Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Giant whale of the North Pacific could be doomed

From The Australian:  Giant whale of the North Pacific could be doomed

THE population of one of nature's gentlest giants, the North Pacific right whale, has fallen so low that scientists have warned that the species is likely to be the first of the great whales to be wiped out by humans.
Population surveys show the North Pacific right whale, which once numbered many tens of thousands, has declined to just a few hundred.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Research: Increased Growth, 'Innate Immune Response' Responsible For Color Changes In Coral Reefs

From Underwater Times: Research: Increased Growth, 'Innate Immune Response' Responsible For Color Changes In Coral Reefs 

SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom -- Research from the University of Southampton and National Oceanography, Southampton has provided new insight into the basic immune response and repair mechanisms of corals to disease and changing environmental conditions.
The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Coral Reefs, found that increased growth is the underlying physiological process associated with disease, wounding and stress-related color changes in reef-building corals.

The study investigated distinct green fluorescent protein (GFP)-like pigments responsible for the green, red and purple-blue colors of many reef-building corals.

By examining these GFP-like pigments in four coral species from the Red Sea, the Arabian/Persian Gulf and Fiji, researchers found that their presence indicates growing tissue in growing branch tips and margins of healthy coral colonies; as well as in disturbed colony parts, compared to undisturbed areas.

Dr Joerg Wiedenmann, Senior Lecturer of Biological Oceanography and Head of the Coral Reef Laboratory at the University of Southampton, who led the study, says: "The specific pigment signatures that we observed, demonstrate that locally accelerated growth in the presence of foreign biological material, represents a novel component of the innate immune response of reef corals in which the animals try to neutralize potentially dangerous organisms by overgrowing them.

"We found that increased growth is the underlying physiological process of the 'pink-blue spot syndrome', a color change linked, for instance, with wounding of Red Sea corals. We also found a strong increase of red fluorescence in growth margins in the presence of gastropods and tube worms."

The researchers were able to detect coral growth and tissue proliferation by using the excellent biomarker properties of GFP-like pigments. Fluorescent proteins from reef corals are routinely applied as markers in biomedical and pharmaceutical research, because their fluorescence can be easily detected. 

Dr Wiedenmann, who is based at National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, adds: "The future of coral reefs is strongly dependent on management strategies that can promote their recovery and resilience. The success of these efforts will rely on the identification of particularly vulnerable areas or regions affected by high levels of stress.

"Coral reef monitoring will benefit from this study as the use of these GFP-like pigments as biomarkers can be used as indicators of mechanical stress/damage inflicted, for instance, by swimmers or divers or give an indication of parasites or disease.

"Our conclusions have important implications for predictions of the negative impact of changing environmental conditions on coral reefs. Reduced coral growth rates anticipated in response to ocean acidification, warming and nutrient enrichment of coral reef waters will result in a reduced capability of the corals to defend themselves against colonization by other organisms."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pearl industry rejects claims made in Four Corners

These types of articles really don't go into enough detail. How did the man die?

From ABC Net:  Pearl industry rejects claims made in Four Corners

The Pearl Producers Association (PPA) and Australia's biggest pearl producer, Paspaley Pearls, have criticised the ABC's Four Corners program for its story on safety standards within the industry.
The program last night focussed on 22-year-old Jarrod Hampton, who died in the waters south of Broome earlier this year on just his second day working for Paspaley.

The program said Mr Hampton was in a drift diving crew of eight, of which five were new to the industry and had not been properly trained.

The program said 10 experienced divers quit Paspaley last year after the company refused to raise its price per shell from $3.50 back to $4.50.

Former Paspaley diver Jarrad Norton said he told the company that if it kept the price at $3.50, it'd lose experienced divers and says he warned the company that someone would die because of a lack of experience.
"All these people that had left, you know, decades and decades of experience, we all started to leave and we all knew it was gonna happen," he said.

"I just didn't want that responsibility of that many lives. And I said to the person in question, I said 'I promise you, I guarantee you next year you'll have a serious accident or a fatality unless something changes'. And he said, 'We'll cross that hurdle when we get to it'. And that was enough for me. I was like - I didn't want any part of that."

In a statement, Paspaley says it completely rejects any allegation or inference made by Four Corners that it has compromised the safety of its divers.

"The industry's safety measures have been recognised and commended by the highest safety authorities in Australia, including WA Worksafe and Safe Work Australia," he said.

"Four Corners has chosen to disregard the official advice, findings and authority of these safety bodies, which are in the strongest position to make accurate judgements on the pearling industry's safety practices."
Paspaley's statement has been backed by the PPA which in its own statement says:

"The PPA completely rejects allegations made by Four Corners that the pearling industry is not meeting the most relevant and appropriate safety standards.

"The PPA also believes it is highly inappropriate to raise questions around safety practices in relation to the recent fatality prior to the completion of the investigations."

Paspaley says the death of Jarrod Hampton this year is the first work-related fatality of a Paspaley employee since records commenced in the 1960s.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

New Blood-Sucking Coral Reef Crustacean

From Underwater Times: New Blood-Sucking Coral Reef Crustacean

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Barack Obama has one. Comedian Stephen Colbert has one. Elvis Presley has one. Even computer software magnate Bill Gates has one. And now, Bob Marley--the late popular Jamaican singer and guitarist--also has one. So what is it that each of these luminaries has? The answer: they each have a biological species that has been named after them.

Paul Sikkel, an assistant professor of marine ecology and a field marine biologist at Arkansas State University, discovered and just named after Marley a "gnathiid isopod"--a small parasitic crustacean blood feeder that infests certain fish that inhabit the coral reefs of the shallow eastern Caribbean. Sikkel named the species Gnathia marleyi.

All of the life stages of Gnathia marleyi are described by Sikkel and his research team in the June 6th issue of Zootaxia. This research was partly funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Sikkel said, "I named this species, which is truly a natural wonder, after Marley because of my respect and admiration for Marley's music. Plus, this species is as uniquely Caribbean as was Marley."
Gnathia marleyi is a new species within the gnathiid family, and the first new species to be described in the Caribbean in more than two decades.

By concealing themselves within coral rubble, sea sponge or algae, juvenile Gnathia marleyi are able to launch surprise attacks on fish and then infest them. Sikkel explained that adult gnathiids do not feed at all. "We believe that adults subsist for two to three weeks on the last feedings they had as juveniles and then die, hopefully after they have reproduced."

There have been increasing numbers of reports that the health of Caribbean coral reef communities is declining due to diseases. "We are currently researching the relationships between the health of coral reef communities and gnathiid populations," said Sikkel.

"Gnathiids, in general, are the most common external parasites found on coral reefs and are ecologically similar to land-based blood-sucking ticks or disease-carrying mosquitoes," Sikkel said. "Gnathiids live on the ocean floor from pole to pole, and from shallow reefs to the abyss--and everywhere between. They are also the most important food item for cleaner fishes and thus key to understanding marine cleaning symbioses."
Sikkel explained that his research group is interested in the combined ecological effects of fishing pressure and reef degradation. "We suspect that coral degradation leads to more available habitat for external parasites to 'launch attacks' on host fishes," he said. "And as the number of potential host fish decreases, each remaining host will become more heavily parasitized."

"Our current work is focused on how changes in coral reef environments, such as coral bleaching, influences interactions between hosts and parasites," said Sikkel. "We're including in our studies any effects on cleaning organisms that remove parasites from hosts."

About 80 percent of all organisms found on coral reefs are parasites. The gnathiid isopods are among the most ecologically important of them, according to biologists, because many diseases afflicting desirable fish are either caused by, or are transmitted by gnathiids. In addition, the immune system of fish also depends on the overall health of coral reefs, which are known as the "rainforests of the sea" because of their vast biodiversity.

At the end of the day, it comes down to simple oceanic economics: the more parasites there are, the fewer fish there are--at least until the parasites run out of hosts to infect. And fewer fish in the sea can cause significant losses to the populations that depend on them.

Studying the effects of changes in sea-bottom communities associated with coral and sponge diseases and their interactions among other species will advance knowledge of blood-borne pathogens. Sikkel suspects that Gnathia marleyi may be a vector in transmission of these diseases.

Sikkel says his team's current funding through NSF's Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) initiative and Biological Oceanography is enabling the team to study precisely which species of Caribbean reef fish harbor these blood parasites. "We are determining the role of Gnathia marleyi, which will help us understand the impacts of changes in coral reef habitat on the transmission of a fish disease called haemogregarines--a type of fish malaria that may weaken their immune systems through a reduction in certain blood cells."

"Disease ecology is a rapidly maturing field in marine science," said Michael Lesser, a program director in NSF's Biological Oceanography Program. "To advance this field, scientists must identify which organisms are the main players in disease transmission in oceans."

Lesser continued: "With so much marine diversity yet to be described, parasitic species don't always get the attention they deserve. But Sikkell and his team have taken an important step by helping to analyze the ecological effects of a parasite on Caribbean coral reef fish populations by describing this previously unknown species."

Sikkel initially discovered Gnathia marleyi about 10 years ago in the U.S. Virgin Islands where it is relatively common--so common, in fact, that Sikkel had assumed for years that the species had previously been described. Nevertheless, compelled by a hunch, Sikkel ultimately sent a specimen of the species to Nico J. Smit of North-West University in South Africa, a member of Sikkel's research team, who confirmed that the species had, in fact, previously been overlooked by taxonomists. With the help of Whitney Sears, one of Sikkel's students, the research team raised the isopod from its juvenile stage through adulthood, a laborious task that was necessary because most taxonomy descriptions of gnathiids are based on adult males, which usually differ in appearance and other ways from juvenile gnathiids.

Specimens of Gnathia marleyi will be housed indefinitely at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. "We are currently discussing with AMNH the possibility of creating an exhibit featuring this species that could be viewed by the public," said Sikkel.

Sikkel's research team includes Charon Farquharson of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and Smit.

And by the way, if you are wondering, President Obama has a lichen named after him; Colbert has a beetle; Gates has a flower fly, and Elvis has a wasp.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Male Green Turtle Travels To Mate

From Underwater Times: Male Green Turtle Travels From Cocos Island, Costa Rica, To Las Perlas, Panama; 'Looking For Female Turtles To Mate' 

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- A male Pacific green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) travelled 1587 km (986 mi) in 55 days, from Cocos Island, Costa Rica, where it was tagged last April 25, to Las Perlas, Panama, last June 19. The male turtle was christened Argo, after the luxury live-aboard dive-boat operated by the Undersea Hunter group ( www.underseahunter.com), which serves as the research platform for the long term shark and sea turtle tagging project directed jointly by researchers Randall Arauz of the non-profit Costa Rican organization (www.pretoma.org), and Todd Steiner of Turtle Island Restoration Network (www.seaturtles.org), based in San Francisco, California.

Argo the turtle was equipped with a satellite transmitter (Wildlife Computers MK-10), attached by means of a tether to the trailing edge its top shell (carapace). Soon after tagging, Argo headed towards the coast of South America, entering the waters of Colombia before ending up in Archipiélago Las Perlas, which consists of a group of about 39 islands and over 100 islets located in the Gulf of Panama, 48 km from the mainland. Sea turtles are known to nest on these islands.

"Green turtles are commonly reported as bycatch during longline operations, which are heavily used in this region year round," warned Randall Arauz. "We are glad Argo made it all the way to Las Perlas as we suspect he is looking for female turtles to mate, and hope he continues to sort these barriers as he migrates through the Eastern Tropical Pacific."

This research is helping to unravel the mysteries of the long migrations of sea turtles through the open ocean and into and out of the sovereign waters of many nations," said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of SeaTurtles.org. "International cooperation combined with the best available science will be a key factor into designing conservation and management strategies to save green turtles and other endangered sea turtles in the Eastern Tropical Pacific from the devastating impacts of industrial overfishing," added Steiner.

Pretoma and Tirn jointly initiated a long term tagging and monitoring program of sea turtles in Cocos Island in March of 2009. A total of 85 green turtles, two hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata), and one olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) have been caught and tagged with external flipper tags. 23 turtles have been tagged with acoustic transmitters and 15 with satellite transmitters. Volunteer divers often accompany the research expedition and serve as citizen scientist research assistants. For more information on joing a sea turtle and shark tagging expedition, visit www.SeaTurtles.org/Expeditions.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Volcanoes' role in reef formation studied

From UPI.com: Volcanoes' role in reef formation studied

BRISBANE, Australia, July 19 (UPI) -- Volcanic eruption in the southwest Pacific could save the Great Barrier Reef -- and might be responsible for its formation, an Australian researcher says.

Queensland University of Technology geologist Scott Bryan and colleagues studied the westward flow, or rafting, of pumice -- created when frothy molten rock cools rapidly and forms a lightweight bubble-rich rock that can float in water -- after volcanic eruptions in Tonga in 2001 and 2006.

Plants and tiny animals including corals latched onto the pumice as it was swept by ocean currents toward northeastern Australia, they found.

"The pumice raft created after the 2006 Home Reef volcano erupted in Tonga initially formed at least a 440 square kilometer (150 square mile) floating mass," Bryan said.

"This mass slowly broke up into streaks and millions to billions of marine organisms such as cyanobacteria, barnacles, mollusks, corals, anemones, and crabs began hitching a ride," he said.

When these tiny corals, coralline algae, anemones and other reef dwellers arrived in northeastern waters they became part of the Great Barrier Reef, he said.

"This is good news because we know the reef is being replenished as a result of volcanic activity in the southwest Pacific and volcanic activity is frequent with eruptions in the area occurring every five to 10 years," he said.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

SeaWorld appeals whale contact ban

From WinkNews: SeaWorld appeals whale contact ban

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - SeaWorld is appealing a federal judge's ruling that animal trainers can't have unprotected contact with killer whales during public performances.
Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment reported Tuesday that it has filed a petition for discretionary review with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission concerning parts of Judge Ken S. Welsch's decision this past spring.
The ruling will become final on July 16 if commissioners do not grant a review. The decision followed the February 2010 death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau. She was grabbed and drowned by the six-ton killer whale Tilikum.
Following a six-month investigation, OSHA cited SeaWorld with three safety violations and recommended trainers never again be allowed near the whales without a barrier for protection.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Minnesota Zoo may choose rays to replace dolphins

From WDay.com :  Minnesota Zoo may choose rays to replace dolphins 

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Zoo may use schools of fish and stingrays to replace its dolphins.
The zoo is deciding how far $4 million in state bonding money will go in renovating its Discovery Bay aquarium. It had asked for $7 million. The zoo decided this spring it would no longer keep dolphins after one died, leaving it with just two.

Zoo Director Lee Ehmke tells Minnesota Public Radio said he hopes there's enough money to make the most critical repairs and introduce new kinds of fish and stingrays. He said the public might have a chance to swim or wade in the tank.

Ehmke says the rays aren't dolphins but they are "fantastic representatives of the aquatic environment."
Some lawmakers have criticized the zoo for the way it handled its bonding request. The zoo publicly announced it was getting rid of the dolphins only after it secured the state money.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Suspected salmon-nappers netted in North Vancouver hatchery heist

Three people were arrested Wednesday after 30 coho were stolen from North Vancouver’s Capilano fish hatchery, stacked high in a children’s plastic wagon and left to die.
RCMP officers responding to an alarm at the hatchery at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday found the dead fish by the front gate along with a large fishing net.

They found that thieves had broken into the hatchery, opened a pen holding adult coho salmon and snatched 30 of the fish, weighing one to three kilograms each.

“Apparently their wagon couldn’t hold any more,” said spokesman Cpl. Richard De Jong. “I think it was the alarm that scared them away.”

Police fanned out with dog units and soon arrested two men and a woman walking southbound down Capilano Road.

A man and woman from Vancouver and a man from the Vancouver Island community of Chemainus were released pending approval of charges.

De Jong said the three could face charges of break and enter, mischief and, under the Wildlife Act, endangering wildlife and theft of fish from a hatchery.

Hatchery staff now have the dead coho, but De Jong said he didn’t know what would happen to the fish.
Staff are monitoring whether any other fish in the closed environment were harmed during the break-in, De Jong said.

“Any disruption to the ponds can have a greater impact on other fish,” he said.

The hatchery is located between the Capilano Suspension Bridge and the Cleveland Dam. During various parts of the year, it is home to coho, chinook and steelhead.

Mounties are asking anyone with information on the incident to phone them at 604-985-1311.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Florida Travel: 74-year-old Marineland celebrates its past while moving forward

The Star.com:  Florida Travel: 74-year-old Marineland celebrates its past while moving forward

MARINELAND, FLA.—Her eyes are cloudy now, a blueish-gray haze blocking out some of the sunlight that glints off the water in her habitat.

She doesn’t always move as nimbly as the dozen other dolphins sharing her space, either.

But that’s OK, because Nellie has something they don’t.

She has seniority—59 years of it, more than double the normal age of an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. And those eyes, before a hint of cataracts snuck in and stole the sharpness of her vision, have witnessed many of the triumphs, declines and rebirths of Marineland, Florida’s first theme park.

“She’s somewhat the matriarch,” said Kurt Allen, vice president and general manager of Marineland, as he watches Nellie gracefully glide under an archway in the pool where she suns herself on this severely clear May afternoon. “She is literally rewriting history every day.” The same can be said for Marineland.
Now owned by the Georgia Aquarium, the world’s first marine animal park opened 74 years ago, offering visitors previously unheard-of access to dolphins, whales and other creatures that roam the seas.

For decades, the pioneering aquatic retreat thrived as Florida’s only theme park, attracting as many as 400,000 visitors a year.

But the Marineland of today is a very different scene. Operated by the aquarium as a separate nonprofit organization, it is located in a trio of nondescript off-white buildings battered by surf spray near the same spot where the original structures once stood, nestled between Fla. A1A and a postcard-ready section of the Atlantic Ocean.

Georgia Aquarium has poured about $3 million into the facility so far this year, mostly for operational improvements such as pool heaters and new signage. But the park struggles to meet even a fraction of its former attendance figures. An estimated 50,000 people visited Marineland in 2011, and 60,000-70,000 are expected this year.

Carey Rountree, senior vice president for sales and marketing at Georgia Aquarium, attributes low attendance figures to public perception. He says many Marineland fans of years past think that when the venue closed for repairs in 2004, it never re-opened.

“That’s been our biggest challenge, to tell people we are open,” says Rountree. The eventual goal is to hit a six-figure attendance number again.

Despite the financial and attendance woes that have hindered Marineland, the Georgia Aquarium has a twofold stake in the facility. The coastal Florida location provides access for marine research and specimen collection—three of the four manta rays at the aquarium were gathered off the Marineland coast. And collaboration between the facilities allows the aquarium to answer critics who say the Atlanta aquatic emporium is too focused on entertainment.

According to Rountree, acquiring Marineland fit the philosophy on which the Georgia Aquarium was founded. “Bernie Marcus (aquarium founder and CEO) wanted it to be a combination of entertainment, conservation, research and education. In order to do that, you had to pay the bills, and entertainment was a way to do that. Once we were able to pay the bills, we’ve been able to increase the education and conservation efforts.” Last month at Marineland, the “Behind the Seas” exhibit opened, featuring additional dolphin viewing areas and a collection of artifacts from the oceanarium’s past.

But while Marineland’s focus is on education, elements of the attraction remain touristy draws. Visitors willing to pay extra for intimate dolphin experiences can stand in shallow water for 20 minutes with the slate-colored mammals or be a trainer for a day.

After all, bills need to be paid there too, owners say.

Bankrolled by a group of investors that included Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and Count Ilia Tolstoy (yes, grandson of Leo), the facility opened June 23, 1938, as Marine Studios because it was intended to double as a location for filming underwater movie scenes.

On opening day, more than 30,000 people jammed the stretch of coastline 20 miles south of St. Augustine, their cars gridlocked on Fla. A1A as they eagerly awaited the opportunity to glimpse the novelty that Marine Studios promised.

The eye-popping centerpiece of the park was a 75-foot circular concrete oceanarium where bottlenose dolphins and whales frolicked in remarkable proximity to the public. For $1.10, visitors could peer at schools of neon-hued fish and menacing sharks through 200 portholes that lined the venue’s walls.
From above, dolphins could be seen flaunting their tricks on the surface of the pool, and other aquatic creatures such as loggerhead turtles, sea lions and African penguins were elsewhere on view. Theme-happy watering holes such as the Moby Dick lounge and the Rocking Ship bar appealed to customers’ wallets and non-marine pursuits, and the flamingos near the front entrance made for colorful additions to visitors’ photo albums.

Meanwhile, the business of moviemaking got under way, and Marine Studios made its film debut with the 1939 MGM short, “Marine Circus.” The site thrived as a movie set, appearing in several 1940-era “Tarzan” movies with Johnny Weissmueller and the 1953 documentary “The Sea Around Us.” Campy creature features filmed there in the ‘50s, including parts of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” In the 1955 sequel “Revenge of the Creature,” hordes of screaming people can be seen tearing through the facility’s concrete stairwells, trying to outrun the plastic-faced monster.

Even the beloved Nellie, born at the facility in 1953 and now celebrated as the world’s oldest-living dolphin, can be seen on YouTube in a commercial with broadcaster John Cameron Swayze, demonstrating the resiliency of a Timex watch when she was just a few years old.

The motion picture industry continued to film movies on site well into the ‘80s, but in 1961 the facility’s name was changed in a marketing move. The tiny town that had sprung up around the park had incorporated as Marineland in 1946, and the owners decided to rename the venue after the town because it was marked on most Florida maps.

Marineland thrived through 1950s and 1960, which marked its heyday. But all of that changed with the fantastical vision of a man named Walt.

“The Mouse invasion” is what Allen calls it. In 1971 Disney World opened, and suddenly the appeal of Marineland shriveled, overpowered by the irresistible allure of Cinderella’s castle and ice cream bars shaped like rodent ears.

Compounded by the opening of I-95, which funneled travelers away from Fla. A1A, and the arrival of SeaWorld Orlando in 1973, Marineland attendance deflated to 20,000 visitors a year.

Over the next several decades, the theme park would undergo a series of openings and closings, ownership changes and a bankruptcy. During that time the facility began to fall into disrepair. In 2001 Atlanta developer and Georgia Aquarium board member Jim Jacoby bought the property and closed it for a two-year renovation that included demolishing some of the original structures. It re-opened in 2006 as Marineland’s Dolphin Conservation Center with a fresh look, including a medical lab and eight new dolphin habitats, and a renewed mission to educate the public about marine life.

But the restoration angered some Marineland purists, who cringed at the demolition of their childhood memories.

Gone was the original circular oceanarium, as well as the patented dolphin show. Also ditched was the Rocking Ship Bar, a hangout of Ernest Hemingway and thought to inspire “The Old Man and the Sea.” (The 41-foot bar is in storage now, but the author’s legacy lives on in Marineland’s newest arrival—Hemingway, a spunky little dolphin born on site in September.) Still intact is the replica of beige coral reef that marked the original entrance, the opening to thrust heads through for a photo op beckoning as always.

And the beloved statue of Neptune again presides over the garden near the front of the property.

“We always keep the history in mind when we plan things,” Allen said, pointing to another Marineland relic: an ivory building constructed of concrete blocks with dolphin cutouts that once housed the Fudge Kitchen. (The nostalgic can pack a block to go for $125 in the gift shop.) Once the park reopened, attendance brightened slightly. In 2009, about 66,000 people visited. But in January 2011, Jacoby sold Marineland for $9.1 million to the Georgia Aquarium, which renamed it Marineland Dolphin Adventure.

Across the street from the entrance to Marineland, in an unadorned building that doesn’t prompt a second look, George “Geo” Biedenbach, director of conservation programs, and field coordinator Matthew Denny spend their days doing the kind of work tourists may not think about when they visit the park, but which is vital to its dedication to marine research and education.

Opened in 2009, the $1.5 million Dolphin Conservation Field Station is a stranding center that rescues and recovers whales, dolphins, manta rays and whatever else might float to the surface or wash up on land.
In a back room, a rack of orange triage kits stocked with stethoscopes, medication and syringes are stacked up and ready to be snatched the moment a call comes in for a stranded whale or dolphin entangled in discarded fishing line. Entanglements can take several days and up to five boats to resolve.

Back at Marineland, they keep two boats at a new marina, one of them designed for dolphin pickups. They also have a pair of trucks, one used for transport that can carry up to 7,000 pounds and is equipped with two on-board water tanks and a food cooler.

Biedenbach and Denny respond to about eight strandings a year. The outcome usually isn’t pleasant.
“Seventy-five percent of the animals that hit the beach are already dead,” Biedenbach says. “Many others die on their own or are euthanized within 24 hours.” If the animal is alive, the staff performs triage and transports it to one of its partner hospitals at SeaWorld, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce or Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City.

If it’s “fresh dead,” with no signs of bloating, it is taken to Marineland’s necropsy facility, located in a trailer in the parking lot behind the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, about a quarter-mile from the field station. The small facility is a sterilized 24-foot car hauler that has been refurbished for medical use. Two stainless steel tables fill the width of the trailer, which is also equipped with rubber boots, aprons and hoses curled on wall hangers. Here, internal and external exams are performed.
“We’re basically ‘Dolphin CSI,’” Biedenbach said.

He and visiting veterinarians document lesions, signs of blunt trauma and other causes of death to glean what they can about underwater life. One of the discoveries they’ve made is that 40 percent of the adult pygmy sperm whales die from degenerative heart disease.

As an animal lover, Biedenbach has come to terms with the disconcerting sights and unpleasant necessities of his job.

“When I’m in the field I can put my game face on because I have to,” he said with a small smile.
But there are celebratory outcomes, too.

In 2010, the field station aided the aquarium in the transfer of five loggerhead sea turtles from the coast of North Carolina to the aquarium’s quarantine facility, where they were treated and released five months later off the beach at Jekyll Island.

And in addition to educating local schoolchildren on the environment, Denny’s primary project is identifying wild dolphins in the area and photographing their dorsal fins—a defining feature—so the animals can be tracked. If a dolphin becomes stranded or entangled, a zip through his computerized catalog can determine which dolphin it is, whether or not it’s a “resident” of the area and if it’s had other problems. So far Denny has collected and tagged data on more than 200 dolphins.

“This is a piece of the scientific puzzle that wasn’t happening before we were here,” Biedenbach said.
What Nellie knows In the eight habitats overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Marineland Dolphin Adventure, 13 bottlenose dolphins follow the commands of their trainers, presenting their fins to visitors who have paid for a “touch and feed” encounter. Some will later hold plastic containers of acrylic paints in their mouths and create dolphin Picassos on canvas for guests willing to pay for the experience.

Meanwhile, one almost-sexagenarian dolphin cruises through the translucent water with a peaceful air. As she glides around her circular pool, Nellie seems to glance at a visitor with a knowing look.

No matter how cloudy her eyes have become, she is the lone inhabitant who has seen it all—the crowds, the spotlight, the lean years and now this new era with its focus on education. Once an entertainer, she’s now a teacher and her lesson is one of longevity.

Marineland Dolphin Adventure is open daily 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission is $8.50 (adults 13 and older), $4 (children) and $7.25 (60 and older). 9600 Oceanshore Blvd., Marineland, Fla. (20 miles south of St. Augustine). 904-471-1111. marineland.net.


41 people stung by stingrays, lifeguards warn to watch out

From KUSI.com:  41 people stung by stingrays, lifeguards warn to watch out

LA JOLLA (CNS) - La Jolla-area beachgoers would be wise to watch out for stingrays, after a whopping 41 people were stung Wednesday by the bottom- dwellers.

The majority of those stung on Wednesday were at La Jolla Shores, according to San Diego lifeguards.
Stingray injuries are common this time of year, especially in the La Jolla area, but Wednesday's tally was higher than usual, lifeguard Lt. John Everhart told U-T San Diego.

At least one stung beachgoer was taken to a hospital for a non-life threatening injury, he said. Others were treated in a makeshift triage area set up on the beach.

A stingray sting is painful, temporary and generally not life- threatening. Lifeguards treated the injured on Wednesday by having them soak their stung limbs in buckets filled with hot water.

Everhart said shuffling one's feet on the bottom of the ocean floor can be a deterrent. By shuffling one's feet, a person avoids stepping on a stingray's barbs and also potentially scares a stingray off.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Video: River scavenger looks for lost treasure

Okay, not ocean related...but the problem of pollution is everywhere.
From San Marcos Mercury: Video: River scavenger looks for lost treasure

ROBERT SCHMID, who manages the Texas Parks & Wildlife fish hatchery in San Marcos, is a serial scavenger, constantly scouring the river for lost treasure and trash. His haul includes 1,300 flip flops recovered during a single summer, a world globe, a bumper from a Ford Mustang and hundreds and hundreds of water bottles, fishing bobbers and tennis balls. He fashions “primitive” folk art from his findings as visual anti-littering messages.


Cape Cod kayaker may have been followed by basking shark

This is from a couple of weeks ago:

From Pete Thomas Outdoors: Cape Cod kayaker may have been followed by basking shark 

 First-time kayaker Walter Szulc Jr. made the national news this week for appearing in a photo showing him staring back at the dorsal fin of a large shark.

It was widely reported to have been a great white, following directly behind Szulc. But on Tuesday an expert said that, after studying the image, the fin more likely belonged to a plankton-eating basking shark.

“By all indications, I think it’s a basking shark,” Greg Skomal, a shark expert with the Massachusetts  Division of Marine Fisheries, told the Boston Globe.

This is a time of year when great whites are off the Cape Cod area to feed on pinnipeds.
But basking sharks, which are found in Arctic and temperate waters around the world, also range from Newfoundland to Florida along the East Coast.
They're the world's second largest fish behind whale sharks and measure up to 40 feet long. They will often swim slowly along the surface, close to shore, with their enormous mouths agape. As plankton-eaters they're docile and considered no threat to swimmers.
Regardless of what type of shark it may have been, Shelly Negrotti's image (atop this post) is worth 1,000 words and then some.
Copy of Cape Cod Shark.JPEG-04dc6-2170


‘UFO’ at bottom of Baltic sea may be a top-secret lost Nazi weapon

From Updated News:  ‘UFO’ at bottom of Baltic sea may be a top-secret lost Nazi weapon

Divers exploring a ‘UFO-shaped’ object in the  Baltic sea say that the strange, curved object might be a Nazi device lost  beneath the waves since the end of the Second World War.

Sonar scans have shown that the device,  raised 10ft above the seabed and measuring 200ft by 25ft, could be the base of  an anti-submarine weapon.

The weapon was built with wire mesh which  could have baffled submarine radar, leading enemy craft to crash – much in the  same way as turning out a lighthouse could be used as a weapon against shipping.
But now former Swedish naval officer and WWII  expert Anders Autellus has revealed that the structure – measuring 200ft by 25ft – could be the base of a device designed to block British and Russian submarine  movements in the area.

The huge steel-and-concrete structure could  be one of the most important historical finds in years.
Autellus claims it would have been built of  double-skinned concrete and reinforced with wire mesh to baffle radar – which  could explain why the dive team’s equipment repeatedly failed near the mystery  object.
‘The area was vital to the German war machine  because most of the ball bearings for its tanks and trucks came from here.  Without them the German army would have ground to a halt,’ explained one  expert.
‘This device dwarfs anything ever found  before and is an important weapons discovery,’ they added.
Explorer Stefan Hogeborn – who is studying  the images for the Ocean X diving team – agreed: ‘It is a good candidate for the  answer to this mystery. The object lies directly underneath a shipping  route.’

‘It would be of enormous weight in steel and  concrete. Other Nazi anti-sub anchoring devices were nowhere near as large,’ he  added.

While the Ocean Explorer team is  understandably excited about their potentially earth-shattering find,  others  are slightly more sceptical and are questioning the accuracy of  the sonar  technology.

The Swedish team exploring the structure have  been plagued with problems.

The divers  exploring a ‘UFO-shaped’ object  at the bottom of the Baltic Sea said that team their equipment stops working  when they approach within 200m.

Professional diver Stefan Hogerborn, part of  the Ocean X team which is exploring the anomaly, said some of the team’s cameras  and the team’s satellite phone would refuse to work when directly above the  object, and would only  work once they had sailed away.

The divers exploring a ‘UFO-shaped’  object  at the bottom of the Baltic Sea say their equipment stops working when they  approach within 200m.

Professional diver Stefan Hogerborn, part of  the Ocean X team which is exploring the anomaly, said some of the team’s cameras  and the team’s satellite phone would refuse to work when directly above the  object, and would only  work once they had sailed away.

He is quoted as saying: ‘Anything electric  out there – and the  satellite phone as well – stopped working when we were  above the object.

‘And then we got away about 200 meters and it  turned on again, and when we got back over the object it didn’t  work.’

The object was first found in May last year,  but because of a lack of funding and bad timing, they have  were not able to  pull a team together to see for themselves – just the  strange, metallic  outline, and a similar disk-shaped object about 200  metres away.

During their visit, the team saw a 985-foot  trail that they described ‘as a  runway or a downhill path that is flattened at  the seabed with the  object at the end of it’.

As it was before the recent dive, the story  behind the object is anyone’s guess, from a ‘plug to the inner  world’ to the  Millennium Falcon ship from Star Wars.

In the past, such technology has confused  foreign objects with unusual- but natural – rock formations.
Part of the trouble they face,  however, is  that they have no way of telling what is inside the supposed cylinder- whether  it is filled with gold and riches or simply aged  sediment particles.

They’re hoping for the former, and history  seems to be in their favour.

The Baltic Sea is a treasure trove for shipwreck hunters, as an estimated 100,000 objects are thought to line  the  cold sea’s floor.

The company have created a submarine  that  they hope will appeal to tourists and wannabe shipwreck hunters who will pay to  take a trip down to the bottom of the Baltic Sea to see for themselves.

A further dive will take place in the coming  weeks.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Leading the Fleet: Explorer Sylvia Earle’s Pioneering Life in Marine Science and Conservation

From Txnologist:  Leading the Fleet: Explorer Sylvia Earle’s Pioneering Life in Marine Science and Conservation

A host of names gets thrown around when oceanographer, undersea explorer and advocate Dr. Sylvia Earle gets mentioned. Hero of the Planet. Living Legend. Ambassador of the World’s Oceans. Pioneer.
Earle has led more than 400 expeditions, logged more than 7,000 hours underwater, holds multiple diving records and has been instrumental in developing and engineering deep-water submersibles. She has authored more than 125 publications focused on marine science and technology.
She is the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s former chief scientist and is now a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, founder of global ocean advocacy initiative Mission Blue and serves on multiple boards. She’s currently training for an upcoming NOAA Aquarius undersea laboratory mission in which she’ll be conducting research for a week.
Txchnologist: When did you first know you wanted to dedicate yourself to studying and advocating for the world’s oceans?
Sylvia Earle: Since I was a child. I was always trying to figure out as much as I could about the natural world. I fell in love with the ocean at age three. But, it wasn’t the water that was most compelling; it was the life that was in the water — the big glossy horseshoe crabs that came out during the summer months. I spent a lot of time trying to turn horseshoe crabs around and get them back into the ocean, not realizing that they really wanted to come up on the beach and lay their eggs. I suppose I was always trying to be a scientist and an explorer.
Txch: Were there other girls in the classes you took?
SE: I made choices along the way to take all the science classes I could possibly fit in. It was unusual to have other girls in my science classes—in most I was either the only woman, or one of very few. That has changed. It’s really exciting to see that in many marine science classes today, nearly half the students are women.
Txch: What inspired you to pursue a career in marine science?
Dr. Sylvia Earle in her natural environment. Courtesy Kip Evans.
SE: My parents encouraged me to follow my heart.
A number of books were also truly influential. One by William BeeBe called “Half Mile Down,” published in the 1930’s. BeeBe and his engineer associate actually built and used a bathyscaphe [ed.- a deep-sea submersible] in the waters off Bermuda. His descriptions and the images, the pictures that were rendered in beautiful paintings just captured my imagination. I just became fascinated with the whole idea of being able to access the sea. And, of course, Cousteau. When I read his book, “Silent World,” I knew I really wanted to try that.
Txch: Do you have any stories that make you cringe or laugh about being a woman in the field?
SE: There are a number of headlines that signify some of the experiences. One was a headline in the Mombasa Daily Times that read, “Sylvia Sails Away with 70 Men, But She Expects No Problem.” Another came out when I was preparing for the Tektite II, mission 6 project, an all-female research expedition. The Boston Globe reported, “Beacon Hill Housewife to Lead Team of Female Aquanauts.” Another headline came out when I was using a diving suit called Jim. The system could go more than a thousand feet down. The Star, a tabloid, ran a double-paged spread that read, “Brave Mom Dives to 1,250 Feet.” So, over the years I was a Beacon Hill housewife, a brave mom, an Aqua-Babe’ and ‘Sailing away with 70 Men.’
At Duke University, I was told flat out I could not have the position I had applied for to be a research assistant because I was just going to get married and have kids. They told me they had to give those positions to the young men because they would stick it out and become professionals. To them, it was a logical thing. Today, that would never fly. But back then it did.
I didn’t end up getting the position. But some of the other faculty members were sympathetic, so I got another job for less money.
In the 1960s and 1970s, I was on half-dozen international expeditions and I really wanted to be the chief scientist. On one expedition in particular, I felt very strongly I had helped craft the work being done and it just seemed logical that I would have a chance at chief scientist. Again I was told flat out that it didn’t seem appropriate for a woman to be a chief scientist on a ship. It is so different from today. Many women now serve in that position.
Txch: What is the biggest problem that needs to be addressed within your field?
SE: I think there are many people who still think the ocean is too big to fail—that what we put in or what we take out doesn’t matter; that even though fish are declining by as much as 90 percent or more for some species, it doesn’t matter. Whatever we have put our sites on to extract we have managed to overdo to the point of real concern.
It is an awareness of the ocean that really matters. Every breath we take and every drop of water we drink, or even that we are alive at all on Earth, relies on the existence of the ocean and its life. The biggest problem is making people become aware. The ocean is fundamental to everything we care about—our economy, our security, our health.
Another big problem is our capacity to alter the nature of the ocean. There is a lack of awareness that the ocean is changing and that it matters. The solution is to expand exploration, to communicate the importance of the sea and to inspire a much greater commitment than we currently have to care for it.
It’s becoming clear that fish are more valuable swimming around as part of the systems that keep us alive than swimming with lemon slices in butter on a plate.
We are investing substantial resources into exploring the skies above and the heavens beyond. But we’re neglecting this part of the universe, this part of the solar system, this blue planet. What is under the surface is still unknown, unexplored. What we do know is that it keeps us alive. It’s where most of earth’s water is; it’s where most life is. Failing to recognize the significance of that is incredibly dangerous.
Txch: What advice do you have for girls and women who look up to you and are interested in following in your footsteps?
SE: It’s pretty simple: Go for it! There will be people who will say that it’s inappropriate, that you can’t, you mustn’t, you shouldn’t. But if it’s what you really love, then find a way to do it. There are always obstacles and that is not a bad thing, because it causes you to be creative in figuring out how to get over them, around them, under them or through them. Whatever you do, don’t let the obstacles stop you.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Turtle tragedy: Work crews crush thousands of leatherback eggs, hatchlings on Trinidad beach

From Washington Post:  Turtle tragedy: Work crews crush thousands of leatherback eggs, hatchlings on Trinidad beach

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Thousands of leatherback turtle eggs and hatchlings have been crushed by heavy machinery along a Trinidad beach widely regarded as the world’s densest nesting area for the biggest of all living sea turtles, conservationists said Monday.

Government work crews with bulldozers were redirecting the Grand Riviere, a shifting river that was threatening a hotel where tourists from around the globe watch the huge endangered turtles lay their eggs. But several conservationists who monitor turtle populations say the crews botched the job, digging up an unnecessarily large swath of the important nesting beach in the tiny coastal town on Trinidad’s northern shore.

Sherwin Reyz, a member of the Grand Riviere Environmental Organization, estimated that as many as 20,000 eggs were crushed or consumed by the scores of vultures and stray dogs that descended upon the narrow strip of beach to eat the remains after the Saturday operation by the Ministry of Works.

“They had a very good meal. I was near tears,” said Reyz, who helped save hundreds of hatchlings that were uninjured when they were dredged up by the heavy machinery. “It was a disgusting mess.”

Leatherbacks, which can grow to more than 7 feet long, can weigh a ton and live to 100 years, will return to lay their eggs on the beach of their birth. The nesting ground of Grand Riviere is so popular with the globally endangered species that nest-digging females sometimes accidentally dig up others’ eggs.

The hotelier who had been pressing Trinidad’s government for months to redirect the Grand Riviere was also shocked and dismayed by the end result. The foundation of the Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel had been increasingly threatened by the shifting river and numerous calls did not result in action until the weekend.

“For some reason they dug up the far end of the beach, absolutely encroaching into the good nesting areas. This could have been avoided with a much wiser approach. But it was done too late and it was done in the wrong way,” said Italian hotelier Piero Guerrini.

Phone calls to the offices of Trinidad’s ministers of public works and tourism rang unanswered Monday.
Guerrini said problems with the river shifting west toward the hotel as the waterway empties into the sea were hardly new, but previous administrations handled the matter differently.

“Before, the authorities were much quicker, much more responsive and also concerned about the turtle nesting areas,” he said by phone on Monday. “This time, there seemed to be no concern.”

Guerrini said his hotel was full of tourists who had come to Trinidad to see the tiny leatherback hatchlings climb out of their sandy nests and head for the surf, trying to reach deep waters where they are safe from most predators.

Instead, the tourists saw injured hatchlings dying in front of their eyes as bulldozers shifted the mouth of the river. “This really put a lot of bad images in people’s minds,” Guerrini said.

Marc de Verteuil, of the Papa Bois Conservation organization, said the river had already eroded a lot of the dense nesting areas on the beach before the weekend, but the government work crews made a bad situation worse.

“Their equipment was basically crushing a much, much larger part of the beach than made sense. It looked like a bit of a panic reaction and they didn’t follow procedure,” he said Monday. “It’s a failure of governance.”
De Verteuil said he believes that natural oceanic movements will restore the beach after a few months. But he and other conservationists said they could not confidently gauge how the loss of so many eggs and hatchlings could affect the region’s leatherback population.

Leatherbacks lay about 85 eggs at a time, but less than 1 percent survive to adulthood.

For years, successful conservation efforts have benefited leatherbacks in Trinidad, which outlawed the slaughter of the sea turtles in 1966. A growing number of turtle advocates have helped protect the traditional nesting grounds, which are an attraction for tourists in the twin-island Caribbean republic off Venezuela’s coast.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

85% of Asia coral reefs at risk

From News24:  85% of Asia coral reefs at risk

A Pinnate batfish swims among other fish in Tatawa Besar in the waters of Komodo islands, Indonesia. (Robert Delfs, AP)

Sydney - More than 85% of reefs in Asia's "Coral Triangle" are directly threatened by human activities such as coastal development, pollution, and overfishing, a new report warned on Monday.

Launched at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, it said the threat was substantially more than the global average of 60% and urged greater efforts to reduce destructive fishing and run-off from land.

"When these threats are combined with recent coral bleaching, prompted by rising ocean temperatures, the percent of reefs rated as threatened increases to more than 90%," the report said.

The Coral Triangle covers Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, The Solomon Islands, and East Timor and contains nearly 30% of the world's reefs and more than 3 000 species of fish.

More than 130 million people living in the region rely on reef ecosystems for food, employment, and revenue from tourism, according to Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle.


"Across the Coral Triangle region, coastal communities depend on coral reefs for food, livelihoods, and protection from waves during storms, but the threats to reefs in this region are incredibly high," said lead author Lauretta Burke.

"Reefs are resilient - they can recover from coral bleaching and other impacts - particularly if other threats are low.

"The benefits reefs provide are at risk, which is why concerted action to mitigate threats to reefs across the Coral Triangle region is so important."

The report by the World Resources Institute, in collaboration with environmental groups WWF, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, will be used by the six countries to develop their management of the reefs.

"[The report] is an important contribution for supporting the six Coral Triangle countries in making critical decisions related to protecting their marine resources," said Maurice Knight, a contributing author.

"The region-wide perspective on the status of coral reefs as depicted in this report demonstrates the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action."

The International Coral Reef Symposium, held every four years, has attracted more than 2 000 scientists from 80 countries to present the latest advances in coral reef conservation.

Their research and findings are considered fundamental to informing international and national policies and the sustainable use of coral reefs globally.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Underwater eruption, dead fish may give clues to climate change

From CBS News:  Underwater eruption, dead fish may give clues to climate change

(LiveScience) An underwater volcano that erupted near the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa is giving scientists a closer look at how ocean ecosystems could respond to climate change, from dying fish to adapting plankton.

The ecosystem responded much as the researchers would have expected to the high temperatures and changes in acidity caused by the uneasy volcano south of El Hierro island. But the strength of the response was a surprise, study researcher Eugenio Fraile-Nuez of the Instituto Español de Oceanografía in Spain told LiveScience.

"The physical and chemical response of the system was predictable, but we never have imagined that we would reach this magnitude," Fraile-Nuez said.

The eruption killed or drove away all of the fish in the region (though many were seen floating dead on the ocean's surface), the researchers found. Some phytoplankton, or the floating plants that sit at the bottom of the ocean food chain, were able to adapt.

Underwater eruption
In October 2011, a new volcano formed south of El Hierro island, which is part of Spain. It was the first chance in 500 years to watch the local ecosystem evolve in response to an eruption, Fraile-Nuez said. He and his colleagues have been monitoring the volcano since then, measuring its effect on ocean temperature, salinity, carbon dioxide content and more.

Over the crater, the water heated up by as much as 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.8 degrees Celsius), the researchers found. Dissolved oxygen in the water all but disappeared, decreasing by 90 percent to 100 percent in places. Meanwhile, carbon and carbon dioxide values shot up, and the pH of the water went down by 2.8, meaning it became more acidic.

Fish died or disappeared in the wake of the underwater eruption, which also killed a massive amount of plankton in deep waters. In their place, a community of carbon-eating bacteria sprung up, many of which shone with bright green fluorescence. At the surface, plankton seemed to adapt to warmer waters and the addition of new elements such as copper, Fraile-Nuez said.

Link to climate change
Increase in temperature, decrease in oxygen and a more acidic pH is exactly what scientists would expect to be the result of global warming for the ocean, Fraile-Nuez said. As the oceans take up more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, scientists predict they'll respond much as the area around El Hierro has to the volcanic eruption -- though not necessarily on the same scale.

Understanding the changes caused by the volcanic eruption will help researchers predict how the oceans will respond to certain levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, Fraile-Nuez said.

"The orders of magnitude in which we are moving will help us to have a future vision of how the marine ecosystem of El Hierro would adapt to such changes," he said.

Fraile-Nuez and his colleagues detailed their results online this week in the open-access journal Scientific Reports.


Scientists: Eddies, Not Sunlight, Spur Annual Bloom Of Tiny Plants In North Atlantic

From Underwater Times: Scientists: Eddies, Not Sunlight, Spur Annual Bloom Of Tiny Plants In North Atlantic 

SEATTLE, Washington -- On a recent expedition to the inhospitable North Atlantic Ocean, scientists at the University of Washington and collaborators studying the annual growth of tiny plants were stumped to discover that the plankton had started growing before the sun had a chance to offer the light they need for their growth spurt.

For decades, scientists have known that springtime brings the longer days and calmer seas that force phytoplankton near the surface, where they get the sunlight they need to flourish.
But in research results published this week in the journal Science, scientists report evidence of another trigger. 

Eric D'Asaro and Craig Lee, oceanographers in the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory and School of Oceanography, are among the researchers who found that whirlpools, or eddies, that swirl across the North Atlantic sustain phytoplankton in the ocean's shallower waters, where the plankton can get plenty of sunlight to fuel their growth even before the longer days of spring start. 

The eddies form when heavier, colder water from the north slips under the lighter, warmer water from the south. The researchers found that the eddies cause the bloom to happen around three weeks earlier than it would if it was spurred just by spring's longer days. 

"That timing makes a significant difference if you think about the animals that eat the phytoplankton," said D'Asaro, the corresponding author on the paper. 

Many small sea animals spend the winter dozing in the deep ocean, emerging in the spring and summer to feed on the phytoplankton. 

"If they get the timing wrong, they'll starve," Lee said. Since fish eat the animals, a reduction in their number could harm the fish population. 

Scientists believe that climate change may affect oceanic circulation patterns such as the one that causes the eddies. They've found some evidence that warm waters from the subtropics are penetrating further to the north, Lee said.

"If the climate alters the circulation patterns, it might alter the timing of the bloom, which could impact which animals grow and which die out," he said. 

Learning about the circulation of the ocean also helps scientists forecast changes in the ocean, a bit like meteorologists are able to forecast the weather, said D'Asaro. 

The scientists didn't set out to look at the kind of large-scale mixing that they found. In April 2008, Lee and co-author Mary Jane Perry of the University of Maine arrived in a storm-lashed North Atlantic aboard an Icelandic research vessel

They launched robots (specially designed by Lee and D'Asaro) in the rough seas. A float that hovered below the water's surface followed the motion of the ocean, moving around "like a giant phytoplankton," said D'Asaro. 

Lurking alongside the float were 6-foot-long, teardrop-shaped Seagliders, also designed at the UW, that dove to depths of up to 1,000 meters, or 3,280 feet. After each dive, working in areas 20 to 50 kilometers, or 12 to 31 miles, around the float, the gliders rose to the surface, pointed their antennas skyward and transmitted their stored data back to shore via satellite.

The float and gliders measured the temperature, salinity and speed of the water, and gathered information about the chemistry and biology of the bloom itself. Soon after measurements from the float and gliders started coming in, the scientists saw that the bloom had started, even though conditions still looked winter-like.

"It was apparent that some new mechanism, other than surface warming, was behind the bloom's initiation," said D'Asaro.

To find out what, the researchers needed sophisticated computer modeling. 

Enter first author Amala Mahadevan, with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who used 3-D computer models to look at information collected at sea by Perry, D'Asaro and Lee. 

She generated eddies in a model using the north-to-south oceanic temperature variation. Without eddies, the bloom happened several weeks later and didn't have the space and time structures actually observed in the North Atlantic.

In the future, the scientists hope to put the North Atlantic bloom into a broader context. They believe much can be learned by following the phytoplankton's evolution across an entire year, especially with gliders and floats outfitted with new sensors. The sensors would look at the tiny animals that graze on the phytoplankton. 

"What we're learning about eddies is that they're a critical part of life in the ocean," said Perry. "They shape ocean ecosystems in countless ways."

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Researcher: Climate Change Drives Coral Reefs Toward Ecosystem Collapse Lasting 'Thousands Of Years'

From Wetlines: Researcher: Climate Change Drives Coral Reefs Toward Ecosystem Collapse Lasting 'Thousands Of Years'

MELBOURNE, Florida -- Coral reefs could be on the verge of a total ecosystem collapse lasting thousands of years, according to a paper published this week in Science. The paper shows how natural climatic shifts stalled reef growth in the eastern Pacific for 2,500 years. The stall-out, which began 4,000 years ago, corresponds to a period of dramatic swings in the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). "As humans continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the climate is once again on the threshold of a new regime, with dire consequences for reef ecosystems unless we get control of climate change," said coauthor Richard Aronson, a biology professor at Florida Institute of Technology.

Doctoral student Lauren Toth and Aronson, her adviser at Florida Tech, led the study of how past episodes of climate change influenced tropical reefs of the eastern Pacific. Toth, Aronson and a multi-institutional research team drove 17-foot, small-bore aluminum pipes deep into the dead frameworks of coral reefs along the Pacific coast of Panama and pulled out cross-sections of the reefs. By analyzing the corals in the cores, they were able to reconstruct the history of the reefs over the past 6,000 years.

"We were shocked to find that 2,500 years of reef growth were missing from the frameworks," said Toth. "That gap represents the collapse of reef ecosystems for 40 percent of their total history." When Toth and Aronson examined reef records from other studies across the Pacific, they discovered the same gap in reefs as far away as Australia and Japan.

Toth linked the coral-reef collapse to changes in ENSO. ENSO is the climate cycle responsible for the weather conditions every few years known as El Niño and La Niña events. The timing of the stall-out in reef growth corresponds to a period of wild swings in ENSO. "Coral reefs are resilient ecosystems," said Toth. "For Pacific reefs to have collapsed for such a long time and over such a large geographic scale, they must have experienced a major climatic disturbance. That disturbance was an intensified ENSO regime."

Scenarios of climate change for the coming century echo the climate patterns that collapsed reefs in the eastern Pacific 4,000 years ago. The reefs off Panama are on the verge of another collapse. "Climate change could again destroy coral-reef ecosystems, but this time the root cause would be the human assault on the environment and the collapse could be longer-lasting," said Aronson. "Local issues like pollution and overfishing are major destructive forces and they need to be stopped, but they are trumped by climate change, which right now is the greatest threat to coral reefs."

Toth noted more hopefully that reefs have proven resilient in the past, so the potential for recovery should be good if climate change can be mitigated or reversed.

This research was supported by the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. National Science Foundation.