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Moorings a boost for health of Lake

27 May 2016, Newcastle Herald (Australia)

In a first for New South Wales, environmentally friendly boat moorings have been rolled out at Lake Macquarie.

Hunter Local Land Services is providing a 50 per cent rebate to boat owners who agree to upgrade their traditional chain moorings, which wreak havoc with the seabed.

The “Seagrass Friendly Mooring” developed by On Water Marine Services and the “Eco Mooring” designed by Waters Marine were the first of the moorings to be installed on Thursday.

The project is attempting to re-establish the endangered Posidonia seagrass meadows between Marks Point and Belmont Bay.

The seagrass is a valuable fish habitat and plays an important role in the general health of the lake.

It has been decimated by the use of conventional block weight and chain moorings.

Project Coordinator Brian Hughes said there has been an encouraging response to the program from the owners of the 2000 existing moorings.

“We were really happy we got the first one in on Thursday before the wind got too strong, and we are hoping to get more in next week,” he said.

Boat owners can apply on the Hunter Local Land Services website

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President Obama Asked to Stop US Military Project That Threatens Endangered Dugong

26 May 2016, Center for Biological Diversity (Japan)

During President Obama’s visit to Japan for the G-7 summit, the Center for Biological Diversity called on him to abandon his controversial plan to build a large new military base in biologically rich and sensitive Henoko and Oura Bay. The bay is home to the dugong — a marine mammal related to manatees that is an ancient cultural icon in Okinawa — and other endangered species. That project is strongly opposed by residents of the island, which has had a huge U.S. military presence since the end of World War II, and that opposition was galvanized by the recent murder of a young Okinawan woman, allegedly by a U.S. military contractor, for which Obama was publicly rebuked Wednesday by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“Our large and lingering military presence has enraged the Okinawan people and now it’s threatening the dugong with extinction. President Obama should use his visit to Japan to abandon this controversial, ill-considered project,” said Peter Galvin, director of programs for the Center. “The people and wildlife of Okinawa need a chance to recover from our 44-year occupation of that biologically rich island.”

The military base project was approved with inadequate environmental review after being pushed through by the U.S. and Japanese national governments. Okinawan Gov. Takeshi Onaga last year withdrew local consent for the project, which is currently on hold pending a political resolution. The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups are challenging the project and that case is now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Okinawa dugongs are barely hanging on, a sad fact that the approval process for this project ignored. We stand with the Okinawan people in calling for a real environmental review and respect for local concerns,” Galvin said. “We shouldn’t let the U.S. military continue to trash the Okinawa area or our relationship with its people.”

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Australia scrubbed from UN climate change report after government intervention

27 May 2016, The Guardian (Australia)

Every reference to Australia was scrubbed from the final version of a major UN report on climate change after the Australian government intervened, objecting that the information could harm tourism.

Guardian Australia can reveal the report “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”, which Unesco jointly published with the United Nations environment program and the Union of Concerned Scientists on Friday, initially had a key chapter on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as small sections on Kakadu and the Tasmanian forests.

But when the Australian Department of Environment saw a draft of the report, it objected, and every mention of Australia was removed by Unesco. Will Steffen, one of the scientific reviewers of the axed section on the reef, said Australia’s move was reminiscent of “the old Soviet Union”.

No sections about any other country were removed from the report. The removals left Australia as the only inhabited continent on the planet with no mentions.

Explaining the decision to object to the report, a spokesperson for the environment department told Guardian Australia: “Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism.”

As a result of climate change combined with weather phenomena, the Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of the worst crisis in recorded history. Unusually warm water has caused 93% of the reefs along the 2,300km site to experience bleaching. In the northern most pristine part, scientists think half the coral might have died.

The omission was “frankly astounding,” Steffen said.

Steffen is an emeritus professor at the Australian National University and head of Australia’s Climate Council. He was previously executive director of the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme, where he worked with 50 countries on global change science.

“I’ve spent a lot of my career working internationally,” Steffen said. “And it’s very rare that I would see something like this happening. Perhaps in the old Soviet Union you would see this sort of thing happening, where governments would quash information because they didn’t like it. But not in western democracies. I haven’t seen it happen before.”

The news comes less than a year after the Australian government successfully lobbied Unesco to not list the Great Barrier Reef in its list of “World Heritage Sites in Danger”.

The removals occurred in early 2016, during a period when there was significant pressure on the Australian government in relation to both climate change and world heritage sites.

At the time, news of the government’s science research agency CSIRO sacking 100 climate scientists due to government budget cuts had just emerged; parts of the Tasmanian world heritage forests were on fire for the first time in recorded history; and a global coral bleaching event was beginning to hit the Great Barrier Reef – another event driven by global warming.

The environment department spokesperson told Guardian Australia: “The department was concerned that the framing of the report confused two issues – the world heritage status of the sites and risks arising from climate change and tourism.”

The report said the case studies were chosen partly because of their geographic representation, their importance for tourism and the robustness of evidence around the impact of climate change on them.

A recent study found the conditions that cause the current bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef was made at least 175 times more likely by climate change and, on the current trajectory, would become the average conditions within 20 years.

Without mentioning the Great Barrier Reef, the report notes: “Research suggests that preserving more than 10% of the world’s corals would require limiting warming to 1.5C or less, and protecting 50% would mean halting warming at 1.2C (Frieler et al. 2012).”

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'Tagging dugong is costly and may not be feasible'

22 May 2016, The Star Online (Malaysia)

A tagging system to monitor the dugong may not be feasible due to high costs and low number of the mammal, said Rantau Abang Endangered Marine Species and Turtle Research Division director Syed Abdullah Syed Abdul Kadir.

“The objective of tagging is to obtain their migration pattern as well as to determine their roaming areas.

“But research showed that this approach may be costly as we have to tag at least 50% of its population.

“We will need a lot of tags and a large number of dugong in order to get solid information. And capturing the creatures to tag them may also scare them away,” he said.

“This will backfire on our cause,” he added.

Last Sunday, The Star reported on the dwindling number of dugong, also known as sea cow, in southern Johor that was previously a haven for them due to the abundance of seagrass there.

But the depleting seagrass had forced the dugong to move to the eastern part of the state.

Concerned groups have suggested tagging the dugong to keep track of them, thus creating a database to monitor their population and movements.

Syed Abdullah said the Fisheries Research Institute had recorded three dugong deaths since the beginning of this year.

There were five such deaths in 2015 and four cases in 2014, mostly due to them being hit by boats, tangled in nets or incidental catches.

He acknowledged that there had been a drastic decline in the number of dugong, citing factors such as fish bombings, hunting, unsupervised tourism, seagrass degradation and habitat loss due to land reclamation and dredging activities.

“With rapid development in Johor some dugong habitats are no longer conducive for them to inhabit,” he said.

He urged Malaysians to play their part by avoiding fishing activities and reducing the speed of their boat at areas known to be populated by dugong, as well as to keep the cleanliness of sea water by not discarding waste into it.

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Ningaloo turtles struggle with bright lights

22 May 2016, Science Network Western Australia (Australia)

BABY turtles born on a WA beach are having trouble navigating into deep water because of artificial lights such as those from ships and offshore resource projects.

A study of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) near Ningaloo Reef has discovered 90 per cent of turtle hatchlings swam towards an artificial light and became disoriented during their journey out to sea.

UWA oceanographer Charitha Pattiaratchi says turtles lay their eggs on the beach and the hatchlings emerge at night.

“They navigate themselves, basically, by the Moon to make sure that they go offshore,” he says.

“If you have artificial light, what we’ve shown is that they actually don’t go out to sea, they get attracted to the light.

“So if you’ve got a ship or a drill point or a drill rig, they change their path.”

The researchers glued the smallest acoustic transmitters available onto 40 baby sea turtles so they could follow the 5cm hatchlings without affecting their swimming ability.

Half the turtles were subjected to artificial light and the scientists tracked where they swam using an array of acoustic receivers.

They also measured ocean currents at the time of the turtles’ release.

“We had to take the currents out of the equation so that we know that they actually get attracted because of the light and not because they get swept by the currents,” Prof Pattiaratchi says.

While previous studies have shown baby turtles are attracted by lights on land, the research—published in Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday—claims to be the first experimental evidence that wild turtle hatchlings are attracted to artificial light after entering the ocean.

Prof Pattiaratchi says the hatchlings’ survival is compromised if they fail to navigate offshore.

“They get more predators and they get disoriented, so the success rate of them becoming an adult diminishes quite a lot,” he says.

But there are ways to reduce turtle hatchlings’ exposure to artificial light.

“[We could] find different ways of lighting, a different spectrum and also shade them so they’re less visible to turtles,” Prof Pattiaratchi says.

A 2005 study of turtles nesting on Barrow Island, the Lowendal Islands and the Montebello Islands found sea turtle hatchlings are able to see both ultraviolet and visible light.

It suggested the threat to hatchlings from artificial light depends on its brightness and wavelength, with turtles responding most strongly to blue and green light.

Turtle hatchlings were also more attracted to artificial lights when there was less moonlight.


The research carried out by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, UWA and the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

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Protect Myanmar's marine resources from being pillaged to point of no return

20 May 2016, The Guardian (Myanmar)

As Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) engaged in a historic transfer of power in the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw in March, my Burmese colleagues and I stood on a deserted beach 170 miles to the southwest, near Gwa on the Rakhine coast. We were speaking to local fishermen about their livelihoods and hearing about the unfortunate death of a young dugong – southeast Asia’s cousin of the manatee.

To the naked eye, the blue sea and miles of white sand with no development or people in sight were a vision of paradise. And yet, as we learned, below the surface things were far from idyllic. The young dugong that accidentally drowned in a fishing net was just one symptom of another tragedy and challenge unfolding in this country – one that, while nearly unnoticed, could have major implications for the future of millions of rural people.

Literally out of sight, the country’s marine resources have been pillaged almost to the point of no return. Research data released in February of this year by the Norwegian government demonstrated a decline in Myanmar’s oceanic and coastal fish stocks of between 70-90% since the late 1980’s.

The previous day, I had listened to U Myint Aung, the leader of a local community conservation group set up to protect nesting sea turtles, describing the decline in adult turtles now successfully returning to his beach. At the current rate he feared none would come back next year.

The turtle deaths appear to result primarily from a growing recent demand for a large marine fish called the croaker. Their swim-bladders are now such a sought-after delicacy in parts of China that individual fish can be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Not surprisingly, a targeted fishery has developed in response, but the nets used in the process entangle other species such as sea turtles and dugongs.

U Myint Aung himself had ceased working as a coastal fisherman when catches declined to the point where he could no longer make a living. Instead he ekes out a living from farming peanuts on the sandy soil behind the beach during the rainy season and devotes the rest of his time to protecting the remaining turtles.

Such tragic stories were commonplace. Poorly governed marine waters had led to the arrival of larger industrial vessels both from other areas of Myanmar and neighboring countries. Use of illegal fishing gear had grown, as had even cruder methods like cyanide poisoning to access anything of remaining value.

But the status of marine fisheries isn’t the only thing significantly changing on Myanmar’s coast. Aside from a few tourists, the only other foreign visitors we ran into worked with the offshore gas industry. In the last 18 months multiple licenses for offshore gas blocks have been issued to a variety of western companies including Shell, Chevron, Woodside, and Statoil, among others.

These investments will alter the future of Myanmar’s ocean waters and economy forever. Yet opportunities exist for such global companies to work with both Aung San Suu Kyi’s new government and coastal communities to promote a very different future for Myanmar’s marine resources.

Precedents for such approaches exist. Perhaps one of the best is in Gabon, where in 2013 President Ali Bongo created the ‘Gabon Bleu’ initiative. Gabon’s Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux works in partnership with a number of major international oil and gas companies and the Wildlife Conservation Society to improve management of marine resources as a key pillar of the country’s development strategy.

This has resulted in the creation of 10 marine parks covering more than 18,000 square miles and encompassing about 23% of Gabon’s Exclusive Economic Zone. New community fishery zones promote local livelihoods based on sustainable fisheries management as well as designating areas exclusively for community or industrial fisheries.

In Myanmar similar planning approaches and partnerships could safeguard the ocean against illegal fishing and foreign industrial vessels. Local networks of no-take marine reserves have been proven to work around the world, and could include areas where fisheries are excluded for safety reasons around gas infrastructure.

Such initiatives could relatively quickly encourage the recovery of fish stocks while protecting endangered species like sea turtles, dugongs, and dolphins.

Myanmar’s new government faces a myriad of challenges, but if it wishes to develop the economy while increasing livelihood options for millions of rural people, it must create solutions for the thus far hidden problems of the country’s oceans.

Finding answers to this particular challenge could be one of the NLD’s early win-wins. If successful, U Myint Aung and his team could look to protecting more – not fewer – sea turtles returning to Rakhine’s beaches every year. And perhaps future generations in his village, and others along the coastline we visited, could look back to the sea again with hopes for a brighter blue future.

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Johor seeks best way to protect dugong

19 May 2016, The Star Online (Malaysia)

The state government will leave it to the experts to come up with suitable suggestions on the best way to protect and conserve marine life, especially the endangered dugong.

Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said they were in talks with consultants on the setting up of a marine park near Mersing, which will include a dugong sanctuary.

“We will not rule out suggestions to use a tagging system to monitor the movement of dugong. We will also explore other experts’ advice.

“We want to ensure that the method carried out to protect the sea mammal is the most suitable to avoid any future issues,” he said.

Ayub said currently, their focus was on sourcing for the best spot among the islands off Mersing to build the marine park.

He added that Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar was expected to pre-launch the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park in July.

It will just be a soft launch while the operational aspects and mechanisms of creating the park will be discussed in the next six months, he said, adding that RM1mil set aside was just a start-up allocation.

Ayub said the state government would seek more allocations, including from the Federal Government, following discussions with the experts.

For now, the RM1mil would be utilised to identify and measure the exact location, instal buoys to mark the areas as well as to cons­truct a monument for the park, he added.

He also pointed out that it was unfair to solely blame developments as the cause for the dwindling number of dugong along the most southern part of the state.

“We also have to take environmental changes into consideration including water pollution due to the discharge of waste or oil spills as well as the speed of huge vessels passing through the area.

“Our studies show that the islands off Mersing are still rich with the dugong’s staple diet – seagrass. This is likely why the sea mammal has been spotted there more often these past few years,” he said.

The Sunday Star reported on the dwindling number of dugong, also known as sea cow, around southern Johor, which used to be a haven for the shy creatures due to the abundance of seagrass there.

Experts claimed that they have been migrating to the eastern part of the state near Mersing where seagrass is ample.

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Seagrass check-up vital for a healthy harbour

17 May 2016, NT News (NT, Australia)

The poor wet season was pretty hard to bear for Territorians with little rain to give relief from the long, sweaty days. But the lack of rain also had a detrimental effect on marine life such as mudcrabs and even seagrass. A mapping survey taking place during the dry season will help to support conservation measures to ensure the seagrasses’ survival, said Department of Land Resource Management (DLRM) marine ecosystems director Dr Tony Griffiths.

DLRM staff, working with Larrakia rangers, will map the seagrass cover using a remote camera, at many sites throughout the Darwin Harbour. Seagrasses are at risk from a reduction in water quality and extreme climatic events. For example, the recent poor wet season in the Top End may cause some die-off of seagrass due to the increased amount of hot weather. “It is important for everyone to work together and look after this valuable habitat by limiting the amount of rubbish/sediment in stormwater and avoid disturbing these areas during the large low tides, Dr Griffiths said. “Seagrass surveys raises awareness on the condition and trends of near shore seagrass ecosystems and provides an early warning of any major environmental changes in Darwin Harbour.”

The surveys originated from community concerns about seagrass loss and community interest in science, as well as government objectives in long-term monitoring of habitats for Darwin Harbour. The survey is expected to be completed by November and the results will be available to the public.

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Coal dust kills coral, reduces growth of fish and seagrass, study shows
17 May 2016, ABC Online (Australia)

Questions about the risks of shipping coal through the Great Barrier Reef have been raised after a study showed coal dust released into seawater kills corals and slows seagrass and fish growth.

Research led by scientists at James Cook University in Townsville in north Queensland has found corals exposed to the highest concentrations of coal dust died within two weeks.

The scientists mimicked the exposure of marine species to coal dust by adding carefully controlled amounts of fine coal particles and measured their responses over time.

"Corals exposed to lower concentrations of coal lasted longer, but most of them also died after four weeks of exposure," researcher Kathryn Berry said.

"The coal didn't kill seagrass or fish, but it stunted their growth by half compared to clean water."

In Australia, more than 60,000 tonnes of coal remained on board the Shen Neng 1 when it ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef off Gladstone in 2010.

"While the likelihood of a major spill on a coral reef or seagrass meadow is low, we are now beginning to understand the likely consequences," Dr Andrew Negri said.

"This research will allow decision makers to understand the risks to marine life to identify the species that are most vulnerable."

It is hoped the results will lead to safer methods of shipping coal around the world.

Queensland Resources Council CEO Michael Roche said the industry was concerned about the long-term health of the Great Barrier Reef and he welcomed additional studies into its protection.

But he argued the World Heritage Area was one of the most highly regulated and protected shipping zones in the world.

"As an island nation we have to ship our product abroad which is why we have faith in our highly effective monitoring system REEFVTS," he said.

"This system is a 24/7 protection of the reef similar to the air traffic control system that controls aviation."

The findings by scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) at JCU and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies have been published in Nature Scientific Reports.

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Dugong on the verge of extinction

15 May 2016, The Star Online (Malaysia)

Known also as the sea cow, the dugong which inspires many tales like mermaid legends is on the verge of extinction.

The vast development taking place in south Johor, once a popular feeding ground for the mammal, has led to its dwindling numbers.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, local fishermen would often catch a glimpse of the shy creatures as the area was abundant with spoon seagrass, their main diet.

Kampung Sungai Simpang Arang fishermen chief Tang King Tong, 68, recalled an incident in 2004 where a 30kg baby dugong got caught in a fishing net.

“We convinced the fisherman to release the dugong back into the sea as it was still a baby. Its mother was roaming near the shore, as if waiting for her baby,” he said in an interview.

Tang claimed it was a common practice in the old days for the orang asli community to consume dugong meat, which tastes like beef.

“Orang asli would also carve the bones into a pipe,” he said, attributing this to a belief that smoking it would help reduce body temperature when a person was suffering from high fever.

There was also talk then that the tear drop of a dugong was believed to have magical powers, so bomoh would use it to make love potions, he claimed.

Tang, who has been living in the village since marrying his orang asli wife in the 1960s, claimed there were about 200 to 300 dugong five decades ago but their number had decreased by more than half.

“Besides dugong, it was common to spot crocodiles, turtles and bottlenose dolphins in the waters of Gelang Patah, especially near Pulau Merambong which is rich with seagrass.

“The seagrass is a favourite breeding ground for prawns, crabs and seahorses as the marine creatures can camouflage themselves on the seabed or hide from their predators there,” he said.

He believes that the number of sea creatures had dipped due to land reclamation works.

Another fisherman Rolen Oni, 35, said he first saw a dugong, almost 5m long, when he was about 16 years old.

“Three adult dugong had died in the past due to injuries from ship propellers near the port area.

“Some people have even offered financial rewards to fishermen in the village if they manage to catch a dugong alive,” he claimed.

Kampung Pendas Laut fishermen head Azman Adan, 45, said the 3km sandbar from Tanjung Kupang to Tanjung Adang was the dugong’s favourite playground before the development of a seaport within the area.

“It was once common for fishermen to spot dugong grazing on the seabed during low tide but now it has become a rare sighting,” said Azman, who has been going to sea since he was 13 years old.

The most recent spotting of a dugong was on May 5 when the carcass of one was found floating in the sea near the village after it had apparently sustained injuries from fishing nets.

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Sea Grant Program in Hernando County

14 May2016 Hernando Sun (USA)

Aquatic Services Manager Keith Kolasa presented the overview of the new marine program and the sea grant to the BOCC in a recent meeting. According to the Florida Sea Grant website (, the program exists as a partnership between Florida’s local governments, Board of Education, and NOAA. The program utilizes the UF/IFAS Extension offices.
The slideshow presentation showed pictures of marine animals and their environment, taken off the coast of Hernando County. Hernando County has approximately 150,000 acres of pristine seagrass bed fed by the spring fed estuaries and natural marshes.

Kolasa stated several benefits of the program. It will allow the county to document the economic and ecological importance of the county’s natural resources. It will allow the county to participate in management decisions that affect Hernando County’s resources at the federal and state levels. The program will enable the county to develop science-based projects, some in coordination with UF/IFAS. Finally, the county will be able to monitor the success of the program and health of the system, which has been fortunate when compared to other areas of Florida, such as Banana River and Indian River.

The seagrass cover in the waters off Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco Counties is the second largest seagrass area in the United States. Hernando County alone has over 180,000 acres of seagrass beds, compared to Tampa Bay, with only 40,000 acres of seagrass. Kolasa stated the map showed seagrass beds 12 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, but Hernando County’s seagrass extends to 25 miles, further than any other county. This is due to the shallow shelf, which has a fairly consistent water depth, and sediment type, but especially due to the water clarity.

The seagrass filters the water and provides an excellent home for scallops, so the harvest season draws many visitors to the area. Seagrass is a nursery for fish (such as snapper and grouper) as well as shrimp, and is a food source for manatees. One of the largest populations of green sea turtles is found off the coasts of Hernando and Citrus Counties. Kolasa stated a natural limestone outcrop is forms an extensive reef habitat for stone crabs and sponges and is beneficial for both recreational and commercial fishing.

Kolasa explained the three main efforts the program is pursuing. First, they are expanding the offshore reefs, and creating artificial reefs. This includes a plan that will enable the program to seek both federal and state grants. Second, the program will enhance or create habitats such as an oyster reef, living shorelines, and trails for snorkeling and kayak/canoe use. The third focus is to develop a comprehensive habitat and restoration plan in conjunction with the University of Florida and the Sea Grant program.

Kolasa stated that documenting the seagrass and other assets is important in order to know where the restoration projects should occur. Though some data is available, collaborative partnerships with stakeholders and research partners will help them continue learning about the environment off the coast of Hernando County and how to enhance and protect it.
Commissioner Rowden thanked Kolasa for his presentation in early April in Hernando Beach to Senator Bill Nelson in an effort to obtain some federal funds for the program. She also referred to an article from Tampa Bay Times which discussed the restoration project in Tampa Bay and the estimated cost of $11.9 million to restore the seagrass. Rowden asked Kolasa for his opinion of the kinds of activities to limit so that Hernando County does not lose their seagrass beds. Kolasa stated that tracking changes over time is important and monitoring assets is needed. Little is known about seagrass 25 miles into the Gulf.

Dr. J. Stacy Strickland introduced Brittany Hall-Scharf as the Sea Grant Agent who is tasked with working with marine ecosystems. Hall-Scharf is expected to be an asset to the program. She formerly worked for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in the fisheries independent monitoring program in St. Petersburg, and served as adjunct professor at the University of Tampa for biology and environmental science. Initially, she will be working with Kolasa on the oyster beds and the hard bottom habitats as well as the outreach with the University of Florida.
Rowden suggested using property at Hernando Beach to build an education center which could be used for research as well, and asked about any grants that could be used for this. Kolasa stated that Hall-Scharf will be able to help keep them updated on the list of grants that are available. Sossamon explained the process whereby money from the BP oil spill could be accessed and suggested that might be an option to pursue.

Charles Greenwell, government liaison in Hernando Beach, echoed Rowden’s idea of locating an education center in Hernando Beach, and stated the area is a living laboratory. In encouraging businesses to locate in Hernando County, Greenwell cautioned that they should enhance and not destroy the natural resources. This is a concern voiced by residents about opening the man made canals to commercial fishing vessels. He stated that protecting and preserving resources are important in attracting and keeping businesses and new residents, something that is in the power of the BOCC.

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Fishermen caught using nets in Dugong Protection Area

10 May 2016, Gladstone Observer (Australia)


Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol officer Neil Conway recovering the net that was illegally used by two recreational fishermen in a Dugong Protection Area.

TWO recreational fishermen were fined $1178 each for using illegal nets in a Dugong Protection Area in Gladstone.

Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol officers recovered the two nets set on the foreshore of Facing Island.

CQUniversity marine ecology lecturer Emma Jackson said it was important we protected the small population of dugongs we do have in the Gladstone region.

She said more publicity was needed around where the protection areas were.

The use of commercial fishing nets is one of the pressures facing the population, additionally to seagrass and being struck by boats.

Ms Jackson said being able to protect them from one harm, illegal fishing, would help protect the species.

The nets were seized and will be forfeited to the Crown.

"Some people think that our population of dugongs aren't very important since it is quite small, but that means it's even more important that we don't lose any of them," Ms Jackson said.

"We have a 0 loss rate that we need to maintain.

"There are other areas like Shoalwater Bay that have quite large populations and they can afford to lose 5% without it having too much of an impact on the overall population."

In 2009 there was 20 recorded dugongs in the Gladstone region.

The Gladstone Ports Corporation and CQUniversity is currently working to record the population numbers again.

"The fact that they are here is quite rare and unique."


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Second dugong found dead in Johor

09 May 2016, The Star Online (Malaysia)

The carcass of a young dugong was found floating in the sea near Kampung Pendas Laut here after getting caught in a fishing net.

Fishermen spotted two dugong, believed to be a mother and its kid, on Thursday.

A few hours later, the carcass of a young dugong emerged and was spotted floating in the sea.

A fisherman from the village, Azman Adan, said the dugong was found floating near a mega development project.

“The dugong, weighing about 60kg, was already dead, so the fishermen brought the carcass back to shore.

“We immediately alerted the Fisheries Department and handed the carcass to them,” he said.

State Fisheries Department director Zamani Omar said that a team of officers went to the location after being informed of the sighting.

“The dugong suffered injuries after it got caught between some fishing nets.

“We will conduct a post-mortem first,” he added.

This is the second dead dugong sighting this year after the first carcass was found washed ashore at Pantai Tanjung Logok, near Kota Tinggi in February.

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School assemblies to give pupils a glimpse of underwater world

08 MAy 2016, Dorset Echo (UK)


DISCOVER: Seagrass habitats are home to animals such as seahorses (Photo Credit: Alex Mustard).

SCHOOLS in the South West are being given the opportunity to explore the oceans with new interactive assemblies.

The Community Seagrass Initiative is visiting schools across the region to deliver fun sessions about marine ecosystems and the conservation of underwater wildlife, with the help of a £475,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Over the course of the project, representatives will visit a total of 19,000 pupils in the area to raise awareness of the importance of seagrass as a habitat for the likes of seahorses and cuttlefish.

It is one of the world's only marine flowering plants and forms meadows in shallow waters, providing valuable food and shelter for dozens of underwater species.

Project manager Mark Parry said: "The CSI schools outreach programme is providing opportunities for all age groups to discover the importance of seagrass around the South West.

"The project delivery team is currently visiting schools from Weymouth through to Looe in Cornwall, providing interactive and fun ways of learning.

"The sessions are a great way for teachers and pupils to find out how they can get involved in marine science themselves."

As well as the free assemblies, schools have the opportunity to link up with the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth via Google Hangouts, embracing technology to bring the interactivity into the classroom.

Mr Parry added: "We’ve got a busy two years ahead of us, and we’re really enjoying being out and about and visiting lots of school across the region.

"To reach more schools throughout the catchment of the project the CSI project has adopted video conference lessons using Google Hangouts.

"This is a readily and easily available free online resource that allows schools to explore seagrass habitats as well as rare parts of the National Marine Aquarium."

The initiative is being spearheaded by the National Marine Aquarium, in partnership with other conservation organisations including Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park.

Alongside their outreach work in schools, campaigners are urging people to help collect data that will assist in the study and conservation of seagrass meadows across the UK coast.


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$500 fine for illegal turtle killers

08 May 2016, Fiji Times (Fiji)

Minister for Fisheries and Forests Osea Naiqamu said perpetrators could also be prosecuted.

Responding to reports of unlawful turtle killings in the North, Mr Naiqamu said this was against the turtle moratorium.

"Anyone caught selling turtles can be fined $20,000 or face a prison sentence of five years," he said.

"Turtles are capable of living for more than 80 years and a female turtle, upon reaching maturity at the age of more than 30, returns to the land or the beach to lay their eggs. Turtles lay their eggs in chambers dug by the nester and incubation period is around two months," he said

Considering the time taken for sea turtles to breed, people needed to respect them and allow them to reproduce so their populations are replenished.

"Sea turtles play vital roles in maintaining the health of the oceans," Mr Naiqamu said.

"They contribute to the marine ecosystem by grazing on sea grass, controlling sponge distribution, feasting on jellyfish, transporting nutrients or supporting other marine life.

"Therefore if we continue to harvest them without giving them time to reproduce then we will have no sea turtles to carry out these important functions and more importantly we will not have any sea turtles to eat in the future."

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Why is all this seagrass covering our beaches?

05 May 2016, The Advertiser (Australia)


A man explores the seaweed on Glenelg Beach. Photo Credit: ABC News: Lauren Waldhuter


JUST don’t call it seaweed because this stuff is known as the “grass meadows” of the sea and it’s littered all over Adelaide’s most famous beaches.

Mounds and masses of “seagrass wrack” as it is officially known has taken up residence on our metropolitan beaches, including Glenelg, Brighton and Seacliff.

In the past 48 hours, strong north-westerly winds and large waves have pushed

Environment Department team leader coastal programs James Guy said the amount of seagrass was “not unusual and typically occurs in Adelaide after this type of weather pattern”.

“It is very difficult to predict how long the seagrass wrack will remain on the beaches,” he said.

“Depending on the wind and waves it could be gone in a matter of days.

“Typically, by the start of summer each year, the winter seagrass wrack will have been washed back into the ocean naturally or will have gradually biodegraded and been absorbed into the beach system.”

Seagrass wrack is different than seaweed — they are flowering plants with roots making them distinct from algae, or seaweed.

Just like grass that grows on land, seagrass dies back every year during the winter months and sheds its leaves in a natural process. The dead laves are called seagrass wrack.

Mr Guy said the process was an important part of a healthy marine ecosystem.

“Many plant, animal and fish species depend on seagrass for survival,” he said.

“The offshore seagrass beds also play an important role in protecting our beaches by helping to absorb wave energy, thereby reducing the potential for erosion.

“The seagrass wrack that washes up onshore also helps to provide protection from winter storms.”

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Brown waters continue to plague coast

The News-Press (USA)

Rick Bartleson lowers a metal box into the murky Caloosahatchee River waters.

Once it reaches bottom, he pulls a string that shuts the box, securing a chunk of river bottom. He lifts the box to let it drain, and thick drops of what looks like motor oil splash onto the white fiberglass boat.

"It would be good if there was sand on the bottom and not muck," Bartleson said after opening the box to inspect its contents, which looked like thick, dark.

Historically, the bottom of the Caloosahatchee was sandy, almost beach-like. Today it's difficult to tell what the bottom looks like because it's impossible to see through the suspended solids and excess tannins that have crippled part of the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary this year.

Record rains in January flooded much of the Sunshine State, and controversial practices like backpumping were used by the state to drain towns and farm fields south of Lake Okeechobee. Four months later, environmentalists and people who make a living on the river and its estuary are still worried about water quality and economic impacts.

During the heavy rains, Okeechobee waters were released to Fort Myers on the west coast and Stuart on the east coast. The water flowed, at times, as fast and pumps and gravity would allow.

Waters near the mouth of the river have been largely lifeless since.

Lowell Hillman is a commercial crabber and fished the river for blue crabs Tuesday.

How's the blue crabbing been going this year?

"It ain't been going," Hillman said after retrieving an empty trap.

A second trap produces one crab. The third, nothing.

"It all started about two weeks after they started releasing water from the lake," Hillman said, speaking of the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — the state and federal agencies charged with managing Lake Okeechobee and the South Florida drainage network.

In some areas of the river, the bottom is practically lifeless. Organic material that washed through the lake and from the river's watershed has settled in some areas. Bacteria have been feeding on those solids in a process that absorbs oxygen (which marine life needs) and carbon dioxide.

This causes a thick, slime-like coating to develop on the river's bottom.

"There are no invertebrates that can survive for any length of time," Bartelson said. "And the temperatures are increasing."

Warmer conditions help bacteria reproduce, and May is one of the warmest months of the year.

Lake releases have slowly been lowered from around 9,000 cubic feet per second to about 2,000 cubic feet per second over the past three months, according to the Army Corps.

"It's done in a manner that simulates a rainfall event," said John Campbell, with the Corps' Jacksonville office, of the current releases.


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Scientists ponder why Florida seagrass is dying

02 MayThe Keene Sentinel (USA)


Robert Johnson, director of the National Park Service’s South Florida Natural Resources Center, displays samples of dead seagrass picked up in the waters of the Everglades National Park. Photo Credit: Angel Valentin, The Washington Post

The shallow coastal waters of Florida Bay are famed for their crystal-clear views of thick, green seagrass — part of the largest stretch of these grasses in the world.

But since mid-2015, a massive 40,000-acre die-off here has clouded waters and at times coated shores with dead grasses. The event, which has coincided with occasional fish kills, recalls a die-off from 1987 through the early 1990s, which spurred major momentum for the still-incomplete task of Everglades restoration.

“It actually started faster, as far as we can tell this year,” said James Fourqurean, a Florida International University marine scientist who studies the system. “In the ‘80s, it continued to get worse for three years.”

Fourqurean and government experts on the Everglades fear they’re witnessing a serious environmental breakdown, one that gravely threatens one of North America’s most fragile and unusual wild places. When most people think of the Everglades, they envision swamps — but seagrass is just as important, if less romanticized.

Besides being the home to majestic sea turtles, dolphins and manatees, Florida Bay also hosts pink shrimp, spiny lobsters, spotted sea trout, and many other species of marine life. Sport fishing alone here is worth $1.2 billion per year, according to the Everglades Foundation.

And although there is at least some scientific dissent, Fourqurean and fellow scientists think they know the cause of the die-off. It is just the latest manifestation, they say, of the core problem that has bedeviled this system for many decades: Construction of homes, roads and cities has choked off the southward flow of fresh water. Without quick action to make the park far more resilient to climate change and rising, salty seas, the problem will steadily worsen.

The Everglades ecosystem “being out of balance at a time of climate change is really going to have a huge impact on South Florida if we don’t do something about it,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who surveyed the seagrass die-off during a recent visit to the estuary, which covers more than half a million acres.

Holding dead grass in her hand in a National Park Service boat, Jewell told a group of Park Service staffers and reporters, “This is what we get when we don’t take care of Florida Bay.”

Florida Bay encompasses roughly one-third of Everglades National Park. And like the park’s mangroves and sawgrass prairies, it relies on the same broad water system. Both need fresh water to flow southward from Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and the central part of the state to preserve their unique characteristics. And both have suffered from highway and water management projects that have blocked or diverted much of this water away.

“It’s basically a permanent man-made drought, created by the drainage and development patterns to the north in the Everglades,” said Robert Johnson, director of the National Park Service’s South Florida Natural Resources Center, on the boat trip with Jewell.

The seagrass die-off, according to Johnson, was caused when this perennial problem was further exacerbated by a 2014-2015 South Florida drought.

Flows through Shark River Slough, which feeds water to the Everglades and eventually Florida Bay, plunged to just 200,000 acre feet in 2015, a quarter of standard annual flows. (An acre foot of water is water a foot deep covering an area of one acre.) Today’s standard annual flows are less than half of historic flows of 2 million acre feet per year before major projects blocked and redirected the Everglades’ water.

The center of the bay then heated up last summer, experienced considerable evaporation and became highly saline. Some parts of the bay became twice as salty as normal sea water.

“It’s a really delicate balance between how much freshwater comes in each year, how much rainfall fall [there is], and then how much evaporation occurs,” Johnson said. “In the absence of rainfall, salinity takes off in the bay, and we get a lot of harmful impacts of that.”

In high-salt conditions, waters hold little of the oxygen that seagrasses need to live. At the same time, other marine organisms turn to an anoxic process — one that goes forward without oxygen and has a nasty byproduct: hydrogen sulfide.

The chemical “is a notorious toxin,” said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “It kills life, including human.”

And that’s just the beginning. Once the seagrass dies off, a destructive feedback loop is created: The dead grasses in the water release nutrients that can stoke huge algal blooms. (This happened the last time around, but such blooms have not appeared en masse this year.) The algal blooms cloud the water and prevent light from reaching remaining seagrasses, which then also die because they are deprived of the light they need for photosynthesis.

“You have this water that’s notoriously gin-clear water, because the seagrasses and the biology kept the light penetrating, and then all of a sudden, it changes pretty dramatically to a system without grass, and very turbid waters,” Boesch said.

Granted, there are some dissenters. Brian Lapointe, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University, contends that Florida Bay seagrass die-offs are caused by the runoff carrying too many nutrients, such as nitrogen, into the bay’s waters, which in turn stoke algal blooms. “There really isn’t a correlation over time of high salinity and problems in the bay,” Lapointe said.

Seagrasses, he said, “can handle pretty high salinities.” During the last die-off, a large scientific debate erupted over whether changes in salinity were indeed the cause.

But Boesch, who led a scientific review of the last die-off, during the Clinton administration (that study failed to reach a conclusion), said that the high-salinity explanation “has now become kind of the mainstream scientific explanation,” although that now encompasses other related processes involving oxygen content of waters and buildup of hydrogen sulfide.

Florida Bay is not alone in its troubles: Seagrasses the world over are threatened. In a 2009 study, scientists found that seagrasses had declined globally by 29 percent since the late 19th century. They concluded that seagrasses were just as threatened as coral reefs, a companion ecosystem, although the latter tend to get far more attention.

The Obama administration, in collaboration with Florida state agencies and local leaders, has lately been moving simultaneously to restore historic Everglades water flows and to try to safeguard the park against climate change.

President Barack Obama visited last year, telling his audience, “You do not have time to deny the effects of climate change. ... Nowhere will it have a bigger impact than here in South Florida.”

And this year, Jewell visited the Everglades on Earth Day to announce a $144 million “bridging” project intended to elevate 2.5 miles of U.S. Highway 41, more popularly known as the Tamiami Trail, which runs through the Everglades and connects Miami to Tampa. Constructed in the 1920s, the highway impairs water flow southward from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades (and, eventually, the bay). It is like a dam across the famed “river of grass.” Elevating it could restore a substantial part of historic freshwater flow.

But that will take years. The project should be completed in 2020, too far off to stop the current seagrass die-off from running its course and perhaps having many cascading effects, scientists fear.

And it is not just nature that needs this freshwater: People do, too.

For its drinking water, South Florida, home to a steadily growing human population that is well past 6 million, relies on the Biscayne aquifer, which is replenished by the Everglades. The aquifer’s water flows through limestone that is highly porous, which means that saltwater and freshwater can both penetrate it.

In effect, two bodies of water abut one another, facing off — and for the sake of nature and people alike, freshwater needs to hold its ground. If too little freshwater flows southward in Florida, the bay can become too salty even as the seas also creep into the Everglades, potentially causing land to sink, but also penetrating the aquifer and threatening the drinking water.

In short, it is bad news across the whole system.

And even as governments at the local, state and national levels move faster to send the Everglades and the bay more freshwater, it remains unclear to what extent climate change will worsen problems such as the seagrass die-off. After all, climate change will raise sea levels, increase air and water temperatures, and perhaps fuel more droughts.

“The questions I would ask, from a climate perspective, going forward, is first of all: Are we going to have more conditions of really high temperature, due to, you know, the atmospheric warming, coupled with these extended periods of still water?” Boesch said. “Are we going to have longer periods of drought in the Everglades?”

Boesch said that while higher temperatures are a given, precipitation patterns are difficult to predict, but he noted that there is some reason to fear that South Florida could become drier.

“What happened to the bay is very much a climate-change issue,” Jewell said in an interview during her Everglades tour. “It’s tied in to a drought. Now, is the drought tied to climate change? None of us could tie any single hurricane or storm event or drought to climate change, but we do know that the weather here is getting more extreme. And we do know that those extreme weather patterns are having a dramatic impact on our ecosystems, as we saw today on Florida Bay.”

Still, much of Florida Bay remains unaffected, for now. That includes an area of lush seagrass meadow near a small island named Johnson Key. A trio of bottlenose dolphins approached the National Park Service skiff there and started to lead the way, as the boat trolled slowly through the clear, 3-to-4-foot-deep water.

Nonetheless, the second major seagrass die-off in three decades certainly suggests that something has changed recently in the system. “The really disturbing thing is, this ... event has now happened twice in my career,” Fourqurean said.

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Legal challenge over Great Barrier Reef

03 May 2016, (Australia)

Another legal challenge to stop Australia's largest coal mine from being built will begin in the Federal Court in Brisbane on Tuesday.

The Australian Conservation Foundation will allege Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt acted unlawfully when he approved Adani's Carmichael coal mine in the Queensland Galilee basin.

Chief executive Kelly O'Shanassy said outside court the foundation did not want any more coal mines built, but this case was about the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

Ms O'Shanassy said the foundation's legal team - the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office - would aim to prove Mr Hunt "failed to adequately consider the impact of burning coal from the mine on the Great Barrier Reef".

"The Great Barrier Reef is bleaching because of global warming and global warming is happening because of coal," she said.

A section of Australia's environmental law not tested in court before will be the subject matter of the two-day hearing.

Lawyers for Adani, the Indian coal mining giant, will contest the allegations alongside Mr Hunt.

When asked about the latest legal challenge, Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt said the state had done everything it could to get the Adani mine, which still needed to be financed, ready.

Mr Pitt said the project was important for regional Queensland but noted the Great Barrier Reef and environment needed to be protected.

"If it's approved there will be many flow on effects," he said.

Originally published as Adani faces another Qld court challenge

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