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News articles on marine crisis
Mongabay.com news articles on marine crisis in blog format. Updated regularly.
Photos from the front: the California oil spill in pictures
(05/21/2015) On Tuesday, an underground oil pipeline burst near Goleta, California, spilling crude oil into the Pacific, soiling beaches, killing marine animals, and coating birds in oil. Photographers captured scenes of the unfolding spill and clean-up response, even as the extent of the damage remains under investigation.
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.
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.
Chemical clues in fossil shells may help us understand today's ocean acidification
(02/04/2015) As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, so too do those in the sea, leading to ocean acidification that outpaces that of any other time in tens of millions of years. Some effects of ocean acidification are imminent, like the fact that calcified organisms such as corals and shellfish will have access to less and less of the chemical components they need to build their shells and skeletons.
Ocean's 15: meet the species that have vanished forever from our seas
(01/15/2015) In the last 500 years, the oceans have suffered far fewer extinctions than on land—at least that we know of. According to a recent study in Science, 15 animals are known to have vanished forever from the oceans while terrestrial ecosystems have seen 514 extinctions. The researchers, however, warn that the number of marine extinctions could rise rapidly as the oceans are industrialized.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Underwater horrors: shells of marine life melting off the coast of the U.S.
(05/08/2014) It could be the plot of a horror movie: humans wake up one day to discover that chemical changes in the atmosphere are dissolving away parts of their bodies. But for small marine life known as sea butterflies, or pteropods, this is what's happening off the West Cost of the U.S. Increased carbon in the ocean is melting away shells of sea butterflies.
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.
Ocean acidifying 10 times faster than anytime in the last 55 million years, putting polar ecosystems at risk
(02/24/2014) An assessment of ocean acidification, presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw in November 2013, starkly concluded that acidity is on track to rise 170 percent by the end of this century. As many key species are sensitive to changes in acidity, this would drastically impact ocean ecosystems, with effects especially pronounced in polar regions where the cold waters intensify acidification, and which are home to many organisms that are particularly vulnerable to acidification.
Global warming could upset Antarctic food chain
(01/02/2014) Resting near the bottom of the foodchain, Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) underpin much of the Southern Ocean's ecosystem. But in a rapidly warming world, these hugely-abundant crustaceans could see their habitat shrink considerably. In a recent paper in PLOS ONE, scientists predict that Antarctic krill could lose 20 percent of their growth habitat, or 1.2 million square kilometers.
Scientists discover a new coral in the French Polynesia
(12/20/2013) With humans scattered throughout the globe, it is hard to imagine lands still unexplored or species undocumented. Yet, on the remote French Polynesian Gambier Islands a new coral reef species has been found thriving in underwater lagoons. Echinophyllia tarae was discovered by marine biologist Francesca Benzoni and the research crew members of the Tara Oceans International Research Expedition.
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013
(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.
Animal Earth: exploring the hidden biodiversity of our planet
(12/03/2013) Most of the species on Earth we never see. In fact, we have no idea what they look like, much less how spectacular they are. In general, people can identify relatively few of their backyard species, much less those of other continents. This disconnect likely leads to an inability in the general public to relate to biodiversity and, by extension, the loss of it. One of the most remarkable books I have read is a recent release that makes serious strides to repair that disconnect and affirm the human bond with biodiversity. Animal Earth: The Amazing Diversity of Living Creatures written by Ross Piper, a zoologist with the University of Leeds, opens up the door to discovery.
Governments should respond to ocean acidification 'as urgently as they do to national security threats'
(10/03/2013) The oceans are more acidic now than they have been for at least 300m years, due to carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, and a mass extinction of key species may already be almost inevitable as a result, leading marine scientists warned on Thursday. An international audit of the health of the oceans has found that overfishing and pollution are also contributing to the crisis, in a deadly combination of destructive forces that are imperiling marine life, on which billions of people depend for their nutrition and livelihood.
Bad feedback: ocean acidification to worsen global warming
(08/28/2013) As if ocean acidification and climate change weren't troubling enough (both of which are caused by still-rising carbon emissions), new research published in Nature finds that ocean acidification will eventually exacerbate global warming, further raising the Earth's temperature.
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.
Climate change scattering marine species
(08/08/2013) Rising ocean temperatures are rearranging the biological make-up of our oceans, pushing species towards the poles by 7kms every year, as they chase the climates they can survive in, according to new research. The study, conducted by a working group of scientists from 17 different institutions, gathered data from seven different countries and found the warming oceans are causing marine species to alter their breeding, feeding and migration patterns.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The world's largest 'waste dump' is found in the Pacific Ocean
(05/06/2013) If you were to travel from the United States of America to Japan, you would most likely encounter what could be described as the world's largest waste dump: a 100,000 tonne expanse of debris floating around a large region of the Pacific Ocean. The total area of this phenomenon has been said to equal the size of continental U.S., but the truth about its true size remains unknown.
China 'looting' Africa of its fish
(04/24/2013) Just 9% of the millions of tonnes of fish caught by China's giant fishing fleet in African and other international waters is officially reported to the UN, say researchers using a new way to estimate the size and value of catches. Fisheries experts have long considered that the catches reported by China to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) are low but the scale of the possible deception shocked the authors.
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.
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.
Typhoon Bopha decimated coral reefs
(01/24/2013) When Typhoon Bopha, also known as Pablo, ran ashore on Mindanao, it was the largest tropical storm it ever hit the Philippine island. In its wake the massive superstorm left over 1,000 people were dead and 6.2 million affected with officials saying illegal logging and mining worsened the scale of the disaster. However, the Category 5 typhoon also left a trail of destruction that has been less reported: coral reefs.
Animals dissolving due to carbon emissions
(12/03/2012) Marine snails, also known as sea butterflies, are dissolving in the Southern Seas due to anthropogenic carbon emissions, according to a new study in Nature GeoScience. Scientists have discovered that the snail's shells are being corroded away as pH levels in the ocean drop due to carbon emissions, a phenomenon known as ocean acidification. The snails in question, Limacina helicina antarctica, play a vital role in the food chain, as prey for plankton, fish, birds, and even whales.
Threatened Galapagos coral may predict the future of reefs worldwide
(11/07/2012) The Galapagos Islands have been famous for a century and a half, but even Charles Darwin thought the archipelago’s list of living wonders didn’t include coral reefs. It took until the 1970s before scientists realized the islands did in fact have coral, but in 1983, the year the first major report on Galapagos reef formation was published, they were almost obliterated by El Niño. This summer, a major coral survey found that some of the islands’ coral communities are showing promising signs of recovery. Their struggle to survive may tell us what is in store for the rest of the world, where almost three-quarters of corals are predicted to suffer long-term damage by 2030.
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.
Great Barrier Reef loses half its coral in less than 30 years
(10/01/2012) The Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral cover in the last 27 years, according to a new study released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Based on over 2,000 surveys from 1985 to this year the study links the alarming loss to three impacts: tropical cyclone damage, outbreaks crown-of-thorns starfish that devour corals, and coral bleaching.
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.
Coral reefs in Caribbean on life support
(09/11/2012) Only 8 percent of the Caribbean's reefs today retain coral, according to a new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With input and data from 36 scientists, the report paints a bleak picture of coral decline across the region, threatening fisheries, tourism, and marine life in general.
2,600 scientists: climate change killing the world's coral reefs
(07/10/2012) In an unprecedented show of concern, 2,600 (and rising) of the world's top marine scientists have released a Consensus Statement on Climate Change and Coral Reefs that raises alarm bells about the state of the world's reefs as they are pummeled by rising temperatures and ocean acidification, both caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The statement was released at the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium.
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.
Wildlife in the tropics plummets by over 60 percent
(05/15/2012) In 48 years wildlife populations in the tropics, the region that holds the bulk of the world's biodiversity, have fallen by an alarming 61 percent, according to the most recent update to the Living Planet Index. Produced by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the index currently tracks almost 10,000 populations of 2,688 vertebrate species (including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) in both the tropics and temperate regions.
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.
Featured video: Google Earth highlights imperiled coral reefs around the world
(04/18/2012) A new video by Google Earth and the World Resources Institute (WRI) highlights the world's many endangered coral reefs. A part of the WRI's Reefs at Risk program, the video highlights regional and global threats to the oceans' most biodiverse ecosystem. According to the WRI, a stunning 75 percent of the world's reefs are currently threatened.
Whole Foods bans 'red' fish from its stores
(04/10/2012) Whole Foods has announced it will be the first grocery chain in the U.S. to no longer sell any seafood in the "red." Based on sustainability ratings by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute, fish labeled red are those that are considered either overfished or fished in a manner that impacts other species or damages marine ecosystems. Beginning Earth Day, April 22nd, Whole Foods will no longer be selling Atlantic halibut, grey sole, skate, octopus, tautog, sturgeon, among others. Already, the store doesn't sell some unsustainable catches such as bluefin tuna and orange roughy.
Carbon emissions paving way for mass extinction in oceans
(03/05/2012) Human emissions of carbon dioxide may be acidifying the oceans at a rate not seen in 300 million years, according to new research published in Science. The ground-breaking study, which measures for the first time the rate of current acidification compared with other occurrences going back 300 million years, warns that carbon emissions, unchecked, will likely lead to a mass extinction in the world's oceans. Acidification particularly threatens species dependent on calcium carbonate (a chemical compound that drops as the ocean acidifies) such as coral reefs, marine mollusks, and even some plankton. As these species vanish, thousands of others that depend on them are likely to follow.
Washing clothing pollutes oceans with billions of microplastics
(02/14/2012) Washing synthetic clothes—such as nylon, polyester, and acrylic—is polluting the oceans with billions of microplastics: plastics that measure less than one millimeter. It may sound innocuous, but research has shown that these microplastics are accumulating in marine species with unknown health impacts, both on the pollution-eating species and the humans who consume them.
Black Swans and bottom-up environmental action
(02/08/2012) The defining events shaping the modern world - economic, social, environmental, progressive and disruptive - are frequently characterized as "Black Swans."The Black Swan term and theory were characterized by author and analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb who explains, "What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable." Taleb identifies the emergence of the internet, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the popularity of Facebook, stock market crashes, the success of Harry Potter, and World War I as among Black Swan events.
Climate and The Oceans - Princeton Primers in Climate: A Book Review
(01/25/2012) Climate and The Oceans by Dr. Geoffrey K. Vallis provides a coherent, well-articulated primer on how the oceans impact the Earth's climate. This easy-to-read illustrated book, filled with both data and accessible mathematical equations demonstrating the impact of the oceans on the Earth's climate, offers practitioners and stakeholders' state-of-the-art scientific analysis of how the oceans and climate interact that is both user friendly to the non-expert yet scientifically rigorous enough as bridge material for graduate students as they grapple with the compelling field of climate science and oceanography.
Acid oceans: in some regions acidification a 'hundred times greater' than natural variation
(01/24/2012) Emissions of carbon over the last two centuries have raised the acidity of the oceans to the highest levels in 21,000 years and likely beyond, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change. The change threatens a number of marine species, including coral reefs and molluscs.
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.
Featured video: tuna industry bycatch includes sea turtles, dolphins, whales
(01/16/2012) A Greenpeace video, using footage from a whistleblower, shows disturbing images of the tuna industry operating in the unregulated waters of the Pacific Ocean. Using fish aggregation devices (FADs) and purse seine nets, the industry is not only able to catch entire schools of tuna, including juvenile, but also whatever else is in the area of the net.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2011
(12/22/2011) Many of 2011's most dramatic stories on environmental issues came from people taking to the streets. With governments and corporations slow to tackle massive environmental problems, people have begun to assert themselves. Victories were seen on four continents: in Bolivia a draconian response to protestors embarrassed the government, causing them to drop plans to build a road through Tipnis, an indigenous Amazonian reserve; in Myanmar, a nation not known for bowing to public demands, large protests pushed the government to cancel a massive Chinese hydroelectric project; in Borneo a three-year struggle to stop the construction of a coal plant on the coast of the Coral Triangle ended in victory for activists; in Britain plans to privatize forests created such a public outcry that the government not only pulled back but also apologized; and in the U.S. civil disobedience and massive marches pressured the Obama Administration to delay a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands from Canada to a global market.
Picture of the day: Ocean in Focus photo contest winner
(11/22/2011) A photo of a shark with a rusting hook in its maw is the grand prize winner of the Ocean in Focus photo contest, which seeks to raise awareness for conservation issues in the oceans.
US reduces catch limit of 'most important fish in the sea'
(11/15/2011) The Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has slashed the allowable catch of a tiny fish named menhaden by 37 percent by 2013. Dubbed the 'most important fish in the sea' by author H. Bruce Franklin, the menhaden plays a critical role in marine ecosystems as a food source for larger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, as well as helping to regulate the marine environment. However, due to overfishing the menhaden fish has dropped 92 percent from its historical population.
Coral reef biodiversity may be vastly underestimated
(11/03/2011) Researchers with the Smithsonian have catalogued almost as many crab species on tropical coral reef bits measuring just 20.6 square feet (6.3 square meters) as in all of Europe's seas, finds a new paper in PLoS ONE. The team used DNA barcoding to quickly identify a total of 525 crustaceans (including 168 crab species) from dead coral chunks taken from seven sites in the tropics, including the Indian, Pacific and Caribbean oceans.
11 challenges facing 7 billion super-consumers
(10/31/2011) Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Halloween this year is not the ghouls and goblins taking to the streets, but a baby born somewhere in the world. It's not the baby's or the parent's fault, of course, but this child will become a part of an artificial, but still important, milestone: according to the UN, the Earth's seventh billionth person will be born today. That's seven billion people who require, in the very least, freshwater, food, shelter, medicine, and education. In some parts of the world, they will also have a car, an iPod, a suburban house and yard, pets, computers, a lawn-mower, a microwave, and perhaps a swimming pool. Though rarely addressed directly in policy (and more often than not avoided in polite conversations), the issue of overpopulation is central to environmentally sustainability and human welfare.
Deepwater oil spill likely to hurt fish populations over decades
(09/28/2011) Oil pollution doesn't have to kill fish to have a long-term impact, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Researchers found that Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis) that had been exposed to very low to non-detectable levels of oil contamination from the Deepwater oil spill last year, still showed developmental problems that are likely to impact fish populations for decades to come.
Sowing the seeds to save the Patagonian Sea
(09/07/2011) With wild waters and shores, the Patagonia Sea is home to a great menagerie of marine animals: from penguins to elephants seals, albatrosses to squid, and sea lions to southern right whales. The sea lies at crossroads between more northern latitudes and the cold bitter water of the Southern Ocean, which surround Antarctica. However the region is also a heavy fishing ground, putting pressure on a number of species and imperiling the very ecosystem that supplies the industry. Conservation efforts, spearheaded by marine conservationist Claudio Campagna and colleagues with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), are in the early stages. Campagna, who often writes about the importance of language in the fight for preservation, has pushed to rename the area to focus on its stunning wildlife.
Shell spills over 50,000 gallons of oil off Scotland
(08/16/2011) Yesterday, Royal Dutch Shell estimated that to date 54,600 gallons of oil had spilled into the North Sea off the east coast of Scotland, spreading some 19 miles wide (30 kilometers) at its maximum. While the company stopped the initial leak on Thursday, it has now announced that the oil has found a 'second pathway' and is still leaking into the sea around 84 gallons a day.
Ocean prognosis: mass extinction
(06/20/2011) Multiple and converging human impacts on the world's oceans are putting marine species at risk of a mass extinction not seen for millions of years, according to a panel of oceanic experts. The bleak assessment finds that the world's oceans are in a significantly worse state than has been widely recognized, although past reports of this nature have hardly been uplifting. The panel, organized by the International Program on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), found that overfishing, pollution, and climate change are synergistically pummeling oceanic ecosystems in ways not seen during human history. Still, the scientists believe that there is time to turn things around if society recognizes the need to change.
Longline fishing still drowning over a quarter million seabirds every year
(06/08/2011) A new analysis estimates that longline fisheries are still decimating seabirds, even after years of efforts to mitigate deaths. According to a study in Endangered Species Research around 300,000 seabirds are drowned by longline fisheries as bycatch. Attracted by bait on the longline—sometimes measuring hundreds of miles as it trails on the surface behind a boat—birds are often hooked and drowned.
Noise in oceans leads to 'severe acoustic trauma' in octopus, squid
(04/12/2011) Researchers have documented for years how noise pollution impacts dolphins in whales, but a new study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment finds that even low intensity noise can severely injure cephalopods, which include octopus, squid, and cuttlefish. The injuries are bad enough to possibly lead to stranding and death, thereby providing a feasible explanation for a number of recent strandings, including giant squid washing ashore in Spain.
Antarctic penguins losing to climate change through 80% krill decline
(04/11/2011) Climate change has hit species of Antarctic penguins by causing a staggering decline in their prey: krill. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that both chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) and Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) have seen their populations decline likely do to less krill, instead of habitat changes. Since 1970 krill populations have fallen by 80% in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. Because krill require sea ice to reproduce, shrinking sea ice from climate change has made it more difficult for them to breed.
15 conservation issues to watch
(03/14/2011) Deforestation, oil spills, coral acidification: these are just a few examples of ongoing, and well-researched, environmental changes that are imperiling the world's biodiversity. But what issues are on the horizon? At the end of 2010, experts outlined in Trends in Ecology & Evolution 15 issues that may impact conservation efforts this year and beyond, but are not yet widely known. These are issues you may never hear about it again or could dominate tomorrow's environmental headlines. "Our aim was to identify technological advances, environmental changes, novel ecological interactions and changes in society that could have substantial impacts on the conservation of biological diversity […] whether beneficial or detrimental," the authors write in the paper. Experts originally came up with 71 possible issues and then whittled it down to the 15 most important—and least known.
Coral crisis: 75% of the world's coral reefs in danger
(02/23/2011) Marine scientists have been warning for years that coral reefs, the most biodiverse ecosystems in the ocean, are facing grave peril. But a new comprehensive analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI) along with twenty-five partners ups the ante, finding that 75% of the world's coral reefs are threatened by local and global impacts, including climate change. An updating of a 1996 report, the new analysis found that threats had increased on 30% of the world's reefs. Clearly conservation efforts during the past decade have failed to save reefs on a large-scale.
Arctic fish catch vastly underreported (by hundreds of thousands of metric tons) for 5 decades
(02/07/2011) From 1950 to 2006 the United Nation Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO) estimated that 12,700 metric tons of fish were caught in the Arctic, giving the impression that the Arctic was a still-pristine ecosystem, remaining underexploited by the world's fisheries. However, a recent study by the University of British Colombia Fisheries Center and Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences throws cold water on this widespread belief. According to the study, published in Polar Biology, the total Arctic catch from 1950 to 2006 is likely to have been nearly a million metric tons, almost 75 times the FAO's official record.
The ocean crisis: hope in troubled waters, an interview with Carl Safina
(02/07/2011) Being compared—by more than one reviewer—to Henry Thoreau and Rachel Carson would make any nature writer's day. But add in effusive reviews that compare one to a jazz musician, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin, and you have a sense of the praise heaped on Carl Safina for his newest work, The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. Like Safina's other books, The View from Lazy Point focuses on the beauty, poetry, and crisis of the world's oceans and its hundreds-of-thousands of unique inhabitants. Taking the reader on a journey around the world—the Arctic, Antarctic, and the tropics—Safina always returns home to take in the view, and write about the wildlife of his home, i.e. Lazy Point, on Long Island. While Safina's newest book addresses the many ways in which the ocean is being degraded, depleted, and ultimately imperiled as a living ecosystem (such as overfishing and climate change) it also tweezes out stories of hope by focusing on how single animals survive, and in turn how nature survives in an increasingly human world. However, what makes Safina's work different than most nature writing is his ability to move seamlessly from contemporary practical problems to the age-old philosophical underpinnings that got us here. By doing so, he points a way forward.
Paradise & Paradox: a semester in Ecuador
(02/02/2011) A semester abroad is an opportunity to live a sort of compacted life. In a few short months you seem to gain the experience of a much longer time and make enough memories to fill years. I recall a weeklong trip to the Alvord Desert with a field biology class from Portland Community College: the adventure of living out of a van, conducting research, and experiencing a place with classmates turned colleagues and professors turned friends who knew the desert like the backs of their hands. In that regard, it had a lot in common with my semester in Ecuador, but I can't think of anything that could have prepared me for a four month stay in a small South American country that I knew very little about.
Record high fish consumption keeps populations imperiled
(02/01/2011) More people than ever are eating more fish than ever, according to a new report by the United Nations covering the year 2008. At the same time, fish populations in the world's oceans continue to decline threatening marine ecosystems, food security, and the fishing industry itself.
World has run out of fishing grounds
(12/06/2010) The world's oceans can no longer accommodate fisheries expansion, confirms a study conducted by joint effort between the University of British Columbia and the National Geographic Society. The study is the first of its kind to analyze the geographic expansion of global fisheries. Published in the journal PLoS ONE, the study lends additional credence to reports that current fishing practices are unsustainable. Researchers holistically determined the ecological footprint of commercial fisheries by looking at primary production—the tiny organisms that make up the bottom of the food chain—and calculating the amount necessary to support current fishing yields around the world from 1950 to 2005. The study finds that the amount of primary production required to maintain commercial fishing at current levels far exceeds that which exists.
Beyond gloom: solutions to the global coral reef decline
(11/10/2010) The world's coral reefs are in trouble. Due to a variety of factors—including ocean acidification, warming temperatures from climate change, overfishing, and pollution—coral cover has decline by approximately 125,000 square kilometers in the past 50 or so years. This has caused some marine biologists, like Charlie Veron, Former Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, to predict that coral reefs will be largely extinguished within a century. This year alone, large-scale coral bleaching events, whereby coral lose their symbiotic protozoa and become prone to disease and mortality, were seen off the coasts of Indonesia, the Philippines, and some Caribbean islands. However a new paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution attempts to dispel the gloom over coral reefs by pointing to strategies, and even some successes, to save them.
Carbon emissions hurting coral recruitment
(11/08/2010) While research has shown that ocean acidification from rising CO2 levels in the ocean imperils the growth and survival mature coral reefs, a new study has found that it may also negatively impact burgeoning corals, by significantly lowering the success of coral recruitment. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that coral recruitment could fall by 73% over the next century due to increasing acidification.
World needs to protect 32 million square kilometers of ocean in two years
(10/20/2010) According to goals set in 2002 by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, nations must spend the next two years catching-up on creating ocean reserve. Currently, about 1.17 percent of the ocean is under some form of protection, but the 2002 goal was 10 percent by 2012. That means protecting over 32.5 million square kilometers, of the ocean twice the size of Russia. According to a recent report, Global Ocean Protection by the Nature Conservancy, not only is the world failing on its goals to protect a significant portion of the ocean, it's also failing to protect 10 percent of various marine ecosystems.
Already Critically Endangered, bluefin tuna hit hard by BP oil disaster
(10/19/2010) Using satellite data from the European Space Agency, researchers estimate that over 20% of juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico were killed by the BP oil spill. Although that percentage may not seem catastrophic, the losses are on top of an 82% decline in the overall population over the past three decades due to overfishing. The population plunge has pushed the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to categorize the fish as Critically Endangered, its highest rating before extinction.
Humanity consuming the Earth: by 2030 we'll need two planets
(10/13/2010) Too many people consuming too much is depleting the world's natural resources faster than they are replenished, imperiling not only the world's species but risking the well-being of human societies, according to a new massive study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), entitled the Living Planet Report. The report finds that humanity is currently consuming the equivalent of 1.5 planet Earths every year for its activities. This overconsumption has caused biodiversity—in this case, representative populations of vertebrate animals—to fall by 30 percent worldwide since 1970. The situation is more dire in tropical regions where terrestrial species' populations have fallen by 60 percent and freshwater species by 70 percent.
Colossal coral bleaching kills up to 95 percent of corals in the Philippines
(09/23/2010) It is one of the most worrisome observations: fast massive death of coral reefs. A severe wide-scale bleaching occurred in the Philippines leaving 95 percent of the corals dead. The bleaching happened as the result of the 2009-2010 El Niño, with the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia waters experiencing significant thermal increase especially since the beginning of 2010.
Coral reef survival depends on the super small, an interview with Forest Rohwer
(08/30/2010) If you take a teaspoon and dip it into the ocean what will you have? Some drops of lifeless water? Only a few decades ago this is what scientists would have said, however, the development of increasingly powerful microscopes have shown us a world long unknown, which has vital importance for the survival of one of the world's most threatened and most treasured ecosystems: coral reefs. A single milliliter of water is now known to contain at least a million living microbes, i.e. organisms too small to see without a microscope. After discovering their super-abundant presence, researchers are now beginning to uncover how these incredibly tiny life-forms shape the fate of the world's coral reefs.
The biology and conservation of declining coral reefs, an interview with Kristian Teleki
(08/15/2010) Coral reefs are often considered the "rainforests of the sea" because of their amazing biodiversity. In fact, coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. It is not unusual for a reef to have several hundred species of snails, sixty species of corals, and several hundred species of fish. While they comprise under 1% of the world’s ocean surface, one-quarter of all marine species call coral reefs their home. Fish, mollusks, sea stars, sea urchins, and more depend on this important ecosystem, and humans do too. Coral reefs supply important goods and services–from shoreline protection to tourism and fisheries–which by some estimates are worth $375 billion a year.
Visiting the Gulf: how wildlife and people are faring in America's worst environmental disaster, an interview with Jennifer Jacquet
(07/29/2010) "President Obama called it 'the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.' So I thought I should face it and head to the Gulf"—these are the opening words on the popular blog Guilty Planet as the author, marine biologist Jennifer Jacquet, embarked on a ten day trip to Louisiana. As a scientist, Jacquet was, of course, interested in the impact of the some four million barrels of oil on the Gulf's already depleted ecosystem, however she was as equally keen to see how Louisianans were coping with the fossil fuel-disaster that devastated their most vital natural resource just four years after Hurricane Katrina.
Backbone of marine food chain in alarming decline
(07/28/2010) Tiny marine algae, known as phytoplankton, are the backbone of the marine food chain, yet a new study in Nature has found that this backbone is disintegrating. Researchers discovered that since 1950 phytoplankton has declined by approximately 40 percent across the Northern Hemisphere, a decline that corresponds to warming waters due to climate change. Given that phytoplankton feed the oceans' abundance all the way up the food chain—from zooplankton to fish to seabird to sharks to humans—the decline has likely impacted the very structure of the ocean.
Who's really accountable for the BP oil spill?
(07/25/2010) Reading articles in the newspapers recently and online, I find the media's focus is on scrutinizing BP's way of paying for the damage done when an estimated 76,934,000 gallons of their oil leaked out into the Gulf of Mexico after the explosion of their Deepwater Horizon rig in April. It is not that they are being criticised for not standing up and taking full responsibility for their recklessness that caused the spill, but instead they are being accused of not paying enough money for its clean-up. Taxpayers are outraged that they may pick-up the tab and are demanding to know why they should be held accountable when the disaster wasn’t their fault. Yet, do we not all have a part to play in this catastrophe?
Citibank's shark fin soup promotion draws ire, ends early
(07/22/2010) Citibank Hong Kong has canceled its promotion of shark fin soup after activists cried foul, according to the New York Times. The branch had offered Citibank card holders 15 percent off a shark fin soup dinner at Maxim's Chinese Cuisine for the month of July.
New NASA image reveals the oceans' dead zones
(07/22/2010) A new image by NASA reveals the extent of the world's marine dead zones, which a study in 2008 found were doubling every decade. At that time 415 dead zones had been identified worldwide. Dead zones are regions of the ocean where dissolved oxygen has fallen to such low levels that most marine species can no longer survive. Such conditions are often seasonal.
Amazing reefs: how corals 'hear', an interview with Steve Simpson
(07/21/2010) Corals aggregate to form vast reefs, which are home to numerous species and provide vital ecological services such as protecting shorelines. However, coral reefs are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world due to many factors, such as global warming and ocean acidification. Recent research by Simpson and his team of scientists has shown that corals, rather than drifting aimlessly after being released by their parent colonies and by chance landing back on reefs, instead find their way purposefully to reefs by detecting the sound of snapping shrimps and grunting fish on the reef. However, that discovery also means that the larvae might struggle to find reefs when human noises, like drilling or boats, mask the natural ocean sounds.
Oil disaster threatens Gulf of Mexico's deep water titans
(07/19/2010) As I discovered in the course of researching my book, No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave, 2010), the oil industry has had a poor record when it comes to protecting aquatic sea life. Take for example the manatee, which has been put at risk from the Amazon to the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the oil industry. One of the most outlandish creatures on the planet, the shy and retiring manatee, which gets its name from an American Indian word meaning “Lady of the Water,” was first described as a cross between a seal and hippo. The creature has a wonderfully round body, mostly black skin the texture of vinyl, a bright pink belly, a diamond-shaped tail and a cleft lip.
In the midst of marine collapse will we save our last ocean?
(07/05/2010) Imagine an ocean untouched by oil spills: a sea free of pollution, invasive species, dead zones, and over-exploitation; waters where marine animals exist in natural abundance and play ecological roles undimmed by mankind. Such a place may sound impossible in today's largely depleted oceans, but it exists: only discovered in 1841, the Ross Sea spreads over nearly a million kilometers adjacent to the Antarctic continent. Here killer whales, penguins, sea birds, whales, and giant fish all thrive. However, even with its status as the world's 'last ocean', the Ross Sea has not escaped human impact. Over the last 15 years commercial fisheries have begun to catch one of its most important species in the ecosystem to serve them up on the dinner plates of the wealthy.