The National Marine Fisheries Service is tasked with bringing back healthy populations of elkhorn and staghorn coral. It's a big job. And a crucial one. The actions necessary to restore these corals will benefit entire reef ecosystems.
By DAVID McFADDEN
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — The British Virgin Islands declared its territorial waters a sanctuary for all shark species Thursday to help protect the marine predators whose global numbers have been dramatically dwindling.
Kedrick Pickering, deputy premier and minister for natural resources, said the loss of sharks disrupts the predator-prey balance, compromising the health of oceans and reefs and the survival of other marine creatures.
"The best way to manage their populations is to let them fulfill their ecological role as apex predators," Pickering said at a conference in Belgium.
The Cabinet of the British Caribbean archipelago of roughly 60 small islands, cays and islets banned commercial fishing of all shark species in the 30,933 square miles (80,117 square kilometers) of its exclusive economic zone.
Shark fishing has grown rapidly in recent decades, driven by rising demand, mainly in China, for shark fin soup. Because of their long life spans and low fertility rates, sharks are highly vulnerable to overfishing. Experts say roughly 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries around the globe.
It's far from clear how robustly the tourism-dependent British territory will police its waters, which are home to coral reefs where divers can spot such shark species as scalloped hammerheads, oceanic whitetips and reef sharks.
The territory of about 25,000 people said it is also protecting rays, whose numbers have sharply dwindled over the years. Researchers with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature have said roughly one-quarter of the world's sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.
The sanctuary announcement was applauded by the territory's most famous resident, British tycoon and adventurer Richard Branson.
Branson, CEO and founder of the Virgin Group of companies, has been pushing Caribbean governments to better protect marine environments, making special mention of sharks and rays. At a conference Branson hosted on his private island last year, several regional governments committed to establishing shark protections by May 2015.
"The British Virgin Islands has shown leadership here and I urge other countries and territories in the region to follow suit to create a Caribbean-wide sanctuary to protect these magnificent animals," Branson said in an email.
The territory joins Honduras and the Bahamas as the first governments in the Americas to declare shark sanctuaries, according to Pew Charitable Trusts, which has pushed shark conservation efforts around the world. The world's first shark sanctuary was created in 2009 by the Pacific nation of Palau.
The Caribbean territory is "showing that small islands can have a big impact on global biodiversity," Pew's Angelo Villagomez said.
David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd
Un tinglar apareció muerto y con golpes en la cabeza en la mañana de hoy a orillas de la playa del barrio Camino Nuevo, sector El Negro, en Yabucoa, informó el portavoz de prensa de la región policiaca de Humacao, Marcos Rivera.
Indicó que personal del Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA) se hizo cargo de la investigación.
Estas tortugas marinas suelen anidar en las costas de Yabucoa. De hecho, no es la primera vez que se encuentran muertas en el área.
El tinglar es la tortuga más grande del mundo. Fue incluida en la lista de especies en peligro de extinción en el 1970.
El matar, dañar, molestar, atrapar, comprar o vender una tortuga marina, parte de ella (huevos) o algún material derivado de ella (jabón, crema, prendas), es un delito federal que puede conllevar una multa de hasta $50,000 y un año de cárcel.
Second Giant Sea Creature Washes Ashore Along Santa Monica Coastline – Alarms Sound Over Radioactive Gigantism
Giant Squid Discovered On California Coast And Scientists Suspect Radioactive Gigantism
For the second time in recent months, a giant sea creature has washed ashore in California. First it was a rare oarfish that had grown to a freakish 100-foot length. This time it was a giant squid measuring a whopping 160 feet from head to tentacle tip.
These giants look different but experts believe they share one important commonality: they both come from the waters near the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in the Futaba District of Japan.
Scientists believe that following the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant an unknown number of sea creatures suffered genetic mutations that triggered uncontrolled growth – or “radioactive gigantism.”
Unfortunately, this cadre of mutant giants seems to be drifting towards the continental U.S. Local officials in Santa Monica, CA – where the creature drifted ashore – tried to calm residents. “This creature appears to be deceased and even if alive only thrives in water,” said Santa Monica Parks Manager Cynthia Beard. “We intend to move the creature in pieces to Scripps Research Institute so that they can study it,” she noted. Although not yet well understood, radioactive gigantism is said to result when radiation causes changes to the growth regulating portions of the DNA of affected organisms. When growth regulators fail to control cellular growth, an organism may reach many times its regular body size.
Local radioactive gigantism expert Santa Marino College biology professor Martin L. Grimm, PhD said that the nuclear disaster may have had some unintended benefits. “These creatures give us the chance to study radioactive gigantism,” he said. Grimm believes that harnessing radioactive gigantism may be like harnessing the atom to create atomic energy. “Imagine a tuna fish that could feed a city the size of Austin, Texas,” he said. “This is the possibility of radioactive gigantism.”
Others find the giant sea creatures to be a potential safety concern. Even before the giant squid washed ashore, the U.S. Coast Guard had issued a “blue alert” for residents in central and southern Californian coasts “to remain watchful.” Yesterday Admiral Sandy Duncan-Roberts said that she would need to raise the awareness level to a “yellow alert” which asks resident to “exercise caution” along the shoreline.
Are giant sea creatures really a threat for those on land? “Take Jaws but make him the size of a Manhattan skyscraper,” said Bruce Kenner, a marine biologist at UC San Diego. Kenner thinks that gigantism might distort sea creatures’ navigational systems. “If that guy took a wrong turn onto the coastline he could level 40 city blocks thrashing before he comes to rest,” he said.
Residents are anxious now that a second creature has surfaced. “Before we only worried about parking when we went to the beach,” said Marquise Griffon. “Now we have to worry about Godzilla [stuff] coming after us.”
If any residents spot an unusually sized sea creature, they should call the U.S. Coast Guard hotline at 1-800-BIG-FISH (or 1-800-244-3474).
BY KATIE VALENTINE
Coral reefs provide substantial protection against wave energy, lessening the impact of sea level rise and intense storm surges for 7 million people in the U.S. alone, according to a new report.The report, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, reviewed 255 studies on the protective nature of coral reefs and found that reefs reduce wave energy by 97 percent on average, causing the waves that reach the shoreline to be significantly calmer than they would have been without the reefs. Michael Beck, one of the authors of the report and senior scientist for the Nature Conservancy, said he was surprised at the 97 percent average for reef wave reduction. He said he knew it would be a large number — other studies have shown that reefs are effective at reducing wave energy, but none yet had quantified it ocean-wide — but he didn’t know just how big.
The report also found that worldwide, 197 million people are protected by reefs, and that maintaining the health of coral reefs is far less expensive than installing artificial defenses — according to the report, the median cost of building artificial wave defenses is $19,791 per meter, while the median cost of coral restoration projects is $1,290 per meter. Beck said the Nature Conservancy is working in a coral reef in Grenville, Grenada to build back the reef’s crest, the highest part of the reef that’s the most important for wave-breaking. He said degredation of the reef crest, which has been caused over the last 50 years by climate change, pollution, and sand mining, can explain a “huge amount” of the erosion and sedimentation that’s been occurring in the bay.
“A variety of causes has led to a little bit of degradation in height in the reef, and when you’ve lost that height in the reef, you can suddenly explain a huge amount of problems that have been happening,” he said.
Beck’s team has been been building back the reef in Grenada by using old coral rubble and concrete blocks, then trying to regrow the living coral on those structures. Projects like that, he said, are important to coral reefs’ survival — though coral is threatened gravely by climate change and ocean acidification, he said reefs “can be resilient” and recover from stresses like bleaching. He pointed to a mass bleaching event that occurred in 1998, after El Niño drove up water temperatures worldwide, as evidence. Though many were worried the reefs wouldn’t bounce back from this event, which was the most extensive and severe in history, certain reefs did recover, despite significant losses worldwide.
“Those reefs that were managed well, where you reduce the other stressors like pollution and overfishing, recovered,” he said. “Living coral came back and came back in quite good abundances in places were coral reefs were managed well.”
That event points to the need for better reef management, Beck said, especially now, as reefs around the world continue to suffer the effects of warming oceans, pollution, fishing practices and other impacts. Elkhorn coral, which play an integral role in the reef ecosystem of the Florida Keys, are being killed off by White Pox disease, which one researcher says is likely caused by untreated human sewage that enters the ocean through leaky septic systems in Florida. And outside of the 1998 event, scientists have found other significant evidence of coral bleaching, an effect that’s due to warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures and is likely to get worse as the ocean warms.
Other coastal and marine ecosystems provide protection from storm surge, sea level rise and erosion, but they too are struggling with human-induced impacts — in fact, Beck said coral reefs are in better shape worldwide than oyster reefs and mangrove forests. These coastal ecosystems have also been found to be a cost-effective way of providing protection — an April report noted restoring ecosystems like oyster reefs can create more jobs than offshore oil development and provide $15 in net economic benefits for every $1 invested.
If coral reef health continues to decline, reefs of the future may not be able to support the food demands and livelihoods of millions of people living in the coastal tropics, according to new research from the Universities of Exeter and Queensland.
The findings, to be reported in the journal Current Biology on 5 May, are based on a study of Caribbean coral reefs and their ability to support reef fisheries.
"Corals are the building blocks of coral reefs. They create an amazingly complex habitat with lots of holes, cracks and crevices that serve as hiding places and homes for a huge abundance and diversity of organisms," said Dr Alice Rogers of the University of Exeter and University of Queensland. "Due to stressors like disease, overfishing, and coastal development, corals are dying and as they do, coral reefs are becoming flatter. We wanted to know how this flattening of the reef would change interactions between reef organisms and affect the abundance and productivity of reef fish."
The research team studied coral reefs in one of the best protected marine parks in the Caribbean – the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park in the Bahamas. "Working in the Park allowed us to study reef fish in areas of naturally high and low reef complexity, but without worrying about factoring in how many fish were absent because of fishing," Dr Rogers explained. "We found that the structure of fish assemblages from these contrasting habitats were really different. There weren't just fewer fish where the structure was flat, but there was also a difference in fish size. The complex habitat had a lot more small to medium-bodied individuals."
Combining expertise from fisheries science and coral reef ecology, the researchers developed food web models for the two habitat types. Dr Rogers explains, "When a reef has a healthy structure, vulnerable prey organisms including juvenile and small-bodied species of fish have plenty of places to hide from their predators. When the habitat is degraded, this isn't the case. We captured this in our models and discovered that this change in vulnerability really affected the dynamics of the whole community. Our models were able to predict the same patterns and differences that we'd observed in the field."
Using this new tool, the team were able to ask how a decline in coral reef habitat structure would affect the productivity of reef fisheries. They found that a complete loss of complexity resulted in more than a three-fold reduction in the availability of large-bodied reef fish. "That means three-times less potential catch for a fishery. That's going to have a huge impact on food security and peoples' livelihoods," says report co-author Julia Blanchard of the University of Sheffield.
Dr Rogers and her colleagues stress the importance of managing coral reef fisheries into the future. "Fortunately, much of the loss of reef habitat structure can be averted if we take significant steps to manage our ecosystems and climate," says Professor Peter Mumby of the Universities of Exeter and Queensland. "We know that practical steps to manage reefs, such as refraining from the harvest of parrotfish – which eat algae and help corals grow – and taking care not to let fertilizers and sediments run into rivers, can all make a significant different to reef health. Such management is vital in order to help fishers maintain a sustainable and productive livelihood."