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News articles on marine ecosystems
Mongabay.com news articles on marine ecosystems in blog format. Updated regularly.
(03/10/2014) Two scientists are calling on researchers, NGOs, and governments to begin studying the impact of burning forests and peatlands in Indonesia on the already-threatened marine ecosystems of Southeast Asia. Every year, Indonesian farmers set forests, vegetation, and peatlands alight to clear them for agriculture, often palm oil, and pulp and paper plantations. Not only do these practices destroy hugely-diverse tropical forests, but the resulting haze spreads to many parts of Southeast Asia, threatening regional health and impacting economies. Now, a new paper argues that the sinister impacts of Indonesia's burning may extend as far as the oceans.
Wonderful Creatures: the tiny, predatory penis-worm that lies in wait in the sand
(02/28/2014) The seabed is really where it’s at in terms of animal diversity. Of the 35 known animal lineages, representatives of all but two are found here. In contrast, the huge numbers of species that inhabit tropical rainforests represent a mere 12 lineages. One group of animals that illustrates the diversity of the seabed is the Priapulida, which also go by the unfortunate common name of "penis worms." Only 20 species of priapulid are known today, a shadow of their diverse past, which extends back for well over 500 million years. Not commonly seen, the priapulids have attracted little attention from the zoology community as a whole.
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.
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.
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.
Shell drops plans to drill in the Arctic for now
(01/30/2014) Facing plunging profits, Royal Dutch Shell has announced it will cut exploration and development funding by nearly $10 billion this year, including halting their long-suffering plans to drill in the Arctic ocean. Shell's new CEO, Ben van Beurden, made the announcement yesterday that controversial plans to drill off the Alaskan coast will be put on hold for another year.
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.
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.
Seahorses on your iPad: new app allows anyone to track and document seahorses
(11/08/2013) Annually, approximately 13 million seahorses—live and dead—are traded around the globe. At this scale, the seahorse trade is potentially very destructive to a group of animals comprised of 48 species, 11 of which are listed by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) as threatened with extinction.
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.
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.
Finding a needle in a haystack: two new species of octocorals discovered in the Pacific Ocean
(09/04/2013) The vast expanse of the Earth's oceans makes finding a new species like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact, finding a needle in a haystack may be easier than finding a new species of octocoral in the Pacific Ocean. But Gary Williams with the California Academy of Sciences has recently found not only one but two new species, including a new genus of octocoral.
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.
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.
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.
Pacific islanders are the 'victims of industrial countries unable to control their carbon dioxide emissions'
(05/15/2013) With islands and atolls scattered across the ocean, the small Pacific island states are among those most exposed to the effects of global warming: increasing acidity and rising sea level, more frequent natural disasters and damage to coral reefs. These micro-states, home to about 10 million people, are already paying for the environmental irresponsibility of the great powers.
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).
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.
Clownfish helps its anemone host to breathe
(04/24/2013) The sight of a clownfish wriggling through the stinging tentacles of its anemone is a familiar and seemingly well-understood one to most people—the stinging anemone provides a protective home for the clownfish who is immune to such stings, and in turn the clownfish chases away any polyp-eating sunfish eyeing the anemone's tentacles for a meal. But recent research has shown that all that clownfish wriggling significantly helps to oxygenate the anemone at night, when oxygen levels in the water are low.
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.
Scientists find the 'missing heat' of global warming 700 meters below the sea
(03/28/2013) Critics of climate change often claim that warming has stopped since the late 1990s. While this is categorically false (the last decade was the warmest on record and 2005 and 2010 are generally considered tied for the warmest year), scientists do admit that warming hasn't occurred over land as rapidly as predicted in the last ten years, especially given continually rising greenhouse gas emissions. But a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters has found this so-called missing heat: 700 meters below the surface of the ocean.
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.
Featured video: the miracle of mangroves
(01/30/2013) Mangroves are among the most important ecosystems in the world: they provide nurseries for fish, protect coastlines against dangerous tropical storms, mitigate marine erosion, store massive amounts of carbon, and harbor species found no-where else. However, they are vanishing at astonishing rates: experts say around 35 percent of the world's mangroves were lost in just twenty years (1990 to 2010).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Coral diversity off Madagascar among the world's highest
(09/24/2012) The western Indian Ocean, especially the waters between Madagascar and mainland Africa, may be among the world's most biodiverse for coral species, according to a new study in PLOS ONE. Conducting dive surveys in the region for nearly a decade, David Obura with the Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO) identified 369 coral species in the western Indian Ocean and predicts there may be nearly another 100 unidentified. If so, this would make the region as biodiverse as the Great Barrier Reef, but still behind the Coral Triangle which has over 600 species.
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.
Controversial deep sea mining project approved in Papua New Guinea, first of its kind
(08/09/2012) The Papua New Guinea government has granted a 20-year license for copper and gold mining around a mile (1.6 kilometers) below the ocean's surface, jump-starting the world's first commercial deep sea mining venture. Undertaken by Canadian company, Nautilus Minerals, the venture will mine deep sea hydrothermal vents off the coast of New Britain. However, the project faces stiff concern from local activists, fishermen, and environmentalists.
Earth's ecosystems still soaking up half of human carbon emissions
(08/06/2012) Even as humans emit ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, Earth's ecosystems are still sequestering about half, according to new research in Nature. The study finds that the planet's oceans, forests, and other vegetation have stepped into overdrive to deal with the influx of carbon emitted from burning fossil fuels, but notes that this doesn't come without a price, including the acidification of the oceans.
Scientists: iron fertilization could be a big climate help
(07/18/2012) For a long time, oceanic iron fertilization was seen as a promising mechanism to combat global climate change. But then in 2009 a well-publicized study found that iron fertilization stored 80 times less carbon than expected, dampening enthusiasm and support around the geoengineering scheme. Now, however, the idea of fertilizing the ocean with iron may be back: a new study in Nature reports that iron fertilization, in the right conditions, could store carbon in the deep ocean for centuries.
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.
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.
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.
'Time pollution': loss of predators pushes nocturnal fish to take advantage of the day
(06/25/2012) Nocturnal fish—which sport big eyes for improved night vision—are taking back the day in the coral reefs of the Tabuaeran Atoll, according to a new study in the open-access journal PLoS ONE. Overfishing has plundered the Pacific atoll of many of its notable predators, including sharks and barracudas, causing ripple effects through the ecosystem. One of these emerging changes appears to be that with less fear of being eaten, nocturnal fish are increasingly venturing out during the day.
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.
Massive algae bloom in Arctic like "finding the Amazon rainforest in the Mojave Desert"
(06/11/2012) Given everything marine researchers know about phytoplankton, a type of algae, no one expected to find some of the world's largest blooms beneath Arctic sea ice. But this is exactly what scientists stumbled on during an ICESCAPE expedition in the Chukchi Sea, which is examining the massive impacts of climate change in the region. Researchers recorded a 100 kilometer (62 miles) long bloom underneath the Arctic ice pack that was four times richer than adjacent ice-free 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.
Scientists: if we don't act now we're screwed
(06/07/2012) Scientists warn that the Earth may be reaching a planetary tipping point due to a unsustainable human pressures, while the UN releases a new report that finds global society has made significant progress on only four environmental issues out of ninety in the last twenty years. Climate change, overpopulation, overconsumption, and ecosystem destruction could lead to a tipping point that causes planetary collapse, according to a new paper in Nature by 22 scientists. The collapse may lead to a new planetary state that scientists say will be far harsher for human well-being, let alone survival.
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.
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