Ocean Action Hub

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Why This Country is Moving Its Coral Reefs

13 Apr 2018 - Jordan could become a model for other marine destinations.

13 Apr 2018 - The streets of Aqaba, Jordan, are dotted with falafel stands and seafood restaurants touting the day's catch. Locals sit along the sidewalks at small tables, taking in the afternoon sun whilst smoking grape- and mint-flavored shisha tobacco.

Julia Adriana Tapies walks by a tourist shop, selling assorted trays of Arabic pastries and bath salts from the Dead Sea to the north. But Tapies has been drawn here by a much livelier body of water. A self-proclaimed scuba fanatic, the Spaniard has always dreamed of diving the Red Sea, a place "full of life and colors you can't find elsewhere."

But unbeknownst to many of the 12,000 scuba divers who traveled here last year, some of the vibrant coral reefs they came to explore have been artificially planted.


As urban development increases along the Gulf of Aqaba, some popular dive sites will no longer be accessible. To meet touristic demand, and to protect the area's marine life, certain coral reefs were relocated by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In 2012, corals from the southern region of the coast and the Al Derreh area were placed in baskets by a team of divers working on the project and transported almost two miles north, while continuously submerged underwater. The corals were then replanted at damaged reefs and a cave site using marine cement, metal structures, the latter of which was created solely for the translocated coral. Smaller coral colonies were moved to a nursery site. After a protection period ensuring the transplants' success, the new sites, just in front of the Aqaba Marine Park, opened to the public in 2018.

The effect of the relocation process on the marine ecosystem is being closely monitored, according to Nedal Al-Ouran, head of the Environment, Climate Change and DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) Portfolio at the UNDP and one of the scientists behind the coral relocation.

Aqaba’s delicate 6,000-year-old corals aren’t just surviving in their new homes, but also regenerating, Al-Ouran says. In the last four years, the replanted coral has steadily grown up to two inches per year, with a survival rate of more than 85 percent, compared to the average of 60 to 65 percent.

Many of the 127 coral species found in the Gulf of Aqaba are particularly resilient to high temperatures, an adaptation that may spare them the worst of the bleaching many reefs experience as oceans become hotter and more acidic. If they’re able to survive local pollution, these corals may even one day be used to re-seed dying reefs in some parts of the world.


While Jordan’s is not the first major coral relocation to take place—Hawaii and Singapore, among others, have experimented with similar programs—it’s unique in its focus on encouraging tourism.

To alleviate scuba divers’ impact on reef health, alternative dive sites are also being opened. In November 2017, a decommissioned Royal Jordanian Air Force plane was deliberately sunk as part of an initiative “to create new dive sites interesting enough” to attract divers and unburden reefs, says Omar Madain, an experienced local diving instructor.

The Gulf’s joint efforts are paying off. After her first day of diving, Tapies couldn’t bring herself to leave—in fact, she decided to spend the entire month in Jordan.

"I really felt at home there" she says of her time in the town of Aqaba and “its beautiful underwater world."

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/asia/jordan/aqaba...

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The UN Starts a Conservation Treaty for the High Seas

24 Dec 2017 - A new international effort hopes to stem the tide of illegal and under-regulated fishing and otherwise protect the ocean from a range of threats, to benefit everyone.

24 Dec 2017 - The nations of the world have launched a historic two-year process to create the first-ever international treaty to protect life in the high seas.

Covering nearly half of the planet, the high seas are international waters where no country has jurisdiction. These waters, which reach depths of nearly seven miles, are filled with life, from valuable fish to plankton. They help generate the oxygen we breathe and regulate the global climate.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get ocean governance that puts conservation and sustainable use first,” says Liz Karan, senior manager for the high seas program at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “It’s said we should thank the ocean for every second breath of oxygen we take.”

CONTINUE READING HERE: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/12/un-high-seas-conservation-treaty-ocean-protection-spd/

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13 June 2017 - Gabon’s announcement also restricts overfishing and may help with climate resilience.

13 June 2017 - The central African nation of Gabon announced Monday the creation of Africa’s largest network of marine protected areas, home to a diverse array of threatened marine life, including the largest breeding populations of leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles and 20 species of dolphins and whales.

The network of 20 marine parks and aquatic reserves will protect 26 percent of Gabon’s territorial seas and extend across 20,500 square miles (53,000 square kilometres). In creating the protected areas, the Gabon government also set up what scientists call the most sustainable fisheries management plan for West Africa—an area long known for rampant overfishing and abuses by foreign fleets. Separate zones have been established for commercial and artisanal fishing fleets, in an effort to restore sustainable fishing.

“West Africa is an area which has incredibly rich oceans, but it is being bled dry by international fishing fleets,” says Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York in Great Britain. “In the space of a few decades, the waters of West Africa have moved from being a cornucopia of marine life to something that is far reduced from that. Protection is urgently needed to rebalance fish resources.”

Roberts, who has spent more than three decades studying ocean health, argues in a new paper, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that marine protected areas, which already help restore fish populations, also help marine ecosystems adapt to the impacts of climate change. Large, fully intact ecosystems are healthier and better armed to adapt to what Roberts calls the “killer cocktail” of ocean acidification, intense storms, sea-level rise, shifts in species distribution, and decreased oxygen availability in the deep ocean. Reduced oxygen is already visible in the Pacific and Atlantic, Roberts says, where nutrient-poor “ocean deserts” increased by 15 percent between 1998 and 2006.

“Fishing has had the greatest impact on the ocean ecosystems,” Roberts says. “But climate change is rapidly catching up, and in some ecosystems, has taken the lead.”

Roberts doesn’t claim marine protected areas help marine habitats resist climate change. Rather, he says that healthier habitats makes them more resilient. Coral reefs, for example, can’t be protected from rising ocean temperatures. But protecting reefs from overfishing, dredging, and runoff pollution can decrease the sensitivity of corals to ocean warming and help them recover from floods or bleaching events. The Chagos Marine Protected Area in the remote Indian Ocean now has a reef free from human-caused stresses that, in turn, contributed to a remarkable capacity to recover. More than 90 percent of the reef died in a 1998 bleaching event. But by 2010, the reef had recovered.

Likewise, a marine protected area in Baja, California saw a ten-fold increase of predatory fish within a decade after a marine protection area was established.

Networks of marine protected areas can also provide stepping stones, or safe “landing zones” for colonising species as they move northward to cooler waters, he says. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the north-west Hawaiian Islands provided a “strategic refuge” for coral reef ecosystems that may be forced poleward by climate change.

“When we introduce protection, the only way to go is up,” he says. “We see it in recoveries of big species that grow to very old ages. The bigger and older things get in the sea, the more productive they begin to be in terms of offspring. They are like fountains, pouring offspring, like larvae, into the water, which then gets transported by ocean currents and reseeds other areas. This is a positive way to counter climate change.”


The world has 11,212 marine protected areas. But combined, they protect just 2.98 percent of the oceans, according to the Marine Conservation Institute, a marine science nonprofit based in Seattle.

Two other measures fill in the picture. If the high seas is discounted, the remaining marine reserves protect 7.29 percent of marine habitats that lie within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones of all countries. And if only no-take protected areas are counted, where fishing and all other extraction, such as mining, is prohibited, only 1.63 percent of the world’s oceans are covered.

The no-take reserves are the strongest, but not well distributed across the globe, says Russell Moffitt, the institute’s conservation analyst. There are only about a dozen very large protected areas, including those in offshore territories of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments, and Great Britain’s Pitcairn, and Chagos marine reserves.

CONTINUE READING: http://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/new-ocean-reserve-largest-i...

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How to Use the Ocean Without Using it Up - National Geographic Blogs

22 Feb 2017 - The most important lesson I’ve learned is that ocean conservation is not about fish. It’s about people.

22 Feb 2017 - When I was five, my parents took me from Brooklyn, NY to Key West, Florida. They taught me to swim, and showed me my first a coral reef. I feel completely in love with the ocean and decided to become a marine biologist. Then, over the next two decades, I went from that wonder, to concern, to practical ocean conservation solutions.

I’ve worked in non-profits, philanthropy, government. I’ve had the opportunity to see this problem from many angles. And the most important lesson I’ve learned is that ocean conservation is not about fish. It’s about people. And it’s people who keep me devoted to my mission: figuring out how we can use the ocean, without using it up.

The economies and cultures of coastal communities all over the world are at risk, because they’re tied to the health of the ocean. And the ocean is really unhealthy right now. This year 93% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was hit by bleaching because climate change made the water too warm for corals. Overfishing is so extreme that since 1950 we’ve killed around 90% of the world’s tunas and sharks. And we’re on track to have more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

Science → Policy → People

How do we fix this? I used to think that if we just had more scientific research, that science would be used to make the best policy decisions. But that’s not how it actually works. For example, as part of my Ph.D. research I designed a fish trap with escape slots in the corners that would allow juvenile fish and unmarketable species to escape.

This more sustainable fish trap design is now required by law in several countries. But this low-tech and low-cost solution would never have gained traction if I hadn’t also proved that using it would not hurt fishermen’s incomes. Because the biggest factor in policy change is political will, and fishermen are voters. To build political will we need to understand where citizens are coming from.

So my research shifted to sociology, and I interviewed over 400 fishermen and SCUBA instructors. A 15-year-old fisherman explained the dramatic depletion of the ocean by saying: “Previous generations used to show the size of fish they caught vertically. Now we show fish size horizontally.” The large groupers, snappers, cod, and other large predatory fish that were once abundant are gone in many places, hurting livelihoods and destabilizing ecosystems.

The majority of people I interviewed were eager to see sustainable management put into place, and at a comprehensive scale. They were thinking about the entire social-economic-ecological system — about the impacts of cruise ships, pollution, climate change, noise, tourism, etc. So I took a step back, to see the big picture.

Ocean Zoning as a Policy Solution

I now think a key policy solution is to zone the ocean, so we have a solid plan for what happens where. Just like zoning on land, ocean zoning can allocate places fishing, shipping, SCUBA diving, alternative energy, aquaculture, and conservation.

When I was Executive Director of the Waitt Institute, I had an incredible opportunity to work with the government and community of Barbuda, a small Caribbean island. We supported them in designing and implementing ocean zoning.

In an effort to be truly inclusive, this sometimes meant gently interrupting dominos games to get input from fishermen who wouldn’t come to community meetings. All these conversations enabled me to identify consensus, which built the political will needed to put in place a groundbreaking plan that would both serve their current needs and conserve ocean resources for future generations.

After 18 months of work and community feedback, the government signed new laws that included setting aside one-third of their waters as protected (the areas in blue). This was the first successful island-wide ocean zoning effort in the Caribbean.

We went on to launch this program, the Blue Halo Initiative, on the islands of Curaçao and Montserrat. Comprehensive, science-based, community-driven ocean zoning works, and we need much more of it.

CONTINUE READING: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2017/02/22/how-to-use-the-ocean-without-using-it-up/​

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The Ocean Challenges Before Us Require All Hands on Deck

25 January 2017 - For decades, marine conservation has lagged behind efforts to protect our terrestrial treasures like the Grand Canyon.

Clearly, the balance is shifting, as world leaders increasingly recognize the economic and ecological value of the ocean. Last year saw President Obama quadruple the size of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Northwest Hawaii, a place inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 2010 for both its cultural and natural global importance. This expansion made Papahānaumokuākea the largest protected area on the planet. Just two months later, leaders from 24 countries and the European Union came together to protect the Ross Sea in Antarctica, the world’s largest marine reserve.

Last year also saw some important advances in the decades-long effort to protect the High Seas—the deep ocean that lies beyond national boundaries and covers half the planet. UNESCO laid out for the first time a path forward for World Heritage protection of the High Seas, and identified five sites of potential outstanding universal value. At the same time, the UN General Assembly has been working on a new instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to promote conservation and sustainable use in the High Seas.

Even as we are breaking new ground in the conservation of exceptional places, we must also step up management efforts. The creation of new protected areas often generates major headlines, but that is only the beginning of the generations-long process to steward special places. The 1972 World Heritage Convention recognizes that effective conservation requires collective action. Our model of ongoing oversight and support has logged some important successes. For example, Aldabra Atoll has brought its green turtles back from the brink of extinction. Today, the site hosts one of the world’s biggest populations. Half a world away in Glacier Bay, a competitive bidding system for cruise ship park entries has brought air and water pollution to zero while simultaneously generating funds for management and research. Glacier Bay’s successes are now inspiring other parks to forge similar private-public partnerships. There are many such stories across the world’s marine protected areas, where good management is rebuilding sustainable fisheries, creating jobs, and supporting thriving communities. World Heritage marine sites are not only important from an ecological point of view, they also bring secure jobs and income to people and local communities all around the world. But having toured and inspected many of the world’s most iconic ocean places over the past six years, it is clear that the work of marine management is growing increasingly daunting.

CONTINUE READING: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2017/01/25/the-ocean-challenges-before-us-require-all-hands-on-deck/

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How We Can Keep Plastics Out of Our Ocean (2016) | National Geographic

Plastic pollution poses one of the biggest known threats to the ocean, influencing all ecosystems from beautiful coral reefs to abyssal trenches, eventually accumulating in our own food.

Learn more about how to upend the current system of produce-use-discard, and transition to a system which promotes reuse and repurposing of plastics.