Ocean Action Hub

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Online prototype could improve ocean migratory species governance

10 Oct 2019 - An online mapping and knowledge platform prototype could soon offer free and easily accessible information on the migratory patterns of endangered species in the ocean.

10 Oct 2019 - An online mapping and knowledge platform prototype could soon offer free and easily accessible information on the migratory patterns of endangered species in the ocean.

The Migratory Connectivity in the Ocean (MiCO) system has been launched by The University of Queensland's Dr. Daniel Dunn.

The  included Duke University, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre, and a team of 71 international researchers.

"This online tool provides insights on the  and movements of marine wildlife, helping better inform conservation efforts and the sustainable use of oceans worldwide," Dr. Dunn said.

"Migratory  including , marine mammals, seabirds and fish, travel thousands of kilometres each year, often through ocean habitats at severe risk from human threats like overfishing, pollution, marine debris and .

"The cumulative impact of these threats can threaten populations of marine species and are often spread across a number of global jurisdictions."

MiCO links the large amount of data on  being gathered by researchers with environmental managers or policy-makers, who lack the capacity, time and budget to analyse the data.

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre's Dr. Autumn-Lynn Harrison said they developed MiCO to analyse and interpret these global data.

"This provides a single, unified access to treasure troves of knowledge for direct use in policy and management," she said.

"Some migratory species spend 75 percent of their time in international waters, and knowledge from MiCO has already played a vital role in the evolution of international marine policies."

"Migratory species connect economies and ecosystems in a way that requires a shared approach to governance," Dr. Dunn said.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2019-10-online-prototype-ocean-migratory-species.html

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Ocean ecosystems take two million years to recover after mass extinction

30 Sept 2019 - If we carry on emitting carbon and interfering with marine ecosystems, we run the risk of losing one of its critical carbon-storing and food-providing players. 

30 Sept 2019 - Around 66m years ago, a giant asteroid struck the Earth, causing the extinction of the dinosaurs, ammonites, and many other species.

The asteroid was equally devastating at a driving ocean plankton to near-. This crippled the base of the marine food chain and shut down important ocean functions, such as the absorption and delivery of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the ocean floor.

Given the real threat of a sixth mass extinction event brought about by human-caused climate breakdown and habitat disruption, we wanted to find out how long the  took to reboot after the last one. What we found has grave implications for the long-term outlook of marine ecosystems should we tip the critical base of its food chain over the threshold of extinction.

The nanoplankton almost totally wiped out 66m years ago—also known as coccolithophores – are now widespread once more in the sunlit upper oceans. Although roughly 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, they are so abundant that they are visible from space as swirling blooms in the ocean surface.

When these microscopic plankton die, they leave behind exquisite armored exoskeletons known as coccospheres made from the mineral calcite, composed of bonded calcium and carbon. Along with the dead plankton cells, these skeletons slowly fall to the ocean floor, forming a muddy calcium and carbon-rich sediment. As this sediment compacts, it forms chalk and limestone, leaving us with iconic landscapes such as white chalk cliffs – the shallow sea floor of a forgotten age, since lifted up by tectonic activity.

Conserved within this compacted sediment is a continuous fossil record stretching back 220m years. It is this fossil record—the most abundant on the planet – that can tell us how ecosystems responded to the extinction of nanoplankton. Changes in the diversity and abundance of the plankton that once lived in the ocean above reflect the  that played out in the millennia after the giant asteroid hit.

We extracted a continuous core of deep-sea sediment from the Pacific Ocean. For the first 13m years after the mass extinction event, we took a sample of the fossil record at intervals of 13,000 years. We measured fossil abundance, diversity and cell sizes from over 700,000 specimens, producing probably the largest fossil dataset ever produced from a single site.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2019-09-ocean-ecosystems-million-years-recover.html

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'Blue finance' hopes to put oceans on a sustainable path

27 Sept 2019 - 'Blue finance' aims to help raise funding for the responsible use of oceans.

27 Sept 2019 - 'Blue finance' aims to help raise funding for the responsible use of oceans.

The world's oceans are set to become an increasingly vital resource for helping the planet cope with soaring population growth, but officials are only beginning to craft regulatory frameworks that would ensure "blue financing" goes where it's needed most.

From food production and marine biotechnology research to seabed mining and , investors are expecting a wave of initiatives in the waters that cover 70 percent of the Earth's surface.

But the ventures will also require stepped up efforts to keep oceans clean and viable—eight million tonnes of plastic are entering each year, according to the World Bank, and over-fishing has already severely depleted some stocks.

"Much of what has to be done in the blue economy is regulation," said Sean Kidney, co-founder of the Climate Bonds Initiative.

Without coordinated action among governments, he warned, "in 30 years time we may not be catching fish but jellyfish."

Kidney's nonprofit aims to steer the massive amounts of funds raised by debt issuance toward  and other climate-friendly projects.

That could mobilise millions for offshore wave or wind energy ventures as pressure mounts on governments to tackle  and smog.

The money could also finance coastal renewal projects that will become more urgent as cities grow, and as more retirees and as well as tourists flock to pristine beaches and resorts.

"Because what we have done in the last 100 years is fundamentally destroy the coastal system," Kidney said.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2019-09-blue-oceans-sustainable-path.html

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Ending Overfishing Is Opportunity to Combat Climate Crisis - Report

6 Sept 2019 - Ending overfishing would not only secure vital fish populations for the future, but constitutes a significant climate emergency action, according to the latest report.

6 Sept 2019 - Ending overfishing would not only secure vital fish populations for the future, but constitutes a significant climate emergency action, according to the latest report. According to Our Fish, the report's findings offer EU governments a realistic opportunity to deliver immediate and effective action on dangerous climate change, as well as meeting their legal obligations to finally quit overfishing. 

The working paper, Ending Overfishing Can Mitigate Impacts of Climate Change, by Dr. Rashid Sumaila and Dr. Travis Tai of the University of British Columbia, finds that "overfishing and climate change are not mutually exclusive problems to be addressed separately," as both are severely impacting ocean health, and putting marine ecosystems and the goods and services they provide to communities at risk. Ending overfishing would give the ocean respite from human pressure, making it more resilient to the effects of the climate crisis, while helping to restore critically valuable marine ecosystems, says the paper. 

"A healthy person is more likely to survive an epidemic than a person who is less healthy, and because of overfishing we have severely weakened the ocean's immune system" said Dr. Sumaila. "Ending overfishing now would strengthen the ocean, making it more capable of withstanding climate change and restoring marine ecosystems". Dr. Sumaila is in Brussels this week to brief EU policymakers on how ending overfishing in EU waters supports EU commitments to taking climate action.

Dr. Sumaila hosted a webinar on climate action and overfishing, on September 2nd, at 1500 CET. To view the video of the webinar, click here. 

The working paper finds that: 

  1. Overfishing and climate change are two of the biggest stressors on ocean health, including to marine ecosystems, biodiversity and fisheries;
  2. Recent estimates suggest that at least 40% of fish stocks in the North East Atlantic and 87% in the Mediterranean and Black Seas are currently subject to unsustainable fishing practices, including stocks that are overfished or exploited at an unsustainable rate [2];
  3. The onset of rapid climate-related changes in marine ecosystems will increase pressure on fish populations, with the potential of extinction for some species;
  4. Decisive action is critical to ensure the long-term sustainability of marine ecosystems and fisheries;
  5. Due to the current inefficiencies that result in catching more fish than nature can generate, improvements in fisheries management to achieve MSY would not only increase long-term catch, but actually offset some of the negative effects of climate change on catches;
  6. Implementation of strategies to increase resilience has been found to help with recovery from extreme climate impacts; overfishing and climate change are not mutually exclusive problems to be addressed separately, and holistic comprehensive solutions must be found to address these two global challenges.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/wire-news/329043040/ending-overfishing-is-opportunity-to-combat-climate-crisis-rep.html

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New threat from ocean acidification emerges in the Southern Ocean

27 Aug 2019 - The oceans act as a carbon sink and have already absorbed more than 40% of anthropogenic carbon emissions.

27 Aug 2019 - The oceans act as a carbon sink and have already absorbed more than 40% of anthropogenic carbon emissions. The majority of this CO2 has been taken up by the Southern Ocean making these waters hotspots of ocean acidification (OA).

Lead author of the paper published in Nature Climate Change, Dr. Katherina Petrou from the University of Technology Sydney, said that although changes in  pH have been shown to impact marine calcifying organisms, the consequences for non-calcifying  are less clear.

"Previous studies reported a range of responses to OA [in phytoplankton] yet rarely considered how environmental pH shifts might affect silicification rates in diatoms," she says.

"Diatoms are unique phytoplankton in that they need silicic acid to produce silica cell walls. Under the microscope they look like beautiful glass jewellery boxes, but importantly, this dense, glass-like armour promotes sinking, which makes diatoms an important conduit for transport of carbon to the where it can be stored for millennia."

Diatoms are responsible for around 40% of ocean productivity which means they play a major role in supporting marine food webs, sustaining life for millions of creatures, including humans.

"The only genuine way to circumvent this outcome, is to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and limit the acidification of our oceans," the researchers say.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://phys.org/news/2019-08-threat-ocean-acidification-emerges-southern.html

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Marine scientists discover an important, overlooked role sea urchins play in the kelp forest ecosystem

10 July 2019 - Urchins may be crucial to the health of the kelp forest ecosystem.

10 July 2019 - Sea urchins have gotten a bad rap on the Pacific coast. The spiky sea creatures can mow down entire swaths of kelp forest, leaving behind rocky urchin barrens. An article in the New York Times went so far as to call them "cockroaches of the ocean." But new research suggests that urchins play a more complex role in their ecosystems than previously believed.

A team led by Christie Yorke, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Santa Barbara's Marine Science Institute, studied how urchins might function to break up tough kelp into more manageable pieces that can feed other scavengers, also known as detritivores, living on the kelp forest floor. The paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to look at ' role as shredders in the kelp forest ecosystem.

Urchins can have an outsized effect on , especially when their predators aren't around to keep their population in check, Yorke explained. Overhunting of the sea otter, one of urchins' most significant predators, has allowed some urchin populations to clear cut vast tracts of kelp forest, drastically reducing the productivity and biodiversity of sites they've munched through. Some groups have even taken to indiscriminately smashing urchins to stem this scourge.

Nevertheless, urchins may be crucial to the health of the kelp forest ecosystem. Giant kelp is highly productive, growing up to 18 inches per day under ideal conditions. But a significant amount of this material gets transported away from the ecosystem, washing up on beaches, getting swept out to the open ocean or drifting into the deep sea. Kelp is also rather unpalatable compared to single-celled phytoplankton.

Yorke and her colleagues were curious whether anything might be able to retain this food source within the kelp forest. "We know that kelp affects animals by providing habitat for fish and other species, but does it actually feed any of these animals?" said Bob Miller, a research biologist at the Marine Science Institute and one of the paper's coauthors.

Scientists have hypothesized that kelp sheds  that could be a food source. But the team's previous work found that kelp didn't appear to be nourishing the filter feeders in this way. The activity of sloppy sea urchins offered a promising alternative pathway for funneling nutrients from kelp to the ecosystem's detritivore.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2019-07-marine-scientists-important-overlooked-role.html

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Miniature transponder technology to be used in the war against ocean plastic

3 May 2019 - Low-cost acoustic tags attached to fishing nets are being trialled as part of a major new project to reduce marine litter and 'ghost fishing'.

3 May 2019 - Low-cost acoustic tags attached to fishing nets are being trialled as part of a major new project to reduce marine litter and 'ghost fishing'.

Lost fishing gear—known as ghost nets—are a major threat to life in our oceans. Choking coral reefs, damaging marine habitats and entangling fish, marine mammals and seabirds, they are also a danger to boats, catching in the propellers. And they are a key source of plastic pollution, gradually breaking up and disintegrating to add to the growing volume of microplastics in the ocean.

Often lost during storms or in strong currents, the nets can travel long distances and can continue to fish for years afterwards—hence the phrase ghost fishing. Because of this, locating and removing the nets is both highly desirable and a major challenge.

The new NetTag project has been set up to try to reduce and prevent marine litter by developing new technology for the location and recovery of lost fishing gear based on miniature transponders—acoustic devices that pick up and automatically respond to an incoming signal. The project also aims to promote improved practices for the management of fishing waste.

The project is a collaboration between Newcastle University (UK) who develop underwater communication and tracking technology, CIIMAR (PT), INESC-TEC (PT), and the Universities of Aveiro (PT) and Santiago de Compostela (ES), together with stakeholders from the fishing industry across Europe.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://phys.org/news/2019-04-miniature-transponder-technology-war-ocean.html

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The blue economy – ocean of opportunity or sea of troubles?

6 Mar 2019 - A sustainable blue economy will only be beneficial if it limits unsustainable growth, is built from the ground up, and has marine biodiversity protection at its core.


OPINION: Daniel Steadman - Fauna & Flora International, from: www.phys.org

6 Mar 2019 - For centuries, we have thought of the ocean as unimaginably vast and unchangeable, as a sea of opportunity, spawning fishing fleets and shipping lines, building the wealth of maritime nations. The ocean fundamentally underpins the populations and food of many coastal and island states, and always has done.

But seas are not limitless, and nor are their resources. We cannot extract all the fish and dump our waste at sea with impunity. The  cannot mop up the atmosphere's CO2 without consequences for its own health – and ours.

The rush towards ocean exploitation continues, be it deep-sea mining, or capitalising on  and new biotechnology opportunities. The water seems deep and inviting to many, and innovation in marine industries abounds. Some of the world's leading marine innovators, entrepreneurs and decision-makers are gathering at this week's World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi to discuss this sea of opportunity, this chance to create a "Blue Economy."

So what is a Blue Economy? Is it a vision of the future where humans take more from the ocean than they do now? Is it a way of ensuring that the food and money derived from the ocean are shared more equally? Is it a set of principles that guide the decisions of our governments and leaders of industry? In a sense, Blue Economy is all of these things, but it is precisely this range of definitions that represents both an opportunity and a risk to marine biodiversity.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-03-blue-economy-ocean-opportunity-sea.html#jCp

Photo credit: Fauna & Flora International

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Ocean Health Index releases seventh annual assessment of global ocean health

6 Dec 2018 - Ocean health is remaining relatively stable, but improvements are still needed to achieve a sustainable future.

6 Dec 2018 - Today the Ocean Health Index (OHI) released its seventh assessment of global ocean health. Like the previous two years, the 2018 average score for our oceans was 70 out of 100. This highlights that ocean health is remaining relatively stable, but improvements are still needed to achieve a sustainable future.

The Ocean Health Index is a tool developed by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and Conservation International to evaluate the benefits people derive from the . As the first and only existing ocean assessment tool to scientifically compare and combine key elements from all dimensions of the ocean's  – biological, physical, economic, and social – OHI equips managers and policymakers with meaningful vital signs that can help them manage oceans sustainably.

"An annual, comprehensive diagnostic for the world's oceans provides  with information and knowledge they can use to implement effective actions for improved sustainable ocean management," noted Dr. Ben Halpern, lead scientist for OHI, Director of NCEAS, and Professor at the Bren School at University of California Santa Barbara. "With seven years of OHI data, we are gaining deeper insights into how healthy our oceans are through time and space."

By conducting annual assessments, OHI provides a comprehensive view of how well the marine system and the people who depend on it are faring and changing through time. Last year, nearly two-thirds of the assessed countries were experiencing decreases in , but in 2018 these numbers leveled out and 109 countries are experiencing increases with 111 experiencing decreases.

Among the highest scoring, at 80 or above, were island nations, such as Aruba in the Caribbean and New Caledonia in the south Pacific, or uninhabited islands. Germany was the only one of these 17 high scorers with a population that exceeds one million people. On the other end of the spectrum, 10 regions scored 50 or below, including seven African, one Central American, and two Middle Eastern nations.

The data that powers the Ocean Health Index, like the ocean itself, is dynamic. OHI benefits from constant evaluation and improvement aimed at incorporating new knowledge, data and understanding, and capturing what is important to people for healthy oceans. Therefore, underlying methods or data for some goals have been upgraded.

As a living index built on open data science practices, OHI is flexible in receiving these new data, continuing to build a robust evaluation of ocean health. For 2018, the Mariculture sub-goal was updated to include seaweed once it was identified that most seaweed production is for human consumption. The seaweed industry's contribution to food is valued at $5 billion and its demand is continuing to increase worldwide.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2018-12-ocean-health-index-seventh-annual.html

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How local ecological knowledge can save endangered and rare animals

30 Nov 2017 - From knowing where animals live, to which plants provide what medicinal benefits, communities around the world hold expert levels of knowledge on their local environments.

30 Nov 2017 - From knowing where animals live, to which plants provide what medicinal benefits, communities around the world hold expert levels of knowledge on their local environments.

In general, scientific investigations provide precise and measurable information, collected over short amounts of time. But this "local ecological knowledge" is made up of observations collected over very long time periods, which are often passed down through the generations. It can be simple things, like knowing the best places to fish, or can include rare or extreme events, such as floods or periods of bad weather.

For coastal communities dependent on ocean resources, this accumulated ecological knowledge is key to collecting food and maintaining livelihoods. But community ecological knowledge need not, and does not, stand alone from science. It has been repeatedly "tested" by scientists, and is now increasingly being recognised as a valuable asset in environmental management and conservation biology.

In recent years, wider recognition of its value has resulted in local knowledge being drawn on to support natural resource management. It has been used to help design , for example in Myanmar and the Philippines.

By combining the two, local knowledge can be a useful tool in data poor areas. Particularly when it comes to monitoring rare or endangered species.

Saving the dugong

The  is a large marine mammal that feeds almost exclusively on seagrass – itself a threatened plant species. At present the dugong is listed as "vulnerable to extinction" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature red list. Major threats to dugong populations include habitat loss, coastal development, pollution, fishing activities, vessel strikes and unsustainable hunting or poaching.

Dugongs are thought to exist in only small fragmented groups outside of their primary population in Australia. Though dugongs are still found in the coastal waters of more than 40 countries throughout the Indo-West Pacific, accurate scientific information is scarce and often anecdotal. To properly support the protection of these vulnerable animals, we need to know where they are.

To monitor dugong populations, researchers typically use aerial surveys or unmanned aerial vehicles. But these techniques are costly, and often affected by difficult conditions such as cloudy water and glare. Additionally, they also provide only a narrow snapshot of what might be occurring in any particular area at a single time.

This is where local ecological knowledge can be hugely beneficial. If available, it has the potential to fill in the detail about the whereabouts and numbers of sighted dugongs.

Indonesian efforts

In Indonesia, dugongs are protected but there is limited accessible information on population numbers or their geographical range. Though the government appears committed to conserving the species, there is also growing evidence of the rapid decline of Indonesian seagrass meadows due to a suite of threats including overfishing.

But fishers are not the dugong's enemy, rather they could be its saviour. Our recently published research used the knowledge of fishers to confirm the persistence of dugong in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia. The fishers, who take to the water daily, were able to relay precise times, dates and locations of multiple dugong sightings, going as far back as 1942. These fishers had knowledge that far surpassed any official research record and were able to describe previously unrecorded historical trends and population changes.

This is not the first time that this kind of locally-held ecological knowledge has been used to conserve species, nor will it be the last. Other examples include the conservation of the endangered Baleen whale poplulations in the Falklands, and rare freshwater fishes in the Mekong River.

Using science and the ecological  of local people does more than save just one species at a time, too. The ocean is an ecosystem, and each plant, animal or other creature relies on one another. Dugong and seagrass conservation, for example, go hand-in-hand. To acquire better information on the population distribution of dugongs, we also need to know the distribution and status of seagrass. And by integrating these kinds of information, we can start saving the oceans.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2017-11-local-ecological-knowledge-endangered-rare...