Friday, April 29, 2011

Fisheries fear new marine parks Fisheries fear new marine parks
Federal Government plans for a network of marine parks around WA's south west could force dozens of commercial fishermen on the south coast out of business, the State Government has claimed.

Outlining for the first time the possible impact of marine park plans for Commonwealth waters between Kalbarri and Kangaroo Island in South Australia, the Department of Fisheries has warned the changes could make several fisheries "economically unviable".

The department said shark fishermen on the south coast were likely to be among those hardest hit. Other commercial fishing activities, including trawling, could also be affected.

The warnings emerged just days before Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke is set to announce the draft boundaries.

"It is likely that the marine reserves along the south coast could exclude all fishing of the demersal gillnet and demersal long-line managed (shark) fishery, potentially making the fishery unviable," the department wrote.

With the Federal Government facing potential payout claims of millions of dollars, the fisheries department also noted that Canberra had yet to release details about how it would compensate displaced fishers.

Mr Burke would not be drawn on the State Government's claims, saying it was premature.

"There has been extensive consultation and draft plans for the south-west region will be released soon (and) that will be followed by a further period of consultation," Mr Burke said.

Conservation Council marine co-ordinator Tim Nicol said it was "inevitable that some fishing will have to be displaced in some areas" and there was evidence that shark species on the south coast were being overfished.

Jeff Cooke, an Augustashark fisherman for most of his life, said the sector had been given little information about how the marine parks would affect it.

"I can't really say too much until I see what areas they're talking about but we're certainly concerned - it's my livelihood and my two boys' livelihood," Mr Cooke said.

Australian gillnet fishing measures to help protected species

Radio Australia News: Australian gillnet fishing measures to help protected species
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has introduced new measures to ensure the gillnet fishing industry keeps better records when protected species are caught.

The authority says some vessel operators have not been keeping accurate records when they catch sea lions or other protected species.

From May, the first boundaries around South Australia's sea lion colonies will be extended to protect them from gillnet fishers.

The authority says cameras will also be installed on all gillnet fishing vessels or independent scientific observers will be on board.

It says trials show onboard cameras are effective for fisheries monitoring.

A spokesman

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Study: 'Explosive' Evolution In Seen Pupfish, Changing Up To 130 Times Faster

Underwater Times: Study: 'Explosive' Evolution In Seen Pupfish, Changing Up To 130 Times Faster
, one from a Caribbean island and one from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, exhibit some of the fastest rates of evolution known in any organism, according to a new UC Davis study.

About 50 species of pupfish are found from Massachusetts to Venezuela — and they are all pretty much the same, said lead study author Chris Martin, a UC Davis graduate student working with Peter Wainwright, a professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis.

"They look the same and they act the same," eating detritus and algae off rocks, Martin said.

Except in two places. In shallow, salty lakes on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, Martin found that one of the three pupfish species present lives by biting the scales off other fish, while another eats small snails and clam shrimp.

No other pupfish is known to eat scales, Martin said.

Among pupfish originally from the Yucatan area, one eats other fish and another feeds on plankton. Sadly, these fish are now extinct in the wild and only found in labs and aquaria.

The pupfish evolved changes to their jaws to match their specialized diet, allowing Martin to construct an evolutionary map for the species.

If the evolution of all pupfish is like a steadily expanding cloud, Martin found that the San Salvador Island and Yucatan pupfish are like bursts of fireworks within it. They show explosive rates of evolution — changing up to 130 times faster than other pupfish, he said.

It's not clear why the pupfish in the two locations are evolving so fast. In both places, the lake water is hot and salty — but that's true in other places where pupfish live. And mosquito fish, found in the same two lakes, show no signs of rapid change.

Martin is continuing his research by taking lab-bred fish, including hybrids, back to the lakes to see whether they thrive. He hopes to see which fish succeed out of a spectrum of hybrids.

The research is published online in the journal Evolution. Martin is a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow.

Record Number Of Whales, Krill Found In The Antarctic Bays

Underwater Times: Record Number Of Whales, Krill Found In The Antarctic Bays; 'The Lack Of Sea Ice Is Good News For The Whales'
DURHAM, South Carolina -- Scientists have observed a "super-aggregation" of more than 300 humpback whales gorging on the largest swarm of Antarctic krill seen in more than 20 years in bays along the Western Antarctic Peninsula.

The sightings, made in waters still largely ice-free deep into austral autumn, suggest the previously little-studied bays are important late-season foraging grounds for the endangered whales. But they also highlight how rapid climate change is affecting the region.

The Duke University-led team tracked the super-aggregation of krill and whales during a six-week expedition to Wilhelmina Bay and surrounding waters in May 2009. They published their findings today in the online science journal PLoS ONE.

"Such an incredibly dense aggregation of whales and krill has never been seen before in this area at this time of year," says Douglas P. Nowacek, Repass-Rodgers University Associate Professor of Conservation Technology at Duke. Most studies have focused on whale foraging habitats located in waters farther offshore in austral summer.

Nowacek and his colleagues observed 306 humpback whales – or about 5.1 whales per square kilometer, the highest density ever recorded – in Wilhelmina Bay. They measured the krill biomass at about 2 million tons. Small, floating fragments of brash ice covered less than 10 percent of the bay. The team returned in May 2010 and recorded similar numbers. Smaller but still higher-than-normal counts were also reported in neighboring Andvord Bay.

Advancing winter sea ice used to cover much of the peninsula's bays and fjords by May, protecting krill and forcing humpback whales to migrate elsewhere to find food, Nowacek says, but rapid climate change in the area over the last 50 years has significantly reduced the extent, and delayed the annual arrival, of the ice cover.

"The lack of sea ice is good news for the whales in the short term, providing them with all-you-can-eat feasts as the krill migrate vertically toward the bay's surface each night. But it is bad news in the long term for both species, and for everything else in the Southern Ocean that depends on krill," says Ari S. Friedlaender, co-principal investigator on the project and research scientist at Duke.

Antarctic krill are shrimplike creatures that feed primarily on phytoplankton and live in large swarms in the Southern Ocean. Penguins, seals, seabirds and many whale species rely on the protein-rich, pinky-sized crustaceans as a source of food. Commercial fisheries are allowed to harvest up to three-and-a-half tons of the krill a year as food for farm-raised salmon and for oil, rich in omega-3 acids, which is used in human dietary supplements.

Around the Western Antarctic Peninsula, krill migrate in austral autumn from open ocean waters to phytoplankton-rich bays and fjords, where juveniles feed and the population overwinters under the protective cover of ice. There is a strong correlation between the amount of sea ice and the amount of krill that survive the long, harsh Antarctic winter.

"If there are more areas with large aggregations of krill hanging out in waters where sea ice has diminished, you could see a big decrease in the standing krill stock, especially if we have a few years of back-to-back bad ice and the krill can't replenish themserlves," Friedlaender says. Scientists already have documented drops in krill abundance over the last 50 years related to reduced sea ice cover. Further drops could have far-reaching consequences. Seals and penguins have a relatively small foraging range, and some can't eat any prey other than krill or hunt without the presence of sea ice. Whales can migrate longer distances and might be able to find food elsewhere, but may be affected in other ways, as evidenced by snippets of unexpected sounds being transmitted by 11 whales the Duke team tagged in the study.

"We're starting to hear songs being produced by whales in the Antarctic – sexual advertisements typically heard only in humpback breeding grounds that are located thousands of miles away from these bays," Friedlaender says.

Humpback whales typically reproduce once every three years, "so if a female doesn't have to go to the breeding grounds every year – if she has access to food here and isn't being forced out by sea cover – why should she leave?" Nowacek says. The presence of more females, coupled with access to a nightly krill feast, entices more males to stick around too. "So this may affect the timing and location of humpback breeding and other important lifecycle events."

Consideration of these factors, and the effects of rapid climate change, on krill dynamics will be critical to managing sustainable krill harvests and the continued recovery of baleen whales in the Southern Ocean, he says.

Nowacek holds appointments at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Pratt School of Engineering. He and Friedlaender's co-authors on the study were Patrick Halpin, David Johnston and Andrew Read of Duke; Elliott Hazen of the NOAA/University of Hawaii Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research; Boris Espinasse of the Université de la Méditerranée; and Meng Zhou and Yiwu Zhu of the University of Massachusetts. The study was conducted aboard the research vessel Lawrence M. Gould, which is operated by the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fisheries and Oceans ordered to pay $80,000 in killer whale court case

The Vancouver Sun: Fisheries and Oceans ordered to pay $80,000 in killer whale court case

The Federal Court of Canada ordered the federal fisheries department Tuesday to pay Ecojustice $80,000 in court costs in a case in which Ottawa last Dec. 7 was found to not be protecting critical habitat of resident killer whales as required under the Species At Risk Act.

Justice James Russell ordered the payment, in part, because the fisheries department had taken an "unjustifiably evasive and obstructive approach to these proceedings for no other purpose than to thwart the Applicants' attempts to bring important public issues before the Court which the Respondents had failed to clarify.

"This has resulted in substantial and unnecessary difficulty and expense to the Applicants, and unnecessarily lengthened and complicated the proceedings."

Ecojustice executive director Devon Page said in response that federal fisheries was "almost bizarrely obstructive in our legal case to identify and protect orca habitat and got spanked for it."

The $80,000 covers legal fees incurred by nine environmental groups, including Sierra Club, David Suzuki Foundation, and Greenpeace, who hired Ecojustice to fight their case.

Prey-Tell: Why Right Whales Linger In The Gulf Of Maine;

Underwater Times: Prey-Tell: Why Right Whales Linger In The Gulf Of Maine; 'the Behavior Of The Prey Influences The Behavior Of The Whales'
-- As they might with most endangered animals, scientists consider the whereabouts and activities of right whales extremely important. "It is helpful to know where they go, why they go there and what they do when they're there," says Mark F. Baumgartner of the biology department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

Baumgartner and his colleagues studied the behavior of right whales and sei whales—both endangered species of baleen whales—in the waters of the Gulf of Maine to the east of Nantucket. They found that the location, the length of stay, and perhaps the very abundance of the whales may be dependent on an interesting vertical migration pattern by the copepods on which the whales feed. It seems to be a case, he said, of "how the behavior of the prey influences the behavior of the whales."

The algae-eating copepod, Calanus finmarchicus, appears to migrate up and down in the water column to avoid being eaten by predators such as herring and sand lance. Since these fish need to see their prey in order to feed, copepods often remain at depths where sunlight will not penetrate during the daytime. Under cover of night, they leave this deep, dark refuge, swim to the surface, and feed on algae in relative safety.

In turn, this pattern, the scientists report in a recent issue of the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, has a "dramatic impact" on the behavior and whereabouts of the whales. They found that right whales, which are capable of feeding at depths of 450 to 600 feet below the surface, continued to stay in the area and feed on copepods deep in the water column during the day. The sei whales, on the other hand, were "significantly less abundant" when the copepods displayed vertical migration. Unlike the right whales, the sei whales probably cannot feed at depth during the day, so they may leave the area in search of better feeding conditions elsewhere.

For reasons not well understood, the critically endangered right whale is vulnerable to being hit by ships while at the surface. Baumgartner points out that nighttime may prove particularly dangerous for right whales as they feed on copepods that have migrated to the surface, yet captains piloting ships in the dark have no way to see and avoid the whales.

"Our study also helps us understand why right whales stick around in this area, from about mid April to mid June," Baumgartner said. Because of their ability to feed below the surface, "they are able to out-compete the herring" for food, he said.

It had been thought that the recovery of herring stocks in the last decade might further threaten the right whale by depleting its food supply, Baumgartner said. But these latest observations—along with a rise in the North Atlantic right whale population from roughly 300 to 400 since 1999—suggest that herring recovery does not threaten the right whale population, he said.

At the same time, the herring and sand lance, by inducing the copepods' vertical migration behavior, "are likely influencing the distribution and abundance of sei whales" in that area, the researchers report. However, since the sei whale population numbers in the thousands, Baumgartner said their tendency to go elsewhere to look for food is not as great a concern as it would be for the right whale.

"The good news is that the recovery of herring stocks is not going to be a problem for the right whale population," Baumgartner said. "The bad news is that if the right whales are feeding at the surface at night, they are at greater risk for ship strikes than we had thought earlier."

The study was conducted during the spring seasons of 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

15 dead sharks wash ashore in Manatee County

BayNews9, Florida: 15 dead sharks wash ashore in Manatee County
A mystery is brewing on Manatee County's beautiful beaches -- researchers are trying to figure out why sharks are washing ashore dead.

Recently more than a dozen dead sharks were found on the north ends of Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island.

"There were no real indicators of what went wrong with them," Dr. Nick Whitney, Staff Scientist for the Center for Shark Research at MOTE Marine Laboratory said. "There are no obvious signs of damage from fishing or net damage or anything like that."

The species of sharks found were bonnetheads, blacknose and sharpnose.

Whitney said he's ruled out the possibility that the sharks died as a result of last year's oil spill.

"Oil spill is pretty unlikely because these animals tend to be coastal," said Whitney. "They move up and down coast, but they wouldn't tend to go off shore and in deep water where oil is."

For now, Whitney says what happened to these sharks remains a mystery.

Researchers have sent samples from the sharks to a different lab to try and see if red tide killed them.

However, they say this is highly unlikely since they have not detected any red tide in the area.

MOTE researchers say finding a dead shark now and then is not rare, but it is uncommon to find a group of them dead within a few days.

Navy finishes review of San Diego dolphin deaths

The Navy finishes review of San Diego dolphin deaths
SAN DIEGO -- The Navy has concluded that it would have been dangerous to stop an underwater training blast believed to have killed three or four dolphins last month off San Diego Bay.

The 3rd Fleet public affairs office said Monday that Navy divers monitored the area for marine mammals for more than 90 minutes before placing a charge on the ocean floor.

The Navy says that 10 minutes into the 15-minute countdown, observers spotted dolphins approaching and the commanders determined it would have been too dangerous to try to stop the detonation. They instead placed their boat between the dolphins and the detonation site in an attempt to head off the pod.

The Navy has concluded that it would have been dangerous to stop an underwater training blast believed to have killed three or four dolphins last month off San Diego Bay.

Training remains suspended.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The great supermarket fish scam: Shoppers 'are being duped into buying mislabelled species'

Daily Mail Online: The great supermarket fish scam: Shoppers 'are being duped into buying mislabelled species'
From England:
Shoppers are being duped by major supermarkets into buying portions of fish that contain other, much cheaper species, it has been claimed.
A total of 400 fish dishes bought from Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose and Lidl were DNA tested as part of a new study.
And the analysis of the tests revealed that 23 portions –

With Britons consuming 4.4billion portions of fish each year that means 264million could potentially contain the wrong fish.
Some portions of haddock on sale were, in fact, cod, the research found.

In one case a packet of Young’s Flipper Dippers – labelled as containing Alaska Pollock - was made using the Vietnamese river cobbler, a freshwater catfish.
Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: 'In an era where the stocks of almost every fish species on the planet are a matter of deep concern, it is vital that every fish that reaches market is labelled and sold for what it is.'
And in another case a smoked haddock pie, promising the finest ‘flaked North Atlantic haddock’, contained the cheaper Pacific cod.
Last night, campaigners claimed the findings undermined fish conservation and were of ‘serious concern’ at a time of dwindling fish stocks.
Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: ‘In an era where the stocks of almost every fish species on the planet are a matter of deep concern, it is vital that every fish that reaches market is labelled and sold for what it is.’

As part of the study experts from Bangor University carried out DNA tests on the fish samples. Overall, six per cent of the 400 samples tested were mislabelled.
Four of the 63 fish products bought from Tesco contained the wrong fish.

In one case, its creamy fish pie was not made with the prime smoked haddock it promised, but with cod.
Elsewhere, three of the 59 samples purchased from Asda failed to contain the right fish.

Its cod fishcakes actually contained haddock whilst a haddock pie and a haddock fillet were made using Atlantic cod.

At Waitrose two out of 28 samples tested were mislabelled.

One of them, a mini smoked haddock pie offering ‘flaked North Atlantic haddock’, actually contained cheap Pacific cod.

A quarter of the 12 samples taken and tested from German-owned Lidl also contained the wrong fish.

Its Ocean Trader Atlantic cod fillets contained cheaper Pacific cod whilst its Reef Crest ‘smoked haddock’ fishcakes were made from Atlantic cod.

At Morrisons six of the 71 products sampled were mislabelled whilst at Sainsbury’s two out of 63 samples contained a much cheaper cod than what was on offer.

Out of 30 samples from Young’s, only the Flipper Dippers appeared to have been mislabelled.

Dr Sarah Helyar, who carried out the analysis for the Greenpeace-Sunday Times research, said: ‘The study shows that the overall rate of mislabelling appears to be low, but this is a huge industry.

‘If replicated across outlets nationwide, the impact would undoubtedly be significant both in terms of consequences for the conservation and management of our fish stocks, and on the costs to consumers.’

Gary Carvalho, professor of molecular ecology at Bangor University and an expert in fish genetics, oversaw the study.
He said: ‘(The study) suggests that fish are being landed and marketed outside of the quotas set by governments for vulnerable species.

‘That undermines the conservation and management of dwindling fish stocks.’

John Sauven, the executive director for Greenpeace, said: ‘Our supermarkets promote themselves on the sustainability of their products but this study shows they need to clean up their act.

‘Misleading customers is one thing. Selling fish from depleted stocks labelled as something else is even worse.’

Today, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose all promised to launch an immediate investigation into the findings.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability for the British Retail Consortium, said: 'We haven’t been given the chance to see these results in detail, and DNA tests of this nature haven’t always proved to be reliable.’

The findings come just two years after the Food Standards Agency collected 380 samples of fish from restaurants, fish and chip shops and pubs.

They found that 10 per cent of the meals contained a different fish species from the one on the menu, with haddock often replacing cod.

Although a rare occurrence those caught mis-selling fish can be prosecuted by trading standards.
In 2009, the Cat Hill fish bar in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, was fined £4,000 plus costs under the Food Safety Act for passing off Vietnamese catfish as cod.

And last year Balbir Singh Bachra, of the Trident Fish Bar in Market Harborough, was prosecuted for a similar offence, detected through DNA tests.
A 2010 study by the University College Dublin collected 156 samples of cod and haddock from supermarkets, fishmongers’ shops and takeaway restaurants throughout the city and found that a quarter were not the species described on the label or menu.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Greens vow to protect sea animals

Invurie Herald: Greens vow to protect sea animals
The Greens want to bring back plans to designate Scottish waters as a whale and dolphin sanctuary.

The party's proposed "cetacean" sanctuary is one of several marine policies in its Scottish election manifesto published on Tuesday.

Attempts by the Greens to create a whale and dolphin sanctuary as an amendment to last year's Scottish Marine Bill were voted down by the other parties.

Although, hunting and killing whales and dolphins is banned in British waters, the amendment would have meant all planning applications at sea would have to take dolphin and whale habitats and routes into account.

The sanctuary would cover all of Scotland's inshore and offshore waters out to the 200-mile territorial limit, and would introduce a presumption of protection for whales and dolphins while in those waters.

Eleanor Scott, the party's co-convener, said: "Scottish waters provide one of the best whale-watching opportunities in Europe.

"The designation of the whole of Scotland's seas as a cetacean sanctuary would assist Scotland's growing whale and dolphin-watching businesses, and would provide much needed support for remote and coastal communities that rely on eco-tourism for much of their income and employment."

The Greens have also pledged to end the legal shooting of seals, block ship-to-ship oil transfers, end the dumping of waste at sea and work with other countries to end global whaling.

In Spite Of Widely Publicized Fears, Bluefin Tuna Populations Are Actually Rebounding

Underwater Times: In Spite Of Widely Publicized Fears, Bluefin Tuna Populations Are Actually Rebounding

SAN DIEGO, California -- A study released on April 19 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) offers a dire prediction: More than 40 species of marine fish currently found in the Mediterranean could disappear in the next few years. According to the report, commercial species, including the Bluefin Tuna, are considered threatened or near threatened with extinction at the regional level, mainly due to overfishing.

"The Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic population of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is of particular concern," says Kent Carpenter, IUCN Global Marine Species Assessment Coordinator. "There has been an estimated 50% decline in this species' reproduction potential over the past 40 years due to intensive overfishing. The lack of compliance with current quotas combined with widespread underreporting of the catch may have undermined conservation efforts for this species in the Mediterranean."

This statement is baffling given the best available information on the issues of the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic Bluefin stock. The "widespread underreporting" and "lack of compliance with current quotas" must refer to incidents before the 2008-2010 reform of ICCAT, as no reports of illegal fishing have been filed since 2009, according to ICCAT's illegal vessel list (, in spite of much strengthened policing of the waters and tighter control of the fishing. The study also contradicts the result of ICCAT's scientific body, SCRS, which published a report ( in autumn 2010, the most comprehensive assessment of the status of the stock ever made.

"With the exception of the Atlantic Bluefin over the past two years, the Atlantic Bluefin stocks did suffer from a lack of coordinated management over the last few decades," notes Oli Steindorsson, Chief Executive Officer of Umami Sustainable Seafood. Mr. Steindorsson, a native of an Icelandic fishing village, is relying on his deep roots in the industry, and lessons learned from the overfishing and replenishment of the cod stock in his native country, to position Umami at the forefront of the fight for sustainable use of the world's Bluefin stock.

As concerns over depleting the natural stock of Bluefin Tuna have increased in recent years, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has reduced the total available catch for the Eastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (NBT) from 32,000 metric tons in 2006 to 13,500 tons in 2010 and 12,900 in 2011. A stock assessment conducted by SCRS in October 2010 calculated the Mediterranean stock of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna at approximately 175,000 metric tons, a significant improvement over a 2007 estimate of 78,000 metric tons, 57% of the historical highpoint of the stock in 1955-1957. Management measures put in place by ICCAT have outlawed illegal unreported catches and set the stock on a track to regain its former prominence. According to SCRS, the scientific body of ICCAT, the stock is expected to reach equilibrium in 2022, given the current quota of 12,900 metric tons.

Umami's sustainability strategy is built around a set of objectives. For example, Umami strictly adheres to the catch levels scientifically required to permit the replenishment of Bluefin and other overfished species in particular regions. Also, the tuna that is caught by Umami is being farmed year round in cages at its facilities in Croatia and Mexico, a step that is helping to increase biomass and to decrease the need to overfish wild stocks. (Umami's stock of Bluefin increased from 1,315 metric tons on June 30, 2009 to 1,719 metric tons one year later.) In addition, Umami is overseeing the spawning of its farmed fish and fertilized eggs and is already releasing fry back into the natural environment.

"We are very proud of the work we have done to date to build a sustainable aquaculture business around the Northern Bluefin Tuna species and we are excited about our future," says Mr. Steindorsson. "Currently, we are the among very few companies in the world that is capable of farming Bluefin Tuna year-round. Our sites have been strategically chosen for that purpose, and we hold more than half of the known locations worldwide where tuna can be farmed year-round.

"There are no predators, such as sea otters, sea lions or sharks, in the Adriatic waters—where our Croatian facility is located—that might attack the fish in captivity. In the Pacific, where there are natural predators, we have built cages to keep the predators out of our Mexican facility. The waters where our farming sites are located are pristine, with no cases of red or blue tide caused by the damaging build-up of algae. There is no industrial production nearby either of our facilities, and in both places there is exceptionally clean water. The islands surrounding the farm sites offer natural shelter against most storms. In addition, the salt and oxygen levels and the water temperature offer a good combination of conditions for sustainable growth of the tuna."

Bluefin farmed by Umami is fed only whole, small pelagic fish. No chemicals, drugs or additives are fed to the fish. Umami has managed to maintain a feed-conversion ratio of 13:1 at its Croatian facility and 17:1 at its Mexican facility, in contrast to the industry average of around 20 and the 25-30:1 ratio required in the wild. This means that the company is able to sustain its stock of tuna with considerably less feed than what even Mother Nature can manage.

Umami's operations hold a larger number of sexually mature fish than can be found in captivity anywhere in the world, which in turn spawn in their cages, releasing fry into the wild. The company has put considerable resources into a propagation program, and commercially viable breeding of the northern Bluefin Tuna could become reality within a few years, eliminating the need for wild catch. Umami has a large brood stock population in Croatia, which has been proven to spawn in 2009 and 2010, and it has expanded its knowledge and capabilities in taking the fertilized eggs to the next stage. Umami is well placed to maximize its future production quantities with the use of specific technologies and propagation infrastructure and is focused on achieving the clear objective to close the life cycle of the species as soon as possible. A variety of factors will determine the time involved in achieving this goal.

Umami has campaigned for lower quotas and stricter controls over the last five years, and its stance remains that all fishing should be subject to quota, based on a scientific assessment of maximum annual yield.

"Umami already has a proven record of financial success, and we are taking very good care of the environment along the way," says Mr. Steindorsson. "Although Japan is our major customer, we are now expanding into the EU and US markets so that everyone can enjoy a piece of sustainably grown sashimi on their plate." Umami's sustainability practices represent a major step in keeping the prized Bluefin Tuna thriving—and on our tables as well.

Great Barrier Reef: A Fragile Empire

National Geographic: Great Barrier Reef: A Fragile Empire
Not far beneath the surface of the Coral Sea, where the Great Barrier Reef lives, parrotfish teeth grind against rock, crab claws snap as they battle over hiding spots, and a 600-pound grouper pulses its swim bladder to announce its presence with a muscular whump. Sharks and silver jacks flash by. Anemone arms flutter and tiny fish and shrimp seem to dance a jig as they guard their nooks. Anything that can't glom on to something rigid is tugged and tossed by each ocean swell.

The reef's sheer diversity is part of what makes it great. It hosts 5,000 types of mollusks, 1,800 species of fish, 125 kinds of sharks, and innumerable miniature organisms. But the most riveting sight of all—and the main reason for World Heritage status—is the vast expanse of coral, from staghorn stalks and wave-smoothed plates to mitt-shaped boulders draped with nubby brown corals as leathery as saddles. Soft corals top hard ones, algae and sponges paint the rocks, and every crevice is a creature's home. The biology, like the reef, transforms from the north—where the reef began—to the south. The shifting menagerie is unmatched in the world.

Time and tides and a planet in eternal flux brought the Great Barrier Reef into being millions of years ago, wore it down, and grew it back—over and over again. Now all the factors that let the reef grow are changing at a rate the Earth has never before experienced. This time the reef may degrade below a crucial threshold from which it cannot bounce back.

West Meets Reef
Europeans were introduced to the Great Barrier Reef by British explorer Capt. James Cook, who came upon it quite by accident. On a June evening in 1770, Cook heard the screech of wood against stone; he couldn't have imagined that his ship had run into the most massive living structure on Earth: more than 10,000 square miles of coral ribbons and isles waxing and waning for some 1,400 winding miles.

Cook's team had been exploring the waters offshore of what is now Queensland when the H.M.S. Endeavour became trapped in the labyrinth. Not far beneath the surface, jagged towers of coral tore into the ship's hull and held the vessel fast. As timbers splintered and the sea poured in, the crew arrived on deck "with countenances which sufficiently expressed the horrors of our situation," Cook later wrote in his diary. Captain and crew were able to limp to a river mouth to patch their vessel.

Aborigines had lived in the region for thousands of years before Europeans hit the rocks. Culturally, the reef has been a rich part of the landscape for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have canoed it and fished it and shared myths about its creatures for generations. But historians aren't sure how deep their knowledge went of the reef's geology and animal life. A few decades after Cook's run-in with the behemoth beneath the sea, English cartographer Matthew Flinders—who also had a mishap or two while "threading the needle" among the reefs—gave the entity its name, inspired by its size. All told, if the reef's main chunks were plucked from the sea and laid out to dry, the rock could cover all of New Jersey, with coral to spare.

Expansion and Erosion
This mammoth reef owes its existence to organisms typically no bigger than a grain of rice. Coral polyps, the reef's building blocks, are tiny colonial animals that house symbiotic algae in their cells. As those algae photosynthesize—using light to create energy—each polyp is fueled to secrete a "house" of calcium carbonate, or limestone. As one house tops another, the colony expands like a city; other marine life quickly grabs on and spreads, helping cement all the pieces together.

Off Australia's eastern edge, conditions are ripe for this building of stone walls. Corals grow best in shallow, clear, turbulent water with lots of light to support photosynthesis. Millions of polyp generations later, the reef stands not as a singular thing but as a jumble whose shapes, sizes, and life-forms are determined by where in the ocean they lie—how close to shore, for example—and what forces work on them, such as heavy waves. Go far enough from the coast, where the light is low and the waters are deeper, and there's no reef at all.

"In the Great Barrier Reef, corals set the patterns of life from end to end," says Charlie Veron, coral expert and a longtime chief scientist for the Australian Institute of Marine Science. With over 400 species in the region, "they structure the entire environment; they're the habitat for everything else here." The perfect temperature, clarity, and currents enable plate corals, for example, to increase in diameter up to a foot a year. The reef continuously erodes as well, worn down by waves, ocean chemistry, and organisms that eat limestone. This vanishing act is far slower than the constant building up; still, as much as 90 percent of the rock eventually dissipates into the waters, forming sand. So the living veneer of this reef, the part a diver sees, is ever changing.

And the layers beneath are relatively young, geologically speaking, at less than 10,000 years. The reef's true beginnings go back much further. Closer to 25 million years ago, Veron says, as Queensland edged into tropical waters with the movement of the Indo-Australian tectonic plate, coral larvae began riding south-flowing currents from the Indo-Pacific, grabbing footholds wherever they could. Slowly, rocky colonies grew and spread along the seafloor flush with diverse marine life.

A Rocky Course
Since the reef first found footing, ice ages have come and gone, tectonic plates have crept forward, and ocean and atmospheric conditions have fluctuated wildly. The reef has seen many iterations—expanding and eroding, being defaced and reinhabited at nature's whim.

"A history of the Great Barrier Reef," Veron says, "is a catalog of disasters" caused by planetary chaos. But they are disasters from which the reef has always recovered.

Today new disasters endanger the reef, and the prospect for recovery is uncertain. The relatively quick shift in the world's climate, scientists say, appears to be devastating for reefs. In corals, warming temperatures and increased exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays lead to a stress response called bleaching—when the colorful algae in coral cells become toxic and are expelled, turning the host animals skeletal white. Fleshy seaweeds may then choke out the remains.

Major bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere in 1997-98 was linked to a severe El Niño year and record-high sea-surface temperatures—in some spots 3°F higher than normal. Another round began in 2001 and again in 2005. By 2030, some reef experts say, these destructive episodes will occur every year.

Heat is also implicated in a 60-year decline in ocean phytoplankton—the microscopic organisms that not only gobble greenhouse gases but also feed, directly or indirectly, almost every other living thing in the sea. Reef fish, too, respond to warmer waters—sometimes with bolder, more aggressive behavior toward both predators and prey. Changes in sea level, either up or down, have a dire impact as well, exposing shallow corals to too much sun or drowning them in deeper water, where they're hidden from the light.

A more immediate concern is massive flooding in Australia that earlier this year sent huge plumes of sediment and toxin-laden waters onto the reef off Queensland. The full harm to marine life won't be clear for years, but long stretches of the Great Barrier Reef could experience disastrous die-offs.

And then there's the acid test.

Reef ecosystems worldwide took a pounding during each of Earth's five mass extinctions, the first about 440 million years ago. Greenhouse gases spiked naturally over the millennia, and Aussie biologist Veron says massive spewing of carbon dioxide during periods of heavy volcanic activity was likely a big player in coral decimation, notably the most recent mass extinction some 65 million years ago. At that time, oceans absorbed more and more of those greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, causing ocean acidity to rise. The lower pH—a sign of high levels of acidity—ultimately thwarted the ability of marine creatures to build their limestone shells and skeletons.

In some oceans this acidification is once again happening. The most vulnerable to acid's corrosive bite are the fast-growing branching corals and vital calcium-excreting algae that help bind the reef. The more brittle the reef's bones, the more wave action, storms, diseases, pollutants, and other stresses can break them.

In ancient times many corals adapted to changing ocean acidity, says Veron, who paints a particularly bleak picture of the Barrier Reef's future. "The difference is there were long stretches in between; corals had millions of years to work it out." He fears that with unprecedented CO2, sulfur, and nitrogen emissions by human industry, added to the increasing escape of methane as a result of Earth's melting ice, much of the reef will be nearly bereft of life within 50 years. What will be left? "Coral skeletons bathed in algal slime," he says.

Edging Forward
Of course, to the two million tourists who visit the reef each year, the promise of an underwater paradise teeming with life is still fulfilled. But the blemishes are there if you know where to look. The reef bears a two-mile-long scar from a collision with a Chinese coal carrier in April of last year. Other ship groundings and occasional oil spills have marred the habitat. Sediment plumes from flooding and nutrients from agriculture and development also do very real damage to the ecosystem. But Aussies aren't inclined to let the reef fall apart without a national outcry. The captain of the boat who took me diving put it this way: "Without the reef, there's nothing out here but a whole lot of salty water." To many locals, he adds, "the reef is a loved one whose loss is too sad to contemplate." And it is also crucial economically: The visitors he motors to the reef's edges provide more than one billion dollars annually for Australia's books.

The challenge scientists face is to keep the reef healthy despite rapid change. "To fix a car engine, you need to know how it works," says marine biologist Terry Hughes of James Cook University. "The same is true for reefs." He and others have been investigating how these ecosystems function so that efforts to prevent damage can be doubly effective.

High on the to-do list: Determine the full impact of overfishing. Traditionally, commercial fishermen could work along the reef, even after 133,000 square miles of ocean habitat was designated a marine park in 1975. But with rising concern about the big take, the Australian government in 2004 made a third of that area, in strategically placed zones, off-limits to all fishing—including for sport. The biological recovery has been bigger and faster than expected; within two years after the ban, for example, numbers of coral trout doubled on once heavily fished reef. Some scientists speculate that protective zones may also lead to declines in outbreaks of a devastating coral-eating sea star.

Scientists also want to know what makes specific corals extra tenacious during times of change. "We know some reefs experience much more stressful conditions than others," says reef ecologist Peter Mumby of the University of Queensland. "Looking at decades of sea temperature data, we can now map where corals are most acclimated to warmth and target conservation actions there." He says understanding how corals recover from bleaching—and figuring out where new polyps are likely to grow—can help in designing reserves. Even the outspoken Veron acknowledges that coral survival is possible long-term if the onslaughts against reefs are halted—soon.

Nature has some safeguards of her own, including a genetic script for corals that may have helped them ride out past environmental disruptions. Many reef builders evolve through hybridization—when different species mix genes. As Veron puts it, "everything is always on its way to becoming something else." On the reef, about a third of the corals reproduce in annual mass spawning. During such events, as many as 35 species on a single patch of reef release their egg and sperm bundles simultaneously, which means millions of gametes from genetically different parents mingle in a slick at the ocean surface. "This provides outstanding opportunities to produce hybrids," explains marine biologist Bette Willis of James Cook University. Especially with climate and ocean chemistry in such flux, she says, hybridization can offer a speedy path to adaptation and hardiness against disease.

Indeed, one lesson is that despite today's weighty threats, the Great Barrier Reef won't easily crumble. It has, after all, toughed it out through catastrophic change before. And all kinds of marine life are around to help keep the reef whole. In studies conducted in 2007, scientists found that where grazing fish thrive, so do corals, especially in waters polluted with excess nutrients. "If you take away herbivores, say through over­fishing, seaweed replaces corals," says Hughes. If voracious vegetarians are protected, corals can prevail.

A human visitor to the reef can see the fish doing their vital job. In dappled afternoon light toward the reef's northern tip, palatial walls of coral tower over a rare species of batfish, long finned and masked in black, that nibbles back strands of sargassum. And a school of parrotfish—fused teeth like wire cutters—chip away noisily at the rocks, where algae in mats of green and red have quietly taken hold.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gulf oil disaster still puzzles scientists

CNN: Gulf oil disaster still puzzles scientists
CNN) -- One year after the chocolaty crude started spewing out of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the largest accidental oil spill in history, scientists say they're still trying to piece together what's happening to the environment.

Some potential clues about the impact of the spill have made themselves known: dead baby dolphins and sea turtles; oiled brown pelicans; fish with strange sores; sticky marsh grasses; tar balls on beaches.

But the big picture hasn't come into focus yet.

Did the oil spill shatter the Gulf's food chain? Will fish have trouble reproducing because of exposure to hydrocarbons? What did those dispersants, which were supposed to break up the oil, do to the ecosystem on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico? Or did the Earth already heal itself?

Scientists can't say for sure, and it may be years or decades before some of these nagging questions about the Gulf oil disaster's impact will be answered with any sort of authority or clarity, they said in interviews.

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Nungesser still asking who's in charge? The lab geeks know this is frustrating both for journalists and the public, but they beg for our patience as they try to put this enormous puzzle together.

"Scientists have two things that probably aggravate the lay public. One of them is 'I wish I had more data' and the other is 'I wish I had more funding,'" said Christopher Reddy, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who has been studying the impact of the spill. "But, in this case, prudence trumps urgency -- or, in your case, the curiosity of your readers."

He added: "We have thousands of samples still in the queue to be analyzed or haven't come out. It may take many years to determine whether some (particular) species was affected. You just have to be prudent at this point. The one year anniversary is a day for mourning and reflection; it's not a day for science."

In this relative data vacuum, politicians, pundits and science-types have spun stories about the impact of the oil spill on the natural environment.

There's the bacteria-ate-the-oil-so-everything's-fine storyline, as offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That federal agency in November issued a much-disputed report saying the vast majority of the oil in the Gulf had evaporated, dispersed or was eaten by microorganisms.

At the other end of the spectrum, it's the eco-pocalypse angle, as supported by scientists who, especially in the early days of the spill, said oil could coat Louisiana marshes and kill off most everything in the path.

"There may be tidbits of truth amongst all these topics," Reddy said.

"The unfortunate thing is that we can't put the Gulf in an MRI. So despite heroic efforts to collect samples, we can't look to see if there has been an area that's been damaged directly."

While the oil's effect on specific species remains unclear, scientists can say with some certainty that the Gulf oil disaster was not the all-out catastrophe it seemed it would be in the early days of the spill, said Roger Helm, a marine ecologist and chief of the environmental contaminants division at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Beyond that, he said, much is uncertain.

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Ken Feinberg: The $20 billion man "This isn't something where people should say, 'Oh well, we dodged a bullet.' I think that's an incorrect conclusion," he said. "It's unlikely at this time that we will have a catastrophic effect. The probability is low. But there's no question that a lot of oil was released, a lot of animals died and this system, at least over the short term, is not going to be the same."

Helm is on a team of federal scientists working to conduct a formal Natural Resource Damage Assessment, which is a mandated accounting of what impact the disaster had on the Gulf environment. The assessment will be used to charge responsible companies, including BP, for the damages. If the government and responsible companies don't agree on the scope the damages and the cost of repair, the process can end up in litigation.

Much of the information that will be used for that assessment will be available in three to five years, Helm said. Speculating about the situation before that would be irresponsible and beyond the bounds of what science allows, he said.

The fact that scientists are saying "we don't know " is not the same as saying everything is fine, said Samantha Joye, a University of Georgia oceanographer who has been studying the impact of the spill on the deep waters of the Gulf.

"With the dead dolphins and the dead sea turtles and the dead baby sharks -- I think the impacts on the system are much more serious than anyone's willing to admit or talk about," she said, "and I find that really disturbing.

"The people who live there, they see this every day. They know what's going on. And (elsewhere) it's just dropped off everyone's radar."

In December, Joye traveled to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in a submarine. She found an oily substance coating the seafloor, she said. It appeared to have fallen on the bottom of the ocean from above.

"This stuff came down like a blizzard, and the fact that it came down so fast means that sessile (immobile) organisms had no escape. They basically were buried by it or suffocated by it," she said.

She found dead worms, crabs, brittle stars, sea urchins, corals and sea fans, she said. All of that is bad in and of itself, she said, but it also raises big questions about what the damage on the ocean floor means for the rest of the Gulf ecosystem. Changes a mile beneath the surface can take decades or longer to work themselves out of the environment, she said.

There are several reasons scientists are hesitant to make big claims about the health of the Gulf after the oil disaster.

One is that history teaches us to expect the unexpected.

Three years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the population of herring collapsed. No one saw that coming, and that fish species, 22 years later, is still reported to be struggling.

It's a "cliche of ecology" that everything's connected, but it's true, said Andrew Whitehead, an assistant professor of biology at Louisiana State University. The Gulf ecosystem is a maddening web of causes and effects, and it's impossible to know what long-term impacts the spill will have, he said.

Whitehead has been studying gulf killifish to see if those fish that were exposed to petrochemicals will function differently long after those chemicals are gone. Specifically, he wants to know if the oil has made fish DNA function in a different and possibly harmful way.

"Initial mortalities that make the news aren't necessarily the most predictive of the long-term effects (of oil) on populations," he said. "It's those sub-lethal effects on growth, on reproduction that are the most insidious for really impacting populations in the long term."

Another reason for uncertainty is that the Gulf spill was unprecedented.

More than 200 million gallons of oil were released into the water, making it the largest accidental oil spill in history; furthermore, the spill occurred 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, making the situation hard to monitor and study.

Some deep-water scientists have taken to calling the ocean floor "inner space" because we know less about it than some parts of outer space and the moon.

The federal government also authorized the use of chemical dispersants to break up the oil at these extreme depths. The impact of that decision is unknown and will play out over years, said Elizabeth Kujawinski, an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has been studying the impact of dispersants on the environment.

"I don't think we have a good handle on ecological impact yet," she said.

Migrating animals are also cause for confusion.

In some cases, it's just impossible to check up on a particular kind of fish or bird because those creatures only come to the Gulf once a year or once every few years and then move away -- possibly after being affected by the oil.

"The turtles that were impacted in this event won't really come back to nest for somewhere between 20 and 30 years" even under normal conditions, said Helms, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "There were a lot of whale sharks that were in the area; we're not really sure what happened with the whale sharks and their movement" after the spill.

Finally, these effects also are difficult to pin on oil.

Since January, 199 dead sea turtles and at least 86 dead baby dolphins have washed up on Gulf shores. It's unclear to what degree these deaths were connected to the spill, according to NOAA reports, but the dolphin deaths in particular have been determined abnormal enough to be called an "unusual mortality event" by the government.

Scientists say they're working furiously to figure things out.

"There's some great science going on -- it's just not ready at the one-year anniversary," said Reddy, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "Because the one-year anniversary is just an arbitrary day."

Do humpback whales use the stars to navigate?

Daily Mail Online: Do humpback whales use the stars to navigate?
Humpback whales can travel thousands of miles deep underwater in an astonishingly straight line - and the sun, moon and stars may be why they never get lost.

Scientists used satellite technology to track 16 tagged whales as they migrated thousands of kilometres northwards from the South Atlantic and South Pacific - but could not work out how they manage to navigate their way through the ocean's turbulent waters with such accuracy.

But it has now emerged the huge mammals may use a combination of the sun's position, Earth's magnetism and even star maps to guide their journeys, which can up 10,000 miles long.

Experts say humpbacks never deviate more than about five degrees from their migration courses.

Most of the whales in the experiment, which were tracked between 2003 and 2010, maintained an almost dead-straight course, deviating by less than one degree - despite the effects of weather and ocean currents.

Writing in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, Travis Horton from the University of Canterbury said: 'They are orienting with something outside of themselves, not something internal.'

Most long-distance travelling animals are believed to navigate using a compass based either on the Earth's magnetic field, or the position of the sun.
But neither method can account for the extraordinary navigational ability of humpback whales, said the scientists, and they suspect the mammals use a combination of all three to find their way.

They said the earth's magnetism varies too widely to explain the straight lines and solar navigation needs reference points not available in the water.

They wrote in the letter: 'It seems unlikely that individual magnetic and solar orientation cues can, in isolation, explain the extreme navigational precision achieved by humpback whales.

'The relatively slow movements of humpback whales, combined with their clear ability to navigate with extreme precision over long distances, present outstanding opportunities to explore alternative mechanisms of migratory orientation based on empirical analysis of track data.'

Humpbacks feed during the summer near polar oceans and migrate to warmer tropical oceans for the winter when they mate and calves are born.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Propeller Turbulence May Affect Marine Food Webs; 'Reducing The Supply Of Food Energy Available

Study: Propeller Turbulence May Affect Marine Food Webs; 'Reducing The Supply Of Food Energy Available

GLOUCESTER POINT, Virginia -- A new study by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science shows that turbulence from boat propellers can and does kill large numbers of copepods—tiny crustaceans that are an important part of marine food webs.

The study—by VIMS graduate student Samantha Bickel, VIMS professor Kam Tang, and Hampton University undergraduate Joseph Malloy Hammond—appears in the March issue of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

The researchers don't expect their findings to lead to any new "No Wake" signs in local waterways; their interest instead is to better understand how significant levels of propeller-induced mortality among copepods might affect local food webs in Chesapeake Bay and other highly trafficked waterways.

"Non-predatory mortality such as this is rarely considered in the literature," says Bickel, "but it could be important for properly understanding zooplankton ecology and food-web dynamics in coastal and estuarine waters, particularly during summer months when recreational boating increases."

Zooplankton are small drifting animals that consume algae and other microscopic floating plants. Copepods—shrimp-like crustaceans about the size of a rice grain—typically make up a major part of the zooplankton community and serve an important role by moving energy up the marine food chain—from microscopic plants that are too small for most fish to eat up to larger game-fish and, ultimately, humans.

"If turbulence from boat propellers is killing off large numbers of copepods," says Bickel, "it could be reducing the supply of food energy available to fish, and reducing zooplankton grazing of algal blooms. It's like cutting down the number of zebras in a herd," she adds. "That would affect not only the zebras, but also the grass they eat and the lions that eat them."

This type of shift could potentially have a noticeable impact on marine food webs and water quality. "If a large portion of copepods are being killed, and if they sink down to the bottom, you could have additional high-quality organic material available for bottom-dwelling organisms to eat," says Bickel. "If the amount is high enough, microbial decomposition could even perhaps contribute to development of localized low-oxygen 'dead zones.'"

The researchers caution that there are untold millions of zooplankton in the world's aquatic systems, so that when viewed at a global scale, the portion of copepods killed by boat-generated turbulence is probably minimal.

"The importance of turbulence as a source of mortality among copepods would be of much greater importance at a local scale," says Bickel, "including highly trafficked areas near harbors and marinas, and within closed freshwater systems such as lakes."

The research team studied propeller-induced mortality both in the field and laboratory. During the spring of 2010, they sampled copepods at three sites near the mouth of the Hampton River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay. One site was a marina with numerous boats but minimal turbulence due to an imposed speed limit. The second was in a high-traffic area of a nearby navigational channel, where fast-moving boats generated considerable turbulence in their wakes. The third site was a tranquil shoreline opposite from the marina, with few boats and little or no boat-generated turbulence.

They compared the percentage of live and dead copepods collected from these sites using a dye that is only taken up by living copepods. The results of their comparison showed a much higher fraction of dead copepods in the channel (34%) than in the marina (5.9% dead) or along the shoreline (5.3%).

A field experiment in the York River near the VIMS campus confirmed the results of the Hampton River study. Here, they sampled copepods from within the wakes of passing boats, and again found a link between turbulence and mortality: the percentage of copepod carcasses increased from 7.7% outside the wakes to 14.3% inside the wakes.

The researchers were careful in both cases to minimize turbulence from their own vessel, using a rowboat for the Hampton River study and maintaining an idle during sampling in the York.

The team's final experiment took place in the laboratory, where they exposed copepods to turbulence from a small motor calibrated to mimic the effects of different boat propellers. Their results again confirmed their earlier findings, with a clear link between mortality and increasing levels of turbulent energy.

Their experiments also show that natural turbulence from tides, currents, and waves is unlikely to stress or kill copepods other than perhaps during an extreme storm event such as a hurricane or nor'easter.

BP oil spill: The environmental impact one year on

BBC News Science&Environment: BP oil spill: The environmental impact one year on
By Mark Kinver

Science and environment reporter, BBC News Scientists have warned that it is too soon to attempt to offer a considered assessment on what impact the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest of its kind, has had on the Gulf of Mexico's wildlife.

In short, they said, nature did not work in such a way that the full picture will present itself within just one year.

Also, they added, more data needed to be gathered in the months and years ahead to gauge the full extent of the incident, which covered such a vast area.

Turtles are among the animals affected by the leak Dr Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) - one of the federal agencies leading the clean-up operation - said there were reasons to be optimistic.

In an interview with the AP news agency, she said that the health of the Gulf is "much better than people feared", but the jury was out about what the end result would be.

"It's premature to conclude that things are good. There are surprises coming up - we're finding dead baby dolphins," she observed.

Researchers and conservation groups said it was difficult to access information being gathered as part of an investigation by a federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process.

The NRDA is a formal framework in which government agencies look at the damage caused by the spill to natural resources and services - such as fisheries, wetlands, protected species, agricultural land - and calculate how much it would cost to repair the "injuries".

"What we know is very sketchy," said Claude Gascon, chief science officer for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

"We have tried, and many others have tried, and it is almost impossible to get any idea what that group of agencies and researchers are actually finding.

"The simple reason for that is that there is going to be so much potential litigation in terms of settlements etc, " Dr Gascon told BBC News.

"So it is very difficult to know at the moment, the scale of the impact has been and will be in the future.

"All of us, including conservation organisations, professionals and academics, are keenly awaiting whatever the federal process will release into the public domain."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ocean Warming Detrimental To Inshore Fish Species; 'Slowing Growth And Increased Physiological Stress'

Underwater Times: Scientists: Ocean Warming Detrimental To Inshore Fish Species; 'Slowing Growth And Increased Physiological Stress'
TASMANIA, Australia -- The findings of a study published today in Nature Climate Change indicate negative effects on the growth of a long-lived south-east Australian and New Zealand inshore species – the banded morwong.

Scientific monitoring since 1944 by CSIRO at Maria Island, off the east coast of Tasmania, showed that surface water temperatures in the Tasman Sea have risen by nearly 2°C over the past 60 years. This warming, one of the most rapid in the southern hemisphere oceans, is due to globally increasing sea-surface temperatures and local effects caused by southward extension of the East Australian Current.

"Generally, cold-blooded animals respond to warming conditions by increasing growth rates as temperatures rise," CSIRO marine ecologist Dr Ron Thresher, a co-author of the study with colleagues from the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, said.

"But theory and laboratory studies show that this has a limit. As temperatures get too high, we begin to see increased signs of stress, possibly eventually leading to death. We are looking at whether climate change is beginning to push fish past their physiological limits.

"By examining growth across a range that species inhabit, we found evidence of both slowing growth and increased physiological stress as higher temperatures impose a higher metabolic cost on fish at the warm edge of the range.

"In this case, off northern New Zealand, ocean warming has pushed the banded morwong – which inhabits temperate reefs in waters 10-50m deep – past the point where increasing temperatures are beneficial to growth."

Dr Thresher said climate change can affect species directly by influencing how their bodies function, their growth and behaviour and indirectly through environmental effects on ecosystems. To assess the impacts of this temperature increase on a marine species, the research team analysed long-term changes in the growth rates of the banded morwong (Cheilodactylus spectabilis).

The bony structures fish use for orientation and detection of movement – called otoliths – have annual growth rings which were measured for changes. Similar to growth rings in trees, they can be counted to indicate a fish's age and annual growth rate, estimated by measuring distances between each new ring.

Dr Ron Thresher, CSIROAccording to a co-author of the paper, University of Tasmania (UTas) researcher Dr Jeremy Lyle, banded morwong were used in the study because they can live for almost 100 years and, as adults, they stay in essentially the same area even if the water temperature shifts. They have also been the subject of fisheries studies conducted by UTas researchers.

"Growth rates of young adult banded morwong in SE Australia have increased significantly since 1910 at four sample sites," Dr Lyle said. "The team from CSIRO and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (UTas) compared these changes to temperature trends across the species' distribution. They observed increased growth for populations in the middle of the species' range in Australian waters where temperatures have increased, but are still relatively cool, but growth slowed with rising temperatures at the warmer northern edge of the species' range in New Zealand waters.

Dr Lyle said the study showed that growth performance in banded morwong began to suffer above average annual water temperatures of about 17°C.

"Preliminary field and laboratory studies suggested that this decline in growth may be related to temperature induced physiological stress, resulting in increased oxygen consumption and reduced ability to sustain swimming activity."

Study: 40 Mediterranean fish species could vanish AP News: Study: 40 Mediterranean fish species could vanish
GENEVA (AP) — A new study suggests that more than 40 fish species in the Mediterranean could vanish in the next few years.

The study released Tuesday by the International Union for Conservation of Nature says almost half of the species of sharks and rays in the Mediterranean and at least 12 species of bony fish are threatened with extinction due to overfishing, pollution and the loss of habitat.

Commercial catches of bluefin tuna, sea bass, hake and dusky grouper are particularly threatened, said the study by the Swiss-based IUCN, an environmental network of 1,000 groups in 160 nations.

"The Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic population of the Atlantic bluefin tuna is of particular concern," said Kent Carpenter, IUCN's global marine species assessment coordinator.

He cited a steep drop in the giant fish's reproductive capacity due to four decades of intensive overfishing. Japanese diners consume 80 percent of the Atlantic and Pacific bluefins caught and the two tuna species are especially prized by sushi lovers.

In January, a 754-pound (342-kilogram) bluefin tuna fetched a record 32.49 million yen, or nearly $396,000, in Tokyo at the world's largest wholesale fish market — about $526 per pound ($240 per kilogram).

Fishing in the Mediterranean is regulated by U.N. treaties, the European Union and separate laws among the 21 nations that border the sea.

Last November, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas voted to cut the bluefin fishing quota in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean from 13,500 to 12,900 metric tons annually — about a 4 percent reduction. It also agreed to improve enforcement of quotas on bluefin.

Environmental groups, however, wanted bluefin fishing slashed or suspended and were upset with the limited action.

The IUCN study, which began in 2007 and included 25 marine scientists, is the first time the group has tried to assess native marine fish species in an entire sea.

The study blames the use of highly effective trawlers and driftnets for the incidental capture and killing of hundreds of marine animals with no commercial value. But it also concluded there's not enough information to properly assess almost one-third of the Mediterranean's fish.

"Even though marine resources in the Mediterranean Sea have been exploited for thousands of years and are relatively well studied, the data deficient group may in fact include a large proportion of threatened fishes," the study said, calling for more research.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says fish stocks continue to dwindle globally despite increasing efforts to regulate catches and stop overfishing

Monday, April 18, 2011

BP says it's not responsible for paying to reseed oyster beds BP says it's not responsible for paying to reseed oyster beds
State officials' decision to turn on a number of freshwater diversions full blast to block oil from entering coastal wetlands on both sides of the Mississippi River -- a strategy that decimated private and public oyster beds -- was not approved by the Unified Command overseeing the response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a senior BP official said Friday.

"Having been a part of this response since the beginning, I can tell you categorically that the Coast Guard indicated that it was not necessary and was not seen as a viable response technique," Mike Utsler, chief operating officer of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, said Friday. "As a Unified Command, we saw this as a not-needed exercise, and the state still chose to pursue that course of action."

Utsler said that's one reason why BP has so far refused to pay to restore oyster beds with cultch, the shell material on which oyster eggs attach and grow in the spring and fall.

A second reason, Utsler said, is research released this week by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists that he said showed that oysters process and expel oil contaminants so quickly that they would not have been hurt by the spill.

"I can only quote the fact that there's an article this week by NOAA ... that there's no evidence that oysters have been tainted by or retained any residual oil. And that's testing not only by NOAA, but it was by FDA, EPA and the five states that all participated," he said.

Utsler's comments were immediately attacked by Gov. Bobby Jindal's coastal adviser, Garret Graves, who said the diversion openings were coordinated with the Coast Guard, BP and the Army Corps of Engineers, whose water-flow modeling was used to confirm their potential usefulness.

"BP's comments prove what we have been saying all along -- BP thinks that they are unilaterally in charge of the Deepwater Horizon disaster response and recovery," said Graves, who is chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. "Neither the Coast Guard, that was supposed to be in charge, nor BP objected to the use of diversions.

"We had two choices: oil on our oysters or water on our oysters," he said, adding that the freshwater flushing technique was part of the state's existing oil spill contingency plan. "I'd choose water every time."

Graves also said the state has repeatedly told BP that it is willing to count any money spent on rebuilding oyster reefs toward the mitigation required under the federal Oil Spill Act's Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, rather than as emergency cleanup costs. That means it wouldn't add to BP's bottom line in the long run.

Utsler did not rule out the possibility that BP would eventually pay for oyster restoration under the NRDA process, which could take several years to complete.

Utsler's comments came hours after Graves and other state officials held a news conference to slam BP for not paying for cultch projects, and to announce that the state had increased by $2 million, to $4 million, the amount of money it had found in various departments to pay for the projects.

"We have been shaking out the couches at our agency looking for funds to help ensure a healthy spat set," said Randy Pausina, who oversees fisheries programs at the state Department of Wildlife & Fisheries.

The large amount of fresh water flowing over oyster beds caused significant damage to both private and public oyster beds, said Earl Melancon, an oyster biologist at Nicholls State University in Houma.

The worst damage occurred in the upper reaches of Barataria Bay and Breton Sound, where mortality rates neared 100 percent, he said. The percentage of dead oysters dropped off to the south, as the fresh water mixed with saltier water from the Gulf of Mexico.

That meant the average mortality was 30 percent to 40 percent in Barataria Bay and 50 percent to 80 percent in Breton Sound, he said.

Reseeding quickly is essential to a struggling oyster population that can take two to four years to reach marketable size, said Mike Voisin, owner of Motivatit Seafood and a member of the Governor's Oyster Advisory Committee. Louisiana's $360 million-a-year oyster crop -- a third of the nation's oyster production -- is already down 50 percent, and will likely stay at that level until a new class of oysters reaches maturity.

BP officials first confirmed they were thinking about forwarding money to pay to rebuild the state's oyster reefs in November during a news conference attended by Jindal and BP America Chairman and President Lamar McKay to announce the company was giving the state $218 million to pay for seafood marketing and promotion, tourism promotion and barrier island restoration.

Jindal said then the state was working on a separate agreement with BP to pay $15 million for an oyster seeding program and to help finance construction of several new fish hatcheries.

In March, Jindal held a news conference at the Governor's Mansion to announce that BP had refused to pay for those projects and several other emergency restoration measures, and that the state would pay $2 million to begin the cultch project.

The state had begun using its diversion strategy by May 1, 10 days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, even as it scrambled to close several segments of coastal waters to fishing as oil from the spill moved toward the Louisiana shoreline.

A week later, the state asked the corps to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway to increase the flow of water into Lake Pontchartrain and then into Lake Borgne, to block oil that already was being found in Chandeleur Sound. Two days later, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East was looking into breaching the never-used Bohemia Spillway in lower Plaquemines Parish as an oil-fighting measure. Both were turned down by the corps.

By April 30, state and corps officials had increased the flow of river water through the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion Project on the east side of the river in Plaquemines Parish to 8,000 cubic feet per second. The Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Project, on the West Bank in Jefferson Parish, was allowed to flow at 4,000 cubic feet per second, and then increased in mid-May to 7,500 cubic feet per second as oil spread west toward Barataria Bay.

State officials also opened locks at Ostrica, just south of Empire on the east bank of Plaquemines, to increase freshwater entering Quarantine Bay.

Pacific salmon may be dying from leukemia-type virus

The South Carolina's Homepage: Pacific salmon may be dying from leukemia-type virus
WASHINGTON — In Canada's Fraser River, a mysterious illness has killed millions of Pacific salmon, and scientists have a new hypothesis about why: The wild salmon are suffering from viral infections similar to those linked to some forms of leukemia and lymphoma.

For 60 years before the early 1990s, an average of nearly 8 million wild salmon returned from the Pacific Ocean to the Fraser River each year to spawn.

Now the salmon industry is in a state of collapse, with mortality rates ranging from 40 percent to 95 percent.

The salmon run has been highly variable: The worst year came in 2009, with 1.5 million salmon, followed by the best year in 2010, with 30 million salmon. But the overall trend is downward.

Losses were particularly high in elevated river temperatures; warmer water makes it more difficult to deliver oxygen to the tissues of salmon.

Seven of the last 10 summers have been the hottest on record for the Fraser River. But experts say it's too soon to pin the blame on global warming.

"Clearly, a warming climate is going to produce some new stresses for Pacific salmon," said Daniel Schindler, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Some of those stresses will certainly be expressed through increased susceptibility to disease, including something like this."

But he added: "The reality is we have very poor understanding of how climate and disease dynamics interact with each other in salmon. We know they're going to be important, but we can't say a lot in detail."

Two years ago, Canada's prime minister ordered a judicial inquiry - known as the Cohen Commission - to investigate the salmon deaths, with a final report due by June 2012.

Scott Hinch, an investigator at the University of British Columbia's Pacific salmon ecology and conservation lab and a co-author of a study on the salmon that was published in the journal Science, testified before the panel last month. He told it that the virus could be the biggest factor that's driving the collapse.

The study raises "a big red flag," providing scientists with a possible new explanation, said Brian Riddle, the president and chief executive officer of the Pacific Salmon Foundation in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"The critical thing is that for years, people have wondered about the rate of decline and how it can be pretty consistent across most populations in the Fraser," he said. "This provides a viable reason now. We're discovering something new. There's still a lot unknown. We don't understand the origin of the virus. We don't understand how it functions."

He said much more study was needed.

"If this really is a virus and it's something we don't understand, then we don't know how to treat it or control for it," Riddle said. "So this is something that could linger with us for a long time, and possibly until the animal learns how to deal with it. That will only happen through natural selection-type processes."

As part of Hinch's study, salmon were caught, tagged and implanted with radio transmitters and their blood, gill, muscle and fin tissues were biopsied. Scientists then tracked them and discovered that many were stressed and sick before they reached their spawning grounds.

According to the study, ocean-tagged salmon that had the gene signature associated with the viral infection were 13.5 times more likely to die before spawning.

Hinch said the scientists thought that the salmon became infected at sea, before making their runs upriver. He likened it to "dead fish swimming."

If researchers can confirm the findings that a virus related to leukemia is responsible, "it would be quite novel," said Hinch.

While there's no similar research taking place in the United States, Schindler of the University of Washington said there was no reason not to assume that salmon in the nearby Columbia River in Washington state would be suffering, as well.

Glen Spain, the Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said other issues were at play and that "a cascade of interrelated factors," not just a virus, could be causing the salmon deaths.

"There are fundamental habitat issues that weaken the salmon when they have too little water in the river or when the water is poor quality, when the population is truncated because of dams and there's less biological diversity," he said. "All of those are risk factors for any number of diseases. ... It's sort of like the blind man and the elephant. Everybody thinks that what they've got in front of them is the elephant. The reality is that it's a whole ecosystem."

He added: "If this is a virus, it's an endemic virus and it's been out there for thousands of years. The question is, if it's attacking fish now, why now?"

FDA claims no need to test Pacific fish for radioactivity

One wonders how expensive it is to test these fish. Because even if its not necessary, it would certainly make people feel better to know they had been tested. As it is, who'd be stupid enough to eat fish, anyway? There's mercury, there's radiation...
Anchorage Daily News: FDA claims no need to test Pacific fish for radioactivity
North Pacific fish are so unlikely to be contaminated by radioactive material from the crippled nuclear plant in Japan that there's no reason to test them, state and federal officials said this week.

Even with dangerous levels of radiation reported recently just off the coast from the Fukushima reactor complex, the ocean is so huge and Alaska fisheries so far away that there is no realistic threat, said FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey. The Food and Drug Administration has oversight of the nation's food supplies.

The state's food safety program manager, Ron Klein of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said the FDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have demonstrated that Alaskans have no cause for worry.

"Based on the work they're doing, no sampling or monitoring of our fish is necessary," he said.

It's now a little more than a month into the nuclear crisis, and Japanese officials believe they have plugged the major leak that allowed tons of water containing highly radioactive isotopes of iodine and cesium to flow into the sea. Radiation levels went down after the alarming reports last week that they had risen to millions of times the legal limits, though on Saturday officials said the levels were rising again.

The reactors and spent-fuel-rod pools remain unstable, according to Congressional testimony Tuesday by the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A Japanese official said recently the crisis will continue for "a long time."

Meanwhile, the most recent results of monitoring of atmospheric fallout in Alaska show large declines since the first weeks of the crisis.

A portable radiation monitor on emergency deployment to Dutch Harbor by the EPA recorded the highest levels of iodine-131 of any of the 100-plus monitors in the EPA's RadNet system. Those readings were taken March 19, of 2.42 picocuries per cubic meter of air, and March 20, of 2.8 picocuries. Among 14 samples collected through April 2, no I-131 was detected three times, and there never was more than a tenth the level of the two elevated samples.

Similarly, the deployable monitor in Nome recorded the highest reading in the United States of cesium-131, 0.13 picocuries per cubic meter of air, on March 24. Thirteen samples since then, through April 5, detected none.

Only one air filter from the EPA monitor in Anchorage has been analyzed by the EPA lab in Montgomery, Ala. That was a sample collected March 21, and showed so little total radioactivity -- 0.006 picocuries per cubic meter of air -- that it wasn't analyzed further to learn which radioactive isotopes were present, the EPA said this week.

In addition to the filters, which in the case of the Anchorage monitor are collected and sent to Alabama two times a week, the monitors continually check for raw beta and gamma radiation and reports it to the RadNet system by satellite. In Anchorage, those readings have been consistently within the background range established before the March 11 earthquake.

Still, the city said this week it intends to sample its reservoir at Eklutna for radioactive isotopes when the ice goes out, which typically happens in mid-May.

Eklutna is critical to Anchorage's fresh water supply. Over the course of a year, the city will get about 92 percent of its water from there, with the remainder from wells, said Chris Kosinski, spokesman for the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility.

Iodine-131 has a half-life of about eight days, meaning that after eight days, half of a given amount will have undergone decay, producing radiation and a new stable element, xenon. Given that half-life, nearly all the iodine that would have fallen on Eklutna will have safely decayed by the time the ice melts.

But two other radioactive isotopes typically found in reactors, cesium-137 and strontium-90, have half-lives of about 30 years.

"This is brand-new stuff, but we're figuring out what we have to do," Kosinski said. "It makes sense to us to wait for the ice to melt."

In an emergency, the city could rely on well water for more than half its needs, he said. But state health officials said the levels of radiation from Fukushima are so tiny here, there is virtually no risk.

Alaska is the nearest U.S. state to Japan, and fish caught by U.S. fishermen in the 200-mile economic zone swim even closer. That has prompted some fears, particularly in Europe, that Alaska fish could be contaminated.

Tyson Fick, spokesman for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said he's urging fishermen and consumers "to settle down a bit" and look at the science conducted by federal agencies.

Fick said he believed Alaska fish, in particular in Germany and Austria, have got caught up in anti-nuclear politics. In fact, the Green Party in Germany, campaigning in regional elections, used the nuclear issue late last month to take over the state government in prosperous Baden-Wurttemberg, where conservatives had ruled for more than 50 years. There's a lot of Alaska pollock sold as fish sticks throughout Germany, and fear of them could be trouble, Fick said.

Closer to home, Dannon Southall of 10th and M Seafoods, said customers have expressed some concern, but not enough to stop buying fish. Virtually all of what he sells now -- from Alaska waters or imported -- was caught and frozen before the March 11 earthquake, he said. As new supplies replace the old, he expects imported fish especially to be tested if they come from waters close to Japan.

As for the sea in the region near Fukushimi, only octopus and eel from there had been imported to Alaska in the past, and that was mainly for sushi, he said.

DeLancey, the FDA spokeswoman, said those Japanese fishermen were disrupted by the tsunami and are no longer fishing anyway.

As for U.S. fish, she said, "We have not been doing any testing. We've been working with NOAA to keep an eye on U.S. waters, to see if there is any cause for alarm, and we do have the capability to begin testing if that does occur."

Asked to explain what kind of monitoring was taking place in the ocean, DeLancey said, "You would have to talk directly to NOAA ... I don't really want to speak for another agency."

But NOAA fisheries spokeswoman Kate Naughton declined to answer questions and referred a reporter back to DeLancey and the EPA.

DeLancey said that so far, there's no reason for concern about Fukushima. The radioactive materials in the water near Fukushima quickly become diluted in the massive volume of the Pacific, she said. Additionally, radioactive fallout that lands on the surface tends to stay there, giving the most unstable ones isotopes like iodine time to decay before reaching fish, she said.

Some imported fish are tested, she said, but those also appear safe.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Scientists Propose Large-Scale Expansion Of 'Rigs To Reefs' Programs; 'Policy Based On Science Is Badly Needed'

Underwater Times: Scientists Propose Large-Scale Expansion Of 'Rigs To Reefs' Programs; 'Policy Based On Science Is Badly Needed'
SYDNEY, Australia -- It might seem surprising that marine scientists are proposing a way for the oil and gas industry to save billions of dollars decommissioning old offshore rigs, but it's a plan where the main beneficiary is intended to be the environment.

In a new paper for the journal Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment, published by the Ecological Society of America, three scientists from the University of Technology, Sydney propose a large-scale expansion of the so-called "rigs-to-reefs" concept – leaving decommissioned rigs where they stand or moving them elsewhere to create artificial reefs.

Professor David Booth, Dr Peter Macreadie and Ashley Fowler have formed the Decommissioning Ecology Group to promote consideration of the idea, which Professor Booth took to the national congress of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association in Perth this week.

"The oil and gas industry worldwide is looking at the decommissioning of 6500 offshore rigs by 2025," Professor Booth said. "In Australia more than 60 rigs face decommissioning soon and government policy is still not set. Policy based on science is badly needed in this area.

"A rigs-to-reef project in the Gulf of Mexico dates back to 1979, but most other regions of the US and the world still require complete removal of subsea structures. With mandatory removal targets set to increase, removal and disposal activities will cost the industry billions and would leave a major carbon footprint."

In their article Macreadie, Fowler and Booth caution that a lot more research is needed, but artificial reefs potentially have important benefits in deep-sea locations.

"Rigs themselves have been described as 'de facto marine protected areas' because they exclude trawl fishing and their large internal spaces offer shelter to fish and other organisms," the authors said.

"Deep-sea communities in particular may benefit because the characteristics of their species (longevity, slow growth, late reproduction, low fecundity) make them highly vulnerable to exploitation.

"We suggest that a rigs-to-reef program in the deep sea, in conjunction with the establishment of marine protected areas, may offer a means of conserving deep-sea communities.

"Partnerships between scientists and industry, such as the SERPENT project, will improve the capacity for further research.

"We recommend that industry savings from a rigs-to-reef program should support independent research and monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of rigs in fulfilling their intended purpose as artificial reefs in the deep sea."

Deep Dive: Expedition To Extend Human Intervention Within Mesophotic Zone; 'Like Diving The Grand Canyon'

Underwater Times: Deep Dive: Expedition To Extend Human Intervention Within Mesophotic Zone; 'Like Diving The Grand Canyon'
PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island -- Ocean Opportunity, a Rhode Island based not for profit organization, is pleased to announce a forthcoming expedition to explore and document the natural history of the mesophotic, or 'middle light', zone from 200 to 500 feet in the Exumas, Bahamas from April 28 through May 8th to be hosted at the John H. Perry Jr. Caribbean Research Center - a facility synonymous with a long lineage of advancements in marine technology and innovations in ocean exploration.

This expedition is an extension of a successful November project to Andros, Bahamas in which the team worked to 430 feet - more than 3 times the depth of conventional scuba diving.

November's expedition, made possible by a grant from the National Geographic Society's Waitt Grants Program proved catalytic and has attracted a multidisciplinary team of collaborators including well respected biologists, geologists, and technologists interested in accessing the unexplored Mesophtoic Coral Ecosystems (MCEs) to gather data from this alien environment. Collaborators include individuals from the American Museum of Natural History, the City University of NewYork, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Kentucky.

The deep diving team (including Jeff Godfrey of UConn and NGS/Waitt Grantee Michael Lombardi of Ocean Opportunity) will use advanced manned diving techniques to allow direct, hands-on access to the deep coral reef environment. Throughout the Bahamas, a vertical 'wall' provides a direct physical linkage from the shallows to more than 2000 feet. These precipitous drop-offs are the focal point for investigation.

In November, the team conducted six dives deeper than 300 feet, with two deeper than 400 feet. Exploration diver Jeff Godfrey described the dives as "being like diving the Grand Canyon". These depths, especially pushing the lower limit of the mesophotic zone at sub-400 feet, provide an opportunity for very real demonstrations of the working capacity of humans in an extreme environment.

Lombardi commented, "we are continuing to gather data throughout these expeditions that will be analyzed to evaluate the in-water biomechanics and efficiency of humans working at depths considered the 'twilight zone' or 'innerspace' or 'mesophotic' (200-500 feet) in remote locations. This work represents a paradigm shift in scientific diving, as we are now demonstrating a rate of efficiency comparable to more conventional shallow water scuba. This is being done at low cost, and with limited surface support and infrastructure. These deep excursions, while considered exploratory, are providing very real data to enable discovery and drive innovation by both US and international collaborators."

Ambitious, yet critical undertakings for the project includes science tasks to support a multidisciplinary collaborative team of biologists, ichthyologist, ecologists, and chemists from institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, the City University of New Yrok, the University of Connecticut, and others.

When asked 'why work to the frontier limits of manned exploration?', Lombardi states, "The reaction time, real-time decision making, and personal interaction offered by wet diving at these depths, as opposed to robotics use, brings the raw and intimate experience of human exploration back into the game. Nearly 70 years of marine science has been fueled by the ability to routinely access the shallow coral reef ecosystems - that excitement, and creativity made possible by a researcher actually being there catalyzed the marine science field that we know today. We are on the verge of creating an opportunity for the next 70 years. This is a very exciting time for benthic marine scientists."

Imagery gathered will be hosted on, a NOAA sponsored database aimed at distributing data from this difficult to access environment to a wide array of interested researchers and students. Researchers are invited to access these images for their own analyses of the biodiversity, natural history, and geology of this environment.