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This page includes news articles of international and national interest. Seagrass-Watch HQ does not guarantee, and accepts no legal liability whatsoever arising from or connected to, the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any news material contained on this page or on any linked site. The material on this page may include the views or recommendations of third parties, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the program nor it's supporters, or indicate commitment to a particular course of action

 

 

 

 

 

WASHED UP: A dugong washed up at Burnett Heads.

Eye on stranded animals

31 March 2017, Bundaberg News Mail (Australia)

IN THE aftermath of ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie, beachgoers and boaties are urged to keep an eye out for stranded marine life.

"Heavy rain is likely to wash silty waters from rivers onto important offshore sea grass beds - the main food source for turtles and dugongs,” the Department of Environment and Heritage has said.

Silt smothers and can kill sea grass, but sea grass meadows - usually located several hundred metres offshore - are expected to recover over the next 12 to 18 months.

A diver visiting Bundaberg had an up close experience with a dugong off Barolin Rocks in September last year.

EHP wildlife officers request that any turtle and dugong strandings due to ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie are reported to 1300 130 372.

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Protecting Sri Lanka's Dugongs

26 March 2017, Sunday Leader (Sri Lanka)

Husband and wife duo, W. Pradeep Prasanna and Niluka Damayanthi say they have tremendous respect for mother nature.

Fishing communities in Puttalam, Kalpitiya once practiced illegal methods, especially when it came to fishing gear that threatens Dugong-a large marine mammal, and sea grass habitats have chosen A number of alternatives thanks to the conservation initiatives of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Sunday Leader spoke to a cross section of the community on the progress in their latest initiatives.

Twenty two year-old, Upeka Thanamali says she is very happy to see her father and brothers giving up illegal fishing methods.

Asked how it was possible, she says it is due to the initiatives of some non-governmental organisations by providing sewing machines, assisting the ornamental fishing industry and other small business ventures.

“Apart from teaching at a primary schooI, I also do sewing during my extra time that fetches some Rs. 10,000 per month apart from my salary. So I can help my family with it.”

Respecting mother nature

Husband and wife duo, W. Pradeep Prasanna and Niluka Damayanthi say they have tremendous respect for mother nature. “We never use methods that would have a negative impact to ocean resources. We went through hard times but as a family we work hard and cut down on unnecessary expenses. Contrary to popular saying that most fishermen drink and smoke, the majority of them here are neither under the influence of liquor and they do not smoke,” says Prasanna.

Damayanthi says that since she was married some 20 years ago, she takes part in all her husband’s activities. “I think as a family . We should work together it goes a long way. Likewise my two children apart from their school work help us in the day to day activities,” she says.

Forty-year-old K. B. Nilmini says illegal fishing in the area is less now with more women focusing on sewing. However, she says during the off seasons they do have problems in selling their products.

“I wish there is a system or method where we could sell it to outsiders. Government institutions could do their role here,” she added.

Seventeen-year-old, Asela says his father had stopped fishing but his ornamental fishing business is doing well. “Now my father makes fishing tanks as he has sufficient orders ,” he adds.

Wildlife Department Deputy Director of Conservation Research and Training, Dr. Lakshman Peiris says the major aim of the project is to reduce the impacts of destructive fishing practices on sea grass habitats and provide income generation opportunities to local communities.

Education and awareness programmes have been implemented targeting specific areas of the lagoon to enhance and promote alternative livelihoods.

Alternative livelihood projects for fishing communities will include batik, sewing, packaging of dry fish, production of coir mats, ornamental fish breeding, etc. In addition, marketing, branding and finance management training will be provided for community members to improve their products. Selected communities were given some self-sustaining employment, i.e. Batik, sewing machines, ornamental fish rearing, crab farming, etc.

Legally authorised fishing nets were distributed among the fishermen to avoid using illegal fishing nets. They aim to reduce fishing pressure to the lagoon and thereby protect dugong and dugong habitats. This can be considered as a trial for community involvement and conservation while getting some incentives.

Conservation of dugongs

Recognising threats on the survival of the globally endangered dugong population found across the Indian and Pacific Ocean Basin, a global effort was made under the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) while establishing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

In Sri Lanka the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) has entered into an MoU with CMS. The MOU that has an understanding that the country strengthens the conservation of dugong and their habitat with financial support from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and with the technical support from United Nation Environment Project (UNEP).

With this background, the project – Enhancing the Conservation Effectiveness of Seagrass Ecosystems Supporting Globally Significant Populations of Dugongs across the Indian and Pacific Ocean Basins, was launched in 2015 executed by the Mohomad Binziard Species Conservation Fund (MBZ).

Eight dugong range countries i.e. Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor-Leste, Madagascar, Mozambique and Sri Lanka are involved with the project through various means of activities from community level to policy level stages.

Community participation and ownership of dugong and sea grass conservation, introducing sustainable fisheries practices and innovative financial incentives, establishing Locally Managed Marine Protected Areas (LMMPA), and mainstreaming dugong and sea grass conservation priorities into national and regional policies and planning are prominent among global project objectives. This is especially in the North western sea from the Puttalam to Jaffna districts of Sri Lanka where dugongs have been sighted.

Due to lack of concern for conservation and a high demand for their meats results in high mortality and a reduction of population. The project comprises eight components working with local communities in north-west Sri Lanka by providing relevant education on the importance of dugongs and their habitat to discourage direct hunting of dugongs as well as negative fishing practices.

Establishing a marine conservation coordination centre in north-west Sri Lanka, featuring computerised communication systems to overcome the current lack of communication among relevant stake holders is important. LK4 is component involving the preparation of a multiple community-based management plan in conjunction with the government, fishing communities and the tourism industry.

Programmes also involving Baseline Sea grass maps with the distribution and abundance of sea grass in Palk Bay, the Gulf of Mannar and Kalpitiya must be established.

Other areas includes conducting field surveys of the Bay of Bengal/Palk Strait area using divers and being supported by community interviews to identify dugong and sea grass hotspots.

The other project being attempted is to reduce the impacts of destructive fishing practices on sea grass habitats and provide income generation opportunities to local communities in return for their commitments to wise habitat and natural resource use. LK8 is the facilitating body for coordinate the work carried out by the six other project partners by establishing a National Facilitating Committee.

Actual field activities of the projects commenced in mid-2015 and are being continued to date.

Global Project

A Global Project was initiated to improve the conservation status of dugongs and their seagrass habitats across the Indian and Pacific Ocean to enhance the effectiveness of conservation efforts for dugongs and their sea grass ecosystems across the Indian and Pacific Ocean basins.

The national project goal is to improve the conservation status of dugongs and their seagrass habitats in the Gulf of Mannar. The objective of the Palk Bay National is to enhance the effectiveness of conservation efforts for dugongs and their sea grass ecosystems in the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay.

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No evidence of illegal turtle, dugong hunting in far north Queensland, unreleased report finds

24 March 2017, ABC Online (Australia)

 

An Indigenous land council boss has called on the Federal Government to end a long-running debate by publicly releasing a report that found "no substantive evidence" of an illegal trade in sea turtle and dugong meat in Queensland.

This week the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) told the ABC it handed its report to Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg in October.

Northern Land Council chief executive Joe Morrison said the Government must release it to end inaccurate accusations about Indigenous hunting practices.

"We need to move away from this nonsense and almost bordering on racist sentiment," he said.

"I think the Government owes the public an explanation as to the expenditure of those monies and to ensure this nonsensical sort of debate is dealt with appropriately and people like [environmental advocate] Bob Irwin are also responded to and making sure that we dealing with the facts, not emotions," he said.

The Federal Government committed $2 million to the investigation into illegal poaching and the transportation and trade of turtle and dugong meat in far north Queensland and the Torres Strait.

ACCC chief executive Chris Dawson said the two-year investigation found no substantive evidence of an organised illegal trade in meat.

"Broadly, the investigation found the level of poaching and illegal sale of meat to be minimal and no substantive evidence to suggest that an organised commercial trade in turtle and dugong meat exists in Queensland, including the Torres Strait," Mr Dawson said in a statement.

"Indigenous community leaders were generally supportive of the development of enforceable measures to stop poaching activities within their sea country."

While speaking generally about the report, Mr Dawson said it was never intended to be made public, furthermore Mr Frydenberg did not respond to the ABC on whether it would be released.

Australian traditional hunting laws give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people the right to hunt dugong, sea turtle and other protected or endangered species for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.

Yet politicians and animal rights activists have long claimed that animals are being hunted for a profit.

"You go out locally to Green Island [near Cairns] and we can see hunters out there on a daily basis when the water's calm, hunting in amongst tourists," Bob Irwin Wildlife Foundation spokesperson Colin Riddell said this week.

"It's just one of those PC [politically correct] things that the politicians aren't going to touch."
MP sceptical of findings

Member for Leichardt Warren Entsch has not seen the final report, yet he questioned its investigation methods and conclusions.

"The outcome was flawed," Mr Entsch said.

"They asked the question: is this is for traditional and cultural purposes or commercial?

"Of course [people will] say it's not for commercial purposes as they know it's illegal.

"They're selling the meat for $50 and $60 a kilo [vacuumed packed] and sold [in] pubs and motels in Cairns and Innisfail."

He added that he still believed there was cause to curtail traditional hunting rights and called for a "total prohibition" of meat being flown out of communities where it was caught.

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The Seagrass Of Florida Bay Is Under Siege -- And Not For The First Time

21 March 2017, WLRN (USA)

A lack of fresh water is among the factors killing seagrass in Florida Bay. The die-off threatens habitats of fish and other species. (Photo Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Seagrass in Florida Bay has died off rapidly over the past couple of years. About 40,000 acres have been lost, harming the habitat of animals from manatees to toadfish and imperiling the area's fishing industry.

Researchers say it's not the first time a die-off like this has happened and that there are lessons to be learned from the last major seagrass die-off. That one started around 1987 and damaged about 60,000 acres.

Tylan Dean is a chief researcher at Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks. He says hot temperatures and too little fresh water flowing south from the Everglades cause these die-offs, which are vicious cycles for the bay.

"What we saw after the 1980s event was additional seagrass dying as a result of the algal blooms," Dean said. The algae, he said, blocks out light seagrasses need to thrive. And decaying seagrass also consumes oxygen in the bay water, causing even more die-off.

He and Christopher Kavanagh, an ecologist at Everglades National Park, say there's only been one algae bloom associated with the current die-off.

"That may repeat itself, or it may not," Kavanagh said. "It really depends on the combination of factors," including the heat, the wind and how much freshwater gets to Florida Bay.

Dean and Kavanagh both say getting more freshwater in the bay would be a huge step towards restoring seagrass and avoiding further harm to plants and animals.

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Dugong and turtle being over-hunted on Great Barrier Reef

21 March 2017, Courier Mail (Australia)

INDIGENOUS hunters are using the Great Barrier Reef as a “supermarket” for dugong and turtle meat in an uncurbed practice putting the species in danger, the Federal Government has been told.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is being lobbied by MPs, including from the Queensland Government, to make tougher rules around traditional hunting.

The lobbying coincides with the Bob Irwin Wildlife Foundation’s push to change native title laws to ban all hunting of vulnerable and endangered species.

The foundation will invite crossbench senators to north Queensland to try to ­recruit them to the cause.

Spokesman Colin Riddell said turtle and dugong meat fetched $75 and $150 a kilogram respectively.

“People go to Green Island and see people spearing and cutting up turtles right in front of them in a marine park,” he said.

“They’re using marine parks as a supermarket.”

Governments admit they have no idea how many dugongs and turtles are being killed, although a federal report in 2000 estimated it was up to 1600 dugongs and 20,000 turtles a year.

Traditional owners have hunting rights on their own country under the Native Title Act 1993 that permits the taking of turtles and dugongs for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.

But Mr Frydenberg has been told the laws are being ­ignored by some who aren’t supposed to be hunting, or who are doing it to make money.

Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch – who said he has had good support from Mr Frydenberg – said there were serious ­issues along the east coast, with some families selling to people who just wanted to taste a bit of dugong or turtle meat.

He wants prohibitions on freezing and transporting the meat, arguing animals should be consumed where they are taken.

Mr Frydenberg said it was a sensitive issue and indigenous communities did hunt legitimately for cultural and ceremonial reasons.

“There is a legitimate community concern with what people perceive as a cruel practice that is leading to unnecessary conflict between visitors to the Reef and local indigenous communities,” he said.

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Marine census planned for coastal waters on March 23

20 March 2017, The Standard (Kenya)

The Kenya Wildlife Service will conduct an aerial census for marine mammals from March 23 to March 27. KWS spokesperson Paul Gatitu said the exercise will be launched at the Mombasa Marine National Park on March 23.

"The survey will focus on dugongs in the area between Diani and Vanga in the South Coast and Ungwana Bay and Kiunga in the North Coast," he said. Dugong, a marine mammal falls in the family of Sirenia, which includes species like manatees and the sea cow.

"Dugongs are threatened worldwide by loss and degradation of sea grass, fishing pressure, indigenous use, hunting and coastal pollution.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed them as vulnerable to extinction," he said. Their population has been declining rapidly in Kenya as indicated from aerial surveys. Initial surveys indicate that 500 of them were sighted off the South Coast of Kenya in 1967.

Before 1961, populations were defined as plenty in Lamu although in some sites like Chiamboni (in Somalia), Formosa Bay and Malindi they were rarely seen.

"The decline was explained as gradual, because they were hunted for food and fats using spears, accidentally caught on nets or targeted on shark nets. Later, accidental netting of dugongs was reported compared to hunting, totaling at least 12 each year in Lamu," added Mr Gatitu.

He further explained that aerial surveys conducted in 1973, 1975, 1980, 1994 and 1996 indicated a sharp downward decline in their population. In 1994 and 1996, 10 and six individuals respectively were counted during aerial surveys in Lamu, indicating a sharp decline.

The six included a herd of four individuals comprising one calf in the Siyu channel and two lone animals near Manda Toto Island. The Kenyan dugong population was estimated to be approximately 50 at that time. Dugong populations in the North and South coasts of Kenya are two discrete populations.

Read more at: https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001233270/marine-census-planned-for-coastal-waters-on-march-23

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Lagoon resurrection unclear one year after fish apocalypse

17 March 2017, Florida Today (USA)

Four biological scientists with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Research Institute set out from KARS Park in Merritt Island to cast nets, including 600 foot seine net near Port Canaveral to find fish samples to determine population. Heavy winds interfered with obtaining the proper data, bringing too much algae into the water, which clogged up the netting. To further complicate the situation, a fairly large alligator got caught up in the net, and while getting the reptile loose, too many fish escaped, so the day's mission was scrubbed. (Photo Credit: Tim Shortt/FLORIDA TODAY)

Indian River Lagoon fishermen are reeling in some glimmers of hope. But experts say fish could take years to recover from last year's unprecedented fish kill, and the estuary's future — like its water —remains cloudy.

"It's hard to know about getting fish populations back, because to be honest, we don't know how many died," said Duane De Freese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon Council.

Water quality has improved in most of the lagoon, De Freese said, "but we are still seeing rolling algal blooms. The system is still vulnerable."

A year ago this week, a "brown-tide" algae breakdown clogged canals with rotting fish. More than 30 species died. Fish carcasses floated up from Titusville to Palm Bay — a 50-mile area spanning a third of the lagoon — but mostly centering in the Banana River in Cocoa Beach.

Apocalyptic images of rotting fish flashed around the globe, to the horror of local businesses and tourism officials who feared the lagoon, a $7 billion cash cow, was dying right before their eyes.

State funding puts Indian River Lagoon on the map

Volunteers donned surgical masks and gloves as they combed the lagoon banks in a massive community-wide cleanup, filling more than 80 dumpsters with an estimated 50 to 65 tons of fish carcass.

Biologists blamed local runoff for the death toll. Each storm delivers excess nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers, grass clippings and leaky septic tanks and sewer systems to the lagoon.

Fish tried to flee. But those that escaped south found only short-term relief. Less than a month later, triggered by massive phosphorus-laden water releases from Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie Estuary and southern lagoon saw blue-green algae clump into thick toxic globs resembling smashed avocados.

Scientists also blamed an extremely wet winter for the problems.

Climatologists say this year should be better. With the climate hovering comfortably between two extremes — El Niño and La Niña — they see much lower odds of the lagoon reliving last year's extremes. But they also say a full fish recovery depends on more than the weather.

Biologists said Brevard's lagoon fish suffocated en mass when the long-blooming brown tide algae crashed. Bacteria decomposing the algae consumed oxygen in the water, causing low levels of dissolved oxygen.

The brown tide crash hit the already vulnerable lagoon.

Some areas, such as the southern Mosquito Lagoon in northern Brevard, had never fully cleared of the seemingly endless string of algae blooms that began with a green algae "superbloom" that exploded in 2011 and killed off about half of the lagoon's seagrass.

Ecologists consider seagrass a key barometer of an estuary's health and the linchpin of the food web. It provides vital nursery habitat for juvenile fish, crabs and other marine life. When it vanishes, species flee elsewhere and sediments cloud the water, making it more difficult for the bottom plants to grow back.

In 2009, seagrass covered about 70,000 acres of the lagoon, a coverage not seen since the 1940s. Two years later, the "superbloom" left behind only 38,000 acres, according to data from the St. Johns River Water Management District. Seagrass grew back to 48,000 acres by 2015.

But the district expects 2017 seagrass maps will show the vital bottom plant losing ground again, which has biologists concerned that could mean long-term dead zones throughout the lagoon.

But on a positive note: Chlorophyll, a green plant pigment that indicates presence of algae, has in most spots dropped below 10 micrograms per liter. During last year's fish kill chlorophyll reached 10 times that level, said Chuck Jacoby, supervising environmental scientist with the St. Johns district.

As algae and seagrass compete for dominance during their mutual growing season, the winner could determine how much room fish have to breathe. Seagrass yields more oxygen and habitat for fish, while excess algae creates low-oxygen levels in the water that can be fatal for fish and other marine life.

Temperatures also will determine how fish-friendly the lagoon is. Dissolved oxygen is among the most vital indicators of good water quality. Fish need at least 2 milligrams per liter of dissolved oxygen in the water. Below that, they begin to suffocate. This week, the oxygen remained at healthy levels at five lagoon monitoring sites, 6 milligrams per liter or higher.

The hotter water gets, the less oxygen it can hold, because there are larger spaces between water molecules, so it's easier for oxygen to escape into the air. Water molecules pack closer together in cooler water, holding oxygen tighter.

What killed the lagoon?

Extremes kill, and in ecological terms, the 2011 "superbloom" was the lagoon's 9/11.

"It changed the whole dynamic of how the system works," said Ed Phlips, professor of algal physiology and ecology at the University of Florida.

Seagrass and other bottom plants were a buffer that absorbed nutrients. "When that community got really hammered ... that meant any nutrients that came into the lagoon were really going into the phytoplankton community."

That set the stage for the main fish killer — brown tide. The algae called Aureoumbra lagunensis appeared in lagoon samples as early as 2005, but not at bloom levels until 2012. It bloomed again in 2013, 2015 and peaked last year.

The brown tide algae cells are so tiny that it would take 200 of them to stretch across the period at the end of this sentence. Biologists believe its tiny size, coupled with a mucus cell coating, might be why clams and other shellfish tend not to filter feed on the algae, allowing it to grow out of control.

How do we fix it?

De Freese says the lagoon may have shifted to more small algae species that cycle nutrients more quickly, rather than seagrass and other plants that sequester them for longer periods of time.

That shift,which leads to more fish kills, took decades to happen, scientists say, so returning the estuary to one more dominated by seagrass won't be cheap, or easy.

The lagoon's ecological comeback hinges in part on whether more than $302 million from a new Brevard County sales tax and other funding can grow back bottom plants that lay the foundation for all life in the lagoon.

The grass must have a chance to grow on sandy bottom, not gooey black slime, in water less loaded with nutrients from fertilizers, leaky septic tanks and sewer systems.

"We need to put the Indian River Lagoon on a nutrient diet and it needs to be aggressive," De Freese said. "This focus on upgrading our infrastructure is a smart environmental and economic place to be ...No question that we've turned the corner politically, we haven't turned the corner ecologically."

Brevard voters on Nov. 8 approved a special half-cent-per-dollar lagoon sales tax that will raise about $34 million a year for the next 10 years for lagoon cleanups, with about two thirds of money going toward muck removal.

Earlier this month, Brevard County commissioners unanimously approved allocating $25.87 million for 42 projects from the tax. The total cost of these projects is $68.77 million, and the rest of the money would come from other funding sources.

Florida legislators have allocated more than $40 million in the past two years toward Brevard muck dredging projects.

As fishermen await the ecological spoils of that dredging, in the meantime they crowd to Sebastian Inlet and the lagoon's other five openings to the ocean, where sea water washes out pollution and the fishing shows signs of recovery. But in the areas in between the inlets, the fishing's been, well, lousy.

"All of the areas that used to have extensive seagrass beds are just bare," said Ned Scheerhorn, of Titusville, a member of the Florida Fly Fishing Association, a Cocoa-based group with about 115 members.

Scheerhorn hasn't been fly fishing from his kayak in about six months. Last time he tried, the water was so brownish-green, he gave up.

He's gone wading to fish a half dozen times, but caught just one trout. So now he focuses on fishing the St. Johns River, instead.

"It was just pathetic, I don't even go saltwater fishing anymore."

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Court Signals Bend of US Marine Base for Okinawa Dugong

16 March 2017, Courthouse News Service (Japan)

The Ninth Circuit on Wednesday indicated that the Defense Department may have to reconsider how it will operate a controversial new military base on Okinawa, to protect the endangered Okinawa dugong, a manatee-like marine mammal.

Ninth Circuit Judge Paul Watford told government attorneys at the hearing that the Center for Biological Diversity and other U.S. and Japanese environmental groups have standing to seek a ruling that the Department of Defense failed to adequately consider whether the base would harm the dugongs, vacate the Pentagon’s findings that it would not, and order it to issue new ones.

”What I’m inclined to think is your position on standing is completely wrong,” Watford told Department of Justice attorney Mark Haag. “How in the world do they not have standing to seek that relief?”

Dugongs, a manatee-like mammal with smooth, dark gray or bronze skin, fluked tails and downturned muzzles, live in seagrass beds in the shallow coastal waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They grow up to 9 feet long, weigh up to 1,000 pounds and can live as long as 70 years.

The Okinawa dugong, a genetically isolated population inhabiting the waters surrounding Okinawa, are critically endangered. In 1997, the Mammalogical Society of Japan estimated the Okinawa dugong population had been reduced to fewer than 50, and the Japanese government recently estimated that there are at least three Okinawa dugongs left, according to the plaintiffs’ brief to the Ninth Circuit.

The plaintiffs are not alone in opposing the base. Okinawans have long resented Air Base Futenma, which sits in the middle of a bustling city. After U.S. military men raped a 12-year-old girl on Okinawa in 1995, the United States and Japan agreed to move Futenma to Camp Schwab, but most residents want it moved off Okinawa completely, to Japan’s main island.

That’s not likely to happen. Okinawa’s strategic location, 400 miles off the coast of China, makes it ideal for responding to Chinese military threats in the region, and it has been crucial to U.S. campaigns since World War II, including the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite the dugongs’ precarious position, the United States and Japan agreed in 2006 to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Base Futenma from Ginowan City in Okinawa to an offshore site near Camp Schwab next to Henoko and Oura Bays. Construction of the replacement base includes two runways built on landfill dumped into both bays that the plaintiffs say could ravage the seagrass beds on which the dugongs feed.

The plaintiffs sued in 2003 and filed an amended complaint in 2006, saying construction would destroy Okinawa dugong habitat, and that noise, excessive light and pollution from construction would harm the dugongs.

In February, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada reaffirmed their commitment to relocate the base on Okinawa, despite the protests of the island’s residents. Construction on the replacement base resumed a week later.

In a fleeting victory for Futenma’s detractors, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in 2008 ordered the Defense Department to examine the effects, under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), that the replacement base would have on Okinawa dugongs.

The Defense Department found that the base would not harm the dugongs, and the plaintiffs filed a supplemental complaint in 2014 challenging the findings. They said the Pentagon had not opened the NHPA process to public comment, that it acknowledged it had used insufficient data and that the findings underestimated how much habitat would be lost.

The supplemental complaint sought declaratory relief and an injunction barring construction until the Department of Defense issued an NHPA-compliant analysis, according to the government’s answering brief to the Ninth Circuit.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen dismissed the case in 2015, finding that the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction raised political questions that the court did not have authority to hear. Chen also concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue claims for declaratory relief and an order setting aside the Defense Department’s findings.

Seeking reversal Wednesday, Sarah Burt, an attorney with Earthjustice, told the Ninth Circuit that her clients do have standing. A declaration that the Defense Department’s analysis fell short of NHPA requirements and a remand for new analysis would partially redress their harms, which Burt said was sufficient to establish standing.

Burt said that on remand, the Defense Department could determine whether there are certain post-construction measures it could take — such as adjusting the number of flights the base handles and the amount of light it emits — that would reduce its impact on the dugong.

Haag countered that base operations have already been determined and can’t be changed now.

“The Department of Defense itself is disabled from making any adjustments?” Watford asked. “That seems like totally within DoD’s control. You can’t say, ‘No, there is nothing whatsoever the Department of Defense can do to adjust the operations of a base that’s under its control once it’s completed.’

“I’m wholly unpersuaded by your position,” he added.

Haag conceded that the Defense Department could change how it chooses to run the base, then quickly pivoted to the NHPA. He said the NHPA does not require a public comment period before issuance of findings, and that the Pentagon’s findings satisfied its obligations under the statute.

Also Wednesday, the parties discussed injunctive relief, though the plaintiffs had not explicitly asked the Ninth Circuit in their brief to consider their injunctive relief claim. Burt said her clients plan to address the claim if they succeed on the merits back at the district court level.

But Watford’s reaction to the government’s argument against injunctive relief may presage what happens in the lower court.

When Haag told the appellate panel that “the court is not well-equipped to determine what is in the public interest when the government of Japan is deciding what’s in its interest for a project on its sovereign territory, and which it is paying for itself pursuant to a treaty,” Watford sat silently.

Finally, he said, chuckling: “OK, yeah. I hear you. That’s your position.”

Senior Ninth Circuit Judge Ferdinand Fernandez and Ninth Circuit Judge Mary Murguia also sat on the panel.

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Saving Sea Cows Helps Ensure Human Food Security

16 March 2017, Convention on Migratory Species (Abu Dhabi)

The third Meeting of Signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats (Dugong MOU), and a two-day expert workshop attended by 125 conservation practitioners from around the Indo-Pacific region which followed, were convened by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and the Government of the United Arab Emirates. The international gathering was the largest of its kind ever to be held.

Seagrass meadows support fisheries across the Indo-Pacific, and are increasingly recognized for their ability to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. They store carbon forty times faster than tropical rainforests. Thirty-two per cent of the world’s 25 most landed fish species use seagrass as habitat at some stage in their life cycle. Yet, these highly productive habitats are being lost at rates faster than rainforests and coral reefs, putting at risk already endangered migratory species. Seagrass meadows also support fishing communities, and their conservation can support poverty alleviation: in many developing nations, marginalized communities depend on seagrass and the multitude of animals that they harvest from them for their livelihoods.

The newly launched Dugong & Seagrass Research Toolkit is an online tool where community groups, citizen scientists, conservation bodies and governments can select the most appropriate standardized methods to research seagrass, dugongs and the communities reliant on ecosystems for their livelihoods. For example, learning about Dugong movements as well as seagrass-dependant fishery resources helps communities to maintain sustainable fisheries whilst contributing to the protection of important Dugong populations and improving livelihoods. The Dugong & Seagrass Research Toolkit will be promoted for use across the Dugong’s range, and can be adapted to other parts of the world where the other sirenian species, manatees, live.

As a common endeavour, Governments agreed to work with the Dugong and seagrass research and conservation community to undertake more standardized research and monitoring activities as a prerequisite for devising tailored conservation measures in their own countries. Better coordination of surveys and data exchange on Dugong populations between countries will improve transboundary protection.

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Great Barrier Reef will never be as pristine as it once was: scientists

15 March 2017, Reuters (Australia)

Parts of Australia's Great Barrier Reef will never recover from the impact of unseasonably warm waters, scientists said on Thursday, as more of the World Heritage Site comes under renewed threat from a recent spike in sea temperatures.

Warm seas around the reef killed some two-thirds of a 700 kilometer (496.4 miles) stretch of coral last year after warm water caused the coral to expel living algae, triggering it to calcify and turn white, a process known as bleaching. That was the worst die-off of coral ever recorded at the reef.

Even the areas that survived will not recover to full health, scientists from ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrated Coral Reef Studies said in a report, as unseasonable hot water becomes more frequent causing more incidents of bleaching.

"Given time, coral can recover from bleaching but the problem comes when you get repeated events. With less time between them, capacity for the coral reef community to recover diminishes rapidly," Janice Lough, senior principal research scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told Reuters.

The conclusion is a major blow for Australia's tourism industry, with the reef attracting A$5.2 billion ($3.9 billion) in spending each year, a 2013 Deloitte Access Economics report estimated.

Repeated damage to the Great Barrier Reef may also see UNESCO's World Heritage Committee reconsider its decision in 2015 not to put the Great Barrier Reef on its "in danger" list.

Academics said the findings demonstrate the urgency in tackling climate change, which climate scientists argue occurs when increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is trapped by heat radiating from earth.

The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef has further darkened with evidence of an unprecedented second consecutive bleaching event this year, researchers at James Cook University said.

Unseasonably warm waters threatens to cause bleaching of the central region of the Great Barrier Reef, which avoided the large-scale damage from the bleaching in 2016.

"We're hoping that the next two to three weeks will cool off quickly, and this year's bleaching won't be anything like last year," said Terry Hughes, director of ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

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Dugong saved from fishing nets off coast of Abu Dhabi

15 March 2017, The National (Abu Dhabi)

Dugong rescued from Fishing net (Photo Credit: Adnoc)

A rare dugong was saved off the coast of Abu Dhabi after becoming entangled in an illegal fishing net in the Unesco Marrawah Marine Protected Area.

The area, near Bu Tinah Island, is home to several species of protected marine wildlife.

It took a team from the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and Seabed Geosolutions three hours to free the 1.5-metre-long marine mammal.

The fishing net, with attached floats, was tangled around the dugong’s tail, preventing it from diving and grazing on sea ­grasses, its staple food, meaning it could have starved to death.

"Rogue fishing gear and marine debris is a serious issue and responsible for the deaths of countless marine mammals globally," said Abdulla Al Marzooqi from Adnoc.

"Throughout surveys we conduct, significant effort is made to recover floating rubbish and rogue fishing equipment."

To monitor the animal, the environmental team marked it using non-toxic, lead-free paint.

During the operation they were also able, for the first time, to record the sounds of a dugong in distress, which they hope will be useful when monitoring dugong communications.

Despite being legally protected in many countries, the main causes of dugong population decline include fishing-related fatalities, habitat degradation and hunting. With its long lifespan – 70 years or more – slow rates of reproduction and largely coastal habitat, the dugong is especially vulnerable to human interference.

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At-risk seagrass records 6000 years of climate and land-use change

14 March 2017, Brunel University News (UK)

Researchers led by Dr Lourdes López-Merino at Brunel analysed the pollen, spores and microscopic plankton organisms contained in samples taken from a five-metre core of a 6,000-year-old seagrass mat located in the Portlligat bay on the Catalonian coast. (Photo Credit: Enric Ballesteros)

Evidence from 6,000 years of climate change and farming developments can be seen in a threatened type of ancient Mediterranean seagrass, and help us understand how damaged coastal regions could be restored, research from Brunel University London has found.

Posidonia oceanica – otherwise known as Neptune grass or Mediterranean tapeweed – grows extremely slowly over millennia, maintains a diverse ecosystem, and is a vital absorbent of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

While its marine habitat is protected by the EU, seagrass meadows are now one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems. Loss has averaged 5% annually - at this current rate Neptune grass meadows would disappear in 20 years.

Researchers led by Dr Lourdes López-Merino at Brunel analysed the pollen, spores and microscopic plankton organisms contained in samples taken from a five-metre core of a 6,000-year-old seagrass mat located in the Portlligat bay on the Catalonian coast.

Samples were also tested at Brunel for their response to an applied magnetic field – their magnetic susceptibility – and for the quantity of charcoal fragments over time. At the University of Queensland, glomalin-related soil protein (GRSP) was extracted and measured from a previously studied seagrass mat located in the same bay.

Writing in the Journal of Ecology, the researchers explain that their results show how the seagrass mat sediments show an increase in fires in the western Mediterranean basin, particularly during Roman and Medieval times as human-induced fires helped open up land and expand areas of cultivation.

As land use changed, it had a huge impact on the continental landscape, and this can be seen in the results of pollen and microcharcoal analysis. Drops in GRSP content in the seagrass and the rise in land use change indicators corresponded with periods where crop production increased, especially since the Roman and Medieval periods.

Magnetic susceptibility in a sample depends on its mineral make-up, and increases in susceptibility tend to be related to higher mineral content. The researchers found that increases in the mineral content in the seagrass mat corresponded to historical periods of more intense farming that triggered soil erosion, but also to periods of flooding and the rise and then stabilisation of sea levels during the Holocene.

This sequence of events warn what may happen in the near future if several impacts combine together and initiate ecological shifts in seagrass-dominated ecosystems.

The researchers explain that seagrass meadow loss has been significantly accelerated by modern chemical and mechanical factors, including trawl fishing and coastal development.

Dr López-Merino explains: “Many human pressures have been linked to recent decline in Posidonia meadows in the Mediterranean coastal zone and we can see that most of these anthropogenic impacts have occurred after the Industrial Revolution.

“Considering the seagrass ecosystem is an important marine carbon sink located in coastal areas, we wanted to find out if long-term agricultural or environmental changes, or a combination of the two, have an effect on the seagrass ecosystem.”

The authors found that thousands of years of on-land agricultural practices and climate change have also played a part in inducing seagrass meadow disturbance by impacting meadow health and how the seagrass accumulates carbon.

Dr López-Merino points out: “Adding a palaeoecological perspective to reconstruct environmental impacts on seagrass could inform the restoration and management of these very sensitive meadows now and in the future.”

An online preview of ‘A six thousand-year record of climate and land-use change from Mediterranean seagrass mats’ is available on the Journal of Ecology website.

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Twenty-three countries unite in Abu Dhabi to conserve the dugong

13 March 2017, The National (UAE)

Delegates from 23 of the 40 countries that are home to the dugong also came together in the capital to find better ways to protect the animals. (Photo Credit: EAD)

What animal do Emirati fishermen, Australian Aboriginals living off the Great Barrier Reef, and cave dwellers in Malaysia from 5,000 years ago have in common?

The answer is the elusive and mostly shy dugong, a sea cow whose existence is now under threat.

On Monday, the descendants of the three groups of people gathered in Abu Dhabi to discuss conserving the species.

Delegates from 23 of the 40 countries that are home to the dugong also came together in the capital to find better ways to protect the animals.

The delegates’ two-day meeting kicked off a week-long series of events in Abu Dhabi to focus global attention on the need to protect the dugongs and their seagrass habitats, and empower governments, researchers and local communities to work on conservation projects.

To that end, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals launched a website that encourages volunteer conservationists around the world to share their findings and gain access to wildlife protection agencies’ databases.

To help countries develop a strong scientific basis for achieving this goal, the two organisations on Monday launched the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project website.

"Community projects are vital to conservation in general because it’s spreading awareness of what exciting wildlife we have in this region that we should be proud of and are vital to the rest of the ecosystem," said Arabella Willing, Park Hyatt’s head of conservation.

The website will provide a platform for communities in the 40 countries that are home to dugongs to work together.

The sharing of information on the website will help scientists and conservation groups to better assess the wellbeing of dugong populations and figure out how best to help them.

"For example, some communities trying to assess dugong populations in a certain area will find out from a different community around the world that they can save a lot of money by opting to ask fishermen instead of renting expensive aerial and drone technology," said Helene Marsh, professor of environmental science at James Cook University in Australia.

Everyone – from community organisers to research universities – can contribute to the website and improve public knowledge of conservation programmes. That means that the public can collaborate with scientists to make more data available.

Dugongs, which are found on the coasts of the Indian Ocean from eastern Africa to northern Australia, are central to the cultural heritage of many coastal communities.

Protection of dugongs, along with the conservation of seagrass meadows which they feed upon, benefits marine biodiversity.

Seagrass meadows are among the richest marine habitats on Earth, home to as many as 600 species of marine life and nursery grounds for fish that people harvest.

Over the past 20 years, the conservation efforts of Abu Dhabi, which is home to the second-largest population of dugongs, have led to the species’ thriving community in the wild today, state news agency Wam reported.

"Our waters are home to more than 3,000 dugongs. Because we recognised early on that any possible threat to seagrass beds poses a threat to dugongs, our country’s dugong population is stable," said Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.

The UAE’s ranking in the Marine Reserves Sub-Index in the Environmental Performance Index, published by Yale University, rose to the top spot in 2014 and last year from 33rd position in 2012.

"If we can also encourage fishing communities to adopt practices that don’t destroy seagrass and accidentally catch dugongs, we will have helped to secure the future of dugongs, the seagrass and those communities," said Razan Al Mubarak, secretary general of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.

Dr Bradnee Chambers, executive secretary of the convention, said the meeting in the capital was a prime example of the type of ‘dugong diplomacy’ fostered by the convention’s long-standing partnership with the UAE.

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Loss of Seagrass Meadows Threatens their Dugong Denizens

11 March 2017, Convention on Migratory Species

(Photo Credit: Dugong | Copyright: Mandy Etipson)

The on-going bleaching of coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef continues to generate great concern worldwide. Islands of plastic waste in the oceans contaminating the food chain make the headlines. So why then is there a deafening silence on the deteriorating condition of the world’s seagrasses?

Do seagrasses matter? Yes. They provide shelter and food for many species and also play an important role in creating and maintaining their environment. Seagrass meadows slow currents, trap sediments and stabilize the seabed. These are all vital for the survival of numerous species that make their homes there, including hundreds of commercially valuable fishes, crustaceans and other invertebrates that feed millions of people worldwide and provide livelihoods and wellbeing. Seagrass is also very effective in capturing and storing carbon, an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Yet, seagrasses have undergone a considerable decline in the last few decades as a result of eutrophication (the excess of nutrients often from agricultural run-off of which reduces the oxygen content of water), and from the destruction of seabed habitat by coastal developments such as dredging and port installations. Other stresses come from discharges of industrial pollution, and domestic sewage and from commercial fisheries.

One species that depends almost exclusively on seagrass is the Dugong (Dugong dugon), which is found in shallow tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and South-west Pacific. Dugongs are almost exclusively herbivorous and rely on seagrass and algae for food. Their numbers have declined significantly over recent decades through loss of the habitats upon which they depend, as bycatch from fisheries, and through targeted hunting. Dugongs are long-lived, slow breeding animals, making them particularly sensitive to stresses from growing human impacts. Even with the most favourable conditions, the population is likely to grow at only a -slow rate. Classified globally as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List, the injury or death of just a few adults within a population can spark a significant drop in numbers with very slow recovery rates.

As is often the case with species and their habitats, not only do Dugongs rely on seagrass meadows, but the meadows in turn are often cultivated by Dugongs’ grazing to maintain the optimum composition of preferred grass species. The absence of Dugongs could therefore have a profound effect on the marine environment and vital habitat for other species.

Dugongs have been part of the culture of coastal communities throughout the Indo-Pacific region for thousands of years. For example, the Dugong hunting culture in the Middle East is at least 6,000 years old, and much older in Australia. The range and intensity of threats to Dugongs are common to other marine species: bycatch – the incidental capture in nets set for other target species; other indiscriminate and destructive fishing practices such as the use of poisons and explosives; vessel-strikes – slow moving Dugongs cannot avoid collisions with speed boats and suffer severe injuries if hit by propellers; inappropriate wildlife watching operations causing the animals stress and displacement from feeding and groups; and even direct take for meat, oil, skin or bones for use in traditional medicine.
Marine scientists recently called for greater attention to be paid to seagrasses and the animals that are part of the same ecosystem, pointing to their importance to the environment and the economy and highlighting that declines in this habitat type are greater in percentage terms than for coral reefs, mangroves and even tropical rainforests. This makes seagrass meadows one of the most threatened habitats on Earth.

There is no simple solution to environmental degradation, but there are some basic principles that apply to Dugongs (and as we know in the Convention on Migratory Species to elephants, birds of prey and marine turtles). Conservation depends on partnerships with communities to improve their livelihood and well-being at the same time as changing activities that threaten dugong and seagrass. Incentives are an indispensable means to achieve better Dugong and seagrass conservation by encouraging changes in behaviour and building viable alternative livelihoods. The solid foundation laid locally can then be reinforced through policy and planning changes by Governments.

Leaving aside the fascination of these strange but placid creatures, Dugongs are important barometers of a healthy ecosystem and every effort must be made to reverse their decline. With extensive seagrass meadows the waters of the United Arab Emirates host a significant portion of the world’s second largest population of Dugongs, making it a key location for the monitoring and conservation of the species. But one country’s actions are not enough. Recognising that more than 40 countries with Dugongs need to work together to protect them, the UAE has for many years backed the Secretariat of the CMS Dugong Memorandum of Understanding (Dugong MOU), which has been located in Abu Dhabi since 2009 with generous support from Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, on behalf of the Government of the UAE.

This week delegates from twenty-five countries, along with the world’s leading dugong and seagrass experts, will meet in Abu Dhabi under the auspices of the Dugong MOU to advance international policies aiming to ensure the Dugong’s survival and conserve seagrass meadows. A new online tool will be launched to help people assess and understand the interactions between dugongs, seagrasses and human communities. This will complement significant financing already mobilized by the Dugong MOU Secretariat through a four-year multi-million dollar project under the Global Environment Facility. Currently managed by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund the project is under way in eight key Range States. If we can encourage communities in these and other countries to adopt practices that don’t destroy seagrass and accidentally catch dugongs, we will have helped them secure their future and the future of dugongs and seagrass meadows for generations to come.

Dr. Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi is the Minister of Climate Change and Environmentof the United Arab Emirates and Dr. Bradnee Chambers is the Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

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First ever WII-Forest dept survey of dugong numbers

04 March 2017, Times of India (India)

The Wildlife Institute of India and Gujarat forest department will soon begin the first ever joint survey to ascertain the exact population of dugongs, a medium sized marine mammal popularly known as "sea cow". The dugong is in the "vulnerable" category of the IUCN red list, and is a Schedule-I animal.

Sources in the forest department said the survey will be is a part of the central government's species recovery programme and will focus on location, habitat and migration patterns.

The Wildlife Institute of India, which has been given responsibility for making a road map to revive various species, included the dugong, will carry out an aerial survey, a boat survey and scuba diving or snorkelling surveys of sea grass meadows. The study will also mark the locations of dugongs.

Officials said this is the first time that WII and the forest department will undertake a joint survey.

In 2011, Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation had found trails of dugongs in the Gulf of Kutch, at Pirotan island and even at Bet Dwarka.

The 2011 study, sponsored by the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), estimated that there were about 250 dugongs on the coast on India - the biggest population being in the Gulf of Mannar on the southern coast, followed by the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Palk Bay and the Gulf of Kutch.

Officials said the study was completed in 2011 and nothing much has been done since. The fresh survey will reveal the exact number and their locations. The 2011 report mentioned some 13 direct sightings of dugongs in the Gulf of Kutch.

The herbivorous marine mammal is usually found in calm, sheltered, nutrient-rich waters less than five metres deep, generally in bays, shallow islands and reef areas that are protected against strong winds and heavy seas which contain extensive sea grass beds, say forest department officials. These conditions make the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay, Gulf of Kutch and Andaman and Nicobar Islands ideal for dugongs.

The red list of the IUCN states: "There is also anecdotal evidence that the occupancy of the dugong has declined in many parts of its range, especially along the coasts of East Africa and India."

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Beached dugong dies in Sarangani

03 March 2017, PressReader (Philippines)

The local government of Kiamba, Sarangani reported that attempts to return a juvenile dugong (sea cow) failed, with the marine mammal dying of disease.

The dugong had been found weak in shallow water at Brgy. Kayupo last Wednesday. “Locals tried to coax the animal into deeper water and fed it sea grass in an attempt to revive it back to health but the animal died not long after it was seen,” the report from the information office said.

The dugong measured 9 feet in length with a girth of 61 inches and an approximated weight of 500 pounds, which representatives from DENR, MPDC and the Municipal Information Office documented. The remains of the animal will be buried in Barangay Kapate until such time when the skeleton can be gathered for educational purposes. (Yas D. Ocampo)

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