Ocean Action Hub

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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...

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Saving seagrasses from dredging—new research finds solutions

3 Nov 2017 - Timing of dredging is the key to helping preserve one of the world's most productive and important ecosystems—seagrass meadows.

3 Nov 2017 - Timing of dredging is the key to helping preserve one of the world's most productive and important ecosystems—seagrass meadows.

Seagrass meadows are among themost underappreciated but most important ecosystems in the world

Seagrasses are disappearing at the same rate as tropical rainforests and coral reefs

New research can provide answers on when and how much to dredge via an 'ecological window'

Modelling provides up to a fourfold reduction in time it takes for  to recover

The study, published overnight in Nature Communications, was led by QUT researchers in collaboration with seagrass experts at Edith Cowan and James Cook universities.

Lead researcher, QUT's Dr Paul Wu, has developed a way of predicting the ideal time to dredge in order to give seagrass the best and quickest chance of recovery.

Dr Wu said dredging was a source for seagrass loss and timing of dredging determines if seagrass will recover and how quickly.

"This is called an ecological window," Dr Wu said.

The team of researchers studied 28  around the world.

Seagrasses provide shelter and food to an incredibly diverse community of life, from the tiniest of marine creatures, to fish, turtles, dugongs, other marine mammals and birds.

It is also estimated one hectare of seagrass can absorb 35-times as much carbon dioxide as a hectare of Amazon rainforest, as well as produce 100-thousand litres of oxygen per day.

Despite this immense value, large areas of seagrass are disappearing every year because of accumulated stressors, including human activities, most notably dredging.

Dr Wu is an Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers (ACEMS) within QUT's Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Faculty.

He has developed an advanced statistical model to predict when dredging is least likely to damage seagrass.

Dr Wu said the model could be used globally, not just in Australia.

"Our model can provide up to a fourfold reduction in recovery time, and up to a 35 per cent reduction in local extinction risk for seagrass species," said Dr Wu.

"So if the seagrass can come back more quickly, or minimise the impact, that will also help everything that depends on it."

The modelling also takes into account another very important factor – resilience.

Some areas of seagrass are stronger and healthier and can handle more stress. The modelling looks at how resistant a system is to change, how quickly it can recover, and considers the probability of extinction in local populations.

"Being able to tell the difference between a site where you can do some dredging and seagrass will come back, a site that is at its limit and you shouldn't do any more to it, or a site that's already dying and it doesn't make a difference what you do to it, is very important," said Dr Wu.

There are dozens of seagrass species around the world. They typically grow along gently sloping, protected coastlines.

Seagrasses depend on light for photosynthesis, most commonly found in shallow depths where light levels are high.

Dredging can significantly reduce the amount of light reaching the seagrass.

Dr Kathryn McMahon (pictured diving above), Deputy Director of Edith Cowan University's Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research, said seagrass is much like terrestrial plants.

"There are natural phases of seagrass growth and reproduction, therefore, at particular times seagrasses could be more or less vulnerable to dredging pressures," Dr McMahon said.

"By combining our knowledge of the biology of seagrasses with natural environmental fluctuations and human pressures we identify the best time to minimise long-term impacts for human activities."

Dr Wu believed proponents of dredging and coastal development would be among those who could benefit from the use of this model.

"The model allows dredging and coastal development to move forward, but helps mitigate the environmental impacts on seagrass and the many ecosystems that depend on it," said Dr Wu.

Dr Wu said his Bayesian network model combines both the use of data with expert knowledge.

"As with many ecosystems, there isn't enough data to fully understand the system," Dr Wu said.

"The processes are too complex and there is too much variability in nature. We bolster the data we have with expert knowledge from seagrass scientists who dive on the , studying them and taking samples, decades of valuable experience."

Those experts come from the School of Sciences and Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research at Edith Cowan University, the Western Australian Marine Science Institution in Perth, the UWA Oceans Institute and School of Biological Sciences at the University of Western Australia, and the Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research at James Cook University.

"What makes the model even more important is that it isn't limited to just seagrass. It could be used to model other natural ecosystems under stress, like mangroves and coral reefs," Dr Wu said.

JCU's Dr Michael Rasheed said the model was more practical than existing systems.

"Global trends indicate favourable windows in autumn and winter where dredging causes the least damage," Dr Rasheed said.

"Ideally, impact assessments of dredging campaigns do still need to be customised for specific meadows at specific periods in time and incorporate uncertainty associated with forecasted future conditions in the area."

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2017-11-seagrasses-dredgingnew-solutions.html

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Coral gardening is benefiting Caribbean reefs, study finds

28 July 2017 - A new study found that Caribbean staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) are benefiting from "coral gardening," the process of restoring coral populations by planting laborat

28 July 2017 - A new study found that Caribbean staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) are benefiting from "coral gardening," the process of restoring coral populations by planting laboratory-raised coral fragments on reefs.

The research, led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and partners, has important implications for the long-term survival of  worldwide, which have been in worldwide decline from multiple stressors such as climate change and ocean pollution.

"Our study showed that current restoration methods are very effective," said UM Rosenstiel school coral biologist Stephanie Schopmeyer, the lead author of the study. "Healthy coral reefs are essential to our everyday life and successful coral restoration has been proven as a recovery tool for lost coastal resources."

In the study, the researchers set out to document restoration success during their initial two years at several coral restoration sites in Florida and Puerto Rico. Their findings showed that current restoration methods are not causing excess damage to donor colonies as a result of removing coral tissue to propagate new coral in the lab, and that once outplanted, corals behave just as wild colonies do.

Staghorn  have declined as much as 90% in the Caribbean since the 1980s. As a result, the species was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2006 to help protect and conserve these species that form the foundation of the biologically rich coral reef habitats.

The findings, published in the of the journal Coral Reefs, offers a guide for successful restoration and recovery efforts of the threatened species worldwide.

Thousands of corals are raised in laboratories and planted onto degraded reefs each year. This study is the first to collect baseline coral restoration survival and productivity data at regional scales including data from 1,000s of individual A. cervicornis colonies, more than 120 distinct genotypes within six geographical regions to develop benchmarks to fully assess the progress and impacts of the region's coral and  restoration efforts.

Coral reefs provide many goods and services including fisheries habitat, food for humans and other ocean species, and protection against natural hazards such as hurricanes. As a result, coral restoration is viewed as an effective and cost-efficient strategy to buffer coastlines from the effects of storm surge and sea-level rise.

"Coral reefs are declining at an alarming rate and coral restoration programs are now considered an essential component to coral conservation and management plan," said Diego Lirman, UM Rosenstiel School professor of marine biology and ecology and a coauthor of the study. "Our findings provide the necessary scientific benchmarks to evaluate restoration progress moving forward."

The study was conducted in collaboration with U.S. Acropora Recovery Program partners: Nova Southeastern University, University of Miami, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Mote Marine Laboratory, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The public can get involved in  through the UM Rescue-a-Reef program, where citizen scientists help plant nursery-grown corals onto depleted reefs alongside scientists.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-coral-gardening-benefiting-caribbean-reefs...

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Cook Islands creates huge Pacific Ocean reserve

14 July 2017 - The Cook Islands has created one of the world's largest marine sanctuaries, protecting a vast swathe of the Pacific Ocean more than three times the size of France.

14 July 2017 - The Cook Islands has created one of the world's largest marine sanctuaries, protecting a vast swathe of the Pacific Ocean more than three times the size of France.

Legislation setting up the 1.9 million square kilometre (735,000 square mile) reserve passed through the tiny nation's parliament late Thursday.

Environmentalist Kevin Iro, who first proposed the idea more than five years ago, said it was a landmark achievement that would help preserve the ocean for future generations.

"It's a historic time, particularly because everyone supported it, including our traditional leaders who spearheaded the whole thing," he told AFP.

The Cook Islands has a population of just 10,000 and its 15 islands have a combined landmass of 236 sq km, barely the size of Washington DC.

But its isolated position in the Pacific, about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii with no near neighbours, means it has a huge maritime territory.

Iro said Cook Islanders had an affinity with the ocean and viewed it as sacred but overfishing and pollution had damaged the marine environment, including the coral reefs that once ringed all the .

He said the marine reserve, known as Marae Moana, would give the environment a chance to heal, allowing the islanders to protect their legacy.

"When I moved back here (from New Zealand) about 16 years ago I saw what was happening to the lagoons and reefs and really wanted to protect them for my kids," he said.

"I want them to have the same experience I did as a boy growing up."

The idea is not to ban commercial fishing or mineral exploration outright, but to ensure it is carried out in a sustainable manner.

However, there will be a core no-fishing zone totalling about 320,000 sq km, extending 50 nautical miles from the coastline of each island.

Prime Minister Henry Puna said Marae Moana provided a blueprint for managing ocean environments worldwide.

"Together we had a vision to turn our little country into the cleanest and greenest tourism destination in the whole wide world," the Cook Islands News quoted him as telling parliament.

"We not only recognise that the  brings us revenue in terms of fishery and tourism and potentially sea bed minerals -– it also provides us with clean air, clean water, and clean food to nourish and sustain us."

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-cook-islands-huge-pacific-ocean.html

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Catch shares slow the 'race to fish'
5 Apr 2017 - New study offers strong new evidence that catch shares curb the "race to fish" that compresses fishing seasons.
5 Apr 2017 - A detailed analysis of 39 U.S. fisheries by Duke University economists offers strong new evidence that catch shares curb the "race to fish" that compresses fishing seasons. Slowing competition with catch shares allows fishers to time their catches to match market demand and capitalize on changing profit opportunities throughout the season. And it can reduce occupational hazards and improve the quality of the fish sent to market. Catch shares are a type of management system in which individual fishers or groups of fishers receive secured rights to an allotted portion of a fishery's total allowable catch, regardless of when they land their portion during the year. "These results across 39 different fisheries underscore the broad applicability of catch shares and can inform the debate about expanding the use of market-based regulation in fisheries worldwide," said Martin D. Smith, George M. Woodwell Distinguished Professor of Environmental Economics at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. Smith is particularly hopeful that the findings may help resolve differences in competing versions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act currently proposed - and stalled - in the U.S. House of Representative and Senate. The House version would restrict the use of new catch shares; the Senate version would not. Smith and his colleagues published their peer-reviewed analysis April 5 in the journal Nature. Scientists and economists have long theorized that catch shares reduce the economic waste, safety risks and ecological damage that can result when fishers race to fill seasonal catch quotas. But doubts have persisted among some policymakers and fishery associations because, until now, evidence supporting the theory has come from selected fisheries only. "One alternative is no management, which leads to both overfishing and economic waste," Smith said. "There are also various forms of command and control regulation that may curb overfishing, but fail to solve the economic problem. These, for example limit types and amounts of fishing gear, limit sizes and types of fishing vessels, limit days at sea, or set an industry-wide quota and shut down fishing when the quota is met. Some simply close large areas off to fishing altogether," he said. "By systematically comparing monthly data from 39 catch-share fisheries to those of 39 similar fisheries without catch shares, our study presents the first comprehensive evidence that catch shares slow the destructive race to fish and lead to improved fishing conditions," said Anna M. Birkenbach, a doctoral candidate in Duke's University Program in Environmental Policy (UPEP). While most outcomes were overwhelmingly positive, there were a few exceptions. "In fisheries where multiple species are caught, we found that fishermen may speed up their catch of minor species to leave time for more careful pursuit of other, higher-value species," noted David Kaczan, also a UPEP doctoral candidate, who conducted the study with Smith and Birkenbach. "Overall, the benefits still outweighed the negatives, but policymakers need to consider this potential trade-off when deciding on new catch shares." Among the fisheries included in the new study were Pacific halibut, Atlantic cod and sea scallops, Gulf of Mexico red snapper and Alaskan sablefish. The study did not include state fisheries, such as Alaskan salmon, or those that lacked monthly catch data, such as Alaskan crab. Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-04-fish.html#jCp

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Scientists and engineers turn ocean plastic into new products - Phys.org

3 Mar 2017 - Norton Point is manufacturing sunglasses made from the huge amounts of plastic cleaned up from ocean coastlines, reinvesting profits in research, education and development efforts that help reduce the impact of ocean plastic.

3 Mar 2017 - Two years ago, socially conscious entrepreneurs Rob Ianelli and Ryan Schoenike founded their company, Norton Point, to manufacture sunglasses made from the huge amounts of plastic cleaned up from ocean coastlines.

Their goal was to be a part of the solution to one of the planet's greatest challenges: the 8 million tons of plastic entering Earth's oceans each year. Moreover, they wanted to reinvest their profits in research, education and development efforts that help reduce the impact of  plastic.

Now, engineers and polymer scientists with the University of Georgia's New Materials Institute are helping Norton Point, which is based in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, with testing of its "ocean plastics" products and finding new product applications.

"Packaging represents about half of all plastics produced, and single-use plastic items make up the majority of what is found on beaches," said Jenna Jambeck, associate professor of engineering and director of Center for Circular Materials Management in the New Materials Institute.

Her study of ocean plastics, published in the journal Science in 2015, quantified for the first time the amount of plastics flowing into the earth's oceans, drawing worldwide attention to the issue.https://phys.org/news/2017-03-scientists-ocean-plastic-products.html

Jambeck's study was published at an opportune time for the Norton Point founders, who had been exploring the idea of manufacturing sunglasses from ocean plastics. "But we were concerned about doing it right," said Schoenike.

They connected for the first time with Jambeck last year at an Oceans conference, and since then, Schoenike said, the New Materials Institute has "moved our goals and the issue forward" together.

Jambeck explained that one of the plastics used in single-use  products is high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, which doesn't biodegrade. "It only breaks down in the environment by creating smaller and smaller fragments," she said. CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2017-03-scientists-ocean-plastic-products.html

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UN addresses issue of whale-ship collisions

15 February 2017 - Scientists and government officials met at the United Nations today to consider possible solutions to a global problem: how to protect whale species in their most import

15 February 2017 - Scientists and government officials met at the United Nations today to consider possible solutions to a global problem: how to protect whale species in their most important marine habitats that overlap with shipping lanes vital to the economies of many of the world's nations.

The event titled "At The Crossroads: Global Shipping Lanes and Whale Conservation" is part of the 2017 IUCN/WCS Knowledge Dialogue Series that will promote discussions among various stakeholders on international sustainable development challenges. This preparatory conference will feed into important decisions made by delegates on oceans and marine issues at the upcoming UN Oceans Conference on June 5-9, 2017.

"Most species of great whale are affected by shipping activities in the form of potential ship strikes and underwater noise," said WCS President and CEO Dr. Cristián Samper, who provided welcoming remarks for the event. "The challenge of finding solutions on how best to protect these marine mammals in busy waterways is a global one, and international collaboration is the key to formulating effective solutions. Today's discussions on this issue are timely and will help pave the way for a formal call to action by UN delegates in June."

Samper was joined by His Excellency Peter Thomson of Fiji, President of the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly and a panel of experts from government agencies, scientific organizations, and the . The event was organized by the Government of France, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

Most  are still recovering from the impacts of centuries of commercial whaling and, although largely protected by a global commercial whaling ban, are now threatened by a host of new dangers, including collisions with ocean-going vessels, ocean noise, entanglement in fishing gear, and other factors.

Moderated by Dr. Greg Silber of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the panel discussed the scope and scale of impacts of the shipping industry on whales, focusing specifically on the threats of collisions and increasing low-frequency noise levels from commercial ships. The participants then reviewed a number of case studies from regions around the world—Africa's Gulf of Guinea, Sri Lanka, Chile, Arctic waters, and seascapes along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States—as a means of assessing the current state of knowledge on the overlap between shipping networks and biologically important areas for whales. Panel members also discussed new technologies, emerging research and management needs, and the importance of identifying best practices for balancing the needs of shipping and whale conservation objectives.

"We have a real opportunity on the global stage this week and in the coming months to work with governments, industry, and conservation organizations to secure concrete actions that will benefit whales and the marine environment," said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of WCS's Ocean Giants Program and a panel participant.

"Collectively we have been evaluating impacts from ship-strikes and noise for several decades, with some clear strides made in reducing impacts," said Dr. Brandon Southall, President and Senior Scientist for SEA Inc. "But now is the time to push forward using powerful new monitoring and mitigation technologies, and building new international partnerships like those forged here in New York."

CONTINUE READING:​ https://phys.org/news/2017-02-issue-whale-ship-collisions.html

 Explore further: Data on blue whales off California helps protect their distant relatives