Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Islands of the World #12: Perdido Key (Florida, USA)

Perdido Key, Florida is an unincorporated community located in Escambia County, Florida, between Pensacola, Florida and Orange Beach, Alabama. It is in essence a man-made island - a peninsula cut apart from the mainland in 1933.

"Perdido" means "lost" in Spanish, and Perdido Key is sometimes called "Lost Key" by local residents and businesses.

The community is located on Perdido Key, a barrier island located in extreme northwest Florida and southeast Alabama. The Florida district of the Gulf Islands National Seashore is located at the east end of the island. No more than a few hundred yards wide in most places, Perdido Key stretches some 16 miles from Perdido Pass Bridge near Orange Beach, Alabama, to just across from Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola, Florida.

From the beginning of the 17th century, Spanish and French explorers began colonizing the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The Spaniards had settled on Panzacola Bay. *Some sources translate Panzacola as meaning "the village of hairy people, referring to the Spanish. The French were located above Maubila (Mobile)). A natural boundary was needed for their unsettled relationship so that the groups from the two thriving seaports could live in this region in relative peace and harmony. Explorers from both countries had heard of a great mysterious body of water to the west of Pensacola, but they were unable to find the entrance.

In 1693 noted cartographer and scientist Don Carlos Siquenza was sent by the Spanish government to locate the entrance. Even after he located the mouth of the bay, he was still unable to find a waterway deep enough to sail through. According to legend, Siquenza's ship had been blown off course as he was again searching for the pass into the deep inland waters. The ship was spotted by an Indian chief camped with his tribe at Bear Point. As the chief was walking along the water he spotted Don Carlos Siquenza attempting to reef his sails and offered to guide Siquenza and his men to a connecting deep water channel from the Gulf of Mexico into the more tranquil bay. When the search party finally located the elusive bay, they called it "Perdido", which in Spanish means "lost" or "hidden".

Early maps indicate that, at the time, the pass was located near where the FloraBama Lounge and Package Store stands today. Hurricanes and other forces—natural as well as man-made—have moved the pass back and forth several times to where it lies now in Orange Beach, Alabama, approximately 3 miles from the Florida boundary.

Perdido (BAY) key is said to have once had an estimated 300 natural springs bubbling up from the sandy bottom. There were so many around the Lillian bridge that when construction on the high-rise bridge began, bridge engineers were appalled to see pilings sinking down below the surface, following the soft course of a natural spring. They had their work cut out to build cofferdams to shore up the pilings to prevent them from sinking. It was not until about 1933 that Perdido Key became an island. Before that time, the area was a small peninsula just to the west of Pensacola, crossed by a large ditch that was narrow enough to jump across, and sometimes filled with alligators. This ditch would become the Intracoastal Waterway in 1933.

An Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that would connect Pensacola to Mobile Bay, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, was started during 1931 during the height of the Great Depression. The digging that would connect Pensacola, Big Lagoon (also known as Grande Lagoon), Perdido Bay, and Mobile Bay was completed in 1933. Perdido Key Island is now about 16 miles (26 km) long with almost 60% of it (9.5 miles) located in federal or state parks. In 1978 the National Park Service completed purchase of over 1,000 acres (4 km²) of land on Perdido Key from Johnson Beach to Pensacola Pass for about $8 million dollars. For years this general area was called Gulf Beach, and slowly it evolved into being called Perdido Key. Many "old timers" still call the area Gulf Beach.

Environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts enjoy Perdido Key because it is one of the few remaining unblemished stretches of wilderness in the Florida Panhandle. Miles of preserves offer a wealth of opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and bird watching. Dolphin watch excursions and sailing tours are popular with tourists, as are moonlight cruises on the bay. Perdido Key’s two state parks and an expanse of National Seashore are ripe for spotting gray foxes and blue herons in the wild. Local outfitters offer guided tours, but self-guided nature trails at Big Lagoon and Johnson Beach are perfect chances for solitude.

Perdido Key Beach Dune Habitat
These beaches and their dune habitat play host to a variety of visitors and residents throughout the year.

The beach dune habitat of Perdido Key is characterized by several rows of wind built sand dunes. "Frontal" or "primary" dunes are vegetated with grasses including sea oats, bunch grass, and beach grass. Among other plant species growing in primary dunes are Florida rosemary, railroad vine and beach morning glories. “Secondary” dunes, further inland, support saw palmetto, slash and sand pines, and scrubby shrubs and oaks. Growing between the dunes are cordgrass, salt-grass, pine trees, purslane and, among others, pennywort.

The scrub and grasses growing on dunes are vital to the health of Perdido Key’s beach habitat. The roots of plants are the "fingers" which hold sand in place, preventing it from blowing away in the wind or washing away in the tidal surge of Hurricane or other storms. Without the critical holding power of dunes and their plants the beaches would blow and erode away.

Dune Plants benefiting from the dune restoration project on Perdido Key project on Perdido Key include the following:

Sand Plants:

sea oats (Uniola paniculata)
saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens)
coastal panicgrass (Panicum amarum)
Estuarine plants:

turtle grass (Thallassia testudinum)
salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora)
black needle rush (Juncus romerianus)

Perdido Key is home to the endangered Perdido Key Beach Mouse. The small white and gray mouse, weighing only 13-16 grams, blends in well with the white quartz sand of northern Gulf coast beaches. While the Perdido Key Beach Mouse feeds primarily on the seeds of sea oats and bluestem, it will occasionally eat insects.

The Perdido Key beach mouse was listed as an endangered species in 1985. Loss of habitat to development is considered to be the main factor which led to the decline of the species. Hurricanes have also taken their toll on the endangered mouse.The beach mouse population at Perdido Key was nearly wiped out in the mid-1990s when hurricanes Erin and Opal ravaged Perdido Key’s beaches. Numbering less than 40 after the storms, the mice have regenerated quite well, with current population estimates near 500. While populations appear to be growing, the Perdido Key Beach Mouse will probably never make it off the endangered species list because of continued habitat loss and degradation.

The Perdido Key Beach Mouse isn’t the only endangered animal to call Perdido Key’s dunes and beaches home. Other species find the white sands attractive as seasonal homes or for nesting before returning to sea. Two such visitors are the piping plover and the sea turtle.

The sea turtle is another endangered visitor to Perdido Key. Loggerhead, Leatherback, Ridley, and Green sea turtles arrive between May and September to dig nest cavities in the sand into which 100 or more eggs are laid. About two months later, provided the nest hasn’t been washed away, uncovered by high winds, or disturbed by predator or beach visitors, turtle hatchlings emerge. Following the brightest spot in the sky, which is usually the horizon over the water, hatchlings scramble for the sea. Unfortunately, as development on barrier islands has occurred, lights of convenience stores, hotels and businesses (see Light pollution ) have made the trek to the sea a confusing and dangerous challenge. Few hatchlings are successful in their live’s first adventure. Less than 1% of hatchlings survive their first year and grow old enough to return to Perdido Key to begin the cycle again.

Shorebirds including black skimmers, gulls, terns, and brown pelicans are among the many different species of birds which rest on the island, nest, or feed offshore. Neotropical birds, such as warblers and Cedar Waxwings, live in the tropics and travel to North America to breed, stopping-over to feed and rest at Perdido Key. Monarch butterflies migrating to and from South America stop-over, finding refuge on the swaying stalks of sea oats growing within the dune habitat of Perdido Key.

Local attractions
To the south of Perdido Key is the Gulf of Mexico with its white sand beaches and clear blue waters. North of Perdido Key is Old River and the Intercoastal Waterway. Just north of Old River is the private Alabama island of Ono Island. North of Ono and separated by the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) is a small area called Innerarity Point and Innerarity Island, a small private gated island community of mostly single family homes with a few townhomes at the entrance.

Almost all of these waterways are accessible by boat and can give passage to the Gulf of Mexico via the Alabama Pass in Orange Beach or the major harbor entrance of Pensacola pass. These waterways are: Old River, Intercoastal Waterway (ICW), Perdido Bay, Pensacola Bay, Escambia Bay, Black Water River, Perdido River, Styx River, and a myriad of boatable canals, bayous and lakes. The inland waterways have historically given protection from the storms and hurricanes which have occurred in this area. This area has many homes lining the waterfront.

Gulf Islands National Seashore / Rosamond Johnson Beach
Located on the eastern end of Perdido Key. It is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Picnic shelters, restrooms, showers, and seasonal lifeguards. Fort McRee is located at the eastern tip of Johnson Beach and is accessible by boat or foot only. Sound side Nature Trail is a self guided nature trail that winds past a salt marsh and through a maritime forest. The nature trail is wheelchair accessible. The Johnson Beach Road is an enjoyable place to walk, jog, bike and view beautiful sunsets. There is a park fee of about $8.00 per car, which is good for 7 days and gets you into Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island and the Naval Live Oaks located in Gulf Breeze. Front Gate 850-492-7278.

If you plan to visit this area please be aware that the environment can quickly become extremely dangerous and inhospitable. Intense sunlight can temporarily blind visitors who elect not to wear good quality sunglasses. Insects such as midges and other biting flies inhabit the areas around Langley Point and Redfish Point during certain times of the year especially at or near dusk. Wear sunscreen, bring insect repellent and drinking water. The sand along the Gulf of Mexico side of Johnson beach is loose and difficult to walk in. Winds can reach 40 mph at night and can blow over tents and scatter items left unsecured. At night the temperature can drop to an uncomfortable level even during midsummer. In the event of inclement weather you should also be aware that it can take up to an hour to reach the parking area or other shelter due to walking in loose sand.

Visitors should make every effort to observe surf warnings posted in the park. Two red flags means the water is closed to the public. A purple flag means dangerous sealife such as sharks or jellyfish are present. Rip currents are common due to shifting sands especially after tropical storms. Visitors with small children should remain in the main pavilion area under the supervision of the lifeguard.

Big Lagoon State Recreation Area
Derives its name from a bordering body of water called Big Lagoon. The Park of 678 acres upland was opened in 1978 and beckons visitors with all the recreational opportunities expected at a Florida State Park. Follow the Cookie Trail, maintained by the Girl Scouts. Natural habitat includes numerous birds and animals – gray foxes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, great blue herons and other waterfowl, in addition to a variety of other birds. More than 75 campsites; five picnic areas with shelters, 500-seat amphitheater; boat ramp with dock; boardwalks and nature trails; and observation tower offering a panoramic view of Big Lagoon, the park and Gulf Islands National Seashore across the Intracoastal Waterway. Located at 12301 Gulf Beach Highway, Pensacola, just north of Perdido Key.

Perdido Key State Recreation Area
Perdido Key State Recreation Area encompasses 247 acres on a barrier island, which buffers the mainland from winds and threatening tides and provides habitat for shore birds and other coastal animals. Saltwater fishing licenses required. Occupied shells are alive and should be left alone. The wide white sand beaches and the rolling dunes covered with sea oats make this a pristine oasis along the rapidly developing panhandle. Picnic shelters are between the Gulf and the Old River, which bounds Perdido Key on the north.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Islands of the World #11: Santa Rosa (Florida, USA)

Santa Rosa Island is a 40-mile barrier island located off the coast of Florida, and thirty miles east of the Alabama state border. The communities of Pensacola Beach, Navarre Beach, and Okaloosa Island are located on the island. On the northern lee side of the island, are Pensacola Bay on the west and Choctawhatchee Bay on the east, joined through Santa Rosa Sound.

Santa Rosa Island has been the site of numerous hurricanes and other tropical cyclones, including the hurricane of September 1559, Hurricane Erin and Hurricane Opal (1995), Hurricane Ivan (2004), Hurricane Dennis (2005), Tropical Storm Claudette (2009), and the remnants of Hurricane Ida (2009).

Parts of the island are in the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Santa Rosa Island was the start of the earliest European settlement in the mainland United States, beginning in August 1559, led by Tristan de Luna from New Spain (Mexico).

Santa Rosa Island was the site of early exploration by the Spanish Conquistadors, about 1519. A settlement expedition arrived from Vera Cruz (of New Spain), in August 1559, led by Tristan de Luna. However, Spanish settlements in the area were later abandoned in 1561, due to a combination of problems -frequent storms, famine, and conflicts with native inhabitants.

St. Augustine, Florida was later settled on the Atlantic coast of Florida, on August 28, 1565.

During the American Civil War, the island was the site of the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, on October 9, 1861. Richard Anderson crossed from the Florida mainland to Santa Rosa Island with 1200 men, in two small steamers, in a failed attempt to capture Fort Pickens (located on the west end of the island).

In 1929, Santa Rosa Island was sold by the U.S. War Department to Escambia County, Florida, for US$10,000. Ten years later, the county returned the island to the federal government in the expectation that it would be developed into a U.S. National Monument preserving the remnants of Fort Pickens.

An 875-acre parcel of Santa Rosa Island with 3 miles of Gulf frontage was conveyed to Okaloosa County on July 8, 1950 in an informal ceremony at the county courthouse in Crestview, Florida. The county paid the federal government $4,000 to complete the transaction, which was the result of the efforts of Congressman Bob Sikes.

The portion of Santa Rosa Island transferred is now known as Okaloosa Island. While the beach road onto U.S. Air Force property west of the Okaloosa Island portion of Santa Rosa Boulevard was unguarded and accessible into the 1980s, heightened security concerns in the modern era have led to it being guarded or blocked at all times. Various missile launch and test facilities exist on Santa Rosa Island south and southwest of Hurlburt Field.

The island has been the landfall for many tropical cyclones; it was the landfall point of 1995's Hurricane Erin and Hurricane Opal. Hurricane Dennis hit the island in July 2005, and with 120 mph winds, was the strongest storm to do so. However, a more recent tropical cyclone to make landfall on the island was Tropical Storm Claudette in 2009.

From 2008-2009, a sunken Spanish ship was located/excavated offshore, confirming reports of the 1559 expedition by Tristan de Luna, as the earliest European settlement in the mainland United States.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Is Sea Shepherd really saving whales?

An op ed piece, fropm June 7, at Southern Fried Science: Is Sea Shepherd really saving whales?

(Go to the link for the complete article)

Sea Shepherd claims that their actions in the Southern Ocean opposing Japanese whaling fleets has effectively reduced the number of whales killed. What always rubbed me the wrong way about these claims is that they always compare their success against the Institute for Cetacean Research (the Japanese organization that oversees ‘scientific whaling’) Quotas. So at some point you have to ask the question, in absolute numbers, has Sea Shepherd really reduced the number of whales killed?

To answer that we need three pieces of information:

When did Sea Shepherd begin it’s campaign against Japanese ‘scientific whaling’?
What are the ICR quotas for that time frame?
What are the absolute catches for that time frame?
Sea Shepherd provides a comprehensive timeline for their whaling campaigns that indicates serious opposition in the Southern Ocean began in December 2002. For the two other questions, we turn to Whale and Dolphin Conservation International, who have produced a truly exceptional interactive graph of the history of whaling since the inception of the International Whaling Convention by the numbers. The relevant figure is reproduced below:

courtesy WDCS

From this graph, we can see that Sea Shepherd began its campaign when whale catches were at their lowest, and catches have increased since then. Despite their claims of preventing whaling, we can see that more whales were killed per year after 2004 than any year before 2004. In other words, more whales are dying on Sea Shepherd’s watch.

So where do they get the claim that SSCS is reducing the numbers of whales caught? Remember they always report whales saved in relation to the Japanese quota, a reasonable value since the quota provides the absolute upper limit for how many whales will be killed each year. What they ignore is that, in 2005, the quota increased from ~350 to ~1000, and at no point since that increase has Japan ever reached quota.

All of this points towards the fact that Sea Shepherd’s claim that direct action is saving the whales is bunk. More whales have been killed per annum on Sea Shepherd’s watch than during the 16 years before Watson declared a Whale War. Of course there is no causal link in these data. The only conclusion that can be drawn from these data is that Sea Shepherd’s claim that they are preventing whales from being slaughtered is not supported. Results matter.

Still interested? Check out our analysis of the real issues with Sea Shepherd and why their brand of environmental activism is ultimately ineffective.

Report: Toxins found in whales bode ill for humans

Seattle PI: Report: Toxins found in whales bode ill for humans

AGADIR, Morocco -- Sperm whales feeding even in the most remote reaches of Earth's oceans have built up stunningly high levels of toxic and heavy metals, according to American scientists who say the findings spell danger not only for marine life but for the millions of humans who depend on seafood.

A report released Thursday noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. From polar areas to equatorial waters, the whales ingested pollutants that may have been produced by humans thousands of miles away, the researchers said.

"These contaminants, I think, are threatening the human food supply. They certainly are threatening the whales and the other animals that live in the ocean," said biologist Roger Payne, founder and president of Ocean Alliance, the research and conservation group that produced the report.

The researchers found mercury as high as 16 parts per million in the whales. Fish high in mercury such as shark and swordfish - the types health experts warn children and pregnant women to avoid - typically have levels of about 1 part per million.

The whales studied averaged 2.4 parts of mercury per million, but the report's authors said their internal organs probably had much higher levels than the skin samples contained.

"The entire ocean life is just loaded with a series of contaminants, most of which have been released by human beings," Payne said in an interview on the sidelines of the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting.

Payne said sperm whales, which occupy the top of the food chain, absorb the contaminants and pass them on to the next generation when a female nurses her calf. "What she's actually doing is dumping her lifetime accumulation of that fat-soluble stuff into her baby," he said, and each generation passes on more to the next.

Ultimately, he said, the contaminants could jeopardize seafood, a primary source of animal protein for 1 billion people.

"You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species. I suspect this will shorten lives, if it turns out that this is what's going on," he said.

Payne called his group's $5 million project the most comprehensive report ever done on ocean pollutants.

U.S. Whaling Commissioner Monica Medina informed the 88 member nations of the whaling commission of the report and urged the commission to conduct further research.

The report "is right on target" for raising issues critical to humans as well as whales, Medina told The Associated Press. "We need to know much more about these problems."

Payne, 75, is best known for his 1968 discovery and recordings of songs by humpback whales, and for finding that some whale species can communicate with each other over thousands of miles.

The 93-foot Odyssey, a sail-and-motor ketch, set out in March 2000 from San Diego to document the oceans' health, collecting pencil-eraser-sized samples using a dart gun that barely made the whales flinch.

After more than five years and 87,000 miles, samples had been taken from 955 whales. The samples were sent for analysis to marine toxicologist John Wise at the University of Southern Maine. DNA was compared to ensure the animals were not tested more than once.

Payne said the original objective of the voyage was to measure chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants, and the study of metals was an afterthought.

The researchers were stunned with the results. "That's where the shocking, sort of jaw-dropping concentrations exist," Payne said.

Though it was impossible to know where the whales had been, Payne said the contamination was embedded in the blubber of males formed in the frigid polar regions, indicating that the animals had ingested the metals far from where they were emitted.

"When you're working with a synthetic chemical which never existed in nature before and you find it in a whale which came from the Arctic or Antarctic, it tells you that was made by people and it got into the whale," he said.

How that happened is unclear, but the contaminants likely were carried by wind or ocean currents, or were eaten by the sperm whales' prey.

Sperm whales are toothed whales that eat all kinds of fish, even sharks. Dozens have been taken by whaling ships in the past decade. Most of the whales hunted by the whaling countries of Japan, Norway and Iceland are minke whales, which are baleen whales that feed largely on tiny krill.

Chromium, an industrial pollutant that causes cancer in humans, was found in all but two of the 361 sperm whale samples that were tested for it. Those findings were published last year in the scientific journal Chemosphere.

"The biggest surprise was chromium," Payne said. "That's an absolute shocker. Nobody was even looking for it."

The corrosion-resistant metal is used in stainless steel, paints, dyes and the tanning of leather. It can cause lung cancer in people who work in industries where it is commonly used, and was the focus of the California environmental lawsuit that gained fame in the movie "Erin Brockovich."

It was impossible to say from the samples whether any of the whales suffered diseases, but Wise found that the concentration of chromium found in whales was several times higher than the level required to kill healthy cells in a Petri dish, Payne said.

He said another surprise was the high concentrations of aluminum, which is used in packaging, cooking pots and water treatment. Its effects are unknown.

The consequences of the metals could be horrific for both whale and man, he said.

"I don't see any future for whale species except extinction," Payne said. "This is not on anybody's radar, no government's radar anywhere, and I think it should be."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blow Up the Well to Save the Gulf

An editorial from the New York Times:

Blow Up the Well to Save the Gulf

TONY HAYWARD, the chief executive of BP, made an astounding admission before Congress last week: after nearly two months of failure, the company and the Coast Guard have no further plans to plug the Macondo oil well leaking into the Gulf. Instead, the goal is merely to contain the leak until a relief well comes online, a process that could take months.

Times Topic: Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill (2010)With tens of thousands of barrels of oil leaking from the well each day, this absence of a backup plan highlights a lack of leadership, resources and expertise on the part of the Coast Guard, which from the beginning was compelled to give BP complete control over the leaking wellhead.

Instead, President Obama needs to create a new command structure that places responsibility for plugging the leak with the Navy, the only organization in the world that can muster the necessary team. Then the Navy needs to demolish the well.

The Coast Guard, of course, should continue to play a role. But it should focus on what it can do well, like containing the oil already in the Gulf and protecting the coast with oil booms and skimmers. It should also use this crisis to establish permanent collaborations with other maritime forces around the globe, particularly those that can get to a disaster area quickly.

But control of the well itself should fall to the Navy — it alone has the resources to stop the flow. For starters, the Office of Naval Research controls numerous vehicles like Alvin, the famed submersible used to locate the Titanic. Had such submersibles been deployed earlier, we could have gotten real-time information about the wellhead, instead of waiting for BP to release critical details.

The Navy also commands explosives experts who have vast knowledge of underwater demolitions. And it has some of the world’s finest underwater engineers at Naval Reactors, the secretive program that is responsible for designing nuclear reactors for nuclear submarines. With the help of scientists in our national weapons laboratories and experts from private companies, these engineers can be let loose on the well.

To allay any concerns over militarizing the crisis, the Navy and Coast Guard should be placed in a task-force structure alongside a corps of experts, including independent oil engineers, drilling experts with dedicated equipment, geologists, energy analysts and environmentalists, who could provide pragmatic options for emergency action.

With this new structure in place, the Navy could focus on stopping the leak with a conventional demolition. This means more than simply “blowing it up”: it means drilling a hole parallel to the leaking well and lowering charges to form an explosive column.

Upon detonating several tons of explosives, a pressure wave of hundreds of thousands of pounds per square inch would spread outward in the same way that light spreads from a tubular fluorescent bulb, evenly and far. Such a sidelong explosion would implode the oil well upstream of the leak by crushing it under a layer of impermeable rock, much as stepping on a garden hose stops the stream of water.

It’s true that the primary blast of a conventional explosion is less effective underwater than on land because of the intense back-pressure that muffles the shock wave. But as a submariner who studied the detonation of torpedoes, I learned that an underwater explosion also creates rapid follow-on shockwaves. In this case, the expansion and collapse of explosive gases inside the hole would act like a hydraulic jackhammer, further pulverizing the rock.

The idea of detonating the well already has serious advocates. A few people have even called for using a nuclear device to plug the well, as the Soviet Union has done several times. But that would be overkill. Smartly placed conventional explosives could achieve the same results, and avoid setting an unacceptable international precedent for the “peaceful” use of nuclear weapons.

At best, a conventional demolition would seal the leaking well completely and permanently without damaging the oil reservoir. At worst, oil might seep through a tortuous flow-path that would complicate long-term cleanup efforts. But given the size and makeup of the geological structures between the seabed and the reservoir, it’s virtually inconceivable that an explosive could blast a bigger hole than already exists and release even more oil.

The task force could prepare for demolition without forgoing the current efforts to drill relief wells. And even if the ongoing efforts succeed and a demolition proves unnecessary, the non-nuclear option would give President Obama an ace in the hole and a clear signal that he’s in charge — not BP.

Christopher Brownfield is a former nuclear submarine officer and the author of the forthcoming memoir “My Nuclear Family.”

The problem of course, in my opinion, is that, as Obama stated, he was in charge since Day 1. BP did nothing that he did not order them to do.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

IWC debates scrapping ineffective ban

IWC debates scrapping ineffective ban

The International Whaling Commission began its most important meeting in decades debating whether to scrap an ineffective 25-year ban on commercial hunting and instead allow for limited whaling under a more enforceable regime.

Though environmental groups say the 1986 moratorium has been one of the most successful animal conservation measures in history, it has failed to prevent Japan, Norway and Iceland from killing hundreds of whales each year in defiance of the commission.

A proposal before the 88-member commission would allow the three countries limited whaling in exchange for removing their rogue status and imposing a 10-year period of international monitoring.

The proposal's author, IWC Chairman Cristian Maquieira, has said it would save about 5000 whales over 10 years, though he was not attending this week's meeting due to illness.

Allowing for limited hunting might also reduce the harassment by conservationists trying to disrupt whale hunts - sometimes leading to violent clashes at sea.

Within minutes of opening the annual conference on Monday, the commission's deputy chairman, Anthony Liverpool, adjourned the open sessions for two days to give pro- and anti-whaling countries a chance to discuss whether a compromise was possible. The suspension of the normal agenda was unprecedented in recent decades, and reflected the contentiousness of the proposal to lift the ban. The meeting ends Friday.

Environmentalists attending as observers denounced the move to hold closed-door negotiations. Calling it "fundamentally unacceptable", Wendy Elliott of WWF International said all the preparations for the meeting were held in secret, and "now is the moment to open up a transparent and honest discussion".

Many commission members oppose sanctioning any whale hunting at all. Others might agree to a deal that imposed tough conditions to protect the most endangered species and that demanded Japan halt its forays into the Antarctic Whaling Sanctuary, where some 80 per cent of the oceans' whales go to feed.

Many commission members also want international sales of whale meat halted.

"We want two things: we want to save more whales, and we want a whaling commission that functions well," Dutch delegate Marianne Wuite said.

The future of the 65-year-old commission has been undermined by its inability to stop Japan, Norway and Iceland from hunting whales.

In 1994 it declared the Antarctic off-limits, but Japan objected to the sanctuary, and the commission has no mechanism to ensure compliance or enforce its rules.

Making matters more complicated, the commission's original 1946 rules allow for member countries to claim exemptions to commission decisions. Japan conducts its hunting under a clause allowing the killing of whales for scientific research, although nearly all the meat goes to the commercial market.

The proposal would do away with exemptions and require whaling countries to agree to abide by the rules. They would outfit their whaling ships with satellite monitors, letting international observers track their movements and activities. If a country hunts more than its quota, that quota would be lowered in subsequent years.

Currently, more than 1000 whales are killed each year, with nearly 2000 killed in the peak year of 2006, the Pew Environmental Group said.

"Japan is the key," said Susan Lieberman, director of Pew's whale conservation program. "The question is whether Japan is going to compromise or not."

She said Japan might be coaxed to stop whaling in the southern sanctuary - an expensive and highly subsidised industry - if it won international recognition of its right to hunt whales off its coast.

"If this were purely economic, they wouldn't be whaling in the Antarctic," she said.

The United States has said it favours a deal, but says the proposed quotas are too high. The European Union says it wants to maintain the moratorium, but it also has indicated it would look at a deal that calls for a phasing out of hunting over several years.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Great white shark confiscated by federal agents at Star Island Shark Tournament

Great white shark confiscated by federal agents at Star Island Shark Tournament

A great white shark weighing between 300 and 400 pounds was confiscated by the National Marine Fisheries Service on Friday morning after a competitor at the Star Island Yacht Club Shark Tournament landed it during the contest, according to an official from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the NMFS.

The angler who turned in the shark was not arrested or fined at the scene, said Lesli Bales-Sherrod, communications specialist for the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, but could be charged with a civil violation at the close of NOAA’s investigation, which is ongoing.

Ms. Bales-Sherrod said the great white is a prohibited species under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act. Therefore not releasing one, if caught, is illegal.

Rich Janis, a Star Island tournament manager, said the angler mistook the shark for another species.

“It was misidentified by the anglers and it was confiscated by NOAA,” he said. “It was just an honest mistake, there was no benefit to bringing it in.”

Ms. Bales-Sherrod said if investigators found reason to charge the angler who caught the shark, the case would be turned over to prosecutors from NOAA. She did not know the penalties that could result from the charge.

Mr. Janis said the NFMS agents were on-hand at the tournament, which is commonplace, to conduct research on the fish that are brought in. He said they dissected the shark for research and took it away.

The overall heaviest shark caught during the two-day tournament this weekend was a 335-pound thresher, which brought with it a $25,000 prize. A $2,500 prize was awarded for a 330-pound thresher, which was the heaviest shark caught on Friday, the first day of the tournament and the same day the great white was landed.

Rules violation costs Citation win, record, $900,000-plus in Big Rock

Not specifically oceanography related, but just....weird.

Rules violation costs Citation win, record, $900,000-plus in Big Rock

The lack of a $15 fishing license cost the Citation $912,825, not to mention first place and a spot in the record books in the 52nd annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Fishing Tournament.

Ouch? You bet so.

“It hurts,” said angler Andy Thomossan, who caught a record 883-pound blue marlin Monday that he and everyone else bet would win the $1.66 million tournament. “No record. No money. No fish. No nothing. Yep, it’s a nice ending to the story, isn’t it?”

Not for Thomossan and Co.

The Citation’s victory was initially put on hold Saturday night during the awards banquet and a day later erased by Big Rock officials because a crew member didn’t have a fishing license, said Thomossan, 63, who lives in Richmond, Va.

“We didn’t do anything wrong. But one of our people did. He failed to get a fishing license, but we didn’t know it. He told us he had it. He didn’t. So you take a man for his word, you know? I can’t do anything. They made their decision,” Thomossan said, referring to the Big Rock board of directors.

“They’re taking it away, everything. The fish is disqualified. We’re disqualified. So that’s the end of it. Yeah, wow. That hurts. To have it done it like that…, to have somebody beat me because they caught (a bigger) fish is not so bad, but…,” he said, his voice trailing off without completing his thought.

A North Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License costs $15 annually for state residents 16 and older or $30 for nonresidents, according to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ website. A 10-day license can also be purchased for $5 for state residents 16 and older or $10 for nonresidents.

Also, fishing boat owners can purchase a block of 10 10-day fishing licenses for $150.

Under tournament rules, “anyone fishing aboard a vessel” in the Big Rock must have a N.C. fishing license, including the captain, the mate and anglers.

The lack of a license by a “for-hire mate” was discovered during a lie detector test Saturday night, said Michael Topp, one of the boat’s three owners. The tournament requires a lie detector test for the top money winners, including the captain, mate and angler as well as “others as deemed necessary.”

“Based on that, it appears that they are going to withhold all the winnings and disallow the catch of the fish,” Topp said. “It’s their tournament, their rules, their judgment. We, of course, feel that the action of the particular individual on an individual license should be dealt with on an individual license basis.

“We made the individual go and turn himself in once we found out about it. He’s obviously going to be fined.”

Topp declined to identify the crew member, and was nearly as speechless when asked how disappointed he was.

“I do not have the words,” he said.

Topp said he didn’t know if the board of directors had had made an official decision, which is expected today after the board meets.

“We did have a meeting with them today,” he added. “But the fact of the matter it was revealed last night in the lie detector that the for-hire mate … lied to us, concealed actually the fact that he didn’t have a license from both the captain and the owners. Hence, the situation.”

Asked if the situation was unbelievable, he replied:

“There’s lot of people that don’t think that’s the way the committee should have come down. But I don’t know. It doesn’t change how things are, and it’s not going to change how they come out.”

Topp was asked whose responsibility it was to make sure all members of the boat had fishing licenses. While sidestepping the specific question, he said he felt that was where “the tournament kind of crosses the line.”

He said it was the individual’s responsibility to have an individual license.

“That’s where the … line gets gray. Where do you transition from an individual responsibility to a tournament responsibility or a boat responsibility?” he said. “I think the Big Rock committee is doing what they have to do. I understand that. I’m a 30-year-old retired colonel. I know about rules.

“But the guys that did all the right things on the boat, the owners, the captain, we’re the victims here. We’re the victims of ‘administrivia.’”

As a result of Citation being stripped of its victory, the winning boat will now be Carnivore, which is captained by Ed Petrilli of Cape Carteret. Angler John Parks of Jacksonville caught what turned out to be the winner, a 528.3-pound blue marlin on Wednesday.

Also, the Big Rock record now reverts back to the 831-pound blue marlin caught in 2000 by Ron Wallschlager on the Summertime Blues of Kiawah Island, S.C.

On Sunday morning, tournament director Crystal Watters e-mailed a news release to the media that said the Big Rock board of directors had “withheld presentation of blue marlin prize money until an alleged rules violation by the top team has been totally researched and a decision made regarding this alleged violation.”

Watters said Big Rock officials would have further comment today.

“I really have nothing to tell you,” she said. “I won’t know anything until tomorrow until the board meets. The board is going to convene and make some decisions about the issues and then we’ll do a press release.”

Citation captain Eric Holmes didn’t return messages left on his cell phone.


MOREHEAD CITY — A rules violation has cost the Citation its record-setting win in the 52nd Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament.

Angler Andy Thomossan, who caught the record-setting 883-pound blue marlin Monday, said Sunday afternoon tournament officials had stripped the Hatteras-boat of the win, the record and the $912,825 prize money from the $1.66 million purse.

“No record. No money. No fish. No nothing,” Thomossan said, adding the rules violation was that one of the crew didn't have a fishing license as required.

The lack of a license by a “for-hire mate” was discovered during a lie detector test Saturday night, said Michael Topp, one of the boat’s three owners. The tournament requires a lie detector test for the top money winners, including the captain, mate and angler as well as “others as deemed necessary.”

Under tournament rules, “anyone fishing aboard a vessel” in the Big Rock must have a N.C. fishing license, including the captain, the mate and anglers.

A North Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License costs $15 annually for state residents 16 and older or $30 for nonresidents, according to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ website. A 10-day license can also be purchased for $5 for state residents 16 and older or $10 for nonresidents.

Also, fishing boat owners can purchase a block of 10 10-day fishing licenses for $150.

Thomossan said he first got wind something might be wrong at Saturday night’s awards banquet, and Sunday morning the tournament sent out a news release that said the board of directors was withholding presentation of the prize money until “an alleged rules violation by the top team has been totally researched.”

Tournament director Crystal Watters, who sent out the e-mail news release, said Big Rock officials would have further comment Monday.

“I really have nothing to tell you,” she said Sunday night. “I won’t know anything until tomorrow until the board meets. The board is going to convene and make some decisions about the issues and then we’ll do a press release.”

Citation captain Eric Holmes didn’t returned messages left on his cell phone.

With the Citation being stripped of its win, the winning boat will now be Carnivore, which is captained by Ed Petrilli of Cape Carteret. Angler John Parks of Jacksonville caught a 528.3-pound blue marlin Wednesday.

Sea-green project may not be iron-clad

From The Australian: Sea-green project may not be iron-clad

THOUSANDS of tonnes of iron will be dumped at sea in the biggest trial of a technique that could cut global warming.

The iron will seed vast blooms of phytoplankton, which absorb CO2 as they grow. When they die, these microscopic plants sink to the bottom of the ocean, locking away the carbon in their bodies for more than a century.

Ships and aircraft would spray iron sulphate liquid over 10,000sq km of the Southern Ocean in a five-year international trial costing about $120 million that is being planned by the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton.

On a global scale, ocean fertilisation could remove up to a billion tonnes of carbon a year from the atmosphere, or 12 per cent of the total produced by human activities. The process could prove much cheaper than cutting emissions and could eventually be funded by businesses to offset their consumption of fossil fuel.

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But scientists admit the trial, which would be 100 times larger than previous tests of ocean fertilisation and involve up to 600 tonnes of iron each year, could have side-effects on marine life. The decaying phytoplankton would reduce oxygen in the deep water, potentially resulting in more dead zones where few sea creatures can survive. The carbon could also make the deep ocean more acidic, weakening the shells of clams and other shellfish.

And there is a risk the iron could result in an increase in nitrous oxide emissions, a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. Near the surface, the iron would increase the food supply and fish stocks could multiply.

Richard Lampitt, professor of oceanography at Southampton, said the trial would measure impacts as well as test how much carbon was sequestered.

Previous trials demonstrated that iron does increase plankton blooms but did not measure how much sank to the bottom. His team is approaching private bodies and philanthropists to fund the trial. Professor Lampitt said such techniques for deliberately altering the climate, known as geoengineering, were too controversial to attract government funding. "Public bodies are quite nervous about this sort of activity," he said. The trial will need to be approved by the UN London Convention, which regulates the dumping of substances at sea. Professor Lampitt sits on the convention's scientific advisory group.

He said the trial would simply accelerate the ocean's natural rate of absorption of CO2 under which emissions end up at the bottom of the sea over the next thousand years.

"No method of geoengineering is going to be a silver bullet for climate change but ocean fertilisation is one of several ways that could make a contribution."

A royal society report on geoengineering last year expressed concern about the potential side-effects of ocean fertilisation and said that a lot more research was needed.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Egypt oil spill threatens marine life

The Age (Australia): Egypt oil spill threatens marine life

An oil spill off the Egyptian Red Sea coast of Hurghada, threatening to damage marine life in the area, has prompted environmental agencies to demand tighter regulation of offshore oil platforms.

Large quantities of oil have appeared in recent days around the resorts of Hurghada, which draw millions of tourists who come to dive or snorkel, according to the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Agency (HEPCA).

"It started four or five days ago and the companies responsible didn't notify anyone. It is catastrophic," HEPCA managing director Amr Ali told AFP.

The spill was caused by leakage from an offshore oil platform north of Hurghada and has polluted protected areas and showed up on tourist beach resorts.

"The companies have said they will pay damages, but it is the environmental damage that we are concerned about," Ali said, declining to name the companies for legal reasons.

"We will take all measures, including legal, to make sure this does not happen again," he said.

HEPCA's warning comes amid ongoing efforts to contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which has damaged fragile ecosystems along the US south coast and halted the region's multibillion-dollar fishing industry.

HEPCA, a non-governmental organisation based in Hurghada, has been working for the protection of natural resources in the Red Sea.

Egypt's environment and tourism ministries said the oil spill was contained and measures were being taken to "deal with the pollution caused by the spill", the official MENA news agency reported.

Authorities protective of the lucrative tourism industry were eager to resolve the matter quickly. Environment Minister Maged George and Petroleum Minister Sameh Fahmy visited the area of the spill on Saturday, but HEPCA said it was too little too late.

"Visits won't help. We would like to see a clearer plan of action on the ground," Ali said.

"We would also like to see more stringent standards imposed on these offshore platforms to ensure natural areas are protected," he said.

Fishermen, activists clash again as tuna war hots up

Times of Malta: Fishermen, activists clash again as tuna war hots up
Government calls on Dutch to remove vessels from registry
Maltese fishermen yesterday again clashed with activists at sea as they were towing a tuna pen, as the government called on the Dutch to consider removing a conservation society's vessel from its ship registry, citing violent conduct.

Local fishermen fired flares yesterday as protesters from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society attempted to free tuna being towed in pens for the second time in three days.

In a post on its website, the society said the flares were aimed at the vessel's wheelhouse and crew on the deck, though this claim was denied by the Malta Aquaculture Federation which said they were only fired to warn off the protesters.

The tuna pen, located about 45 nautical miles off Libya, was one of two involved in the first attack last Thursday, when hundreds of bluefin tuna were freed with two Maltese divers being injured in the process.

Towed at no more than one knot, the pen owned by the company Fish and Fish was once again targeted by Sea Shepherd at 9 a.m. yesterday.

The campaigners approached the tuna pen by ship, helicopter and dinghy to inspect the catch before the fishermen fired the flares.

However, unlike last Thursday's clash, when Libya snubbed military and diplomatic requests to intervene, the Libyan navy, which was a few miles away from the incident, moved towards the society's vessel.

The ship's captain, Paul Watson, said in a post on the society's website: "At that point, in the interest of safety, I ordered the inflatable and helicopter to return to the Steve Irwin. We then retreated to a safe distance away from the waters claimed by Libya. The two vessels Tagreft and the Rabbah 1060 pursued and continued to fire flares at us. We were able to lose them quickly," he wrote.

The society also claimed it heard the Cesare Rustico radio the Tagreft and Rabbah 1060, urging them to do "whatever you can to damage them so they will never return."

However, Fish and Fish lawyer John Refalo said the fishermen only acted in self-defence and to ward off the oncoming activists, who had caused damage before.

"Again, Sea Shepherd told the fishermen they were only going to inspect the tuna but the fishermen knew what was coming," Dr Refalo said.

In a statement last night, the Malta Aquaculture Federation said the fishermen requested assistance from nearby vessels once they saw the activists approaching, fearing a repeat of last Thursday's incidents.

The federation said Sea Shepherd activists only decided to abandon the attack when they realised they were being followed by the Libyan forces.

"Their behaviour is reminiscent of school bullies confronted by a teacher, and they abandoned the scene in a great hurry to avoid being caught up by patrol vessels.

"Today we have all been lucky in that another disaster at sea has been averted. What is clear is that a continuing strong presence of security forces is required at sea if further incidents are to be avoided."

The latest incidents come in the wake of clashes with Greenpeace, which tried to free Ta' Mattew Fish Farms' catch last Sunday. This, however, was foiled by the Armed Forces of Malta, who repelled activists with fire hoses and blocked the Arctic Sea's path to the pen.

The recent clashes at sea between fishermen and the two environmental organisations have been elevated onto the diplomatic stage.

In two letters sent yesterday, the government called on the Netherlands, which registers the vessels of Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, to probe the incidents and reconsider the vessels' inclusion in the registry.

Through a letter sent by Malta's embassy in The Hague, the government said: "Actions taken in the past days under the maritime flag of the Kingdom of the Netherlands were anything but peaceful. The aggression on the property of tuna operators was unprovoked and premeditated."

The tuna in question was legally caught according to Maltese, European Union and International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas regulations, and was purchased by the farm operators with the consent of local and foreign authorities, the Maltese government said.

"The fish was therefore caught legally within the pre-established quota and belonged to the farm operator. Fishing carried out this year was highly regulated and in line with ensuring the sustainability of the stock, the relevant quotas having been set according to scientific study," the letter, seen by The Sunday Times, read.

The government also said that during the clash with Greenpeace a week ago, the activists ignored the Armed Forces of Malta's orders to stand down, and pointed out that two fishermen were injured in the clash with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

In light of this, it invited the Netherlands to investigate the violent protests and evaluate whether they were in breach of shipping regulations.

If this was the case, the government said the authorities should reconsider whether the Arctic Sunrise and Steve Irwin should be retained on the vessel registry.

"The government unreservedly condemns all criminal behaviour and unlawful acts at sea and hereby requests that an investigation be carried out by the maritime authorities," it wrote.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sea creatures flee oil spill, gather near shore

Sea creatures flee oil spill, gather near shore

GULF SHORES, Ala. — Dolphins and sharks are showing up in surprisingly shallow water just off the Florida coast. Mullets, crabs, rays and small fish congregate by the thousands off an Alabama pier. Birds covered in oil are crawling deep into marshes, never to be seen again.

Marine scientists studying the effects of the BP disaster are seeing some strange phenomena.

Fish and other wildlife seem to be fleeing the oil out in the Gulf and clustering in cleaner waters along the coast in a trend that some researchers see as a potentially troubling sign.

The animals' presence close to shore means their usual habitat is badly polluted, and the crowding could result in mass die-offs as fish run out of oxygen. Also, the animals could easily be devoured by predators.

"A parallel would be: Why are the wildlife running to the edge of a forest on fire? There will be a lot of fish, sharks, turtles trying to get out of this water they detect is not suitable," said Larry Crowder, a Duke University marine biologist.

The nearly two-month-old spill has created an environmental catastrophe unparalleled in U.S. history as tens of millions of gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Scientists are seeing some unusual things as they try to understand the effects on thousands of species of marine life.

Day by day, scientists in boats tally up dead birds, sea turtles and other animals, but the toll is surprisingly small given the size of the disaster. The latest figures show that 783 birds, 353 turtles and 41 mammals have died — numbers that pale in comparison to what happened after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989, when 250,000 birds and 2,800 otters are believed to have died.

Researchers say there are several reasons for the relatively small death toll: The vast nature of the spill means scientists are able to locate only a small fraction of the dead animals. Many will never be found after sinking to the bottom of the sea or getting scavenged by other marine life. And large numbers of birds are meeting their deaths deep in the Louisiana marshes where they seek refuge from the onslaught of oil.

"That is their understanding of how to protect themselves," said Doug Zimmer, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For nearly four hours Monday, a three-person crew with Greenpeace cruised past delicate islands and mangrove-dotted inlets in Barataria Bay off southern Louisiana. They saw dolphins by the dozen frolicking in the oily sheen and oil-tinged pelicans feeding their young. But they spotted no dead animals.

"I think part of the reason why we're not seeing more yet is that the impacts of this crisis are really just beginning," Greenpeace marine biologist John Hocevar said.

The counting of dead wildlife in the Gulf is more than an academic exercise; the deaths will help determine how much BP pays in damages.

As for the fish, researchers are still trying to determine where exactly they are migrating to understand the full scope of the disaster, and no scientific consensus has emerged about the trend.

Mark Robson, director of the Division of Marine Fisheries Management with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said his agency has to find any scientific evidence that fish are being adversely affected off his state's waters. He noted that it is common for fish to flee major changes in their environment, however.

In some areas along the coast, researchers believe fish are swimming closer to shore because the water is cleaner and more abundant in oxygen. Farther out in the Gulf, researchers say, the spill is not only tainting the water with oil but also depleting oxygen levels.

A similar scenario occurs during "dead zone" periods — the time during summer months when oxygen becomes so depleted that fish race toward shore in large numbers. Sometimes, so many fish gather close to the shoreline off Mobile that locals rush to the beach with tubs and nets to reap the harvest.

But this latest shore migration could prove deadly.

First, more oil could eventually wash ashore and overwhelm the fish. They could also become trapped between the slick and the beach, leading to increased competition for oxygen in the water and causing them to die as they run out of air.

"Their ability to avoid it may be limited in the long term, especially if in near-shore refuges they're crowding in close to shore, and oil continues to come in. At some point they'll get trapped," said Crowder, expert in marine ecology and fisheries. "It could lead to die-offs."

The fish could also fall victim to predators such as sharks and seabirds. Already there have been increased shark sightings in shallow waters along the Gulf Coast.

The migration of fish away from the oil spill can be good news for some coastal residents.

Tom Sabo has been fishing off Panama City, Fla., for years, and he's never seen the fishing better or the water any clearer than it was last weekend 16 to 20 miles off the coast. His fishing spot was far enough east that it wasn't affected by the pollution or federal restrictions, and it's possible that his huge catch of red snapper, grouper, king mackerel and amberjack was a result of fish fleeing the spill.

In Alabama, locals are seeing large schools hanging around piers where fishing has been banned, leading them to believe the fish feel safer now that they are not being disturbed by fishermen.

"We pretty much just got tired of catching fish," Sabo said. "It was just inordinately easy, and these were strong fish, nothing that was affected by oil. It's not just me. I had to wait at the cleaning table to clean fish."

Court move 'won't hurt ties with Japan'

The Age (Australian newspaper): Court move 'won't hurt ties with Japan'

Australian legal action against Japan in the International Court of Justice over its scientific whaling program probably won't hurt the relationship, the former head of the Japanese fisheries agency says.

Professor Masayuki Komatsu said the case seemed aimed at proving Japan's scientific whaling was really commercial and, therefore, contrary to the moratorium.

"After you fully understand what we are doing, I don't think it will really hurt the bilateral relations. But what we need is sincere open discussions," he said on ABC television.

Professor Komatsu said he didn't think the argument advanced by Australia constituted any good reason to halt Japan's whaling.

"Firstly, Japan's activity is fully recognised and permitted under Article Eight of the convention, which is relating to the scientific whaling," he said, referring to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

"Secondly I think a moratorium is not valid anymore under the situation where we have seen plenty of minke whales, humpbacks and fin whales in the Southern Ocean as well as in any other oceans.

"Therefore, I don't think the moratorium is effective anymore, so the reason for Australia and the litigation is not valid any more."

Professor Komatsu said non-lethal research on whales by Australia and New Zealand wasn't producing useful information.

"In particular, you have no biopsy sampling of the minke whales and fin whales," he said.

In 2009 Japan set out to harvest as many as 935 whales in the Southern Ocean, but took 506.

Professor Komatsu attributed that to the sabotage and terrorist-like activities of the Sea Shepherd organisation, which has dogged Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.

"It has really disturbed the activity of research whaling in the Southern Oceans. If there were no such terrorist-like activity or sabotage, I am sure Japan would have accomplished the entire mission," he said.

He said that reduction also stemmed from moves in Japan to maintain prices of whale meat due to sluggish sales.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Carbon emissions having harmful, lasting impact on oceans: Reports

From The Gazette (Canada) Carbon emissions having harmful, lasting impact on oceans: Reports

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster, but it may pale compared to what scientists say is brewing in the world's oceans due to everyday consumption of fossil fuels.

The billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide sent wafting into the atmosphere each year through the burning of oil, gas and coal are profoundly affecting the oceans, says a series of reports published Friday in the journal Science.

One says there is mounting evidence that "rapidly rising greenhouse gas concentrations are driving ocean systems toward conditions not seen for millions of years, with an associated risk of fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation."

Another says that the effects are already rippling through the food web in Antarctica.

And a third says humans, and their ever-increasing carbon emissions, are acidifying the ocean in a "grand planetary experiment" that could have devastating impacts.

Marine scientists Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, at the University of Queensland in Australia, and John Bruno, at University of North Carolina, describe how the oceans act as a "heat sink" and are slowly heating up along with the atmosphere as greenhouse gas emissions climb.

The warming, they say, is "likely to have profound influences on the strength, direction and behaviour" of major ocean currents and far-reaching impacts on sea life.

The oceans also soak up close to a third of the carbon dioxide that humans put into the atmosphere and it reacts with sea water to form acidic ions. The rising acidity "represents a major departure from the geochemical conditions that have prevailed in the global ocean for hundreds of thousands, if not million of years," the scientists report.

Add it all up and they say there is there is "overwhelming" evidence human activities are driving changes on a scale similar to volcanic eruptions or meteorite strikes, which have driven ecosystems to collapse in the past.

"The impacts of anthropogenic (human) climate change so far include decreased ocean productivity, altered food web dynamics, reduced abundance of habitat-forming species, shifting species distributions and a greater incidence of disease," they say.

In a second report, Oscar Schofield at Rutgers University, and his colleagues describe how rising temperatures over the last 30 years have coincided with a shift in the food web along the West Antarctic Peninsula — most notably to a shrinking of marine algae cells. Organisms known as tunicates are so efficient at feeding on the smaller algae they appear to be displacing krill, a mainstay of many creatures up the food web. Fish, seals, whales, penguins and other seabirds could all be affected, they say.

A news report, accompanying the Science papers on the oceans, says by increasing the ocean's acidity "humans are caught up in a grand planetary experiment" that could take a "potentially devastating toll on marine life." The rising acidity could erode the calcium carbonate shells and skeletons of corals, mollusks and some algae and plankton — and there is some evidence it is already starting to occur.

"The physics and chemistry of adding an acid to the ocean are so well understood, so inexorable, that there cannot be an iota of doubt — gigatons of acid are lowering the pH of the world ocean, humans are totally responsible, and the more carbon dioxide we emit, the worse it's going to get," it says.

It goes on to quote a recent issue of the journal Oceanography that said unconstrained growth of emissions is likely to leave the current era of human planetary dominance "as one of the most notable, if not cataclysmic, events in the history of our planet."

Okeanos Explorer entering Indonesia

From Antara News (Indonesian English webnewspaper): Okeanos Explorer entering Indonesia
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The American research ship of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Okeanos Explorer, will be entering Indonesian waters in North Jakarta on Friday (Jule 18).

(Note the article appears to have been translated by computer, rather than by someone who is actually a person who understans English and Indonesian!)

"The ship along with the Indonesian vessel from the Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) Baruna Jaya IV will be collaboratively exploring the Sangihe-Talaud deep sea, North Sulawesi," Chairman of the Corporate Branding and Marine Communication, Conservation International (CI) of Indonesia Elshinta Suyoso-Marsden said in Jakarta on Thursday.

This activity, he said, is part of the RI-US long-term partnership cooperation for promoting Marine, Technology and Education Science important for the economy and environment for life in this planet.

This joint exploitation represents various initiatives which is for the very first time carried out by the two countries which have similar characteristics namely a very vast ocean in the world, Elshinta said.

In the Explorer Okeanos International Expedition will for the very first time be carried out together with a deep sea area exploration the secrecy had never been exposed in the last two months.

Okeanos will also send data obtained from real time deep sea exploration in the form of motion pictures and other data straight to the experts, researchers and scientists watching from the two Expedition Command Centers (ECC) in Jakarta and Seattle, in the US.

The ECC will be inaugurated by head the Marine and Fishery Research Center (BRKP), of the Marine and Fisheries Affairs, in the presence of the US Ambassador to Indonesia and the research partners of other scientific research Institutions.

It is hoped this explorations may produce new discoveries, seabed mapping, understanding under sea mountain locations, from the geological, biological and species sides.

The scientists who will take part in the scientific expedition, included Sugiharto Wirasantosa, Budi Sulistyo from BRKP, KKP; Yusuf Surachman Djajadihardja and Ridwan Djamaluddin from BPPT; Haryadi Permana from the Geo-technological Research Center, LIPI; Noorsalam Nganro, Hasanuddin Abidin, and Sofyan Hadi of the Bandung Institute of Technology; and Hamdan Abidin of the Geological Survey Center of the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry.

The seven US scientists included Stephen Randolph Hammond as Chief Scientist from NOAA; Russell Eugene Brainard, Adjunct Faculty from Coral reef Ecosystem Division, NOAA; Patricia Barb Fryer, Planetary Scientist of the University of Hawaii, Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology; and James Francis Holden from the Dept. of Microbiology, University of Massachussets.

Timothy Mitchell Shank of the Biology Dept., Woods Hole Oceanographyc Institution; Verena Julia Tunniciffe, Professor dari Dept. of Biology, School of Earth & Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, Canada; and Laurence Alan Mayer, Professor from Hydrographic Center, University of New Hampshire.

Greenland OKs firm for offshore drilling

Greenland OKs firm for offshore drilling -- Drilling to take place between Nunavut and Greenland

A Canadian tugboat tows an iceberg away to avoid a possible collision with oil drilling platforms in the North Atlantic Ocean near the Grand Banks in 2003. (Gary C. Knapp/Associated Press)

Greenland gave a small Scottish firm permission to drill for oil under the icy waters off its western coast Wednesday, one of the first times drills will be in use on the seafloor beneath the area they call "iceberg alley."

On Wednesday, Cairn Energy PLC was given formal approval by Greenland's cabinet to drill the first two of four planned drill sites along the Disko West portion of Davis Strait, the iceberg-filled stretch of water between Greenland and Nunavut.

David Nisbet, Cairn Energy's head of group corporate affairs, said his company will take every precaution in the event it strikes oil in Davis Strait.

"We are very conscious operating offshore [from] Greenland [of] how we have to behave, and that we have the best of systems in place," Nisbet said.

In 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated as many as 50 billion barrels of recoverable oil may be buried under Arctic waters, far and away the largest undiscovered area remaining in the world.

Although there are currently more than 400 discovered oil and gas fields north of the Arctic Circle, many governments have been reluctant to allow drilling offshore.

Fears surrounding developing the space have heightened in the wake of the catastrophe that followed the April 22 sinking of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, causing a massive underwater oil spill that has yet to be stopped.

But the government of Greenland has been more bullish on allowing offshore expansion, hoping that energy finds might be an economic boon for the sparsely populated area. The government has already auctioned off rights to 14 more exploration blocks in addition to Cairn's activities.

International oil titans Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have all bid to probe the area.

Canada has banned new deepwater drilling in the Arctic until 2014 at the earliest and the National Energy Board is reviewing the standards under which any licences would be granted.

"If oil leaked into the water, there would be nothing to do about it, and the wildlife there would be hurt very badly," Inuit elder Rita Nashook of Inuktitut told CBC News recently.

But Nisbet is eager to assuage those fears, noting there is no guarantee oil will even be found in the area.

"We will have a support fleet of vessels, about a dozen vessels, working alongside the two rigs," Nisbet said. "We have a relief well capability."

Critics say Arctic drilling poses distinct difficulties, both because of the presence of potentially dangerous icebergs on the surface and the relative difficulty of cleaning up below kilometres of solid ice. Cairn's only previous drilling experience is in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Saving the world's rarest seal from uranium

From the Guardian: Saving the world's rarest seal from uranium

Greek conservationists from the Greek NGO, Archipelagos, work to protect endangered common dolphins and monk seals and also the region's marine ecosystems from the effects of overfishing, shipping, and the military. Dr Anastasia Miliou, manager and head scientist from Archipelagos Institute of Marine and Environmental Research of the Aegean Sea, based on the Greek island of Samos in the eastern Aegean, explains about seals, uranium deposits and sonar
(4)Tweet this (8)Guardian Weekly, Friday 30 October 2009 09.00 GMT Article history
An endangered monk seal. Photograph: Phil Mislinski/Getty Images

The Mediterranean monk seal is the world's rarest and most endangered marine mammal. Its population is less than 450 and one of the most important remaining populations survives in the Aegean region. We are urging fishing communities and authorities to understand that the marine biodiversity needs to be conserved, not only for the sake of productive marine ecosystems or the endangered species, but also for the benefit of human communities, whose livelihood depends on the health and productivity of the seas.

We are working throughout the Greek seas, especially the eastern Aegean, studying dolphin and whale migrations and the impacts on these animals from military activity and sonar from the Greek, Turkish and NATO navy.

We are working closely with local fishermen and communities aiming to protect marine ecosystems and fish stocks. Our aim is to encourage the local fishing communities to acquire an active role in the conservation of their marine habitats, and for this purpose we are working to create the first locally managed fishing zone in the eastern Mediterranean.

During years of working closely with the fishermen, we realised that these people who spend all their lives close to or within the sea, are more environmentally aware than people generally think. The marine ecosystems are a true part of their lives and they have a deep respect for them. It is not difficult to get them to contribute to the conservation of marine resources and of rare species such as the monk seal, the dolphins, whales and marine turtles.

However, they are a low-income group of professionals, who work under very harsh conditions in order to survive and support their families. Before we ask them to contribute to conservation efforts, we need to provide them with efficient solutions for the management of their marine resources, and give them an active role as co-managers.

As Archipelagos researchers and conservationists we live among the local communities on different islands around the Aegean. Only in this way are we able to get a clear understanding of the socio-economic issues of these communities. Along with scientific data, we can then develop management plans which will provide long-term solutions for marine conservation, respecting the local culture and habits of each local community involved.

But it is a big challenge trying to lobby governments, who control the military activity within international waters, to protect marine mammals and other marine life from the detrimental impacts of military sonars, but also from highly toxic materials like depleted uranium that have been deposited by the military. Archipelagos has created the only independent, non-profit laboratory in Greece, which aims to assess and detect potential pollution sources, which put ecosystems and people's health in danger.

We are partly self-funded and partly financed by private donations – helping to fund our laboratory on Samos island and also our research boat that we use to go out into the sea and monitor water quality, soil and sediments, as well as animal and plant tissues.

After years of hard work, it is very encouraging to observe the mentalities of the local communities to change, acknowledging that the conservation of their marine resources is the only way to protect their own livelihoods, but also to see them willing to actively contribute to conservation.

• Dr Anastasia Miliou was interviewed by Georgina Kenyon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shark expert honoured for conservation

Shark expert honoured for conservation

Underwater adventurer and shark expert Valerie Taylor has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her service to conservation.

Together with her husband Ronald, Ms Taylor has fought for more than 50 years for the protection of underwater creatures, in particular the great white shark, the grey nurse shark, sea lions, the potato cod, the southern right whale and marine turtles.

She has also fought for the conservation of habitats, such as the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef Marine Park in Western Australia.

Born in Sydney in 1935, Ms Taylor spent her teenage years living near the sea in Cronulla, in Sydney's south, and met her husband when they were both members of the Sydney's St George spearfishing club.

After they both became champion spearfishers in the early 1960s, they decided to switch from killing fish to filming and photographing them.

"We saw what a terrible thing we were doing," Ms Taylor told AAP.

"I could speak about it because I was there.

"We were both champions and I knew that if we went out to a reef, we could take every good fish off it.

"We were decimating reef life."

Ms Taylor went on to became a multi-award winning underwater cinematographer and photographer, working on dozens of documentaries and major feature films, such as as Jaws, Orca and Sky Pirates.

Her fascination with the underwater world and admiration and respect for sharks has prompted her to risk her life on occasions.

In 1979, Ms Taylor was the first to test a stainless steel mesh suit designed by her husband as protection from sharks.

While wearing the suit, Ms Taylor enticed sharks to bite her by placing tuna under the mesh. Her husband filmed the encounters, enabling them both to gain insights into how different species of sharks feed and attack.

The Taylors' long-lasting relationship and adventurous careers have also been the subject of several films, including Sea Lovers and In the Realm of the Shark.

U.S. Adds Measures to Check Gulf Seafood

U.S. Adds Measures to Check Gulf Seafood

The U.S. government is adding measures to protect consumers from eating any seafood tainted by the oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, including moving inspections onto docks, targeting additional sampling of vulnerable products and creating a protocol to reopen fishing areas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it would begin dockside sampling of fish products in the Gulf, according to the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command, which links organizations responding to the spill including BP PLC and multiple government agencies.

NOAA had begun seafood sampling and inspection shortly after the spill. Stepping up the program, it will now monitor ships and inspect fish right at docks to verify the seafood wasn't harvested from a banned area and is safe. It will notify the Food and Drug Administration and state health officials when it finds contaminated fish.

Obama Returns to Gulf Amid Criticism | Photos Fund's Pros, Cons | BP's 'Responders Village' Text: Letter to Hayward | More documents U.S. to Demand BP Damage Fund | Video BP Outlines Oil-Capture Plans BP Shares Drop as Political Pressure Builds Potential Liabilities Test BP According to the release, the FDA's mandatory safety program for seafood will first target oysters, crab and shrimp, which retain contaminants longer than finfish, for additional sampling.

The agencies' first response to the spill was to close fishing areas, which NOAA began shutting down in early May. Right now, about 32% of federal waters are closed to fishing because they are affected by oil or expected to be. The off-limits area includes a buffer of five nautical miles around known locations of oil.

The NOAA and the FDA are now establishing a protocol for reopening closed areas, which they will allow only if they are assured fish from the area are safe.

"We recognize that the effects of the oil spill continue to grow as oil continues to flow," NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said Monday. "As remediation efforts continue, it may be possible to alleviate some of the economic harm caused by the oil spill by reopening previously closed areas."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Runaway Robots Hunted by the Mammals They Were Designed to Replace

Runaway Robots Hunted by the Mammals They Were Designed to Replace

Earlier this week, the U.S. Navy announced that four of their “REMUS 100” unmanned underwater vehicles sailed off-radar and stopped responding to commands. The ‘bots were part of a fleet of thirteen drones being used in a training exercise to locate mine-like objects on the ocean floor off the coast of Virginia.

After days of searching for the runaway bots using manned boats and aircrafts, the U.S. Navy has yet to find anything. So now, they’ve called in the real underwater experts: dolphins and sea lions, trained to detect mines.

Unmanned Underwater vehicles (UUVs) started growing in popularity in the mid 1990’s, and now that the technology is more advanced they are finding work in everything from basic science research to military surveillance. For the past 10 years, the REMUS 100 has been one of the most reliable UUVs on the market, making it an easy choice for the Navy to use in shallow water mine counter measure operations.

The idea is to have these vehicles replace mammals in surveillance and mine-detection tasks. The bots have the advantage of being able to carry more equipment, like advanced cameras and side-scan sonar, and they also prevent the potential loss of life.

The mammals’ advantage? Well, they have brains and bodies that are way more adaptable than software and hardware. Clearly, the bots didn’t follow orders as expected. That’s why the Navy is sending a bunch of dolphins and sea lions to find the drones that were supposed to replace them.

Given the REMUS 100’s history of reliability, the recent disappearance comes as somewhat of a surprise. Did the bots malfunction, or did something go wrong in the control room? The Navy is still investigating what caused the disappearance, but they say “fear not” to all seafarers and fisherman out there.

Fortunately, the torpedo-shaped REMUS 100 bots are relatively harmless, measuring only 7.5 inches in diameter and carrying no weaponry. Still, let’s hope the Navy can keep tabs on their bots in the future.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Arctic Ocean ice retreating at 30-year record pace

Arctic Ocean ice retreating at 30-year record pace

Arctic Ocean ice cover retreated faster last month than in any previous May since satellite monitoring began more than 30 years ago, the latest sign that the polar region could be headed for another record-setting meltdown by summer’s end.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center had already warned earlier this spring that low ice volume — the result of repeated losses of thick, multi-year ice over the past decade — meant this past winter’s ice-extent recovery was superficial, due mainly to a fragile fringe of new ice that would be vulnerable to rapid deterioration once warmer temperatures set in.

And, driven by unusually hot weather in recent weeks above the Arctic Circle, the polar ice is disappearing at an unprecedented rate, reducing overall ice extent to less than that recorded in May 2007 — the year when a record-setting retreat by mid-September alarmed climatologists and northern governments.

The centre reported that across much of the Arctic, temperatures were two to five degrees Celsius above average last month.

“In May, Arctic air temperatures remained above average, and sea ice extent declined at a rapid pace,” the Colorado-based centre said in its June 8 report.

The centre pegged the retreat at an average of 68,000 square kilometres a day, noting that “this rate of loss is the highest for the month of May during the satellite record.”

Ice loss was greatest in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, “indicating that the ice in these areas was thin and susceptible to melt,” the centre added.

“Many polynyas, areas of open water in the ice pack, opened up in the regions north of Alaska, in the Canadian Arctic Islands, and in the Kara and Barents and Laptev seas.”

The report also highlighted recent research indicating that, along with reduced ice extent — now reliably measured by the U.S. centre through satellite tracking — harder-to-measure ice volume also appears to be on a steady decline as mature ice that had previously survived many summers is now disappearing.

“Ice extent measurements provide a long-term view of the state of Arctic sea ice, but they only show the ice surface,” the centre stated. “Total ice volume is critical to the complete picture of sea-ice decline. Numerous studies indicate that sea-ice thickness and volume have declined along with ice extent.”

The report references a new University of Washington measurement model that estimates Arctic ice-volume trends.

According to those scientists, average Arctic ice volume in May was 19,000 cubic kilometres, “the lowest May volume over the 1979 to 2010 period.”

In November, University of Manitoba polar scientist David Barber also raised concerns about the increasingly “rotten” state of the Arctic’s oldest ice and predicted ice-free summers could become the norm far sooner than 2030, as some experts have forecast.

The U.S. centre was instrumental in alerting the world in 2007 to an unprecedented summer melt of Arctic sea ice, from 14 million square kilometres that winter to about 4.3 million square kilometres by September 2007.

The past two summers have shown modest recoveries in ice extent to a late-summer minimum of about 4.7 million square kilometres (2008) and 5.4 million square kilometres (2009), still the second- and third-lowest extents since satellite measurements began in 1979.

Despite the new signs pointing to a potential record-setting retreat again this summer, the U.S. centre isn’t making any firm predictions yet.

“It is too soon,” it stated, “to say whether Arctic ice extent will reach another record low this summer — that will depend on the weather and wind conditions over the next few months.”

Earlier this month, a major international study of the polar cap concluded that the Arctic ice retreat in recent years is the worst in several millennia.

That study, involving 18 scientists from five countries and published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, included data from two Canadian co-authors, who interpreted historic levels of ice cover from ancient whale bones found throughout the polar region.

"The current reduction in Arctic ice cover started in the late 19th century, consistent with the rapidly warming climate, and became very pronounced over the last three decades," the study stated. "This ice loss appears to be unmatched over at least the last few thousand years and (is) unexplainable by any of the known natural variabilities."

The problem with this model is of course that if it is already so warm as to melt away ice so's already too late to stop it. Making energy-rich companies pay for using the energy they would have used anyway, while they in turn pay poor countries who don't have the ability to use their carbon credits (Haiti, or at least its government, will make a fortune) will accomplish nothing.

Maldives suffering worst coral bleaching since 1998

Maldives suffering worst coral bleaching since 1998

The Maldives is currently suffering the most serious incidence of coral bleaching since the major 1998 El Niño-event that destroyed most of the country’s shallow reef coral.

Coral bleaching is caused when rising water temperatures stress the coral, leading it to expel the algae it uses to obtain nutrients. When water temperatures rise even slightly, algae leaves the coral polyp and enters the water column, causing the coral to lose its colour and eventually die.

Reports of bleaching have been trickling in from marine biologists and researchers across the country.

Hussein Zahir from the Marine Research Centre (MRC) has been collecting reports of the bleaching, and said that based on his estimates, “10-15 percent of shallow reef coral is now completely white, while 50-70 percent has begun to pale.”

Senior Marine Biologist Guy Stevens, based at the Four Seasons Resort in Landaa Giraavaru, said that he had noticed that bleaching was beginning to occur last year “after a change in the weather linked to El Niño. The last one in 1998 was pretty catastrophic, and reefs in the Maldives have been recovering ever since.”

“It had a huge impact across the Indian Ocean, and the Maldives was most affected – pristine reefs suffered coral mortality rates of 95 percent,” Stevens explained. “At the time people were mortified and scientists were predicting the end of the reefs – coral is the foundation of the whole reef ecosystem.”

Coral in North Male Atoll at different stages of bleaching
Since the devastating El Niño in 1998, marine biologists in the Maldives “have been holding their breath for the next one. In the meantime the coral has been slowly recovering. It was pretty depressing in 2003, but roll forward to 2010 and it’s starting to look good again. It recovers exponentially.”

Meanwhile, colleagues of Stevens based in Thailand, which escaped largely unscathed in 1998, have reported coral mortality rates “of up to 100 percent.”

“The hot spots move around, but they cover a big area and the coral here could easily take another hit,” Stevens commented.

Zahir noted that temperatures this year were following similar patterns to those of 1998, with a surface temperature in April of one degree above the long term average.

However the recent drop in temperature, brought on by rain and the onset of the southwest monsoon, has lowered the surface sea temperature and brought some relief, “and may give the coral time to recover.”

“Now the temperature has dropped from 32 degrees to 29-30 degrees, so hopefully things will improve. The conditions are right for the coral to become healthy again,” Zahir noted, however he emphasised the need for the tourism industry to assist with monitoring the bleaching.

“Here in the Maldives we have a vast reef area, and the MRC has very little capacity to do surveys. From the very beginning we’ve been running a bleach-watch reporting programme with the dive industry, but for some reason the feedback has been very disappointing. There’s a hundred resorts, but I can count on my fingers the ones who are working to raise awareness. I know it might impact on their marketing, but this needs to be documented.”

All the MRC required was GPS coordinates and an indication of how much bleaching was occurring, he explained.

In the meantime, both Stevens and Zahir noted that there was little that could be done to prevent further bleaching.

Cooler temperatures may have averted disaster
“There is very little we can do, especially in a resort environment, other than reducing human impact on the reef while it recovers – that means ceasing things like sand-pumping and beach renewal on a daily basis, while the reef is especially vulnerable to sedimentation,” Zahir explained.

Verena Wiesbauer, a marine biologist at Male-based consultancy Water Solutions, said she had just returned from visiting two islands in North Male’ Atoll and had documented heavy coral bleaching.

“The reefs had only just recovered, and now it’s struck again. It’s a big setback,” she observed.

“Fortunately it’s not as bad as 1998, and now the temperature is dropping. But I hope someone will keep track of the paling coral, to see if it gets its colour back.”

Wiesbauer added that the bleaching did not appear to have affected fish numbers yet, and suggested that “many fish don’t need live coral as long as the structure is there for them to hide in, and many algae feeders don’t mind [bleaching] at all. But there are some specialist coral feeders we need to watch for changes.”

Meanwhile, like Zahir, Stevens observed that the tourism industry appeared to have been in no hurry to report that bleaching was occurring.

“That’s something the resorts obviously don’t want to publicise,” Stevens commented. “But I don’t think it’s any good burying our heads in the sand, when there’s going to be no sand left to bury our heads in.”

The artificial coral breeding programs run at many resorts were well-intentioned, “but rather like putting a band-aid on a gushing wound.”

“It doesn’t address the issue. Rather [breeding programmes] are a tool to raise awareness and alleviate pressure on the local reef. But there are things like sand-pumping that resorts should halt during periods of bleaching because it makes the problem worse,” he said, concurring with Zahir.

“Otherwise there’s very little we can do – it’s really a global issue. We haven’t seen a reduction in fish life, turtles and mantas, and it seems those parts of the ecosystem can survive while the reef structure is at least in place, but overall I think we’re going to see a gradual decline. Coral reefs may be the first ecosystem we’ll lose on our planet.”