Thursday, June 28, 2012

Plastic floated as commercial catch for fishing industry

Sounds like a good idea. But human beings being what they are, anyone want to bet that fisherman will buy onland trash, carry it aboard their ships, and claim they found it in the oceans?

The Copenhagen Post:  Plastic floated as commercial catch for fishing industry

A new net could help clean up the oceans while at the same time providing struggling fishermen with a source of income
This captain could soon be trawling for his daily quota of plastic (Photo: Scanpix)
The plastics industry has introduced a trawling net specially fitted to fish plastic waste out of the sea into in the fight against debris in Danish waters.
In the North Sea alone it is estimated that over 20,000 tonnes of waste winds up in the sea each year. Much of it is plastic, and members of the Danish plastics industry felt they had a responsibility to help clean up the mess.
"First and foremost, we want to shed light on the problems created when the sea is used as a dustbin,” Peter Skov, of Plasticindustien, a group representing the plastics industry, said in a press release. “It is bad for wildlife, fisheries and tourism and plastic is unfortunately a big part of the problem.”
Skov said that the new net was only a part of the solution to the waste problem. He pointed out that it is consumers, not the companies that manufacture plastic, that are responsible for it winding up in the sea.
The EU fisheries commissioner, Maria Daminaki, has floated the idea of having fishermen use the net during periods when they are not allowed to fish. Danish fishermen were open to the idea.
​​“I am sure that they would be glad to fish for plastic if the money is there to ensure a profit for fishermen," said Svend-Erik Andersen of fishing union Danmarks Fiskeriforening.
Andersen said the fishing industry depends on healthy oceans and that helping with cleanup is in its own best interest.
The trash trawler was developed by a French company and has been deployed successfully in Spain, Portugal and Belgium. Plasticindustien demonstrated it to fishermen and politicians at the Folkemøde political jamboree held on Bornholm earlier this month.

UK court throws out Maltese tuna ranchers’ case against Sea Shepherd

I'm in two minds about this.  On the one hand I'd prefer sealife to live free and unencumbered, on the other hand what right does Sea Shepherd have to go destroying expensive equipment? And note that they didn't actually win the lawsuit, the mealy-mouthed court just said, "Oh, it's out of our jurisdiction."

From Malta Today:  UK court throws out Maltese tuna ranchers’ case against Sea Shepherd

Maltese tuna ranchers Fish & Fish will have to pay some €250,000 of marine conservation organisation Sea Shepherd's legal fees after a UK court threw out their lawsuit.
Fish & Fish claimed they incurred €1 million in damages to bluefin tuna ranching gear by Sea Shepherd in the Mediterranean last year when the organisation's flagship vessel Steve Irwin rammed their tuna pen on the high seas.
The Maltese ranchers successfully secured the arrest of the ship on pain of a €1 million garnishee order which Sea Shepherd managed to pay through an internet donation campaign in only 10 days from Sea Shepherd supporters worldwide.
The Sea Shepherd action in 2010, part of their Operation Blue Rage campaign, had freed 800 bluefin tuna ranched by Fish & Fish, which they claimed had been illegally caught.
Mr Justice Hamblin of the Admiralty Court announced his decision Wednesday morning in a London court, saying the UK court was not the proper place to file the suit against Sea Shepherd and ordered the case against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Sea Shepherd U.K. and Captain Paul Watson dismissed.
Fish & Fish have requested an appeal but the judge refused the appeal. Fish & Fish may still appeal the ruling to a higher court.
Pending a possible appeal, Sea Shepherd will have the €1 million bond returned, but Fish & Fish were ordered by the judge pay a percentage of Sea Shepherd's legal fees in the case, which the organisation says could amount to over €250,000.
"What we did in 2010 we have no apologies for," Sea Shepherd's founder, Captain Paul Watson (pictured, left), said.

In June 2010 the Steve Irwin had rammed the pen owned by Fish and Fish to free the bluefin tuna its crew believed was caught illegally, seriously injuring a Maltese diver in the process.
At the time, Rural Affairs Ministry had defended the fishing operation, insisting all the paperwork was in order, and condemned the attack.
Fish and Fish had estimated that the cost of losing 600 fish, weighing some 35 tons, coupled with the damage caused and the lawsuit, would reach €1 million.
"We freed 800 large endangered bluefin tuna illegally caught by poachers off the coast of Libya. We cut the nets and when the Maltese company that claimed ownership of these liberated fish sued us, we stood our ground in court and we won, the tuna won, and the poachers lost.
"Our British lawyers did an excellent job. I am confident that if an appeal is granted, we will see the appeal court upholding this ruling. Bottom line and most importantly, the fish were freed and the company failed to recover their requested losses for their illegal catch."
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said it will continue to "aggressively oppose the illegal exploitation of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean" and that it is seeking a vessel dedicated to the protection and conservation of biodiversity in the Mediterranean Sea.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lawmakers call for restraint over sea 'collision'

From Sun Star Manilla :  Lawmakers call for restraint over sea 'collision'

MANILA -- Members of the House of Representatives called for restraint while Philippine authorities conduct a deeper probe into reports that a Chinese vessel rammed against a Filipino-manned fishing boat causing the death of a fisherman.

The Philippine Coast Guard reported on Monday that a Hong Kong-registered bulk vessel, MV Peach Mountain, may have crashed into the fishing boat.

House Assistant Majority Leader and Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles, however, said it is premature for the Philippine government to make a conclusion on what really happened to the fishermen.

President Benigno Aquino III, meantime, refused to blame China on the incident, saying he is still waiting for the result of the investigation.

“There is an investigation, determination of cause, determination of who is at fault. Then after all of this investigation, then that tells us where we will proceed,” Aquino said.

“So now, let us not pinpoint to anyone while there is no sufficient evidence,” he added.
Aquino also assured on Monday necessary assistance to the victims of the reported collision and vowed justice for them.

“If there was a ramming incident and you left the fishermen in the middle of the sea -- that is in clear violation of the laws governing the seas. That is actionable. We can go to the appropriate fora to file the necessary charges for justice for our fishermen,” Aquino said.

Chinese embassy spokesman Zhang Hua said media reports on the alleged "accidental bumping" of boats last June 20 have yet to be verified by Chinese authorities.

"We wonder what that news story was based upon. We hope relevant persons can verify the facts with a responsible attitude before they report," said Zhang.

In a report from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), it said the fishermen's boat "Axl John" was damaged after being bumped by a Chinese vessel while anchored on an artificial fish shelter.

The collision caused the eventual death of a Filipino fisherman identified as Christopher Carbonell, 32, of Bolinao, Pangasinan.

Three others were rescued, while four fishermen who were identified as Fred Celino, Arnold Garcia, Domy de los Santos and Amante Resonable remained missing.

The three rescued fishermen, Edimio Balmores, Herman Balmores and Celino Damian, are currently confined at Gabriela Silang General Hospital in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur.

“The authorities could not get statements from them because they are still suffering from hypothermia, rapid loss of body warmth. So, they still could not talk,” Aquino said.

Nograles said the international community should not be complacent about the latest incident.
"If this incident was deliberate and was sanctioned by the Chinese government, this is a clear act of aggression against another sovereign nation. This is an act of war," he said in a statement.

The Philippine government should at least report the incident to the United Nations, Nograles said.
"The global community, through the United Nations, should promote justice and parity among nations by actively persuading China, or any other nation for that matter, to forget the ancient dictum that whoever is strong rules the world," he added.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares said the Chinese crew would have violated the international law provision on the duty to assist when they left the Filipino fishermen without aiding them.
Iloilo City Representative Jerry Trenas, meanwhile, said the Philippines should assert the Mutual Defense Treaty and request the United States' assistance by deploying forces at the Panatag shoal and areas in the Spratlys group of islands that are within Philippine territory.

"This is a very complicated situation. It is understandable that China is a world economic and even military power. It is a very lucrative market for many nations, including the United States and the European powers, and even the Philippines. And China is taking advantage of this situation," Trenas said.

But President Aquino said the Philippines will not be sending back ships to the Panatag Shoal anymore because there is no presence of Chinese vessels in the area.

He said he is still waiting for the result of the latest survey of the Philippine Coast Guard in the disputed shoal.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Most Important Milestone from China’s Impressive Week of Exploration

From Wired:  The Most Important Milestone from China’s Impressive Week of Exploration

The seafloor from the Alvin submersible; the Earth from an Apollo mission (Image credits: Jeffrey Marlow; NASA)
A very unusual phone call took place over the weekend, and it happened in Chinese.  Both callers were in cramped metal tins with two other people, but the views from their dinner plate-sized windows could not have been more different.  One man looked out to see 7,000 meters of Pacific Ocean water above his submarine; the other saw the arc of the Earth below his space ship and the vast darkness of space in all other directions.
This clever bit of PR underscores an obvious point: it’s been a good week for China’s sea and space exploration programs, as well as for superlative-hunting historians.  It began on June 16th, when the Shenzhou 9 launched China’s first female taikonaut – Liu Yang – as a member of the three-person crew.  This was the country’s fourth manned mission, and it featured a marquee headlining event: a docking between a manned capsule and the incipient Chinese space station.  It was a unique challenge of hardware, software, and human skill, a technical hurdle that would justify more complicated mission architectures in the future.
And so, on June 18th, Shenzhou 9 activated its automatic control system and successfully linked up with the Tiangong 1 module.  A couple of days ago, they backed up and did it again – this time manually, just to show that they could, and to prove to themselves that human skills represent sufficient back-up should the automatic pilot fail.  Shenzhou 9’s milestones underscore the characterization of China’s manned spaceflight program as a deliberate, focused, incremental effort to be a long-term player in exploratory ventures.  A recent article in Foreign Policy magazine even warns that China may be positioning itself to claim the Moon.

Meanwhile, in the South Pacific, the Jiaolong submersible dove to a water depth of 7,020 meters in the Mariana Trench, according to China Daily.  The three crew members tested the scientific instruments, snapping photographs, capturing video, and collecting samples during the dive, which was the fourth of six planned tests during the current expedition.
To be clear, both of these feats have been accomplished before: orbital maneuvers have been taking place for decades, and two submarines have made it to the ocean’s deepest point.  Even the rate of China’s advancement is somewhat average as space-faring developments go: it’s been nearly nine years since Yang Liwei ushered in the era of Chinese manned spaceflight – a time span that saw NASA go from Alan Shepard to Neil Armstrong in the 1960s.  The lack of haste suggests that China’s space program is more than a stunt to ruffle foreign policy feathers or bolster national pride (though there’s likely an element of that in the long game too.)
In many ways, then, the most important aspect to emerge from China’s week of milestones is this seemingly minor distinction: Jiaolong has now become the deepest-diving scientific submersible, opening up 99.8% of the seafloor to scientific inquiry.  Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard – who were there first to kick up the silt at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in 1960 – saw a few fish, the extent of their scientific program.  James Cameron’s sub was poised to pick up some souvenirs during its voyage a few months ago, but technical difficulties curtailed the sample collection effort.
A instrument-laden sub is a different beast altogether  Xinhua news agency’s photos of the sub suggest that it’s a one-armed beast (in contrast to Alvin‘s two arms) with a sophisticated array of cameras, lights, sample platforms, and possibly a vacuum that could be used to slurp up seafloor sediment.
The pursuit of high quality science in the deepest ocean trenches is a subtle but important mental shift, marking the move from trench-diving as exploratory novelty to trench-diving as research.  It’s an intellectual grasping of a harsh, distant environment, much in the way that other extreme environments – think Antarctica – have transitioned from no-man’s land to scientific outpost.  Just how the Chinese will use their new capability remains to be seen (many observers note the country’s interest in deep sea mineral resources), but the hardware itself is an important addition to the world’s scientific arsenal.

Diver worried environment disaster unfolding in SA

From ABC News (Australia):  Diver worried environment disaster unfolding in SA

giant Australian cuttlefish  
Giant Australian cuttlefish are still in critically low numbers in upper Spencer Gulf in South Australia, at the mid-point of the usual breeding season.

The upper gulf has been the only place in the world where the species breeds in large numbers.

In the past, there have been hundreds of thousands of cuttlefish in the waters near Point Lowly, close to Whyalla.

But local diver Tony Bramley searched along 1.5 kilometres of coastline and saw only 10 cuttlefish as he swam.
He said more had to be done to find out why the numbers were so depleted.

"This late in the season, the chances of a number of cuttlefish coming in this late is virtually zero," he said.
"There just doesn't seem to be the concern from government or really the community locally.

"Nobody seems to be really worried about it. Everyone seems to be going along in a sort of 'Let's hope for the best' and 'She'll be right' but I don't think it will be. I think we've lost this aggregation."

The SA Government is doing surveys this season to try to better understand the species and its breeding.
There were also critically low numbers of cuttlefish in the breeding area last year


Australia: Super trawler licence doubt

From the  Super trawler licence doubt

THE controversial plan for a super trawler to fish Tasmania's waters that has gained worldwide attention could still be knocked on the head.

It was revealed yesterday the operators of the vessel were yet to apply for an operating licence.
Tasmanian Greens primary industry spokesman Kim Booth urged the public to get behind the groundswell of support for the 10,000 tonne super trawler Margiris to be banned from Commonwealth waters.
The 142m Lithuanian flagged vessel, to be operated by Seafish Tasmania, is expected to arrive at its new base of Devonport in August.

But Prime Minister Julia Gillard told Federal parliament yesterday the operators of the Margiris are yet to apply for an operating licence after a question from Independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

Mr Booth said the issue of the super trawler was touching a nerve with the community.

"The community in Tasmania, especially the local recreational and commercial fishing groups, is giving the Feds a loud and clear message - turn back the super trawler.

"The Tasmanian community are saying protect the local fishing fleets, turn back this ocean-going vacuum cleaner.

Mr Wilkie urged the Federal Government to not allow the super trawler to fish in Australian waters.
He had a number of concerns with the super trawler that is due to arrive in Tasmania in months.

"I'm told the fisheries data used in the approval process for Seafish Tasmania's fishing quota is about a decade old and unreliable," Mr Wilkie said.

"Moreover the approved quota is not broken down into smaller limits for specific areas, which means the trawler could plunder our richest fisheries.

"If the Federal Government has any sense it will not give the floating factory approval to fish near Tasmania.
Mr Wilkie said any approval should be accompanied by "the most stringent safeguards."

Last week world champion surfer Kelly Slater and pop star Guy Sebastian joined the chorus of thousands of people concerned about the impact the super trawler would have on delicate fish stocks.

A petition started by Environment Tasmania had been signed by more than 8000 people in five days



Monday, June 25, 2012

UM marine school experiments with raising dolphin fish

From Miami Herald:  UM marine school experiments with raising dolphin fish

They grow fast, have lots of offspring, and die young. Most people like to eat them and there’s more commercial effort to harvest them than ever before. The aquaculture program at University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School is growing them in tanks and aims to teach other fish farmers how to do it.

Dolphin fish, also known as mahi mahi, is the latest experimental research species at UM’s aquaculture lab on Virginia Key. The colorful pelagics join cobia, blackfin tuna, Florida pompano and goggle eyes swimming around in large fiberglass tanks.

“They are iconic yet elusive,” professor Dan Benetti, director of the university’s aquaculture program, said of dolphin. “There’s got to be somebody interested in raising these fish commercially.”

Growing dolphin in captivity is nothing new; scientists, including Benetti, have been at it on and off for about 30 years. Unlike some tuna and grouper-snapper species, mahis are not currently overfished, so there has been no urgent push to develop techniques to farm them. But that could change with increased consumer demand and fishing pressure. So last year, Benetti decided to “revisit” the species, looking for ways to raise them profitably and sustainably.

Getting the marine lab rats to reproduce has not been a problem. Beginning with a bull and several cows caught last fall off Miami by research assistants John Stieglitz and Ron Hoenig, the dolphin quickly spawned and their offspring have done the same. Now a couple thousand fish — from tiny larvae to the apex 20-pound bull nicknamed Guppy — occupy several tanks.

“They are the most prolific fish in the ocean,” Benetti said. “In five to six months, they’re already spawning. They spawn every day.”

But the downside to life in the fast lane is that they die young, he said — most before the age of 2 years.
The biggest challenge to raising dolphin has been to satisfy their enormous appetites, which unfortunately drives them to cannibalize one another.

Younger fish are fed pellets containing meal and oil made from other fish. As they grow larger, they get hunks of sardine and squid. But when they get hungry between feedings, even the fingerlings have been observed ganging up on their weaker brethren and devouring them like pack animals.

“They beat the cobia in nastiness,” Benetti said.

The scientists are looking for ways to replace fish meal and oil with a more economical and sustainable feed for their charges. Developing that technology would make dolphin more attractive to prospective farmers.
Meanwhile, Benetti’s 25 students and research assistants — many of them recreational anglers — seem enthusiastic about the dolphin project.

“They’re fun to work with,” Stieglitz said. “We’ve been doing cobia for so long, it’s a nice change of pace. And we enjoy the brood stock captures.”

Read more here:

Read more here:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Underwater nurseries save coral reefs

From MSNBC :  Underwater nurseries save coral reefs

(The link is to video from 2 days ago, a report on its success. Since you can't see video here, I'm linking to an article from a couple of months ago that reported on the project.)

Key Largo, Florida (CNN) -- It was more than 40 years ago, but Ken Nedimyer still remembers the first time he went diving in the Florida Keys.
"It was just the most magical place I'd ever been to," said Nedimyer, 56. "The coral reefs were so pretty. So many fish and so many neat things to see."
Nedimyer became a commercial fisherman and tropical fish collector, working in the ocean nearly every day of the year. But by the mid-1980s, he noticed a troubling trend.
Two of the region's most important corals, staghorn and elkhorn, were in drastic decline. The corals -- tiny, stationary marine animals that make up the reefs -- were dying because of many reasons, including climate change, pollution and overfishing, experts said.
Today, they're on the endangered species list.
"The coral reefs of the Florida Keys are the most threatened and the heaviest-used coral reefs in the world," said Billy Causey, southeast regional director of the National Marine Sanctuaries, an entity of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Ken Nedimyer became worried watching coral reefs decline over the years. Now he\'s doing something about it.
Ken Nedimyer became worried watching coral reefs decline over the years. Now he's doing something about it.
Reefs are often referred to as the rainforests of the sea. They attract more marine life than anywhere else in the ocean because of the natural shelter they provide. But they're declining worldwide, not just in Florida, and some scientists fear that they could all be gone by 2050.
"Coral reefs provide protection for our coastal areas, habitat for fish and recreational opportunities for millions and millions of people," Nedimyer said. "It's very important to protect that whole ecosystem."
Reefs also have great economic value. Many people around the world depend on fisheries and the ocean for their livelihood. In the Florida Keys alone, more than 50 percent of the local economy is connected to a healthy marine environment.
"If coral reefs died completely, entire economies would be disrupted," Nedimyer said.
As Nedimyer saw reefs die over the years, he became very concerned.
A look at an underwater coral nursery
"It became a consuming passion (for me) to try to find ways to protect and restore coral reefs," he said.
That passion led to Nedimyer starting the Coral Restoration Foundation, which has grown more than 25,000 staghorn and elkhorn corals in underwater nurseries. He and his staff of volunteers work three days a week maintaining the nurseries just off Key Largo. The nurseries cover more than an acre of the ocean floor.
"Ken's coral nursery is the largest in the wider Caribbean," Causey said. "It's probably 10 times larger than any others that I know of."
Nedimyer's methods for growing corals have evolved over the years, but they're all simple, easily duplicated and can be taught to anyone who can dive, he said.
After the corals spend about a year growing in the nursery, they are transplanted to a reef in the wild. The goal is to get them to reproduce on their own and repopulate an area where they no longer exist.
The Coral Restoration Foundation grows corals in underwater nurseries. After about a year, the corals are taken to the wild.
The Coral Restoration Foundation grows corals in underwater nurseries. After about a year, the corals are taken to the wild.
"We've been able to recreate one of the biggest thickets in the Florida Keys of staghorn coral, and that's something we can duplicate throughout the Keys and throughout the Caribbean," Nedimyer said.
Through education and awareness, Nedimyer has built a community committed to bringing coral reefs back to the Keys. His organization often collaborates with other groups, including the NOAA and the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation group. Nedimyer also spends a lot of time showing high school students his methods and working with them at his nurseries.
"This isn't just about me," Nedimyer emphasized. "It's about engaging a lot of people and training people, and I think it has a lot of hope."
The impact is already noticeable in areas where corals have been transplanted. Fish and other marine life are starting to come back, and Nedimyer is hopeful that in time, the Keys' ecosystem will recover.
"Most people think coral takes forever to grow, but some of these corals grow really fast," he said. "They grow fast enough that we could make a big difference in a lifetime or less."
Nedimyer's most ambitious project is just ahead. Within the next five years, the Coral Restoration Foundation plans to grow and transplant 50,000 corals in the Keys, which he says is the largest effort of its kind in Florida and the Caribbean.
"Before, I felt helpless watching corals die," Nedimyer said. "Now I think there's a way for everybody to get involved. There's hope."
Want to get involved? Check out the Coral Restoration Foundation website at and see how to help.



Necropsy shows starvation killed young whale

From  Necropsy shows starvation killed young whale

VANCOUVER – Preliminary results from a necropsy on a young humpback whale confirm the creature likely died a slow death from starvation after being entangled in fishing gear.

Veterinary pathologist Stephen Raverty with the ministry of agriculture’s Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, B.C., says ropes had obviously been buried deep in the whale’s mouth.

He says the gear had been removed by the time the necropsy was carried out, but gouges on the whale’s body revealed how it had been entangled, and also suggest it had developed secondary infections from the injuries.

Raverty expects more tests will be done later this week but says the roughly eight-metre-long whale had no diseases or viruses when it beached itself and died on the tidal mud flats of White Rock beach, south of Vancouver, early on June 12.

Fisheries experts are working to identify the emaciated juvenile from the patterns on its tail flukes, in hopes of determining where it came from.

Teams are also trying to track the origin of the fishing gear that snared the humpback, which is listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Understanding Sea Level Rise

From Southern Fried Science:  Understanding Sea Level Rise

The Division of Coastal Management shall be the only State agency authorized to develop rates of sea-level rise and shall do so only at the request of the Commission. These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise.
source (emphasis mine)
This is the text of the notorious, anti-science, anti-coastal community bill that was originally floated in the North Carolina state senate. A revised version of that bill is now under review, with new language that now mandates that:
The Commission and the Division of Coastal Management may collaborate with other State agencies, boards, commissions, other public entities, or institutions when defining sea-level rise or developing rates of sea-level rise. These rates shall be determined using statistically significant, peer-reviewed historical data generated using generally accepted scientific and statistical techniques. Historic rates of sea-level rise  may be extrapolated to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise unless such rates are from statistically significant, peer-reviewed data and are consistent with historic trends.
source (emphasis mine)
While this new language is almost certainly an improvement over the old bill, which was heavily supported by a lobbying group for coastal developers and heavily opposed by organizations that actually care what happens to the Carolina coastline and its historic communities, it is still problematic. By problematic, I mean wrong. And by wrong I mean that by refusing to allow accelerated estimates of sea level rise, it explicitly ignores all the best available science and contradicts 130 millenia of historic precedent.
Before I start discussing the data, I strongly recommend reading John Bruno’s Sea Level Rise 101 over at The SeaMonster, and his latest update: The NC sea level rise saga: mid-week update.
First, I’m going to take a step back in time. Let’s say, oh, about 130,000 years. Take a look at the graph below (which is from Rapid Changes in Glaciers and Ice Sheets and Their Impacts on Sea Level in the Encyclopedia of Earth:
(a) Record of sea-level change over the last 130,000 years. Thick blue line is reconstruction from δ18O records of marine sediment cores through regression analyses (Waelbroeck et al., 2002), with ±13 m error shown by thin gray lines. The × symbols represent individually dated shorelines from Australia (Stirling et al., 1995, 1998), New Guinea (Edwards et al., 1993; Chappell, 2002; Cutler et al., 2003), Sunda Shelf (Hanebuth et al., 2000), Bonaparte Gulf (Yokoyama et al., 2000), Tahiti (Bard et al., 1996), and Barbados (Peltier and Fairbanks, 2006). (b) Rate of sea level change (mm a-1) and equivalent freshwater flux (Sv, where 1 Sv = 106 m3 s-1 = 31,500 Gt a-1) derived from sea-level record in (a). Horizontal gray bars represent average rates of sea level change during the 20th century (lower bar) and projected for the end of the 21st century (upper bar) (Rahmstorf, 2007).
(a) Record of sea-level change over the last 130,000 years. Thick blue line is reconstruction from δ18O records of marine sediment cores through regression analyses (Waelbroeck et al., 2002), with ±13 m error shown by thin gray lines. The × symbols represent individually dated shorelines from Australia (Stirling et al., 1995, 1998), New Guinea (Edwards et al., 1993; Chappell, 2002; Cutler et al., 2003), Sunda Shelf (Hanebuth et al., 2000), Bonaparte Gulf (Yokoyama et al., 2000), Tahiti (Bard et al., 1996), and Barbados (Peltier and Fairbanks, 2006). (b) Rate of sea level change (mm a-1) and equivalent freshwater flux (Sv, where 1 Sv = 106 m3 s-1 = 31,500 Gt a-1) derived from sea-level record in (a). Horizontal gray bars represent average rates of sea level change during the 20th century (lower bar) and projected for the end of the 21st century (upper bar) (Rahmstorf, 2007). source
If you looks at the changes in sea level (line a in the figure), you see that, rather than being clean, linear progressions, the pace of the change alters dramatically. Sea level change is always accompanied by acceleration or deceleration. There are very few points on that graph where a linear regression would be appropriate.
“But Andrew!” you might ask, “this graph covers more than 100,000 years! Isn’t it possible that on the scale of human civilization, a linear regression would be reasonable?” Great question! Let’s take a look at a narrower time series, say, since the last glacial maximum.
Image created by Robert A. Rohde / Global Warming Art
Image created by Robert A. Rohde / Global Warming Art. More details here.
What we see here is that the rate of sea level rise is patchy, it varies during the last 24 thousand years, and most of those variations are caused by changes in the global climate. “Aha!” you might now say, “I’ve got you! Look at that nice long plateau up near the top right. Isn’t that proof that sea level change has been stable in recent history and thus we should be using a linear extrapolation?” If that were the only variable in the universe, than yes, but we already know that changes in global climate alter the pace of sea level rise, we know that current human activities are altering the climate, and we know reasonably well how one change affects the other. I say reasonably, because, when we project out into the future using models, it’s an estimate, based on our best available knowledge. that doesn’t mean it can’t be wrong, but that also doesn’t mean it’s a wild guess.
So now we get to the heart of the claims by NC-20 and other lobbying groups that want to stick their feet, heads, and housing, in the sand:
Contrary to the predictions of Climate Movement activists, the best scientific evidence is that the
last 3/4 century of CO2 emissions and other human activities have resulted in no acceleration
(increase) in rate of sea level rise at all.
This argument is based on a now heavily debunked paper (see here, here, and here) that argues, based on cherry-picked data, that sea level rise has not accelerated over the last 70-odd years. So let’s look at one more graph:
Acceleration of sea-level rise (i.e., twice the quadratic coefficient) from different starting years up to 2001 in the global tide gauge data set of Church and White (2006; red line with uncertainty band). Note that after ~1960 the calculation gets excessively ‘noisy’ because the time interval gets too short to robustly compute acceleration. I graphed this right away after reading the Houston & Dean paper, and a few days later Tamino independently came up with a similar plot – it’s the obvious thing to do. The blue line shows the same quantity from the sea-level hindcast of Vermeer & Rahmstorf (2009) computed from global temperature data. From RealClimate.
Notice that this is not a graph of sea level, this is a graph of the acceleration of sea level changes since 1870. From this, you can clearly see that sea level rise is accelerating. UPDATE: I originally misread the graph as rate of acceleration per year. It is actually rate of acceleration from each starting year.  Based on that, you can still see that sea level rise is accelerating, but also that, if you cherry pick your starting time from the 1930′s, a dishonest person could make it appear that sea level rise is not accelerating.  This is good news for lawmakers, since under the provisions of the NC bill that “Historic rates of sea-level rise… shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise unless such rates are from statistically significant, peer-reviewed data and are consistent with historic trends”, which, as it turns out, they are. A more meaningful question might be, given how much we know about sea level rise over the last hundred millennia, what scientifically valid criteria is there for ever assuming a linear extrapolation is reasonable?
To put it another way, 130,000 years of data suggest that the least rational, least effective model for understanding changes in sea level is a linear extrapolation.
[Comment Note: The reality of anthropogenic global warming is not up for debate.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Australia: Turtles turned away as Cairns rehabilitation centre in crisis

From  Turtles turned away as Cairns rehabilitation centre in crisis

A CAIRNS turtle rehabilitation centre has reached capacity and is being forced to turn away starving turtles after an increase in strandings.
Paul Barnes, from Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, said the centre was at capacity with a large number of adult turtles found floating in the Coral Sea.
Mr Barnes said sea grass stocks were depleted and had been only gradually recovering after cyclone Yasi ripped through north Queensland.
"The number of adult turtles (brought to the centre) have increased dramatically," he said.
"Last year was the largest stranding event in Queensland on record. There was a 500 per cent increase last year."
But with feeding grounds slow to recover, Mr Barnes said the centre was seeing stranding numbers return to last year’s levels.
Twelve turtles are being treated at the centre with most rescued over the past three months after the nesting season.
"We have another large (turtle) coming in this afternoon. We are starting to double them up (because) we have run out of tanks," Mr Barnes said.
Christian Miller, also from the organisation, said a turtle had to be euthanased recently because of the lack of tanks.
"Last week we had to knock back a large turtle," he said. "It’s the saddest story but you can only do as much as you can."
A 120kg male green turtle is being treated with antibiotics at the centre in the hope he will battle an infection and start eating again.
Mr Barnes believed the turtle was about 50 years old.
"He appears to have a gut blockage," he said.
"This one was found on June 1 floating off Dunk Island. It’s still too early to tell (if he will survive). The large green turtles can take three months before they feed."
Mr Barnes said a turtle of its size, in a healthy condition, should weigh 150kg and eat about 3kg of food a day.
The rehabilitation centre is the largest of its kind in Queensland and is run by a group of 30 volunteers.
Turtles found starving, with fishing and spear injuries or infected with papillomavirus are often taken to the centre.
Mr Barnes said the centre runs mostly on donations.
"Without raising more money we won’t be able to accept more turtles. It costs around $100-150 a day just for food."
Fisheries Queensland principal scientist Rob Coles said a reprieve could be in sight with sea grass slowly recovering.
"It’s a mixed picture. There’s definitely been an increase (of turtle strandings) because of no food (but) we are seeing some signs of sea grass recovery," he said.
"There is no evidence (sea grass) is in decline. We are hopeful it will keep growing if we keep getting sunny days and clear water.
‘‘As long as we don’t get any cyclone Yasis or Larrys."
For more information visit


Monday, June 18, 2012

Swedish scientists reveal findings of deep-sea 'alien' hunt

From FoxNews:  Swedish scientists reveal findings of deep-sea 'alien' hunt

wedish explorers have put to rest speculation of a spaceship at the bottom of the Baltic -- but they're adding fuel to the ‘what is it’ mystery of this deep-sea object anyway.

Digital pictures has obtained from the team show that the object, located beneath the waves of the Baltic between Sweden and Finland, is some sort of “natural, geological formation,” Peter Lindberg, the leader of the Ocean Explorer team, told

“It’s not obviously an alien spacecraft. It’s not made of metal,” the scientist said. Lindberg concedes that it could be an alien space ship -- if the aliens decided to make their vessels out of meteor-like rocks. “Who says they had to use metal?” he joked. “This trip has raised a lot of questions.”

For 12 days, starting on June 1, 2012, Lindberg, his partner Dennis Asberg, and other scientists and divers explored the 200-foot wide object under the Baltic that they had first discovered a year ago on sonar. Employing a robot camera, sonar and deep sea divers, this time, Lindberg and Asberg spent nearly two weeks probing the object and its environs.

Scientists are still examining the footage from the expedition, but it appears like a giant stone, “the kind divers see in keys and harbors” -- one that seems to originate from before the Ice Age, Lindberg said. The main object was not the only thing seen by the explorers. “There are other, loose stones lying around as well,” he added. “The formation of rocks is 60 meters in diameter.”

While this unidentified flying object may have been identified, and likely never flew, it still holds secrets.
The odd thing about the discovery is that there is no silt on the rock, for example; it would ordinarily be covered with silt on the bottom of the sea, Lindberg said.

Even more odd for a seemingly natural formation, the main object is disc-shaped and “appears to have construction lines and boxes drawn on it,” Lindberg said. “There are also straight edges.”

The divers were limited in what they could see by their lighting technology. This gave them an illumination of only one meter at the most. Sonar was used to explore the object as well.

“The surface has cracks on it,” said Lindberg. “There is some black material in the cracks, but we don’t know what it is.”

Adding to the mystery, there appears to be a pillar which is holding up the 200 foot wide object, said Lindberg. “The pillar is eight meters high,” he added.

Divers explored the space, slowly, so as not to stir up undersea silt and interfere with digital photography. They collected stone samples from nearby the object as well as sonar images and digital images. “We’re going through the footage right now,” said Lindberg, who promised more footage for FoxNews after the team finished screening it.

“If an intelligent life form has built a spaceship, there’s the question of ‘why not make it out of stone or coral,’ he said.”

The discovery of what may or may not be the wreckage of an alien spacecraft that crash landed years ago off their sea coast has not created great anxiety in the populace of Sweden, a traditionally urbane and world weary culture. The oceanic equivalent of Roswell, N.M. is pretty much routine fare there, it seems.
“They’re taking it very cooly,” Lindberg told “If we had found actual aliens, they probably would say, ‘Oh, there are aliens down there.’"

"The Americans and the Japanese are much more excited.”


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Uganda: Crocodile attacks on the rise

Okay - inland lakes, not oceans, but of interest nevertheless. It's the crocs that will be destroyed, of course.

The Africa Report: Uganda: Crocodile attacks on the rise

In the past year alone, more than 100 people have been mauled to death by the reptiles, but environmentalists say the number might be higher as some cases went undocumented.

"Although some cases are reported to police and the press, some in remote places like here are not reported at all," said a local leader, Nelson Ogala of Mayuge District, one of the most affected areas.

It is estimated that at least one person is killed or maimed every two to three days across the country.

The latest victim, being Perigio Masika, a 36 year-old mother of 4, who last Wednesday was dragged into Lake Edward in western Uganda and killed by a crocodile.

Masika had gone to draw water.

Village councillor, Eriya Mwoghwa confirmed the crocodile attack but blamed Uganda Wildlife Authority for failing to cage watering points as a means of safeguarding residents and their livestock.

Uganda Wildlife Authority spokesperson, Lillian Nsubuga attributes the rampant incidents of crocodile attacks to the destruction of their habitats by humans and competition for lake resources by people and crocodiles.

"When wild animals' habitual environment is destroyed, wildlife ends up targeting soft targets. In case of crocodiles they no longer get enough fish to feed on. The fish population has been decimated due to over fishing, so when they fail to get fish they attack human beings," Nsubuga said.

The fisheries department in Uganda has warned fishermen against catching pre-mature fish, as this led to their depletion. But on the other hand a number of people are resorting to fishing further straining the dwindling fish populations.

Nsubuga said the destruction of wetlands had seen people fetching water directly from the lakes, hence becoming easy prey for crocodiles.

"Due to increasing human population, wetlands were destroyed for settlement. The wetlands used to act as buffers between lakes and villages. People used to fetch water from wetlands but now they get it directly from the lake, hence endangering their lives," she added.

In eastern district of Namayingo, at Masoli landing site of Lake Victoria, several fishermen were killed in just one month.

The residents have appealed to the government to come to their rescue before more deaths are recorded.

The wildlife authority has on the other hand reacted by hunting the killer reptiles.

In the district of Mayuge, also on the shores of Lake Victoria, a crocodile believed to have killed four people was put down.

The acting executive director of the wild life authority, Andrew Seguya has since cautioned people living on lake shores and river banks against encroaching and destroying the forest, as this had caused a clash between people and wildlife.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

NASA goes underwater (and goes social) to get set for asteroid mission

From NASA goes underwater (and goes social) to get set for asteroid mission

If NASA’s underwater practice session is any indication of what a real space mission to an asteroid will be like, you can expect to follow along with the exploration of a near-Earth asteroid via Facebook, Twitter and the Web — or whatever takes their place by the year 2025. There’s a string of chats and webcasts that let you in on the action at the Aquarius deep-sea habitat during the simulated mission, known as NEEMO 16.

As the "16" suggests, the space agency has been doing NEEMO — NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations — for more than a decade. The idea is to simulate the logistics associated with an extended space mission, as well as the isolation, by sending an astronaut crew into the Aquarius, 63 feet (19 meters) below the Atlantic Ocean's surface in the Florida Keys, and have them practice the routines they'd be doing in scuba gear.

This summer's 12-day simulation began on Monday with the four-person crew's "splashdown" into the sea. The NEEMO 16 crew is headed by NASA astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, who flew into space on the shuttle Discovery in 2010, and also includes Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, British astronaut Timothy Peake and Cornell astronomer Steve Squyres (who's the top scientist on the Mars rover team, the chairman of the NASA Advisory Council, and a veteran of NEEMO 15). Aquarius habitat technicians Justin Brown and James Talacek play support roles underwater.

Last year marked the first time that the NEEMO exercise was designed in line with the space agency's current plan to send a crew to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025. This year, the four-person crew will bring even more of a sense of realism to the simulation: For instance, they're communicating with an onshore Mission Control team on a delayed basis, to reflect the light travel times that would be involved with a deep-space mission.

They're also experimenting with different ways to explore an asteroid-style surface. Because a small asteroid has nearly negligible gravity, astronauts won't be able to tramp across it as if it were Earth or even the moon. One option would be to use attachment points and handholds to move across the asteroid surface. Another option would be to use mini-spacecraft to hover over and touch down on the surface. Both techniques are being tested during NEEMO 16.

During the latter part of the simulation, Nuytco's DeepWorker one-person submersibles will be deployed for underwater excursions by the NEEMO aquanauts. "They get flown around the reef with their personal transporters," Saul Rosser, operations director for the Aquarius Reef Base, told me today.

The crew members also plan to conduct a variety of experiments that play off the fact that the atmospheric pressure inside the Aquarius habitat is equal to the surrounding water pressure at depth — which is about 2.5 times the air pressure at the surface. The experiments will show whether simple tasks such as blowing a bubble or operating a remote-controlled device are tougher at high pressure than they are at normal pressure.

To add a social-media angle, folks who are following the NEEMO mission will be invited to predict the outcome of each experiment. Starting on Thursday, watch for announcements on the following forums: NASA's NEEMO Facebook page and Twitter account, the JSC Education Facebook page and "Teaching From Space" Twitter account, and the European Space Agency's Facebook page and Twitter account. This NASA Web page provides details on how to compete, and what you can win.

You can also monitor the NEEMO 16 mission via the this Ustream live-video page or this Aquarius webcam page, and watch for updates on Flickr and YouTube. Web-streamed educational activities are planned every day for the next week and beyond, in cooperation with the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. The interactive webcasts will be supplemented by chat capability.

The Aquarius Reef Base is the world's only undersea research station, situated three and a half miles (5.6 kilometers) off Key Largo on a sandy patch of seafloor sitting next to spectacular coral reefs. It's owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and operated by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. NEEMO ranks among the highlights of Aquarius' research season, but Rosser said there's more to come.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Aquarius' founding, and to mark the occasion, Rosser and his colleagues are planning an underwater extravaganza next month. He was reluctant to provide the details, but a sneak peek that was posted online says the golden-anniversary mission will be led by two pioneers of marine science, Sylvia Earle and Mark Patterson.

"Stay tuned," Rosser said.

New report puts real numbers behind history of oyster reefs

From Science Codex: New report puts real numbers behind history of oyster reefs

In an effort to advance the field of coastal restoration, The Nature Conservancy and a team of scientists from more than a dozen management agencies and research institutions led by the University of Cambridge conducted an in-depth study of oyster reef area and, for the first time, the actual biomass (the "living weight") of oyster reefs in dozens of estuaries throughout the United States.

'Historical ecology with real numbers', published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, presents the first truly quantitative estimates of decline in oyster habitat over such a large spatial and temporal scale.

The findings show that while that oyster reef area declined by 64% over the last century, the total biomass, or living weight of oysters on reefs, had dropped by 88% during this period, revealing that simple physical area is an unreliable indicator of habitat status.

The good news, according to lead author Dr. Philine zu Ermgassen of University of Cambridge, is that the study gives a much-needed historical picture of conditions in specific bays and estuaries, something that will aid in future restoration efforts.

"Oysters were a valuable resource, even a century ago, so government surveyors mapped vast acreages and built up a story of a critically important habitat in wonderful detail," said Dr. zu Ermgassen. "Although somewhat unfamiliar to us here in Europe the humble oyster was once so numerous, both here and in the United States, that it formed large physical structures – oyster reefs – that rose up in banks off the sea bed.

"Using meticulous records compiled 100 years ago, we have been able to accurately quantify the changes in oyster reefs over time. Anecdotes have been converted to hard facts. Of course there have been huge losses in area, but that is only part of the story. We've also noted changes in density and structure of the remaining oysters, such that what is left is a much depleted habitat. Managers and scientists need to pay closer attention to density when setting restoration or conservation objectives."

"In addition to aiding restoration, the study will inspire it," says co-author Dr. Mark Spalding, a lead scientist with The Nature Conservancy's Global Marine Program, and also based at Cambridge. Indeed, the authors are keen to point out that the US is leading the world in turning things around for these habitats, with restoration work underway in numerous estuaries to restore oyster habitat.

"This is a call to action, and these findings will provide funders and managers with a powerful baseline – a clear vision of how things were – and an opportunity to establish meaningful goals and targets. The findings have implications beyond oyster reefs, however. Almost all of our concerns about the loss of natural areas – from forests and wetlands to seagrass meadows and kelp beds – are based on an estimation of change in area," said Dr. Spalding. "This study shows that the losses may be even worse than we thought, because the quality of the remaining patches of habitat may be so diminished that it is not providing the function we expect from any given area."

Source: University of Cambridge

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Australia: Fishermen cry foul on marine reserve carve-up

From Canberra Times: Fishermen cry foul on marine reserve carve-up
FISHERMEN are claiming they are the ''soft target'' in a proposed network of marine reserves they say will harm their industry while largely leaving alone the more lucrative offshore oil and gas business.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke is expected this week to finalise the plan for the marine reserves, which will stretch around Australia and will curb commercial and recreational fishing.

It will create the world's largest marine protection area with a new Coral Sea reserve extending out beyond the Great Barrier Reef. The network will also establish a large protected area off the south-west coast and patchwork reserves in the Great Australian Bight and off the west, north-west and northern coasts.

It is understood Mr Burke is at odds with Resources Minister Martin Ferguson over some aspects of the network. Mr Ferguson recently announced that 27 new areas were up for oil and gas exploration, including some within proposed reserves.

The reserves would offer differing levels of protection, ranging from a ban on commercial fishing and mining, to ''multiple-use zones'' that allow some activities but not others.

Mr Burke said yesterday that no decision had yet been made. But he talked up the proposed reserves as the largest act of conservation in Australia's history. ''We are looking at possibly the most significant individual step in conservation that Australia has seen … ''

He said the world's oceans were underappreciated but that decisions Australia had in front of it ''give us the opportunity to lead the way in turning the corner''.

The ABC published a draft map of the proposed reserves on its website yesterday. Brian Jeffriess, a spokesman for the Commonwealth Fisheries Association, said it would be ''extremely disappointing'' if the map closely resembled the final decision. Fishermen were particularly concerned that a compensation package would come well after the announcement of the final boundaries for the reserves, leaving them in a state of uncertainty for months.

He said it focused unfairly on the fishing industry while leaving promising areas for oil and gas, such as the north-west and the Great Australian Bight, relatively unaffected.

''It exempts oil and gas virtually altogether,'' he said. ''The government clearly takes a position, which to some extent we understand, that energy security is more important as a revenue generator. (We're) certainly the soft target.''

One of the areas Mr Ferguson has approved for oil and gas exploration, just north of the Rowley Shoals coral atolls west of Broome, falls within a ''multiple-use zone'' in the draft, meaning mining could go ahead. This approval, just last month, means that Mr Burke cannot extend the area to a full marine sanctuary, which would ban mining.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Australian Great White Shark Populations Separated By Genetics

From RedOrbit: Australian Great White Shark Populations Separated By Genetics

Despite inhabiting the same waters, two populations of Great White sharks living in the coastal waters of Australia are genetically distinct, according to a new study published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

The two groups of Great Whites, or white sharks, are separated by the Bass Strait, a stretch of water between the Australian mainland and Tasmania to the south. The research team, led by Dean Blower from the University of Queensland, used genetic tests from 97 shark tissue samples dating back to 1989 confirmed this geographical divide.

“The genetic makeup of white sharks west of Bass Strait was different from those on the eastern seaboard of Australia – despite the lack of any physical barrier between these regions,” said Professor John Pandolfi, a Chief Investigator at the University of Queensland.

“Our tagging and tracking showed that white sharks travel thousands of kilometers,” said Barry Bruce, a lead study researcher from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

“But sharks tagged and tracked off eastern Australia did not go west of Bass Strait, and sharks tagged off Western and South Australia rarely went east. When they did – they often returned, so we started to wonder whether there was more than one breeding population.”

“Now we know that while white sharks across Australia can mix, the intriguing thing is that they seem to return to either east or western regions to breed,” Bruce said.

While previous work by other international research teams have identified separate genetic populations of white sharks across ocean basins, this is the first time such segregation has been found at the regional level.

The Bass Strait, which is named after George Bass who sailed around Tasmania in the late 18th century, measures 240 km across and averages about 50 meters deep. The shallow waters have been known to be notoriously rough and have taken down many sailing vessels. The strait has even been linked to a Bermuda Triangle-type mysticism at times.

White shark numbers declined in the 20th century as a result of fishing and other human activities, resulting in the species now being protected in South Africa, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and several other countries under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The effectiveness of the CITES treaty and other white shark related conservation programs has been difficult to assess because of a lack of information on abundance, genetic diversity, reproductive behavior and population. The creature’s elusiveness forces marine biologists and government officials to classify them as vulnerable because they appear uncommon when compared with the distribution of similar species.

“The finding may indicate that individual populations of white sharks are more susceptible than previously thought to threats including fishing or changes in the local marine environment,” said Jennifer Ovenden from Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Fishermen target many species of sharks for their jaws, teeth, and fins; as it is considered a game fish. The great white shark, however, is rarely an object of commercial fishing or shark finners because of the steep penalties associated with their possession.

Source: redOrbit (

Thursday, June 7, 2012

China's POV of US: An excuse to stir up trouble

The drawing accompanying this article from China Daily shows an evil looking octopus with an Uncle Sam top hat on its head...

Interesting to read their point of view of us!:

From China Daily - an op ed: An excuse to stir up trouble
The United States is one of the countries that helped shape the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and its subsequent revisions, but as yet the US has still not signed it.

However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently urged US legislators to approve the country's accession to the convention, saying that joining the convention would secure US navigational rights and its ability "to challenge other countries' behavior on the firmest and most persuasive legal footing, including in critical areas such as the South China Sea".

It is the US' global strategy adjustment that has prompted this change of heart. The US is rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region and cannot wait to interfere in the South China Sea disputes using the legal framework of the convention, especially as China and the Philippines are locked in a naval standoff near Huangyan Island. This is fully demonstrated by Clinton's remarks that the US is ceding the legal high ground to China and is not as strong an advocate for its friends and allies as it would like to be.

However, even if the US does finally ratify the convention, it will not become a concerned party in the South China Sea. It is not and never will be, as it is sovereignty disputes over islands in the South China Sea that are the issue and the US has no sovereignty claims.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, with due regard for the sovereignty of all states, establishes "a legal order for the seas and oceans which will facilitate international communication, and will promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the equitable and efficient utilization of their resources, the conservation of their living resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment".

The convention, therefore, clarifies and regulates a country's maritime interests extending from established sovereignty. The convention per se plays no part in resolving disputes over sovereignty. Hence, the US and its allies in the region are doomed to fail in their attempt to dispute China's sovereignty and historical title over the islands in the South China Sea by manipulating the convention.

Besides the convention cannot be used to challenge China's sovereignty and historical title over the islands within the nine-dotted line, which was actually established long before the convention came into effect and conforms to intertemporal law. Chinese people discovered and named the islands more than 2,000 years ago and have exercised effective jurisdiction over them ever since.

Today, other claimant countries question the legitimacy of China's nine-dotted line in a bid to deny China's sovereignty over the islands and the surrounding waters. However, when China first announced the U-shaped line in the South China Sea in 1947, the international community did not oppose it, nor did any neighboring countries protest against it.

Another impetus for the US to join the convention is to justify its claim that freedom of navigation needs protecting in the South China Sea. China respects and protects freedom of navigation on the high seas in accordance with the convention and Chinese laws, however, the waters of the South China Sea are not the high seas. The US cannot enjoy absolute freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, as waters within the nine-dotted line are under China's jurisdiction and surrounding countries also claim their exclusive economic zones in this area. Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is just another excuse used by the US to muddy the waters in the region and implement its "back to Asia" strategy.

Even if it ratifies the convention the US cannot conceal its strategic ambition and political calculation. The convention was opened for signatures in 1982, but the US refused to sign it insisting that part of the convention that concerns deep sea mining is against its interests. But, impelled by new interests, the US is now striving to become a signatory to the convention. The US should realize that once it becomes a signatory to the convention, it will have to deal with maritime affairs according to the rules and principles of the convention, which is likely to prove a challenge to the US.

Yet, even if the US becomes a party to the convention it will still be an outsider in the South China Sea.

The author is a professor of international laws at Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What's Behind China's Dive Into The Marianas Trench, The Deepest Place On Earth

From International Business Times: What's Behind China's Dive Into The Marianas Trench, The Deepest Place On Earth

Not content with just spending billions on the new space race, China is reaching for the depths of the world's oceans.

Chinese explorers and scientists are now headed off to the Mariana Trench. They'll try a successful dive where James Cameron made history less than three months prior.

China's dive into the deepest place on Earth, expected to take place sometime over the next month, will only reach approximately 23,000 feet into the trench, whereas the Hollywood director's craft hit bottom at 35,755 feet. However, the Chinese vessel, the Jiaolong, named after a mythical sea dragon, will carry three scientists, while Cameron's only contained himself.

The Chinese team will be supported in their dive by a sophisticated oceanographic vessel and a group of 100 technicians, engineers and specialists.

As with China's space program, observers expect advancement in the country's deep-sea exploration capabilities to be driven by three key factors: national prestige, a sense of competition and a desire to advance scientific progress.

In 2010, China joined the U.S., France, Russia and Japan in the very exclusive group of countries capable of operating manned dives past more than 11,480 feet below the ocean surface. During a highly publicized dive that took place in the South China Sea that summer, Chinese scientists used the opportunity to plant the country's flag on the bottom of the seafloor, similar to Russia's planting of the flag at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean in 2007.

In summer 2011, the Jiaolong dived past the 16,400 foot point in the Pacific Ocean.

China has publicized the vessel as a fully indigenously developed and built submersible. The vessel is not only symbolic of China's growing maritime capabilities, but also its ambition to tap into the resources of the ocean.

Ye Cong, the lead diver on the expedition, noted to Chinese media that "the deep sea has amazing resources waiting to be discovered, such as hydrothermal sulfide and manganese nodules."

Other resources include methane hydrates, dense deposits of methane locked inside of ice crystals found on the ocean floor. The United States Geological Survey estimates that the total amount of carbon locked away inside of methane hydrates could be twice as much as the amount that exists in all the world's known fossil fuels.

Japan is currently studying the economic feasibility of conducting limited methane hydrate development off its southern seaboard, near Aichi Prefecture.

For resource- and energy-starved Asian states, further exploration into the depths could reveal valuable energy and mineral sources that could alleviate much of their current constraints. However, analysts expect the technology to economically retrieve or even prospect for such deposits in the deep ocean to be decades away.

If deep-sea mining sounds like the stuff of science fiction, Chinese scientists at least seem interested in exploring those ideas. After all, Jiaolong designer Cui Weicheng, while quick to point out that his vessel is not inferior to Cameron's Deepsea Challenger, says that China can nevertheless learn from the example set by the sci-fi director turned explorer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

High hopes for Jiaolong's deep-sea mission

From the Jakarta Post: High hopes for deep-sea mission

Jiaolong, the manned submersible, could put China at the forefront of deep-sea exploration if attempts to dive to 7,000 meters are successful this month, a senior official involved in the project said on Sunday.

The vessel's crew, who on previous missions passed 5,000 meters, will bid to make history with a series of tests in the Pacific Ocean starting June 10.

"If it reaches the new target, it will represent major progress," said Liu Feng, deputy director of China Ocean Mineral Resources R&D Association, which planned the mission with the State Oceanic Administration.

"After the dive, Jiaolong will be put into use to conduct deep-sea scientific research, such as exploring for natural resources and underwater environmental surveys."

For example, he said, unlike other countries, China will be able to collect biological samples from the deepest parts of oceans.

"Some deep-sea natural resources could be utilized in our daily lives in the future, such as by the pharmaceuticals industry to develop new drugs," Liu added.

Xiangyanghong 09, the ship carrying Jiaolong, left the port city of Jiangyin in Jiangsu province on Sunday morning, heading for the Mariana Trench.

The submersible, which is 8.2 meters long and weighs nearly 22 tons, is scheduled to complete its first dive on June 10, with up to five more tests before the end of the month. It will return to China in mid-July.

In March, Hollywood director James Cameron used a specially designed submarine to become the first man to travel solo to the depths of the Mariana Trench. He reached 10,898 meters and stayed for about three hours before he began his return to the surface, the National Geographic Society reported.

However, unlike Cameron's dive, “Jiaolong will do more scientific research while underwater, and each dive may last up to 10 hours," Liu Xincheng, deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration's North China Sea branch, told China Daily.

"If the planned dive is successful, China will hold the record for performing the deepest dive, surpassing Japan, whose Shinkai 6500 dove 6,527 meters in August 1989," he said.

In 2010, Jiaolong reached a depth of 3,759 meters, making China the fifth country to acquire deep-diving technology capable of passing the 3,500-meter mark. The other countries are the United States, France, Russia and Japan.

In July, the vessel dived 5,188 meters below sea level in the Pacific Ocean, which effectively means China can conduct scientific surveys in 70 percent of the world's seabed areas.

During this month's mission, the three technicians on board will be checking for problems in the submersible's ability to withstand strong pressure and to remain watertight, Liu said.

"Several improvements have been made both to Jiaolong and its mother ship, including the operating and video systems," chief designer Xu Qinan was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency on Sunday.

He said GPS devices have also been fitted on Xiangyanghong 09 to monitor the submersible underwater.

High pressure will be the greatest challenge for Jiaolong when it attempts to dive 7,000 meters. Underwater, pressure increases at the rate of one atmosphere for every 10 meters in depth. One atmosphere is equal to about 10 metric tons of force per square meter.

The deep-sea dive will also test the crew, Fu Wentao, one of the three hydronauts, told Xinhua, "but we're full of confidence. All of us have passed physical training and several underwater simulations."

According to the State Oceanic Administration, China is working hard to build a new mother ship that will take deep-sea vessels to sites, as well as a vessel that can conduct scientific research in oceans.

Scientists say the ocean floor contains rich deposits of a range of potentially valuable minerals, but the extreme depths pose obstacles.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pier design may include underwater garden

From My Fox Tampa Bay: Pier design may include underwater garden

ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - The idea of clarifying a tiny sliver of Tampa Bay so people can see what lives there may not be as far-fetched as some believe.

On the other hand, the doubters may be right.

"We're going to determine whether or not from a scientific standpoint this is an element that's going to go forward or not," said Raul Quintana, one of the city of St. Petersburg officials overseeing the design of a next-generation downtown Pier. "We're not discounting it, we're saying let's study it a little bit more, see if it really makes sense."

The so-called underwater garden is one of the key concepts to a design known as The Lens. As proposed, some of the casons of the current Pier approach would be left in place, below the surface of the water.

Those would be used to support elevated oyster and seagrass beds.

"Oysters do have a really strong affect on water clarity. So they're natural filters," explains USF College of Marine Science biologist Dr. Ernst Peebles. "Most oyster beds are in shallow water, so the key would be to provide the oysters with shallow habitat. And that would be an artificial substrate of some sort."

Clearer water would open a window people want to peek through.

"You always look in the water," St. Pete resident Connie Harder agreed. "I'm always looking for dolphin and fish, but you can't see anything" because the water is murky.

Chris King, an avid fisherman making a delivery to Pier businesses Monday said "There's a lot of larger fish living around this Pier than people actually know about."

Dr. Peebles confirmed bait fish always cluster around marine structures, so their predators follow.

Even so, "Expectations have to be realistic" he cautioned. "You're not going to have gin-clear water and a colorful coral reef all of a sudden in Tampa Bay."

The scientist also said nature will be unpredictable.

"There will be days when people say, well I didn't see a thing, and then there will be other days when people see things that will be memories that last a lifetime" Dr. Peebles said.

The underwater garden concept and other elements of the Lens will be explained to the public at a series of forums that start this week. Quintana acknowledged those meetings will be a two-way conversation.

City officials will attempt to explain a $50 million project that many people do not understand. Yet there is no final design, so public input is critical.

For example: "The Hub, which is the land component," Quintana said, "What would you like to see there, what are some of the things that would make this a better project? And for the portions going out over the water, we do want people to tell us how they would use it, and what are some of the things they would like to see that maybe aren't shown in the concept."

The architect selected by the city will use that information and present a final design by the end of the year. The current downtown Pier is deteriorating and will be closed May 31, 2013, and demolished.

China's manned submersible Jiaolong held diving practice

From Xinhua: China's manned submersible Jiaolong held diving practice

The submersible was scheduled to dive into the Marianas Trench on Sunday. Check the link above for photos.

Friday, June 1, 2012

In the company of whales

From McCleans.CA: In the company of whales
Tourist brochures refer to Dominica, a tiny Caribbean island between Guadeloupe and Martinique, as “the Nature Island” for its lush vegetation, its postcard-perfect waterfalls, and its plant and animal life. The indigenous Carib Indians called it Waitukubuli (“tall is her body”), which might be a better name: the island’s volcanic peaks jut sharply upwards before falling away into the sea, leaving a deep oceanic basin on its Western side that’s sheltered by the mountainous island.

Shane Gero came here in 2005 looking for sperm whales. There had been reports of sightings around Dominica (pronounced “Domin-eek-a”), including families with multiple babies, but still, he wasn’t too sure what he’d find. “When we got there, they were everywhere,” says Gero, 31, a Ph.D. candidate at Dalhousie University. That year, Gero spent 41 straight days following one family of sperm whales; he’s returned every year since, splitting his time between Dominica, Halifax and his hometown of Ottawa. By now, Gero has spent literally thousands of hours following over 20 families of sperm whales. He knows some of them so well that he can recognize them by sight when they surface, lingering about 15 minutes to breathe and socialize before diving again. He’s even got names for them, like Pinchy, Fingers and Spoon.

Sperm whales are some of the most mysterious animals on Earth. The largest of all toothed whales (males can be 18 m long, and weigh up to 60 tonnes), they have the biggest brains of any known creature. They “see” through dark ocean water using echolocation, emitting a series of clicks that enables scientists to track them with an underwater microphone. (Dolphins and killer whales also use echolocation, detecting a nearby object by bouncing sound off its surface.) Sperm whales’ heads are filled with a waxy substance called spermaceti; some scientists think this serves as an amplifier when whales emit sonar—the most powerful in the world—to find prey. They can dive underwater for up to 90 minutes before surfacing to breathe, and feed on giant squid, which live up to 1,000 m deep. Sperm whales have been found with circular scars on their bodies, wounds from a giant squid’s suction cups.

The Dominica Sperm Whale Project aims to get to know these whales “personally,” Gero says, and study them as individuals. Like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey did in their groundbreaking research on primates, Gero has followed families of sperm whales from birth to maturity, learning about their daily lives in a way that’s never before been done with large whales that live in the open sea.

Gero’s project follows that of other pioneering whale scientists, like his mentor, Dalhousie professor Hal Whitehead, a renowned expert in sperm whales—and on the West Coast, John Ford, whose study of killer whales has redefined our understanding of that animal, too. Whales, it seems, have distinct dialects, complex relationships, and a set of traditions passed down between generations—what one could only term a culture, or as Gero sees it, a “civilization.”

As recently as 30 years ago, most of what we knew about the life of sperm whales came from the whaling industry, and even Moby Dick. There were hints that these whales had some kind of social structure—whalers tended to find large males roaming near the poles, often alone, while females and babies were spotted together in warmer waters—but “nobody had really tried to study their behaviour,” Whitehead says. In 1974, Whitehead, who comes from England, started working with humpback whales off Newfoundland; he moved to Canada in 1981, and by 1982, was studying sperm whales. These animals live in deeper waters than humpbacks, but Whitehead adapted many of the same techniques to them. “We could identify individual whales using pictures of their tails,” he says. By using underwater hydrophones, “we could follow them by listening.”

By listening, Whitehead and other scientists opened a window onto the remarkably nuanced societies that exist within our oceans. Sperm whales communicate with Morse code-like patterns of clicks, called codas, which sound a bit like fingers snapping, and vary between regions. (Echolocation clicks are much louder, Gero says, comparable to hand claps.) Whales in the Pacific and the Caribbean, for example, use different codas; according to Gero, some parts of the Pacific Ocean are home to “multicultural whale societies” where different dialects are spoken together by families living in the same place. It seems that each animal is born into a dialect, which it will use for its entire life; whales will seek out those that share their own, even in these multicultural zones, Gero says, recognizing them in the same way we’d be able to guess a person who uses the word “lorry” instead of “truck” is probably British. Vocal clans can cover thousands of kilometres, Whitehead says, and include thousands of sperm whales. These clans are “like human ethnic groups, and tend to be very culturally different.” Whales in different clans will exhibit different foraging patterns, for example, or travel different routes. Cultural differences might help explain why Dominica’s sperm whales have been ideal for study: for some reason, they don’t roam as far as Pacific sperm whales tend to do. The newest work suggests that codas might even vary individually. Working with Gero and Whitehead, a team from the University of St. Andrews analyzed a coda made by sperm whales around the world, which consists of five consecutive clicks, and found subtle variations between whales. They believe sperm whales might emit their own coda as a personal identifier—in other words, a name. “We’re still in the very early stages,” says Ricardo Antunes of St. Andrews, lead author on that paper, “but our gut feeling is, they might use it to introduce themselves.” Sperm whales have evolved these complex social structures, Gero and Whitehead believe, for basic physiological reasons: nursing calves can’t dive deeply with their mothers, so—for the 45-odd minutes the mother goes below the surface, hunting for squid—they’re often left with a babysitter. “In the Caribbean, usually it’s the mom’s closest relative,” Gero says. (Calves nurse for at least three years.) As a result, “their family members become really important,” he continues. “The expectation is, ‘I’ll help you because you need me, and when I have a baby, I’ll need you, too.’ ” One might wonder why the father doesn’t play this role, but for reasons that aren’t really understood, male sperm whales are solitary creatures; sometime between the ages of 6 and 12, they leave their birth families, eventually heading for the poles in either direction. Researchers used to think this was some sort of “testosterone-y walkabout,” Gero says, but what he’s seen in Dominica suggests they might not leave by choice. Gero has been observing a maturing male calf gradually being ostracized by his family. It was last seen following them at a distance, and soon, he believes, this young male will be gone for good. At age 30 or so, male sperm whales return to the tropics to breed, then leave again. (They can live into their seventies.) “There used to be this notion of one enormous male with his attendant females,” Whitehead says, but that was mostly based “on whalers’ wishful thinking.” Females seem to make picky mates. “We’d follow a group around, and then a male comes in, and the females all dive off,” Whitehead says. “Then another male comes in, and they swim up around him, touching him and stroking him. It’s more about female choice.” Gero is now trying to find out how baby sperm whales acquire a natal dialect from their mothers and babysitters. “We know babies babble at first,” he says, and then gradually pick it up. Pinpointing just how long this takes, he believes, might help us understand how complex the dialect is. Gero and Whitehead aren’t the first to wonder if whales might have a culture of their own. In the 1970s, John Ford—then a graduate student at the University of British Columbia—was studying killer whales off the B.C. coast, and started asking some of the same questions. Back then, the notion of culture among whales “wasn’t even controversial,” says Ford, now a whale research scientist with the Pacific Biological Station of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “There was no precedent for it.” Unlike sperm whales’ patterns of clicks, killer whales emit all sorts of noises (including clicks for echolocation). Their communication signals are loud and “metallic-sounding,” Ford says, like a “squeaky gate hinge.” As he set out to understand these cries, Ford made some startling discoveries. Not only do different populations make different calls, he found; dialects can vary strongly between family groups. “It’s not just an accent,” he says. “Some sound like a different species, even in the same waters.” Ford began to think of these as a set of behavioural traditions passed down for generations, an idea that Whitehead and Gero have built upon. In some respects, their work is very different: Gero is intently focused on a small population of whales, while Ford and his team are following hundreds of animals, looking at patterns over time. Since 1973, the DFO has taken an annual census of B.C.’s northern resident killer whale population, and since 1976, has worked with the U.S. Center for Whale Research to follow southern resident killer whales, too. According to Ford, over 80 per cent of the resident population alive today was born since the study began, and so has been tracked since birth. With decades of data, “our understanding of killer whales has changed dramatically,” he says. Pacific Northwest killer whales are now probably the best-studied group in the world, and we know a great deal about the behavioural traditions that define them throughout their lives.

Three types of killer whales live off the B.C. coast: residents, transients and offshore whales. “They’re born into these groups, and there’s never any movement between them,” says Lance Barrett-Lennard, a research scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre and, like Ford, an adjunct professor at UBC. These groups have different social structures, eat different foods and communicate using different dialects. “We’re almost positive these differences are culturally maintained,” he says, and they’re deeply ingrained. Residents feed on Chinook salmon, while transients eat marine mammals, like seals; offshore whales eat sharks and fish—and they aren’t likely to try new foods. In captivity, if a transient killer whale is fed salmon, it often won’t take a bite. They’re like humans that way: what’s considered a delicacy in some cultures, like edible insects, will have others turning up their noses.

Like sperm whales, resident killer whales belong to tight-knit matrilineal families, although theirs include male members. Still, “females are the glue that holds them together,” says Barrett-Lennard. Two or three generations will live together, including “grandma, her sons and daughters, and grandkids.” Killer whales are one of the extraordinarily few species in which females stop breeding relatively early in their lifespan—in other words, killer whales experience menopause. (Pilot whales do, too.) Researchers have hypothesized this creates a “grandmother role” for older whales, who then help out the younger females.

These tight bonds come in handy when taking down large, powerful prey. Last year, in Antarctica, Robert Pitman of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration witnessed 30 killer whales hunt and kill a minke whale. “The minke whale was a lot faster, but they took turns with it,” chasing it for 45 km, he says. An individual killer whale couldn’t catch a minke whale on its own, “but if you’re helping your family members,” Pitman says, “it’s different.”

He and others are now identifying several new populations of killer whale in Antarctica. Cultural differences between groups seem to be so entrenched that some think there might not be just one species of killer whale, but many. “They don’t interbreed, and haven’t for 100,000 years or more,” Pitman says. “But is it because they can’t interbreed, or they won’t? When you deal with intelligent, social animals, it’s hard to know what’s going on.”

Gero talks comfortably about the notion of “whale culture,” “whale society,” even “whale civilization.” When asked if these animals have individual personalities, though, he hesitates. “Personality is a tough one,” he says. “As a scientist, I don’t think we know enough to say.” Even so, he’s witnessed individual quirks in how the Dominica whales behave, and “as someone who’s spent thousands of hours with them,” he says, “there’s no doubt they’re individual beings.”

Some scientists argue that whales might resemble us as closely as the great apes: cetacean brains are highly sophisticated, especially in areas involved in communication and cognition. Dolphins have managed to recognize themselves in a mirror, and even use it to inspect parts of their bodies. Mother pilot whales have been observed carrying a dead baby for days, “and there’s no reason that would be, other than grieving,” Gero says. If he and others are right, whales even have their own complex cultures that define everything from their diet and dialect to family bonds, just as human cultures do.

Given the current state of our oceans, it’s a sobering thought. A major new report from leading marine scientists recently suggested that Earth’s oceans could be entering a mass extinction, stressed to their limit by climate change, overfishing and pollution, to name just a few threats. This is a terrifying prospect for every scientist who works with marine life—and for all of us who live on this planet, since no one would be unaffected. Gero sees it as his duty to let people know about sperm whales, “which come from a part of the ocean that’s least understood,” he says. Even so, his work describes some of our planet’s most enigmatic creatures in surprisingly familiar terms.