Tuesday, November 27, 2012

10 years after Crofton snakehead discovery, concerns linger

From Capital Gazette:  10 years after Crofton snakehead discovery, concerns linger

Ten years ago, quiet Crofton was thrust into the national spotlight by a fish.
But not just any fish.
The Frankenfish.
It can walk on land! It can breathe air! It will eat everything in sight!
The prospect of a predatory and toothy invader captivated reporters and gawkers for months in the summer and fall of 2002, making the peaceful west county suburb the center of a frenzied story.
The tale of the walking fish garnered attention from as far away as Europe and China. Even Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” got into the act, with Stephen Colbert taking aim at the snakeheads.
“For some reason, it just captured people’s imagination. I think the name, ‘snakehead’ — it’s exciting. It’s like a snake,” said Don Cosden, a fisheries biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources both then and now. “That got people’s imagination.”
A decade later, where the uproar began, there are no reminders of the Summer of the Snakehead.
The privately owned pond where the fish were found sits behind a commercial complex on Route 3.
These days, leaves are dropping off the trees into the calm waters.
There are no more wanted posters for the snakeheads, no one selling T-shirts, no signs of all the drama.
And while the snakeheads were eventually eradicated from the pond — the whole pond was poisoned by the state — they remain an ecological threat to the Chesapeake Bay system.
Snakeheads have colonized creeks up and down the Potomac River, and now they’re spreading into the main portion of the bay and finding more creeks to occupy.
“I hate to be a pessimist, but we’re probably going to see them eventually in most of the tributaries to the bay,” Cosden said.

An unusual fish

In the summer of 2002, the Department of Natural Resources got a report of an unusual fish caught in a stormwater pond behind the Route 3 Centre. After receiving photos, DNR biologists quickly figured out it might be some sort of snakehead fish.
“The first challenge for us was what it is that we had … not a lot of people were expert in the different snakehead species,” said Eric Schwaab, who was DNR’s director of fisheries at the time. He now runs fisheries programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as an assistant director.
It took an expert in Florida to identify the fish found in Crofton. The verdict: It was a northern snakehead.
Native to Asia, the northern snakehead (Channa argus) can grow up to 40 inches long and has a long dorsal fin running along the top. It has a small head but a big mouth full of big teeth.
And unlike other species of snakeheads, northern snakeheads are hardy enough to survive Maryland’s winters — a big cause of concern for biologists.
Many of the snakehead’s unique attributes were exaggerated during the Snakehead Summer. But there’s some truth at the root of the tales of air-breathing, land-walking fish.
Yes, the snakehead can briefly survive out of water by breathing air. Yes, it can survive in shallow or muddy stretches of water. And yes, it is a voracious predator, eating up plenty of smaller fish.
But, contrary to breathless media reports that summer, the snakehead can’t walk long distances or live out of water for long periods.
“They wanted to attribute to it these characteristics that went beyond the average invasive species,” Schwaab said. “That was sort of more mythology than reality. But it was there nonetheless.”
The story was too good to pass up for many journalists and talking heads, and it mushroomed from a local story to a national and international one. At one point, the state held near-daily news conferences on the banks of the pond.
The publicity possibly hit its peak on July 17, when “The Daily Show” ran its piece on snakeheads.
That’s when Colbert — in the days before “The Colbert Report” — donned an outdoorsy vest and stood in front of a photo of a grassy area. He made the case for his plan to eradicate snakeheads with a series of increasingly ridiculous critters: piranhas, scorpions, spotted and great-horned owls, African condors.
And if that didn’t work? Napalm.
“It’s a circle of life, Jon. It’s a beautiful thing to behold,” Colbert deadpanned to Stewart.
Said Schwaab: “The BBC was nice. But ‘The Daily Show’ was the pinnacle.”

‘A media circus’

The whole affair meant plenty of headaches for the owner of the snakehead pond, as well as for the owner of two adjacent ponds.
Their previously anonymous lakelets were suddenly on TV and in the newspapers all the time.
“It was overwhelming. It was a media circus,” said Daniel MacQuilliam of the MacQuilliam Organization, the property development and management company that owns the main pond.
MacQuilliam was on vacation in Ocean City when his summer took a dramatic turn.
“I was on the beach and someone was reading the paper on the beach who knew me and showed me,” he said.
MacQuilliam cut his vacation short. Eventually, he agreed to let the DNR poison the pond to kill off all fish and critters in it.
The state’s concern was that during heavy rains or flooding, the pond could spill over into the Patuxent River, about a football field away, providing a path for snakeheads to spread.
MacQuilliam said he didn’t have a choice, even though he had liability concerns about the poisoning.
Crofton businessman Bill Berkshire, who owns two nearby ponds, also agreed to the let the state poison them. Berkshire was initially reluctant. But he came on board and his daughters even sold snakehead T-shirts.
Berkshire was traveling last week and declined to comment.
Eventually the snakehead hubbub died down and people stopped going to the pond, to MacQuilliam’s relief.
Later, the pond got an official name, suggested by MacQuilliam’s son Wes and sanctioned by the government: Walking Fish Pond.
Natural Resources Police eventually tracked down the likely source of the Crofton snakeheads, a man who admitted to dumping live snakeheads into the pond.
He was not prosecuted. It’s now a crime to have live northern snakeheads or to transport them across state lines.


In 2004, the snakehead attention shifted to the Potomac River, where a snakehead popped up next, likely due to an unrelated accidental or deliberate introduction.
Since then, they’ve colonized just about every freshwater creek along the Potomac. Now snakeheads have been spotted in the Patuxent. Snakeheads also have been found in the Nanticoke and Wicomico rivers on the Eastern Shore, the Rhode River in south county and Lake Elkhorn in Columbia.
While it is illegal to have a live snakehead, the DNR encourages to anglers to catch — and kill — as many snakeheads as their hearts desire. The state has lobbied chefs to put snakehead on their menus, and there are regular snakehead fishing tournaments on the Potomac.
The goal is to at least suppress the snakehead population. It would be impossible to eradicate them now that they are in open-water areas such as the Potomac and the Patuxent, officials said.

Hard to control

Steve Minkkinen has been studying what to do to control snakeheads. Minkkinen works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake office in Annapolis, but was with the DNR during the Crofton snakehead episode.
In 2002, his team was responsible for donning protective suits and spraying rotenone on the pond to kill all the aquatic life.
“It’s been following me around,” he joked.
Minkkinen is working on an update to a national management plan for northern snakeheads. He said eradicating them completely is not in the cards.
“It’s unfortunate, too, because with aquatic animals, once they get introduced, it’s impossible to control them,” he said. “You can’t stick your head in the water and see where they are.”
Instead, it’s important to focus on educating people that it’s not a good idea to dump snakeheads — or any other fish — into waterways. That’s key with snakeheads, since it appears likely that they’ve popped up because of multiple human introductions.

Top of food chain

Scientists hope genetic testing of captured snakeheads will reveal whether fish found in different areas are closely related or not. That will give evidence of how many different introductions there may have been.
Scientists also are still trying to figure out just how badly snakeheads are affecting other fish species. Snakeheads are at the top of the food chain and are likely out-competing other fish.
“The book’s still out on the impact of this species. We don’t know,” said Cosden of the DNR. “Certainly in places where it’s become abundant, something’s had to make room for it. Right now, we can’t say what those somethings are.”


Monday, November 26, 2012

Great white shark returns to SC coast

From WSAV NBC 3:  Great white shark returns to SC coast

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) A two-ton great white shark is spending the holiday feasting off South Carolina's shores.
The Post and Courier of Charleston reports (http://bit.ly/TilwL6 ) that a satellite tag on the 16-foot-long shark named Mary Lee pinged repeatedly on Thanksgiving Day. It's believed she's feeding on streams of bait fish moving offshore with the Gulf Stream.
The pings show Mary Lee circled about five miles off Hunting Island, across St. Helena Sound from Edisto Beach.
Trackers believe the great white shark came close to the Isle of Palms earlier this month and might have ventured into Charleston Harbor. She traveled as far south as Florida before turning back.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fish suffer but jellyfish thrive as Norway's fjords get darker

From NBC News:  Fish suffer but jellyfish thrive as Norway's fjords get darker 

Many of Norway's frigid fjords are turning murky thanks to an influx of freshwater, and darker seas could result in fewer fish and more jellyfish, researchers say.
Freshwater flowing from rivers and lakes brings high concentrations of colored organic matter to seawater, making it less salty and more opaque. While scientists believe this has been happening in Norwegian coastal waters gradually over many decades, darkening has increased recently likely due to warming — higher temperatures mean more precipitation, which leads to more murky freshwater flowing out and mixing with the sea.
Darker waters block the light needed for some algae to photosynthesize to make food and grow; the changes in visibility may also hurt predatory fish that rely on sight to find their prey. Meanwhile, tactile predators like jellyfish that depend on collisions to get their meals can flourish in such shadowy conditions, researchers say.
Scientists observed these effects by studying two neighboring fjords on Norway's western coast. Despite their proximity, one, Masfjorden, contains far more seawater than the other, Lurefjorden, and the former still has an ecosystem dominated by fish, while its darker neighbor has been taken over by the jellyfish Periphylla periphylla, the researchers found.
"Periphylla periphylla is a very light-sensitive jellyfish that thrives best in the world's very deep marine waters," researcher Dag L. Aksnes, a marine biologist of the University of Bergen, explained in a statement. "But the water in Lurefjorden has now become so murky and dark that it probably is helping this jellyfish to thrive. At the same time, the fjord has become less hospitable as a habitat for important fish species."
Aksnes added that the fish in Lurefjorden don't lack food.
"On the contrary, the numbers of prey organisms are far higher than in many other fjords," he said. "But since the predatory fish see so poorly in murky water, they are quite simply having difficulty finding enough food. So the jellyfish have practically no competition for the abundant prey organisms."
The researchers say they don't know yet whether this will lead to undesired changes in Norway's coastal ecosystems, but, in any case, the changes will be hard to reverse.
The study is forthcoming in the journal Marine Ecology-Progress Series.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Marineland owner John Holer trying to acquire another killer whale

From TheStar.com: Marineland owner John Holer trying to acquire another killer whale

Marineland owner John Holer is trying to acquire another killer whale for his tourist park, according to the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Association director Bill Peters told the Star he believes Marineland had a another killer whale lined up to join lone Kiska, but it fell through.
Now “they are following leads and looking for opportunities,” said Peters.
Killer whales shouldn’t be kept alone, according to both CAZA and Ontario rules, and Peters said the issue was discussed during an Oct. 26 inspection of Marineland by the industry association. CAZA announced in early October it would be conducting “unannounced inspections on a four- to six-week schedule.” This was the first.
The association began its investigation of Marineland, along with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, after a Star series, in which 15 former trainers blamed sporadically poor water quality and short staffing for ill health and death among its animals.
According to CAZA business manager Greg Tarry, who signed off on the Oct. 26 tour, “there were no concerns identified,” other than the lack of an updated water management protocol.
In a first report Oct. 3, CAZA identified water quality issues in three pools, saying it had “an impact on the well-being of the animals in the pools in question.”
The Oct. 3 report ordered Marineland, which pays dues to CAZA, to hire an independent water engineering firm in order to “thoroughly update” its water quality protocols “as soon as reasonably possible.”
On Tuesday, Peters said that Marineland has “sufficient information to make a decision soon.”
On Oct. 26, CAZA inspectors said Marineland’s water logs were “within or very close to acceptable ranges when compared to industry standards.”
The investigation is ongoing, said Peters, stressing: “We still want updated (water) protocols and the system assessed by an outside firm.”
One year ago, Ikaika, a killer whale on loan from SeaWorld, was retuned to the U.S. after Marineland lost a custody case, leaving Kiska alone.
Marineland has had 26 killer whales over roughly three decades, according to the animal welfare group, Zoocheck Canada. Of these, 16 died at Marineland. Three are still alive: Kiska and two elsewhere. Six died in other parks after being transferred while one died en route from Marineland to Japan.
Junior, a killer whale born like Kiska near Iceland, spent the last four years of his life indoors in a small concrete pool in a converted factory made of concrete, with little natural light.
Kiska is the last of Holer’s killer whales; her five calves all died.
The file kept by Zoocheck is approximate, according to Julie Woodyer, its campaigns manager. She said trying to find out information about marine mammals in Canada is a “free-for-all” because there are no regulations covering captive animals.
Former trainer Christine Santos told the Star in mid-October that Kiska had been bleeding from her tail off-and-on since July. She said she had seen Kiska cut her dorsal fin on sharp fibre glass drain covers in her pool, but didn’t know how she cut her tail.
Santos was fired the same day she talked to the Star. She said she was asked to sign a document saying she’d never seen animal abuse at Marineland. She refused.
Marineland has threatened to sue Santos for more than $1 million.


Friday, November 23, 2012

To Salvage One Endangered Fish Species, Scientists Consider Breeding It with Another

From Discovery Magazine:  To Salvage One Endangered Fish Species, Scientists Consider Breeding It with Another

The Devils Hole pupfish is an endangered species whose only natural habitat is Devils Hole, a hot spring at the bottom of a hole 500-feet deep which leads to limestone caverns. The fish is suited to its niche environment, requiring extremely hot water, low oxygen levels, and a particular limestone ledge to spawn on. If University of Colorado conservation biologists have their way, it could be the subject of a conservation experiment, writes Hillary Rosner at Wired: in order to salvage some of dying species’ genes, they want to mate it with another species, creating a vigorous hybrid that could supplant the original species.
Conservationists have been trying to save the Devils Hole pupfish ever since it became endangered in 1967. Beginning in the 70s, they have made three outdoor artificial pools to house a captive population, but through technical mishaps, two of the three populations were wiped out. In the third pool, however, researchers noticed after a few years that some of the fish had fins—characteristics of other pupfish species but not of the Devils Hole pupfish—and suspected that fish of another species must have invaded. A genetic analysis of the fish from their artificial pool revealed that all of the fish had genetic material from the Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish, which is also endangered, that lived downstream in a natural population. The resulting, finned fish were hybrids, and fertile ones, at that. When researchers transplanted members of the hybrid population to hatcheries, they flourished in captivity, unlike the Devils Hole pupfish, which are notoriously difficult to raise in tanks.
Now conservation biologists want to try to reproduce the accident in order to save the pupfish in its natural habitat, introducing some Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish to the wild population in Devils Hole in hopes that the added genetic material would lead to a population boost. Using hybridization to preserve the genetic heritage of endangered species is a counterintuitive, though not a completely new idea. Two prior examples involved breeding animals more closely related than these pupfish: in Florida, scientists have mated two kinds of big cat (puma and panther); in Africa, they plan to mate two varieties of white rhino, Northern and Southern.
Not everyone agrees that this is a good idea. According to Wired, some biologists, including E.O. Wilson, argue for keeping wild animals the way they are. But with only 75 Devils Hole pupfish in the spring as of this September, the fear is that they can’t survive in any form without hybridizing.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Researchers: Eating Right Key To Survival Of Whales And Dolphins

From Underwater Times: Researchers: Eating Right Key To Survival Of Whales And Dolphins 

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- In the marine world, high-energy prey make for high-energy predators. And to survive, such marine predators need to sustain the right kind of high-energy diet. Not just any prey will do, suggests a new study by researchers from the University of British Columbia and University of La Rochelle, in France.
Published today in the online journal PLOS ONE, the study is the first to show that the survival of whales and dolphins depends on the quality of their diets and this plays an important role in conservation.
"The conventional wisdom is that marine mammals can eat anything," says co-author Andrew Trites, a marine mammal expert at UBC. "However, we found that some species of whales and dolphins require calorie rich diets to survive while others are built to live off low quality prey—and it has nothing to do with how big they are."
The team compared the diets of 11 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean, and found differences in the qualities of prey consumed that could not be explained by the different body sizes of the predators. The key to understanding the differences in their diets was to look at their muscle performance.
"High energy prey tend to be more mobile, and require their predators to spend more energy to catch them," says Trites. "The two have co-evolved."
Jérôme Spitz, the study's first author, says the research will help better assess the impact of resource changes to marine mammals.
"Species with high energy needs are more sensitive to depletion of their primary prey," says Spitz, a post-doctoral fellow at ULR in France, who completed the research while a visiting scholar at UBC. "It is no longer a question of how much food do whales and dolphins need, but whether they are able to get the right kinds of food to survive."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

EU system needs 'radical changes' says Scots fisheries secretary

From BBC News:  EU system needs 'radical changes' says Scots fisheries secretary

The biggest stumbling block to progress for Scotland's fishermen is "the rigid system imposed by the European Union", according to Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead.
He has called for decision making to be more devolved to member states.
The SNP government claims this will give fishermen more flexibility. It comes after a meeting last week with Scottish skippers.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats have backed Mr Lochhead's call for change.

Fishermen from the east and west coasts, including Fraserburgh, Peterhead, Campbeltown and Ullapool met with the minister to discuss the pressures and demands of working in the industry.
Mr Lochhead said: "I am in full agreement that the present system needs to change, which is why I'm pressing for radical changes to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
"Regionalisation would mean decisions that affect our fishermen - such as these skippers - can be taken closer to home, tailored to their needs while better protecting the stocks."
The European Commission is making changes to the current CFP and believes that the "top down" system of micro-managing fisheries from Brussels is failing and that decision-making needs to be decentralised.
Fish imported from non-EU countries now accounts for two-thirds of the fish sold in the EU.
Mackerel catch Fish from non-EU countries accounts for two-thirds of the fish sold in the EU
The new CFP is likely to come into force in 2013, but Mr Lochhead wants these EU reforms to be far more radical and said more "carefully targeted measures" would be needed to stop discards.
Scottish Liberal Democrat fisheries spokesman Tavish Scott urged the Scottish and UK government to move "heaven and earth" to make regional fisheries management happen.
He added: "Scottish fishermen need an active government focused on their interests. Decisions over fish stocks should be taken by the countries that border the North Sea.
Commenting on the call for radical change, Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation demanded immediate action.
He said: "I am glad that the Cabinet Secretary has given public recognition to the message directly from working skippers that despite increasing stocks, the value from their businesses remains trapped in inflexible regulation.
"He has certainly heard this before and we simply cannot wait for CFP reform to fix all ills - if we do there will be no serious fishing industry left and its associated infrastructure that is so vital to fragile coastal communities."


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

At Least One-Third Of Marine Species Remain Undescribed

From Underwater Times: At Least One-Third Of Marine Species Remain Undescribed

NEW YORK, New York -- At least one-third of the species that inhabit the world's oceans may remain completely unknown to science. That's despite the fact that more species have been described in the last decade than in any previous one, according to a report published online on November 15 in the Cell Press publication Current Biology that details the first comprehensive register of marine species of the world—a massive collaborative undertaking by hundreds of experts around the globe.
The researchers estimate that the ocean may be home to as many as one million species in all—likely not more. About 226,000 of those species have so far been described. There are another 65,000 species awaiting description in specimen collections.
"For the first time, we can provide a very detailed overview of species richness, partitioned among all major marine groups. It is the state of the art of what we know—and perhaps do not know—about life in the ocean," says Ward Appeltans of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.
The findings provide a reference point for conservation efforts and estimates of extinction rates, the researchers say. They expect that the vast majority of unknown species—composed disproportionately of smaller crustaceans, molluscs, worms, and sponges—will be found this century.
Earlier estimates of ocean diversity had relied on expert polls based on extrapolations from past rates of species descriptions and other measures. Those estimates varied widely, suffering because there was no global catalog of marine species.
Appeltans and colleagues including Mark Costello from the University of Auckland have now built such an inventory. The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) is an open-access, online database (see http://www.marinespecies.org/) created by 270 experts representing 146 institutions and 32 countries. It is now 95% complete and is continually being updated as new species are discovered.
"Building this was not as simple as it should be, because there has not been any formal way to register species," Costello says.
A particular problem is the occurrence of multiple descriptions and names for the same species—so called "synonyms," Costello says. For instance, each whale or dolphin has on average 14 different scientific names.
As those synonyms are discovered through careful examination of records and specimens, the researchers expect perhaps 40,000 "species" to be struck from the list. But such losses will probably be made up as DNA evidence reveals overlooked "cryptic" species.
While fewer species live in the ocean than on land, marine life represents much older evolutionary lineages that are fundamental to our understanding of life on Earth, Appeltans says. And, in some sense, WoRMS is only the start.
"This database provides an example of how other biologists could similarly collaborate to collectively produce an inventory of all life on Earth," Appeltans says.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mangroves under threat from shrimp farms, UN study says

From the Times of India:  Mangroves under threat from shrimp farms, UN study says

OSLO: Valuable mangrove forests that protect coastlines, sustain sealife and help slow climate change are being wrecked by the spread of shrimp and fish farms, a UN-backed study showed on Wednesday.
About a fifth of mangroves worldwide have been lost since 1980, mostly because of clearance to make way for the farms which often get choked with waste, antibiotics and fertilizers, according to the study.

Intact mangroves were almost always more valuable than shrimp farms, said its authors, who drew on forestry and conservation expertise from several UN organizations.
Mangroves — trees and shrubs that grow in salty coastal sediment — can be found in 123 nations in the tropics and sub-tropics and cover an area slightly larger than Nepal. They are nurseries for wild fish stocks, sources of wood for building and serve as buffers to storm surges.
They absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from burning of fossil fuels, and store it in their roots. And their growth can help counteract the effects of rising sea levels as it elevates coastlines.
"There is an opportunity for many countries to go for restoration of mangroves," Hanneke Van Lavieren, lead author of the study at the UN University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNWEH), told Reuters.
"Mangroves can be seen as a key ecosystem for food security in the world," she said.
Valuable Resource
Many of the shrimp farms are in southeast Asian nations. World production surged to about 2.8 million tonnes in 2008 from about 500,000 two decades earlier, mostly in China, Thailand and Indonesia.
The fish farmers are often encouraged by subsidies to expand, even though other lucrative businesses depend on mangroves for their own survival.
Wild prawns caught off Australia's Northern Territories and Queensland, for instance, rely on mangroves to grow and are one of the country's most valuable fisheries, earning almost $72 million a year, the report said.
Protecting almost 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of mangroves in Vietnam cost about $1 million but saved more than $7 million on dyke maintenance, it said.
Countries such as Australia and Brazil had been good at preserving their mangroves while nations including Indonesia, China and Vietnam had lost big tracts and projects to restore them needed more support.
Zafar Adeel, head of UNWEH, suggested that people could also choose to avoid buying shrimps raised in farms.
"We as consumers internationally play a big role," he said. "For the first time in human history about half the global population is living in coastal areas. The stresses are going to be higher."


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reef protest 'funded by US group'

From BigOnNews:  Reef protest 'funded by US group' 

Queensland coal miners say activists dressed as sharks, octopuses, fish, turtles and coral polyps don't care about regional communities because they're being funded by a US organisation.
About 50 Greenpeace activists dressed as creatures from the Great Barrier Reef protested outside a coal mining conference in Brisbane on Monday.
They say the Galilee Basin Coal Conference showcased plans for at least nine new coal mines in central Queensland.
'It's clear that official institutions, governments have failed to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the coal industry,' Greenpeace said in a statement.
'It's time for people who love the reef to come together and demand that it is protected.'
The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) says Greenpeace is trying to drive a wedge into regional communities.
Speaking at the conference, QRC chief Michael Roche told miners Greenpeace's anti-coal campaign was funded by US philanthropic organisation the Rockefeller Foundation so it wasn't interested in local development.
'Regional communities understand their long-term prosperity relies on the economic diversity that the minerals and energy sector is delivering,' Mr Roche said.
'Greenpeace have no interest in the future of these communities, particularly when you learn that seed funding for their latest anti-coal campaign came from the United States.'
Greenpeace was not available for comment.

BP settles oil spill criminal charges for $4.5 billion, including $1.2 billion for Louisiana restoration

From NOLA.com:  BP settles oil spill criminal charges for $4.5 billion, including $1.2 billion for Louisiana restoration

BP has entered into a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department of all criminal claims involving the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for $4 billion, to be paid in installments over five years, and a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that will include the payment of $525 million over three years. The company also pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in New Orleans to 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect of ships' officers relating to the loss of 11 lives in the explosion in April 2010.
The settlement is likely to prove a boon for Louisiana, with $1.2 billion to be used to rebuild barrier islands and build a Mississippi River freshwater and sediment diversion.
During a news conference in New Orleans on Thursday afternoon, a cadre of federal officials took BP to task because of the explosion and spill, citing a culture of profit and privilege at the company, including instances when BP purposely downplayed the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf.
U.S. Attorney Eric Holder said the government's action against the company is "to hold accountable those who bore responsibility for this tragedy.'' Holder said the government also is looking forward to the civil trial, now scheduled for Feb. 25, "in which we intend to prove that BP was grossly negligent in causing the oil spill."
Holder announces BP settlement
Enlarge Attorney General Eric Holder addresses a press conference announcing BP's $4.5 billion settlement of criminal charges stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Photographed on Thursday, November 15, 2012. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) Attorney General Eric Holder announces $4.5B BP settlement gallery (9 photos)
Joining Holder at the podium, Lanny Breur, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, said the explosion of the rig "was a disaster that resulted from BP's culture of privileging profit over prudence; and we allege that BP's most senior decision makers onboard the Deepwater Horizon negligently caused the explosion."
Breuer said the government hopes BP's acknowledgement of its misconduct, through its agreement to plead guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter,  "brings some measure of justice to the family members of the people who died onboard the rig."
In an earlier news release that BP filed with the SEC, the company said it would "vigorously defend itself against remaining civil claims."
"All of us at BP deeply regret the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf coast region," said Bob Dudley, BP's Group Chief Executive. "From the outset, we stepped up by responding to the spill, paying legitimate claims and funding restoration efforts in the Gulf. We apologize for our role in the accident, and as today's resolution with the U.S. government further reflects, we have accepted responsibility for our actions."
Louisiana is scheduled to receive half of the $2.4 billion of the fine money that is set aside for environmental projects, including money for restoration of barrier islands and a diversion of water and sediment from the Mississippi River to rebuild wetlands, Holder said.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal praised the settlement as "an important first step in holding BP accountable for the tragic loss of 11 lives in the Deepwater Horizon tragedy."
"The largest criminal fine in history is certainly fitting for the inexcusable negligence that led to this disaster," Jindal said, adding that the spill's impacts continue to acrue in the state on a daily basis.
"In Louisiana, our fishermen are experiencing extraordinary impacts," he said. "Shrimp, crabs, oysters and other seafood are in decline. The majority of BP's liability remains outstanding and we will hold them fully accountable."
Attorney General Eric Holder outlines BP settlement Attorney General Eric Holder outlines BP settlement Attorney General Eric Holder outlines charges in BP's $4.5 billion settlement of criminal charges stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Watch video
Under the plea agreement, BP will plead guilty to 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect of ships' officers relating to the loss of 11 lives; one misdemeanor count under the Clean Water Act; one misdemeanor count under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and one felony count of obstruction of Congress. The agreement must still be approved by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is also overseeing the civil claims against BP.
"Thirteen of the 14 criminal charges pertain to the accident itself and are based on the negligent misinterpretation of the negative pressure test conducted on board the Deepwater Horizon," said the BP news release announcing the settlement. The test was aimed at determining whether drilling fluids had enough pressure to block the flow of gas to the surface, which is believed to be the cause of the explosion that killed 11 workers and injured many others.
"BP acknowledged this misinterpretation more than two years ago when it released its internal investigation report," the news release said. "Today's agreement is consistent with BP's position in the ongoing civil litigation that this was an accident resulting from multiple causes, involving multiple parties, as found by other official investigations."
The last criminal count involves two BP communications made to a member of Congress during the spill response about flow rate estimates. The member of Congress was not named.
BP has also agreed to a term of five years' probation.
Charges against BP employees outlined Charges against BP employees outlined Assistant Attorney General for the criminal division Lanny Breuer outlines criminal charges brought against BP employees stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Watch video
The agreement calls for $2.394 billion of the settlement money to be paid to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to be paid to the National Academy of Sciences, both over five years.
The National Fish & Wildlife Foundation often works closely with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on environmental restoration issues involving national parks and refuges, and it is likely that some of that money will be used for restoration projects in Louisiana.
David Uhlmann, the former head of the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section and a law professor at the University of Michigan, said BP is likely to pay even more in natural resource damage claims as well as civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.
"The criminal fine is a record amount, but it pales in comparison to the $30-to-$40 billion that BP faced under the Clean Water Act," Uhlmann said in an e-mail Thursday.
BP said that under the plea agreement, the company also will take additional actions, enforceable by the federal court, to enhance safety of drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
"These requirements relate to BP's risk management processes, such as third-party auditing and verification, training, and well control equipment, and processes such as blowout preventers and cementing.
The agreement also requires the appointment of two monitors -- both to serve for four years -- to keep track of process safety and risk management procedures concerning deepwater drilling in the Gulf, and to monitor ethics, including a review and recommendations for improvement of the company's code of conduct and its implementation and enforcement.
BP said it hasn't been advised by any federal agency of plans to suspend or debar the company in connection with the plea agreement. Under federal law, companies convicted of certain criminal acts can be debarred from contracting with federal agencies.
The SEC resolution includes an injunction prohibiting BP from violating certain U.S. security laws and regulations. The SEC claims are premised on flow rate estimates contained in three reports provided by BP to the SEC on April 29 and 30 and May 4, 2010, which was within the first 14 days of the accident. The SEC resolution is still subject to federal court approval.
BP said it already had recorded charges against its pre-tax income through September 2012 for $38.1 billion related to the Deepwater Horizon accident and spill, which included the $525 million for the SEC settlement. The criminal charge settlement will add $3.85 billion to those charges on its books, and will be reflected in the company's December 2012 financial statement, as well as any other adjustments needed during the fourth quarter.
Robert Khuzami, director of enforcement for the SEC, said the $525 million fine is the third largest.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reef fish proposal would outlaw scuba spearfishing

From the Garden Island:  Reef fish proposal would outlaw scuba spearfishing 

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — A proposal is being put before the public to create a Kaohe Bay fish replacement area that would make West Hawaii the only area in the state to ban scuba spearfishing.
The idea is to provide increased protection for rare fish species in the designated fish replacement area.
According to Tuesday's West Hawaii Today , a list of 40 species on a so-called "white list" would designate fish that aquarium collectors may remove within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area — an area that spans 147 miles between Upola and South points.
The idea is to reduce the threat to rare fish species, as well as ones that could be over-fished and not sustainable for home aquariums.
Residents can provide input on the list during a Dec. 5 public hearing at Kealakehe High School. Anyone unable to attend the public hearing or wishing to present additional comments may submit written testimony by Dec. 19 to the Division of Aquatic Resources.
DAR Aquatic Biologist Bill Walsh said many of the species under discussion have charismatic value.
"Dive operators make a big deal about some of these species because they are unusual, rare and just so beautiful. They will then take patrons over and look in a cave to see it," he said. "If the fish is snagged, it's a blow to the operation."
The list is just one of several new proposals that could be added to the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area rules. The proposal would establish a 1,500-foot section of Kaohe Bay in South Kona as a fish replenishment area. In that area there would be no scuba spearfishing, and no taking of nine shark and ray species and two invertebrates. An aquarium collectors' permit also would be required.
Among the amendments are restrictions to nighttime aquarium collecting, labeling requirements, and net and length clarifications.
The department is interested in testimony on nine species being listed as no-take, among them eagle ray, sting ray, sharks and two shellfish.
"These animals play a very important role out on the reef," Walsh said. "You need high-level predators out there — they are the ones that keep balance in the ecosystem."
The proposed rule and amendments can be obtained by calling any DAR office. They are also available online at http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/announcements.html .


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Researchers: Marine Reserve 'Naïve Fish' Are Easy Targets For Spear Fishers

From Wetlines:Researchers: Marine Reserve 'Naïve Fish' Are Easy Targets For Spear Fishers

TOWNSVILLE, Queensland -- Big fish that have grown up in marine reserves don't seem to know enough to avoid fishers armed with spear guns waiting outside the reserve. The latest research by an Australian team working in the Philippines into the effects of marine reserves has found there is an unexpected windfall awaiting fishers who obey the rules and respect reserve boundaries -- in the form of big, innocent fish wandering out of the reserve.
"There are plenty of reports of fish, both adults and juveniles, moving out of reserves and into the surrounding sea. Having grown up in an area where they were protected from hunting, we wondered how naïve they would be with regard to avoiding danger from humans," says Fraser Januchowski-Hartley of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
The answer is: pretty naïve. "Educated fish normally turn tail and flee when a diver armed with a spear gun approaches within firing range of them. The typical flight distance is usually just over four meters," he explains.
"However in our studies of marine reserves in the Philippines, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, where spearfishing remains a major way of harvesting table fish, we discovered that reserve-reared fish were much less wary and allowed people to get much closer.
"The fish are literally more catchable."
The team studied fish across the boundaries of marine reserves from 200m inside the protected areas to 200m into the fished areas. They used underwater markers and measuring tapes to measure the 'flight initiation distance' of fish targeted locally by spearfishers. This indicates how close a skin diver can approach to a large fish before it decides to turn and flee.
They found that target fish living in fished areas were typically much warier of divers, and took flight at distances a metre or two further away, than ones living within the reserve.
They also established that the 'naivete radius', whereby more catchable fishes spill out of the marine reserves extended for at least 150 meters from the boundary.
The team's findings suggest that fishers are more likely to catch fish that stray out of the reserve, and so improve the local fish harvest. This may help fishers become more supportive of marine reserves.
"In these parts of the oceans, spear fishing is still very much about survival for humans and putting food on the family table -- so it is important that local fishers feel they are deriving some benefit from having a local area that is closed to fishing, or they may not respect it," says Dr Nick Graham, a co-author on the study.
"This information is also useful in traditional reserves where fishing is taboo most of the time, but then they are opened for fishing by village elders just a few days a year.
"On the face of it, this work suggests that marine reserves can play an important role in putting more fish on the table of local communities in these tropical locations -- as well as conserving overall fish stocks and replenishing those outside the reserve," Januchowski-Hartley says.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

'Finding Nemo' fish talk their way out of conflict

From NBC Science:  'Finding Nemo' fish talk their way out of conflict 

Image: Clownfish

Clownfish, the orange-, black- and white-striped fish made famous in the movie "Finding Nemo," are a gossipy bunch, popping and clicking amid their anemone homes to defend and reinforce their social status, according to new research. 

Unlike the 360 other species of territorial marine fish in the Pomacentridae family, clownfish don't make a peep when mating. Researchers wondering why clownfish would bother to make noise in other circumstances discovered that their chatter helps maintain the rank and file among group members.

"Sound could be an interesting strategy for preventing conflict between group members," lead study author Orphal Colleye, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Liège, Belgium, told LiveScience. "In terms of cost energy, you don't have to interact with another individual to determine which is the dominant and which is the subordinate, you just need to make a sound."

Pops and clicks Clownfish have an unusual home life: Up to six fish form a group around a single sea anemone. The largest of the group is a female, the second largest is a male, and the rest are immature fish that do not have a gender. (Once they do, they will be able to change their gender as mating pairs die out.)
The researchers found that the larger clownfish that dominate the social circles with aggressive moves, such as chasing and charging, make popping sounds distinct from the static-like sounds of the smaller, more submissive clownfish.

Both in the wild and in captivity, a single clownfish can make both sounds: a pop toward a smaller fish, a click toward a larger fish.

"In general, fish don't make sounds unless they have a specific need to, because sound production potentially invites predators. The question then is, Why do they need to make sounds during aggressive interactions? Why risk advertising to predators then?" said University of Massachusetts professor Rodney Rountree, a fish acoustics expert,who was not involved in the study.

Colleye said the sounds are unlikely to endanger clownfish since they live symbiotically with sea anemones, which would sting any invaders.

"This fish lives in groups in the sea anemone and they are protected by it," Colleye said.

Deciphering fish sounds Researchers also hypothesize that individual clownfish make slightly different sounds from each other, both in frequency and duration, as a way to reinforce their individuality.
However, that interpretation is open to question, since the signals of the submissive clownfish sound very similar.

"It's unclear to me what aspect of the signal distinguishes two individuals of the same size (though I note that in natural groups there are rarely two individuals of similar size)," Paul Buston, a biology professor at Boston University who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.

Colleye said the researchers next would separate a mating pair in different tanks and then test visual, chemical and acoustic factors in identifying individuals.

The researchers also plan to examine the factors that underlie a clownfish's ability to change gender. If the dominant female dies, the male becomes the alpha female and the next largest in size becomes the breeding male. What factors, chemical, visual or auditory, cause this to happen are currently unknown.

However, for mating, sound is not necessary. "The male doesn’t need to produce sounds to attract females; there is no competitor," Colleye said.

The research appeared Nov. 7 in the online journal PLoS ONE.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Zealand: Fish farming a 'cancer on seabed'

From Auckland Now:  Fish farming a 'cancer on seabed' 

Oyster farms
AQUACULTURE: Oyster farms at Whangaroa, viewed from St Pauls.

It would be disgraceful if a proposed 25-hectare fish farm was approved for Owanga Bay in Whangaroa Harbour - or anywhere else in Whangaroa harbour for that matter, John Greenfield of Kerikeri says.
Mr Greenfield has worked all over the world for 40 years, with large companies and the UN in agricultural development, and for 18 years as senior agricultural adviser with the World Bank.
"From my experience I soon learned the importance of access to the sea, it's a no-brainer.
"Countries need unimpeded access to the sea for exports and imports.
"All over the world, rivers run into harbours and as population densities increase, so does the extra erosion from the farms silt up these harbours."
He says it was disheartening to come back to New Zealand to find our harbours being blocked by activities such as oyster farming.
"Any obstruction in a harbour will create a permanent silt trap, once the farms are abandoned, mangroves start to grow and take over. The government doesn't think about this.
"We are already seeing how oyster farming contributes to flooding in Kaeo."
A fish farm in Whangaroa Harbour - where most yachts seek safe harbour in Owanga Bay - would ruin that area's integrity permanently, denying access to the yachts, he warns.
Mr Greenfield has sent the Northland Regional Council information from a European/US non-government organisation, "Food and Water Europe", pointing out the failures and problems with such factory farms.
"These enterprises, once they fail - and fail they will - are like a cancer on the seabed having poisoned the fish life in the immediate vicinity their residues would take years to clean up."
He says factory farming just doesn't work, neither on the land nor in the sea, where it's hazards are hidden under the water. The biggest problem is cleaning up the seabed once the fish farm is abandoned.
"Whangaroa already has a 10ha oyster farm silting up and partially blocking the mouth of the Kaeo river."
Mr Greenfield has obtained figures from the Northland Regional Council that show there is an estimated 25,600m³ (6400 tonnes) of waste oyster shell and 270m³ (297 tonnes) of waste timber in the Waikare Inlet to be recycled from 30ha of oyster farm (213 tonnes/ha of shells and about 10 tonnes of wood/ha). Work will start in the middle of this month, says Dr Jacquie Reed of Northland Inc, a Northland Regional Council controlled organisation.
The three year clean up timetable involves bringing shells and waste timber to land for recycling.
The $3.8m cost of the joint venture is a joint venture involving central and local government and the industry: The oyster industry is contributing $1m, the Ministry for the Environment $2.1m and the Ministry for Primary Industries $300,000.
From a paper by Food and Water Europe, concerning factory fish farming experiments in the US – October 10, 2011: "The results are bleak. This newest update finds that despite having as many as 13 years to overcome setbacks, the farms have been largely unsuccessful, facing some combination of technical, economic or environmental setbacks. They have experienced fish escapes, equipment failure and community opposition. In some cases the problems have caused the operations to relocate, scale back, sell out to other companies or even stop production altogether. Operations that have since been proposed have had difficulty securing permits and community support."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Humans caused historic Great Barrier Reef collapse: study

From NBC News:  Humans caused historic Great Barrier Reef collapse: study

The expansion of European settlement in Australia triggered a massive coral collapse at the Great Barrier Reef more than 50 years ago, according to a new study.
The study, published Nov. 6 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that runoff from farms clouded the pristine waters off the Queensland coast and killed the natural branching coral species, leaving a stunted, weedy type of coral in its place. The findings suggest that decades before climate change and reef tourism, humans were disrupting the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef.
"There was a very significant shift in the coral community composition that was associated with the colonization of Queensland," said study co-author John Pandolfi, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland Australia.
Europeans began to colonize Queensland, Australia, in the 1860s, cutting down forests to make way for sheep grazing and sugar plantations. By the 1930s, large amounts of fertilizer and pesticide-laden runoff poured from rivers into the nearby ocean.
Several recent studies have shown that snorkelers and climate change kill coral, and one study found that half of the majestic Great Barrier Reef has vanished over the last 30 years.
But Pandolfi's team wondered whether humans had been altering reef ecology for much longer.
To find out, the team drilled sediment cores, 6.5 to 16.5 feet long, from the seafloor at Pelorus Island, an island fringed by coral reefs off the Queensland coast. When coral dies, new coral sprout on the skeletons of old organisms and ocean sediments gradually bury them in place, Pandolfi told LiveScience.
By dating different layers of that sediment, the team reconstructed the story of the reef.
The fast-growing Acropora coral dominated the reef for a millennium. This massive, three-dimensional coral can grow to 16 feet high and span 65 feet across, forming a labyrinth of nooks and crannies for marine life to hide in, Pandolfi said.
"They're like the big buildings in the city, they house a lot of the biodiversity" he said.
But somewhere between 1920 and 1955, the Acropora stopped growing altogether and a slow-growing, spindly coral called Pavona took its place.
That spelled trouble for the panoply of animal species that shelter in the reef, and for the nearby coastline, because the native Acropora species provide wave resistance to shelter harbors.
The team believes that over time, polluted runoff clouded the normally pristine Pacific water and poisoned the native species. The same polluted water fueled an algal bloom that choked out the native coral species when they tried to grow back, he said.
"They just weren't able to come back after the 1950s."
While the findings suggest humans have been damaging reefs far longer than previously thought, the problem has a straightforward, local solution: Reduce polluted runoff into the ocean, Pandolfi said.
"Any kind of measures that are going to improve the water quality should help those reefs to recover."


Thursday, November 8, 2012

We didn't do the research, but let's go ahead with the dam anyway...

From MongaBay: Controversial dam gets approval in Laos

Laos has given approval to the hugely-controversial $3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River, reports the BBC. The massive dam, which would provide 95 percent of its energy production to Thailand, has been criticized for anticipated impacts on the river's fish populations, on which many locals depend.

In late 2011, the four Mekong River nations—Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia—announced that the dam would not go ahead until more research was conducted to allay concerns. Friction over the dam has created a rift between the Laos government and Thailand on the one side and Vietnam and Cambodia on the other, who fear the dam will hurt fish populations and river nutrients. The promised research has not come to light.

"The Xayaburi Dam is the first of a cascade of devastating mainstream dams that will severely undermine the region’s development efforts. The food security and jobs of millions of people in the region are now on the line," Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for the NGO International Rivers said in a press statement.

The U.S. State Department also raised concern about the approval, which will force the eviction of 2,100 local people.

"The extent and severity of impacts from the Xayaburi dam on an ecosystem that provides food security and livelihoods for millions are still unknown," the State Department said in a statement, adding that they "hope" Laos will work with its neighbor before proceeding.

A recent study in Global Environmental Change found that if the 11 currently planned hydroelectric projects are built on the Mekong River, fish populations could fall by 16 percent. According to the paper, the "results suggest that basic food security is potentially at a high risk of disruption."

But the Laos government, which hopes to see significant economic gain from the hydroelectric project, says that modifications to the dams design will allow fish and sediment to move freely through the dam.

But environmentalists also contend that the dam could result in the extinction of dozens of freshwater fish species, including the Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas). Specimens of the Mekong giant catfish have been caught weighing up to 600 pounds (270 kilograms), but this monster fish has been overfished to the point of being listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Modifications to the dam may not large enough to benefit the Mekong giant catfish.

BBC reports that a ceremony will be held today as construction begins to move ahead full-steam. The date, November 7th, was selected to commemorate the anniversary of Russia's Bolshevik Revolution.

Half of all Atlantic salmon are being killed by bloodsucking parasites, researchers claim

Daily Mail Online:  Half of all Atlantic salmon are being killed by bloodsucking parasites, researchers claim

Nearly 40 per cent of Atlantic salmon is being killed by parasites, researchers believe.
A study found that 39 per cent of the fish are being lost to the parasitic salmon louse, which spreads from fish to fish and feeds on surface tissue.
The true mortality figure could even be as high as 55 per cent, reports journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Over half of all Atlantic Salmon are at threat from a killer parasite, researchers have found
Over half of all Atlantic Salmon are at threat from a killer parasite, researchers have found
Martin Krkosek, of New Zealand's University of Otago, was part of a team which studied surveys of thousands of hatchery raised salmon young - or smolts - as they were released into rivers.
Half received parasiticide treatment and the other did not, and all were tagged on release.
Twelve months later, after a year in the North East Atlantic, the recovered fish were examined.
The researchers estimate that nearly 40 per cent of the salmon was dying because of the lice.
They found that although the parasiticide significantly increased their chance of survival, in all 39 per cent of the fish had been killed by the parasites.
Dr Krkosek said that a further worry was that because salmon tended to return to their native rivers, it meant that the parasite could easily infect small populations of the fish.
Salmon louse, which live off the mucus, skin and blood of the fish
Salmon louse, which live off the mucus, skin and blood of the fish
He said: 'The concern therefore is not only for a 39 per cent loss in salmon abundance but also for the loss of genetic variability and its associated potential for adaptation to other environmental changes.
'Our results supply manipulative field evidence at a large spatial scale that parasitism may be a significant limiting factor for marine fish, fisheries and conservation.'


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NZealand Beaching Proves Rarest of Whales Exists

From ABC News:  NZealand Beaching Proves Rarest of Whales Exists

The spade-toothed beaked whale is so rare that nobody has seen one alive, but scientists have proof the species still exists.
Two skeletons were identified as belonging to the species after a 17-foot whale and her calf beached themselves in New Zealand in 2010. Scientists hope the discovery will provide insights into the species and into ocean ecosystems.
It was almost a missed opportunity, however, since conservation workers misidentified the carcasses as a much more common type of whale and buried them.
In a paper published Tuesday in the journal "Current Biology," researchers from New Zealand and the United States say of their discovery: "For the first time we have a description of the world's rarest and perhaps most enigmatic marine mammal."
Previously only three skull fragments of the species had been found: in New Zealand in 1872 and in the 1950s and the last one 26 years ago on an island off Chile. The males have broad blade-like tusk teeth that give the species its name. Both males and females have beaks which make them resemble dolphins.
"This is pretty fantastic," said Ewan Fordyce, a geology professor at the University of Otago who specializes in the evolution of whales and who was not involved in the research. "There would be few, if any, mammalian species in the world that would be rarer. And we know much more about panda bears and other iconic, rare animals."
The beached whales, an adult and her 11-foot male calf, were discovered on Opape Beach on the North Island on New Year's Eve in 2010. Conservation workers thought they were Gray's beaked whales and took tissue samples before burying them about nine feet under the sand.
Those samples ended up at the University of Auckland where scientists did routine tests about six months later. Rochelle Constantine, a co-author of the paper, said she and her colleague Kirsten Thompson couldn't believe it when the results showed the pair to be the rarest of whales.
"Kirsten and I went quiet. We were pretty stunned," she said.
Further tests confirmed the discovery. Constantine said they then retested about 160 samples taken from other stranded Gray's whales but didn't find any more that had been misidentified.
This year, researchers returned to the beach to exhume the skeletons.
Anton van Helden, who manages the marine mammals collection for New Zealand's national museum Te Papa, said it wasn't a straightforward task to find the remains after so long and that the mother's skull, which was buried shallower than the rest of the remains, washed out to sea. But they were able to recover the rest of the skeletons.
"It's a hugely significant find," said van Helden, a co-author of the paper.
He said it's impossible to know why the whales came ashore although whales often beach themselves when they become ill. He said almost nothing is known about the species except they live in the South Pacific Ocean and eat primarily squid.
Fordyce said it may be possible to use the skeletons of the rare whales to reconstruct their muscles and tissues and to find out more about how they live and die and why they are so reclusive.
The scientists say the discovery could also provide broader insights into the ocean's complex ecosystems.
"This is good reminder," said Constantine, "of how large the oceans are, and of how little we know about them."


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

North Bali Finds a Shocking Way to Replenish Its Coral

From Jakarta Globe: North Bali Finds a Shocking Way to Replenish Its Coral

Science is giving the coral reef in Pemuteran, north Bali, a jolt. But don’t worry, it’s low-voltage direct current meant to bolster growth and reverse decades of destruction caused by reef bombing, cyanide fishing and global warming.

“Pemuteran right now is a popular scuba diving destination because its marvelous array of corals have created a haven for the ocean’s most colorful fish,” says Bramantyo Samodra Sier, head of marketing and promotions at Divemag Indonesia, the country’s most popular diving magazine. “But in the past it has been devastated by the bombing or cyanide fishing methods used by the many fishermen attracted to Pemuteran’s tranquil waters. Ruining the corals puts the whole underwater ecosystem at risk and that’s why Divemag Indonesia is so concerned about saving the corals.”

Using technology to help nature

Invented by marine scientists, Biorock is a process that uses low-voltage direct current electricity to grow solid limestone rock structures in the sea and accelerate the growth of corals.

Biorock projects can be found all over the world, including in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian oceans, but the Biorock project in Pemuteran, installed in June 2000 and stretching 300 meters situated in an area of two hectares, is the largest Biorock center in the world.

But being the world’s biggest Biorock project isn’t cheap.

Luckily, ANZ Bank pitched in and helped give Pemuteran’s Biorock a financial boost.

Each steel structure costs Rp 5 million ($519) and ANZ’s corporate social responsibility program has donated four structures.

“It’s great to see companies willing to use their corporate social responsibility program to focus on Biorock,” said Tom Goreau, the Biorock co-founder, who was in Pemuteran on the day the ANZ-sponsored structures were installed. “With Biorock, the corals succeed to grow up to 50 times faster and can recover from physical damage.”

Goreau, who also serves as president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, is now focused on training local people about Biorock to ensure the structures’ sustainability.

“Local people need proper detailed training so they can keep developing and maintaining the program. It’s the key to keep the Biorock project successful,” he said. “That’s the reason why we often have workshops and the next one is going to be from Nov. 12 to 18.”

Added benefits
Komang Astika, operational manager of the Biorock center, said word of the structures is spreading, and tourists are traveling to north Bali to see if electricity can really grow coral reefs.

“Bio rock is attracting tourists from all around the world,” Komang said. “Snorkeling and diving have been two of the most popular activities for tourists coming to Pemuteran. There are at least 50 tourists who come to Pemuteran every week just to see the Biorock.”

One of those tourists is Sue Dufall, a 51-year-old Australian who has visited Bali on numerous occasions.

“The first time I came to Pemuteran was just for sightseeing, but as soon as I found out about the Biorock I became passionate about it,” said Sue, who is planning to move to Bali when she retires. “I’m thinking about contributing to the Biorock by donating a structure. I love the atmosphere here, it seriously is a piece of paradise.”

Lending a helping hand

Divemag Indonesia, which is helping spread the news about Biorock to domestic divers and tourists, is excited about helping ANZ with their project.

“We’re excited about supporting ANZ’s initiative,” said Wening Nurtiasasi, a project liaison between Divemag Indonesia and ANZ. “The main purpose of Divemag is to let as many people as possible know about Biorock and how it is helping the environment here in Bali.”

ANZ is also very proud of their work to help restore the coral reefs.

“We are very supportive of these kind of projects, first of all, because we care about nature,” said Wira Budi Hartawan, ANZ regional head of eastern Indonesia. “Also, I believe that if we preserve more locations such as Pemuteran, it can help attract more tourists.”

And now everyone with a passion for the sea can contribute to the Biorock project.

For Rp 5 million, you can purchase a 2-meter-square structure, which you can design yourself, and two years of maintenance on the structure.

People who have designed their own structures have certainly been creative and now structures in various shapes from bicycles to goddesses can be seen.

The coral growing on the structures are certainly a beautiful phenomenon that can’t be missed.

Alternatively you don’t have to buy a whole structure. And for a Rp 350,000 donation, the Biorock team will put your name on a structure.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Divers outraged over killing of octopus

From Katu.com:  Divers outraged over killing of octopus

Divers outraged over killing of octopus 
SEATTLE -- People come to Cove Two in West Seattle for the view, both above and below water. But a round of online pictures went viral and turned diver against diver.

Bob Bailey says he saw two young men carrying a live octopus from the water.

"As they were coming in you could tell the octopus was alive. It was writhing around and they were wrestling with it," he said.

Scott Lundy saw them toss it in a pickup truck.

"Sitting in the back of this truck, it was just squirming and writhing almost. It was really just a sad thing to see," he said.

According to the state, the man in his 20s has a license to fish. He was allowed to take the octopus from the water with his hands, and octopus are not protected in these specific waters. Everything that happened was legal. But Bailey says that doesn't make it right.

"It's just not done," he said. "It's bad form. Even if you can do it, you shouldn't do it."

The divers didn't like the young men's attitude, saying they had a disregard for the water. Bailey says the men referred to the animal as a "he," but Bailey noted they were wrong.

"I said, 'That's a she and she's probably here to lay eggs.' At which point he looked at me and said 'She was on eggs and now she's not,'" he said.

Bailey hopes it was all talk and a full generation of octopus hasn't been lost.

The man and his family declined to comment on the record, saying there have been threats made because of the online postings.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Antarctic ocean sanctuary talks end in failure

From ChannelAsia: Antarctic ocean sanctuary talks end in failure

SYDNEY: An international conference has failed to agree on new marine sanctuaries to protect thousands of polar species across Antarctica, sparking condemnation on Friday from conservation groups.

Two-week-long talks at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) at Hobart in Australia wrapped up late Thursday without resolution.

CCAMLR, made up of 24 countries and the European Union, had been considering proposals for two critical areas in Antarctica's Southern Ocean.

They included 1.6 million square kilometres (640,000 square miles) of protection for the Ross Sea, the world's most intact marine ecosystem, and 1.9 million square kilometres of coastal area in the East Antarctic, backed by Australia and the EU.

But concerns by countries over restrictions to ocean resources saw the talks end in stalemate. Instead, CCAMLR will hold an intercessional meeting in Germany in July.

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance, made up of 30 international organisations including the Pew Environment Group, WWF, and Greenpeace, said it was hugely disappointed.

"CCAMLR members failed to establish any large-scale Antarctic marine protection at this meeting because a number of countries actively blocked conservation efforts," said alliance official Steve Campbell.

Blocking countries reportedly included key fishing nations, with China, Japan, South Korea and Russia among them.

"This year, CCAMLR has behaved like a fisheries organisation instead of an organisation dedicated to conservation of Antarctic waters," added Farah Obaidullah of Greenpeace.

"If there is a glimmer of hope to be pulled from the ruins, it is in the redoubling of the commitment to create marine protected areas expressed by most CCAMLR members.

"The question now is whether countries like Russia, China and the Ukraine will come to the next meeting prepared to meet their conservation commitments."

The Antarctic region is home to big populations of penguins, seals and whales found nowhere else on Earth, and also has unique seafloor features that nurture early links in the food chain, according to environmental groups.

CCAMLR was established in 1982 with the goal of conserving marine life in the face of rising demands to exploit krill, a shrimp-like creature which is an important source of food for species in the Antarctic.

The commission permits fishing provided it is carried out "in a sustainable manner and takes account of the effects of fishing on other components of the ecosystem".