Thursday, March 31, 2011

Scientists: 2,000 Year-Old Deep-Sea Black Corals Call Gulf Of Mexico Home

Underwater Times: Scientists: 2,000 Year-Old Deep-Sea Black Corals Call Gulf Of Mexico Home

SANTA CRUZ, Californai -- For the first time, scientists have been able to validate the age of deep-sea black corals in the Gulf of Mexico. They found the Gulf is home to 2,000 year-old deep-sea black corals, many of which are only a few feet tall.

These slow-growing, long-living animals thrive in very deep waters—300 meters (984 feet) and deeper—yet scientists say they are sensitive to what is happening in the surface ocean as well as on the sea floor.

"The fact that the animals live continuously for thousands of years amazes me," said Dr. Nancy Prouty of the U.S. Geological Survey Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, who analyzed the coral samples that were collected by the USGS and colleagues as part of several ongoing deep-sea coral ecosystem studies between 2003 and 2009. "Despite living at 300 meters and deeper, these animals are sensitive to what is going on in the surface ocean because they are feeding on organic matter that rapidly sinks to the sea floor. Since longevity is a key factor for population maintenance, recovery from a disturbance to these ecosystems, natural or manmade, may take decades to centuries."

Reliably age dating the corals, as done in the recent study, is a critical step in using them as natural archives of environmental change.

Like shallow-water coral reefs, deep-sea coral-reef ecosystems are among the most diverse and productive communities on Earth, providing shelter and feeding grounds for commercial and non-commercial fish species and their prey, as well as breeding and nursery areas. Activities that affect both the seafloor and the surface ocean, such as certain methods of petroleum exploration and commercial fishing, can impact these ecosystems.

"We used a manned submersible, the Johnson-Sea-Link, to go to the sea floor and specifically collect certain samples using the sub's manipulator arms," said Prouty. "Deep-sea black corals are a perfect example of ecosystems linked between the surface and the deep ocean. They can potentially record this link in their skeleton for hundreds to thousands of years."

The skeletons that these animals secrete continuously over hundreds to thousands of years offer an unprecedented window into past environmental conditions. Age dating used in combination with emerging technologies, such as sampling skeletal material with a laser to determine its chemical composition, enables scientists to reconstruct environmental conditions in time slices smaller than a decade over the last 1,000 to 2,000 years.

Black corals grow in tree- or bush-like forms. Scientists confirmed that black corals are the slowest growing deep-sea corals. They grow 8 to 22 micrometers per year as compared to the shallow-water reef-building coral, typically found in tropical areas like Hawai'i, which grows about 1 mm per year, or 65 times as fast as black coral. Human fingernails grow about 3 mm per year, or 200 times faster than black coral.

Because black corals get their food from sinking organic matter instead of from symbiotic algae, like their shallow-water counterparts, they need skeletons that are flexible but strong enough to withstand currents that transport food to the colonies. In addition to a constant flow of water bringing them food and oxygen, the corals require a stable substrate, such as volcanic or calcareous rock, or even a shipwreck or oil rig that can serve as a platform for the corals to settle on and build their skeletons.

Black corals can capture and record in their skeletons the history of changing concentrations of carbon in surface waters and the atmosphere. Unlike the skeletons of most shallow-water corals, which consist of calcium carbonate, black coral skeletons are composed mainly of organic matter: successive layers of protein and chitin (a long molecule containing carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen) glued together by a cement layer. These skeletons are very similar to insect cuticles in that they are quite flexible and can thus bend in water currents.

"The flexibility and shiny luster of black coral have made it a precious commodity in the coral jewelry trade and international trade is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora," noted Prouty. "In fact, black corals have been harvested for centuries to create charms; the scientific name of the order to which black corals belong, 'Antipatharia,' comes from Greek roots meaning 'against suffering.'"

Like trees, black corals exhibit radial growth, with the oldest skeletal material found in the center and successfully younger material building out toward the edge. Viewed in a horizontal cross section, the black coral's growth bands resemble tree rings.

USGS scientists and their colleagues, for example, are measuring trace metals and stable isotopes in the black coral skeleton that are related to nutrient supply in surface waters, which in turn may reflect the amount of runoff from nearby land surfaces. With a proper understanding of how these chemical constituents vary over time, scientists can reconstruct a record of environmental changes, such as changes in land-based sources of nutrients and natural variations in climate.

The recent study was part of the USGS Diversity, Systematics, and Connectivity of Vulnerable Reef Ecosystems (DiSCOVRE) Expedition, in which USGS scientists are partnering with other federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as several academic institutions, to study deep-sea coral reefs. A full copy of the study can be found online in the Feb. 10, 2011, edition of "Marine Ecology Progress Series."

An upcoming DiSCOVRE expedition scheduled for summer 2011 will include mapping the sea floor and studying underwater canyons off the coasts of Maryland and Delaware. More information about the deep-sea cruises can be found on the USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center website.

Moko named one of history's most heroic animals

Bay of Plenty Times: Moko named one of history's most heroic animals
Moko the cheeky bottlenose dolphin has been named on Time magazine's website as one of history's most heroic animals.

Moko, eighth on a list of "top 10 heroic animals", was recognised for preventing a mother pygmy sperm whale and calf from beaching themselves on Mahia Beach, south of Gisborne, in 2008.

"Successfully doing what humans could not, Moko seemed to communicate with the two whales and lead them safely back into deeper water," the citation on the website said.

Moko became famous between 2007 and 2010 for playing with humans along the east coast of the North Island. Moko was found dead on Matakana Island near Tauranga on July 7, 2010.

Time's list was prompted by a video which surfaced during the aftermath of Japan's recent earthquake devastation showing images of a dog who refused to leave behind another injured dog.

Among those animals which also made the top-10 cut were Alexander the Great's horse Bucephalus; Trakr - the dog who found the last survivor in New York's September 11 twin tower rubble; and Cher Ami - a pigeon who flew messages in France during World War I, leading to the rescue of 194 soldiers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Marine microbes digest plastic Nature News: Marine microbes digest plastic
Specialist bacteria seem to be eating the plastic garbage we throw into the ocean. But whether they're cleaning up our poisons or just passing them back up the food chain remains to be seen.

The ocean contains vast amounts of plastic, mostly as tiny shards floating just beneath the surface. Under an electron microscope, each scrap of "plastic confetti" becomes "an oasis, a reef of biological activity," says marine microbiologist Tracy Mincer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Mincer and his colleagues examined bits of fishing line, a plastic bag and a plastic nurdle (a pre-production plastic pellet) fished out of the Sargasso Sea, an area of the North Atlantic where currents cause debris to accumulate. The region as a whole contains more than 1,100 tonnes of plastic1.

Scanning electron microscopy revealed bacteria-like cells living in pits in the plastic, as if they were eating the surface away.

"They look like you took a hot barbecue briquette and threw it into snow," says Mincer. "You see this melting bit all around the outside of the cells, and they're just burrowing into the plastic."

Microbes have been found digesting plastic in landfills, he says, but this is the first evidence of marine bacteria breaking down plastic in the ocean. The work was presented the 5th International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, on 24 and 25 March.

Disappearing debris
Plastic-eating bacteria might help explain why the amount of debris in the ocean has levelled off, despite continued pollution. But researchers don't yet know whether the digestion produces harmless by-products, or whether it might introduce toxins into the food chain.

"To understand if it's a good thing or not, we have to understand the entire system," says Mincer.

Plastics contain toxins such as phthalates, and also absorb additional toxic chemicals such as persistent organic pollutants from the ocean, says Mark Browne, an ecologist at University College Dublin in Ireland, who was not involved with the project. Those chemicals could leach out into the microscopic animals that eat the bacteria, or broken down microscopic plastic particles could enter cells and release their chemicals there, he says.

"Whether or not that material then passes up the food chain is something of critical importance," he says. "It's yet another mechanism for the particles of plastic that we throw away to potentially come back to haunt us."

Plastic lovers
Genetic analysis shows that the bacteria on the plastic differ from those in the surrounding seawater or on nearby seaweed, says microbiologist Linda Amaral-Zettler of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole. So far, the DNA sequences obtained by her lab show that almost 25% of the bacteria on one polyethylene surface were vibrios, bacteria from the same group as the cholera bacterium.

"That was a surprise, because normally in sea water they would be present in much lower concentrations," says Amaral-Zettler, who adds that she can't yet tell if these strains are pathogenic. Wind and ocean currents carry plastic all over the world, so no part of the sea will escape the effects of this bacterial activity.

Amaral-Zettler and Mincer also found genetic and microscope evidence of eukaryotes — organisms with more complicated cells than bacteria — on the plastic. What she calls the "plastisphere" might contain complex living communities. "It may be a little world that we've created, for better or worse."

The Wood's Hole scientists aim to sample more ocean plastic and to isolate, culture and identify the microbes found on it. Then they can determine if and how they're digesting the plastic and discover what the by-products are.

Severely injured great white shark found, are scientists responsible?

Southern Fried Science: Severely injured great white shark found, are scientists responsible?

Last summer, I reviewed National Geographic’s “Expedition Great White” and interviewed the lead scientist. Several researchers and conservationists were concerned about the methods that Dr. Michael Domeier uses to study great white sharks, particularly after one shark was “foul hooked” through the gills. These methods (removing captured great white sharks from the water to study them using a forklift-like structure) make for excellent television, but may be harmful to the sharks. As I reported last year:

“While I regularly take sharks out of the water for my research, I don’t ever mess with anything larger than 5 or 6 feet. In addition to the human safety factor, animals larger than that may be too heavy for their cartilaginous skeletons to support their weight without water’s buoyancy. The white sharks Dr. Domeier removed from the water were 14-18 feet long”
This debate recently resurfaced when a severely injured great white shark was discovered. Some conservationists wondered if this shark was “Junior”, the shark that was foul hooked by Dr. Domeier’s research team.

Is this injured shark "Junior", the shark that was foul-hooked by Dr. Domeier's team? Image taken from

Dr. Domeier’s team at the Marine Conservation Science Institute declined to comment for this post, but directed me to a statement they made last week on their website:

“The images clearly show a rather nasty wound on the corner of Junior’s mouth, but what is not explained is that when the entire video is viewed it can be determined that this injury was clearly inflicted by another white shark; it is not a result of the capture and release during tagging. White sharks annually aggregate at both Guadalupe Island and central California, and during these aggregations the sharks are very aggressive towards each other. When they attack one another they typically bite the region from the pectoral fins to the head, often damaging the gill area and head. We have many photos of sharks from Guadalupe Island with similar aggression related injuries; this is natural shark behavior.” (emphasis mine)

A great white shark with a clear bite mark over the gills. Is this what happened to Junior? Photo from ED - This is an example of an injury caused by a shark bite, it is not Junior.
Marine CSI’s claims are possible. Little is known about great white social behavior, but many social interactions between sharks (particularly mating behavior) involve biting. It may be nothing more than a coincidence that the exact shark that was injured near the gills two years ago had an injury near the gills a year later. The above photo, which shows an injury near where Junior’s injury was seen, supports that claim. However, Patric Douglas isn’t buying this explanation:

“Why did Marine CSI researchers who have been sitting on these images since 2010 only come forward now to ultimately defend their work and put forward an ad hoc series of unlikely reasons for Juniors current mangled condition?”
Patric and Mike paint a picture of a researcher whose methods accidentally resulted in serious injury to a shark and is now trying to cover up a mistake. Dr. Domeier’s statement suggests that his team did nothing wrong, the shark’s 2010 state is unrelated to a 2009 incident, and that they are the victims of a smear campaign led by rival researchers. Personally, I’m waiting for more information before I make up my mind.

I stand by what I originally said about Dr. Domeier’s research. There is no way to gather certain types of information about great white sharks without removing them from the water, and that information is extremely important for the conservation and management of these animals. Many other sharks were captured and tagged by Dr. Domeier’s team without incident, and the information this project is generating will be used to help protect this species. I support science and scientists, but there are so few great white sharks left that we need to stand up for the animals first. If this research project seriously injured a great white shark and then attempted to cover it up (as Mike and Patric claim), that is unacceptable.

I have contacted the Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary staff to request the full video that Dr. Domeier claims exonerates his team. If we are permitted to post the video, it may clear up what happened.

A representative from the other great white shark research team declined to comment for this post.

I will keep looking into this incident, and I’ll keep everyone posted as developments arise.

Counting corpses underestimates Deepwater Horizon whale toll The Great Beyond blog: Counting corpses underestimates Deepwater Horizon whale toll
paper published today in Conservation Letters suggests that the number of whales and dolphins killed during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could be as much as 50 times that originally reported.

During the disaster, the US government compiled figures of injured and dead wildlife based on reports from US Fish and Wildlife Service and other authorized sources. Those numbers include approximately 115 whale and dolphin carcasses.

But after analysing data on abundance, mortality rates and strandings for whale and dolphin species in the Gulf, Rob WIlliams and his colleagues have concluded that that only two percent of the whales and dolphins that die in these waters are ever recovered.

“We used the default values for survivorship and natural mortality that are used in standard US stock assessment reports for marine mammals,” says Williams, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “Our calculations are rough, but they are a good starting point, and far better than assuming, implicitly or explicitly, that the bodies on the beach represent the sum total of the damage.”

Carcasses are simply a poor method of assessing the impact of an incident like Deepwater Horizon, says co-author Scott Kraus, a whale expert at the New England Aquarium in Boston. “Our detection rate for mortality is very poor, and generally, surveys are not an effective way to pick up dead animals unless you have extremely high coverage.” Those surveying during the Gulf spill had vast areas of open water to cover, much of it far from shore.

The researcher’s findings have implications for understanding cetacean deaths from other causes, such as ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements. “The potential for underestimating total mortality is so high. We need a more sophisticated approach to the missing animals equation,” says Kraus.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Deep-Sea Volcanoes Don't Just Produce Lava Flows, They Also Explode

Underwater Times: Researchers: Deep-Sea Volcanoes Don't Just Produce Lava Flows, They Also Explode!

MONTREAL, Quebec -- McGill geology researchers' discovery of high concentrations of CO2 at mid-ocean ridges confirms explosive nature of certain volcanic eruptions

Between 75 and 80 per cent of all volcanic activity on Earth takes place at deep-sea, mid-ocean ridges. Most of these volcanoes produce effusive lava flows rather than explosive eruptions, both because the levels of magmatic gas (which fuel the explosions and are made up of a variety of components, including, most importantly CO2) tend to be low, and because the åvolcanoes are under a lot of pressure from the surrounding water.

Over about the last 10 years however, geologists have nevertheless speculated, based on the presence of volcanic ash in certain sites, that explosive eruptions can also occur in deep-sea volcanoes.

But no one has been able to prove it until now.

By using an ion microprobe, Christoph Helo, a PhD student in McGill's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, has now discovered very high concentrations of CO2 in droplets of magma trapped within crystals recovered from volcanic ash deposits on Axial Volcano on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, off the coast of Oregon.

These entrapped droplets represent the state of the magma prior to eruption. As a result, Helo and fellow researchers from McGill, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, have been able to prove that explosive eruptions can indeed occur in deep-sea volcanoes. Their work also shows that the release of CO2 from the deeper mantle to the Earth's atmosphere, at least in certain parts of mid-ocean ridges, is much higher than had previously been imagined.

Given that mid-ocean ridges constitute the largest volcanic system on Earth, this discovery has important implications for the global carbon cycle which have yet to be explored.

U.S. experts: significant water contamination in Japan

CNBC: U.S. experts: significant water contamination in Japan
WASHINGTON - Groundwater, reservoirs and sea water around Japan's earthquake damaged nuclear plant face "significant contamination" from the high levels of radiation leaking from the plant, a worrying development that heightens potential health risks in the region.

Nuclear and environmental scientists in the United States darkened their assessment of the risks markedly on Monday after operators at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant said that highly radioactive water has entered underground concrete tunnels extending beyond the reactor.

Sea water and fresh water used to cool the reactors, critically damaged by Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and spent fuel pools at the plant have been put in storage tanks there. But reports indicate these tanks are full or over-flowing with tainted water, experts said.

"It's just hard to see how this won't result in significant contamination of, certainly, sea water," said Edwin Lyman, a physicist and expert on nuclear plant design at the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

"There will be dilution, some of that will be reconcentrated, but I don't think this can be sugar-coated at this point."

The experts said they need more information from Japanese authorities before accurately assessing the exact environmental and health impact. They did not say whether the latest developments can explain low levels of radiation in Tokyo's water supply.

But their remarks were gloomier than a few days earlier when scientists said the vast ocean would dilute radiation and it did not appear to pose a health risk.

Surface and sea water used to cool the damaged plant is tainted with radiation and could contaminate the adjacent ocean, surface reservoirs and groundwater, Lyman said. In addition, water is leaking inside various parts of different reactors and beyond, posing a threat.

"There's already been an enormous amount of radioactivity released from this plant into the air, and that will deposit on sea water and surface water supplies," said Lyman in a telephone briefing on Monday. "It's hard to imagine that there won't be some significant contamination that will have to be dealt with."

Reports that plant workers were exposed to radiation 100,000 times normal in water inside reactor No. 2 at the weekend could suggest a breach in some parts of the reactor buildings, where tainted water is pooling and getting into tunnels.

"Pathways for that (radioactive) material to get out are numerous," said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and director of the union's Nuclear Safety Project.

Lochbaum noted that the reactor buildings for units 1, 3 and 4 at the Fukushima plant are no longer intact and therefore not acting as barriers to nuclear contamination. This contaminated water "may leave as it evaporates from puddles on the floor," he said.

Contaminated water can also be discharged in liquid form, Lochbaum said.


Sea contamination is a concern for the Japanese, who consume about 9 million tons of seafood a year, second behind China. The Kuroshio Current lies along Japan's east coast, where the $2 billion annual catch includes various kinds of tuna, mackerel, other flat fishes, squid and crabs, according to the Sea Around Us project, a collaboration of the Pew Environment Group and the University of British Columbia.

Radioactive material can get into water from steam or smoke which is carried by wind, rain or other precipitation onto land, surface reservoirs or the ocean. It could also be discharged directly into the ocean or leak onto land and eventually seep into groundwater.

Two materials are of concern -- cesium 137 and iodine 131.

Iodine 131, which can cause thyroid cancer, decays quickly, with a half-life of eight days, meaning its potency falls by a half in that time. The amount of this radioactive isotope of iodine is a tiny fraction of the amount of normal iodine in ocean water, said Timothy Kenna, an expert on the ocean and radiation at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York.

Cesium 137, also a carcinogen, takes much longer. It has a half-life of 30 years. There are still traces of this radioactive isotope lingering from nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific in the 1950s and 1960s, Kenna said. So far, it has not been a threat to marine life, he said by telephone.

Both chemicals would likely stay in the upper 100 yards (meters) of the ocean if they were deposited on the surface by emissions from the Fukushima plant, he said. The ocean has an average depth of 4,000 yards, meaning it has a far large volume to allow for dilution compared with rivers or lakes.

Global nuclear weapons tests showed that marine wildlife tends to absorb less radioactive material than organisms in lakes or rivers, said F. Ward Whicker, an emeritus professor at Colorado State University and one of the founders of the field of radioecology, which addresses the affects of radioactivity on the environment.

Additionally, when there is plenty of potassium and calcium in the ocean, marine life will absorb those nutrients before taking in radioactive materials, lessening the danger of seafood contamination, experts said.

Survey: Haiti's Coral Reefs Most Overfished In The World

Underwater Times: Survey: Haiti's Coral Reefs Most Overfished In The World; 'No Food Fish Of Reproductive Age'
PACIFIC PALISADES, California -- Haiti's coral reefs are the most overfished in the world according to initial survey results by Reef Check, a non-profit organization focused on improving reef health worldwide. The first round of surveys completed on February 7th revealed that almost no food fish of reproductive age remain on Haiti's reefs. In a classic "fishing down the food chain" scenario, overfishing has also destabilized the entire coral reef ecosystem by removing plant-eating fish – allowing fast-growing algae to overgrow and kill corals. As a result, while the reef structure is intact, living coral typically occupies less than 10% of most reefs surveyed while algae and sponge occupy over 50%. The initial surveys covered the coast around La Gonave – a large offshore island and near St. Marc on the mainland.

The high biodiversity reefs feature a full complement of Caribbean fish and invertebrate species, and the reef structure still provides excellent fish habitat. According to Reef Check Director and coral reef ecologist, Dr. Gregor Hodgson, "Haiti's reefs are hanging on -- with some large stands of the Elkhorn coral, now on the US Endangered Species List, but we saw almost no food fish of reproductive age. The largest Reef Check indicator fish we observed during the surveys of 120 km of coast was about 6 inches (15 cm) long." Every 100 m along the reefs, the survey team observed a large fish trap, fishing net, spear or line fisherman. And this is despite the fact that almost all fishing is done from paddle or sailboats.

According to Reef Check, what is needed is the establishment of a network of marine protected areas, educating Haitians about the value of reefs and the benefits of reef conservation, and regular monitoring of reef status. The MacArthur Foundation supported project is the first to attempt a complete survey of Haiti's 1000 km of coastal reefs. Once the full survey is completed by the end of the year, a report will be provided to the Minister of Environment that will present a plan for creating a network of MPAs that will allow fish and invertebrates to grow to maturity and reproduce.

Healthy coral reefs can provide up to 35 metric tons of fish per square kilometer, whereas overfished reefs such as those in Haiti provide a tiny fraction of this amount. By setting aside areas of coral reef where reef fish can grow and breed without disturbance, more fish and larger fish will produce millions of new young fish every year which would increase the available fish supply for Haitians.

Even before the earthquake, Haitians were short of food with 58% of the population under-nourished and some children reportedly being fed mud cakes seasoned with salt. The 10 million people of Haiti make up 25% of the total population of the Caribbean and are growing rapidly at 2.5% annually. Sadly, one in five Haitians dies before the age of 40. Haiti was already trapped in a cycle of environmental degradation and ranks 148th of 179 countries on the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index prior to the earthquake; 76 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 USD per day. Haiti imports 48 percent of its food. One third of newborn babies are born underweight.

According to Reef Check, most international environmental work has focused on terrestrial issues, neglecting the potential that improved management of coral reefs and associated fisheries could play in improving food supply and nutrition. Haiti is an island country surrounded by coral reefs. Most experts have assumed that Haiti's reefs were destroyed by sedimentation long ago. "Our rapid assessment indicates that any longterm plan for food security in Haiti should include reef fisheries," says Hodgson.

Founded in 1996 by marine ecologist Dr. Gregor Hodgson, the Reef Check Foundation is an international non-profit organization dedicated to conservation of two ecosystems: tropical coral reefs and California rocky reefs. With headquarters in Los Angeles and volunteer teams in more than 90 countries and territories, Reef Check works to create partnerships among community volunteers, government agencies, businesses, universities and other non-profits to achieve reef conservation.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Scientists Complete First Broad-Scale Maps Of Life On The Australian Sea-Shelf; 'We Identified 37 Environmental Factors'

Underwater Times: Scientists Complete First Broad-Scale Maps Of Life On The Australian Sea-Shelf; 'We Identified 37 Environmental Factors'

HOBART, Tasmania -- Marine scientists from five research agencies have pooled their skills and resources to compile a directory of life on Australia's continental shelf.

They examined the shelf seascape during a three-year program of the Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities (CERF) Marine Biodiversity Hub.

Hub director, Professor Nic Bax of CSIRO and the University of Tasmania, says the program developed and applied a consistent, national approach to biodiversity mapping.

"The program compiled existing biological survey datasets, mapped 1868 square kilometers of seabed with multibeam sonar, recorded 171 km of underwater video, and collected nearly 1000 samples of seabed sediments and marine life," Professor Bax said.

"At a national level we identified 37 environmental factors that shape seabed life, such as depth, oceanography, the type of seafloor, food availability, and the strength of currents and waves.

"Statistical modeling was then used to predict seabed biodiversity, at a scale of one km2, across more than two million km2 of the continental shelf.

"Genetic techniques examined the links between biodiversity in different areas, and economic studies examined new options for biodiversity management."

Professor Bax said the new maps and knowledge highlight the complex patterns of biodiversity across Australia's shelf habitats, while emphasizing how much more we need to know.

Some of the maps have already been used by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC) to improve its understanding of Australia's oceans as part of the marine bioregional planning process.

All of the new information will be incorporated into the Australia Ocean Data Network and the Atlas of Living Australia to improve access to essential information on Australia's biodiversity.

The program also completed finer scale mapping of previously unknown areas of the seabed in four important areas around Australia: Jervis Bay, Lord Howe Island, Southern-eastern Tasmania and Carnarvon Shelf.

"These studies have helped local marine managers to fine-tune reserve design, and will assist in monitoring individual marine reserves," Professor Bax said.

The Marine Biodiversity Research Hub brought together the University of Tasmania, CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Museum Victoria under the Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities program. The CERF program is administered by SEWPaC.

The final report of the CEF Marine Biodiversity Hub is available at:

It's A Wrap: Red Tide Human Health Study Completes Decade Of Successful Research

Underwater Times: It's A Wrap: Red Tide Human Health Study Completes Decade Of Successful Research
SARASOTA, Florida -- The most cohesive and longest-running scientific study looking at how humans are affected by Florida's red tide officially wrapped up last Thursday, March 24, 2011, at Mote Marine Laboratory during a meeting of the 22 investigators from eight organizations who have been studying the human health effects of Karenia brevis since 2000. This ground-breaking study led to hundreds of new findings and even potential new drug treatments for cystic fibrosis and COPD sufferers.

While many of the researchers involved in the project will continue their studies of red tide and human health, the overall study funded through the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS) is complete, with official results due back to NIEHS in June.

The $15.8 million NIEHS project was based on a "beach-to-bedside" model designed to reveal the effects of naturally occurring chemical toxins by incorporating numerous scientific disciplines — everything from medical professionals and oceanographers to chemists and pharmacologists.

The study was led by Dr. Daniel G. Baden, Director of the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, with field research led by Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, based at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. In addition to UNCW and Mote, the study included lead investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Florida Department of Health, the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Miller School of Medicine, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, New Mexico, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the Mount Sinai Medical Center, Miami.

The study began in response to questions and complaints from workers, residents, healthcare providers and public healthcare workers about the possible respiratory and health effects of Florida red tide. This natural phenomenon is caused by blooms of the algae K. brevis. Because Florida red tide cannot be reliably predicted, it is important to understand and mitigate for its effects on the environment and human health.

More than 500 Southwest Florida residents volunteered to participate — that included people with chronic lung conditions, as well as people without compromised lung function. It also included Sarasota County employees and even residents who let researchers place air sampling devices in their driveways.

"We thank the citizens of Sarasota and Manatee counties for supporting this research over the years," Kirkpatrick said. "Without the community's participation, our studies would not have been as complete or as enlightening."

Among the results:

The discovery that K. brevis has at least 12 different toxins that can be harmful to humans.
The study found that each of the toxins has very subtle differences that can have very big differences in how humans react to them.
The characterization of these toxins — the identification of everything from their size and their chemical makeup to their complete pharmacology.
The development of new air, water and seafood tests for these toxins.
Scientific proof that these toxins become airborne, can be inhaled by humans and that they can travel up to a mile inland, away from the beaches and the wind and wave action that propels them into the air.
Scientific proof that people with compromised lung function — like asthmatics — who inhale these toxins suffer more and have longer-term impacts than people who don't suffer from breathing problems — even after just one hour of exposure to the toxins.
The discovery of how these toxins affect humans at the molecular level.
Research showing that commonly used asthma medications can both prevent and treat the effects of Florida red tide in asthmatics.
The discovery that K. brevis also has antitoxins — at least three of them. One of these antitoxins is currently being used to develop a new drug (called Brevenal) that will be used to treat cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the effects of Florida red tide exposure and even Ciguatera fish poisoning. The laboratory research has concluded and researchers are seeking a pharmaceutical partner that can help bring the drug to the marketplace. Initial research shows that Brevenal is 1 million times more effective at treating cystic fibrosis than current drugs.
The discovery that these antitoxins target molecular receptors previously unknown to science. This knowledge could pave the way for even more drug therapies for human ailments.
Changes in public health messages related to beach going during Florida red tides. Health experts now suggest that people with respiratory problems like COPD and asthma find alternate activities to visiting beaches during red tides. The message is especially important for people with poorly controlled asthma.
Public information campaigns about Florida red tide and other harmful algal blooms including "Breathe Easy During Florida Red Tide," which included beach signage and other resources; a 24/7 Aquatic Toxins hotline (in Spanish and English) through the Florida Poison Information Center and a new Web site through the Florida Department of Health Aquatic Toxins program.
A new Beach Conditions Report ( that provides real-time updates on beach conditions and an independent source for information about whether red tide is affecting 33 beaches on Florida's Gulf Coast.
More than 80 peer-reviewed scientific publications (view abstracts online at
More than 400 presentations made to the public and the scientific community.

"Thanks to the NIEHS's beach-to-bedside model, we were able to bring together researchers from many different disciplines to attack Florida's red tide and unlock its affects on humans," said Baden, the principal investigator. "We learned more during this study than scientists had been able to uncover in the past 150 years because this collaboration was so large, so well funded and included so many different experts."

The NIEHS funding also allowed researchers to broaden their efforts by seeking additional grant money from other places including the Florida Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Scientists: Urgent Action Needed To Halt Increasing Carbon Emissions From Destroyed, Degraded Coastal Marine Ecosystems

Underwater Times: Scientists: Urgent Action Needed To Halt Increasing Carbon Emissions From Destroyed, Degraded Coastal Marine Ecosystems
ARLINGTON, Virginia -- The destruction of coastal carbon ecosystems, such as mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes, is leading to rapid and long-lasting emissions of CO2 into the ocean and atmosphere, according to 32 of the world's leading marine scientists.

That key conclusion highlights a series of warnings and recommendations developed by the new International Working Group on Coastal "Blue" Carbon, which convened its first meeting in Paris last month. The Working Group was created as an initial step in advancing the scientific, management and policy goals of the Blue Carbon Initiative, whose founding members include Conservation International (CI), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

Much of the carbon emitted when mangroves, seagrasses or tidal marshes are destroyed is estimated to be thousands of years old because the CO2 stored in these ecosystems is found not only in the plants, but in layer upon layer of soil underneath. Total carbon deposits per square kilometer in these coastal systems may be up to five times the carbon stored in tropical forests, due to their ability to absorb, or sequester, carbon at rates up to 50 times those of the same area of tropical forest. The management of coastal ecosystems can supplement efforts to reduce emissions from tropical forest degradation.

According to recommendations from scientists in the Blue Carbon Working Group, whose collaboration pools expertise from 11 countries on five different continents, the existing knowledge of carbon stocks and emissions from degraded or converted coastal ecosystems is "sufficient to warrant enhanced management actions now."

Dr. Emily Pidgeon, Marine Climate Change Director at Conservation International, and a leading blue carbon conservation scientist emphasized, "We have known for some time the importance of coastal ecosystems for fisheries and for coastal protection from storms and tsunamis. We are now learning that, if destroyed or degraded, these coastal ecosystems become major emitters of CO2 for years after the plants are removed. In the simplest terms, it's like a long slow bleed that is difficult to clot. So we need to urgently halt the loss of these high carbon ecosystems, to slow the progression of climate change."

Draining a typical coastal wetland, such as a mangrove or marsh, releases 0.25 million tons of carbon dioxide per square kilometer for every meter of soil that's lost. Global data shows that seagrasses, tidal marshes, and mangroves are being degraded or destroyed along the world's coastlines at a rapid pace. In fact, between 1980 and 2005, 35,000 square kilometers of mangroves were removed globally – an area the size of the nation of Belgium. This degraded area still continues to release up to 0.175 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year – equivalent to the annual emissions of countries such as the Netherlands or Venezuela.

IOC Assistant Director-General and Executive Secretary Wendy Watson-Wright added, "Scientific studies have shown that although mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes account for less than 1% of the total plant biomass on land and forests, they cycle almost the same amount of carbon as the remaining 99%. So the decline of these carbon-efficient ecosystems is a valid cause of concern."

Over the course of three days in Paris, scientists concluded the meeting with a set of key priorities and recommendations:

Enhanced national and international research efforts: such as developing inventory and accounting methodologies for coastal carbon; conducting carbon inventories, conducting targeted research and monitoring to more accurately quantity the greenhouse gas emissions from coastal ecosystem loss, and establishing a network of field demonstrations to build capacity and community input.
Enhanced local and regional management practices: such as identifying and reducing the primary drivers of high-carbon coastal system degradation, (urban development, agriculture, aquaculture, pollutant and nutrient run-off, dredging, and introduction of artificial constructions), strengthening national to local conservation and protection measures of high-carbon coastal systems, and beginning restoration of lost/degraded systems
Enhanced international recognition of coastal carbon ecosystems: through established international bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Scientists emphasized that improved management of coastal marine ecosystems is not meant to become a patent roadblock to nations' economic development or food production, but rather, a targeted strategy that prioritizes conservation of specific, unique, high-carbon coastal zones, which act like global sponges for global CO2. They are recommending that nations and managers better recognize the vital services that these wetlands provide humanity, and prioritize their protection.

"The capacity of coastal wetlands to reduce climate change by capturing and storing carbon dioxide is considerable, but has been overlooked" says Jerker Tamelander, Oceans and Climate Change Manager for IUCN. "If valued and managed properly, coastal ecosystems can help many countries meet their mitigation targets, while supporting adaptation in vulnerable coastal areas."

The working group will meet next in August, and continue their collaborative scientific study. Funding for the group has been provided by the Waterloo Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chevron gets OK to resume oil exploration in Gulf of Mexico

Mercury News: Chevron gets OK to resume oil exploration in Gulf of Mexico
San Ramon-based Chevron has received federal approval to restart oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, officials said Friday. The approval marks the first completely new project in the Gulf since the deepwater drilling moratorium was lifted in the aftermath of BP's oil spill a year ago. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said Chevron had to satisfy rigorous new safety standards implemented in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill. The standards included Chevron's ability to contain a subsea blowout. The regulatory approval is linked to a new well in Keathley Canyon Block 736, which is 216 miles off the Louisiana coastline and in 6,750 feet of water.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Design flaw, stuck pipe tied to BP disaster

MSNBC Environment: Design flaw, stuck pipe tied to BP disaster

NEW ORLEANS — The shutoff device that should have stopped the BP oil spill failed largely because of a faulty design and a trapped piece of pipe, an official probe found Wednesday. The report appears to shift some blame for the blowout from the oil giant and toward the companies that built and maintained the 300-ton safety device.

The 551-page report said the piece of drill pipe prevented the blowout preventer's blind shear rams, or BSRs, from sealing the well around the time of the April 20 oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana. The shear rams are components in a blowout preventer that cut, or shear, through drill pipe and form a seal against well pressure.

"The primary cause of failure was identified as the BSRs failing to fully close and seal due to a portion of drill pipe trapped between the blocks," the report stated.

The drill pipe's position within the wellbore caused it to buckle and bow when the well lost control, impeding the rams, according to the report.

Det Norske Veritas, the Norwegian firm hired by the government to test the blowout preventer, also faulted the performance and design of the failsafe device.

The report doesn't single out any one party involved in the well, but discusses in great detail why the device didn't work. The device was made by Cameron and maintained by Transocean Ltd.

In response to the report, Cameron spokeswoman Rhonda Barnat said the blowout preventer "was designed and tested to industry standards and customer specifications." She added, "We continue to work with the industry to ensure safe operations."

In a statement, Transocean said the findings "confirm that the BOP was in proper operating condition and functioned as designed." It added: "High-pressure flow from the well created conditions that exceeded the scope of BOP's design parameters."

BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said the oil company supports efforts by regulators and the industry to make blowout preventers more reliable.
Speculation on why the blowout preventer failed has persisted during the year since the disaster.

Documents emerged early in the probe showing that a part of the device had a hydraulic leak, which would have reduced its effectiveness, and that a passive "deadman" trigger had a low, perhaps even dead, battery.

DNV noted loss of fluid and weak battery issues in its report, but did not seem to cite them as significant causes of the blowout preventer's failure.

Philip Johnson, a University of Alabama civil engineering professor, said the report indicates that the blowout preventer had a design flaw in its blind shear rams that may have gone unnoticed by the entire industry, not just by Cameron.

"This is the first time in all of this that there has been a clear design flaw in the blowout preventer cited," he said. "My reaction is, 'Holy smokes, every set of blind shear rams out there may have this problem.' We need to take a look at every set of blind shear rams out there and make sure they all don't have this problem."

"There are plenty of lawyers out there that are going to try to make this Cameron's fault, but I couldn't help (the lawyers)," he added.

The firm made several recommendations for the industry in its report, including changing the design of blowout preventers.

The firm's tests also indicated that some back-up control system components did not perform as intended. It recommended the industry revise its procedures for periodic testing and verification of the back-up control systems to assure they will function properly at all times.

Blowout preventers sit at the wellhead of exploratory wells and are supposed to lock in place to prevent a spill in case of an explosion.

The device that was used with BP's Macondo well was raised from the seafloor Sept 4. Testing began at a NASA facility in New Orleans in November.

Representatives for Cameron and Transocean were among an army of interested parties that were allowed to monitor DNV's examination of the device. BP, the Justice Department and lawyers for plaintiffs in lawsuits over the disaster also were allowed to monitor. None of them was allowed to have any hands-on involvement.

The official testing ended earlier this month. BP has asked a federal judge for permission to conduct additional testing on its own. Cameron has objected, saying that if further testing is done, a neutral third-party should do it.

An investigation into what caused the rig explosion and oil spill is being overseen by a joint U.S. Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement panel. While DNV's report was largely limited to results of its blowout preventer testing, the government panel is scheduled to release a final report over the summer assigning blame for the disaster.

Ervin Gonzalez, a Miami attorney who is one of the lead plaintiffs' lawyers in the federal litigation spawned by the spill, said BP was ultimately responsible for ensuring that equipment on the rig was adequate and properly maintained.

"They can't shake that off by blaming other parties," he said. "They should have known the equipment was insufficient to maintain well control. We shouldn't be finding this out now. They should have known this before."

Robotic octopus could carry out underwater operations

The Engineer: Robotic octopus could carry out underwater operations
The biomimetic cephalopod is being designed to match a real octopus in terms of speed, dexterity and flexibility.

The work, an FP7 ICT research project, will mimic an octopus in its entirety and in doing so will likely lead to new technologies for actuation, sensing, control and robot architectures, materials and kinematics.

Possible uses for the autonomous, battery-powered device include underwater maintenance, marine salvage and retrieval of objects, such as black-box recorders from crashed aircraft.

In nature, an octopus contains no rigid structures and is capable of adapting the shape of its body to the environment it is in, including very confined spaces.

This lack of rigid structure means that the octopus has an infinite number of degrees of freedom; it can twist, elongate and bend its arms in all directions. Despite the lack of skeletal support, the octopus can vary the stiffness in its arms to apply force.

Dr Richard Bonser from Reading University’s School of Construction Management and Engineering has been awarded £649,000 as part of an EU consortium to design eight arms that mimic the dexterity and control of the marine invertebrate. This includes the suckers on the arms and waterproof skin.

Bonser told The Engineer that the arms will mimic the octopus’ muscular hydrostat (muscular structures with no skeletal systems), negating the requirement for joints.

‘Essentially they won’t have any joints because the construction of the robot is given over to the entirely soft body,’ said Bonser. ‘At the moment there is one set of actuators at the base of each arm, because it appears from octopus behaviour that the octopus can achieve quite complex patterns of movement simply by rotating the base of each arm.’

Mimicking the muscular hydrostat will give the arms a constant volume too, so all the arms will perform fluidly. Bonser added that this fluid movement would likely reduce the amount of friction between the underlying actuator, which is being designed at Reading too.

In use, the robot octopus will have to be able to grip onto objects and structures, presenting challenges for the design of the actuation and control mechanism of suckers on each arm.

‘Purely by chance, we came across another sucker system that appears to operate entirely passively,’ said Bonser. ‘I’d bought a squid at a fishmongers and was preparing it in my sink at home when I found, despite it being very dead, having been frozen and de-frosted, that its suckers still stuck to the side of the sink.

‘We thought about how it worked and we managed to produce a prototype system that works in the same way.’

Consequently, Bonser and his team were able to manufacture rows of suckers placed along the entire length of the arm that don’t require active actuation to stick to objects.

‘These structures can be 7–8mm in diameter, with a slight concave surface, and each of these can generate a lifting force of around four Newtons,’ he said.

To stop water ingress, the Reading team is developing a highly condensable complex material that Bonser said is a combination of a textile and silicon rubber that will maintain a high degree of waterproofing.

So far, the Reading team has one arm that can move around, but it will be a couple more years before all eight move together, said Bonser.

‘We’re half-way through our project, which is four years in duration,’ he said. ‘So we’ve another two years to crack the control and integration of the various mechanical systems.’

The research, ‘Novel design principles and technologies for a new generation of high-dexterity soft-bodied robots inspired by the morphology and behaviour of the octopus’, is led by Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa.

Institutions from Greece, Switzerland, Italy and Israel are also involved in the four-year project, which has received €7.6m (£6.6m) in funding from the European Commission.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ocean Science Part 1

The ocean can be divided into two basic regions: the pelagic zone, or water column, and the benthic zone, or sea floor.

Each of these zones are further divided based on depth and proximity to shore.

Pelagic Zone divisions
Coastal (neritic) Zone
Oceanic (those away from the influence of land) Zone

The Oceanic Zone is further divided, in order of increasing depth:
Abyssal pelagic

Benthic zone
Suprelittoral (high on shore) or splash zone
Intertidal zone
Sublittoral (subtidal) zone
Abyssal zone
Hadal zone (the very deepest areas, in the trenches or anywhere below 19,8000 feet (6,000 meters.)

These place-based divisions reflect physical differences, such as the amount of freshwater input or annual changes in temperature, that have a profound influence on the biology and chemistry of each underwater region.

Where do those terms come from?
Mesopelagic - of, pertaining to, or living in the ocean at a depth of between 600 feet (180 meters) and 3000 feet (900 meters).
Origin: 1945–50; meso- + pelagic

Bathypelagic - of, relating to, or inhabiting the lower depths of the ocean between approximately 1000 and 4000 metres.
Origin: 1905–10; bathy- + pelagic

Abyssal pelagic - of or pertaining to the biogeographic zone of the ocean bottom between the bathyal and hadal zones: from depths of approximately 13,000 to 21,000 feet (4000 to 6500 meters).
Origin: 1685–95; < Medieval Latin abyssālis>

Benthic zone
Supralittoral (high on shore) or splash zone- of or pertaining to the biogeographic region of a shore of a lake, sea, or ocean permanently above water but made damp by spray from waves or by capillarity of the substrate.
Origin: 1905–10; supra- + littoral

Intertidal zone - of or pertaining to the littoral region that is above the low-water mark and below the high-water mark.
Origin: 1880–85; inter- + tidal

Sublittoral (subtidal) zone - of or pertaining to the biogeographic region of the ocean bottom between the littoral and bathyal zones, from the low water line to the edge of the continental shelf, or to a depth of approximately 660 feet (200 meters).
Origin: 1840–50; sub- + littoral

Abyssal zone - portion of the ocean deeper than about 2,000 m (6,600 feet) and shallower than about 6,000 m (20,000 feet). The zone is defined mainly by its extremely uniform environmental conditions, as reflected in the distinct life forms inhabiting it. The upper boundary between the abyssal zone and the overlying bathyal zone is conveniently defined as the depth at which the water temperature is 4 C (39 F); this depth varies between 1,000 and 3,000 m. Waters deeper than 6,000 m are treated separately as the hadal realm by ecologists.

Hadal zone (the very deepest areas, in the trenches or anywhere below 19,8000 feet (6,000 meters.) - of or pertaining to the greatest ocean depths, below approximately 20,000 feet (6500 meters).
Origin: 1955–60; Had(es) + -al1

Ocean Science 101, Jennifer Hoffman, HarpertCollins, 2007

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

U.S. outpacing Canada in marine cleanup efforts, which could save millions of creatures from death each year U.S. outpacing Canada in marine cleanup efforts, which could save millions of creatures from death each year
They're known almost benignly as derelict fishing gear, but that doesn't begin to describe the toll they continue to exact on marine life.

Lost in storms or torn off by rocks, commercial fishing nets and traps can continue to fish on the ocean bottom for countless years after their owners have written them off and returned to safe harbour.

The extent of the problem is massive and its impact significant, as evidenced by just one small area of B.C.'s Boundary Bay near the Canada-U.S. border.

In a $34,000 pilot project using side-scan sonar, the Ministry of Environment in January detected no fewer than 1,829 crab traps, most of them commercial, within a 5.5-square-kilometre area. They'd been lost in storms, cut by propellers, or perhaps tossed overboard with not enough rope to retrieve them.

Working with Northwest Straits Initiative of Washington state, the program removed 218 of those traps in February, said ministry spokesman Colin Grewar.

B.C. also partnered with Parks Canada in February to remove part of a large purse seine net located almost 30 metres below the ocean surface off Pender Island's Tilly Point, at a cost of $10,000.

Of the 218 crab traps recovered, 189 used rot cord as legally required, meaning that in perhaps a couple of months the traps would open up and stop catching crabs. The legal traps contained 63 Dungeness and 31 red rock crabs.

That still leaves some 1,600 crab traps in Boundary Bay and untold thousands of other fishing gear all along the B.C. coast. It continues to catch unwitting prey — a sad end for marine life, but also for commercial and recreational fishermen whose own catches are effectively reduced.

"It was a long time coming," Ginny Broadhurst, director of Northwest Straits Initiative, said of the Boundary Bay cleanup. "Of course, it's just the beginning. That's just a tiny part of the world. We're hoping there'll be more work like that in B.C. waters."

U.S. cleanup efforts are far outpacing those on the Canadian side of the Salish Sea and are beginning to shed light on just how destructive derelict fishing gear can be.

With help from federal stimulus funding of $4.6 million U.S., the Northwest Straits Initiative has been able to remove 3,859 nets — enough to cover 225 hectares — at depths of up to 30 metres in Puget Sound. Many of them were monofilament gillnets, all but invisible to marine life.

"One of the biggest recovery actions that's ever taken place in Puget Sound," Broadhurst said. "It will have a very significant impact. With species in decline (such as rockfish), losing even a small number of animals can constitute a big portion of their population."

Another 1,000 nets remain to be retrieved, including at Point Roberts — a peninsula immediately south of the border at Tsawwassen that's infested with nets ensnaring Dungeness crabs.

"My gosh, nets piled one on another," Broadhurst said. "We still have a lot to go there. We want it cleaned out. It's just a waste. And, of course, once something is caught, it attracts a predator and they are caught, too. A nasty cycle."

Based on marine life found dead in the nets at the time of removal, staff estimate the 3,859 nets were responsible annually for the killing of 1,210 marine mammals, 21,364 birds, 67,877 fish and 2.2 million invertebrates.

"They don't go away, don't degrade at all," Broadhurst said of the nets, noting fishermen in Washington are asked to voluntarily report when and where they lose fishing gear.

On the B.C. coast, the multiagency Marine Mammal Response Network (24 hours, 1-800-465-4336) is designed to provide information on the number and location of marine life to better determine the threat to various species of becoming entangled or hooked by fishing gear, derelict or active.

A special response team had some high-profile success in 2009: it saved a Steller sea lion tethered by a rope at Race Rocks near Victoria, and two humpback whales wrapped with prawn gear, buoys and anchors in Knight Inlet.

"It's extremely dangerous," said Paul Cottrell, marine mammal co-ordinator for federal fisheries in Vancouver. "You need a special team to deal with these entanglements."

Of course, the rewards can be equally large. "The bottom line was wrapped through the mouth," he said of one whale disentanglement achieved from a seven-metre inflatable boat. "I'm the guy who made the cut. It was an incredible feeling."

B.C. is by no means alone in cases involving fishing gear and whales. "We get whales passing by that have U.S. gear on it, too," Cottrell said. "Grey whales, especially, are known to pick up gear."

The stomachs of two male sperm whales that died in 2009 off the Northern California coast were found to contain large amounts of fishing net scraps, rope and other plastic debris.

A total of 134 different types of nets were found inside them, all made from floating material, suggesting they were ingested as debris on the surface rather than as active gear. One animal had a ruptured stomach and the other was emaciated; "gastric impaction" is suspected to have killed both.

Of course, much smaller amounts of garbage or fishing gear can have fatal consequences. Stephen Raverty, veterinary pathologist at the provincial Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, said "human interactions" — ingestion of foreign debris, entanglement in fishing gear, and boat and propeller strikes -are "a significant contributor" to whale morality.

Such debris and gear can obstruct the digestive tract and irritate the lining of the intestine, leading to bacteria invading the blood system and causing septicemia, or lead to suffocation.

More cetaceans — whales, dolphins, porpoises — appear to be found with evidence of net entanglement, he said, but it remains to be seen whether that is the result of a "heightened effort" to recover carcasses for examination.

In November 2010, B.C., Oregon, Washington and California agreed to create a coastwide marine debris alliance and develop a detailed marine debris strategic plan for the West Coast.

Derelict gear also can damage marine habitat, pose a hazard for boaters by entangling propellers and anchors, and endanger humans, especially divers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Report slams management of marine national parks

Melbourne Weekly: Report slams management of marine national parks

VICTORIA is failing to protect its marine national parks, spending money earmarked for their preservation elsewhere, a scathing report by the Auditor-General has found.

Presented to Parliament this month, the report into Marine Protected Areas found Parks Victoria could not demonstrate that it is effectively managing MPAs or that it is being effective or efficient in protecting marine biodiversity within MPAs.

It found that funding for managing MPAs has been used for other activities; and that Parks Victoria could not assess if its programs had been effective because of poor follow-up and tracking of resources.

In response, angling groups have called for the abolition of Victoria's 30 marine parks.

The state's first marine parks were created in 2002. Fishing, waste and ballast discharge, and removing marine life, shells or coral is banned inside them.

VRFish, Victoria's peak recreational fishing body, said the report showed that marine parks - which cover about 11 per cent of the Victorian coast - were fundamentally flawed.

VRFish executive officer Christopher Collins said a key finding of the report was that the marine environment could not be protected by quarantining select parts of the coastline.

He said that if anglers were allowed to fish in parks, they could act as "eyes and ears" for the environment and alert authorities to any problems.

"The ideals surrounding marine protected areas just do not work and should be abandoned in favour of a broader and much more effective system of management that extends from the catchment to the coast" he said.

The Auditor-General's report did not call for the abolition of marine parks, only for their improvement. It states that "Parks Victoria should develop park management plans … that specify actions, targets, performance indicators, accountabilities and time frames.

The Victorian National Parks Association, an environmental lobby group, denied that the report meant that marine parks should be abolished. The association's executive director, Matt Ruchel, said the report showed that Parks Victoria was "an agency under stress".

Parks Victoria chief executive Bill Jackson said "there is ongoing monitoring and management [of marine parks] … this report shows we need to improve the way we track that work. We will do this."

Environment and Climate Change Minister Ryan Smith told Parliament that the Baillieu government would accept the report's recommendations.

Marine ecosystem suffers huge blow after 45 baby sharks found dead (UAE): Marine ecosystem suffers huge blow after 45 baby sharks found dead

Dubai: Fishermen may have struck gold this week when they landed a great hammerhead shark pregnant with a litter of 45 pups, but the Arabian Gulf's marine ecosystem took a great hit.

The 5-metre-long shark was found at Deira Fish Market by filmmakers recording the decline of sharks in the region despite evidence showing that the Arabian Gulf is a ‘hotspot' for birthing shark.

"We need to raise the flag that this is an important region for sharks. This area is a pupping ground but when a slow-reproducing shark is found at the market with 45 pups something needs to be done for the welfare of the species," said Jonathan Ali Khan, project leader, producer and director of Sharkquest Arabia Musandam Expedition.

"If even half of these shark pups had survived, it might have made a significant contribution to the survival of this species at least in this region," he added.

The shark was landed in Khasab, Oman, and brought to the UAE to be sold for a higher profit, Khan said.

In 2008, the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water issued a decree banning shark finning, and halting shark-hunting from January to the end of April.

Only shark finning at sea is banned in Oman. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UAE is one of the main Middle East exporters of shark fins to Hong Kong, exporting around 400-500 tonnes per year between 1998 and 2000 and attracting fishermen from the region to trade in shark products.

Shark researcher Thomas Vignaud, working with the Shark Quest project, visited Deira fish market and found the large pregnant female great hammerhead amongst dozens of other large sharks. Interested in collecting samples for genetic research as part of his PhD, Vignaud reached inside to reveal 45 dead, unborn babies almost ready to be born.

"Great hammerheads are of critical importance in this region and they have pretty much disappeared from everywhere else. We need to regulate fishing more as 80 per cent of sharks have disappeared," said Khan, a diver and filmmaker in the UAE for more than 25 years. "We know hammerheads used to aggregate in the Strait of Hormuz but we never see that any more."

Plans to regulate and ban the catching of several species of shark during the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) last year in Qatar was rejected by the international community. Attempts to add the great hammerhead and two other hammerhead species for added protection during the summit in Doha failed.

Sharks are unusually sensitive to fishing because their populations grow so slowly, a consequence of reaching sexual maturity late and producing few young ones. The latest figures from 2003 show that the shark catch went up to 3,060 tonnes a year in the UAE.

Gulf News could not get hold of the Ministry of Environment and Water for a comment.

Federal law: Timely ban on fishing

In 2008 the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water issued a decree banning shark-hunting from January to the end of April. Article 28 and 29 of Federal Law 23 on Exploitation, Protection and Development of the Living Aquatic Resources in UAE waters states that it is ‘impermissible' to catch sea turtles, whales, sea cows and other sea mammals.

Article 29 states that the ministry bans the catching of a certain species of fish for ‘eggs, skin or fins or for any other purposes.'

Terminology Tuesday - The A's Part 3

Angler - a group of deep-sea fish in which a thin rodlike projection near the mouth acts as a lure, its tip often glowing to attract prey. There are about 110 known species - often small, but some species grow up to 4 feet.

Anhydrite - A white or grayish mineral, calcium sulfate, that makes up a great percentage of the structural matrix in the deep's active volcanic chimneys. The granular mineral forms only at high temperatures, and dissolves back into the sea if temperatures go down. Because it dissolves, extinct chimneys and the cool surfaces of live ones usually have no anhydrite.

Apolemia - A genus of deep siphonophore (siphonophores are a type of coelenterate that forms midwater colonies.) (Coelenterate (also known as Cnidaria) is a member of a phylum characterized by simple radial symmetry and a body in which a single internal cavity serves for digestion, excretion, and most other functions. It includes corals, sea anemones, and jellyfish. They are some of the planet's oldest restaurants, having flourished since pre-CAmbrian times, perhaps more than a billion years ago.

Archaea - A large branch on the tree of life for microbes that thrive in extreme environments - including places that are very salty and very hot. These organisms were discovered in the 1970s. Their discovery caused scientists to draw up a basic new classification of the living world, with this new group called Archaea. It is a major kingdom, alongside eubacteria (normal bacteria) and eeukaryotes (which covers all higher organisms, including plants, animals and humans.) Many biologists believe that these organisms are the ancestors of the first forms of life to dlourish on Earth.

The Universe Below: Discovering the Secrets of the Deep Sea, William J. Broad. Simon & Schuster, 1997

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ted Danson Talks Ocean Conservation Ted Danson Talks Ocean Conservation
In pre-interviews for last April’s Heart of Green Awards, Ted Danson joked with the staff of The Daily Green that he wanted to call his upcoming book Danson on Water. Well, the book has just arrived, though the final title is Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.

Produced in association with the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana, the book is stunning, filled with spectacular color photos, wonderful illustrations, heartwarming vignettes and lots of celebrity and expert testimonies from the likes of Sylvia Earle, Robert Kennedy, Jr., Philippe Cousteau, Jr. and Spanish sea captains.

At a recent press and VIP launch at the swank 21 Club in Manhattan, Danson explained that the book is really the culmination of more than two decades of his passionate activism for the oceans, a hopeful, digestible summary of everything he has learned from those on the frontlines of marine protection.

Earth911 was on hand to report Danson’s words, and to ask the actor a few questions about his work.

Ted Danson on why another book on the oceans:
“I wanted to help people know what’s going on. There are so many photos and amazing illustrations in it that if you are a person who learns visually, you almost don’t have to read the text, which is brilliant. In some ways, the book is a culmination of everything I’ve learned over the past 20 years. I’ve tried to use whatever celebrity I have for something good. I can use it to bring people to the tent, then bring them in and introduce them to people like Sylvia Earle, scientists I’ve met who are doing really important work to save the oceans. The book is also a living document, because it sends readers off to many places [like websites and activist groups].”

On whether Danson is optimistic or pessimistic:
“I’m a Pollyanna. I’m always hopeful. What’s going on is very scary stuff, but this book is not meant to scare. Each chapter ends with what we can do, it’s not a depressing book that makes us think, ‘why bother?’ My wife [actress and philanthropist Mary Steenburgen] suggests that what you should do before you read the book is go look at a sunset over the beach, have a great meal of fish, or do something else that gets you inspired. Then read it.”

On whether he carries a sustainable seafood guide:
“I don’t, but my tastes are simple [Danson has told the press that he mostly follows a vegan diet, though he occasionally eats sustainable fish.] Wild salmon is one of my favorites. Believe it or not, I love tilapia [which can be sustainably farmed]. The key is to stay away from bigger fish, which have been severely overfished, to the point that their numbers have dropped by 90 percent around the world, and which are also filled with toxic mercury. Also avoid farmed carnivorous fish, because we are grinding up tons of caught fish to feed them, and that is crazy. Vegetarian farmed fish like tilapia are OK.”

“Scientists say that we could totally fish out our oceans in our children’s lifetimes, ending up with jellyfish soup [also the name of one of the chapters in the book, plus jellyfish appear as subtle, ghostly outlines on the book's jacket]. Since 1988, the world’s fish catch has been going down, despite advanced technology like airplane spotters, GPS and sensors. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are overfished.

“Why? Because we fish in a wasteful and destructive manner. There are two and a half times as many boats out there as there should be, with the industry subsidized by 25 percent by other countries. They use bottom-trawling nets so big you could fit a 747 in them, and they turn the seafloor into gravel. That’s destroying the nurseries where fish grow up. Thirty percent of the catch is wasted bycatch. Ocean acidification is also a serious problem, because the base of the food chain is finding it harder to make their shells. This is caused by all the carbon dioxide we are putting into the atmosphere.

“This isn’t just about ‘let’s save the fish.’ Fishing is a $80-100 billion annual industry, and is the main source of protein for millions of the world’s people. The good news is that fish do bound back when given a chance. We have seen this off Africa, where fish are abundant after Somali pirates scared off commercial boats, and we saw this during World War II, after fear of German U-boats.

“There is now a push within the World Trade Organization to block harmful fishing subsidies. We can also go country by country to solve this problem.”

“I would really encourage people to go to and become an e-activist. You get alerts on what’s happening, and you can take just five minutes to make a difference. When 60,000 e-activists recently wrote to Congress, they put 1 million square miles of ocean floor off limits to trawling.

“Educate yourself. Be brave. Order local, caught and fresh fish. Ninety percent of the world’s fishermen are artisanal, and catch 10 percent of the haul. We can return to doing things artisanally. Stop using plastic bags, and reduce the amount of plastic you use. Reduce your climate footprint.”

On whether ocean drilling will ever be safe:
“Clearly, we need oil, and that fight has been ongoing for a long time. But I think no, accidents happen. Yes, the industry has gotten better, but there’s always going to be human error and things that Mother Nature throws at you. We’re gonna run out of it, and we’re going to sink the planet if we keep pumping out so much carbon dioxide. China is investing $300 billion into alternative energy. We invented the technologies, but now the rest of the world is pioneering the new tech. While we keep insisting on the right to ‘drill baby drill,’ we’re soon going to have to buy the technology back from other countries. That’s crazy.

“I say no, you don’t get to drill offshore because you haven’t put a moon-shot like investment into renewables. Oil companies say, ‘renewables are a nice idea but they won’t work.’ That’s not true, and that’s not what the rest of the world is doing.”

Danson’s final thought
“Oceans are so out of sight, out of mind. People say, ‘come on, there’s fish in the sea, the water looks gorgeous.’ But the threats are very real.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Voyage to sunken shipping container

10,000 shipping containers are lost overboard each one sense that's too many. On the other hand, percentage wise that's probably only 1% of the shipping containers that cross the ocean.

Monterey Herald.comVoyage to sunken shipping container
MBARI researchers to study container's effect on marine life
Herald Staff Writer

The merchant ship Med Taipei lost 25 containers on its 2004 voyage to... (JAMES HERRERA/The Herald)«12»It's not exactly a search for sunken treasure, but an expedition will be mounted today to study a shipping container discovered 4,200 feet beneath the sea outside Monterey Bay seven years ago.

The container, which fell overboard during a storm as the merchant ship Med Taipei steamed past San Francisco Bay on Feb. 26, 2004, was found by researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute four months later during a marine biology research dive by a remotely piloted submersible.

The 40-foot-long metal shipping box was traced by serial numbers and labels clearly visible in the underwater videotape, said institute spokesman Kim Fulton-Bennett. It contains more than 1,100 steel-belted radial tires made in China.

The Med Taipei lost more containers during its voyage to Los Angeles when it began rolling violently in 20- to 30-foot swells, he said. Fifteen were lost outside Monterey Bay and nine others went overboard during the voyage. The ship arrived in the Port of Los Angeles with 21 containers crumpled on its deck.

The containers apparently were improperly stacked on the ship's deck, Fulton-Bennett said. The heavier ones were on top and the lighter ones below, making the load top-heavy in the rolling seas.

Each year, an estimated 10,000 shipping containers fall off ships into seas, Fulton-Bennett said. But there is no legal requirement for shipping companies to report such losses, and this one came to the government's attention when institute



scientists told the U.S. Customs Service.
On July 26, 2006, the shipping company agreed to pay the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration $3.25 million to settle claims relating to the lost containers, Fulton-Bennett said. Money from the settlement is being used to fund the upcoming research dives.

The Med Taipei was hauling "innocuous" cargo intended for retail stores, he said, including cyclone fencing, leather chairs and mattress pads.

That isn't always the case, he said. Some containers are laden with barrels of household or industrial chemicals, pesticides, batteries and other toxic items that can pollute ocean waters.

The institute sub won't try to open the shipping container, Fulton-Bennett said.

"That takes equipment we do not have," he said. "You'd need an underwater grinding tool like the one used for the Deepwater Horizon. It's a very difficult and time-consuming process."

The submersible instead will study marine life on the container and the nearby sea floor, he said.

Because the container is in the "oxygen-minimum zone" of the undersea world, he said, "things don't rust that fast, not that much grows," and the container should be in good shape.

The researchers — lead by Andrew DeVogelaere, research coordinator for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and senior institute scientist James Barry — plan to stay at the site on board the research vessel Western Flyer today through Thursday.

The submersible will count the number of deep-sea animals on and near the container and collect sediment samples at various distances from the container for biological and chemical analysis.

"As these containers drop to the bottom of the sea, they form deep-water stepping stones between ports — highways of debris, if you will," DeVogelaere said.

"I hope that this cruise will help expand the public's thinking about human impacts in the deep sea."

Tropical sediment traced to fish intestines

Planet Earth Online: Tropical sediment traced to fish intestines
Tiny particles of calcium carbonate that help make up tropical seabeds are produced in the guts of fish, scientists have shown.

Until now, the origin of many of these particles has been difficult to explain. This new discovery may go some way towards explaining where some of the muds that form important ancient limestone deposits come from.

The discovery also gives us a much better idea of where some tropical sediments come from; the results may well apply in other climatic zones, but more research is needed to be sure.

Earlier work had established that fish produce these carbonates in their guts, but a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science is the first to characterise their sedimentary properties and to assess how important they are in supplying sediment in particular tropical environments.

'If you look at carbonate muds in the tropics, until now we haven't known where a significant proportion of the material comes from,' says Professor Chris Perry, a sedimentologist at Manchester Metropolitan University and lead author of the paper. 'For example in the Bahamas, I'd say 40 to 50 per cent of the mud was of unknown origin. We've now recognised a new mud source that's relevant throughout the area.'

The team analysed mud from various habitats all over the archipelago to conclude that particles excreted by fish account for about 14 per cent of mud produced across the different habitats in the area, and more than 70 per cent in certain environments, like mangrove-fringed coastal inlets.

The carbonates in question are extremely fine-grained particles. They're produced as a side-effect of the way fish metabolise the minerals they ingest from the water around them; they crystallise in their guts and are excreted within pellets of mucus.

Because the particles are so small, it's difficult to examine them, and Perry says this may account for the fact they haven't been recognised until now.

The researchers found that the carbonate deposits are produced in distinctive shapes resembling ellipses, bundles of straw, spheroids and even dumb-bells.

Perry now plans to do more work on how these carbonate deposits from fish are preserved in seabed sediments, as well as carrying out similar research in other parts of the world to find out if these carbonates are as important there as they are in the tropics. It's likely that tropical fish produce more carbonate than those elsewhere as warmer waters mean they have higher metabolic rates.

He argues that more investigation is also needed into how climate change could affect production of carbonates by fish. Warmer waters might be expected to increase metabolic rates and hence carbonate production, but much will depend on numbers of fish - if destruction of habitats like coral reefs and overfishing continue to reduce populations, the impact on this source of marine carbonate production could be serious.

Study Provides New Tool To Monitor Coral Reef 'Vital Signs'

Underwater Times: Study Provides New Tool To Monitor Coral Reef 'Vital Signs'
MIAMI, Florida -- University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science scientist Chris Langdon and colleagues developed a new tool to monitor coral reef vital signs. By accurately measuring their biological pulse, scientists can better assess how climate change and other ecological threats impact coral reef health worldwide.

During a March 2009 experiment at Cayo Enrique Reef in Puerto Rico, the team tested two new methods to monitor biological productivity. They compared a technique that measures changes in dissolved oxygen within a chamber that encloses an area of water above the reef with one that measures the flux of dissolved oxygen across the turbulent boundary layer above an unconfined portion of the seafloor.

By measuring dissolved oxygen production and consumption rates, scientists were able to monitor the balance between the production of new organic matter by the corals and algae and the consumption of that organic matter by the reef's heterotrophs, which are essential to assessing the health of coral reef ecosystems.

A combination of these methods is a valuable tool for assessing and studying the effects of climate change on coral reef health, according to the authors.

According to a recent analysis by the World Resources Institute, nearly 75 percent of the world's coral reefs are currently threatened by human activities and ecological disturbances, such as rising ocean temperatures, increased pollution, overfishing and ocean acidification.

Measurements of biological productivity have typically been made by tracing changes in dissolved oxygen in seawater as it passes over a reef. However, this is a labor intensive and difficult method, requiring repeated measurements. The new method opens up the possibility of making long-term, unattended, high-temporal resolution measurements of photosynthesis and respiration of coral reefs and any other benthic ecosystems.

Commerce Secretary Announces Additional Reforms To Overhaul NOAA's Law Enforcement System

Underwater Times: Commerce Secretary Announces Additional Reforms To Overhaul NOAA's Law Enforcement System
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today announced that he would allow fishermen and businesses until May 6, 2011 to submit complaints about potentially excessive enforcement penalties to the Special Master for review, as well as request stays of their penalties as part of the complaint process. This is part of a series of ongoing improvements to NOAA's Law Enforcement System. The Secretary and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco also announced policy changes aimed at strengthening, simplifying and improving both the enforcement and regulatory process for fishermen and businesses.

The announcement comes on the heels of Locke's appointment of a Special Master to review enforcement cases, and significant changes implemented by NOAA to policies, procedures and oversight guidelines in response to recommendations from the Commerce Inspector General based on a review of the enforcement program he conducted at NOAA's request last year.

"Additional review is necessary to ensure NOAA's enforcement system is accountable and transparent. As a former prosecutor, I expect our law enforcement program to uphold high standards and maintain the public's trust," Locke said. "Recently, Judge Swartwood indicated that reviewing a wider pool of cases would be appropriate. I decided to act immediately. We want to provide those fishermen who believe they have been wronged with an opportunity to have their complaints heard."

The additional enforcement reforms taken by Secretary Locke and NOAA include:

Opening an appeal window to allow fisherman and businesses that wish to come forward to submit a complaint to the Special Master.
Allowing fishermen and businesses to request a stay of penalty payment as part of the complaint process.
Issuing a new nationwide penalty policy that provides consistency and greater transparency on the assessment of penalties and permit sanctions throughout the country.
Finalizing the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) Use Policy that greatly restricts the uses of the Fund in order to ensure there is no conflict of interest – real or perceived – with the use of the Fund.
Launching an independent audit of the AFF that will include a targeted review of transactions going back to 2004 to determine if there was fraud or other illegal activity.
Working with fishery councils, fishermen and stakeholders to streamline and simplify fishing regulations.

"We are committed to sustaining and growing fishing jobs, which are the lifeblood of so many of our coastal communities. The reforms put in place thus far and announced today are vital to ensuring the fair and effective enforcement we all need to succeed," said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator.

Open Review Window

In order to ensure that any claims of possible excessive penalties are heard by an impartial party, Secretary Locke is allowing fishermen and businesses to submit their complaints to the Special Master,who will determine if cases are eligible for his review. All complaints must be postmarked by May 6, 2011. To be eligible, the Notice of Violation and Assessment (NOVA) must have been issued on or after March 17, 1994; settled or otherwise resolved before February 3, 2010; and a civil penalty must have been paid. In addition, the person making the complaint must certify the alleged facts are true.

Cases are not eligible for review if they were decided by a federal district court judge, or are currently pending before for an Administrative Law Judge or the NOAA Administrator. The Special Master will review cases that meet the criteria and make recommendations to Secretary Locke regarding whether the civil penalties imposed and paid in those cases should be remitted or modified.

Penalty Stay

As part of the complaint process, fishermen can request to have the Special Master recommend whether payment of the penalty should be stayed while their case is under review. In addition, Secretary Locke has stayed the currently penalty obligations of those complainants whose cases have been under review and had requested a stay.

Final Penalty Policy

The final Penalty Policy ensures that there is a more consistent standard for assessing penalties for violations, and greater transparency and clarity for the regulated community. The policy addressed the problems identified by the Commerce Inspector General by establishing one penalty and permit sanction matrix for each major statute that NOAA enforces, to be applied nationally, with narrower penalty and permit sanction ranges. This simplified approach provides NOAA attorneys with greater guidance in recommending penalties, and assures fairness and consistency of approach across NOAA statutes, across fisheries, and across the country. Further, the basis for penalties calculated under the policy will be included in charging documents filed by NOAA. This final policy will be applied to cases charged effective today.

Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) Use Policy

The final policy limits the ways NOAA's enforcement programs – both the Office of Law Enforcement and the Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation – can use money from the AFF that holds penalties collected for violations of federal marine resource laws.

The final policy prohibits half of the AFF's historical uses, including the purchase of vehicles and vessels; paying for travel that is not related to investigations, proceedings or training; or paying for training unrelated to an integral part of an employee's job. By restricting its use, the policy ensures there is no appearance that penalties might be increased to raise the amount in the AFF. The policy continues expanded use of AFF for NOAA's compliance assistance, collaboration and outreach activities. The policy is being made final today, following a 60-day public comment period.

"Since last fall, our use of the Asset Forfeiture Fund has been open, transparent, limited, and responsible, and this policy will ensure it stays that way," said Dr. Lubchenco, who requested the Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General review NOAA's law enforcement policies and practices after hearing concerns raised by fishermen and elected officials. "We received comments advising us both to limit and expand our potential uses for the fund. However, we believe the policy strikes the right balance by ensuring no conflict of interest – real or perceived – is associated with the use of the fund while continuing to promote a fair and effective enforcement program."

The policy is part of a suite of changes NOAA has made over the past year in how it manages the AFF, including higher-level oversight and prior approval for any expenditure of $1,000 or more.

Regulatory Overhaul

The Secretary's Office has asked NOAA to ensure that, as part of the Administration-wide review of regulations to reduce regulatory burdens and increase the openness and accessibility of government, the agency focuses on fisheries regulations and works with regional councils, fishermen, and other stakeholders to make these rules and regulations simpler and easier to follow.

Economic Assistance Outreach

"We know that by ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks, we will improve economic conditions for fishermen, and create better, more stable and sustainable jobs and opportunities in our coastal communities," Locke said. "But we also recognize that we must help fishermen and fishing communities who are impacted during these challenging economic times."

Secretary Locke announced he will deploy Economic Development and Assessment Teams to visit select communities in New England. Commerce's Economic Development Administration, working in partnership with other federal agencies, will meet with local community and business leaders to assess current and emerging economic issues, identify new and existing resources to leverage in order to support local economic development capacity, and develop tangible economic development solutions for the region.

The Department is prepared to work with Massachusetts and other New England states to identify and more finely analyze data regarding fishermen and communities that may be in need of targeted assistance.

"Many of America's fishermen and their families face extremely challenging economic times. While we work to end overfishing and rebuild stocks, we are committed to helping fishermen during this difficult period of transition," said Dr. Lubchenco.

"I have met with fishermen, had ongoing conversations with the Congressional delegation and governors and I have heard you," Locke said. "We are committed to doing everything we can to do right by fishing communities and the families whose livelihoods depend on their success."

In addition to these specific steps, NOAA will continue to work towards other improvements, including:

Examining our fisheries science and stock assessments to determine how to improve them, including strengthening cooperative research.
Improving our communications with fishermen and responsiveness to fishing communities.
Continuing to improve our enforcement programs through the implementation of the national penalty policy and the Asset Forfeiture Fund policy and evaluating how to simplify regulations that affect the fishing industry.

Today's announcement builds on NOAA's previous actions to reform every aspect of its enforcement program. In response to reviews of the program by the Inspector General that were requested by Administrator Lubchenco, NOAA has implemented a number of sweeping changes since January 21, 2010, including:

New policies and procedures such as a new vehicle policy for the Office of Law Enforcement;
New leadership in the Office of Law Enforcement and the Office of General Counsel for Law Enforcement and Litigation;
Greater oversight of lawyers and enforcement agents; and greater oversight of funds spent on the enforcement program

To get more information on the reforms to NOAA's enforcement program, visit

The mission of NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and the General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation is to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations enacted to conserve and protect our nation's marine resources.