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Scientists Say Indonesia Seagrass Meadows Degradation Threatens Food Security
01 September 2015, Jakarta Globe (Indonesia)
A team of British scientists is launching a project this week that will investigate the condition of seagrass meadows off the coasts of Indonesia's South Sulawesi province – amid growing concerns over losses of the important marine ecosystem across the archipelago.
Richard Unsworth, a marine biologist from Britain's Swansea University and the leader of the project, said in an interview with the Jakarta Globe earlier this week that seagrass meadows were as important as mangrove forests and coral reefs were to marine life and food security.
Not to be confused with seaweeds or algae, seagrasses are a group of flowering plants that live in shallow sheltered areas along coastlines. Similar to grasses on land, seagrasses often form vast meadows underwater – thus the name seagrass meadows.
Unsworth says these meadows provide an important nursery ground for many species of commercial fish and sea invertebrates.
And yet, very little attention has been paid to the largely unknown ecosystem, even amid reports of disappearing and degraded seagrass meadows in many parts of the vast Indonesian archipelago.
A place to hide
“If you're a baby fish, and everything around you probably wants to eat you, you need somewhere to go and hide,” Unsworth began as he tried to explain the importance of seagrass meadows.
“The reef is full of a lot of really big fish that want to eat you. As a juvenile fish, the reef is a really dangerous place to be. But if you're in a seagrass meadow, it's full of dents, shoots, places where you as a small fish can hide."
“Also, in seagrass meadows there are a lot of small shrimps, really small shrimps, small mollusks, full of gastropods you can eat. So you've got shelter where you can hide from big predators, and you don't spend your energy swimming around looking for food. You have much higher chances of survival if you're a baby fish living in a seagrass meadow,” he added.
Previous reports suggest that over 600 species of fish in Southeast Asia utilize seagrass meadows at some point during their life. Many species of invertebrates – such as sea cucumbers, prawns and crabs – also live in seagrasses, which makes them very important to our food supply and security, Unsworth said.
But while no study has been dedicated to examine the condition of seagrass meadows across Indonesia, reports of sightings – or lack thereof – by fishermen in many coastal areas in the archipelago suggest alarming losses of the important marine ecosystem.
Unsworth, who has been spending several years in Indonesia doing his seagrass projects, said in Jakarta Bay, for example, there used to be a lot of seagrass, but not anymore.
“That goes for many, many places,” the British scientist said, mentioning coastal areas in Sulawesi, Bali and Lombok.
“There are a lot of seagrasses I've seen around Indonesia in the years I've worked here that are looking unhealthy. And we know from some other works that have been done by LIPI [the Indonesian Institute of Sciences] and by some universities in Indonesia – that in many places seagrasses have disappeared [or] have been degraded,” he added.
Unsworth said it looked like only seagrasses in very remote locations in the country were in very healthy condition.
The Briton could not say exactly how many hectares of seagrass meadows have disappeared in Indonesia, only citing a rough estimate that there were some 30,000 square kilometers left now.
Around the world, seagrasses are estimated to be disappearing at the rate of one football field per hour, so this may also be the case in least-studied Southeast Asia, including Indonesia. But nobody knows for sure.
Seagrass and food security
Unsworth cited the findings of his team's previous study at Southeast Sulawesi's Wakatobi island – a popular diving spot known for its rich underwater life. The study found that seagrasses there provided a habitat for at least 70 percent of the fish species caught for consumption in the area.
The study was conducted between 2011 and 2014.
The project to be launched this week, meanwhile, is taking place off Selayar island and in the Spermonde archipelago in the neighboring province of South Sulawesi, and is targeted to last two or three years.
Unsworth said the new study was seeking to examine wider links between seagrass meadows and food security.
“There needs to be a lot more focus on this habitat because mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs are all part of the connected sea scape, where if you lose one, it will impact the whole ecosystem,” he said.
“The loss, the damage of the marine environment is a very significant problem – because the world's population is increasing, Indonesia's population is increasing. And we need to feed people.”
Unsworth and his peers – including collaborators from Britain's Cardiff University and from Hasanuddin University in South Sulawesi's capital Makassar – wish to understand what causes the degradation and disappearance of seagrass meadows in Indonesia.
He said climate change was known to have long-term impacts on seagrasses, “but we need to understand the factors that are driving and disturbing seagrasses at a smaller scale. Because that's really important in terms of understanding how resilient they will be into the future.”
Unsworth and his team recently published a research article in an international journal called Marine Pollution Bulletin – which explains how seagrasses need to be made more resilient.
“And the ways to do that is to stop the small-scale disturbances that we know happen in seagrasses all around Southeast Asia and Indonesia,” he said, citing damaged mangrove forests and polluted rivers spilling out into the sea as among key factors.
The British scientist further added the newly-launched project in South Sulawesi was part of an ongoing regional study also taking place in the Philippines, Cambodia and Srilanka.
The project includes trainings and workshops for local fishermen, to teach them how to protect seagrass meadows in their areas – and not just the mangrove forests and coral reefs.
In Indonesia, Unsworth's team also collaborates with a Wakatobi-based environmental group, Forkani, to deliver the workshops.
More information: Click Here
Biofluorescent sea turtle which glows red and green discovered off Solomon Islands
30 September 2015, Metro (Solomon Islands)
Scientists have discovered a glowing sea turtle and it’s utterly glorious.
While Nasa have been busy finding water on Mars, another group of marine biologists have made a pretty amazing discovery here on Earth.
The team were filming a piece on biofluorescence in coral and small sharks off the coast of the Solomon Islands, when they stumbled upon a neon glowing sea turtle (and no, it wasn’t glowing because it was radioactive).
Talking about the moment the glowing hawksbill turtle swam past, marine biologist David Gruber said: ‘It almost looks like a bright red and green spaceship’.
Due to the fact that it can’t be seen by the naked human eye, scientists only discovered biofluorescence in marine life relatively recently; but David Gruber explained that since making the discovery, they’ve started to find it ‘everywhere’.
But while the phenomenon was already known to exist in various types of marine life, the hawksbill turtle is the very first reptile known to be biofluorescent.
Talking about the discovery, David Gruber explained that they now have a lot of work to do to work out exactly how the turtles use their biofluorescence.
However he went on to add that further research is going to be tricky due to dwindling numbers of sea turtles, saying: ‘These turtles have such a storied history, and now they’re critically endangered. There’s some places where there’s only a few thousand breeding females remaining’.
More information: Click Here
Researchers monitor seagrass in Caloosahatchee
29 September 2015, The News-Press (USA)
The scientists couldn't see their feet in the meter-deep water of the Caloosahatchee River last week — tannins from freshwater runoff had turned the river a deep reddish brown.
But Mark Thompson and RIck Bartleson of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Laboratory had a job to do: Go underwater with masks and snorkels and document the density of shoal grass (often known by its genus name, Halodule) on the river bottom near Iona.
In a study dating back to 2004, marine lab researchers are looking at the effects of high freshwater flows on the river's seagrass species (shoal grass, turtle grass and manatee grass).
During the dry season, little rain falls, so little fresh water is added to the flow of the Caloosahatchee; during the wet season, rain falling on the Caloosahatchee watershed between the mouth of the river and Lake Okeechobee runs into the river, lowering salinity the estuary.
As Okeechobee fills during the rainy season, water managers release fresh water down the river to prevent flooding in the communities surrounding the lake.
If freshwater runoff and releases make the river too fresh, seagrasses can die, and if high flows turn water dark, seagrasses can die from lack of sunlight.
"Our main point is, OK, we can have large freshwater discharges this time of year, so does that have a detrimental impact on seagrass habitat?" SCCF research assistant Thompson said. "We plot seagrass density in the early summer, then see where we end up after freshwater discharges. Are there long-term effects over the course of five or ten years due to freshwater releases?"
Seagrasses are important for many reasons, including:
They provide shelter for many fish and invertebrate species.
SCCF monitors seagrasses at six sites from Iona to Tarpon Bay and two control sites near Demere Key in Pine Island Sound that are not significantly influenced by the Caloosahatchee.
At each site, researchers run a 100-meter transect parallel to the shore and a 100-meter transect perpendicular to the shore.
They drop a 1-square-meter quadrat (four-sided frame) along each transect at five random spots and document seagrass inside the quadrats to determine density.
This summer, releases from Lake Okeechobee have been low, but heavy rains in September caused runoff that lowered salinity and turned the water dark.
"Today we're finding moderate coverage and low density," Thompson said. "The height of the grass looks good: Height is a metric for how healthy the plants are. We've probably lost a little density from when we were out earlier in the summer, but it doesn't look dramatic like in 2013."
In the summer of 2013, record wet-season rain resulted in large volumes of freshwater from runoff and Okeechobee releases flowing down the Caloosahatchee — flows at the W.P. Franklin Lock reached 10,000 cubic feet per second; when flows are greater than 2,800 cfs, salinity drops to the point of harming saltwater organisms, including seagrasses.
"At the upper two sites, Halodule, which is all that's there, was pretty much wiped out," Thompson said. "The density was next to zero. We found a few shoots, and they didn't even look alive."
At downstream sites, densities of turtle and manatee grass decreased, but shoal grass increased because it took over where the other species had disappeared.
Despite 2013 seagrass losses in the river, densities were back up at the beginning of this summer because freshwater flows the past two years have been low.
"That's something we're looking at: How resilient are these seagrasses?" Thompson said. "If we have a year like 2013 and then years like 2014 and 2015 after it, they'll come back. But what if you have four years like 2014? We don't know. We haven't had that yet."
Ultimately, SCCF seagrass data could help water managers make decisions about discharges from Lake Okeechobee, research scientist Rick Bartleson said.
"There's a lot of variability in the data, even things like manatees eating the seagrass," he said. "One year's data doesn't mean anything. We need a lot of data to filter out the noise."
More information: Click Here
Ocean predators can help reset our planet’s thermostat
29 September 2015, The Conversation
If you knew that there was zero percent chance of being eaten by a shark, would you swim more often? Rhetorical questions aside, the fear of being eaten has a profound influence on other animals too, and on the way they use marine environments.
Turtles, for example, fear being eaten by sharks and this restricts the movement and behaviour of entire populations. But when the fear of being eaten dissipates, we see that turtles eat more, breed more, and go wherever they please.
It might sound like turtle paradise, but in an article published today in Nature Climate Change we show that loss of ocean predators can have serious, cascading effects on oceanic carbon storage and, by extension, climate change.
For a long time we’ve known that changes to the structure of food webs – particularly due to loss of top predators – can alter ecosystem function. This happens most notably in situations where loss of predators at the top of the food chain releases organisms lower in the food chain from top-down regulatory control. For instance, the loss of a predator may allow numbers of its prey to increase, which may eat more of their prey, and so on. This is known as “trophic downgrading”.
With the loss of some 90% of the ocean’s top predators, trophic downgrading has become all too common. This upsets ecosystems, but in our article we also report its effects on the capacity of the oceans to trap and store carbon.
This can occur in multiple ecosystems, with the most striking examples in the coastal zone. This is where the majority of the ocean’s carbon is stored, within seagrass, saltmarsh and mangrove ecosystems – commonly known as “blue carbon” ecosystems.
Blue carbon ecosystems capture and store carbon 40 times faster than tropical rainforests (such as the Amazon) and can store the carbon for thousands of years. This makes them one of the most effective carbon sinks on the planet. Despite occupying less that 1% of the sea floor, it is estimated that coastal blue carbon ecosystems sequester more than half the ocean’s carbon.
The carbon that blue carbon ecosystems store is bound within the bodies of plants and within the ground. When predators such as sharks and other large fish are removed from blue carbon ecosystems, resulting increases in plant-eating organisms can destroy the capacity of blue carbon habitats to sequester carbon.
For example, in seagrass meadows of Bermuda and Indonesia, less predation on herbivores has resulted in spectacular losses of vegetation, with removal of 90–100% of the above-ground vegetation.
Stop killing predators
Such losses of vegetation can also destabilise carbon that has been buried and accumulated over millions of years. For example, a 1.5-square-kilometre die-off of saltmarsh in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, caused by recreational overharvesting of predatory fish and crabs, freed around 248,000 tonnes of below-ground carbon.
If only 1% of the global area of blue carbon ecosystems were affected by trophic cascades as in the latter example, this could result in around 460 million tonnes of CO2 being released annually, which is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of around 97 million cars, or just a bit less than Australia’s current annual greenhouse gas emissions.
So what can be done? Stronger conservation efforts and modification of fishing regulations can help restore marine predator populations, and thereby help maintain the important indirect role that predators play in climate change mitigation.
It’s about restoring balance so that we have, for example, healthy and natural numbers of both sea turtles and sharks. Policy and management need to reflect this important realisation as a matter of urgency.
More than 100 million sharks may be killed in fisheries each year, but if we can grant these predators great protection they may just help to save us in return.
More information: Click Here
Indian River Lagoon improving
25 September 2015, Bay News 9 (USA)
Scientists at the Florida Institute of Technology say water quality is improving after years of dead dolphins, manatees and fish washing ashore.
"I think things are improving," said Robert Weaver, assistant professor of ocean engineering at Florida Tech. "They've seen some of the sea grass rebounding, but there's definitely still work to be done."
Weaver is helping Florida Tech kick off its first ever Indian River Lagoon Research Institute Technical Conference, which takes place Friday and Saturday.
Scientists, researchers, engineers and residents will look at how to improve the health of the ecologically and economically important estuary in Brevard County.
Engineers are working to remove muck from the Indian River in an effort to help the sea grass grow. Mock and nutrients have hampered the growth of sea grass, which is a main food source for marine life.
Another option that will be discussed at the conference is using a pipe to flush ocean water into the lagoon near Port Canaveral.
"It gets the water that's in the lagoon moving and, eventually, it's going to go back out into the ocean through an inlet system," Weaver said. "So, we're not actually removing any nutrients. We're just transporting them from in the lagoon to out into the ocean."
Another way to reduce nutrients from the lagoon is a rainy season ban on fertilizer use. Currently, all Space Coast county and city governments have banned the use of nutrient-harmful fertilizers during the rainy season.
Scientists said reintroducing oysters into the lagoon can help filter the water.
Brevard Zoo officials will be distributing tiny baby oysters to homeowners along the lagoon Friday and Saturday to help grow the oyster population.
More information: Click Here
Scientists find turtles on Great Barrier Reef are absorbing a cocktail of chemicals
24 September 2015, NEWS.com.au (Australia)
Scientists trying to work out why more than 100 green turtles died in June and July 2012 at Upstart Bay near Ayr, took blood samples from 1131 animals, finding a range of chemicals associated with industry and agriculture.
They included cobalt, molybdenum and antimony and high levels of stress-related compounds that often are a sign of chemical exposure.
University of Queensland scientists think a combination of chemicals rather than one particular substance might be impacting the creatures.
These findings go to the heart of a five-year conservation campaign for better Reef care, which has argued that flows from farms, mines, industry and urban areas must be cut.
Turtles were also surveyed in the relatively pristine Howick Group of Islands as well as Upstart and Cleveland bays.
University of Queensland Associate Professor Caroline Gaus said tests indicated turtles from Upstart Bay also had signs of systemic stress with markedly higher inflammatory responses.
“We have found indications of potentially thousands of chemicals in coastal turtles,” Prof Gaus said.
“The next step is to see if we can we find a correlation between turtle health and the complex mixture of chemicals they are exposed to in urban locations.”
The research has the potential to turn on its head a long-held theory that the ocean was so big that contaminants were diluted to such an extent that it remained a relatively healthy environment for marine creatures.
“People should be aware that many of the chemicals we flush down the toilet, apply to our gardens, spray on crops, or use in factories can end up in turtles and we don’t yet know how it is affecting them.”
More information: Click Here
Illegal fishing offences on Great Barrier Reef triple as growing boat ownership and better surveillance take effect
23 September 2015, ABC Online (Australia)
The number of illegal fishing offences reported on the Great Barrier Reef has more than tripled since 2011 and authorities say rapid growth in boat ownership across the state is largely to blame.
During the last financial year, 634 illegal fishing offences were reported on the reef, many of them in the protected "green zones".
The vast majority of offences were by recreational fishers, who were reported 538 times, while commercial fishers were reported for 96 offences.
Acting general manager of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Richard Quincey, said better surveillance was another reason for the higher numbers, but there was no doubt illegal fishing was happening more often.
"People are intentionally breaking the law and intentionally going into the [green] zones and fishing; both commercial and recreational fishers," he said.
"One of the reasons for that is they know there are more fish in there.
"There can be two or more times higher [fish numbers] as a minimum in protected, closed zones and therefore it becomes an attractive proposition."
One of the key roles of green zones is to allow fish stocks to grow in those areas and then spill over into legal fishing zones.
Mr Quincey said by damaging fish stocks in the green zones, illegal fishers were preventing the full spill-over benefit occurring legal fishing zones, which disadvantages fishers who obey the laws.
While the number of offences seems high, Mr Quincey said they must be taken in context; the Great Barrier Reef covers an area the size of Italy and millions of people fish on it every year.
On the other hand, he admitted that if 634 offences had been reported, it was difficult to know how many other fishers were getting away with illegal fishing.
"Our information from analysing some of the detections over the past years is that about 50 per cent of people [caught fishing illegally] either know or should know what they were doing," he said.
"In offshore locations with large vessels, with people navigating by GPS to get there, there is no excuse and most people know what they are doing.
"Mum and dad and the kids fishing inshore might be a different story and that is where we pick up a lack of awareness."
Fishing is allowed in about 70 per cent of the marine park area, while the remainder is covered by protected zones.
For commercial fishers, Mr Quincey said fishing in the green zones was a lucrative proposition, as they can catch double the fish in the same period.
He said the impact of illegal fishing on fish stocks could be "quite significant."
"You are really quickly removing those larger breeding fish and that can have a much longer-term impact."
Illegal fishing on the Great Barrier Reef comes in many forms, but the most common was line-fishing, wither with rod and reel, or handline.
Recreational fishing groups and conservationists have argued penalties need to be tougher for fishers caught breaking the law on the Reef, but Mr Quncey said the penalties handed down by courts were "substantial".
"Our concern has been that [those penalties] still don't provide a disincentive for some people and they are repeat offenders," he said.
"There have been two cases recently where we have used other sanctions for repeat offenders."
In one of those cases, a commercial fisher was banned from the marine park area for two years.
In the other, a fisher has been banned from stopping or slowing below five knots in the green zones.
More information: Click Here
High-tech fertilisers and innovation have to come to the Great Barrier Reef's rescue
23 September 2015, The Conversation AU (Australia)
The latest report card on Great Barrier Reef water quality shows signs of improvement, but the health of the marine environment close to the shore remains poor, driven by pollution runoff from the land. Among the good news is that pollution levels in reef waters have declined in the past five years, and most pollutants seem to track towards the pollution reduction targets set for 2018.
For instance, phosphorus in reef waters fell by 14.5%, suggesting that the targeted 20% reduction in phosphorus loads by 2018 is achievable. Pesticide and sediment loads fell by about half, tracking towards the 60% reduction target for pesticides, and a more modest goal of 20% reduction of sediment load by 2018.
The bad news is that loads of dissolved inorganic nitrogen were lowered by only 17%, making it unlikely that the 50% reduction target will be reached by 2018. Nitrogen loads are up to nearly six times higher than natural background levels.
Around 80,000 tonnes of pollutant nitrogen enters the Great Barrier Reef lagoon each year. The Burdekin, Wet Tropics and Mackay-Whitsunday regions contribute over 78% to the modelled dissolved inorganic nitrogen load primarily from agriculture.
Improving nitrogen management therefore remains a priority for the banana industry in the Wet Tropics, and the sugarcane industry in all production areas where rivers flow into the Great Barrier Reef.
Nitrogen discharge is considered a great water quality risk because it increases the presence of phytoplankton (algal blooms) which is associated with outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish.
One of the biggest sources of nitrogen pollutants are fertilisers. Our research in collaboration with the sugar industry looks at fertiliser use on sugar cane, Queensland’s biggest crop. Covering 378,000 hectares, sugar cane contributes A$2 billion to Australia’s economy and has much potential to generate biofuel and materials for future economies.
Reducing nitrogen pollution remains a challenge. Only 13% of sugarcane land is managed with best practice for nutrients. On average only 30% of the nitrogen in fertiliser ends up in the harvested crop, leaving the majority of fertiliser unaccounted for. While this paints a dim picture, it has to be seen in context of the tools available to reduce nitrogen pollution.
A key issue is that urea, the most widely used form of nitrogen fertiliser, dissolves rapidly in soil. Nitrogen fertiliser can be washed from the soil and into rivers if not acquired by the crop or bound by the soil.
In upcoming research we have demonstrated that most nitrogen is lost in the first few months of the 10- to 12-month sugarcane season because the concentrations exceed the crops’ ability to acquire it by several orders of magnitude. This clearly shows that the fertiliser we add, and the needs of sugar cane, are not a good match.
In recent years, more robust attempts have aimed to reduce nitrogen surpluses in sugar cane production by adapting fertiliser recommendations to more specific yield targets. These consider locally projected yields, and specifically take into account soil quality and yield potential at farm and paddock level.
Standing in the way of a rapid reduction of nitrogen pollution are several factors: the limited efficiency of urea fertiliser, degraded soils that have lost much of their ability to hold on to nitrogen, and growers unable to predict how much nitrogen they may lose from their soil.
Adding to the slow progress is that agronomic nitrogen management may only achieve 60% of the required improvement for full nitrogen use efficiency. Genetic traits that help crops use nitrogen more efficiently can contribute the remaining 40%. Breeding and selecting new sugar cane varieties can be advanced with further investment into variety development.
We urgently need technological innovations that reduce pollution at the least cost. This includes alternative sources of nitrogen, for example by growing sugarcane and legumes (which fix nitrogen from air) simultaneously.
The search for better nitrogen supply systems has only commenced in recent years. Several urea-based products have been tested – these contain enzyme inhibitors to slow down the release of nitrogen into the soil and conversion to nitrate. Other products contain polymer coatings that reduce the solubility of fertiliser. Though promising, these improved fertilisers have shortcomings and will not solve all problems.
New fertilisers are being designed and tested. They contain sorber materials to bind nitrogen and release at a rate that matches what the crop needs. These NextGen fertilisers will recycle the nutrients and organic wastes generated by sugar mills. NextGen fertilisers will also deliver biostimulants that improve the biology of soils, reduce the effects of pathogens, and boost crop vigour.
Allowing science based innovation to assist in the quest for solving the nitrogen problem is the way forward, and this requires an open mind and investment into exploring new approaches and breakthrough technologies.
More information: Click Here
Canegrowers to examine details of the latest report card on health of the Great Barrier Reef
22 September 2015, ABC Online (Australia)
Canegrowers Queensland has defended its efforts to reduce farm run-off into the Great Barrier Reef, but acknowledged more growers need to adopt best management practices.
Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles specifically named the cane industry as the sector most in need of improvement, following the release of the latest report into water quality on the Reef.
"The results in sugar are far from on track to achieve our target by 2018," said Mr Miles.
"We're not setting an ultimatum.
"The whole point of the BMP programs are that they are voluntary, but I am saying that if we don't see significant uptake ... we'll have to look at other options."
Only 16 cane growers have completed accreditation in the industry's best management practice (BMP) program since it began in late 2013.
But Canegrowers environment manager Matt Keally expected that number to significantly increase with more than 1,000 growers currently registered in the Smartcane BMP program.
"Considerable effort and time has been put in by growers to try to get water quality outcomes," he said.
"We've seen momentum really pick up and by the end of this year we expect 80 to 100 growers to seek accreditation in the program."
The target for Canegrowers is to have 380 fully accredited growers by 2018.
Canegrowers chair, Paul Schembri, said the organisation would "work closely" with the state and federal governments to understand how the latest figures were reached and what could be done to speed up improvements.
"We have always been insistent upon all of this being underpinned by good science," he said.
"We need to understand the science here and find out why there has been a slowing of improvements in the sugar sector."
The new report card states that as at June 2014, 30 per cent of the state's cane-growing lands were managed with "best management practice" for pesticides, but only 13 per cent for nutrients, and 23 per cent for soil management.
Improvements made by the cane industry between 2009 and 2014:
Graziers also under scrutiny to improve practices
The state's grazing sector is also under pressure to improve its practices, particularly in relation to erosion and pasture management.
AgForce president, Grant Maudsley, said about 1,500 cattle producers, managing a combined 11 million hectares, are registered in the industry's BMP program.
"This has got to be farmer driven or it's not going to work," said Mr Maudsley.
"We've got to get people participating, and they do; and they do it because they get some real financial benefit out of doing things better."
Agricultural industries are being asked to do much of the heavy lifting to help achieve what many regard to be "ambitious" targets by 2018.
"It shouldn't just be up to agriculture," said Mr Keally.
"Everyone along that Great Barrier Reef has a role to play to meet those ambitious water quality targets."
Overall water quality targets under the Reef 2050 plan:
More information: Click Here
Great Barrier Reef report reveals inshore marine environment remains poor
21 September 2015, ABC Online
The overall condition of the Great Barrier Reef's inshore marine environment remains poor, the latest report card has shown.
The report assessed run-off and the condition of the reef between 2009 and 2014, finding that sediment, nutrients and pesticide loads had decreased, however Queensland was far from meeting its targets.
Industries trying to reduce run-off will need to improve to meet targets — only 14 per cent of the sugarcane industry met best practice for nutrient loads.
However, grains industries met their pesticides target.
Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles, who released the report on Monday, said there was more bad news than good in the report.
"If one of my kids came home with a report card like this, I'd be a bit disappointed," he said.
"What is most disturbing is these results are far from our targets, and progress to these targets flatlined in the period 2013-2014.
"We saw a stalling of progress.
"Most concern during this period, we saw a loss of riparian vegetation, a loss of trees on the riverbanks leading into the reef during a period when our goal was in increase the number of trees."
Overall loss of wetlands continued between 2009 and 2013, although the rate of loss was lower than the previous periods.
And overall forest loss in riverbank areas continued between 2009 and 2013, with an increased rate of loss compared to the previous periods.
Inshore seagrass showed signs of recovery in some regions, but remained in poor condition overall.
Inshore coral reefs also remained in poor condition, although there were modest improvements in juvenile coral density.
Sediment and pesticide run-off had reduced by 12 per cent and 30 per cent respectively, but the particulate phosphorus target was exceeded in the Wet Tropics.
Report card a 'clear fail for previous programs'
Roger Shaw, the chair of the independent science panel for the reef plan, said it "was a bit less than we'd expected".
While there had been improvements to seagrass and coral, nutrients and sediments needed to be decreased.
"The reef needs a little bit more time between major episodic events like floods to recover," he said.
"Given we've come through a few years of very strong discharge into the reef, the reef will take a little while to respond."
Sean Hoobin from the WWF said the report card was a "clear fail for previous programs".
He said the State Government needed to enhance programs to get famers to change their habits.
"If we are going to avoid devastating crown-of-thorn [starfish] outbreaks owe need to completely overhaul current programs and massively increase investment," he said.
Russell Reichelt, the chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), welcomed the report card.
"It's a sign that governments and the community along the Barrier Reef coast are being honest about what's happening in this massive catchment," he said.
He said water quality was the second largest risk to the Great Barrier Reef and showed there needed to be "a step up" for change.
"The resilience of the reef needs this program to accelerate but it's a multi-decade task," Mr Reichelt said.
"It took 100 years to get us into this state — now we need several decades of sustained effort.
"The farmers — to the 25 or so per cent that are at best practice — congratulations.
"To the 75 per cent who can step up their efforts, please step up your efforts for the Great Barrier Reef and your rivers and farms as well."
More information: Click Here
Reef Plan Website: Click Here
Protection of our marine life requires more resilience
14 September 2015, Phys.Org
Management of the world's marine habitats needs to look beyond only Marine Protected Areas and put achieving ecosystem resilience at the top of the agenda, according to research by an international group of scientists led by Dr Richard Unsworth at Swansea University.
Our oceans and coasts are changing rapidly due to human impacts. But our very existence depends on the resources and functions that their biodiversity and productive habitats provide. Learning to manage the habitats and biodiversity within our oceans and coasts is one of the greatest challenges of this century.
Management of our coasts typically takes the approach of establishing Marine Protected Areas, controlling fishing, or regulating industrial activity. But in the face of the increasing threat of climate change we need to take measures that increase the resilience of our oceans and coasts to ensure they survive into the future (Ecological resilience is "the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb repeated disturbances or shocks and adapt to change without fundamentally switching to an alternative stable state").
The research published online this week in Marine Pollution Bulletin examined the ecosystem resilience of seagrass meadows globally. The work shows how the resilience of these productive ecosystems is becoming compromised by a range of local to global disturbances and stressors, resulting in ecological regime shifts that undermine their long-term viability.
The paper examines over 150 sources in the academic literature and illustrates how the management of these systems needs to consider a series of features and modifiers that act as interacting influences on the resilience of the ecosystem (see figure). The paper concludes by providing a series of simple actions that marine conservation managers can take to improve ecosystem resilience.
Dr Richard Unsworth said: "The resilience of marine ecosystems is influenced by many factors, such as the health and proximity of adjacent habitats; the water quality; the supply of larvae and the presence of human disturbance. Management of biodiverse and important marine ecosystems like seagrass needs to consider more than just simple location specific protection, but instead consider the biological and environmental influences beyond the extent of its distribution."
Seagrass meadows are the 'Prairies of the Sea'. They are highly productive shallow water marine and coastal habitats comprised of marine plants. These threatened habitats provide important food and shelter for animals in the sea.
Globally there is estimated to be over 600000km2 of seagrass. Seagrass is important for storing carbon, providing juvenile fish nursery habitat, pumping oxygen into the air and protecting the Worlds coasts from erosion.
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Park plan puts boating restrictions on bay
09 September 2015, KeysNews.com (USA)
The shallow seagrass beds in the Florida Bay have endured years of propeller scarring while bonefish populations have steadily declined in the roughly 850 square miles Everglades National Park estuary, according to many environmentalists.
The park, though, hopes to correct these problems through its newly released management plan. It, 12 years in the making, will restrict the use of combustion engines in a quarter of the bay, among other things.
“I like this plan quite a bit,” Plantation Key-based Audubon of Florida scientist Jerry Lorenz told the Free Press last week. “It will really help the bay.”
The most controversial part of the plan deals with boating in the bay, the lifeblood of many flats fishermen in the Keys.
The plan calls for about 26 percent, or 102,838 acres, of the bay to be designated as pole-troll zones. And it lays out another 6 percent, or 25,588 acres, as pole-troll-idle zones. Boaters will not be able to use their primary gas-powered engines in these areas.
A trolling motor is a self-contained unit with, normally, electric propulsion. It’s small in stature and can be attached to the bow or stern of a boat and be used to maneuver tight spots. Poling is the technique of pushing a skiff through the water using a long pole instead of a motor. Both methods are common in flats fishing, such as in the bay, where stealth and access to shallow water are critical for success.
“We’ve had to give some,” Capt. Duane Baker said. “And they’ve had to give some.”
Baker, commodore with the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, is no stranger to the bay, having navigated the area almost daily over the past 27 years. He also worked hand-in-hand with the park for two years shaping the plan.
John Adornato, senior regional director with the National Parks Conservation Association, expects the upside of the plan to be more fish as previously prop-scarred bay bottom is rejuvenated with seagrass.
“Clients want to catch fish,” Adornato said. “[If this plan is effective] guides will not have to go as far to find them what they want.”
Adornato said the park, originally, looked at pole-troll zones encompassing deeper waters and a larger area.
The plan, though, does allow for corridors through some of the restricted zones where engine use would be permitted.
Lorenz, who said many of the fishing guides he has spoken with have been in favor of the restrictions, believes the plan will vastly improve conditions across the board in the bay.
“These zones are not closed,” Lorenz said. “Fisherman will just have to work a little bit harder.”
Baker, though, was somewhat skeptical whether boaters are to blame for the dilapidated seagrass and decline in some fish populations.
“Only time will tell if it really improves fishing,” Baker said.
He didn’t think it would hinder the recreational fishing community’s business, though.
The plan also calls for all fishermen entering the bay to take a boater education course their first time. Adornato said this item is the most important part of the plan because many boaters who travel south to the bay are unaware of the rules and restrictions in place.
The plan is final, according to park officials, but will be implemented gradually over time. They say it will take a year or two to fully incorporate.
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Port Canaveral rail plan draws controversy
09 September 2015, Orlando Sentinel (USA)
Known as Central Florida's home for cruise ships, Port Canaveral wants to increase cargo by extending rail across the Indian River Lagoon and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
The pending proposal by the Port Canaveral Authority has triggered criticism in Brevard County as likely to spoil some of the healthiest sea grass along the coast and encroach on a popular birding destination.
Facing mounting protest, the authority's top official has called opponents "radical" and "Luddites," pretending to care for the lagoon and refuge as a tactic to halt port growth.
Sparks often fly during Florida's environmental tug-of-wars, but rarely does the head of a state agency publicly denigrate citizens who challenge development plans.
Speaking two weeks ago during a meeting of port authority commissioners, chief executive officer John Walsh, likened opponents to dogs chasing cars. He also laughed, and drew laughter, when he said it was ironic that Luddite opponents have a website.
With nearly 2,000 likes, the Facebook page "No Fill No Kill" is galvanizing resistance to port rail crossing lagoon waters.
"Are we going to make those people happy?" Walsh said. "No. Their own kids can't make them happy."
Walsh's comments spread quickly and fueled an angry mood last Thursday during a meeting of Brevard County commissioners. The audience of more than 200 was overwhelmingly opposed to the port plan, according to a show of hands.
"Their attitude is 'sit down, shut up, we are going to do it our way,'" said Brevard resident Ken Karpinski, one of dozens of speakers opposing the port's plan.
Although Brevard County commissioners have little control over port rail, they voted 5-0 to voice opposition to the proposed route across sea grass and wildlife refuge.
The vote was brought about by Commissioner Jim Barfield, whose district includes the port. He doesn't oppose constructing rail elsewhere; he and many others favor a corridor on military land.
"We've got to work together," Barfield said of county and port authority commissioners.
The port authority, whose five commissioners are elected by Brevard residents, issued a statement that it was "extremely disappointed" by the county commissioners' decision.
About 40 minutes east of Orlando International Airport, the port hopes to tie into the nation's rail system as a way to increase cargo business and lessen dependency on cruise lines.
Jim Dubea, port deputy director, said Canaveral is the third busiest cruise port in Florida. But about 80 percent of business is with the cruise industry, which put "too many eggs in one basket," he said.
In seeking to diversify into cargo shipping, his agency prefers building rail across the river and refuge because it would stay "away from everybody."
Alternatives are a route north across Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and another west along the Beachline Expressway. Dubea said neither the Air Force nor Beachline residents want rail.
He said the matter has become unfortunately politicized during a mandatory review by federal officials that may not conclude for several more months.
"As far as the port authority is concerned, we said 'look, we need to get a rail in here, we need to go from point A to point B, and we don't know what that route looks like," Dubea said.
During remarks two weeks ago, Walsh said in contrast to local opposition, Orlando's airport and others in Central Florida encourage port rail.
Phil Brown, director of Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said his agency would support rail that "diligently considers the environmental and community issues."
Nearly all of Brevard's urban area hugs the Atlantic coast, where the Indian River Lagoon is a striking feature.
While celebrated as one of the nation's richest estuaries, the system has been ailing, with die offs recently of manatees, dolphins, pelicans and sea grass.
Alex Gorichky, former aerospace technician and now a fishing guide, said the authority did too little early on to publicize its rail goal. He organized the "No Fill No Kill" campaign, a reference to building rail across sea-grass beds and wetlands.
In a drive around the port, he pointed out the Banana River, a part of the Indian River Lagoon, which the authority wants to cross with railroad.
That stretch of Banana River, where motor boats have been prohibited since the early 1990s, "is an absolutely stunning piece of water," Gorichky said.
Many longtime Brevard residents regard it as the healthiest of the Indian River ecosystem. "This is the one section we have left," said Sue Ford, a port authority commissioner in the 1980s.
Audubon Florida's advocacy director, Charles Lee, said his group likely would pursue a national campaign of opposition if the port continued to push for rail across the Banana River.
Doug and Mary Sphar of Turtle Coast Sierra Club, which has not taken a group position yet, oppose port expansion into cargo because the port has little usable property and adjoins environmentally sensitive areas.
"I believe the citizens of the area would be better served by the port remaining a niche player with a focus on the cruise industry," Sphar said.
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Breakwaters off Apollo Beach Nature Park create new wildlife habitats
07 September 2015, TBO.com (USA)
After some fits and starts, the Apollo Beach Nature Park restoration project is accomplishing its objective: restoring plant and animal habitat.
Hillsborough County’s parks department has built seven offshore breakwater obstacles and a T-shaped jetty on the north end of the beach to buffer the shore from waves. That calming effect is bringing a lot of wildlife to the park’s shoreline, including egrets, ducks and stone crabs, said Ross Dickerson, county environmental lands manager.
“Mollusks are starting to grow on our breakwaters that we’ve never seen in Apollo Beach,” Dickerson said. “Breaking the wave energy and having that nice calm water on the back side is creating more habitat for sea life. That’s a very good thing.”
One disappointment, however, is a simultaneous project designed to make the area more appealing to humans — beach renourishment. The nonprofit Apollo Beach Waterway Improvement Group had raised $300,000 over four years to dredge sand out of three channels in the area and deposit it on the shore.
The group hoped the dredging could begin this summer, but the deal fell through when the contractor wanted more money. The nonprofit went out for bids again in July and August and got one for $345,000, said president Len Berkstresser. That’s more money than the group has so they hope to raise money over the winter and start the project in April when the manatee migration season is over. The park will be closed for two months during the beach renourishment.
“A lot of people get upset with us,” Berkstresser said. “They call the parks department, they call their commissioner and they don’t have any idea how complicated a project this is and how hard it is on seven volunteers working for seven years.”
The county’s restoration, which included earthwork and planting of native species, began in November, about five months late. Dickerson said it took longer than expected to get the permits from agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Port Tampa Bay and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Once the work began, the contractor hired by the county discovered sea grasses growing in the construction area — good news in a way, but also another delay. Seagrasses are protected and they had to be moved and replanted on the east side of the park before construction of the shoreline protection barriers could begin.
“When we started our project we found seagrasses that had never been found there in the 30 years since we’ve been looking at that park,” Dickerson said.
Emergence of the seagrass indicates clearer water in Tampa Bay and a decline in harmful algae, he said.
“And the breakwater calming the water in that area will also make the seagrass flourish more than it is,” Dickerson said. “The seagrass is going to grow really nice. So it’s actually creating its own little fishery.”
Some Apollo Beach residents are not happy with the delays or with changes made to the park during restoration. Dottie Cesario said there is actually less access to the water now because the county removed a boardwalk in order to raise the ground level where earth had eroded. The boardwalk had steps down to the water.
“The park is less useful now than before they made the improvements,” Cesario said. “The boardwalk’s gone that ran parallel to the shore. That’s all well and fine if they were going to put in a beach.”
Cesario also complained that while the park was closed for the restoration, a nature walk area replanted with native grasses and bushes became overgrown and the paths are not passable.
“All those little inlets there — it’s a shame not to be able to enjoy all the work that’s been done,” she said. “It just seems like we have less of a park than we did before all that closing time. I know they were trying to do good, but that’s no way to do it.”
Dickerson said the county intends to restore the boardwalk, but not the steps down to the water. The beach renourishment will be on the north side of the park and that’s where the county wants people to go. The part of the park with the boardwalk will be along a “living shoreline” with seagrass that the county doesn’t want disturbed.
As for the nature walk area, Dickerson said this part of the park was never meant for people to cross but they did it anyway. So the county plans to rework the area while the park is closed for the beach renourishment work and open it to the public afterwards.
“We really had no idea that so many people walked down there and used that area,” he said. “We’re going to put in marked trails before we reopen. … We’re going to use this as an opportunity to create a little walking, interpretive area.”
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Dugong found dead in creek
08 September 2015, Mackay Daily Mercury (Australia)
A DUGONG was found dead in an estuarine system of Seaforth, after an unnamed recreational fisher reported the decomposing animal to the Mackay Recreational Fishers Alliance (MRFA).
MRFA member John Bennett said it appeared the dugong had been dead for four days when it was found on Sunday.
Mr Bennett said the MRFA would not speculate on the animal's cause of death, and said National Parks and Wildlife would begin investigations this morning.
"We're not sure if it's natural causes, a boat strike, or if it's drowned in a commercial gill net," Mr Bennett said.
WWF-Australia released a statement asking the Queensland government to conduct an autopsy of the dugong.
WWF Fisheries spokesman Jim Higgs said dugongs were listed as vulnerable to extinction.
"Dugong surveys reveal as few as 600 dugongs survive between Port Douglas and Bundaberg so the loss of a single animal is a serious blow to the species," he said.
Mr Higgs said the incident highlighted a need for satellite monitoring of gill net operators to be introduced.
"Satellite monitoring would tell us if commercial net operators had been fishing in the area in recent days," he said.
"If there were none we could immediately rule out gill nets as a cause of this dugong fatality."
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04 September 2015, Bundaberg News Mail (Australia)
IAN Foster Griffith says he and his children have seen whales and dolphins in the ocean outside their Woongarra Scenic Dr home but never expected to find a dead dugong on the rocks.
"That was the talk of the kids on Wednesday," Mr Foster Griffith said.
Mr Foster Griffith said his boys Owen, 11, and Ewan, 9, sighted a ranger on the beach and went over to have a look but said what they discovered was "a bit sad".
"It's (the dugong's) obviously been floating for some time, it was a bit gassy," Mr Foster Griffith said.
Mr Foster Griffith said the dugong did not have any marks or wounds on it and said Bundaberg Regional Council cleared the mammal away yesterday morning.
"A big tipper truck went down on to the rocks and grabbed it," he said.
"It flicked it up on to the rocks and put it into a dump truck."
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Saving Australia's sea turtles, one at a time
01 September 2015, ABC online (Australia)
Sea turtles are extraordinary. They can live up to 100 years, and Australia has six of the world's seven species. But the Top End's marine environments are changing quickly due to development and climate change, and sea turtles are struggling to adapt.
When you tickle a turtle under the armpits or scratch its shell it does a curious thing—it lifts up a flipper, quite like a cat inviting you to target the best spot, and wriggles quite energetically for something that looks a bit like a rock.
Yes, they can feel it through their shell, and they love a good scratch. Turtles can live to around 100 years of age, and only the hard-hearted could avoid being entranced by their ancient demeanour. And ancient they are—they haven't changed all that much since time of the dinosaurs.
Australia has a significant collection of sea turtles—six of the world's seven species live off the northern coastline, grazing on fragile sea grass beds and gracing the Great Barrier Reef with their dignified presence.
But the sea turtles, as barometers of reef health, are struggling. Those sea grass beds are easily affected by runoff, of which there is quite a lot, including from Queensland's giant banana plantations. And great swathes of sea grass get wiped out by the cyclones that batter the coast each wet season.
Turtles also get caught up in ghost nets, unattached fishing nets that drift around the Top End; Light pollution from coastal development confuses hatchlings trying to get out to sea; wild pigs lay waste to whole beaches worth of eggs; adults get injured in high boat traffic areas and catch nasty viruses that cause them to float.
'They can't get to the bottom to feed or rest, and if you can't feed you can't rest, you're constantly burning energy and that's when you become emaciated,' says Mick Hale, operational manager of the Indigenous Yuku Baja Muliku ranger program, which runs out of Cooktown in Far North Queensland.
The local passion for turtles has seen a number of turtle hospitals spring up on the Queensland coast. So far, 400 volunteers have been formally trained in turtle rescue, which means sick turtles washing up in all sorts of remote areas can be recovered and cared for.
'The training actually got initiated because in 2011, following Cyclone Yassi and those extreme weather events, the impact on the sea grass beds along the Great Barrier Reef coast was so huge that we were getting maybe a three- to five-fold increase in turtle strandings along the coastline, and it was just too much for our Rangers to cope with,' says Nicole Harman, the marine animal strandings co-ordinator for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife service.
Mick Hale and his partner Larissa started a turtle hospital at around the same time. The turtles they were finding weren't coping well with transportation to the nearest hospital in Cairns— a five-hour drive in the back of a ute or a short but stressful plane ride.
'We started very basically,' Larissa laughs. 'They were kept at our house in my greenhouse and carport. I think at one stage we had five turtles at home and we had three in the greenhouse—so Mick had built a nice beautiful greenhouse for my plants and that became the turtle hospital.'
They now have a new turtle facility at Archer Point, on traditional country, a half hour drive south from Cooktown. Still, Mick keeps them at home for a week so he can keep an eye on them. The turtles can stay for months, even years.
'It all depends how quickly they can put their weight back on and if the weather conditions are right to let them go at that time,' says Mick. 'We might have an animal that is ready to go but in the months when we've got our 40 knot trade winds blowing most of the time we will wait 'til that just passes before we release them to give them a bit more chance of finding their grounds again.'
Veteran turtle hospital manager Jennie Gilbert, of the Cairns Turtle Rehab Centre, mothers her charges like babies and cries buckets when they leave. She started 15 years ago with just a couple of friends, but the centre is now a huge operation.
Her turtles often stay for years, with a group of around 200 volunteers hand feeding each one with protein-rich imported squid and prawns in order to get them back in condition as fast as possible. Turtles can arrive weighing just eight kilos and leave weighing 65. It's an expensive business—the food bill alone is $75,000 a year— funded mostly through donations and in-kind support. Right Gilbert has around 14 turtles, but numbers vary, as they did in 2011 when Cyclone Yassi caused mass stranding events.
'Seagrass goes through cyclones and recovers, but it had so many environmental insults along the way it just couldn't recover, so we had the 800 per cent increase in strandings,' she says.
'We had kiddie pools everywhere, we started to get tanks from everywhere, and we set it up.'
Then they were donated land on Fitzroy Island, which is where the turtles that are no longer critical go before they get released. 'But again it took us three years to build because there was only six of us,' says Gilbert. 'We didn't have any money to build it so we built it ourselves.'
So if you're wandering along the beach and you see a turtle lying on the sand or floating in shallow water how do you tell whether it's seriously unwell or just having a good bask in the sun?
'Most turtles that are “floaters” will have a very high build-up of algae on their backs and also a lot of barnacles as well,' says Mick Hale. 'A sick turtle will have a soft shell—it won't be hard. Around their neck will be sunken, not nice and fat, and the underside of their plastrum [shell] will also be very soft and sunken. A fat, healthy turtle is rounded on the back and underneath.'
However, much is unknown about turtle health. They suffer the terrible digestive impactions, which I saw first-hand in a turtle that was being autopsied. Its intestines were as thick as my leg.
'There is still no real science on it,' says Mick, 'but we think they're forced to eat different types of grass and sponges than they normally would, [and] those possibly make compaction in the stomach and force air blockages as well.'
The rangers of the Yuku Baja Muliku program despair about the amount of plastic rubbish they find daily on the beach at Archer Point. They've been doing annual cleanups as well as smaller daily collections of rubbish that winds itself around mangrove roots and lies half buried in the sand. Some of it breaks down to tiny microscopic particles that can be mistaken for plankton.
'The first year we removed 80 cubic metres of plastic from the beach. The year after it was 50 cubic metres and then 30 cubic metres and now we're down to consecutively running at about 15 in the past three years, so the amount of rubbished has reduced,' Mick says.
Most disturbing are the hard white plastic bleach bottles that wash up daily and come all the way from Indonesia.
'They drop their bleach bottle bottles on the bommies [submerged rocks or reefs] and because they're full of bleach it leaches out of the bottles and kills everything and then all the fish will just run into that net. Then they pull it up and take it to market and sell it,' says Mick.
'There is no sustainability in that you're taking everything. Sure, a lot of the things that are being taken are eaten, but a lot of those critters that die and don't make it to the net are part of that food chain. When you decimate food chains like that they're not going to recover.'
Turtle hunting is a recognised cultural practice and a native title right. But some Indigenous ranger groups and traditional owners have opted for a moratorium, and the response from the community has been positive.
'Our family group as a whole made a decision and said, "Look, how about we put a moratorium in place for five years and see how we go."
'Once our traditional marine agreement was in place we renegotiated; we had that meeting this year and we put it down again,' Larissa says. 'I was worried especially about some of our younger guys, but our elders—it was the men that made the decision. I grew up eating turtle meat, that's the truth of it. I remember the guys hunting, but they hunted differently.
'To me it's a whole new era. I suppose we are moving forward, we are all working together and they understand that it doesn't have to just feed us, it's our children and grandchildren—that's the reason why were doing it.'
So is all the fuss and expense worth it: saving one turtle at a time? With overwhelming environmental pressures, Mick believes it's important that we do all we can.
'An adult turtle will lay five clutches of eggs in one season and might only breed once every three to five years [and] of those five nests that hatch successfully, she might only have five turtles that mature to breeding size or age. So for every animal that you can save and put back in, there is a potential for five more,' he says.
'Five might not seem like a lot but in the greater scheme of things, but five is five more than none.'
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This year's El Nino weather pattern could be strongest on record: experts
01 September 2015, www.reuters.com
The current El Nino weather phenomenon is expected peak between October and January and could turn into one of the strongest on record, experts from the World Meteorological Organization said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Climate models and experts suggest surface waters in the east-central Pacific Ocean are likely to be more than 2 degrees hotter than average, potentially making this El Nino one of the strongest ever.
Typically, the warm air above the eastern Pacific is causing increased precipitation over the west coast of South America and dry conditions over the Australia/Indonesia archipelago and the Southeast Asia region, said Maxx Dilley, director of the WMO's Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch.
El Nino can also bring higher rainfall and sometimes flooding to the Horn of Africa, but causes drier conditions in southern Africa, Dilley said.
Climate scientists are better prepared than ever with prediction models and data on El Nino patterns, but the impact of this El Nino in the northern hemisphere is hard to forecast because there is also an Arctic warming effect at work on the Atlantic jetstream current.
"The truth is we don't know what will happen. Will the two patterns reinforce each other? Will they cancel each other? Are they going to act in sequence? Are they going to be regional? We really don't know," said David Carlson, the director of the World Climate Research Program.
This El Nino could also be followed abruptly by a cooling La Nina, which, along with the advance of global warming, was adding to the uncertainty, Carlson said.
"I think we all think that there's some climate warming signals starting to show up in the El Nino record," he said.
But he added that it is still unclear how global warming is affected the frequency or magnitude of El Nino events.
Since 1950, strong El Nino events occurred in 1972-3, 1982-3 and 1997-8.
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Everglades National Park to restrict motorized boating on Florida Bay
01 September 2015, Naples Daily News (USA)
Everglades National Park plans to restrict motorized boating on Florida Bay, designate additional land as wilderness and make the park more accessible to visitors as part of the first overhaul of its management plan in more than 30 years.
The plan, which is final but will be implemented gradually, will prohibit boaters from using their main engines or require them to go at idle speed on about one-third of the bay, in an attempt to prevent their propellers from destroying the seagrass beds that form the base of the bay’s food chain.
The plan also proposes that Congress designate 42,200 acres in the eastern Everglades as wilderness, land intended to be kept in the most primitive state. It would create additional ways for people to get access to the park, with more visitor centers, a paddling concession on Tamiami Trail, a 120-mile paddling trail at the western side of the park and other amenities.
The most debated part of the plan concerns Florida Bay, the estuary at the bottom of the Florida peninsula, where water that has made the long journey through the Everglades discharges into the ocean. A sheet of shallow water dotted with the gnarled roots of mangrove islands, Florida Bay supports a vast range of life — bonefish, bonnethead sharks and tarpon darting around the seagrass, crocodiles sunning themselves along the shore, wading birds standing in one or two feet of water hundreds of yards from land.
Extremely popular for fishing, the bay has sustained decades of damage from the propellers of speeding boats.
“They would blast through the flats,” said John Adornato, Sun Coast regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, who supports the plan. “Seagrass was being damaged by prop scars and the fishing was being negatively impacted. People were driving over the flats and blowing holes in the seagrass beds. It had a negative effect on juvenile fish, prey species, all the way up to tarpon and bonefish.”
Adornato said the plan, which was unveiled Friday, would “significantly reduce scarring and damage to seagrass beds.”
The plan would require boaters entering the bay to first take a boater education course and obey restrictions on where they can use motors. About 26 percent of the bay, or 102,838 acres, will be designated poll and troll zones, where a boat’s main motor could not be used, and another 6 percent, or 24,588 acres, will be poll, troll or idle speed zones. The plan calls for corridors through some of these restricted zones that would allow boaters to use their engines, so long as they stayed within the corridor.
The plan says these zones “were developed with much public input and are based on science and expert on-the-water knowledge of where boats can be operated with reduced likelihood of damaging seagrass beds and other shallow water habitats.”
Fred Herling, a planner at the park, said it would probably take one or two years to implement the restrictions. He said the mandatory boater education course, which has yet to be developed, would be available online and at a wide range of locations.
Capt. Tad Burke, a fishing guide and board member of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, said the plan represents a major improvement over earlier drafts, which would have severely restricted boating access to Florida Bay and had generated intense criticism from fishing guides and everyday boaters.
“Large chunks of the bay would never be seen again,” he said. “This is a public resource, and if the public can’t access it, it’s no longer a public resource.”
While he said this plan looks good so far, he said the park service was going after boaters for environmental problems rooted in decades of developer-friendly water policies that have interfered with the natural flow of clean water into Florida Bay.
“Prop scars have not killed Florida Bay,” he said. “Water practices allowing for excess development, that’s what killed Florida Bay.”
Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, dismissed the boating restrictions as “anemic,” saying the plan left too much of the bay vulnerable to propeller damage.
“Tens of thousands of acres of shallow seagrass beds — where seagrass scarring is known to take place — are not being included in the poll and troll zones. And even the ones being implemented will have no markings,” he said. “Boaters will have to rely on electronics as they motor in and out of the zones. That is difficult for boaters and for enforcement.”
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