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Two decades of sea turtle data in Seychelles helps researchers understand threats

30 December 2017, Seychelles News Agency (Seychelles)

Green turtle heading back to the sea after nesting on Aldabra. Photo Credit: Seychelles Islands Foundation

lData analysis of 20 years of turtle monitoring on Aldabra is helping Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF) officials observe the movement patterns of these sea creatures and be in a better position to understand threats they may face at different stages of their life.

The in-water tagging and monitoring of both the hawksbill and green turtles on Aldabra were initiated in 1986 by Jeanne Mortimer. After several years, the project was handed over to the staff of the foundation on Aldabra.

“Further understanding of these movement patterns will mean that turtles can be protected across the Seychelles,” said Lorraine Cook, a volunteer on Aldabra.

She added that “this monitoring is also valuable for the wider scientific community because there has been a lot of research done on turtle nesting but more information is needed on their developmental and foraging stages.”

Aldabra -- one of the world’s largest atolls -- is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Seychelles, a group of islands in the western Indian Ocean. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the green turtles and hawksbill turtles are listed as endangered and critically endangered, respectively.

Since 1996, over 900 green and 392 hawksbill individuals have been caught and tagged in the lagoon.

Staff involved in the research have to dive off moving boats to capture swimming turtles, earning this type of monitoring the name ‘turtle rodeo’. Once caught, the turtle is tagged, if it has not been done previously, and details, such as body dimension measurements, body condition or presence of disease, are recorded.

The analysis of historical turtle rodeo data also provided the opportunity to revise the monitoring protocol in order to ensure that it is efficient and the results are useful.

The results of the two-decade worth of data also show that each species are distributed differently within the lagoon, highly linked to how their food sources spread out across the area. The majority of hawksbills are found in the eastern lagoon and most greens in the western lagoon.

“Recaptures of tagged turtles over many years have shown that both species have high site fidelity, being most commonly [sighted repeatedly] at either the same location or a neighbouring one,” said Cook.

While found all over the lagoon, turtles are concentrated around mangrove areas and lagoon channels due to the protection offered from sharks. These areas are also abundant in food sources - seagrass beds, macro-algae and corals. Abundant, undisturbed foraging and developmental habitat with few threats allow Aldabra to support a large population of turtles.

Juvenile and sub-adult turtles, of both species, can be found in higher density within the lagoon. They are also found in lower numbers in Aldabra's inner reefs along with adult turtles.

Cook said, “it appears that populations of both species are stable with green turtles being about twice as common as hawksbills in the lagoon.”

Apart from the tagging of juvenile turtles on Aldabra, the Save our Seas Foundation team conducts similar monitoring on D’Arros Island and St Joseph Atoll. Aldabra remains an important site for the conservation of these species.

More information:Click Here


Lake Okeechobee discharges stop day early, too late for St. Lucie River oysters, sea grass

28 December 2017, TCPalm (USA)

A day ahead of schedule, Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie River stopped about 7 a.m. Thursday when the seven gates of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam were shut.

The Army Corps of Engineers had announced two weeks ago the discharges would stop Friday. But for the last few weeks, the Corps has been sending water into the river in "pulses" — heavy flows at the beginning of the week that taper off day by day.

By Thursday, they had tapered off to zero.

"Thus the releases to the east have effectively stopped," Corps spokesman John Campbell said in an email early Thursday afternoon.

Lake O discharges west to the Caloosahatchee River will continue at an average rate of about 969.5 million gallons a day. So far, 347 billion gallons of Lake O water has been sent west this year, enough to drop the lake by slightly more than 2 feet 4 inches.

The Caloosahatchee estuary typically needs some flow from the lake to hold back saltwater intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the Corps, about 134 billion gallons of water was discharged east through the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam between Sept. 15 and Thursday morning.

That's enough water to:

  • Drop the Lake O elevation by 11 inches. The lake elevation was 15 feet 6⅝ inches Thursday morning.
  • Supply Port St. Lucie, the eighth-largest city in Florida, for nearly 23 years, as the city uses about 16.1 million gallons a day.
  • Cover Stuart with 71½ feet of water.

About 128 billion gallons reached the St. Lucie River. The extra 6 billion gallons was taken out of the C-44 Canal, which connects the lake and the river, by agriculture for irrigation and by the Caulkins Water Farm as part of a state program to reduce flows and lessen the environmental damage to the St. Lucie estuary.

'The Dirty Dozen'
The 134 billion gallons of lake water sent east makes this year's discharges the 12th largest ever sent to the St. Lucie River.

The total is slightly less than the 136.4 billion gallons released from Lake O during the "Lost Summer" of 2013. It's more than half of the 237 billion gallons discharged in 2016, when toxic algae blooms blanketed much of the St. Lucie River estuary.

That doesn't mean the discharges didn't do damage to the local environment and the local economy, said Mary Radabaugh, manager of Central Marine, a marina on the north shore of the St. Lucie in Stuart.

"We may not have gotten the blue-green algae," Radabaugh said, "but the water this year has been nasty, disgusting. It looks like chocolate milk and smells bad. And it's like that all the way out into the ocean."

Wednesday was one of what Radabaugh calls "the cesspool days."

"The water had that weird looking bubbly stuff going on, the way it did just before the blooms started last year," she said. "The water's too cool for a bloom to happen now, thank goodness, or I'm sure it would."

That's bad for water-related businesses.

"Nobody wants to put their boat in the stuff," Radabaugh said. "When people aren't using their boats, there goes our business."

During the 2016 algae bloom, Radabaugh said, "there were four or five weeks when we were completely socked in, no business at all. We weren't shut down this year, but our business was definitely down."

Algae, no; bacteria, yes
This year's discharges didn't bring toxic blue-green algae to the St. Lucie, but they did coincide with high levels of enteric bacteria, which is evidence of fecal contamination.

To be clear: The discharges didn't directly cause jacked-up levels of bacteria in the same way they caused the algae blooms. The bacteria washed into the river along with stormwater runoff containing waste from humans, pets, wildlife and livestock.

Higher-than-normal levels of enteric bacteria were reported throughout the Treasure Coast and elsewhere after Hurricane Irma.

But the discharges, along with massive amounts of stormwater runoff flowing into the river from numerous creeks and canals, wiped out the salinity from the usually brackish water. That helped the bacteria thrive.

That seems evident from the timing of the discharges and the bacteria hikes.

Unsafe bacteria levels were first reported Sept. 18 in the estuary at Leighton Park in Palm City, the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart, Sandsprit Park in Port Salerno and the Stuart Sandbar between Sewall's Point and Sailfish Point.

That's three days after the discharges started and slightly more than a week after the hurricane.

After reaching a rate of 3.2 billion gallons a day Oct. 30, the discharge flow started dropping.

The high bacterial levels in the estuary ended Nov. 1, two days later. The sandbar, which is close to and well-flushed by the St. Lucie Inlet, has been clean ever since. The other sites have had low or moderate levels of bacteria since then.

Oysters, sea grass
Halting the discharges came too late for most of the oysters and sea grass beds in the St. Lucie River estuary and lagoon around the St. Lucie Inlet. They couldn't survive the the lack of salt in the normally brackish water.

"The last time we were out near Flagler Park, we did not find any live oysters," Vincent Encomio, research director at the Florida Oceanographic Society, said about oyster beds in the river along downtown Stuart. "So I don’t expect that status to change at this time. Sea grass has been down for quite some time."

Oysters and sea grass are the backbone of the estuary's ecosystem:

Oysters filter impurities out of the water and the reefs they create are habitat for numerous marine creatures.
Sea grass beds provide food and habitat for many species of young fish.

More information: Click Here


Concerns PNG villagers may be poaching vulnerable dugongs in Australian waters

23 December 2017, ABC Online (Australia)

Dugong hunters with a captured dugong in Torres Strait. Photo credit: Colin Riddell

The Torres Strait is home to the most stable and robust population of dugong on the planet.

Up to 25,000 of these mild-mannered and vulnerable creatures roam beds of shallow seagrass in Australia's north and in the coastal waters off Papua New Guinea's south coast.

While limitations have been placed on the hunting of dugongs, a recent report has sparked concern that PNG fisherman may be illegally poaching dugong in Australia's northern waters.

An internal Australian Crime Intelligence Commission (ACIC) document — obtained under freedom of information by The Cairns Post newspaper — has revealed investigators thought the activities of PNG fishermen may be contributing to a decline in dugong numbers.

ACIC's Environmental Crime Team spent two years, at a cost of $2 million, investigating the illegal trade in turtle and dugong meat.

While the results of their probe were handed to Australia's Department of Environment, they have never been publicly released.

The hunting of dugongs in Australia's waters for commercial trade could be in breach of a treaty designed to protect marine life in the region.

The Torres Strait Treaty allows for locals to move freely between PNG and Australia and also encompasses the right to hunt dugong, sea turtle and other protected or endangered species for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.

Torres Strait Mayor Fred Gela said because there is a lack of enforcement of that treaty in PNG to protect the dugong population, villagers from the Western Province may be putting them at risk.

"[Families] are using unconventional methods to capture dugong — they're being captured in large numbers," Mr Gela says.

"Even though it's actually illegal to sell in the streets and market, it's definitely happening."

Australian Government plays down allegations
When the Australian Crime Intelligence Commission's Environmental Crime Team was established three years ago, it launched a detailed investigation into the extent of an illegal trade in turtle and dugong meat, producing a total of 15 intelligence reports on the issue.

The findings were passed on to Australia's Department of the Environment — which chose not to disclose the details to the public.

It was referred to in Parliament in September by Australia's Minister for the Pacific and International Development Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who played down allegations of illegal hunting.

"The investigation subsequently found that the poaching and sale of meat was almost certainly minimal and usually opportunistic," Ms Fierravanti-Wells said.

"There was no substantive evidence to suggest an organised commercial trade existed in Queensland or the Torres Strait."

However, the internal document obtained by The Cairns Post said the full extent of poaching in the region was not known.

The Australian Fishing and Management Authority denies there is a serious problem with over-hunting in the Torres Strait.

General manager of operations Peter Venslovas told the ABC that extensive monitoring has not unveiled any widespread poaching on either side, and praised PNG authorities who he said work closely with AFMA to protect marine wildlife.

"It happens sometimes, but certainly not often," he said.

"We have a fairly extensive surveillance program in the Torres Strait which entails aerial surveillance; we've got planes up in the air every day."

Diplomatic solution needed, Mayor says
The claims that illegal dugong poaching is not widespread were challenged by environmental activist Colin Riddell, who is critical of the ACIC report.

He said PNG fishermen have also been caught taking large numbers of turtles — beyond the terms of the Treaty of Torres Strait.

"There were 100 turtles on their backs one night and we had a ranger ring up in tears who rang up our local member, Warren Entsch, and he was distraught that the Papuans were coming over to pick up those turtles," Mr Riddell said.

The head of marine ecosystems for PNG's Environmental Protection Authority, Vagi Rai, told the ABC his Government had been working hard to stamp out the practice of commercial dugong hunting since launching a campaign in 2013.

"Within three years we managed to zero down on a no tolerance catch of dugongs and sale of dugongs at any markets," he said.

Mr Rai said the issue is being exacerbated by Indonesian hunters operating in the region.

"Indonesia is coming across and they're harvesting our dugongs, the dugong tusk has a market and it's putting extra pressure on us," he said.

Mr Gela said a diplomatic solution needed to be considered.

"I think it goes beyond just coming in with a heavy hand," he said.

"Between the Australian Government and the PNG Government, a conversation needs to happen."

In a statement, Australia's Ministry for the Environment said it has no evidence to dispute the findings of the ACIC investigation, and has no reason to pursue a diplomatic resolution to concerns over dugong poaching.

More information: Click Here


Manatees endure another deadly year

20 December 2017, Florida Today (USA)

Six manatees got trapped in a small backyard pond in Melbourne after Hurricane Irma struck. About 40 people worked to rescue the sea cows. Video uploaded Sept. 15, 2017, by Rick Neale, FLORIDA TODAY.

Thirteen manatees died in unlucky collisions with boats in Brevard County this year, the most to perish that way in the county since 2010.

Statewide, 101 manatees died from boat strikes, 20 percent of this year's 513 manatee deaths. That was a typical percentage of the overall deaths but also the second highest boat-strike manatee death toll on record. Last year, a record 106 manatees died from boat strikes, according to statistics compiled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

But boats tend to kill only about 1 percent of the manatee population, which some estimates put in the range of 8,000 or more manatees, statewide, boating advocates say. So slowing down their boats with go-slow zones shouldn't be the focus of manatee protections, some boaters assert. State biologists counter that they recover an unknown percentage of the overall manatee carcasses in any given year. Also unknown, they say, is how many of the manatees they find too rotted to tell what killed them had died from boat strikes.

It's really random numbers, more than anything else, because you're talking about pure accidents," said Bob Atkins, president of Citizens for Florida's Waterways, a boating advocacy group with a few hundred members, mostly in Brevard. "It just comes down to a little bit of mathematical probability in space and time."

Atkins sees loss of density of seagrass beds as a much greater threat to manatees than boats. The situation is worsened, he says, by power plants that discharge warm water into coastal estuaries and bays, luring too many manatees farther north than they otherwise would be in the winter, putting them at risk of dying from cold stress or starvation.

This year's statewide manatee death toll includes 23 from cold stress; 112 from complications within a year of birth; 86 from natural causes; three from a flood gate or canal lock; 11 from other human causes; 152 for undetermined reasons; and 25 that were never recovered. according to FWC's early statistics, which run through Dec. 15.

Last year, nine manatees died by boat strikes in Brevard, and a record 106 manatees died by boat strikes statewide.

"Whether we break the record or not, the number itself shows that the watercraft-related mortalities are one the main threats to manatees," said Martine deWit, a veterinarian at FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The 513 manatee deaths from all causes in 2017 compares with 472 manatee deaths last year and a 5-year average is 482 deaths.

The state's manatee population has grown to more than 6,600 animals, according to statewide yearly aerial and ground counts. As a result, the federal government reclassified the manatee from an endangered to threatened species, a less serious designation under the federal Endangered Species Act.

But the statewide annual counts are only a minimum count of the manatee population, so there could be thousands more.

"We've knownfor a long time that they weren't counting them all," Atkins said.

A record 830 manatees died in 2013, including 158 of 244 manatees deaths in Brevard from undetermined causes. Biologists suspect many of those manatees may have fallen victim to a seagrass die-off that disrupted the makeup of healthy bacteria in their digestive tract, leading to the disease.

DeWit says she still sees manatees that appear to be dying from the same disease, but in much smaller numbers.

More information: Click Here



Chesapeake Bay water quality reaches near-record high

20 December 2017, So Md News (USA)

Water quality in the Chesapeake Bay reportedly reached a near-record high with almost 40 percent of bay water meeting clean water standards between 2014 and 2016, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program.

This year’s assessment was at 39.2 percentage, just 0.3 lower than the record of 39.5 percent between 2008 and 2010.

The results reported by the bay program showed a 2 percent increase from the previous assessment period of 2013 and 2015. The regional partnership attributed the improvements largely to a rise in dissolved oxygen in the deep channel of the bay.

The new finding is consistent with a wide range of metrics that have indicated improvements in the bay, said Jeremy Testa, assistant professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons.

Earlier this year, bay grasses were discovered returning to the shores of Solomons for the first time after basically disappearing in the 1970s.

In the past three decades, there has been evidence showing the amount of nitrogen going down, Testa said. In the past few years, the size of low oxygen area is getting smaller and sea grass is coming back in the lower-salinity parts of the bay.

Nick DiPasquale, CBP’s director, said in a release that there has been an increase in the diversity of grass species and the density of grass beds. Several fisheries, including blue crabs, oysters and rockfish, have also shown improvements, he said.

While the news of better water quality appears to be consistent with multiple reports released in the beginning of this year that indicated an improving bay, it remains unclear whether the trend will continue.

While the positive sign of resiliency of the bay indicates that its ecosystem has recovered from the damages sustained during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, the bay program said water quality must improve in 60 percent of the bay and its tidal tributaries for the estuary to function as a healthy ecosystem.

In a statement issued last week, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said the bay program’s findings provide “both good and bad news.”

“Our water is getting cleaner, leading to smaller dead zones and more bay grasses and oysters,” said Beth McGee, the foundation’s director of science and agricultural policy, in the statement.

“But water quality still has to improve in 60 percent of the bay, meaning that we can’t take our foot off the gas pedal,” McGee said.

Testa from CBL said although some parts of the bay has shown clear signs of improvement, other places are going the other direction.

Although the freshwater parts of the Patuxent River has improved in terms of nutrients going down, largely thanks to upgrades of wastewater treatment plants, Testa said neither Patuxent River nor Potomac River are showing clear, overall improvements.

Ben Grumbles, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, said in a release that “robust funding, science, and stewardship are paying off and cleaning up the bay. But we still have a long way to go.”

More information: Click Here



US military should end its war on the Okinawa dugong

15 December 2017, The Hill (Japan)

Waves rocked our boat as we glided across Henoko Bay in Okinawa, Japan. Below us, fish and sea turtles danced through an underwater wonderland of colorful corals and swaying seagrass.

But as we peered down into these beautiful blue waters, we spotted something else: Massive concrete blocks have been dumped in the bay, crushing delicate coral formations. Not far away, we saw a huge seawall being built.

The U.S. military is behind this construction of a new Marine air base in the waters around Henoko Point. Ultimately, the project will fill in and pave over an area of the bay the size of about 80 football fields.

Base construction will devastate this whole beautiful ecosystem and it will likely be a death sentence for the critically endangered Okinawa dugong, a manatee relative that counts the sea grass in these sheltered waters as one of its last good feeding grounds.

But the Trump administration may soon be forced to reevaluate this destructive and unnecessary project. A federal judge in San Francisco will soon decide the outcome of a lawsuit against the base by Okinawan plaintiffs and U.S. environmental groups.

Our lawsuit challenges the military’s failure to consider how the base will harm the dugong and its sensitive seagrass habitat. It’s the first challenge to an overseas project under the National Historic Preservation Act, which protects cultural resources and landmarks. The law applies because Okinawa dugongs are cultural icons for the Okinawan people and afforded national monument status under Japanese law.

Still, it shouldn’t take a lawsuit to get our government to halt construction. It’s clearly in America’s own self-interest to rethink this project.

As I saw on my recent visit to Okinawa, the new airbase won’t just push the dugong over the edge of extinction.

It will also cause irreparable harm to our relationship with the people of Okinawa.

I witnessed overwhelming local opposition to this base. Indeed, Okinawans’ profound dismay is evident in everything from political campaigns to daily protests at the construction site.

That’s no surprise. The dugong is more than a cultural landmark for the indigenous culture of Okinawa, which was originally an independent kingdom called Ryukyu.

This gentle marine mammal — reputed to bring friendly warnings about tsunamis — is also deeply beloved by ordinary Okinawans as a symbol of everything that sets this island apart from mainland Japan.

Our Okinawan co-plaintiffs know that experts believe this base could be the last straw for the dugong. In 1997, there were an estimated 50 Okinawa dugongs left. There are now likely far fewer, and the new runways would shatter one of their final refuges.

But the dugong isn’t the only factor. When it comes to America’s military presence in Asia, the people of Okinawa already shoulder a massive and disproportionate burden. The U.S. military occupies 20 percent of this small island.

Controversy over American bases has dominated Okinawan politics for years, and it’s intensified by incidents like the death last month of an elderly civilian killed in a drunk-driving accident involving a U.S. Marine.

The Trump administration may believe growing concern over North Korea’s missile program can excuse anything, including paving over coral reefs to build this base.

But there are security alternatives that won’t desecrate the dugong and Henoko Bay. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other U.S. senators, for example, have proposed simply relocating Marine aircraft to Kadena Air Base, an existing Air Force facility.

To many Okinawans, the U.S. military’s decision to ignore such alternatives and crush this crucial sanctuary for the dugong feels like an assault on their culture.

The Department of Defense has to stop charging forward on this deeply destructive project. There’s still time to save the dugong — and our relationship with the people of Okinawa.

More information: Click Here


Sea wrack removal 'one-off'

15 December 2017, The West Australian (Australia)

The Department of Transport has shut down suggestions to change the management plan for Port Geographe’s sea wrack build-up, despite residents calling for “trigger levels” to be lowered and provisions allowing the City of Busselton to intervene sooner.

About 150 residents descended on the council last week, asking the City to step in, as reported by the Times.
Despite the City conceding its hands were tied because the department was the managing authority, the following day Busselton Mayor Grant Henley confirmed the department would permit the City to proceed with “limited remediation on the beach on the basis of public safety concerns”. However, City chief executive Mike Archer told the Times any future work remained “incumbent on the managing authority” and the remediation works were very much a “one-off”.
The Times queried the department on whether the Environmental Monitoring and Management Program could be changed, but was told the department was “satisfied” with current thresholds and undertaking work outside of the EMMP guidelines and below the trigger levels “would involve expense that is not within DoT’s approved decision making framework”.
Resident representative Peter Maccora said the City had been put in a “difficult position” by the department, and the EMMP should be amended to allow the City to step in without explicit permission to prevent a similarly rushed response.

“The City should work on behalf of residents, but they have to be careful with the work they undertake because if seagrass was to get into the marina, for example, they’d be held liable,” he said.

Mr Maccora said the trigger levels dictating when the department would step in were too high and the suggestions made during the community consultation period should have been considered.

Trigger levels are currently set at 60,000cum and the department estimates seagrass levels on the western beach at 16,000cum.

However, Vasse MLA Libby Mettam last week said an independent earthmover’s estimate was more than double the department’s.

Despite the disparity, residents have repeatedly flagged health and safety concerns with the Times.
Mr Maccora said 60,000cum was very high and it “would be four times what’s currently sitting on that beach if we’re to believe the measurements given to us by the department”.

The department’s $28.15 million dollar beach reconfiguration in 2015 was expected to lessen the build-up, but the Times understands it might be years before the benefits are felt.

More information: Click Here



Pa. scientists help 10 stranded manatees in unprecedented rescue operation

12 December 2017, (USA)

Two experts from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium joined the Florida-based Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership to rescue 10 stranded manatees in the Cooper River of Charleston, South Carolina, between Nov. 28 and 30. Photo Credit SeaWorld Orlando

Two Pittsburgh scientists helped rescue 10 manatees stranded in Charleston, South Carolina, as the waters around them grew cold and prevented safe migration south.

The slow-moving herbivores regularly migrate up the coast during summer, eating away at sea grass outside of their native Florida habitat. Manatees have a small range of temperatures in which they can survive: if the water is warmer than the low-80s, they will overheat; if it is colder than about 68 degrees, vital functions like heart rate and breathing become strained.

So when cold weather arrived at the end of November, some of those migratory manatees found refuge near the KapStone Paper Mill, as its equipment produced artificially warm waters in a tributary off the Cooper River in Charleston. The mill was scheduled to go offline for routine maintenance, so rescuers had to act promptly.

"We wanted to get down there ahead of any major issues and cause any further harm," said Joe Gaspard, director of conservation and science at Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, who assisted with the operation alongside the zoo's aquatic life curator Paul Moylett. They spent Nov. 28-30 rescuing manatees with other scientists from southern states and the federal government.

"There was a likelihood that it we did wait too long, we wouldn't have gotten 10," Gaspard added. "I'm confident we probably would have seen the most robust and resilient, but by that time they would probably be pretty far along in the cold stress syndrome process."

Such a rescue is unprecedented. In the past two years, rescuers transported five manatees from South Carolina for re-release in warmer waters, but fewer than one rescue per year was standard in decades past.

The number of mammals rescued from the Cooper River is even more impressive considering its success rate.

"I don't know of any other operation that has rescued 10 manatees at one time for relocation and they all--or 90 percent of them--went out," Gaspard said.

One of the 10 rescued manatees was kept for observation. All others were released in Florida just hours after they were caught in nets. Crews worked for three days using nets to capture the large marine mammals, hoisting them onto boats and then transporting them in trucks to be released in Brevard, Florida.

The semi-social animals tend to congregate based on favorable environmental conditions; they do not move in packs like other species. Researchers banded some of the recent rescues to learn more about their movements and maybe glean insight as to what draws manatees to different areas. Such data could help conservation efforts in the future.

Gaspard has about 16 years experience with manatees from his previous role at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida. That experience and drive led to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium joining the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership last year, even though the zoo does not have manatees on exhibit.

Once the Fish and Wildlife Service was notified about the problem in Charleston, a rescue team came together. That included regional experts from SeaWorld Orlando, Florida Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the Sea to Shore Alliance and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, as well as two men from Pittsburgh.

"We get some looks sometimes when you go to some of these rescues or health assessments and everything else," he said. "They see a big Pittsburgh logo and say 'What the hell is Pittsburgh doing here?' Then they hear who we are."

The operation included boat teams, dock teams, transport teams and relay teams in Jacksonville, where marine biologists performed full health assessments on the manatees before they continued 2 more hours on the road to a release point halfway down the eastern coast of Florida.

It took a relatively small but experienced team to get the animals out of the water, into a truck and back to favorable waters all within the same day.

The biggest rescued manatee weighed about 1,500 pounds. And though the group prioritized safety, it was impossible to avoid bruises and wounds in the process of moving such large creatures.

"We got beat up pretty good. I had wounds all up and down my body. Aleve was definitely passed around with the after-hours beer," he said. "But this is why we got into this world, so to speak. This fits right in with our mission: saving wildlife, saving the natural world, preserving and conservation. It just so happened we had the experience and were able to answer the call."

More information: Click Here


Habitat protection scores 'fish friendly' award for marina

11 December 2017, Mornington Peninsula News (Australia)

THE Blairgowrie marina is now able to add “fish friendly” to its description. Although “friendly” may not be the description used by a fish hooked within the marina, it is a title bestowed on the Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron-owned marina for “protection and enhancement of marine habitat”.

Blairgowrie is the first Victorian marina to get the Marina Industries Association accreditation and the 33rd in the Asia Pacific region.

This latest recognition follows Blairgowrie being recognised as an international clean marina in late 2016.

At Blairgowrie attention has been given to the monitoring and recording of marine species. “Melbourne University marine biology students regularly visit the marina to check field plates deployed on the marina arm. Divers also regularly check for any signs of marina pest in the waters around the marina,” general manager Ross Kilborn said.

“The recent replacement of some nearby moorings with seagrass-friendly installations has also resulted in better seagrass coverage around and in the marina.”

Mr Kilborn said the award was “important recognition” of the yacht squadron’s commitment to “enhancing the very rich marine environment of southern Port Phillip”.

Yacht squadron commodore Al Singh said the southern end of the bay had one of the “richest marine environments on the Victorian coast”.

“[The marina] is a recognised dive site by the Victorian diving community and we are very pleased to receive this recognition of the enhancement our marina has achieved,” he said.

The Marina Industry Association says it “developed” the Fish Friendly Marinas award “to inform marina managers on how to maximise the benefits for fish and recognise those operators actively working to improve fish habitat”.

More information: Click Here


Lake O discharges decimating precious seagrass

09 December 2017, wflx (USA)

Since Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has discharged more than 100 billion gallons of water in the St. Lucie Estuary.

While we did not see any algae blooms, the releases are destroying a crucial plant.

At Stuart Causeway, fisherman John Webster sees it everyday.

"Ruin the fish," said Webster.

Brown-murky water that makes it harder to fish.

Mark Perry With Florida's Oceanographic Society says the murky water is preventing sunlight from getting to the sea grass which kills the plants.

Sea grass is food and habitat for a number of species.

"Inside the St. Lucie Inlet we've gone from about 400 acres to about 200 acres," said Perry.

That's bad news for the Treasure Coast.

"Sport-fishing, food fish, all of those things are vital to the economy," Perry.

He's working to replenish the sea grass as soon as possible.

More information: Click Here

Related article: Click Here



Water warming causes seagrass bed bloom of Posidonia oceanica

08 December 2017, FIS

Coral reefs, seagrass meadows and mangrove forests work together to make the Coral Triangle of Indonesia a hotspot for marine biodiversity. The system supports valuable fisheries and endangered species and helps protect shorelines. But it is in global decline due to threats from coastal development, destructive fishing practices and climate change.

A UC Davis study published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that in the case of seagrasses, biodiversity is not only a goal, but also a means for restoration of this important ecosystem.

The Coral Triangle is home to about 15 species of seagrasses, more than almost anywhere else on Earth. Previous seagrass restoration efforts have primarily focused on a single species.
For this study, the scientists transplanted six common seagrass species at four species-richness levels: monocultures, two, four, and five species. They analyzed how well the initial transplants survived and their rate of expansion or contraction for more than a year. The results showed that planting mixtures of diverse seagrass species improved their overall survival and growth.

"Seagrass beds are important habitats for fisheries species, for protecting shorelines from storm damage, and they provide livelihoods for many millions of humans around the world," said Susan Williams, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology and the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. "Seagrass habitat is being lost at a rate of a football field's area every half-hour, which threatens these important functions. We demonstrated we could improve seagrass restoration success by planting a mix of species, and not just a single species, which has been the common restoration practice in warm regions such as Florida, Texas, and also in Indonesia, where we performed the experiment."

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