Ocean Action Hub

Resource title

Whale shark hot spot offers new conservation insights

13 Nov 2019 - International team of marine scientists complete six-year whale shark study.

13 Nov 2019

  • International team of marine scientists complete six-year whale shark study
  • The study uses a novel combination of several monitoring techniques, including state-of-the-art acoustic and satellite tracking technologies
  • The study examined a potential whale shark nursery in the Red Sea, offering insights for conservation

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), whale sharks are considered endangered, which means the species has suffered a population decline of more than 50% in the past three generations. The whale shark is only two classifications from being extinct. Improvements and conservation efforts are in place, but there is still a long way to go to protect these gentle underwater giants.

An international team of researchers, led by marine scientists at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia and including researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the USA, has performed an extensive study of whale shark movement and residency using a combination of three scientific techniques; visual census, acoustic monitoring and satellite telemetry.

Their six-year study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, tracked long-term whale shark movement patterns near the Shib Habil reef (Arabic for "Rope Reef"), a known whale shark hotspot in the Red Sea. The team monitored a total of 84 different sharks over a six year period, and their results shed light on whale shark behaviors which could help to inform conservation efforts.

"The study takes years of passive acoustic monitoring data and combines it with previously published visual census and satellite telemetry data from the same individual sharks. The combined dataset is used to characterize the aggregation's seasonality, spatial distribution, and patterns of dispersal," Says Dr. Michael Berumen, Director of the Red Sea Research Center and Professor of Marine Science at KAUST.

They found the aggregation to be highly seasonal, with sharks being most abundant in April and May, and that many of the sharks returned to the hot spot regularly year after year. The study also shows roughly equal numbers of male and female sharks using the site, something that could be unique to Shib Habil. These characteristics indicate that this site may serve an important function for the wider Indian Ocean population of this rare and endangered species.

"Using the combined dataset, we can show somewhat conclusively that the aggregation meets all of the criteria of a shark nursery. This is particularly relevant given that Shib Habil is the only site in the Indian Ocean to regularly attract large numbers of juvenile females. Growing late-stage adolescents of both sexes into full adulthood is critical for sustaining a species. Management of critical habitats like Shib Habil and other aggregations will likely be vital for future whale shark conservation," says KAUST graduate Dr. Jesse Cochran, lead author of the study.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-11/kauo-wsh111119.php

Resource title

The value of seagrass in securing a sustainable planet

14 Aug 2018 - Researchers believe that improving knowledge of how seagrasses are important for biodiversity, fisheries and our global carbon cycle in turn needs to be reflected with greater protection for these sensitive habitats.

14 Aug 2018 - Researchers believe that improving knowledge of how seagrasses are important for biodiversity, fisheries and our global carbon cycle in turn needs to be reflected with greater protection for these sensitive habitats.

In a recent issue of Science, Dr Richard Unsworth from Swansea University and Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth from Cardiff University state that seagrass conservation is crucial for climate mitigation, sustaining fisheries productivity and food security.

Seagrasses are marine flowering plants that are found along temperate and tropical coastlines around the world and provide habitat for species of fish as well as herbivores such as turtles.

However, the distribution of seagrass makes it an easily exploitable fishing habitat and like many of the world's natural habitats, seagrass meadows are in decline with estimated global losses of -7% annually since 1990. They are also a potentially crucial component of efforts to prevent rapid uncontrolled climate change, due to their ability to store carbon in their sediments.

But it is their support of biodiversity which also makes the protection of seagrasses an even greater priority. The floral diversity in seagrass meadows is relatively low, but the three-dimensional structure of their shoots, roots, and rhizomes attracts a high abundance and diversity of other organisms (such as juvenile fish).

With the right science and the political and financial will, seagrass meadows can thrive and contribute to ensuring our planet stays within its sustainable boundaries. The authors of the study point to their research and conservation work in the Coral Triangle as an example of hope.

In Indonesia where they've documented large scale seagrass loss, they have importantly also led the development of a range of seagrass conservation initiatives that are beginning to raise hope for the sustainability of these amazingly productive habitats.

Dr Richard Unsworth, from Swansea University's Biosciences department, said:

"By developing long-term collaborations with community NGO's we've been able to understand the problems facing these ecosystems from a more holistic stand point and develop bespoke locally based solutions.

"In the Wakatobi National Park in Indonesia we've facilitated the restoration of small river catchments with trees through the creation of an incentive scheme. Farmers in the Wakatobi are now growing fruit trees to protect the seagrass and coral reefs."

Seagrass meadows aren't charismatic habitats, so selling their conservation value remains difficult, however the research they describe in the recent Science article illustrates that the world needs to place a much greater level of importance on the conservation of seagrass.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-08/su-tvo080718.php

Resource title

Restored ocean will alleviate poverty, provide jobs, and improve health, finds report

1 June 2017 - A healthy ocean will benefit global sustainable development in a number of ways, finds a new report published today by the Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program.

1 June 2017 - A healthy ocean will benefit global sustainable development in a number of ways, finds a new report published today by the Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program. With climate change and social inequity addressed, restoring the ocean will help alleviate poverty, provide livelihoods, and improve the health of millions around the world.

"The challenges--both environmental and socioeconomic--that confront our oceans have reached a critical level," said Yoshitaka Ota, Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program Director of Policy. "This report demonstrates how ocean sustainability holds the key not only to our future prosperity but also for our survival from a comprehensive science-based perspective."

Developed in preparation for the UN World Ocean Conference, June 5 to 9, this is the first comprehensive report on Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water. The goal outlines seven targets agreed upon by the international community as key to the issues plaguing our oceans - from eliminating subsidies to minimizing acidification, ending overfishing to creating marine reserves.

"If fish stocks recover and are effectively managed, fisheries are more likely to provide sustainable livelihoods and food, and be more resilient to climate change" said William Cheung, Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program Director of Science. "Sustainable fisheries can help reduce poverty, limit hunger, and contribute to decent work and sustained economic growth by providing employment opportunities and productive fish stocks."

The Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program highlighted linkages between the ocean goal and the other 16 Sustainable Development Goals, developed by the UN in 2015. The report focuses on the challenges of climate change and social equity concerns in achieving ocean sustainability.

"Climate change and social equity issues go hand and hand. The countries that are projected to be the hardest hit are tropical countries, which are mostly developing," said Gerald Singh, Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program Senior Fellow at UBC. "Sea levels are rising and fish are moving to different locations. But populations are also growing and moving towards coasts. Reducing inequalities is at the heart of sustainable development."

The co-benefits of achieving the ocean goal on the other sustainable development goals are wide reaching and not immediately apparent.

"The results may seem surprising, but a healthy ocean can contribute to achieving gender equality," said Ota. "Fisheries activities are quite gendered -- women typically do unrecognized and unrewarded work. Men will go on boats to capture fish that are sent to markets. But women are often collecting the subsistence food."

"A healthy ocean can also mean the difference between malnourishment and a steady supply of high quality protein for vulnerable communities," said Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor, Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program Manager. "The oceans are connected to our lives in many ways. Restoring the oceans isn't just an environmentalist's dream but is vital for employment, well being, livelihoods, and health around the world."

CONTINUE READING: https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-05/nfp-row052917.php