By Derek Manzello
As a research oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Miami, Manzello discusses how ocean acidification and changes in water temperature are threatening coral reef ecosystems.
MIAMI -- Reef-building corals that create the structures well-known to divers and snorkelers live very near their upper temperature limits. Small increases in temperature during summer months can cause coral to expel an algae that is vital to their survival.
This process is known as coral bleaching, because it turns corals -- that are usually vibrant in color -- stark white. Not a single coral reef region on the planet has escaped the impact of warn water bleaching. And the incidents have increased dramatically over the past 30 years.
The Florida Keys are no exception. There have been five widespread, warm-water bleaching events spanning the entire region from 1987 to 2005. By the end of July 2014, it was clear that Florida's coral reefs were in danger of yet another event.
Long-term temperature data collected offshore of Key Largo, near Molasses Reef, show this summer was the warmest on record. And this year's bleaching event may be the worst ever in the Florida Keys.
Because warm water impairs coral immune systems, the incidence of disease was already elevated throughout the Keys.
For instance, during a recent field survey, scientists noted many coral colonies had black-band disease. It appears as narrow, black line attacking healthy tissue, and then leaves the dead skeleton behind. Disease outbreaks are a major cause of coral decline across the Caribbean.
It can take corals several months to recover from a bleached state if the heat-stress does not persist for too long. But even if they survive and recover, they will suffer depressed growth, reduced reproductive ability, and remain prone to disease for a few years.
Elkhorn and Staghorn coral once dominated shallow coral reef environments across the Caribbean, but now are only rarely found.
While the implications of climate change continue to be studied, coral reefs around the globe and in our own backyard are, and have been, suffering the consequences of an increasingly "hot and sour" ocean.
Since the industrial revolution, the oceans have absorbed between one-quarter to one-third of all carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. This uptake causes ocean acidification.
Scientists were taking surveys to determine the extent of the bleaching and will be documenting incidence of disease and mortality when the heat-stress subsides. This will take several months.
"With future warming of the planet, coral bleaching will likely represent the single greatest threat to the continued existence of coral reefs over this century."
By Leonardo DiCaprio
Thank you, Mr Secretary General, your excellencies, ladies and gentleman, and distinguished guests. I’m honored to be here today, I stand before you not as an expert but as a concerned citizen, one of the 400,000 people who marched in the streets of New York on Sunday, and the billions of others around the world who want to solve our climate crisis.
As an actor I pretend for a living. I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems.
I believe humankind has looked at climate change in that same way: as if it were a fiction, happening to someone else’s planet, as if pretending that climate change wasn’t real would somehow make it go away.
But I think we know better than that. Every week, we’re seeing new and undeniable climate events, evidence that accelerated climate change is here now. We know that droughts are intensifying, our oceans are warming and acidifying, with methane plumes rising up from beneath the ocean floor. We are seeing extreme weather events, increased temperatures, and the West Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheets melting at unprecedented rates, decades ahead of scientific projections.
None of this is rhetoric, and none of it is hysteria. It is fact. The scientific community knows it, Industry and governments know it, even the United States military knows it. The chief of the US navy’s Pacific command, admiral Samuel Locklear, recently said that climate change is our single greatest security threat.
My Friends, this body – perhaps more than any other gathering in human history – now faces that difficult task. You can make history ... or be vilified by it.
To be clear, this is not about just telling people to change their light bulbs or to buy a hybrid car. This disaster has grown BEYOND the choices that individuals make. This is now about our industries, and governments around the world taking decisive, large-scale action.
I am not a scientist, but I don’t need to be. Because the world’s scientific community has spoken, and they have given us our prognosis, if we do not act together, we will surely perish.
Now is our moment for action.
We need to put a pricetag on carbon emissions, and eliminate government subsidies for coal, gas, and oil companies. We need to end the free ride that industrial polluters have been given in the name of a free-market economy, they don’t deserve our tax dollars, they deserve our scrutiny. For the economy itself will die if our ecosystems collapse.
The good news is that renewable energy is not only achievable but good economic policy. New research shows that by 2050 clean, renewable energy could supply 100% of the world’s energy needs using existing technologies, and it would create millions of jobs.
This is not a partisan debate; it is a human one. Clean air and water, and a livable climate are inalienable human rights. And solving this crisis is not a question of politics. It is our moral obligation – if, admittedly, a daunting one.
We only get one planet. Humankind must become accountable on a massive scale for the wanton destruction of our collective home. Protecting our future on this planet depends on the conscious evolution of our species.
This is the most urgent of times, and the most urgent of messages.
Honoured delegates, leaders of the world, I pretend for a living. But you do not. The people made their voices heard on Sunday around the world and the momentum will not stop. And now it’s YOUR turn, the time to answer the greatest challenge of our existence on this planet ... is now.
I beg you to face it with courage. And honesty. Thank you.
By Neil Sands
Palau's fishing-free ocean sanctuary is a huge draw for adventure divers, writes Neil Sands.
In many places swimmers might prefer to avoid sharks, but wetsuit-clad tourists in Palau clamour to dive among the predators thanks to a pioneering conservation initiative that has made them one of the country's main visitor attractions.
Palau created the world's first shark sanctuary in 2009 and the move has been so successful that plans are now underway to completely ban commercial fishing in the island nation's vast ocean territory by 2018.
The fishing-free zone in the northern Pacific, described as unprecedented by famed US marine scientist Sylvia Earle, will cover 630,000sq km, an area almost the size of France.
The architect of the ambitious plan is Palau President Tommy Remengesau, who said the ban was needed to "let the ocean heal" after years of industrialised fishing in the Pacific that has seen stocks of some species such as bluefin tuna fall to critical levels.
Remengesau said Pacific island nations, which are also struggling to deal with climate change, were effectively "the conscience of the world" on environmental matters and had to lead by example because of their special connection with the ocean.
"The ocean is our way of life," he said.
"It sustains and nurtures us, provides us with the basics of our Pacific island cultures, our very identities."
Just a decade ago, dozens of so-called "shark boats" regularly docked in Palau's commercial centre Koror, hanging fins to dry from their rigging as they worked to supply a seemingly insatiable demand in Asia for the primary ingredient in shark fin soup.
During the height of the trade, an estimated 73 million sharks a year had their fins hacked off and were thrown back into the sea to die.
"I would have been very upset to see that," said Maayan Sagr, a 22-year-old Israeli tourist on a six-week dive master's course in Palau, which is regularly voted the world's top spot for underwater enthusiasts.
"The nature and the sharks are the reasons I came here," she said.
"Everybody knows it's quiet and peaceful, but the main attraction is the sharks, getting to see them in their natural environment."
Remengesau said Palau's world-first shark protection measures sparked global change in attitudes towards the top predator, which went from being seen as a dangerous pest to a valuable part of the ecosystem.
About one-third of the world's countries have followed the Pacific nation's lead in banning shark-finning, according to the Pew Environment Group.
Crucially, demand for shark fin soup in China has waned thanks to a ban from official state banquet tables and celebrities publicly speaking out against eating the dish, which is often regarded as a status symbol.
Remengesau said sharks had more value to Palau as ecotourism assets, citing a 2011 study that found a single reef shark could contribute almost $2.4 million to the economy over its 10-year lifespan via the dive tourists it attracts.
"We feel that a live shark is worth a thousand times more than a dead one," he said.
Although tourist numbers have climbed since sharks were protected, there have been no attacks on divers, with operators keeping visitors a safe distance from the creatures.
Remesengau said the no-fishing plan prioritised tourism - which contributes about $194 million or 50 per cent of gross domestic product annually - over the tuna industry, which contributes around $6.6 million a year.
Earle, a National Geographic Society "Explorer-in Residence" who has led more than 100 oceanic expeditions in a career spanning almost six decades, said it was the first time a government had committed to stopping commercial fishing in its waters.
"[There is] awareness in Palau that we need to protect the systems that keep us alive, to restrict what has clearly been unsustainable - taking the sharks, tuna and the ocean wildlife," she said.
"I think it will set a standard and wake people up around the world ... 50 years ago we thought the ocean was too big to fail, now we know there are limits to what we can take and still have an ocean that functions."
A study, co-authored by James Cook University (JCU) researchers, shows the larvae cross large tracts of ocean to find new coral to settle on, making them better able to cope with environmental change.
“Knowing how far larvae disperse helps us understand how fish populations can adapt,” said Hugo Harrison from JCU’s centre of excellence for coral reef studies. “The further they can swim, the better they can cope.”
He said the results of the study, released in September, offer insight into the long distances travelled by baby clownfish, which feature in the animated film Finding Nemo.
“In the past we haven’t known where they go, but now we’ve been given a rare glimpse into how far they can swim, crossing large tracts of ocean to find new homes,” Harrison said.
He said the larvae moved about but fully grown clownfish spent their entire adult lives under the protection of one anemone.
As part of the international study, researchers collected 400 tissue samples from the only two known populations of Omani clownfish found on two reefs off southern Oman.
By analysing DNA fingerprinting – which reveals which of the two reefs the fish originated from – they found larvae were regularly travelling the 400km distance between the reefs.
Study co-author Stephen Simpson from the University of Exeter in England said it was the longest distance scientists had been able to track the dispersal of any coral reef fish.
“The findings change our understanding of marine populations,” he said. “They’re not small and separate as we often assume, rather this research shows they’re often vast and interconnected.”
The study was published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.
By MARK PRIGG FOR MAILONLINE
Researchers find young clownfish travel up to 400km when they are just a week old
Disney's hit film Finding Nemo was closer to the truth that filmmakers thought, it has been revealed.
Researchers found that clownfish, such as Nemo, really do migrate huge distances, some up to 400km.
However, unlike the film, they found in reality the fish only make the incredible journeys in their larval stage.
The study, led by Dr Steve Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology and Global Change in Biosciences at the University of Exeter, found that six percent of the fish sampled had migrated over 400 km from one population to the other.
'This is an epic journey for these tiny week-old fish,' he said.
'When they arrive at the reef, they are less than a centimetre long, and only a few days old, so to travel hundreds of kilometres they must be riding ocean currents to assist their migration,' said Dr Simpson.
Dr Simpson led a team of undergraduate and postgraduate students from the University of Edinburgh to collect the clownfish samples from throughout southern Oman.
'The southern coast of Oman is relatively isolated from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula so you find a lot of species there that you wouldn't find anywhere else in the world,' said Dr Simpson.
'There are only two coral reef systems along this coast, and they are separated by 400 km of surf beaches.
'In order to persist as a single species, we know Omani clownfish fish must occasionally migrate between these two populations.'
The team used DNA fingerprinting to identify local, long-distant migrant, and hybrid individuals from populations throughout the entire Omani clownfish (Amphiprion omanensis) species range.
Around 400 fish were harmlessly caught during 92 dives, and a small fin clip taken for DNA analysis before releasing fish back to their colonies.
'Just like accents that allow us to tell an Englishman from an American, fish populations develop their own genetic signatures,' said co-author Hugo Harrison from the ARC COE CRS. 'By looking at the signature of each fish we can tell whether it originated there or not. It's like finding an Englishman in New York, they stand out.'
The DNA evidence identified that the majority of migrant fish had travelled from north to south and so, to test whether this was due to prevailing currents, the team developed an oceanographic model for the region.
'We found that the pattern of migration corresponded to the dominant ocean currents in the region that are driven by the winter monsoon,' said co-author Michel Claereboudt from Sultan Qaboos University.
As well as migrants, second generation hybrids were also identified in both populations, showing that after dispersal migrants had joined and reproduced with local populations.
'This study is the furthest anyone has tracked the dispersal of coral reef fish, and it demonstrates that distant populations in the marine environment can be well connected,' said Simpson.
'Our ability to predict how far fish larvae disperse helps us to manage coral reef ecosystems.
'Understanding connectivity means we can protect populations that are most sensitive, harvest from populations that have a regular and consistent turn-over, and design coherent networks of marine protected areas'.
By Drew Harvell, contributor
Disease outbreaks are a challenge because they are like lightning strikes — occurring unpredictably and rapidly. To identify their causative microorganisms or stop them from spreading requires significant scientific investigations on short notice, but traditional government funding sources are slow. This leads to a dangerous gap in support when we should be moving into high gear to respond to emergent diseases.
Imagine how the challenge intensifies when the outbreak is underwater, in the ocean, where it can reach a large scale before we even notice.
This past summer, I worked in the Pacific Northwest and we had no tools to manage the spread of starfish-wasting disease. It was an unprecedented disease outbreak, the largest marine wildlife outbreak ever recorded in terms of number of species, and spread from Alaska to Mexico. An outbreak that has big implications for humans, including fisheries upon which local economies are built.
This week, a new bill is being introduced by Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), the Marine Disease Emergency Act, which would provide emergency funding to help mount a rapid response to outbreaks such as the one that is causing starfish by the millions to shrivel, lose limbs and die. With marine diseases projected by the National Climate Change Assessment to increase in warming ocean conditions, this bill is timely. It will allow scientists like me to leverage rapid funding and come up with proactive measures to protect our valuable marine fisheries and biodiversity.
Not all marine disease outbreaks constitute emergencies, but this bill would help us in extreme cases, when there is ecological, economic or social disruption.
An emergency causing ecological disruption can include immediate losses of biodiversity, local extirpation or extinction, or disruption of ecosystem services. Massive seagrass epidemics, occurring first in the 1930s and, more recently, in the 1980s in Florida, are an example of this. Each outbreak extirpated an entire ecosystem that had provided valuable ecosystem services and habitat for important species.An emergency that threatens large economic losses can include disruptions to wild fisheries, aqua-cultured species or threats to essential marine habitats. In a recent study, Kevin Lafferty of the University of California, Santa Barbara catalogued 67 different pathogens that can impact the economy of marine resources. The most costly epidemics have been those affecting commercial species. A shrimp white spot outbreak cost billions globally following a global pandemic that started in the 1980s. Disruptions to biodiversity can also threaten tourism revenue. For example, large-scale coral bleaching and disease can close marine parks and destroy vast areas of coral reefs, which are essential fish nurseries.
An emergency that threatens social or cultural values may jeopardize public safety and health. This includes unsafe seafood and beaches. The seafood-borne bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus causes human gastroenteritis, usually associated with the consumption of raw oysters. One serotype of this species is more unsafe and appears to be spreading.
In the starfish epidemic, we are seeing animals literally disintegrate on both coasts, from Maine to Mexico. The West Coast outbreak was first noticed by park rangers in Olympic National Park in June 2013. Soon after, thousands of sunflower stars began falling off underwater rocks north of Vancouver. It spread rapidly. In November 2013, there was a massive hit in Monterey, Calif., with over eight species dying in catastrophically high numbers over the course of weeks. At about the same time, all the captive stars in the three major West Coast aquariums died in their tanks, including some that had made their homes there for over 25 years.
This summer, the outbreak worsened in Oregon and Washington state and the most common species are now very rare from Southern California to Washington. Alaska remains the final frontier and this points to its vital placement as a refuge and potential reservoir for some marine resources on the entire West Coast.
Why would a bunch of starfish dying be an emergency? Even mass mortalities are not an emergency if the die-off is localized, the outbreak is self-limiting, the system is resilient to the loss of the host or the infectious agent does not put human health at risk.
There are three reasons this epidemic is an emergency. It is the biggest marine disease outbreak of non-commercial species. Several of the species are "keystone," meaning that when they die, the ecosystem is radically altered, which can ultimately impact humans. This domino effect can cause cascading change under the ocean. Lastly, most of the starfish are species that are natives in their tidal homes. If they disappear from their entire range on the U.S. West Coast, we cannot repopulate them from anywhere else on the planet.
While we scientists haven't yet solved all the parts of this mysterious disease, one thing we have learned is that warming oceans are contributing to the spread and the death rate. Earlier this summer, coastal waters along much of the West Coast were warmer than at any other point in the last 25 years. On both land and in the sea, many disease-causing microorganisms do better under warming conditions. These are the kinds of events we expect in warming waters.
Passing the Marine Disease Emergency Act will provide a much-needed source of rapid response funds for marine disease outbreaks. Battling this particular starfish die-off has been challenging, with funds cobbled together from foundations, the Nature Conservancy, private citizens and even a donation raised by schoolchildren from Arkansas. The potential for ecological, economic and social consequences demands that resources be available when outbreaks occur. Ocean health has benefited greatly from Secretary of State John Kerry's recent launch of Our Ocean 2014 to dial back pollution and ocean acidification and improve fisheries management. Combined with swift passage of Rep. Heck's Marine Disease Emergency Act, we can prevent disease in our oceans from evolving into a global disaster.
Harvell is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University and faculty fellow at Cornell's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.
Australia’s shark cull angers conservationists. But in Indonesia, it’s business as usual for the world’s biggest shark fishery
The tuna fishermen use a crane to lift the clutch of frozen sharks onto a flat bed truck backed up on the edge of the wharf at Benoa harbour in Bali, Indonesia. The sharks’ heads and dorsal fins are missing, but the crane operator obligingly tells me what species they are – hammerhead, saw tooth and oceanic white tip.
More loads follow, including five canvas bags packed with fins destined for soup. Much of the shark meat will be processed for the domestic market – but the tuna is destined for consumers in Europe, America and Japan, few of whom realise they’re implicated in the killing of sharks on a massive scale.
Scores of boats like this dock here every week – there are more than 33,000 purse seiners operating in Indonesia, the world’s number one producer of tuna. The shark are technically bycatch, but they’d be more accurately described as valuable byproduct. And the sheer numbers being caught are shocking.
Even more alarming is the fact that all three of the shark species mentioned above are on the IUCN’s red list of endangered species. There are many other ‘hub’ ports in this sprawling archipelagic nation of 250m where sharks are offloaded in similar numbers both for export and domestic consumption.
Indonesia catches on average 109,000 tonnes of shark per year, giving it the dubious distinction of being the world’s biggest shark fishery. And it’s the country’s tuna industry that’s largely responsible for driving it.
“Many conservation efforts have focused on small-scale artisanal fisheries,” says Andrew Harvey, the Sustainable Fisheries team leader for USAid’s Indonesia Marine & Climate Support (IMACS) project. “But the industrial fishing fleets also have an important impact on shark populations. The big problem is a total lack of management regulations for most shark species — no catch quotas, no minimum sizes, and no fishing bans.”
There is evidence that a combination of campaigning and legislation is reducing demand for shark fins in Hong Kong and Mainland China. But shark flesh is an important source of protein for many coastal communities in Indonesia and the meat is sold everywhere including in supermarkets. There are also signs of an upsurge in the sale of baby sharks, which are routinely stocked by many of the big supermarket chains. Sharks have long reproductive cycles so targeting juveniles can have a destructive impact on wild populations.
According to Harvey, Indonesia signed the United Nations International Plan for Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks in 1999, and has been developing a national plan of action ever since:
While some progress has been made, the current version of this plan is insufficient to sustain shark populations or the fisheries that harvest them. The plan urgently needs to be strengthened, with full protection proposed for the most vulnerable species, and minimum sizes, catch quotas or other harvest controls for other, more resilient species harvested by both artisanal and industrial fisheries.
Despite the absence of a strong national plan of action, there is some evidence that governance is slowly moving in the right direction.
In 2013, IMACS helped Indonesia’s ministry of marine affairs and fisheries to launch a national onboard observer programme, with fishery officers deployed to fishing vessels to monitor compliance and record details of the bycatch. Over the past year 150 onboard observers have been recruited and trained, but there is still a long way to go.
The US initiative has also helped to develop a new approach to fisheries information known as I-Fish, which has now been handed over to the government of Indonesia. “I-Fish uses cutting edge technologies to streamline the transfer of fisheries information throughout Indonesia. It is also a way for the fishing industry and government to work together, to enhance fisheries data, transparency and management.”
Perhaps the biggest win for sharks came in 2010 when the district government of Raja Ampat in West Papua, the world’s epicentre of marine biodiversity and a popular dive destination, was declared a shark and manta sanctuary. This designation was the first of its kind in the entire coral triangle bioregion, which encompasses the waters of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.
West Manggarai, another district that is a rich repository of marine life and includes the Komodo national park world heritage site, took a similar step soon after. These locally-led conservation initiatives were unprecedented in Indonesia, and the national government responded by declaring the entire nation a manta sanctuary in early 2014.
But widespread, definitive action on sharks has yet to take place.
Currently, only whale shark, thresher and saw tooth are protected under Indonesian law (Cites protection only applies to the export of endangered species). Hammerheads and oceanic white tips should soon follow suit.
These are all first steps – gathering and assessing baseline data, establishing policies, protecting a few key ecosystems. But the big challenge is enforcement in a maritime nation made up of more than 17,000 islands where tens of millions of people rely on fishing for their livelihood.
In economic terms, there’s compelling evidence that sharks are worth more alive than dead. Not only do they play a critical role in maintaining the health of the marine ecosystems, they’re of huge value to the tourism industry. A 2011 study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Palau showed that a single reef shark was worth $1.9m over its lifetime to the tourism industry there.
It’s no coincidence that two of Indonesia’s top dive destinations are leading the way in shark protection. Bottom-up initiatives like these – driven by conservation minded dive operators, NGOs and local government – are making a difference in coastal areas and amongst small scale artisanal fishing communities. “But who is championing the fight further offshore, where large scale industrial fleets are landing scores of sharks every day?” asks Harvey.
Protection of these sharks, let alone a countrywide ban on shark fishing is a long way away. Until then, unless you’re buying pole & line caught tuna certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, those dead baby sharks may as well be sitting on our supermarket shelves.
Por Fernando Samalot
Es fácil hablar de “lo malo que están las cosas” cuando estás sentado en tu casa viendo las noticias. El mundo en que nosotros queremos vivir es otro. Hemos dejado a un lado las críticas y frustraciones y hemos optado por actuar en vez.
Ayer, un grupo nos juntamos para darle cariño a Las Tinajas, uno de los ríos más populares de la isla.
Fueron 21 las bolsas que llenamos con basura que encontramos en las veredas y al borde del río, muchas veces escondida entre las plantas y hasta incrustada en la tierra.
Encontramos plástico en todas sus manifestaciones, neveras de ‘foam’, hasta ropa y zapatos. De lo más que encontramos fueron latas y botellas de cerveza, lo cual nos da una pista sobre a quién presionar con este asunto.
No es que no vacilen en los ríos, pero si notas que tu producto está inundando toda nuestra naturaleza, tal vez debes invertir en educación o una campaña para contrarestar el daño que hacen.
A pesar que encontrar toda esta basura es exasperante, todos nos mantuvimos en un estado de ánimo muy positivo. Lo hicimos un juego, encontrar la basura escondida y luego catalogarla. Sin duda alguna ha sido el compartir más gratificante que he tenido en mucho tiempo.
Con esto, esperamos juntarnos a la ola de cambios positivos que estan pasando en nuestra isla.
No te dejes llevar por los medios. Si la cosa está mala es porque no estamos haciendo nada para cambiarlo. Esta es nuestra aportación. Todos podemos hacer una diferencia. No hay gesto muy pequeño. Con tal de darte amor a ti mismo, a tu prójimo y a tu isla, estas siendo el cambio que hace falta.
Nosotros nos hemos decidido.
By Elahe Izadi
Something odd is happening in Northern Pacific waters: They're heating up. In fact, it hasn't been this warm in parts of the Gulf of Alaska for this long since researchers began tracking surface water temperatures in the 1980s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The warming began last year in the Gulf of Alaska and has since been dubbed "The Blob" by Nick Bond, of the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. Temperatures have been as high as about 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 Celsius) above average.
Normally storms and winds roll through to cool off the surface of the Northern Pacific, but a weather pattern popped up for a few months in winter 2013 that inhibited those storms from developing, said Nate Mantua, a NOAA research scientist. Then, from October 2013 through January, the weather pattern came back as a ridge of high pressure (the same one connected to the California drought). All of that made the already warm waters in the Alaskan gulf even warmer, a layer about 100 meters thick, Mantua said.
In the spring, warm water started to develop in other Northern Pacific waters, namely the Bering Sea. There's also a chunk of warm water developing off the coast of California.
"You have lots of warm water, and it's due to weather patterns that basically don't take heat out of the ocean," Mantua said. "They are letting the ocean warm up rapidly, and stay warm."
The change in surface water temperature doesn't appear to be a manifestation of global warming, but rather the result of weather and wind patterns that change quickly and vary year to year, Mantua said.
Take a look at this map of surface water temperatures. The deeper the red, the higher the above the average temperature: (see photo below)
And now, strange fish are showing up. In the past year, there have been "unusual fish occurrences" in Alaskan waters, according to NOAA research biologist Joe Orsi, such as the skipjack tuna in the photo above. The last documented skipjack tuna in Alaska was in the 1980s.
In August, a thresher shark was caught in the Gulf of Alaska, Orsi noted. Those sharks are more typical off the coasts of British Columbia and Baja California. Two other threshers were spotted in the past four years in the more southern waters of the Alaskan gulf.
An ocean sunfish, the world's largest bony fish, has been spotted on the surface of the Prince William Sound off Alaskan shores, Orsi said. Further south, a 7-foot-long ocean sunfish washed up on the shore in Washington state in August.
The warm water could throw the food chain into a bit of disarray. Just as warmer water fish have been showing up, salmon could be finding less of the high-fat food they need to chow down on. That's important because the Northern Pacific is considered a "fish basket," and most American salmon comes from the Alaskan gulf.
"The fish migrated out of rivers in June, got to the gulf by August, and they will have arrived expecting to find cold water and abundant feed," said Bill Peterson, a senior scientist with NOAA fisheries. "They're going to find nothing to eat, is what we suspect.... It won't be pretty."
It's possible that the fish could dive down deeper and feed in the colder waters below the surface, Peterson said. Either way, fisheries won't feel the impact until the salmon return in another two to three years.
Around 2005, when similar warming occurred in Northern Pacific waters, particularly in Northern California, "Pacific salmon died in extremely high numbers," Mantua said. "Fisheries, three years later, curtailed or even shut down in California for the first time ever."
But it's still an open question as to how these warmer waters will affect salmon populations. Mantua isn't convinced that "The Blob" means loads of dead fish. He points to past warm years that resulted in high salmon returns. "It's unsettled whether this is bad news" for salmon, he said. "We have to wait until the adults come back, and we'll have to see."
By Matt McGrath
Environment correspondent, BBC News
All trade in five named species of sharks is to be regulated from now on, in a significant step forward for conservation.
Without a permit confirming that these sharks have been harvested legally and sustainably, the sale of their meat or fins will be banned.
The regulation was agreed last year at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Thailand.
The rules also apply to manta rays.
Shark numbers have been under severe pressure in recent years as the numbers killed for their fins soared.
Scientific estimates put the number at about 100m a year, with demand driven by the fin soup trade in Hong Kong and China.
Campaigners have been seeking to stop the unregulated trade in sharks since the 1990s but it was only at the Cites meeting in Bangkok last year that they finally managed to achieve sufficient votes to drive through the ban.
From Sunday, the oceanic whitetip, the porbeagle and three varieties of hammerhead will be elevated to Appendix II of the Cites code, which means that traders must have permits and certificates.
Manta rays, valued for their gills which are used in Chinese medicine, will also be protected.
The survival of all these species has been threatened by over fishing.
Tangible protectionThe move is seen as the most significant move in the 40 year history of Cites to protect these species.
"Regulating international trade in these shark and manta ray species is critical to their survival and is a very tangible way of helping to protect the biodiversity of our oceans," said Cites Secretary General John Scanlon.
"The practical implementation of these listings will involve issues such as determining sustainable export levels, verifying legality, and identifying the fins, gills and meat that are in trade. This may seem challenging, but by working together we can do it and we will do it."
Under the regulations, all trade in these sharks and rays across 180 countries will not be allowed unless they have been authorised by the designated national authorities.
Trade in shark fins has already declined significantly as a result of campaigns to raise awareness. Recently it's been reported that sales have gone down by 70%.
Earlier this year the hotel chain, Hilton Worldwide stopped serving shark fin at its 96 owned and managed Asia-Pacific properties.
However several countries have entered reservations to the Cites regulations on some of these species.
Denmark (on behalf of Greenland), Canada, Guyana, Japan, Iceland and Yemen have all said they will not be bound by the new rules and will continue to fish for some or all of these species.
Under the regulations though, they are only able to trade with other countries that have also registered a reservation.
Officials from Cites point out that for such a controversial issue, the number of countries registering reservations is small. The point to the fact that China, the main consumer market, has not done so.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.