Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quiz #1, attempt 2

This is a Poll application rather than a Quiz application, but let's see if it works:

Quiz #1

I'm going to start having at least one quiz a week on this blog.

This first one is a test, just to see how it works.

And it doesn't appear to be working....can any of my readers see the quiz below?

Ocean's tides might supply endless stream of electricity

From The Olympian: Ocean's tides might supply endless stream of electricity
SEQUIM, Wash. -- Joshua Myers has been busy putting electrodes on the heads of juvenile salmon, trying to determine how the fish will react to the simulated sound of giant steel and fiberglass turbines, which soon could be submerged in Washington state's Puget Sound.

Myers, a research engineer, is conducting his acoustical experiments in a laboratory on Sequim Bay, where scientists want to learn how to create electricity from an unusual source: the force of powerful ocean tides and waves.

If all goes as planned, two large hydro turbines will be installed 200 feet deep in the harsh waters of Admiralty Inlet by late summer 2013, marking the first project of its kind in the state. But before then, scientists want to figure out how rockfish, diving birds, whales and other marine life will respond to the intruding turbines, which will weigh 350 tons each.

In the latest quest for clean power, Washington state has emerged as a hotbed of high-tech research into what's known as hydrokinetics.

The project is driven in part by Washington state residents' demand for a change from traditional carbon-based fuels for generating electricity. They passed an initiative in 2006 that requires large utility companies to increase the amount of electricity they generate from renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar, to 15 percent of their supply.

"We're very enthusiastic about this. ... We're trying to use ocean space in a way we've never used it before," said Andrea Copping, a senior program manager who's in charge of the project at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's marine science lab in Sequim.

Utilities are gearing up for the change.

Later this month, the Snohomish County Public Utility District will formally apply for a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the $25 million pilot project.

"This is all very new," said Craig Collar, the senior manager of energy resource development at the Snohomish County utility, the second largest publicly owned utility in the state. "Nobody has a commercial tidal energy plant running of the type we're talking about today, and probably we're years away from that."

The idea of getting tides and waves to produce electricity isn't a new one.

A few years back, Tacoma Power, which serves the area around Tacoma, Wash., considered placing tidal generators in the Tacoma Narrows in southern Puget South, but the proposal eventually was put on hold. Similar projects are in various stages of development in a handful of states, including New York, Maine and Alaska.

If the project succeeds, scientists say, the potential for tidal power is huge. Twenty-eight coastal states consume 78 percent of the nation's electricity, and 52 percent of the U.S. population resides in coastal counties.

In the tests Myers is conducting, the salmon are placed in a large tank and forced to listen to the simulated sound of turbines for 24 hours, after which researchers examine them for contusions or other signs of biological trauma.

The researchers said it was too soon to know how salmon or other marine life would fare in the experiment.

"We don't know what the impacts might be biologically or physically," Copping said. "We're learning, but we don't know a lot. ... If we get good data out of it, that's a real win."

Copping said researchers didn't expect tidal power to be "the magic bullet for all renewable energy" but that it eventually should join wind, solar and geothermal as part of the nation's energy portfolio.

In many ways, scientists said, the hydro turbines are similar to jet engines. A jet engine works by having air pass through it; the hydro turbine works by having water go through it, making the blades spin. Copping said inventors who were trying to capitalize on the new business already had come up with 60 or 70 designs, some that "are weird and wacky and different-looking."

So far, there's been one persistent problem: Blades routinely break when they're exposed to the strong currents.

"There hasn't been any turbine that's gone in yet, that I'm aware of, that hasn't had a pretty significant failure," Collar said. "It's just like wind in the early days. It's going to be expensive. It's not going to be very reliable. And it's going to be hard to permit."

Collar said the utility company expected to spend $10 million to $12 million on the project, with the remainder coming in grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy.

While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the main federal agency in charge of licensing, Collar said, as many as 35 local, state and federal agencies claim to have some jurisdiction over the project.

Environmentalists are following the experiment closely. Among other things, they fear that the turbines will hurt endangered killer whales.

Chrissy McLean, the orcas program coordinator for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, said the whales already faced too many pressures and that they shouldn't be exposed to anything else that could harm them.

"We really don't know how they're going to react, because these particular whales have never seen these turbines," she said.

Copping said there were many other questions: Will the public accept the new industry? Will financing work? Can the hydro turbines comply with environmental regulations? And most basically, can the technology even work?

"This isn't like putting something on land," she said. "This is a very wild part of the ocean.... I don't think any of us believe that the first thing that goes in the water is going to be it."

Congress is backing the research, thanks in part to the state's senior senator, Democrat Patty Murray, a veteran member of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. She inserted a $1.75 million earmark in a 2010 energy appropriations bill for the experiment at Sequim. Murray said the research would "help ensure that Washington state will remain a national leader in renewable energy research and development."

To get ready for the installation of the hydro turbines, researchers from the University of Washington have been using remotely operated vehicles to scope out the rocky ocean bottom at Admiralty Inlet, situated between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island.

James Thomson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington's applied physics lab, said researchers have had to use robots because humans were allowed to dive only 120 feet. They've discovered currents so strong that they can hear rocks rolling around at the bottom of the ocean. The currents are so forceful that it's even impossible for sediments to settle.

For Thomson, driving the vehicles remotely has been particularly difficult.

"I wasn't allowed to play video games as a kid," he said. "And now it has professional ramifications."

Small squid produce bigger sperm

From BBC Nature: Small squid produce bigger sperm
Smaller squid make up for their diminutive size, and reduced sexual status, by producing bigger sperm.

They produce the outsized sperm in a bid to thwart the chances of larger male squid rivals impregnating females.

While the smaller males are unable to compete with the larger males, their sperm can.

Scientists based in Japan made the discovery studying spear squid, otherwise known as Bleeker's squid (Loligo bleekeri).

Details are published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Male spear squid employ one of two tactics when seeking to pair with a mate.

Larger males, known as "consorts", court females by flashing bright displays of colour across their bodies.

They compete with other large males and the winner mates with the female, depositing sperm in a package inside her oviduct.

He then guards her until she spawns her eggs.

Smaller males however, employ a different tactic.

These so-called "sneaker" males don't advertise themselves and show few of the behaviours of their larger rivals.

Instead, they wait until a larger male is guarding a female, then rush in head first to copulate with her.

A sneaker male mates in a head-to-head position and deposits his sperm in a different place to the larger males, putting his sperm package on the outside of the female's body just below her mouth.

The timing of this intervention is crucial.

The smaller male dashes in just as the female begins laying her eggs, in the hope that they will pass over his sperm and be fertilised by him rather than the female's original suitor.

The species is unusual in another way however.

These smaller males produce different sperm to the larger males.

A study by Yoko Iwata of the University of Tokyo and colleagues based in Japan reveals that the smaller males' sperm is actually bigger than those of the larger male squid.

That suggests that the spear squid is the first species known to have individuals that produce two separate types of sperm.

The larger sperm aren't able to out-compete the smaller sperm, as both types are equally mobile and fertile.

But each sperm type is adapted to the environment in which it is deposited, say the researchers.

Smaller sperm work better within the female's oviduct, while larger sperm work better when deposited on the outside of the female squid's body.

That gives the smaller males a chance to use a different mating tactic and compete with the larger males for mating opportunities.

Overall, the larger males still end up producing more offspring, perhaps because their sperm reach the females' eggs earlier.

But the large sperm strategy appears to be a way for physically less impressive males to still pass on their genes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tohoku Tsunami Created Icebergs In Antarctica

From Underwater Times (Aug 8): Tohoku Tsunami Created Icebergs In Antarctica
GREENBELT, Maryland -- A NASA scientist and her colleagues were able to observe for the first time the power of an earthquake and tsunami to break off large icebergs a hemisphere away.

Kelly Brunt, a cryosphere specialist at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues were able to link the calving of icebergs from the Sulzberger Ice Shelf in Antarctica following the Tohoku Tsunami, which originated with an earthquake off the coast of Japan in March 2011. The finding, detailed in a paper published online today in the Journal of Glaciology, marks the first direct observation of such a connection between tsunamis and icebergs.

The birth of an iceberg can come about in any number of ways. Often, scientists will see the towering, frozen monoliths break into the polar seas and work backwards to figure out the cause.

So when the Tohoku Tsunami was triggered in the Pacific Ocean on March 11 this spring, Brunt and colleagues immediately looked south. All the way south. Using multiple satellite images, Brunt, Emile Okal at Northwestern University and Douglas MacAyeal at University of Chicago were able to observe new icebergs floating off to sea shortly after the sea swell of the tsunami reached Antarctica.

To put the dynamics of this event in perspective: An earthquake off the coast of Japan caused massive waves to explode out from its epicenter. Swells of water swarmed toward an ice shelf in Antarctica, 8,000 miles (13,600 km) away, and about 18 hours after the earthquake occurred, those waves broke off several chunks of ice that together equaled about two times the surface area of Manhattan. .According to historical records, this particular piece of ice hadn't budged in at least 46 years before the tsunami came along.

And as all that was happening, scientists were able to watch the Antarctic ice shelves in as close to real-time as satellite imagery allows, and catch a glimpse of a new iceberg floating off into the Ross Sea.

"In the past we've had calving events where we've looked for the source. It's a reverse scenario – we see a calving and we go looking for a source," Brunt said. "We knew right away this was one of the biggest events in recent history – we knew there would be enough swell. And this time we had a source."

Scientists first speculated in the 1970s that repeated flexing of an ice shelf – a floating extension of a glacier or ice sheet that sits on land – by waves could cause icebergs to break off. Scientific papers in more recent years have used models and tide gauge measurements in an attempt to quantify the impact of sea swell on ice shelf fronts.

The swell was likely only about a foot high (30 cm) when it reached the Sulzberger shelf. But the consistency of the waves created enough stress to cause the calving. This particular stretch of floating ice shelf is about 260 feet (80 meters) thick, from its exposed surface to its submerged base.

When the earthquake happened, Okal immediately honed in on the vulnerable faces of the Antarctic continent. Using knowledge of iceberg calving and what a NOAA model showed of the tsunami's projected path across the unobstructed Pacific and Southern oceans, Okal, Brunt and MacAyeal began looking at what is called the Sulzberger Ice Shelf. The Sulzberger shelf faces Sulzberger Bay and New Zealand.

Through a fortuitous break in heavy cloud cover, Brunt spotted what appeared to be a new iceberg in MODerate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data.

"I didn't have strong expectations either way whether we'd be able to see something," Brunt said. "The fastest imagery I could get to was from MODIS Rapid Response, but it was pretty cloudy. So I was more pessimistic that it would be too cloudy and we couldn't see anything. Then, there was literally one image where the clouds cleared, and you could see a calving event."

A closer look with synthetic aperture radar data from the European Space Agency satellite, Envisat, which can penetrate clouds, found images of two moderate-sized icebergs – with more, smaller bergs in their wake. The largest iceberg was about four by six miles in surface area – itself about equal to the surface area of one Manhattan. All of the ice surface together about equaled two Manhattans. After looking at historical satellite imagery, the group determined the small outcropping of ice had been there since at least 1965, when it was captured by USGS aerial photography.

The proof that seismic activity can cause Antarctic iceberg calving might shed some light on our knowledge of past events, Okal said.

"In September 1868, Chilean naval officers reported an unseasonal presence of large icebergs in the southernmost Pacific Ocean, and it was later speculated that they may have calved during the great Arica earthquake and tsunami a month earlier," Okal said. "We know now that this is a most probable scenario."

MacAyeal said the event is more proof of the interconnectedness of Earth systems.

"This is an example not only of the way in which events are connected across great ranges of oceanic distance, but also how events in one kind of Earth system, i.e., the plate tectonic system, can connect with another kind of seemingly unrelated event: the calving of icebergs from Antarctica's ice sheet," MacAyeal said.

In what could be one of the more lasting observations from this whole event, the bay in front of the Sulzberger shelf was largely lacking sea ice at the time of the tsunami. Sea ice is thought to help dampen swells that might cause this kind of calving. At the time of the Sumatra tsunami in 2004, the potentially vulnerable Antarctic fronts were buffered by a lot of sea ice, Brunt said, and scientists observed no calving events that they could tie to that tsunami.

"There are theories that sea ice can protect from calving. There was no sea ice in this case," Brunt said. "It's a big chunk of ice that calved because of an earthquake 13,000 kilometers away. I think it's pretty cool."

Study: Severe Low Temperatures Devastate Coral Reefs In Florida Keys

From Underwater Study: Severe Low Temperatures Devastate Coral Reefs In Florida Keys
ATHENS, Georgia -- Increased seawater temperatures are known to be a leading cause of the decline of coral reefs all over the world. Now, researchers at the University of Georgia have found that extreme low temperatures affect certain corals in much the same way that high temperatures do, with potentially catastrophic consequences for coral ecosystems. Their findings appear in the early online edition of the journal Global Change Biology.

Lead author Dustin Kemp, a postdoctoral associate in the UGA Odum School of Ecology, said the study was prompted by an abnormal episode of extended cold weather in January and February 2010. Temperatures on inshore reefs in the upper Florida Keys dropped below 12 C (54 F), and remained below 18 C (64 F) for two weeks. Kemp and his colleagues had planned to sample corals at Admiral Reef, an inshore reef off Key Largo, just three weeks after the cold snap. When they arrived, they discovered that the reef, once abundant in hard and soft corals, was essentially dead. "It was the saddest thing I've ever seen," Kemp said. "The large, reef-building corals were gone. Some were estimated to be 200 to 300 years old and had survived other catastrophic events, such as the 1998 El Niño bleaching event. The severe cold water appeared to kill the corals quite rapidly."

Odum School Professor William Fitt, Kemp's doctoral advisor and one of the paper's co-authors, realized that the team had a unique opportunity. "Nearly 100 years ago, Alfred Mayer described the temperature tolerance of different corals in the Dry Tortugas and found very similar results," Kemp said. "We decided to take the next step and learn how and why the cold temperatures caused the corals to die."

The researchers took samples of Siderastrea siderea—one of the few reef-building corals to survive—from Admiral Reef. They also took samples of three common Florida Keys corals, Montastraea faveolata, Siderastrea sidereaand Porites astreoides from Little Grecian Reef, a nearby offshore reef that had not experienced the temperature anomaly to the extent of Admiral Reef. Kemp explained that Little Grecian Reef is far enough offshore that the cold-water temperatures were likely buffered by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, which resulted in offshore coral reefs being less severely affected by the cold air mass that was pushed by an unusual weather pattern over much of the U.S. during that two-week period.

Back in the lab, they simulated the temperatures that had been recorded at Admiral Reef during the cold weather event, testing the different corals' physiological responses at 12 C and 16 C (61 F), and then, after the corals' exposure to the cold, returned the temperature to 20 C (68 F). They found that although responses varied depending on the coral species, in general the stress of extended cold temperatures had an effect similar to that of high temperatures.

Kemp explained that corals depend on Symbiodinium, a type of symbiotic algae that lives inside them, for nutrition. Through photosynthesis, the algae produce sugars, which are passed on to the corals. "The cold temperatures inhibited photosynthesis in the algae, leading to a potential net loss of carbon transferred from the algae to the coral," said Kemp. He said that each coral species had its own unique type of Symbiodinium, some of which were better able to tolerate and recover from cold temperatures than others.

All of the corals experienced a significant decrease in photosynthesis at 12 C. Siderastrea siderea and M. faveolata were able to handle the 16 C temperatures, but P. astreoides was not, and did not show signs of recovery once the temperature was returned to 20 C. Siderastrea siderea was the only coral able to recover.

"Corals and their symbiotic algae have a range of stress tolerance," said Kemp. "Some can handle moderate stress, some are highly sensitive, and some are in between. But extreme cold is just one stressor among many." Other threats to coral health include increased seawater temperatures, diseases, ocean acidification, and pollution. "Adding stress from wintertime cold episodes could not only quickly kill corals but also may have long-term effects," he said. "For corals found in the Florida Keys, winter is typically a 'non-stressful' time and corals bulk up on tissue reserves that are important for surviving potentially 'stressful' summertime conditions (i.e. coral bleaching)."

Kemp said that researchers at NOAA attribute the record-breaking cold anomaly to a negative trend in the North Atlantic oscillation, an atmospheric pressure pattern that influences the weather in the northern hemisphere. "They speculate that if the trend continues, these kinds of extreme cold events may become more frequent," he said.

Kemp stressed that the study's findings should not be interpreted to downplay the major role of higher temperatures on corals' decline. "The study shows that warming may not be the only climate-related problem for coral reefs in the future," he said.

Kemp also pointed out that it was not only the corals that were devastated by the cold snap. "The corals provide the framework for the entire reef ecosystem," he said. "The lobster, shrimp, clams, fish—all the creatures that depend on the reef—were affected too. The potential consequences for coral ecosystems are extremely alarming."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Saving Germany's Whales from Wind Farm Noise

From Spiegel Online International Edition: Saving Germany's Whales from Wind Farm Noise

Images of offshore wind farms, white turbines twisting over the blue sea, look peaceful enough. But the underwater construction required to install these turbines is far from tranquil. The resulting noise pollution poses a serious threat to sensitive ocean dwellers. At particular risk are cetaceans such as the porpoises and whales that inhabit the Baltic Sea off the northern German coast -- a prime area for wind farm construction.

But a recently released report by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) suggests there are both technically and economically feasible ways to reconcile the drive for green energy with protecting aquatic life. One such solution could be as simple as surrounding wind farm construction sites with "bubble curtains" to contain underwater noise.

"A bubble curtain is one way to minimize noise and potentially reduce the impact of offshore wind farm construction on sealife," Greenpeace oceans & biodiversity campaigner Thilo Maack told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But it's important to distinguish between initiatives that simply reduce noise and alternative methods of installing wind farm foundations."

The environmental activist organization sees noise-reducing initiatives like bubble curtains as helpful, but believes they should only be a temporary solution used until less-invasive techniques for offshore wind farm installation are developed. But until that happens, says Maack, bubble curtains can help.

Such bubble curtains are generally created by placing a pipe or hose on the sea floor in order to create a ring around noise pollutants -- like a piledriver attempting to break through bedrock. Air is pushed through strategically placed and sized holes, creating a shield of bubbles around the noise. As sound waves pass through the resulting bubble curtain, some of their intensity is absorbed and their density alters. Beyond the bubble curtain, the sound waves become less intense and noise levels are decreased.

Habitat Hubbub

Whales and porpoises use sonar techniques to orient themselves, communicate and find food. Healthy and unhindered hearing is essential to their existence. But the noise created when wind turbine foundations are rammed into the bedrock on the sea floor creates serious problems for them. Young animals can be separated from their mothers, while older animals can suffer hearing loss.

Such concerns are not new. Last year, a study of the Alpha Ventus offshore wind farm, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of the German island of Borkum, showed that noise from the site's construction was scaring off local porpoises . During construction, porpoises avoided an area surrounding the construction site of some 20 kilometers, according to assessments made via aerial flyovers.

"From the standpoint of environmental protection, it's necessary to decrease noise pollution in marine ecosystems," BfN acknowledges in the introduction of its recent report. The study looks to the guidelines set forth by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), which suggest that noise outside of a 750 meter radius from the construction site should not exceed 160 decibels. Techniques like bubble curtains, according to the BfN report, can meet this standard.

However Greenpeace takes issue with this value because it is based on single-sound exposure -- and it takes much more than a single punch into the bed rock of the sea floor to install a wind turbine foundation.

There is also the question of the porpoise's proximity to the construction site, says Greenpeace's Maack. "If there are animals in the vicinity, you have to interrupt construction," he says. "And if there are weather conditions, like smog or strong rain that make it impossible to tell if the animals are present or not, you have to stop construction. It's a precautionary principle."

Queensland dugongs 'starving to death'

From the Sydney Morning Herald (Aug 8): Queensland dugongs 'starving to death'
More dugongs have died this year than in all of 2010 because of Queensland's summer of disasters.

Ninety-six of the sea mammals washed up dead on the state's coastline in the first seven months of this year, compared with 79 for the whole of last year.

Environment Minister Vicky Darling says scientists believe most of the dugongs died of starvation after Queensland's floods devastated their main food source, seagrass.

Advertisement: Story continues below Floodwater had deposited a "triple whammy" of pesticides, sediment and fresh water on the seagrass, she said.

"Seagrass beds have become stressed by repeated periods of high turbidity and low salinity following flooding in the coastal catchments," Ms Darling said in a statement.

"This is a trend that tragically is highly likely to continue for the rest of the year."

Of the 96 dugongs, six died from human-induced causes such as boat strikes.

Scientists believe about 90 died from poor physical condition consistent with lack of food, Ms Darling said.

In their weakened condition the animals may also be more susceptible to boat strikes and getting tangled in nets, she said.

Most deaths happened around Townsville, in the state's north, and in Moreton Bay, in the south-east.

Ms Darling said she expected dugong deaths to increase this year, but scientists had told her the Queensland dugongs were not in danger of dying out.

"They advise us that marine habitats will recover fully over the next few years, leading to an increase in marine animal health and a decrease in stranding numbers - assuming a return to more normal seasonal conditions," she said.

"Our dugong population has been traditionally very resilient and there's no reason to believe they will not bounce back."

Ms Darling said the state government had already taken measures to protect marine animals.

These included cracking down on pesticide run-off in the Great Barrier Reef and run-off from drains, and go-slow and no-fishing zones in Moreton Bay.

Marine ER releases its 10,000th rescued sea lion

From Marine ER releases its 10,000th rescued sea lion
The Marine Mammal Center:


Two juvenile California sea lions paused for a moment at the edge of the sea, each raising their whiskered faces toward the silvery water before sliding in to freedom.

For the Marine Mammal Center crew standing behind the rehabilitated pinnipeds on Thursday, it was a significant day: rescued sea lion No. 10,000, nicknamed Milestone, and 10,001, Zodiac Girl, had been nursed back to health and sent back to the wild where they belong.

"There's always some attachment. There's always some animal that captures your heart," said Shelbi Stoudt, the center staffer who organizes these regular releases. "It's a bittersweet feeling because you're sending them back home but you also don't get to see them anymore."

Since it opened its doors 36 years ago, the nonprofit marine mammal hospital has become famous for nursing sick marine critters back to health — but its biggest contribution perhaps has been its role in collecting and storing thousands of tissue and other samples from the animals it rescues along 600 miles of California coast. The center's mix of laboratory science, marine zoo and educational outreach has led to dozens of published scientific papers and helped push understanding of effects of toxic algae, disease and the effect of climate change on these coastal denizens.

While rescues are a chief focus of center, only about half of the animals the center takes in survive to be released. Still, many of the more than 17,000 marine mammals — including entangled whales, otters and elephant seals — the center has aided or taken in have contributed samples that will help further research that can aid threatened and endangered species around the world.

Indeed, many of the animals nursed back to health are not facing imminent extinction — there are about 200,000 California sea lions in the wild — but the their maladies and their genetic makeup are similar to other species in peril.

California Sea Lions share genetic traits with Steller sea lions, which are a threatened species. The center's researchers say collecting and banking scientific samples from many of the thousands of sea lions the center has treated contributes to efforts to save Stellers. Same goes for elephant seals, which share traits with the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals.

"We're learning about marine mammal health through all these patients. Before 1975, there was never anything being regularly documented..., so it wasn't feasible to get baseline sets of urine and tissue samples," said Jim Oswald, the center's spokesman.

Though Milestone and Zodiac Girl unwittingly became the center's 10,000th and 10,001st sea lions to be sent back home the Pacific Ocean, their time spent at the center's facility in the Marin Headlands just north of the Golden Gate Bridge provided scientists with a little more information being used to unravel a mystery ailment.

The two animals had leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that attacks the kidneys and can be fatal to sea lions. Dogs and humans can also contract the disease.

What's odd about the affliction, scientists have observed, is that it occurs cyclically every four or five years, when hundreds of sickened, stranded California sea lions are found infected. While no answer to the mystery has been found, the center's data collection is helping researchers move closer.

The center is studying the exposure of sea lions to carcinogens. About 17 percent of the stranded adult sea lions taken in by the center have a specific cancer the center first found in 1979.

Researchers are studying the animals for levels of carcinogens, such as the persistent pollutants DDT and PCBs, which are banned in the U.S., but still are found in sea lion blubber.

Oswald said the center also finds chemicals, antibiotics and other substances of human origin in elephant seals and other creatures it studies.

The cancer research is being done with an eye to improving the understanding of human cancers, and allows scientists to do tests that could not be done with human subjects.

"It's shocking how many animals we've treated, but the information we've received from them, that's one of the most important aspects of the center's work," said Stoudt.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gators 'eat meat ... we're meat'

From the Sudbury Star (Canada): Gators 'eat meat ... we're meat'
TITUSVILLE, Fla. -- If you thought Canada's cougars, bears, and coyotes made for bad neighbours, you might want to reconsider buying that vacation home in Florida.

A stealthy ambush predator with one of the most powerful bites on Earth, the American alligator can strike fear in just about anyone.

And there are 1.3 million cruising the swamps and waterways of the Sunshine State.

But for Floridians, the reptile is not just a part of life and the occasional backyard visitor, it's an important part of the culture.

University sports teams bear its name, television shows feature their capture, and gator parks are popular tourist attractions.

"I've always loved alligators," said Ty Karnitz, a wildlife educator and large animal trainer at Jungle Adventures nature park in Christmas, Fla.

"One of the things I try to do here is change people's perception about them. Unfortunately, a lot of animals that people don't have a lot of encounters with get a really bad rap.

"Alligators are big, they're scary, they eat meat, and none of that is good for their perception. We're meat, and they could eat us."

While gators can be aggressive, only about seven unprovoked attacks are reported on average every year. In the past 60 years, only 22 people have been killed by the animals in the state.

Golfers make up a large group of victims, with 10% of all alligator attacks in Florida reportedly the result of duffers trying to retrieve their balls.

The state keeps track of attacks and nuisance calls, of which there are about 15,000 annually to the alligator hotline.

But, Karnitz says, despite regular news reports about it, catching one loafing in the backyard pool is "not the norm."

"It's really not that common," he said. "You know, I've never had a moose in my backyard. If I woke up one morning and saw a moose in my backyard, I'd be pretty shocked. But for some Canadians, a moose or a bear in their backyard is not that big of a deal."

With a brain the size of a walnut, gators prefer an easy meal and thrive on carrion -- dead animals -- which

Gator facts

keeps Florida's warm waters from becoming cesspools. But when they have to take down a living thing -- a pet or deer, for example -- they're known for their "death roll," where they pull their prey under water to drown it. Fully grown, the American alligator can easily reach more than 4 metres in length and weigh more than 362 kg, and its bite can generate 9,765 kg of pressure per square metre -- equivalent to a small car falling on someone from the sky. By comparison, a lion's bite generates just under 4,882 kg, while a big dog can only muster a paltry 610 kg.

Gators are everywhere in Florida, having made a remarkable comeback since the 1960s, when they were hunted to the brink of extinction and put on the endangered species list.

The fact that much of this state is swampland and is carved up and crisscrossed by canals and man-made waterways means Florida provides the perfect habitat for alligators.

"A rule I was told growing up is every body of water in Florida will have a gator in it," Karnitz said. "If you just expect them to be there, which you should do when you're in Florida, then it's not that big of a problem."

Even rainwater ditches aren't safe. But your best bet to see one is to simply head to one of the gator parks in the state such as Jungle Adventures.

And you can still hunt them, if you wish. Each year resident hunters -- who can kill two each -- harvest about 7,000 and licensed trappers euthanize about 9,000 more annually. For Snowbirds and other nonresidents, hunting is only possible using a licensed outfitter. Expect to pay about $2,000 for the privilege.

And if you're wondering what they do with all these dead alligators, look no further than the nearest shoe shop or the supermarket.

Known as the "other, other white meat," gator meat can fetch up to $27.50 per kg and the skin from their belly produces some of the most expensive leather in the world and can cost upwards of $7 per cm.

Luckily for wild gators, though, better tasting meat and unblemished hides come from alligator farms.

And just like that, Canada's cougars, black bears and coyotes suddenly don't seem so mean after all.

- - -


Alligators are only native to the United States and China.

American alligators live in freshwater environments, such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, lakes, and swamps, as well as brackish environments.

Alligators are most active between 27 C and 33 C and start slowing down when temperatures reach about 21 C.

The average number of eggs in a Florida alligator nest is 35-50, but only about 15 of these will hatch ... and only about six of those will survive to see their first birthday. Baby alligators are eaten by raccoons, large bass, birds and, of course, bigger alligators.

Males are usually about 3.3-metres long and can weigh about 456 kg. Females are usually about 2.7 m long.

The largest Florida alligator on record (a male) is listed at 4.46 m. The heaviest (also a male) weighed in at 473 kg and was 4.23 m in length.

Alligators, in environments such as the Everglades, can live to be 50 years old.

Alligators are fast. It has been recorded that a gator can outrun a horse over a span of 9 m.

To the deep sea and beyond

From Daily Mail Online: To the deep sea and beyond: The mini submarines that will take tourists to the bottom of the ocean

He once promised to send man to outer space and now entrepreneur and daredevil Richard Branson is turning his attention to another of the world's greatest undiscovered surfaces, in the shape of the sea floor.
The Virgin owner, together with director James Cameron and Internet mastermind Eric E.Schmidt are investing in the latest sea craft with the intention of plunging to depths previously unseen for man.

Developers Triton have already created their own craft and the company's president Patrick Lahey revealed the host of discoveries that could soon be made including a close view of where the Titanic collapsed at the bottom of the ocean.

Back in April, Branson launched the Virgin Oceanic single-seater submarine with the intention of going 36,000 feat below the surface.

Explorer: Branson is keen on plummeting to even lower depths
His eight-foot long craft, made of carbon fibre and titanium, has stubby wings and a cockpit. It can cruise for about 6.2miles and can stay submerged without help for 24 hours.
Sir Richard said: With space long ago reached by man, and commercial space flight tantalizingly close, the last great challenge for humans is to reach and explore the depths of our planet's oceans.

'There are enormous amounts of the oceans that have not been explored. More men have been to the moon than have been down further than 20,000 feet.'

Several firms are designing their own vessels aimed at exploring the a number of previously unreachable spots including the notorious Challenger Deep.

With temperatures near freezing and so far removed from any sunlight, it has previously proved a futile exhibition for divers.

Other locations including the Mariana Trench, near the Mariana Islands, in the Pacific, which at 11,000 metres below the surface has no natural light and water pressure a thousand times grater than that at sea level.

Despite the concern of reaching such depths, several companies say they are designing crafts that will withstand these colossal pressures.

Triton president Lahey added: 'We will use a sphere of special glass that is more than four inches thick for the main part of our submersible
'It will give its three passengers an all-round view of everything that is going on down there – though, obviously, when we get very deep, we will have to use pretty powerful lamps to illuminate proceedings.'

Other vehicles include the Deep Flight Challenger that would accommodate one individual and designed by UK engineer Graham Hawkes reaches depths of 11,000 metres.
Hawkes revealed: 'The pressure hull is made of a custom-designed carbon fibre, with very thick walls. Inside, we provide an artificial atmosphere. The pilot is not subjected to any pressure differences whatsoever.

'There's a big window in the front that's covered by a Plexiglas streamline canopy. The deep water typically is clear, so there will be lots to see. And it doesn't look like it, but the inside is actually a comfortable space.'

Director Cameron has already raised $8m in investment to explore the sea and he revealed his intention to reach the bottom of the Kermadec-Tonga trench, north of New Zealand as early as next summer.

Cameron revealed his future quest dates back to his childhood fantasies in the New York times.

He said: 'When I was a kid, I loved not only amazing ocean exploration but space, too.

'I can think of no greater fantasy than to be an explorer and see what no human eye has seen before.'

Meanwhile, Google's Schmidt is leading his own team that aim to send three people to an 11km drop on purpose built submarines that will eventually be on sale for $40m.

Iceberg Hauling Pitched As Drought Cure

From FoxNews Iceberg Hauling Pitched As Drought Cure(NewsCore) - VELIZY-VILLACOUBLAY, France -- A French entrepreneur backed by a software company claims to have proved that he can tow giant icebergs across the world to end drought conditions.

Georges Mougin, 86, has championed his plan to harvest icebergs to solve water shortages for 40 years -- and a computer simulation now shows that the ambitious project might be possible, The (London) Sunday Times reported.

Under the plan, engineers would encircle an iceberg with a harness that contains a skirt made from an insulating textile. The skirt unfolds underwater and covers the iceberg to stop it from melting.

With the help of ocean currents, the iceberg is then towed to drought-stricken lands.

"They are floating reservoirs," Mougin said.

He formed his company, Iceberg Transport International, in 1976 but shelved his iceberg-towing project after he was told repeatedly that it was too expensive and too difficult.

However, in 2009, he was approached by the French software firm Dassault Systemes, which provided Mougin with 15 engineers to build a computer simulation to test his ideas.

The simulation proved that it was possible to tow a seven-ton (6.35-tonne) iceberg from the waters around Newfoundland, eastern Canada, to Spain's Canary Islands in 141 days, with only 38 percent of the iceberg melting.

But the cost of the enterprise remains prohibitive. To tow the iceberg from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands would cost an estimated £6 million ($9.8 million).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

‘Aquatic Fleas’ To the Rescue of World’s Amphibians

From International Business Times: ‘Aquatic Fleas’ To the Rescue of World’s Amphibians
Researchers at the Oregon State University have discovered a freshwater organism that might be the key to fight a fungus, which is the principal cause for the worldwide amphibian decline.

A freshwater species of zooplankton, called Daphnia magna, could provide a desperately needed tool for biological control of the deadly fungus whose impact, one researcher has called, "the most spectacular loss of vertebrate biodiversity due to disease in recorded history."

Daphnia magna is a variety of water fleas of the genus Daphnia, some species of which are commonly used as food for aquarium fish.

It was known that the zooplankton could devour some types of fungi. Oregon researchers wanted to find out whether Daphnia magna could also consume the chytrid fungus that's been devastating amphibian populations worldwide, including Colorado's endangered boreal toad. Through extensive research, scientists confirmed that Daphnia magna could consume the free swimming pores of the fungal pathogen.

"Our laboratory experiments and DNA analysis confirmed that it would eat the zoospore, the free-swimming stage of the fungus," said lead researcher Julia Buck, an OSU doctoral student in zoology.

The fungus B. dendrobatidis, dubbed a "chytrid" fungus, is responsible for a recently discovered disease of amphibians chytridiomycosis. It can disrupt electrolyte balance and lead to death from cardiac arrest in its amphibian hosts if it reaches high levels, an OSU release said Friday. However, OSU researchers found that Daphnia magna might make a meal of the troublesome fungus.

Now, the scientists have to conduct field studies to confirm the zooplankton's efficacy in a natural setting. The OSU scientists have found that Daphnia inhabits amphibian breeding sites where chytrid transmission occurs and may be able to stem the unprecedented population declines and extinctions.

The chytrid fungus is not always deadly at low levels of infestation, Buck said. It may not be necessary to completely eliminate it, but instead just reduce its density in order to prevent mortality.

"We feel that biological control offers the best chance to control this fungal disease, and now we have a good candidate for that," Buck said. "Efforts to eradicate this disease have been unsuccessful, but so far no one has attempted biocontrol of the chytrid fungus. That may be the way to go."

Amphibians have survived for millions of years. However their permeable skin and exposure to terrestrial and aquatic environments makes them vulnerable to environmental changes.

According to a report in Environment News Service, Chytrid is now reported in 43 countries and 36 U.S. states. The fungus has infected over 350 amphibian species by penetrating their skin.

The fungus can live at elevations up to 20,000 feet and is believed to have caused the extinctions of all known high elevation populations of seven frog species in Australia's Wet Tropics between the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Chytrid infections also have caused the extinction of the Costa Rican golden toad, Bufo periglenes, which was last seen in 1989; the Wyoming toad,Bufo baxteri, extinct in the wild since 1991; and the Panamanian golden frog, Atelopus zeteki, extinct in the wild since 2007.

The fungus also wiped out the Australian gastric-brooding frog, of a genus, Rheobatrachus, unique because it contained the only two known frog species that incubated the prejuvenile stages of their offspring in the stomach of the mother.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Study: Artificial Reefs Are Economic Boon; Enjoy Widespread Public Support

From the Underwater Times: Study: Artificial Reefs Are Economic Boon; Enjoy Widespread Public Support
GAINSVILLE, Florida -- A newly released University of Florida study of artificial reef use in six southwest Florida counties shows the structures lure a lot more than fish.

The reefs, which provide habitat for popular sport fish and other marine life, pulled more than $253 million into the region during one year, the study found. Though it costs nothing more than a saltwater fishing license to use the submerged structures as a fishing spot, anglers spend money on food, lodging, fuel, tackle and other necessities.

The UF and Florida Sea Grant study looked at money generated by artificial reefs in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties in 2009. Researchers found that $136 million came from residents, while $117 million was spent by visitors.

Bob Swett, the UF associate professor and Florida Sea Grant extension specialist who led the study, said he was struck most by the contrast between the income generated and the small amount counties invest in the reefs — ranging from $20,000 to $60,000 a year for each county, with some years requiring little to no spending. The reefs also enjoy private support, such as local marine contractors who donate materials and in-kind labor. "That shows me that there's a lot of bang for the buck, if you will, in terms of what they get out of the artificial reef programs," said Swett, also a member of UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Chris Neal, who works for the Scuba Quest dive shop chain's Sarasota location, said his company frequently takes groups of divers out to artificial reefs because the man-made structures allow divers to see such a wide variety of fish and wildlife."You can see all kinds of fish – flounder, hogfish, snapper and grouper," he said.

Besides asking residents about their reef-related spending, the UF researchers also asked boaters who use reefs and those who do not their opinions about spending public money to build and maintain the structures, which are typically underwater piles of large, hollow concrete blocks where fish can hide.

While users were more likely to support such spending (county responses ranged from 83 percent to 95 percent, in favor), Swett said he was also impressed by non-reef users' enthusiasm. Their support for spending public money on reefs ranged from 61 percent to 71 percent.

Artificial reefs are used for a number of activities, among them: enhancing recreational and charter fishing and diving, boosting reef fish populations and aiding scientific research.

Florida's artificial reef program, created in 1982, includes more than 2,500 documented artificial reefs in the state's coastal waters. About one-third of them were the subject of the recent economic study.

Other survey highlights: on average, more than 5,600 southwest Florida residents use artificial reefs every day; for-hire fishing enterprises, including fishing guides, charter boats and party boats, accounted for nearly $90 million in spending, and artificial reefs support more than 2,500 full- and part-time jobs.

The researchers used a combination of mail, telephone and email to collect survey responses.

The study was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the West Coast Inland Navigation District and the participating counties. Besides Swett, the research team included Chuck Adams, a marine economics professor; Sherry Larkin, associate professor in resource economics, extension scientist Alan Hodges and postdoctoral associate Thomas J. Stevens.

The full report, "Economic Impacts of Artificial Reefs for Six Southwest Florida Counties," is available at

Tagging Bull Sharks in the Neuse River

From Southern Fried Science: Tagging Bull Sharks in the Neuse River
Meagan Dunphy-Daly is a graduate student at the Duke University Marine Lab studying the effectiveness of marine reserves in protecting apex predators. She also has ongoing research examining bullshark/dolphin interactions in the Neuse River, NC, where she recently caught an 8 foot bullshark.

Well, it’s Shark Week and instead of heading up to the Neuse River to try to track bull sharks, I’m sitting in front of my computer staring at the marine forecast. Right now, we’re under a small craft advisory until tomorrow night and we’re all keeping our eyes on what Tropical Storm Emily is going to do over the weekend. Such is the ever-exciting life of a field biologist. Although there are a fair number of days spent in an office in front of a computer (be it checking the weather, entering data, or hoping that a manuscript will write itself), the days in the field are what make this job so sweet. I’m a graduate student in Dr. Andy Read’s Lab at Duke University and, in addition to my dissertation interest in the effectiveness of marine reserves for apex predators (think sharks, tuna, and billfish), I have the chance to carry out and participate in many other research projects in North Carolina and elsewhere (check out Reny Tyson’s previous posts on our trip to Antarctica). This summer, I’m studying bull shark habitat use in the Neuse River. Andrew joined us for a day of fieldwork last week and, although we didn’t catch a shark on this trip, we caught a big bull shark on the first day of our season the week before.

Catching a bull shark in the Neuse River is fun, but it’s not easy work. Prepping for the fieldwork starts days before and includes thawing out the massive false albacore and barracuda that we use for bait. Conveniently, my office is located in a separate building, so I am immune to the smell of thawing bait as the day heats up (we’ve been having temperatures above 100° here – stinky!). On the day of a trip to the Neuse, my willing crew meets me at the lab at 6 am to load up the boat with all of our gear. The willing crew quickly realizes that I am using them for: 1) their field skills 2) their company, and, perhaps most importantly, 3) their raw strength. Don’t worry – I compensate them with snack food. We leave the dock at the marine lab and head up Adam’s Creek to the mighty Neuse River. It’s about an hour and a half boat trip to Turnagain Bay, which has been the site that we’ve been fishing at most recently.

Now, you may ask why we are fishing for bull sharks up in the Neuse, a body of water with salinity around 21 ppt. Keep in mind that seawater is around 35 ppt, so the Neuse is considered brackish. However, bull sharks are super cool because they can tolerate fresh water and can travel up into brackish rivers. They may do this for many reasons, such as to exploit a food source that other sharks can’t access or to protect their pups from other shark species. Not many people around here believe that there are many (or any) bull sharks up in the Neuse, but the fishermen there occasionally have red drum snatched by something big. Lucky for me, the local fishermen have been extremely helpful (especially George Beckwith of Down East Guide Service and Tom Roller of WaterDog Guide Service).

And, to prove all those non-believers wrong, we have happened to catch some bull sharks up in the Neuse – most recently, a 2.5-meter mature male. We catch the sharks using a combination of drumlines and a short longline. We use bottom-set drumlines in the Neuse, meaning that a 35-lb weight sits on the bottom of the river with a monofilament leader that has one baited hook at the end. The drumline has a float that sits on the surface, so we can see where our gear is and haul it up to check it every two hours (once again, have I mentioned that I appreciate my crew’s strength?). Drumlines are nice because a hooked fish has a lot of room to swim around the drum. The longline soaks for one hour in-between the drumline checks. If there is no shark on any of our hooks, we repeat the process of baiting, setting, and hauling the gear throughout the day. This process is punctuated by snack breaks, dreams of going for a refreshing dip in the river, and wagers on which hook will come up with a shark on it.

When we catch a shark, we bring it alongside the boat to process it. This, as you might guess, also requires some muscle power from the crew. One person handles the head (the “bitey bits”), one person hugs the shark around the middle, and the third is in charge of the tail. Once the shark is parallel to the boat, we measure it (quickly moving the tape measure away from the bitey bits) and give it a nice, new piece of jewelry (a roto tag) so that we can recognize it if we catch it again. Then, we roll the shark over to sex it (males have claspers), take a blood sample for stable isotope analysis, and attach a sonic tag. This tag lets us track the shark once we release it.

Once the shark is ready to be released, and our ribs are all sore from leaning over the side of the boat, my requirements from the crew switch from pure muscle to patience and delicate hearing. Every five minutes, we listen for the tag using a hydrophone. Then, we follow the tagged shark with the boat, recording our track on our GPS. We are interested in figuring out where bull sharks spend most of their time in the Neuse River to see if predation risk from bull sharks influences bottlenose dolphin habitat use. A former Ph.D. student of Dr. Read’s, Damon Gannon, studied dolphin habitat use in the Neuse River for his dissertation. Damon found that, although the prey of dolphins (mostly spot and croaker) are distributed throughout the estuary, the dolphins are only found along the edges – in waters less than 2 m deep. He hypothesized that this pattern might represent predator avoidance in the turbid and tannic waters of the Neuse – IF the predators (aka bull sharks) are found mostly in deeper waters. Our hope is to explain some of the habitat use patterns of the dolphins using our tracking data from the bull sharks. We have four more tags to get out this summer, and hopefully the track data from these tags will paint a nice picture of what bull sharks in the Neuse are up to

So, why should anyone (besides red drum fishermen) care about bull sharks in the Neuse? This research project interests me because it may turn out to be another example of how important predators are in structuring aquatic communities. My previous research focused on how predators influence the behavior of their prey (e.g., tiger sharks influence cormorant diving behavior), and since coming to Duke University I have focused on whether our current methods of protecting apex predators are effective. As we continue to remove apex predators from our oceans, it is important to understand the consequences of our actions. In theory, removing bull sharks from coastal areas in North Carolina could impact local bottlenose dolphin populations and, consequently, the fish that those dolphins eat. Often, the removal of these apex predators causes a cascade effect – picture a train of dominoes falling over one by one. As the hand that starts the train of dominoes, it is in our best interest to understand just where those dominoes will fall.

Alien Deep: New Field Of Hydrothermal Vents Discovered Along The Mid-Atlantic Ridge

From Underwater Times: Alien Deep: New Field Of Hydrothermal Vents Discovered Along The Mid-Atlantic Ridge
CORK, Ireland -- The Irish-led VENTuRE scientific expedition aboard the national research vessel RV Celtic Explorer has discovered a previously uncharted field of hydrothermal vents along the mid-Atlantic ridge – the first to be explored north of the Azores. The mission, led by Dr. Andy Wheeler of University College, Cork (UCC), together with scientists from the National Oceanographic Centre and the University of Southampton in the UK, NUI Galway and the Geological Survey of Ireland, returned to Cork today (August 4th) from an investigation 3,000 metres below the surface of the sea using the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Holland 1.

Hydrothermal vents, which spew mineral-rich seawater heated to boiling point by volcanic rock in the Earth's crust below, are home to a rich variety of marine life that thrives in complete darkness on bacteria fed by chemicals. The investigation was supported by the Marine Institute under the 2011 Ship-Time Programme of the National Development Plan and by the National Geographic Society, who filmed the work for inclusion in an upcoming National Geographic Channel series, "Alien Deep," premiering globally in 2012.

"On the first dive, we found the edge of the vent field within two hours of arriving on the seafloor," said Dr. Wheeler of UCC. "The ROV descended a seemingly bottomless underwater cliff into the abyss. We never reached the bottom, but rising up from below were these chimneys of metal sulphides belching black plumes of mineral-rich superheated water. Often the search for vents takes much longer, and our success is a testament to the hard work and skill of everyone on board."

Speaking from the RV Celtic Explorer in Cork, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Mr. Simon Coveney said "This work is an example of an exciting new discovery made by the Celtic Explorer and its present crew of Irish and International scientists. Through vessels like the Celtic Explorer, Irish academics and scientists can work with other international experts to explore the sea bed in the Atlantic and make groundbreaking new discoveries. Ireland is positioning itself as a centre for marine research from a European and international perspective and this work should be supported and welcomed."

Dr. Bramley Murton of the National Oceanography Centre in the UK, who first saw clues for possible vents on an expedition aboard the UK research vessel RRS James Cookin 2008 and who led the mineralisation study on the expedition, said, "Our discovery is the first deep-sea vent field known on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge north of the Azores. Although people have been crossing this ocean for centuries, we are the first to reach this spot beneath the waves and witness this natural wonder. The sense of awe at what we are seeing does not fade, and now we are working hard to understand what our discovery tells us about how our planet works."

Patrick Collins from NUI Galway's Ryan Institute, who led Ireland's marine biological team investigating this unique ecosystem, is working in collaboration with Jon Copley of the University of Southampton to catalogue and characterise the species found at the vents. "Everyone on board is proud of this Irish discovery, which we have called the 'Moytirra Vent Field,' said Patrick Collins. "Moytirra is the name of a battlefield in Irish mythology, and appropriately means 'Plain of the Pillars.' The largest chimney we have found is huge – more than ten metres tall – and we have named it 'Balor' after a legendary giant. In comparison with other vent fields, Moytirra contains some monstrous chimneys and is in an unusual setting at the bottom of a cliff—a real beauty."

"Using the ROV's high-definition video camera, we've watched unusual orange-bodied shrimp crawling around the chimneys, among clusters of tiny green limpets," said Jon Copley. "Elsewhere there are writhing scale-worms, swirling mats of bacteria and eel-like fish – a riot of life in this unlikely haven on the ocean floor."

The mission carried geochemists, marine biologists, marine geologists, marine geneticists and technicians from Ireland and the UK as well as a TV crew from National Geographic. It was supported by the Marine Institute under the 2011 Ship-Time Programme of the National Development Plan.

"This project clearly demonstrates Ireland's capacity to undertake world-class marine research on a significant scale, a capacity created through strategic national investments in facilities such as the Celtic Explorer and the Holland 1," said Dr. Peter Heffernan, Chief Executive of the Marine Institute. "This targeted use of research funding by our organisation, which has enabled senior Irish scientists to lead this survey in partnership with international colleagues, has resulted in scientific discoveries of global interest which will enhance Ireland's growing reputation in deep-sea exploration."

Was pollution responsible for mass stranding of pilot whales?

The Telegraph (UK): Was pollution responsible for mass stranding of pilot whales?
Experts have now asked the UK government for £20,000 to carry out the first such major diagnostic tests on a super pod in Scotland - which could show the legacy of decades of pouring toxic chemicals into the sea.

No such link between strandings and pollution has ever been proved before - but scientists say they are now finding killer whales with toxic readings "hundreds" of times over the limit.

There are growing fears that Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB's) - which are now banned - are so prevalent in the marine environment that over a period of time they have entered the food chain widely.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is now being asked for £20,000 of the £50,000 of toxicology tests that the Scottish Agriculture College-led investigation into the recent stranding in Sutherland wants to probe.

The Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme is continuing to investigate the cause of what is believed to have been Scotland's largest ever stranding of pilot whales, in the Kyle of Durness on July 22. Some 25 of the 70 whales are believed to have died.

Leading experts from the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrews, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and Institute of Zoology in London will all be involved in the toxicology tests.

Samples have been taken from 16 of the dead whales.

SAC's Veterinary Investigations Officer Dr Andrew Brownlow said these samples provided an "unique" opportunity to conduct a whole range of diagnostic tests.

"Some of the pilot whales were around 50 years old - and their ages range down to those of a calf," he said.

"We want to run the tests to try and find the underlying cause of the stranding. We know these animals feed high-up in the food chain and many had lived a long time. PCBs have been around in the marine environment - perhaps more than anywhere else - for a very long time."

"They were used as coolants for things like generators and transformers. But they are highly toxic and long lasting. They can have a wide range of physiological effects none of which are good. Cetaceans are prone to them because they build up in the fat. Calves can have a particularly high level because they feed on fatty milk from their mothers.

"We want to see what levels of PCBs there were in this group. Some male killer whales have been found to have PCB levels hundreds of times higher than the suggested limit for humans. We just don't know the effect that PCBs are having on marine wildlife and this investigation will help us understand what is going ion in the seas. It could be very important - that is why we have asked for the funding. We hope to have an answer within a couple of weeks."

Dr Brownlow added that the possibility of killer whales, underwater earthquakes and naval explosive clearance in the area would also be probed.

Navy divers who helped in the rescue had been in the area carrying out explosions on undetonated devices in the days prior to the stranding. Nearby Garvie Island is a major military bombing range.

The Navy has denied that its explosions - which it has carried out for years in the area - could have caused the stranding.

But Dr Brownlow that the situation could be like "Russian roulette" - this time with the explosions going off at the wrong time when whales were in the area.

"We have asked the Navy for a timeline of its underwater explosions. I am also pretty sure that whatever brought them into the Kyle it was not food. It maybe that we never find a physical reason why they stranded but it's important that we look."

In May, around 60 pilot whales appeared in Loch Carnan, South Uist, although they left the loch after one of the mammals died. Another dead whale was later found on an island in the loch.

A post-mortem examination suggested the first had died of infection.

At the end of October last year, other pilot whales almost got stranded in Loch Carnan.

Less than a week later 33 whales, believed to be the same group, were found dead on a beach in Co Donegal in Ireland.

Pilot whales are known to prefer deep water but come inshore to feed on squid, their main food.

The investigation is the first one on a mass stranding in the UK for three years when a group of dolphins beached at Weymouth in Dorset.

Meanwhile the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue are urging residents from the more remote and isolated parts of Scotland, particularly islanders, to join them in a training course to learn fundamental techniques to assist in marine mammal strandings.

Morven Summers, HWDTs Volunteer Coordinator said:"Without the assistance of trained medics at the scene many more pilot whales at Durness would have surely perished.

"Recent events highlight the need for a wider network of trained individuals, particularly within island communities, where ferry timetables and weather can hamper the efforts of those travelling from the mainland."

The course fee is £90 - and includes the first yearâ s supporters fee and third party insurance while on a rescue. Those interested should call 01688 302620

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

National Geographic’s Enric Sala is a man on a mission

Washington Post: National Geographic’s Enric Sala is a man on a mission
Enric Sala remembers the exact moment he decided he wanted to be a National Geographic explorer — one of the few lucky souls who launch expeditions financed and documented by one of the nation’s most venerable institutions. A decade ago he was sitting in his office at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. — an academic perch with an idyllic view of the Pacific Ocean — as he unwrapped the brown paper that used to cover issues of National Geographic.

“There’s a guy walking in the African jungle looking like a maniac, with a bunch of pygmies behind him, exhausted,” Sala recalled. “I said, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do.’ ”

It was National Geographic explorer Mike Fay, who had walked more than 2,000 miles across the Congo Basin. The series about his journey inspired the president of Gabon to create his country’s first system of national parks.

The 42-year-old Sala — a Spaniard and respected marine biologist — gave up a tenured post at Scripps three years ago to move to the District, “trying to save the last wild places in the ocean” as National Geographic’s newest explorer-in-residence.

Being a 21st-century explorer, it turns out, entails advocacy as well as adventure. And it reflects a different mission for National Geographic, a 123-year-old Washington institution that no longer simply showcases stunning photographs and stories of the planet’s most remote places, but now acts on their behalf.

National Geographic has funded nearly 10,000 expeditions over the past century and reported on them in its magazine’s pages, bringing extraordinary sites to a global audience. It helped Robert E. Peary explore the North Pole in 1909 and assisted Hiram Bingham as he excavated the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu between 1912 and 1915. Its money helped produce iconic images of the underwater world — as Jacques Cousteau conducted oceanographic research in the 1950s and ’60s — and reshape the way we view evolution, as Mary and Richard Leakey unearthed the fossils of some of the earliest humans.

Recently the institution’s 14 explorers have started posing some uncomfortable questions to their longtime benefactor. They are nudging it to engage in public policy debates, though they don’t dispatch staffers to Capitol Hill as other environmental groups do.

“Increasingly now what they tell us is things are changing — the historical, cultural, natural resources of this planet are changing, and, in many cases, they’re disappearing,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president for mission programs, adding that the explorers have started to ask, “Do you really want us to simply chronicle the demise of the planet?”

Brian Skerry, who has worked as a National Geographic contract photographer for 13 years, underwent this transformation over the course of his career.

“At first, when I began, I was only interested in the celebratory picture,” he said during a panel on oceans at the Center for American Progress this month. After discovering “environmental stories I couldn’t ignore,” Skerry said, he began reporting such subjects as industrial fishing and climate change. “It’s not like a grocery store, the ocean; we can’t keep taking things out and expect everything’s okay.”

The explorers use both high- and low-tech equipment, some of which is financed by National Geographic, to conduct their high-stakes journeys. Fay made his entire Congo trek in a pair of shorts and Tevas, but he now uses everything from kayaks to snowshoes for his explorations. Robert Ballard relies on remotely operated vehicles at times to investigate shipwrecks in the Black Sea. Documentary filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert spot African wildlife — and those who hunt the animals — from small aircraft. And Sala uses deep-water “drop cams,” mini-helicopters and high-definition underwater cameras.

Sala made the leap to National Geographic full time in 2008, identifying potential marine reserve areas as an ocean fellow at the group’s headquarters. Garcia recalled how Sala sat in his D.C. office and explained the limits of his academic job, saying that it offered security and intellectual freedom, “but what it means is I’ll just be writing one academic paper after another, and all the while the ocean, and the marine organisms in the ocean, are going to be disappearing. And I don’t want to do that.”

Sala did not become an explorer-in-residence overnight. He was awarded the title “emerging explorer” in 2007 before ascending in National Geographic’s hierarchy and becoming an ocean fellow. This caused some confusion when in June he called his parents in Girona, Spain, to deliver the news that he had been named an explorer-in-residence, along with filmmaker James Cameron.

“They both said, ‘I thought you were already an explorer,’ ” he recounted.

Sala — who is striking and lean, with brown hair he pulls back in a ponytail — leads what he calls “a schizophrenic life,” interspersing expeditions with policy and academic work. Just a few weeks before Sebastián Piñera was elected president of Chile in January 2010, Sala met him at the World Economic Forum and chatted about how both of them had been scuba diving off Chile’s Sala y Gomez, an area near Easter Island.

As a couple of other Latin American presidents pulled Piñera away, Sala said, “So when you become president, we’re going to talk about this place.” Sala lobbied him with a letter and through several intermediaries; less than a year after taking office, Piñera declared the 58,000-square-mile area a marine reserve, off-limits to extractive activities.

Though he was raised speaking Catalan (he reverts to his first language when cursing or taking personal notes), Sala spoke to Piñera in Spanish. He also speaks French, Italian and English fluently, a lingual dexterity that adds to his persuasiveness.

“I call him the Antonio Banderas of the marine world, because he’s so charming,” said Nancy Baron, science outreach director for the group COMPASS, which helps researchers engage in public policy.

This includes appealing to allies such as the pop singer Bjork, who decided to donate $34,000 from “Mount Wittenberg Orca,” a recording she did with the experimental rock band Dirty Projectors, to fund Sala’s marine reserve work.

“He seemed to be a man on a mission who would not mess about,” the Icelandic singer said in a phone interview, adding that after meeting him at National Geographic’s headquarters, she became convinced that if he planned a project, “it would actually work; it would not be just talk.”

In fact, Sala spends much of his time planning expeditions that cost between $500,000 and $1 million. They include not only researchers but photographers and bloggers, who can chronicle the wonders of areas he lobbies to place off-limits.

Ken Weiss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter who journeyed with Sala to the South Pacific island of Palmyra in 2005 when Sala was based at Scripps, describes him as the “most stylish diver I’ve ever seen.” He is meticulous about his Italian diving gear, with elongated fins and the sort of soft and malleable neoprene fabric that Mediterranean spear fishermen prefer for spending an extended time underwater.

“He’s just suspended in the water column,” Weiss recalled, adding that as Sala remained motionless horizontally, he resembled “a matador, with sharks swimming all around him.”

Much of marine biology — counting fish in transects, sorting the numbers afterward — can be tedious, and Sala has little patience for it.

Boris Worm, marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, recalled how he and Sala spearheaded a groundbreaking workshop a few years ago that produced the headline-grabbing conclusion that the world’s commercial fish stocks could collapse by 2048: “I was the guy trying to whip people into crunching data; he was going out with people and drinking wine and beer, and having these discussions that led to inspired ideas. So it was a good tag team.”

Sala still publishes academic papers regularly. Last week he was co-author of a study in the Public Library of Science ONE journal showing that Cabo Pulmo National Park, in an area that Sala’s childhood hero Cous­teau called “the aquarium of the world,” is the world’s most robust marine reserve.

What Sala relishes, however, is immersing himself in places such as the waters around Costa Rica’s Cocos Island, where 200 hammerhead sharks can swim by as he’s holding his breath, or off Kiribati’s Millennium Atoll, where giant clams in electric blue and fluorescent green carpet the seafloor.

“Because they filter water, it is so clear you feel you are flying,” he said. “The entire experience is hallucinogenic because you feel you are flying on this carpet of giant clams.”

When he was done diving, he made a pitch to the Kiribati government that it should protect Millennium from exploitation. He showed officials pictures of what was underwater. “You should have seen their faces,” he said. “They had no idea what they had there.”

A few obstacles remain — Sala is working on drafting an economic model to show developing nations such as Kiribati that they can profit more from protecting the sea than mining its re­sources. “I am a salesman of ideas,” he said.

And National Geographic has limited resources itself, making financing future expeditions “a challenge,” as Garcia put it. But he has no doubt that Sala will be back at sea soon. “If we’re not exploring, if we’re not sending people into the field, then what are we?”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Eastern European poachers causing fish stocks to drop by more than half in the River Wye

From Daily Mail Online: Eastern European poachers causing fish stocks to drop by more than half in the River Wye
Fish stocks in one of Britain’s best-loved rivers are being decimated by groups of Eastern European poachers.

The gangs are illegally plundering the River Wye’s bounty to feed themselves – and to sell on the black market.

The number of wild salmon in the river has plummeted by an alarming 57 per cent over the past two years alone, environmentalists warned yesterday.

The 134-mile long river topped a nationwide poll last year as the country’s best waterway.
Astonishingly, the brazen criminals even set up barbecues by the riverbanks where they swiftly cook and eat their stolen fish before selling the rest on the black market.
A 20lb fresh water salmon can fetch upwards of £300 and tend to be sold to luxury hotels.

Numbers of trout, pike and barbel have also dropped as a result of the illegal fishing.

The gangs responsible for the poaching are believed to be migrant workers who pick fruit on nearby farms.
Profitable: The poachers who catch the salmon can sell it on to upmarket hotels
Some are even poisoning rivers to kill the fish before scooping them up in large nets.
The river, the fifth largest in Britain, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which means it is illegal to catch fish for food.
The Wye stretches from Wales through Herefordshire and ends in Chepstow, Monmouthshire.
The Environment Agency is stepping up patrols and using covert spy-cameras hidden in trees and hedgerows along the river banks in a bid to catch the poachers in the act.
Chris Ponsford, who works for the agency’s crime team, said: ‘We’re essentially the “environment police” and have the power to arrest.

Repeat offenders could be slapped with up to a £2,500 fine – but it’s hard to land a conviction. So many are getting away with it.’
Mark Lloyd, of the Angling Trust, said: ‘We’ve noticed this trend across the country due mainly to the influx of migrant workers from Eastern Europe.
‘Besides the River Wye, we’ve identified hotspots in Wiltshire and along the River Nene in the east of England.’
The Environmental Agency has seized huge quantities of illegal fishing nets and poles hidden along the banks of the river over the last three months.

Each net is capable of catching dozens of fish, particularly salmon running upstream to spawn, in one go.
Chris Ponsford added: 'There's a big problem throughout the Wye valley with poachers.

'Long lines have been found, but the majority of the poaching comes from local farms where hundreds and hundreds of Eastern European labourers work.

'What they're doing is very illegal - there are very strict regulations governing what you can and cannot take from rivers.

'They go down to the river in the evenings and over the weekends with their rods and barbeques, removing fish to eat.

'Some of the operations are bigger and the fish are being sold on.

'If these guys are taking maybe one or two fish a day, it doesn't take long for them to have a big impact on a stretch.'

Last year the Wye was voted the country's favourite river in a poll backed by WWF Cymru, RSPB, the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association.

Voters described it as 'magical and timeless', 'a haven for wildlife' and a place 'to get lost and slow down'. But fishing experts now warn the iconic river is at risk from poachers.

Nationwide trend: Mark Lloyd (pictured) from the Angling Trust said the poachers are part of a 'large-scale illegal operation'
Conservation charity The Wye and Usk Foundation reported salmon stocks have dropped by 57 per cent drop in two years.
In 2008, there were a 1,106 reported salmon catches compared with 640 in 2009 and just 477 last year.

The average weight of salmon has also decreased by over 20 per cent from 34lbs in 2008 to 27lbs in 2010 - indicating the fish is being caught and killed before it reaches maturity.

Mr Ponsford said: 'It's an uphill battle but we have a variety of methods to combat fish poaching.
'These include regular patrols, during the day and night as well as at weekends. We also have boats and surveillance equipment such as hidden cameras at our disposal.'

Fishing charities have reported similar incidents happening across the country.

Mark Lloyd added: 'Those laying these lines, which carry multiple hooks, are part of large-scale, illegal operations.

'It is just part of their culture - in Poland, for example, the carp-like barbel is a delicacy and served for Christmas dinner, instead of turkey.

'However, the bigger illegal operations will take time to tackle.'

But a rebuttal (1 post out of 18) in the Comments Section:
What a load of garbage this article is! Wye salmon have been in terminal decline since the 1980's, long before Eastern Europeans started arriving. There are salmon anglers with more than 40 years experience unable to locate a single salmon on sections of the middle Wye, yet we are to believe these newly arrived migrants are finding and catching them with ease? There are many problems for the ever dwindling stock of salmon that still run the Wye, such as abstraction, pollution from intensive agriculture, the spread of illegally introduced alien species like barbel and the constant disturbance of the spawning beds by canoeists and rafters. Eastern European poachers are a non-existent threat to salmon, they would be far more likely to be targeting the WUF's favourite cash cow the barbel.

Marine researchers say commercial fishing could be killing off New Zealand's largest population of native sea lions.

From Radio New Zealand News: Marine researchers say commercial fishing could be killing off New Zealand's largest population of native sea lions.

In a study, the researchers discount non-human factors such as disease and say by-catch incidents and competition for food are the most likely cause of the population decline.

Report author, senior lecturer at Otago University Bruce Robertson, says about 70% of the species breeds on the Auckland Islands and the rest on Campbell Island.

Dr Robertson says breeding at the Auckland Islands has declined by 40% since 1988, with only 1500 pups born in 2009. However, breeding on Campbell Island is slowly increasing.

By comparing the two populations, he says, the team found two human factors could be the reason the Auckland Islands population is in decline.

The first is competition for fish between the marine mammals and humans and the second is the death of sea lions caught in nets.

Dr Roberston says the sea lions may be having to compete with fishermen for the squid around the Auckland Islands.

However Ministry of Fisheries deepwater manager Aoife Martin says there is no information to suggest the sea lion population decline is due to fishing activity.

Ms Martin says the number of reported sea lion captures is falling, with none at all reported at this year's squid fishing season.

She says the industry takes wildlife issues very seriously, and all vessels have devices on their nets to allow any sea lions that enter them accidentally to escape.

Dr Robertson says the researchers were not seeking to apportion blame, but to find out what is going on and identify areas where knowledge is lacking.

He says fewer than 10,000 native sea lions remain, so such information is very important.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Electromagnetic fish hook reduces accidental shark catches

From GizMag: Electromagnetic fish hook reduces accidental shark catches

In fisheries all over the world, many fish are caught using a process known as pelagic longlining. This consists of fishing crews traveling out into the open ocean and deploying a series of baited hooks that are all attached to one horizontal main line, that can range from 20 to 40 miles (32 to 64 km) in length. After being left to sit in the water for a period of time, the line is hauled abroad a fishing vessel, where the fishes that took the bait are removed from the hooks. Unfortunately, even though they're not usually one of the targeted species, sometimes sharks will be among the fish captured. A new type of fish hook, however, is said to reduce unintended shark catches by up to 94 percent.

First of all, why wouldn't fishers want sharks on their lines?

For one thing, as apex predators that are essential to the balance of the marine ecosystem, several types of sharks are protected species - depending on the country. Sharks can also bite off the hooks, break the main line, or cause entanglements. They also occupy hooks that could have been taken by more sought-after fish, and if they're still alive when hauled aboard the boat, can injure crew members when being removed from the line. Additionally, the time spent removing sharks from the line and/or repairing the damage that they cause could be spent catching more fish.

The SMART (Selective Magnetic and Repellent-Treated) Hook, created by New Jersey-based Shark Defense, is intended to repel sharks. This is due to the fact that it is magnetic, and coated in a metal that produces an electrical current when placed in seawater. Electromagnetic fields are known to confuse sharks' sensory systems, and as such the creatures try to steer clear of them when possible. It requires no power source, and reportedly only costs slightly more than a traditional hook - an amount that should be made back through reductions in damaged equipment, wasted time, and unmarketable catches.

In a set of 50 tests using two different groups of sharks, it was found that smaller, recreational-sized SMART hooks with bait received 66 percent less shark strikes than their conventional counterparts. Larger, commercial-sized SMART hooks received 94 percent less, due to the fact that more of the shark-repellent metal was present.

Magnetic and voltage-creating metals have separately been shown to reduce shark catches by 18 to 68 percent in past studies, although the Shark Defense researchers state that combining the two properties boosts the SMART hook's repellent properties.

Pleas to protect WA marine life ramps up

The Transcontinental: Pleas to protect WA marine life ramps up
Hundreds of people have written passionate pleas urging the federal government to reconsider its proposed network of marine reserves off the South-West, imploring what they say is a lack of protection for vulnerable marine life.

The government's draft plan, released in May, covers waters from Geraldton in WA across the Great Australian Bight to Kangaroo Island in South Australia and declares the south-west corner off Busselton and Albany a marine national park zone, banning fishing and drilling activity.

The draft has drawn criticism from both the fishing industry, which claims the changes will be dire for businesses, and conservationists who say the network needs to be extended to include Perth Canyon, Geographe Bay, The Capes area, the Abrolhos Islands and Recherche Archipelago.

Environmentalists argue the south-west marine region is larger and contains more unique marine life than the Great Barrier Reef and deserves a higher level of protection.

Several reports have claimed the plan lacks protection for critical feeding and breeding areas for the southern right whale, the Australian sea lion, white shark and the world's largest animal, the blue whale, and marine life remains unprotected and vulnerable to the threats of over fishing, damage from oil and gas drilling and marine pollution such as oil spills.

With public submissions closing on Monday, critics have ramped up calls for the public to join the growing chorus of commercial fisheries and environmental campaigners calling for a review.

Within hours of advocacy group GetUp! launching a campaign yesterday, campaign manager Paul Oosting said he had received hundreds of letters from concerned members.

He said two letters, one written by a prawn trawler and another by a sea trawler, detailing their personal observations of the impacts of trawling on the sea bed were particularly "powerful".

"One [author] was talking about how they were trawling for prawns but in their nets there would be sea snakes, turtles, manta rays and sharks, which were killed as a result," Mr Oosting said.

"Dragging the nets was [also] destroying the habitat for the other species not [caught in the nets].

"[He wrote] 'I know we all like eating but at what cost?'"

The rapid response to the campaign launch follows a letter written by four Australians of the Year, including WA doctor Fiona Wood, calling on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to take into account a plethora of scientific research that suggests a need to take the draft marine reserve plan further.

"The scientific case for sanctuary areas has now been well and truly made," the letter said.

"Research from Australia and around the world provides compelling evidence of both the benefits and the urgency for action."

Mr Oosting said the proposed network of marine reserves was a unique opportunity to protect the region's marine environment for the future.

"When we think about ocean destruction, images of oil spills often come to mind but what we can't see is what happens under the surface," he said.

"Thousands of kilometres of our ocean floor are being devastated by sea floor trawling in some of Australia's most precious marine hotspots."

He said calls for greater protection of marine reserves would start to outweigh commercial fishers lobbying the government.

"It's not often we get the opportunity to leave a legacy for the future," Mr Oosting said. "When enjoying these marine sanctuaries with our grandkids in years to come, we can look back on the time we took just a few minutes to help protect Australia's iconic coastline."

Submissions close Monday.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pacific Island Nations Call For World's Largest Shark Sanctuary; 'Now We Can Have Balance'

From Underwater Times: Pacific Island Nations Call For World's Largest Shark Sanctuary; 'Now We Can Have Balance'
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- An area covering over two million square miles of the western Pacific Ocean, two-thirds of the land area of the United States, is slated to become the world's largest shark sanctuary and the first one ever created through a regional agreement among governments.

Leaders at last week's 15th Micronesian Chief Executive Summit passed a resolution (PDF) to begin the process of creating a regional sanctuary where shark fishing would be prohibited. The agreement, which also authorizes the development of a regional ban on the possession, sale and trade of shark fins, covers the waters of the Federated States of Micronesia and its four member States, The Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.

"We applaud and support the chief executives for protecting the sharks of Micronesia," said Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group, who has worked with Micronesian leaders this year to develop the resolution and presented at the summit to push for its passage. "Their leadership should serve as a model for other coastal nations to safeguard these important keystone species which are rapidly disappearing from the world's oceans, primarily as a result of the escalating demand for shark fins in China and other Asian countries."

The Micronesian resolution is the most recent and largest example to date, of a growing realization that sharks, of which a third of all species are headed towards extinction, are in serious trouble. Last month, the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures (APIL), a body comprised of lawmakers from across the Western and Central Pacific, requested all member nations to "adopt legislation for a unified regional ban prohibiting the possession, selling, offering for sale, trading, or distribution of shark fins, rays, and ray parts."

In June and July, Honduras and the Bahamas joined Palau and the Maldives in creating shark sanctuaries. These nations have come to realize that shark tourism is far more profitable than killing the animals for their fins. One year later, the Marshall Islands instituted a shark fishing moratorium after reports of unregulated activity in its waters.

"The world must rise with us to protect our oceans and our environment," said Johnson Toribiong, President of the Republic of Palau. "That is the moral obligation of this generation for the benefit of the next."

"This is a great accomplishment for all the advocates of global and regional shark conservation," said Benigno Fitial, Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which along with Guam already has banned trade in shark fins. "The protection of sharks will improve our ecosystem. Now we can have balance."

The Micronesian state of Pohnpei has also taken steps to ban the possession, sale and trade of shark fins within its jurisdiction. "I am very thankful that the region has a common voice on sharks," said John Ehsa, Governor of Pohnpei. "Our State Government has pending legislation to save sharks, and I am in full support." The Pohnpei initiative is modeled after Hawaii's landmark shark fin ban which took effect July 1, 2010. That law, championed by Hawaii State Senator Clayton Hee, prohibits the sale, possession, or distribution of shark fins and fin products.

Senator Hee participated in the Micronesia summit to encourage the chief executives to continue their marine conservation efforts, particularly those focused on the protection of sharks and manta rays. "As native sons of the Pacific, the leaders of Micronesia have taken care of their mother by passing this historic resolution to save sharks," said Senator Hee.