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News articles on marine conservation
Mongabay.com news articles on marine conservation in blog format. Updated regularly.
Human impacts are 'decoupling' coral reef ecosystems
(03/09/2015) There is a growing consensus among scientists that we have entered the age of the Anthropocene, or the epoch of humans. In other words, at some point between the 12,000 years separating the beginning of agriculture and the Industrial Revolution, humans became the dominant source of change on the planet, shaping everything from the land to the atmosphere to even the geologic record where we etch our reign.
Last ditch: Mexico finally gets serious about saving the vaquita
(03/04/2015) There are likely less than 100 vaquita on the planet. Found only in the northern pocket of the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, the vaquita is a tiny, shy porpoise that has been brought to the very edge of extinction due to drowning in gillnets used for shrimping. But after years of stalling, Mexico now appears to be making a final effort to save the world's most endangered cetacean.
Jokowi's environmental commitments in Indonesia
(02/26/2015) Last fall Indonesia elected its first president with no ties to the established political order or the military. Joko Widodo's election was widely heralded by reformers who hoped the politician's capable management in his stints as mayor of the town of Solo and metropolis of Jakarta could transform Indonesia's chronically underperforming bureaucracy, potentially ushering in a new era of improved human rights, better environmental stewardship, reduced corruption, and healthier economic growth.
Could big data turn us into ocean protectors instead of abusers?
(02/24/2015) The devastating tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 washed away millions of tons of plastic debris into the Pacific Ocean. It even swept away a Harley Davidson motorcycle that subsequently ended up on Canada's coast. As production and consumption of plastic increases across the world, more of it gets discarded as waste.
Indonesian forestry and fishery ministries move to eradicate corruption
(02/17/2015) Today Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) signed a memorandum of understanding with the national forestry and fishery ministries as well as a number of provincial governors to better integrate management and monitoring of the country’s oceans and forests.
Madagascar establishes a sanctuary for sharks
(02/06/2015) The government of Madagascar has established the Indian Ocean island's first shark sanctuary in an area famous for its marine biodiversity, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Scientists discover that fish larvae make sounds
(01/29/2015) For the first time, marine biologists have recorded evidence of fish larvae in the ocean producing sounds. The study focused on the grey snapper (Lutjanus griseus) living in the waters of the northern Florida Keys reef tract. The field of acoustic ecology, which studies animals and their interaction and relationship with sounds in their environment, has often focused on juvenile and adult fish while overlooking fish larvae.
With local help, hawksbill sea turtles make a comeback in Nicaragua
(01/28/2015) Hawksbill sea turtles, a reptile listed as the highest threat level by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, are making a momentous local comeback in Nicaragua’s Pearl Cays. This Critically Endangered turtle, although reduced to 85 percent of their historical numbers, has shown a nesting increase of over 200 percent from just 154 nests to 468 nests in the last 14 years.
Fishing industry could lose up to $41 billion due to climate change
(01/16/2015) Climate change is already having a severe impact on the atmosphere and oceans around the world. These changes are also impacting specific economic sectors including the fishing and aquaculture industries. According to a recent report by the European Climate Foundation, the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and the University of Cambridge, the fishing industry is projected to lose tens-of-billions as the world continues to heat up.
Empty seas? Scientists warn of an industrialized ocean
(01/15/2015) This is obvious, but still important: humans are not a marine species. Even as we have colonized most of our planet's terrestrial landscapes, we have not yet colonized the oceans. And for most of our history, we have impacted them only on the periphery. A new review in Science finds that this has saved marine species and ecosystems from large-scale damage—that is, until the last couple centuries.
Casting for another job: will fishers take up a new livelihood?
(01/12/2015) Can alternative income programs save Fiji's reef fish? Many implicate the failure of Fiji's government to prioritize sustainable management over fisheries development projects, or suggest that Fijians' mindsets must dramatically shift first.
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2014
(12/29/2014) In what was widely seen as a possible breakthrough in the battle to coordinate some kind of response to global warming, China and the U.S. announced joint actions this year. On November 12th, the world's two most powerful countries surprised pretty much everyone by announcing that they would work together to tackle the crisis.
For the first time, Sea Shepherd targets Antarctic toothfish poachers
(12/09/2014) For the first time, marine conservation group, Sea Shepherd, is employing their controversial methods to protect Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish. Dubbed 'Operation Icefish,' Sea Shepherd Australia is sending two ships into Antarctic waters to disrupt illegal vessels targeting the little-known species that are often sold in luxury markets as Chilean seabass.
Reeling in religious messages: how faith impacts fisheries in Fiji
(11/25/2014) Marrying religion and conservation could be key to making Fiji's fisheries sustainable. Fijians have strong religious beliefs, which were primarily introduced by Christian missionaries in the 1835, and today profoundly guide their daily lives. Fijians primarily depend on fisheries close to shore for their survival, which is the case for most small Pacific island countries.
New marine protected areas key to fighting illegal fishing
(11/24/2014) Do you know how that tuna sashimi got to your dinner plate? Probably not—and chances are, the restaurant that served it to you doesn’t know, either. A new policy paper argues that illicit fishing practices are flying under the radar all around the world, and global society must combat them in order to keep seafood on the menu.
Of bluefin and pufferfish: 310 species added to IUCN Red List
(11/17/2014) Today, 22,413 species are threatened with extinction, according to the most recent update of the IUCN Red List. This is a rise of 310 species from the last update in the summer. The update includes the Pacific bluefin tuna, the Chinese pufferfish, and Chapman's pygmy chameleon, among others.
Gabon protects 23% of its coastal waters
(11/15/2014) Gabon has once again made headlines for a bold conservation initiative.
Russia and China blamed for blocking Antarctic marine reserve
(11/03/2014) Another year, another failed attempt to protect a significant chunk of the Ross Sea, which sits off the coast of Antarctica. According to observers, efforts to create the world's biggest marine protected area to date were shot down by Russia and China during a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
By killing off older fish, overfishing may lead to lost migratory patterns
(10/29/2014) Catching older fish may impact a school's ability to migrate from spawning grounds to feeding areas, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The study’s scientists believe that fish schools may retain a collective memory, a communal mind map of sorts, which help these groups reach their destinations, some of which are thousands of miles away.
Saving Peru's sea turtles and marine birds: conservationists and fishermen partner to tackle bycatch
(10/07/2014) Marine conservationists often view fisheries as an enemy of sorts, vacuuming up fish with little thought to the long-term consequences and using equipment that also ends up killing other species, i.e. bycatch like sea turtles and marine birds. However, Joanna Alfaro Shigueto, the President of the Peruvian NGOProDelphinus and winner of a 2012 Whitley Award, has chosen a different tact.
Featured video: new Netflix documentary highlights the work of Sylvia Earle to save the oceans
(08/25/2014) Sylvia Earle is one of the ocean's staunchest defenders. A National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence and former chief scientist with NOAA, Earle has spent a lifetime documenting the rapid decline of the world's oceans and calling for more action to defend the body of water that cradles the world's continents.
Demand for shark fin plunging
(08/12/2014) Shark fin demand has dropped precipitously in China in just a few years, according to a new report by WildAid. Shark fin traders in Guangzhou—the current informal capital of the shark fin trade—say their sales have fallen by 82 percent in just two years, according to WildAid.
Seafood apartments and other experiments in fixing Indonesia's fisheries (Part IV)
(07/25/2014) Shrimp farms, industrial plants, and one of Indonesia's busiest thoroughfares make up Java's north coast today. It's a very different scene from the fishing villages with beachfront boat parking that stood here decades earlier. Which begs the question, where will fish live in this new 'coast without mangroves, without coral, without seagrass,' asks Alan Koropitan, a marine biologist based at Bogor Agricultural University.
Over-depleted and undermanaged: can Indonesia turn around its fisheries? (Part III)
(07/22/2014) Compared to maritime ministries worldwide, Indonesia's Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) is a teenaged neophyte. The governing body was formed a mere 13 years ago;a staggering fact for a country made up of two-thirds water where many of the 250 million people depend on fish for both protein and income. Mongabay.org's SRI Fellow Melati Kaye reports on the state of Indonesian fisheries in the third installment of a four-part series.
Boom but mostly bust: fighting over sardines in Indonesia's Bali Strait (Part II)
(07/18/2014) Fifty-five crewmen, stripped to their briefs, sing Madurese sea shanties to synchronized gestures as they haul in giant seine nets, hand-over-hand, onto the swaying wooden deck of the M/V Sinar Indah out in the middle of the Bali Strait. This morning they had offloaded a bumper haul at their homeport of Muncar: seven tons of lemuru sardines Sardinella lemuru, the local specialty, for which dockside cannery agents offered $3,500.
Fishing for coherent regulations along Fiji's coral reefs
(07/16/2014) Will Fiji implement a much-needed update to its fisheries laws before the September election? If you want to quiet a room in Fiji or feel like a lobster in a boiling pot, bring up coastal fishing rights, and ask what's happening with the plan to update the country's fisheries laws.
A tale of two fish: cyanide fishing and foreign bosses off Sulawesi's coast (Part I)
(07/08/2014) In spring and summer, after the monsoon storms have passed, the fishing boats set out again from tiny Kodingareng Island in the Spermonde Archipelago off the coast of South Sulawesi. In the afternoon heat, Abdul Wahid joins his fellow fishermen in the narrow shade of the beachfront village houses to check out the daily fish prices.
Booming populations, rising economies, threatened biodiversity: the tropics will never be the same
(07/07/2014) For those living either north or south of the tropics, images of this green ring around the Earth's equator often include verdant rainforests, exotic animals, and unchanging weather; but they may also be of entrenched poverty, unstable governments, and appalling environmental destruction. A massive new report, The State of the Tropics, however, finds that the truth is far more complicated.
U.S. raises $800 million for oceans, including $7 million from Leonardo DiCaprio
(06/19/2014) A U.S. State Department conference on the oceans raised an impressive $800 million for marine conservation this week. The conference was also notable for the announcement by President Obama of an intent to significantly expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
Bigger than Mexico? Obama announces major expansion of Pacific protected area
(06/18/2014) President Obama announced yesterday he intends to drastically expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument making what will likely be the largest marine protected area on the planet. While the full extent of the ocean park has yet to be determined, it could potentially protect over two million square kilometers, an area larger than Mexico.
New Caledonia officially creates world's largest protected area (photos)
(05/02/2014) The government of New Caledonia last week officially created the world's largest protected area, establishing a multi-use zone that at 1.3 million square kilometers is three times the size of Germany, reports Conservation International (CI).
Weird and mysterious: scientists find new shark species
(04/16/2014) A long snout with teeth jutting from the sides? Check. Catfish-like barbels dangling from its chin? Got them. Gills on the side of its body? It has those, too. These are characteristics of a bizarre group of sharks known as sawsharks. And until recently, only seven species were recognized. However, a new discovery raises that number by one more.
Collateral damage: new findings shed light on the full impact of commercial fishing
(04/09/2014) Aside from reducing the populations of the species sought for capture, commercial fisheries are also killing thousands of nontarget creatures such as sharks, albatross, and sea turtles, collectively referred to as “bycatch.” However, the full extent of the problem is only beginning to be grasped.
Revealed for the first time: the surprising biodiversity of algae 'reefs'
(03/28/2014) Most people are familiar with coral reefs, but very few have ever heard of their algal equivalent – rhodolith beds. Yet, these structures provide crucial habitat for many marine species. In the first study of its kind, published in mongabay.com’s Tropical Conservation Science, researchers unveil just how important these beds are for bottom-dwelling organisms, and the species that depend on them.
3 environmental reporting prize winners to explore drivers of deforestation, community forestry, and sustainable seafood in China
(03/19/2014) Mongabay.org, the non-profit arm of environmental science web site Mongabay.com, has selected winners of three environmental reporting prizes under its Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program. The three prizes, which were launched in January, explore the impacts of rising human consumption on forest and marine ecosystems. The winners, selected from more than 150 applicants by a panel of issue-area experts, include Robert S. Eshelman, Ruxandra Guidi and Bear Guerra, and Dominic Bracco II and Erik Vance.
Europe votes for an Arctic Sanctuary
(03/13/2014) Yesterday, the European Parliament passed a resolution supporting the creation of an Arctic Sanctuary covering the vast high Arctic around the North Pole, giving official status to an idea that has been pushed by activists for years. Still, the sanctuary has a long road to go before becoming a reality: as Arctic sea ice rapidly declines due to climate change, there has been rising interest from governments and industries to exploit the once inaccessible wilderness for fish and fossil fuels.
Saving sharks one sandwich at a time: conservationists target 'shark bake'
(02/28/2014) Thousands of Carnival revelers in Trinidad wouldn't think of missing the chance to go to Maracas Beach, the most famous strip of sand on the small Caribbean island off the northeast coast of Venezuela. Beachgoers might not think twice about eating a favorite food called "shark bake" either – at least, until now. But this week, conservationists launched a shark-saving campaign timed to get maximum exposure out of the celebration that will bring throngs of visitors to the island.
Plastic waste ingested by worms threatens marine food chains
(02/26/2014) Small fragments of plastic waste are damaging the health of lugworms, putting a key cog in marine ecosystems at risk. Published in Current Biology, a new study by scientists at the University of Exeter and the University of Plymouth shows the impact of microplastics on the marine worms' health and behavior.
Corals thriving despite acidified conditions in remote Pacific bay
(02/25/2014) Scientists have discovered a small island bay in the Pacific which could serve as a peephole into the future of the ocean. Palau's Rock Island Bay harbors a naturally occurring anomaly – its water is acidified as much as scientists expect the entire ocean to be by 2100 as a result of rising carbon dioxide emissions.
Indonesia pledges to protect manta rays
(02/21/2014) In a move signaling their commitment to CITES agreements on international trade of plants and animals, the Indonesian government declared two species of manta ray 'protected' under Indonesian law. Decree Number 4/KEPMEN-KP/2014 issued by Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries states that two manta ray species, Manta birostris and Manta alfredi, now enjoy full protection throughout their entire life cycle. The decree explicitly extends that protection to all parts of their body.
Study: 59% of Marine Protected Areas are ineffective
(02/10/2014) Protecting large, isolated areas of no-take zones for over 10 years with strong enforcement is the key to effective Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), according to a letter published this week in Nature. However, 59% of all MPAs meet less than three of the five criteria, making them protected in name only.
Scientists discover new eagle ray imperiled by Japanese pest program (photos)
(01/30/2014) Scientists have described a new species of eagle ray in the northwest Pacific Ocean, which they have named "narutobiei" (Aetobatus narutobiei) after its local name in Japan. While the new species has long been known by scientists, it was clumped together with the longheaded eagle ray (Aetobatus flagellum) for over two hundred years. Splitting the two species has large-scale conservation impacts, according to the paper describing the new species in PLOS ONE.
Giant clams are easy to recognize, but genetics proves there is more than meets the eye
(12/21/2013) Giant clams are among the more easily spotted invertebrates of the marine realm. However, some are actually quite cryptic and distinct species are often difficult to identify, claims a study recently published in PlosOne. Much attention has been focused on charismatic species in research, but the scientists who authored the study argue that giant clams also deserve the spotlight because of the potential threats and present misunderstandings regarding their taxonimical classifications.
Ultraviolet nets significantly reduce sea turtle bycatch
(11/11/2013) Bycatch, a side-effect of commercial fishing in which non-target species are accidentally caught, is linked to severe population declines in several species. Sea turtles are particularly impacted by small-scale coastal gillnetting practices, in which large nets are deployed and indiscriminately snag anything of a certain size that attempts to swim through them. However, that may soon change.
The 'dead' ocean: eyewitness says overfishing has emptied the Pacific
(10/22/2013) An Australian sailor has described parts of the Pacific Ocean as "dead" because of severe overfishing, with his vessel having to repeatedly swerve debris for thousands of kilometers on a journey from Australia to Japan. Ivan MacFadyen told of his horror at the severe lack of marine life and copious amounts of rubbish witnessed on a yacht race between Melbourne and Osaka. He recently returned from the trip, which he previously completed 10 years ago.
California celebrates its inaugural Pacific Leatherback Conservation Day with sobering reality
(10/15/2013) On an isolated beach in Bird’s Head Peninsula, Indonesia, a female leatherback turtle shuffles out of the ocean and onto the shore, ready to lay her eggs. Under the cover of night she excavates a hole in the sand, depositing anywhere from 80 to 100 eggs inside. Using her flippers she flicks sand over the eggs, hiding them from potential predators. Then, shuffling away, she returns to the turquoise waters ready to make an 8,500-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean to the California coast.
President's pledge to ban commercial fishing around Pacific island nation slow to materialize
(09/23/2013) In 2010 President Anote Tong of Kiribati made a historic pledge, committing to protect the waters around his island nation in a massive marine protected area. He said the gesture represented Kiribati’s contribution to protecting the environment and he urged industrial countries to do the same by cutting their greenhouse gas emissions, which threaten low-lying islands with rising sea levels. The commitment raised Tong’s profile, winning him international accolades, and boosted the tiny country’s standing in the fight against climate change. But since 2010 questions have begun to emerge about the extent of Tong’s commitment.
Mesoamerican Reef needs more local support, says report
(09/13/2013) From massive hotel development through the agriculture industry, humans are destroying the second largest barrier reef in the world: the Mesoamerican Reef. Although global climate change and its effects on reefs via warming and acidification of coastal waters have made recent headlines, local human activities may destroy certain ecosystems before climate change has a chance to do it. The harmful effects of mining, agriculture, commercial development, and fishing in coastal regions have already damaged more than two-thirds of reefs across the Caribbean, in addition to worsening the negative effects of climate change.
Google Earth presents fish-eye view of coral reefs
(08/20/2013) You can now visit up-close and personal some of the world's most imperiled ecosystems on Google Earth: coral reefs. The Google team is working with scientists to provide 360 degree panoramas, similar to Google street-view, to give armchair ecologists a chance to experience the most biodiverse ecosystems under the waves.
Journey to the Edge of Eden: the struggle to preserve Southwest Florida
(08/05/2013) Gary Schmelz, in a Journey to the Edge of Eden, takes us through a wonderful personal account of the conservation history of Southwest Florida. Journey to the Edge of Eden is one part personal memoir similar to the English naturalist Gerald Durrell and one part Florida conservation history. With hilarious stories of unintended naturalist misadventures and recounting conservation “as it happened,” a Journey to the Edge of Eden is one of those rare books you read in a coffee shop and with gusto and pride while laughing along out loud at Gary Schmelz stories.
Plan to preserve the world's 'last ocean' killed by Russia
(07/16/2013) As the most pristine marine ecosystem on the planet, Antarctica's Ross Sea has become dubbed the world's "last ocean." Home to an abundance of penguins, whales, orcas, seals, and massive fish, the Ross Sea has so far largely avoided the degradation that has impacted much of the world's other marine waters. However, a landmark proposal to protect the Ross Sea, as well as the coastline of East Antarctica, has failed today due to opposition by Russia.
San Francisco seafood restaurants go sustainable
(07/02/2013) The Seafood Watch Program, first created by Monterey Bay Aquarium in the late 1990s, is arguably the best-known guide to sustainably-caught seafood in the U.S. Listing seafood choices in three categories—green (best choices), yellow (good alternatives), and red (avoid)—the guide informs consumers of the best options. However, it's one thing to create a well-respected guide, and another issues altogether to get producers and consumers to use it. But a newer partnership, the San Francisco Seafood Watch Alliance, is working to bridge this gap. Maggie Ostdahl of Aquarium of the Bay works with the Seafood Watch Restaurant program and restaurants across San Francisco—one of the best places in the country for seafood—to source sustainable seafood. Restaurant partners avoid seafood on the guide's red list.
UN may downgrade Great Barrier Reef's heritage status due to Australia's inaction on threats
(06/17/2013) The federal government insists it is striving to avoid the Great Barrier Reef being listed 'in danger' ahead of a crunch UN meeting, after rejecting a Senate recommendation to block new port developments near the World Heritage ecosystem.
Ocean acidification pushing young oysters into 'death race'
(06/11/2013) Scientists have long known that ocean acidification is leading to a decline in Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) in the U.S.'s Pacific Northwest region, but a new study in the American Geophysical Union shows exactly how the change is undercutting populations of these economically-important molluscs. Caused by carbon dioxide emissions, ocean acidification changes the very chemistry of marine waters by lowering pH levels; this has a number consequences including decreasing the availability of calcium carbonate, which oysters and other molluscs use to build shells.
Costa Rican environmentalist pays ultimate price for his dedication to sea turtles
(06/10/2013) On the evening of May 30th, 26-year-old Jairo Mora Sandoval was murdered on Moin beach near Limón, Costa Rica, the very stretch of sand where he courageously monitored sea turtle nests for years even as risks from poachers rose, including threats at gunpoint. A dedicated conservationist, Sandoval was kidnapped along with four women volunteers (three Americans and one from Spain) while driving along the beach looking for nesting sea turtles. Sandoval was separated from the women—who eventually escaped their captors—but the young Costa Rican was stripped naked, bound, and viciously beaten. Police found him the next day, face-down and handcuffed in the sand; Sandoval died of asphyxiation.
Manta ray tourism worth 28 times more than killing them for Traditional Chinese Medicine
(06/03/2013) A new study in the open access journal PLoS ONE estimates that manta rays are worth $140 million a year in tourism across 23 countries, significantly outweighing the worth of manta ray gill plates, which have become the newest craze in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Biosphere conservation: monumental action is critical to avert global environmental crisis
(05/20/2013) Human-caused changes to our biosphere—the global total of the world's ecosystems—are now so great and alarmingly rapid that human lives and societies undoubtedly face epic challenges in the near future as our biosphere deteriorates, planetary boundaries are reached, and tipping points exceeded. We may survive, we may painfully adapt, but it is a fair bet that grave hardship, loss, and sacrifice lay ahead. The nature and extent of impacts among human populations hinges on how successfully we respond to the biosphere crisis with extraordinary leadership, balanced solutions applied at global scales, and unprecedented cooperation—or not.
Industrialized fishing has forced seabirds to change what they eat
(05/14/2013) The bleached bones of seabirds are telling us a new story about the far-reaching impacts of industrial fisheries on today's oceans. Looking at the isotopes of 250 bones from Hawaiian petrels (Pterodroma sandwichensis), scientists have been able to reconstruct the birds' diets over the last 3,000 years. They found an unmistakable shift from big prey to small prey around 100 years ago, just when large, modern fisheries started scooping up fish at never before seen rates. The dietary shift shows that modern fisheries upended predator and prey relationships even in the ocean ocean and have possibly played a role in the decline of some seabirds.
New endangered list for ecosystems modeled after 'Red list' for species
(05/09/2013) The IUCN has unveiled the first iteration of its new Red List of Ecosystems, a ranking of habitats worldwide.
Scientists discover that marine animals disperse seagrass
(05/09/2013) Lesser known than coral reefs, marine seagrass ecosystems are rich in biodiversity and are powerhouses when it comes to sequestering carbon dioxide. Yet, much remains unknown about the ecology of seagrass beds, including detailed information on how seagrass spread their seeds and colonize new area. Now a recent study in Marine Ecology Progress Series documents that several species of marine animal are key to dispersing seagrass, overturning the assumption that seagrass was largely dispersed by abiotic methods (such as wind and waves).
Featured video: saving sea turtles in Mexico's Magdalena Bay
(05/09/2013) A new short film, Viva la tortuga documents the struggle to save loggerhead and green sea turtles in Magdalena Bay, Mexico. Once a region for a massive sea turtle meat market, the turtles now face a new threat: bycatch. Loggerhead sea turtles are drowning in bottom-set gillnets, unable to escape from the nets once entangled. The issue has even raises threats of trade embargoes from the U.S.
Are seagulls killing whales in Patagonia?
(05/08/2013) It sounds ludicrous, but it could just be true: scientists say seagulls may be responsible for hundreds of southern right whale moralities off the Argentine coastline. Since 2003, scientists have documented the deaths of 605 southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) near Península Valdés which the whales use as a nursery. Notably, 88 percent of these were newborn calves. The death rate is so high that researchers now fear for the whales' long-term survival.
Munching on marine plastic kills sperm whale
(05/07/2013) What do children's toys, balloons, mattresses and plastic bags have in common? They can, along with more non-biodegradable pollutants, be found in the belly of a sperm whale, the topic of a new study in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. The same whale that swallowed Jonah from the Bible, Geppetto from Collodi's Pinocchio, and the crew of the Pequod from Melville's Moby-Dick is now swallowing trash from the Spanish-Mediterranean coast, and in the Strait of Gibraltar.
Breaking the mold: Divya Karnad takes on fisheries and science journalism in India
(04/15/2013) Fishing is not a woman's domain in most countries across the globe. In parts of India there are fishing communities who believe that having a woman onboard a fishing boat brings bad luck. Despite this, Divya Karnad, a scientist who studies marine life in India, has spent several years studying fisheries and their impact on species like sharks and sea turtles. Her work forms a part of global efforts to track declining marine species and encourage more sustainable fishing.
Proposed coal plant threatens Critically Endangered Philippine cockatoo
(04/02/2013) One kilometer off the Philippine island of Palawan lies the Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary; here forest grows unimpeded from a coral island surrounded by mangroves and coral reefs. Although tiny, over a hundred bird species have been recorded on the island along with a major population of large flying foxes, while in the waters below swim at least 130 species of coral fish, three types of marine turtles, and that curious-looking marine mammal, dugongs. Most importantly, perhaps, the island is home to the world's largest population of Philippine cockatoos (Cacatua haematuropygia), currently listed as Critically Endangered. But, although uninhabited by people, Rasa Island may soon be altered irrevocably by human impacts.
Sharks and rays win protections at CITES
(03/11/2013) Today, for the first time, sharks and rays have won the vote for better protection under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), the world's regulating body on trade in threatened species. Five shark species and manta rays, which includes two species, have received enough votes to be listed under Appendix II of CITES, which means tougher regulations, but not an outright ban. However, the votes could still be overturned before the end of the meeting.
Has shark fin consumption peaked at 100M dead sharks per year?
(03/05/2013) While a new study warns that up to 100M sharks are killed annually, there are signs out of China that demand for shark fin may be on the decline. A study published last week in the journal Marine Policy estimated shark deaths at 100 million in 2000 and 97 million in 2010, suggesting a slight drop in shark killing. Meanwhile reports out of China in recent months suggest an accelerating decline in shark fin consumption. China is the top market for shark fin, which is consumed as a status symbol, typically at wedding ceremonies and business dinners.
Leatherback sea turtles suffer 78 percent decline at critical nesting sites in Pacific
(02/27/2013) The world's largest sea turtle, the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), is vanishing from its most important nesting sites in the western Pacific, according to a new study in Ecosphere. Scientists found that leatherback turtle nests have dropped by 78 percent in less than 30 years in the Bird's Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea. Worryingly, these beaches account for three-fourths of the western Pacific's distinct leatherback population; globally the leatherback is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the highest rating before extinction.
From the brink of extinction: elephant seals stage remarkable comeback
(01/23/2013) In the 19th century the Northern Pacific Elephant was thought to be extinct until a small population was discovered on an island of Baja California in 1892. Since then, the species has staged a remarkable comeback which was greatly accelerated by protective measures adopted by the U.S. and Mexican governments. The recovery is especially evident on the beaches of California's Año Nuevo State Park. Until the 1950s so individuals were observed in the park. In the 1960s pups started to be born on Año Nuevo's sandy shores. By the 1990s thousands of pups where born each year, capping the elephant seal's turnaround. 'Beachmaster', a new film by Christopher Gervais and Stan Minasian, tells the conservation success story of their recovery.
Telling the story of the father of sea turtle conservation
(01/21/2013) In 1959, visionary Archer Carr founded the world's first conservation group devoted solely to sea turtles. Working with these marine denizens in Costa Rica, Carr was not only instrumental in changing local views of the turtles—which at the time were being hunted and eaten at unsustainable rates—but also in establishing basic practices for sea turtle conservation today. Now a new film by Two-Head Video, Inc. tells the story of Carr's work and the perils still facing marine turtles today.
Saving manta rays from the fin trade
(01/15/2013) Tens of millions of sharks and rays are killed each year to meet demand for shark fin, a delicacy across East Asia. But while the plight of sharks has gained prominence in international environmental circles in recent years, the decline in rays has received considerably less attention. A new film, Manta Ray of Hope, aims to change that. Produced by cinematographer, scuba diver, and marine conservationist Shawn Heinrichs, Manta Ray of Hope offers a look at the mysterious and magnificent world of the world's largest ray, the manta ray. The film highlights both the threats mantas face as well as some of the people who are working to save them.
Obama triples area of protected California coastline
(12/20/2012) Today President Obama announced the government would add almost 3,000 square miles of California coastline to the National Marine Sanctuary system, roughly tripling its size, reports the Sierra Club.
Measuring nutrient pollution in pristine waters: Puerto Rico's Vieques Island
(12/10/2012) Life in the ocean require nutrient, but too much of a good thing can be hugely detrimental. Nutrient pollution from agricultural and industrial runoff causes serious ecological harm in the world's marine waters, at times producing massive "dead zones" where much of the dissolved oxygen has been stripped making it difficult for most marine animals to live there. A new study by scientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) attempts to establish a baseline of nutrient levels in the largely pristine waters around the island of Vieques off of Puerto Rico.
Jeff Corwin talks sharks
(12/04/2012) Sharks are among the most feared of all the world's predators, yet humans kill tens of millions of sharks for every person who falls victim to shark attack. Part of our fear stems from lack of understanding. A new eBook however tries to change that. Jeff Corwin, an Emmy Award Winning TV host, has this week released Jeff's Explorer Series: SHARKS, the first of a new eBook series, which Corwin likens to the 21st century version of an encyclopedia. The eBook is rich with video, images, and text. It is narrated by Corwin.
Pledge to end wildlife trafficking for Wildlife Conservation Day
(12/04/2012) Today has been dubbed the first ever global Wildlife Conservation Day. To honor it, a coalition of conservation groups—including WWF and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)—are working to raise awareness of illegal wildlife trafficking. Poaching for traditional medicine, bushmeat, and other products has put innumerable species at risk, including tigers, rhinos, sharks, and elephants.
Could rebuilding global fisheries save hundreds of billions of dollars?
(11/26/2012) Global fisheries are gutting the world economy by US$13 billion annually, according to an economic analysis published July 13 in the journal PLoS ONE. National subsidies that encourage overfishing cause the most losses, the analysis claims. However, researchers believe that allowing fish stocks to rebuild and making fishing more efficient could reverse these losses, leading to net gains of US$600 to US$1,400 billion within 50 years. Such savings won’t come cheaply, the analysis suggests. Rebuilding fisheries worldwide could cost US$130 to US$292 billion, the researchers estimate. Most of the cost would go toward retraining or retiring nearly half of the world’s 35 million fisheries workers.
BP fined $4.5 billion for Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but company may spend more buying its own stocks
(11/19/2012) Last week the U.S. federal government fined BP $4.5 billion for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, which killed 11 workers and leaked nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil giant also plead guilt to 12 felonies and two misdemeanors. However, even this fine—the largest in U.S. history—failed to dampen shareholder support of BP: stocks actually rose one percent following the announcement. Meanwhile, according to the Sunday Times, BP plans to spend $5.9 billion (over a billion more than the fine) buying back its own shares in order to boost stock prices.
Climate change threatens population of Earth’s largest sea turtle
(11/19/2012) A drier, hotter climate in Central America could wipe out the population of leatherback sea turtles from the eastern Pacific Ocean by the year 2100, according to a grim projection published on July 1 in Nature Climate Change. Already critically endangered from fisheries by-catch and historic egg poaching, leatherbacks can hardly accommodate another human-related threat. Yet scientists still hold out hope for interventions that could save the turtles.
Photos: Mozambique creates Africa's biggest marine protected area
(11/13/2012) Last week, the East African nation of Mozambique announced it was protecting 10,411 square kilometers (4,020 square miles) of coastal marine waters, making the new Marine Protected Area (MPA) the biggest on the continent. The protected area, dubbed the Primeiras and Segundas Archipelago ("First" and "Second" islands), includes ten islands as well as mangrove forests, rich coral reefs, and seagrass ecosystems.
Above the ocean: saving the world's most threatened birds
(11/01/2012) A life on the ocean is a perilous one for any bird. They must expend energy staying aloft for thousands of miles and learn to be marathon swimmers; they must seek food beneath treacherous waves and brave the world's most extreme climates; they must navigate the perils both of an unforgiving sea and far-flung islands. Yet seabirds, which includes 346 global species that depend on marine ecosystems, have evolved numerous strategies and complex life histories to deal with the challenges of the sea successfully, and they have been doing so since the dinosaur’s last stand. Today, despite such a track record, no other bird family is more threatened; yet it's not the wild, unpredictable sea that endangers them, but pervasive human impacts.
A new way to measure the ocean's health
(10/23/2012) A diverse array of institutions have come together to release a new, revolutionary ocean health assessment called the "Ocean Health Index." Researchers formed the index in order to gauge the health of the world’s oceans. The index is the result of a huge collaborative effort, including top researchers crossing a diverse range of disciplines such as the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and Conservation International.
Penguins face a slippery future
(09/26/2012) Penguins have spent years fooling us. With their image seemingly every where we turn—entertaining us in animated films, awing us in documentaries, and winking at us in commercials—they have made most of us believe they are doing just fine; the penguin's charming demeanor has lulled us into complacency about their fate. But penguin populations are facing historic declines even as their popularity in human society rises. Overfishing is decimating some of their prey species, climate change is shifting their resources and imperiling their habitat, meanwhile pollution, such as oil spills, are putting even healthy colonies at risk. Now, a young organization, the Global Penguin Society (GPS), is working to save all of the world's 18 penguin species by working with scientists, governments, and local communities.
Strangest island in the Caribbean may be a sanctuary for critically endangered coral
(07/16/2012) Don't feel bad if you‘ve never heard of Navassa Island, even though it's actually part of the U.S. according to the Guano Islands Act of 1856. This uninhabited speck between Haiti and Jamaica, barely bigger than New York City’s Central Park, has a bizarre and bloody history—and may be a crucial refuge for endangered coral in the Caribbean.
Indonesia eco-newswrap: farmers threaten to immolate themselves over plantation plan
(06/28/2012) Pulau Island farmers are threatening to immolate themselves after the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry has ignored their request to stop a part of their island from being converted into eucalyptus plantations by PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper. A letter from the farmers, who are members of the Riau Farmer Union, to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono received no response, and the activists say 10 of them will travel to the presidential palace in Jakarta on June 25 and burn themselves alive in protest.
Cowards at Rio?: organizations decry 'pathetic' agreement
(06/20/2012) As world leaders head to Rio de Janeiro for the UN Summit on Sustainable Development, environmental and poverty groups are denouncing the last-minute text agreed on by dignitaries as "pathetic," (Greenpeace), a "damp squib" (Friends of the Earth), "a dead end" (Oxfam), and, if nothing changes, "a colossal waste of time" (WWF). "We were promised the 'future we want' but are now being presented with a 'common vision' of a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck the rain forests,“ the head of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, said. "This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty, it’s the last will and testament of a destructive twentieth century development model."
World failing to meet promises on the oceans
(06/14/2012) Despite a slew of past pledges and agreements, the world's governments have made little to no progress on improving management and conservation in the oceans, according to a new paper in Science. The paper is released just as the world leaders are descending on Rio de Janeiro for Rio+20, or the UN Summit on Sustainable Development, where one of the most watched issues is expected to be ocean policy, in part because the summit is expected to make little headway on other global environmental issues such as climate change and deforestation. But the new Science paper warns that past pledges on marine conservation have moved too slowly or stagnated entirely.
Australia sets aside 40 percent of its waters for protection
(06/14/2012) In an announcement to coincide with the beginnings of the UN's Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, Australia has announced ambitious plans to protect 3.1 million square kilometers (1.19 million square miles) of its ocean, including the Coral Sea. If enacted, the proposition will increase Australia's marine protected areas from 27 to 60, covering about 40 percent of Australia's waters.
Forgotten Species: the wonder-inducing giant clam
(06/11/2012) The first time I ever saw a giant clam was at a ride in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. My family and I piled into the Nautilus submersible at the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage and descended into the playtime depths. While we saw sea turtles, sharks, lobsters, mermaids, and even a sea monster, the creature that lingered in my mind most was the giant clam, raising and closing its pearly shell in the weedy abyss. Of course, none of these aquatic wonders were real—they were animatronics—but to a child with a vivid imagination they stirred within me the deep mystery of the boundless ocean, and none more so than that monstrous clam with its gaping maw.
Regulations help fish, and fishermen, recover in the U.S.
(05/30/2012) Marine fish populations in the U.S. are generally recovering, according to a new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Last year six fish populations reached healthy levels in the U.S., boosting the total number of fish populations that have recovered to 27 since 2000. The success is due to the implementation of science-based annual catch limits which regulate how many fish are caught every year.
Nearly 2,000 fish species traded in U.S. tropical aquarium market
(05/24/2012) The U.S. tropical aquarium market poses problems and opportunities for conservation, according to a landmark study published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE. The study reviewed import records in the U.S. for one year (2004-2005) and found that over 11 million wild tropical fish from 1,802 species were imported from 40 different countries. While the number of fish species targeted surprised researchers, the total amount of fish imported was actually less than expected.
Seagrass beds store 20 billion tons of carbon
(05/22/2012) Just below the ocean's surface lies a carbon powerhouse: seagrass meadows. New research in Nature Geoscience estimates that the world's seagrass meadows conservatively store 19.9 billion metric tons of carbon, even though the threatened marine ecosystems make up only 0.2 percent of Earth's surface. The findings lend support to the idea that seagrass protection and restoration could play a major role in mitigating climate change.
Educating the next generation of conservation leaders in Colombia
(05/14/2012) Colombia's northern departments of Cordoba and Bolivar are home to an abundance of coral reefs, estuaries, mangroves forests, and forests. Rich in both marine and terrestrial wildlife, local communities depend on the sea and land for survival, yet these ecosystems are imperiled by booming populations, overexploitation, and unsustainable management. Since 2007, an innovative education program in the region, the Guardians of Nature, has worked to teach local children about the ecology of the region, hoping to instill a conservation ethic that will aid both the present and the future.
Featured video: the oceans and Rio+20
(05/10/2012) A new video by Pew Environment Group and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) hopes to convince policy-makers attending the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development this summer that urgent action is needed to save the ocean's from an environmental crisis.
World's smallest dolphin: only 55 left, but continue to drown in nets
(03/22/2012) The world's smallest dolphin is also the closest to extinction. New Zealand government figures show that Maui's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) are down to just 55 mature individuals, falling from 111 in 2005. The small cetaceans, measuring up to 1.7 meters (5.5 feet), are imperiled due to drowning in gillnets with the most recent death by a fisherman's net occurring in January.
Three U.S. retailers pledge to avoid fish from embattled Ross Sea
(03/14/2012) The Ross Sea, a massive bay off Antarctica, has been dubbed the world's last ocean due to its pristine state, long-untouched by industry and fisheries. However, over the last 15 years New Zealand commercial fisheries have entered the sea, seeking the slow-growing Antarctic toothfish which is usually sold as the high-end Chilean sea bass. Now as conservation groups plead for nations to grant the Ross Sea protected status, Greenpeace has begun a campaign to get good retailers to steer clear of stocking Antarctic toothfish. To date, Safeway, Wegmans, and Harris Teeter has all pledged not to source from the Ross Sea.
Camera traps go under the ocean, seeking sharks
(03/12/2012) Remote camera traps, which have become a hugely important conservation tool on land during the past decade, have now gone underwater. Marine biologists have used underwater video camera traps to compare the population of Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii) in Belize's protected areas versus fishing areas in a new study in the open-access journal PLoS ONE. Conducted from 2005-2010, the study found that reef sharks benefited significantly from conservation areas.
Animal photos of the day: green sea turtle saved in China
(03/06/2012) Last month, an organization devoted to marine turtles in the China, Sea Turtle 911, released a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) back into the wild in an event that included adoring crowds and a lecture on sea turtle conservation. The sea turtle, dubbed "Crush," had been rescued from a local fishing village. Green sea turtles are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. "Despite the endangered status of sea turtles, there remains a thriving illegal market for sea turtle meat and products in China," a press release from Sea Turtle 911 notes.
Scientists recommend marine protected areas for Madagascar
(02/27/2012) With the government of Madagascar planning to increase marine protected areas by one million hectares, a group of researchers have laid out flexible recommendations in a new study in the open access journal PLoS ONE. The researchers employed four different analyses in order to highlight a number of different conservation options, however the different analyses pointed to the need to protect certain areas with high biodiversity, including the Barren Islands' reefs, the reefs of Juan de Nova, the Banc de Leven, and the shallow banks of the Cap Sainte Marie.
Leatherback sea turtles granted massive protected area along U.S. west coast
(01/23/2012) The U.S. federal government has designated 108,556 square kilometers (41,914 square miles) as critical habitat for the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the largest of the world's marine turtles and one of the most endangered. The protected area, around the size of Guatemala, spans coastal sea waters from California to Washington state, but does not protect the migration routes environmentalists hoped for.
Hugh Powell: birds lend invaluable insight into ecosystems
(01/23/2012) Hugh Powell is science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as well as a contributor to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Oceanus and other publications. He's traveled extensively while writing, including stints in Antarctica for WHOI's Live from the Poles. Before finding his niche as a science writer, Hugh studied the interconnections between black-backed woodpeckers, insects, and forest fires in Montana. He currently resides in Ithaca, New York.
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