Ocean Action Hub

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Global heating supercharging Indian Ocean climate system

19 Nov 2019 - Indian Ocean dipole events, linked to bushfires and floods, are becoming stronger and more frequent, scientists say.

19 Nov 2019 - Global heating is “supercharging” an increasingly dangerous climate mechanism in the Indian Ocean that has played a role in disasters this year including bushfires in Australia and floods in Africa.

Scientists and humanitarian officials say this year’s record Indian Ocean dipole, as the phenomenon is known, threatens to reappear more regularly and in a more extreme form as sea surface temperatures rise.

Of most concern are years in which the sea surface off the coast of Africa warms up, provoking increased rains, while temperatures off Australia fall, leading to drier weather.

It is similar to El Niño and La Niña in the Pacific, which cause sharp changes in weather patterns on both sides of the ocean.

Caroline Ummenhofer, a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts who has been a key figure in efforts to understand the importance of the dipole, said unique factors were at play in the Indian Ocean compared with other tropical regions.

While ocean currents and winds in the Atlantic and Pacific can disperse heating water, the large Asian landmass to the north of the Indian Ocean makes it particularly susceptible to retaining heat. “It’s quite different to the tropical Atlantic and tropical Pacific events. There you have you have steady easterly trade winds. In the Indian Ocean that’s not the case,” Ummenhofer said.

“There is a certain season where you have easterly winds. Otherwise you have seasonally reversing monsoon winds, which makes for very different dynamics.”

Recent research suggests ocean heat has risen dramatically over the past decade, leading to the potential for warming water in the Indian Ocean to affect the Indian monsoon, one of the most important climate patterns in the world.

“There has been research suggesting that Indian Ocean dipole events have become more common with the warming in the last 50 years, with climate models suggesting a tendency for such events to become more frequent and becoming stronger,” Ummenhofer said.

She said warming appeared to be “supercharging” mechanisms already existing in the background. “The Indian Ocean is particularly sensitive to a warming world. It is the canary in the coalmine seeing big changes before others come to other tropical ocean areas.”

Australian climatologists have pointed to this year’s dipole as at least one of the contributing factors in the bushfires. Jonathan Pollock, of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, said this dipole was “up there as one of the strongest” on record.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/nov/19/global-heating-supercharging-indian-ocean-dipole-climate-system

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Dumped fishing gear is biggest plastic polluter in ocean, finds report

5 Nov 2019 - Greenpeace calls for global action over nets, lines and traps that are deadly for marine life.

5 Nov 2019 - Lost and abandoned fishing gear which is deadly to marine life makes up the majority of large plastic pollution in the oceans, according to a report by Greenpeace.

More than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots and traps used in commercial fishing are dumped and discarded in the sea every year, the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses.

The report, which draws on the most up-to-date research on “ghost gear” polluting the oceans, calls for international action to stop the plastic pollution, which is deadly for marine wildlife.

About 300 sea turtles were found dead as a result of entanglement in ghost gear off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, last year. And in October, a pregnant whale was found entangled in ghost gear off the Orkney coast. The fishing gear was jammed in the animal’s baleen, the filter-feeder system inside its mouth, and scientists said the net would have hugely impaired the minke whale’s feeding and movement.

Louisa Casson, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Ghost gear is a major source of ocean plastic pollution and it affects marine life in the UK as much as anywhere else.

“The UK’s waters do not exist in a vacuum as oceans have no borders. The world’s governments must take action to protect our global oceans, and hold the under-regulated fishing industry to account for its dangerous waste. This should start with a strong global ocean treaty being agreed at the United Nations next year.”

The report said abandoned fishing gear was particularly deadly. “Nets and lines can pose a threat to wildlife for years or decades, ensnaring everything from small fish and crustaceans to endangered turtles, seabirds and even whales,” it said.

“Spreading throughout the ocean on tides and currents, lost and discarded fishing gear is now drifting to Arctic coastlines, washing up on remote Pacific islands, entangled on coral reefs and littering the deep seafloor.”

CONTINUE READING: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/06/dumped-fishing-gear-is-biggest-plastic-polluter-in-ocean-finds-report

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Ocean acidification can cause mass extinctions, fossils reveal

24 Oct 2019 - Ocean acidification can cause the mass extinction of marine life, fossil evidence from 66m years ago has revealed.

24 Oct 2019 - Ocean acidification can cause the mass extinction of marine life, fossil evidence from 66m years ago has revealed.

A key impact of today’s climate crisis is that seas are again getting more acidic, as they absorb carbon emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists said the latest research is a warning that humanity is risking potential “ecological collapse” in the oceans, which produce half the oxygen we breathe.

The researchers analysed small seashells in sediment laid down shortly after a giant meteorite hit the Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and three-quarters of marine species. Chemical analysis of the shells showed a sharp drop in the pH of the ocean in the century to the millennium after the strike.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/21/ocean-acidification-can-cause-mass-extinctions-fossils-reveal?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

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Booming demand could drive tuna to extinction, researchers find

7 Oct 2019 - Massive global expansion of tuna fisheries also poses a threat to sharks and other species, says study.

7 Oct 2019 - Massive global expansion of tuna fisheries also poses a threat to sharks and other species, says study.

Scientists have warned that existing levels of tuna fishing are unsustainable after researchers found that global catches have increased more than 1,000% over the past 60 years.

A study in the journal Fisheries Research estimated that about 6m tonnes of tuna are now caught annually, a rate that “risks driving tuna populations to unsustainable levels and possible extinction”.

“Tuna fisheries have expanded into every region that we can possibly exploit. There are no new fishing grounds to explore and we are catching fish at the highest rate we can,” said Angie Coulter, a researcher with the Sea Around Us initiative at the University of British Columbia.

The global study is the first to estimate the volume of tuna taken out of the ocean, where the fish are being caught and the amount of bycatch – tuna caught unintentionally and discarded into the sea.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/03/booming-demand-for-tuna-driving-unsustainable-level-of-fishing-report

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Ocean cleanup device successfully collects plastic for first time

3 Oct 2019 - Floating boom finally retains debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, creator says.

3 Oct 2019Floating boom finally retains debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, creator says.

A huge floating device designed by Dutch scientists to clean up an island of rubbish in the Pacific Ocean that is three times the size of France has successfully picked up plastic from the high seas for the first time.

Boyan Slat, the creator of the Ocean Cleanup project, tweeted that the 600 metre-long (2,000ft) free-floating boom had captured and retained debris from what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Alongside a picture of the collected rubbish, which includes a car wheel, Slat wrote: “Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics! Also, anyone missing a wheel?”

About 600,000 to 800,000 metric tonnes of fishing gear is abandoned or lost at sea each year. Another 8m tonnes of plastic waste flows in from beaches.

Ocean currents have brought a vast patch of such detritus together halfway between Hawaii and California, where it is kept in rough formation by an ocean gyre, a whirlpool of currents. It is the largest accumulation of plastic in the world’s oceans.

The vast cleaning system is designed to not only collect discarded fishing nets and large visible plastic objects, but also microplastics.

The plastic barrier floating on the surface of the sea has a three metre-deep (10ft) screen below it, which is intended to trap some of the 1.8tn pieces of plastic without disturbing the marine life below.

The device is fitted with satellites and sensors so it can communicate its position to a vessel that will collect the gathered rubbish every few months.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/03/ocean-cleanup-device-successfully-collects-plastic-for-first-time?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

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Pacific islands seek $500m to make ocean's shipping zero carbon

24 Sept 2019 - Coalition of six nations aims to raise funds and achieve full decarbonisation by 2050.

24 Sept 2019Coalition of six nations aims to raise funds and achieve full decarbonisation by 2050.

A coalition of Pacific island nations wants to raise $500m (£400m) to make all shipping in the Pacific Ocean zero carbon by the middle of the century.

The Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership, announced on Tuesday by the governments of Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, has set an emissions reduction target of 40% by 2030, and full decarbonisation by 2050.

The partnership intends to raise money through grants from multinational institutions, concessional loans, direct private sector investment and through issuing regional “blue bonds”.

The money would be used to retrofit existing passenger and cargo ferries with low-carbon technologies, and to buy new zero-emissions vessels. Pacific island populations are dependent on shipping for travel, medicines, their livelihoods and connection to the outside world.

Such countries are precariously dependent on imported fossil fuels and acutely vulnerable to price shocks or supply disruptions. The region imports 95% of its fuels. Imported petroleum accounts for an average of 40% of GDP in Pacific island countries, with the transport sector the largest fuel user.

In archipelago states of small island populations spread over vast ocean distances, sea travel is vital for linking communities and for economic development. The lack of regular connectivity between islands is a major constraint on domestic, social and economic development and on international trade.

The climate crisis is making travel significantly more difficult and disrupted. Rising sea levels and the increased frequency of dangerous weather are making sea journeys more difficult and slower, leading to more frequent cancellations of journeys and damaging ageing transport infrastructure such as ports and refuelling facilities.

A joint Fiji-Marshall Islands government briefing paper said that compared with other major economic sectors, “investment in the sustainable development of sea transport for Pacific island countries has been extremely limited to date”.

“A transition to sustainable, resilient and decarbonised sea transport at this scale will require substantial investment, including at least $500m to support implementation of the 10-year work programme.”

The Marshall Islands environment minister, David Paul, told a forum at the UN climate action summit in New York that securing funding would spark a “rapid transformation of our … shipping sector”.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/24/pacific-islands-seek-500m-ocean-shipping-zero-carbon

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Why tiny Belize is a world leader in protecting the ocean

20 Aug 2019 - The Guardian - Fish stocks are stable and reef health improving, in part thanks to Belize’s substantial ‘no-take’ zones.

20 Aug 2019 - The Guardian - Fish stocks are stable and reef health improving, in part thanks to Belize’s substantial ‘no-take’ zones. Now greater legislation is needed to secure progress.

Covering all of Belize’s waters, the managed access scheme is unique, says fisheries administrator Beverly Wade. “Belize is the only country in the world that has successfully divided all its territorial waters, including functional fishing waters. We direct all fishermen into two of nine areas to build an architecture from the ground up, where a constituent takes ownership of resources because their livelihood depends on it.”

The programme is just part of a groundbreaking approach to ocean protection that has won the tiny country in Central America a reputation as a world leader.

Most recently, in April, Belize expanded the replenishment or “no-take” zones in its marine protected areas from 4.5% to 11.6%, almost tripling zones where fishing is banned, to rebuild fish populations and protect marine habitats. “Nowadays it’s sexy to say ‘this is a no-take area’ somewhere miles out at sea,” says Wade, at her office in Belize City, “but our no-take zone of 16% is a giant achievement for a tiny country like Belize, because all our protected areas are right where people are interacting on a daily basis. That is the hardest thing to achieve.”

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/14/why-tiny-belize-is-a-world-leader-in-ocean-protection?CMP=share_btn_tw

PHOTO: Tony Rath

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Why tiny Belize is a world leader in protecting the ocean

14 Aug 2019 - Fish stocks are stable and reef health improving, in part thanks to Belize’s substantial ‘no-take’ zones. Now greater legislation is needed to secure progress.

14 Aug 2019 Fish stocks are stable and reef health improving, in part thanks to Belize’s substantial ‘no-take’ zones. Now greater legislation is needed to secure progress.

Across the turquoise water by the mangrove, forest ranger Allan Halliday spots a fishing skiff. “We’re going over to say hello,” he says, before abruptly changing the boat’s direction. But his real task is to check the couple on board have the licence to fish in this part of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, one of nine designated zones in Belize.

“We aren’t complaining but others do,” says Alonzo Reymundo, of the rules that now restrict Belize’s 3,000 commercial fishers to two geographic areas each. He and his wife Anselma have been fishing off southern Toledo for 30 years and their boat is laden with 50 or so pounds of shrimp – more than enough, he says, flashing his licence. Today’s catch will be sold as bait and fetch around 330BZ$ (£135), he says.

But not all encounters are as friendly for the rangers from the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (Tide), whose job includes enforcing the managed access (MA) programme that since 2016 has given traditional fishers the rights to secured grounds if they obtain licences and report their catch. Illegal fishing has declined, says Halliday, but at night there are illicit incursions from Guatemala and high-speed chases around the reserve’s 500-square miles of pristine sea – a vast space to monitor for just four rangers alternating shifts at their station on Abalone Caye.

Covering all of Belize’s waters, the MA scheme is unique, says fisheries administrator Beverly Wade. “Belize is the only country in the world that has successfully divided all its territorial waters, including functional fishing waters. We direct all fishermen into two of nine areas to build an architecture from the ground up, where a constituent takes ownership of resources because their livelihood depends on it.”

The programme is just part of a groundbreaking approach to ocean protection that has won the tiny country in Central America a reputation as a world leader.

Most recently, in April, Belize expanded the replenishment or “no-take” zones in its marine protected areas from 4.5% to 11.6%, almost tripling zones where fishing is banned, to rebuild fish populations and protect marine habitats. “Nowadays it’s sexy to say ‘this is a no-take area’ somewhere miles out at sea,” says Wade, at her office in Belize City, “but our no-take zone of 16% is a giant achievement for a tiny country like Belize, because all our protected areas are right where people are interacting on a daily basis. That is the hardest thing to achieve.”

CONTINUE READING: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/14/why-tiny-belize-is-a-world-leader-in-ocean-protection

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Plastic, poverty and paradox: Tracking plastic waste in the Ganges

8 Aug 2019 - The Guardian - India’s most sacred river is also its most polluted, with plastic a major culprit. A new effort will monitor its flow to the ocean and assess poverty linkages.

8 Aug 2019 - The Guardian - India’s most sacred river is also its most polluted, with plastic a major culprit. Now moves are afoot to monitor the flow of rubbish and assess its link to poverty.

Drop a plastic bottle into the Ganges and where does it end up? An all-female team of engineers, explorers and scientists is about to find out by undertaking the first expedition to measure plastic waste in one of the world’s most polluted waterways.

Following the Ganges upstream from where it empties in the Bay of Bengal to its source in the Himalayas, the National Geographic-backed expedition aims to better understand how plastic pollution travels from source to sea and provide solutions for reducing the amount that ends up in the world’s oceans.

The 2,525 km-long Ganges is a river of extreme paradox: though worshipped by 1 billion Hindus and relied on as a water source for roughly 400 million people, it is contaminated with industrial runoff, untreated sewage and household waste. It is also one of 10 rivers responsible for 90% of the plastic that ends up at sea.

The river is, therefore, a perfect starting point for measuring how plastic travels from land into rivers, and from rivers into the ocean, says National Geographic fellow and University of Georgia associate professor Jenna Jambeck, who is co-leading the expedition.

“We know there’s plastic in these river environments and that the plastic is heading into the ocean,” says environmental engineer Jambeck, whose previous research found that 8m metric tons of plastic waste enters oceans every year.

“But we don’t know how far, for instance, if someone dropped a plastic bottle into the Ganges, where it ends up. How far does it go?”

The team of 18 – with researchers from organisations including the Wildlife Institute of India, University of Dhaka and Zoological Society of London (ZSL) – completed the first round of the expedition this spring to collate pre-monsoon plastic levels.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/05/plastic-poverty-and-paradox-experts-head-to-the-ganges-to-track-waste

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IUCN red list reveals wildlife destruction from treetop to ocean floor

23 Jul 2019 - The Guardian - Latest list shows extinction now threatens a third of all assessed species, while overfishing has pushed two families of rays to the brink.

23 Jul 2019 - The Guardian - Latest list shows extinction now threatens a third of all assessed species, while overfishing has pushed two families of rays to the brink.

From the tops of trees to the depths of the oceans, humanity’s destruction of wildlife is continuing to drive many species towards extinction, with the latest “red list” showing that a third of all species assessed are under threat.

The razing of habitats and hunting for bushmeat has now driven seven primates into decline, while overfishing has pushed two families of extraordinary rays to the brink. Pollution, dams and over-abstraction of freshwater are responsible for serious declines in river wildlife from Mexico to Japan, while illegal logging is ravaging Madagascar’s rosewoods, and disease is decimating the American elm.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/18/iucn-red-list-reveals-wildlife-destruction-from-treetop-to-ocean-floor

PHOTO: A guitarfish, one of two families of rays pushed to the brink of extinction in the IUCN’s updated red list. Photograph: Matt Potenski/IUCN