention to implement a discard ban, but did not set a firm date, saying discard bans for some species could be phased in as late as 2020. Although some environmental groups praised the ban, others said that allowing the practice of fish discards to continue for another eight years could be too late to save some severely overfished species, such as plaice and sole. EU officials hailed the long-sought ban, with the president of Denmark calling it “a very important step in the direction of a radical new fisheries policy — a sustainable fisheries policy.” Conservationists say the policy of allowing fishermen to meet their quotas by selecting only certain species and tossing away the rest is one of the main reasons for the precipitous decline in European fish stocks.
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08 Jun 2012: Major NASA Discovery Finds
Phytoplankton Blooms Under Arctic Ice

For the first time, scientists have discovered extensive blooms of phytoplankton under Arctic Ocean ice, contradicting the widely held conviction that such blooms could not occur under sea ice that blocked the sun's rays from triggering the blooms. Scientists on a NASA-sponsored expedition to the Arctic Ocean say the blooms are likely related to the rapid thinning of Arctic sea ice, which allows sunlight to penetrate the ice and trigger blooms. Working on a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker last summer in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska, the scientists discovered massive blooms that extended from the sea-ice edge to 72 miles inside the pack ice. The blooms did not occur under thick ice, but rather under melt ponds and nearly translucent melting ice. “This is like finding the Amazon rainforest in the middle of the Mojave Desert,” said Paula Bontempi, NASA’s ocean biology and biogeochemistry program manager. The research, published in Science, sheds new light on how the Arctic Ocean ecosystem may be reacting to a rapidly warming climate, affecting marine life from phytoplankton at the base of the food chain to gray whales at the top.
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07 Jun 2012: Environmental Tipping Point
Is Nearing, International Study Says

The rapid warming of the planet, a soaring human population, the steady loss of biodiversity, over-exploitation of energy resources, and the degradation of the world’s oceans are driving the world toward an ecological tipping point, according to a new study in Nature. Twenty-two scientists from five nations compared the major changes taking place today with previous ecological shifts — such as the end of the last Ice Age 14,000 to 18,000 years ago — that triggered mass extinctions of some species, expansions of others, and the creation of new global ecosystems. The paper said that while there is still considerable uncertainty as to whether the world is now approaching such a “state shift,” many signs point to a future of ecological upheaval. “Given all the pressures we are putting on the world, if we do nothing different, I believe we are looking at a time scale of a century or even a few decades for a tipping point to arrive,” lead author Anthony Barnosky, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview.
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25 May 2012: Marine Reserves Replenish
Commercial Fisheries, DNA Tests Show

DNA testing has shown that the creation of marine reserves where no fishing is allowed helps to replenish fish stocks outside the reserve boundaries. In a study conducted at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, researchers collected tissue samples from two species of commercially popular fish — including 466 samples of adult coral trout and 1,154 samples from stripey snapper — located within three reserve areas. After collecting juveniles of both species in protected and unprotected areas over the next 15 months, the researchers found that about half of the juveniles were offspring of fish found in the reserve areas, even though the reserves accounted for just 28 percent of the study area. In other words, fish found in the reserves “punch above their weight in replenishing fishery stocks,” said Garry Russ, a researcher from James Cook University and one of the authors of the study, published online in the journal Current Biology.
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22 May 2012: Seagrasses Hold More Carbon
Per Square Kilometer Than Forests

The planet’s seagrass meadows store more than twice as much carbon per square kilometer as forests, demonstrating that coastal vegetation can play an important role in mitigating climate change, a new study says. Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team of scientists calculated that coastal seagrass beds can store up to 83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer, compared with 30,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer in typical forests. While seagrasses occupy less than 0.2 percent of the world's oceans, they account for more than 10 percent of all the carbon trapped in the sea.Seagrasses have a unique ability to store carbon in their roots and soil in coastal areas, the study showed. In some regions, they found, seagrass beds have stored carbon for thousands of years. “Seagrasses only take up a small percentage of global coastal area, but this assessment shows that they’re a dynamic ecosystem for carbon transformation,” said James Fourqurean, a scientist at Florida International University and lead author of the study.
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22 May 2012: Rivers are Largest Source
Of Mercury in Arctic Ocean, Study Says

A new study suggests that rivers may be funneling far more toxic mercury into the Arctic Ocean than previously believed, a finding that may portend even greater mercury concentrations in the future as the effects of climate change accelerate the region’s hydrological cycle. Despite the Arctic's remoteness, scientists have long known that mercury levels in Arctic mammals are among the highest on the planet, a factor largely attributed to mercury being deposited in the Arctic Ocean from the air. But according to Harvard scientists, circumpolar rivers — particularly three Siberian rivers, the Lena, Ob, and Yenisei — may be contributing twice as much mercury as the atmosphere. According to the scientists, mercury levels in the Arctic tend to increase sharply during the spring and summer. Using a sophisticated model of atmospheric and ocean conditions, they concluded the only factor that could explain this spike was increased flow of these rivers as they melt. According to the researchers, more mercury may be entering the river systems as melting permafrost increasingly releases mercury locked in the soil. In addition, mercury is likely coming from runoff from gold, silver, and mercury mines in Siberia. The study is published in Nature Geoscience.
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18 May 2012: EU Fisheries Observers
Are Intimidated, Bribed by Crews

Observers placed on European Union fishing boats to reduce the amount of illegal and unreported catches are often subject to threats, intimidation, and bribes when they try to do their jobs, according to a report in the Guardian. After interviewing more than 20 former and current fisheries observers and examining EU records, the newspaper said that the threats and harassment are common on Spanish and Portuguese fishing boats, which are notorious for egregious overfishing. The observers told the Guardian that crew members would steal their records of fishing violations, threaten them with an “accident” at sea, kick their cabin doors to keep them awake at night, and take elaborate steps — including making illegal hauls while observers were eating — to conceal the extent of overfishing. Independent observers are placed aboard every vessel operating in the Northwest Atlantic Fishery Organization. But because of fishing industry pressure, observers who spot violations are only allowed to summon an inspector on board, but cannot provide the inspector with any details or records of infractions.
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16 May 2012: Wildlife in Tropical Regions
Has Declined 60 Percent Since 1970

Wildlife populations in the world’s tropical regions have fallen by more than 60 percent during the last four decades, according to the latest version of the Living Planet Index. The Index — which tracks populations of 2,688 vertebrate species in tropical and temperate regions worldwide — found that species abundance in the tropics declined by about 44 percent on land, 62 percent in the oceans, and 70 percent in freshwater ecosystems from 1970 to 2008. Cumulatively, species abundance declined by about 1.25 percent annually every year compared with a 1970 baseline, according to the report, which is published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London. Wildlife populations declined by 38 percent in Africa during that period; about 50 percent in Central and South America; and 64 percent in Indo-Pacific regions. Overall, the global index dropped almost 30 percent during the same period. These steep population declines are the result of many factors related to human activities, including deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, overfishing, and climate change.
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15 May 2012: Record Number of Fish Stocks
‘Rebuilt’ in 2011, NOAA Study Says

U.S. officials say a record number of fish stocks recovered to healthy population numbers in 2011 while a declining number of species were subject to overfishing. In a reportto Congress, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Chinook Salmon
Wikimedia Commons
Chinook salmon
Administration (NOAA) declared that six species have been “rebuilt,” including the Bering Sea snow crab, the summer flounder found on the mid-Atlantic coast, the haddock in the Gulf of Maine, the Chinook salmon on the northern California coast, the Coho salmon on the Washington coast, and the Widow rockfish on the Pacific coast. Meanwhile, the number of stocks subject to overfishing decreased by four, and overfished stocks declined by three compared with the 2010 report. Samuel D. Rauch III, a NOAA deputy assistant administrator, said the findings underscore the fact that fisheries management — including sometimes unpopular catch limits — has been effective.
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11 May 2012: Eel Breeding Innovation
Sought to Conserve Wild Populations

Japanese biologists are racing to develop a type of food that would enable fish farmers to breed eels on a commercial scale using for the first time larvae produced in captivity, a step that could reduce pressures on collapsing eel populations worldwide. While farmers have long bred captive eels — a popular delicacy in many countries — until now they have only been able to do so on a commercial scale using baby eels trapped in the wild, a step that has exacerbated the catastrophic decline in wild eel populations from the Far East to North America. The reason, scientists say, is that it has been difficult and expensive to produce the foodstuff critical to the development of eel larvae: a mixture of marine detritus known as “marine snow.” Scientists so far have considered a wide range of possible ingredients, including the yolk from shark’s eggs. “Whoever gets there first has made a tremendous discovery; you’re recovering a cultural tradition,” David Righton, a scientist with the UK-based Cefas marine laboratory, told the Guardian. “Whoever does this is culturally important as well as becoming very rich.”
PERMALINK

 

09 May 2012: Warming Waters Attract
New Fish Species to British Waters

Warming ocean temperatures have changed the distribution of many critical marine species off the British coast, as warm water fish are increasingly expanding into northern waters and cold-water species are swimming to colder depths, according to a new report. The report of the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership, published by the UK and Scottish governments, found that warm water species such as the bluefin tuna and thresher sharks are more frequently appearing in the waters off southwest England and squid have become increasingly abundant in the North Sea. One southern species, the bib, has moved north by 212 miles (342 kilometers) in the last two decades, while common North Sea species such as cod and lemon sole are swimming at an average of 5.5 meters deeper per decade. The report, based on an analysis of scientific studies, warns these changes pose potential threats for native species and the commercial fishing industry as changing water temperatures could introduce invasive species and new diseases.
PERMALINK

 

09 May 2012: Groundwater Pumping Emerges
As a Factor in Sea Level Rise, Study Says

The vast amounts of water pumped out of the ground for irrigation, drinking water, and industrial uses will increasingly contribute to global sea level rise in the coming decades, according to a new study. According to researchers at Utrecht University, humans pumped about 204 cubic kilometers (49 cubic miles) of groundwater in 2000, much of which evaporated into the atmosphere before ultimately entering rivers, canals and, eventually, the world’s oceans. While in earlier decades the rise in sea level caused by groundwater removal was canceled out by the construction of dams, that changed by the 1990s as humans pumped more groundwater and built fewer dams. By 2000, groundwater extraction resulted in a sea level rise of about 0.57 millimeters annually — compared with about 0.035 millimeters in 1990. According to the study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, by 2050 the pumping of groundwater worldwide could cause sea levels to rise about 0.8 millimeters annually.
PERMALINK

 

07 May 2012: Japanese Tsunami Debris
Is Increasingly Washing Ashore in Alaska

Debris from last year’s tsunami in Japan, including some potentially toxic materials, is increasingly being discovered along the Alaska coastline. Since January, millions of pieces of debris have washed ashore along the Alaska coast, from soccer balls and buoys to motorcycles and large drums containing unknown materials, according to the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation (MCAF), a Juneau-based group monitoring the debris. In some areas, the group has observed mysterious sludge that apparently had leaked from the containers. “So we’re looking at a potential large-scale environmental problem, and what we’re dealing with now is just the start of it,” Merrick Burden, director of the MCAF, told the Juneau Daily News. Much of the debris that has reached Alaska so far was likely pushed by west-to-east winds, and larger materials, driven by ocean currents, will start to reach the coast next year, officials say. To help state officials better understand the future threats, MCAF is urging mariners, fishing boats, and beachcombers to take photos when they spot debris and report it to their project and the federal government.
PERMALINK

 

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Colorado River Video
In a Yale Environment 360 video, photographer Pete McBride documents how increasing water demands have transformed the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the arid Southwest. Watch the video.

 

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