Ocean Action Hub

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Vital ecosystems in tidal flats lost to development and rising sea levels

31 Dec 2018 - First global coastline survey shows 16% of tidal flats lost between 1984 and 2016. 

Coastal development and sea level rise are causing the decline of tidal flats along the world’s coastlines, according to research that has mapped the ecosystems for the first time.

Scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the University of Queensland used machine-learning to analyse more than 700,000 satellite images to map the extent of and change in tidal flats around the globe.

The study, published in Nature, found tidal flat ecosystems in some countries declined by as much as 16% in the years from 1984 to 2016.

Tidal flats are mud flats, sand flats or wide rocky reef platforms that are important coastal ecosystems. They act as buffers to storms and sea level rise and provide habitat for many species, including migratory birds and fish nurseries.

Almost 50% of the global extent of tidal flats is concentrated in just eight countries: Indonesia, China, Australia, the US, Canada, India, Brazil and Myanmar

Nicholas Murray, the study’s lead author and a senior research fellow at the centre for ecosystem science at the University of New South Wales, said because tidal flats were often at least partially covered by water they had been difficult to monitor in the past.

“This is a big ecosystem,” he said. “It’s all over the planet and highly susceptible to threats but we haven’t known where they are, which has limited the ability to monitor them.”

The research team worked with Google and used its computing resources to analyse every satellite image ever collected of the world’s coastlines.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/29/vital-ecosystems-in-tidal-flats-lost-to-development-and-rising-sea-levels

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Ocean-related stories top 2018 science news
28 Dec 2018 - In 2018 the United Nations began negotiations for a new treaty to protect high seas wildlife, paving the way for marine protected areas.

28 Dec 2018 - The Guardian's guest scientists pick the breakthroughs and discoveries that defined their year, from insights into human evolution to our first trip aboard an asteroid. 

The world took action to combat plastic at last

Among the tsunami of bad news about plastic waste this year, there was a small piece of good news. This was an agreement in April by those responsible for more than 80% of the plastic packaging in the UK to make all plastic packing 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. This pledge, called the UK Plastics Pact, is significant because it has emerged not from government but from a consortium of companies and organisations including supermarkets, coffee chains, brands, manufacturers, waste disposal companies and local authorities. Thee organisationsy have clubbed together to solve this problem largely because they are under massive public pressure. They propose to create a circular economy of plastics, a seismic shift in the way companies engineer and use them. It is a big win for the environment of the UK, but it will also have a global impact, because many of the companies involved – such as Coca-Cola, Unilever and Procter & Gamble – are multinational corporations that sell products all over the world. Once the UK creates a non-polluting circular economy of plastic packaging, the likelihood of it being rolled out by these companies in the rest of the world is high. There is an enormous amount of work to do, but I hope when our children look back at the environmental catastrophe of the 20th century, they will see 2018 as the year plastic pollution started its decline.
Mark Miodownikprofessor of materials and society at University College London

Remote high seas found new defenders

Most people don’t think much about the high seas. Far beyond the horizon, they begin where national control ends, 200 nautical miles from the coast, and cover 61% of the ocean and 43% of the Earth’s surface. Few laws restrain fishing here; countries can opt out of those that exist, and much activity is in any case hidden by remoteness. But 2018 may signal the beginning of the end of freedom to plunder fish and slaughter wildlife caught alongside them. This year Global Fishing Watch lifted the veil on the high seas, exposing fishing vessels and companies to scrutiny for the first time. Their tool tracks ship movements based on satellite transmissions from vessels, and uses machine learning to determine what a vessel is doing from its behaviour. We learned this year that high seas fishing contributes only 4.2% of wild fish catches, that 64% of the spoils go to just five rich countries, and that much of this fishing would not be profitable without public subsidies. In September, the UN began negotiations for a new treaty to protect high seas wildlife, paving the way for marine protected areas that Global Fishing Watch can help to police.
Callum Robertsprofessor of marine conservation at the University of York

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/dec/23/the-science-stories-that-shook-2018-genetics-evolution-climate-change-artificial-intelligence

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Surge in marine refuges brings world close to protected areas goal

20 Nov 2018 - Reserves cover more than five times area of US, says IUCN / UN Environment report, but enforcement is often poor. More than 7% of the ocean now has protected status.

20 Nov 2018 - Reserves cover more than five times area of US, says IUCN / UN Environment report, but enforcement is often poor. More than 7% of the ocean now has protected status, and almost all the growth has been in marine regions.

A record surge in the creation of marine protected areas has taken the international community close to its goal of creating nature refuges on 17% of the world’s land and 10% of seas by 2020, according to a new UN report.

Protected regions now cover more than five times the territory of the US, but the authors said this good news was often undermined by poor enforcement. Some reserves are little more than “paper parks” with little value to nature conservation. At least one has been turned into an industrial zone.

More than 27m square kilometres of seas (7% of the total) and 20m sq km of land (15% of the total) now have protected status, according to the Protected Planet report, which was released on Sunday at the UN biodiversity conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Almost all of the growth has been in marine regions, most notably with the creation last year of the world’s biggest protected area: the 2m sq km Ross Sea reserve, one-fifth of which is in the Antarctic. The no-fishing zone will be managed by New Zealand and the US.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/19/marine-reserves-size-protected-wildlife-five-times-bigger-usa

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Carnival Australia to provide '$2.1m undertaking' after Great Barrier Reef spill

8 Nov 2018 - The Guardian Australia - Pacific Explorer cruise ship spilled liquid food waste into reef’s protected waters

8 Nov 2018 - The Guardian Australia - Pacific Explorer cruise ship spilled liquid food waste into reef’s protected waters

Carnival Australia has been compelled to provide a “$2.1m undertaking” after spilling 28,000 litres of liquid food waste into the Great Barrier Reef’s protected waters.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority detained the Pacific Explorer cruise ship on its way back to Sydney in early September until it paid the amount, which was equal to the maximum fine available, an AMSA spokesman said on Thursday.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was notified of the accident one week after the cruise company self-reported it.

An investigation is currently underway.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/08/great-barrier-reef-carnival-australia-fined-21m-after-dumping-28000-litres-of-waste

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Commercial fishing banned across much of the Arctic
4 Oct 2018 - The Guardian - International agreement will protect vast areas of sea that have opened up as the ice melts.

Commercial fishing will be banned across much of the Arctic under a new agreement signed on Wednesday in Greenland, closing down access to a vast area of sea that is newly opening up under climate change.

The moratorium on Arctic fishing will safeguard an area about the size of the Mediterranean for at least the next 16 years, as warming temperatures allow summer navigation across what was previously ice.

Sea ice in the Arctic reached its annual minimum last week, with what polar scientists confirmed was the joint sixth-lowest extent of ice on record. This year sits with 2008 and 2010 in the rankings of ice minimums, showing a clear trend of diminishing summer ice cover and thickness, with record lows in the last decade and reports of thick multi-year ice showing new vulnerability to break-up.

No fishing takes place there currently, but large ships are starting to explore the area. Maersk, the Danish shipping company, in August sent the first container vessel through the previously frozen route, starting from the Russian city of Vladivostok and arriving safely with its cargo of frozen fish in St Petersburg after a 37-day voyage.

The Arctic is likely to become more attractive to commercial fishing fleets in future years, as climate change is causing major fish stocks including cod and halibut to move further north as lower latitudes warm, and overfishing in traditional grounds makes potential new areas appealing.

Nine nations – the US, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Japan, South Korea and China – plus the EU signed the Central Arctic Ocean agreement at a ceremony in Greenland, following several years of talks

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/03/commercial-fishing-banned-across-much-of-the-arctic

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Orca 'apocalypse': half of killer whales doomed to die from pollution

28 Sept 2018 - The Guardian - Banned PCB chemicals are still severely harming the animals – but Arctic could be a refuge

28 Sept 2018 - The Guardian - Banned PCB chemicals are still severely harming the animals – but Arctic could be a refuge

At least half of the world’s killer whale populations are doomed to extinction due to toxic and persistent pollution of the oceans, according to a major new study.

Although the poisonous chemicals, PCBs, have been banned for decades, they are still leaking into the seas. They become concentrated up the food chain; as a result, killer whales, the top predators, are the most contaminated animals on the planet. Worse, their fat-rich milk passes on very high doses to their newborn calves.

PCB concentrations found in killer whales can be 100 times safe levels and severely damage reproductive organs, cause cancer and damage the immune system. The new research analysed the prospects for killer whale populations over the next century and found those offshore from industrialised nations could vanish as soon as 30-50 years.

Among those most at risk are the UK’s last pod, where a recent death revealed one of the highest PCB levels ever recorded. Others off Gibraltar, Japan and Brazil and in the north-east Pacific are also in great danger. Killer whales are one of the most widespread mammals on earth but have already been lost in the North Sea, around Spain and many other places.

“It is like a killer whale apocalypse,” said Paul Jepson at the Zoological Society of London, part of the international research team behind the new study. “Even in a pristine condition they are very slow to reproduce.” Healthy killer whales take 20 years to reach peak sexual maturity and 18 months to gestate a calf.

PCBs were used around the world since the 1930s in electrical components, plastics and paints but their toxicity has been known for 50 years. They were banned by nations in the 1970s and 1980s but 80% of the 1m tonnes produced have yet to be destroyed and are still leaking into the seas from landfills and other sources.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/27/orca-apocalypse-half-of-killer-whales-doomed-to-die-from-pollution

Photograph: Audun Rikardsen/Science

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Fish populations could rise in warming climate with better management

3 Sept 2018 - Study finds potential for fisheries to benefit in future - as long as warming can be kept in check. Talks start this week on a new global treaty of the high seas.

3 Sept 2018 - THE GUARDIAN, UK - Study finds potential for fisheries to benefit in future - as long as warming can be kept in check

Better management of fisheries and fishing rights around the world could increase profits and leave more fish in the sea as long as measures to meet climate obligations are taken, new research has found.

Even if temperatures rise by as much as 4C above pre-industrial levels – in the upper range of current forecasts – the damaging effects on fishing can be reduced through improving how stocks are fished and managed.

Governments are meeting from 4 September in New York for the first round of talks on a new global treaty of the high seas, which would aim to conserve overfished stocks and make access to key fisheries more equitable. Any agreement is likely to take several years to negotiateand longer to come into force, but scientists say there is no time to be lost, given the magnitude of the threat to the world’s marine ecosystems.

Climate change is already causing the movement of some species as their traditional habitats grow warmer, and overfishing is wreaking heavy damage on stocks. However, by adapting fisheries management to a warming climate, and instituting better systems such as monitoring of fleets, the global catch can be increased despite these factors, according to the paper published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/29/fish-populations-could-rise-even-with-extreme-climate-change-study-shows

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Almost all world’s oceans damaged by human impact, study finds
27 Jul 2018 - The remaining wilderness areas, mostly in the remote Pacific and at the poles, need urgent protection from fishing and pollution, scientists say
27 Jul 2018 - Just 13% of the world’s oceans remain untouched by the damaging impacts of humanity, the first systematic analysis has revealed. Outside the remotest areas of the Pacific and the poles, virtually no ocean is left harbouring naturally high levels of marine wildlife.

Huge fishing fleets, global shipping and pollution running off the land are combining with climate change to degrade the oceans, the researchers found. Furthermore, just 5% of the remaining ocean wilderness is within existing marine protection areas.

“We were astonished by just how little marine wilderness remains,” says Kendall Jones, at the University of Queensland, Australia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, who led the new research. “The ocean is immense, covering over 70% of our planet, but we’ve managed to significantly impact almost all of this vast ecosystem.”

Jones said the last remnants of wilderness show how vibrant ocean life was before human activity came to dominate the planet. “They act as time machines,” he said. “They are home to unparalleled levels of marine biodiversity and some of the last places on Earth you find large populations of apex predators like sharks.”

Much of the wilderness is in the high seas, beyond the protected areas that nations can create. The scientists said a high seas conservation treaty is urgently needed, with negotiations beginning in September under the UN Law of the Sea convention. They also said the $4bn a year in government subsidies spent on high seas fishing must be cut. “Most fishing on the high seas would actually be unprofitable if it weren’t for big subsidies,” Jones said.

The new work joins recent studies in highlighting the threat to oceans. Scientists warned in January that the oceans are suffocating, with huge dead zones quadrupling since 1950, and in February, new maps revealed half of world’s oceans are now industrially fished. “Oceans are under threat now as never before in human history,” said Sir David Attenborough at the conclusion of the BBC series Blue Planet 2 in December.

The new research, published in the journal Current Biology, classified areas of ocean as wilderness if they were in the lowest 10% of human impacts, either from one source, such as bottom trawling, or a combination of them all.

CONTINUE READING HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/26/just-13-of-global-oceans-undamaged-by-humanity-research-reveals

PHOTO: Orona Island, an uninhabited island in the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati. Photograph: Galaxiid/Alamy

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Baltic Sea oxygen levels at '1,500-year low due to human activity'
6 Jul 2018 - Nutrient run-off from agriculture and urban sewage are likely to be to blame, scientists say.

6 Jul 2018 - Nutrient run-off from agriculture and urban sewage are likely to be to blame, scientists say.

The coastal waters of the Baltic have been starved of oxygen to a level unseen in at least 1,500 years largely as a result of modern human activity, scientists say. Nutrient run-off from agriculture and urban sewage are thought to be to blame.

“Dead zones” – areas of sea, typically near the bottom, with a dearth of oxygen – are caused by a rise in nutrients in the water that boosts the growth of algae. When these organisms die and sink to the seafloor, bacteria set to work decomposing them, using up oxygen in the process.

The resulting lack of oxygen not only curtails habitats for creatures that live on the seafloor, but also affects fish stocks and can lead to blooms of toxic cyanobacteria.

But it is not a problem confined to the Baltic. Earlier this year a study revealed that ocean dead zones have quadrupled in size since the 1950s, and are found the world over in coastal regions of high population, from Europe to North America and China.

Researchers behind the latest study say that while nations are taking action to help waters rebound, individuals can help.

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The last (plastic) straw: Travel and its environmental responsibilities
4 Jul 2018 - Some airlines, hotels and tour operators are now addressing the issue of plastics pollution but activists believe the solution requires everyone to take a stand.

For decades the image of a brightly coloured plastic straw in a cocktail against a backdrop of sea and sunset signalled one thing – carefree holidays. But 2018 is the year the travel industry will say adios not just to plastic straws but all single-use plastic.

Today, those little plastic tubes are a symbol not of fun times but of the catastrophic damage our throw-away culture is doing to the planet. Photographs of straws littering the seabed and beaches are on every news site and eco-conscious social media account – along with a litany of grim statistics and stark warnings: 480 billion plastic bottles sold worldwide in 2016; one trillion single-use plastic bags used every year; more than half a million plastic straws used every day around the world. If we continue to generate plastic waste at the current rate approximately 12 billion tonnes will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050.

Figures like these combined with the ‘Blue Planet effect’ have prompted travel companies to act. In the past six months cruise companies Hurtigruten and Fred Olsen, adventure operators Exodus, Lindblad Expeditions and KE Adventure, Edition hotels, US glamping site Under Canvas and the Travel Corporation, whose brands include Red Carnation hotels, Contiki and Uniworld, have all introduced a part or complete ban on single-use plastics on their trips.

Plastic waste seen at the ALBA Group recycling plant in Berlin, Germany. ‘ If we continue to generate plastic waste at the current rate approximately 12 billion tonnes will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050.’ Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Others companies are building rubbish collection into holidays in remote locations. This year the Mountain Company is asking each trekker booked onto one of its trips to Nepal, Pakistan, India or Bhutan to pick up 1kg of rubbish. The long-term goal is for litter-picking to become standard procedure for every Mountain Company group.

Some tour operators have gone further, introducing holidays aimed specifically at helping travellers “quit” plastic. This month up to 15 travellers are taking part in the first Peloton Against Plastic, a 27-day cycling tour launched by adventure specialist Intrepid. Along the way cyclists will meet local organisations tackling the problem and 10% of the profits will go towards Cambodian charity, Rehash Trash. Undiscovered Mountains, a much smaller adventure operator based in the southern French Alps, has advised travellers to leave all plastic behind and is to provide plastic-free accommodation on a dedicated trip.

These initiatives are not ground-breaking: luxury resort group Soneva banned plastic straws in 1998 and stopped importing bottled water in 2008, but from this year companies pledging to reduce plastic waste will be the majority rather than the pioneering few. We may be drowning in plastic but the tide is starting to turn.

“This is the year the corporate world woke up to the scale of our plastic problem and the travel industry is no exception. From airlines to cruise lines we have heard a raft of measures aimed at cutting throwaway plastic,” says Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

“But there’s a lot more ground to cover. Some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations are in coastal areas, sometimes in countries already awash with plastic waste. Unless we tackle the problem at the source, more plastic will keep washing up on beaches. There’s a lot that travel operators and hotel chains can do to cut plastic waste, from eliminating sachets and disposable cups to encouraging the use of refill stations,” says Edge.

So far, most of the action has been taken by large companies with dedicated sustainability managers and a vested economic interest in keeping the environment they sell as pristine as possible. However, Joanne Hendrickx hopes to target smaller, three- and four-star hotels through her online toolkit Travel without Plastic.

CONTINUE READING HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/jul/04/plastic-straw-pollution-travel-environmental-responsibilities?CMP=share_btn_tw