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

 

 

 

 

 

Don't drop anchor on eelgrass meadows

29 March 2018, Victoria News (Canada)

Seagrass meadows are all around the Saanich Peninsula, and they teem with all sorts of life, but in a new study, scientists found that boat traffic can be harmful to their biodiversity.

Josie Iacarella — a UVic post-doctoral fellow — and Julia Baum, a biology professor, led a collaboration between government, NGOs, and academics to examine 89 seagrass meadows on the Pacific Coast, including meadows in Saanich Inlet, Victoria Harbour and Sooke Harbour.

In an interview with the PNR, Iacarella said Parks Canada has done fish surveys for 12 years in the park reserves, so she wanted to expand that research. Because there were so many sample sites, the final study required nine teams to collect data, comprised of park staff and other scientists who are co-authors of the study.

As part of their research, scientists used beach seines (large C-shaped nets). They would get in their waders and hold the net in the water, close it slowly, and count and record the species that are caught while on a boat (they are released right away). Quadrat sampling is also used.

Iacarella said seagrass meadows are full of life because they provide refuge for fish. Lots of epiphytes like algae grow on the surface of the grass, feeding the invertebrates that eventually feed the fish.

Seagrass also grows in estuaries, so when salmon are coming as juveniles, they will stay in seagrass meadows to hide from predators and adjust to the salinity. As they grow larger, they move out of the meadows.

When seagrass meadows are located away from docks and places of human activity, scientists found a greater diversity of species, including gunnel fish and pipefish (a keystone, or important, species for its ecosystem). Both fish are long and slender, so they swim slowly. They also tend to remain close to their eggs to guard them, so they are less likely to escape when a propeller is nearby.

In areas with higher levels of human activity, only hardier species can be found like the threespine stickleback. Propeller wash can rip up grass or stir up sediment, creating murky conditions which make it hard for fish to find food.

Anchoring kills eelgrass, creating patchy habitats and fewer places for fish to live in.

With just a handful of dominant species that can adapt to human activity, the community might be less resilient in the face of change, said Iacarella.

In a worst-case scenario, there could be ecosystem collapse.

“Boaters can and should avoid driving over seagrass meadows, they shouldn’t anchor in them for sure,” said Iacarella.

“Having a propeller down in those meadows is pretty disruptive. You can often, especially on a clear day, see the meadows when driving in shallow areas, so those areas should be avoided to protect those spaces.”

“If we want to protect the range of biodiversity along the coast, we need to start reducing our activity in these areas,” said Iacarella.

More information: Click Here



 

Nutrient reductions credited for resurgence in Bay's underwater grasses

29 March 2018, The Chesapeake Bay Journal (USA)

Nutrient reductions over the last 30 years are the primary factor behind the resurgence of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake — something that scientists cite in a new study as tangible evidence that efforts to improve Bay water quality are paying off.

Seagrass beds are in decline globally, but the Chesapeake Bay is one of the few places — and the largest example — where that trend has been successfully reversed, according to an article that published in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That’s good news for the Bay as underwater grasses provide important habitat for fish, crabs and waterfowl. The scientists who led the study also said that the recovery likely foreshadows a broader comeback in the estuary’s health.

“We are thinking of the resurgence of the grasses as being the harbinger of things to come,” said Bill Dennison, vice president for science applications at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and a co-author of the study. “We are using them now as an early signal for the restoration of the Bay.”

The study, built upon an analysis of a wide variety of data collected over three decades, found that a 23 percent decline in nitrogen concentrations in the Bay and an 8 percent decline in phosphorus were the primary factors behind a nearly threefold increase in underwater grasses since 1984.

Like all plants, underwater grasses require sunlight to survive, and scientists have long known that algae blooms and sediment in the water can block light from reaching plants, causing them to die.

But the study found that nutrients play a “dominant role” in causing the loss of grass beds because they not only spur algae blooms, but also promote epiphytic algae growth directly on the plants. That epiphytic growth, the study found, was three times more harmful to plants than the indirect effects of phytoplankton blooms in the water column.

“We show that nutrients are actually the primary control over these underwater grasses,” said Jonathan Lefcheck, the lead author of the report, who conducted this work while a post-doctoral student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, but now works at the Bigelow Institute of Marine Science in Maine.

The amount of underwater grasses still fluctuates from year to year, in large part because of weather — rainy years drive more water-fouling nutrients into the water than dry ones. Nonetheless, while the amount of grasses has varied, their overall acreage has increased over time, from a low of 38,229 acres in 1984 to a high of 97,400 acres mapped in 2016.

“Beyond the noise of inter-annual variability, we’ve got the right trajectory, and we can link it to specifically the nutrient reductions,” Dennison said.

While nutrients are the driving force, other factors still play a role. Areas with several underwater grass species do better over time than those with a single species, the study found.

The importance of diversity may explain, in part, why grass bed recovery in high-salinity areas, which has always been dominated by a single species — eelgrass — has been more muted than in other parts of the Bay.

It also offers a clue as to how to maintain comebacks in mid-salinity parts of the Bay, where widgeon grass dominates but its abundance often fluctuates greatly from year to year. The researchers said that Bay restoration efforts — which now focus only on water quality — should put more focus on restoring a mix of species in mid-salinity areas.

“When we look at those beds historically, we know diversity was important,” said Bob Orth, also of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who co-authored the study and has overseen the Bay’s annual underwater grass survey since its inception. “When you add one species, it has a significant effect on the stability of the meadow.”

The study has 14 co-authors representing universities and agencies from around the Bay region and the country. This team met five times over the course of two years in Annapolis digging deep into the data. They compiled extensive datasets about land use, manure and fertilizer applications, wastewater treatment plant discharges and water quality, as well as the abundance, diversity and density of grass beds.

Using sophisticated new analytical techniques unavailable just a few years ago to analyze that data, the scientists were able to draw conclusions that sometimes challenged their assumptions about factors affecting the grasses.

For instance, while wastewater treatment discharges may be locally important for grass beds, actions on the landscape — such as changes in land use or fertilizer applications on farms — were more important to larger trends in grass bed acreage.

Similarly, while sediment in the water column may be locally important, it was less important than nutrients in Baywide underwater grass abundance.

“With this multi-author, multi-partner synthesis type of science, you can bring in different types of expertise,” said Jennifer Keisman, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and co-author of the study. “It is really important.”

Further analyzing that data, the authors said, could provide new insights for managers and promote an additional comeback of grass beds. “This is not the end, but the end of the beginning for all of this work,” Orth said.

The Chesapeake is still far short of the goal to restore 185,000 acres of underwater grasses, but it is doing better than any other place on the planet, the article said.

Seagrasses have declined globally by 29 percent, largely because of nutrient and sediment runoff. While they have come back in places such as Tampa Bay and the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands, researchers found that the Chesapeake has seen a “greater total and proportional recovery.”

A continued comeback would be good news for the Bay. Grass beds are a critical component of its ecosystem. They pump oxygen into the water, trap sediments, buffer shorelines from wave action, provide food for waterfowl and shelter for fish and blue crabs.

That trajectory is likely to continue, at least for now. Orth said a preliminary review of data from last year suggests that the Bay’s underwater grasses will likely set yet another record.

More information: Click Here



 

Heat wave drives massive carbon loss at World Heritage site

28 March 2018, Phys.Org (Australia)

 

FIU marine scientist James Fourqurean collects soil samples from a seagrass bed in Shark Bay, Australia in 2011. PHOTO CREDIT: James Fourqurean, FIU

Seagrasses in Shark Bay, Australia released massive amounts of carbon dioxide after a devastating heat wave killed them, according to a new study.

More than 22 percent of Shark Bay's seagrasses died when water temperatures warmed as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for more than two months in 2011. Up to 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide were released—the equivalent of what is released annually by 800,000 homes or 1.6 million cars. Healthy seagrass meadows act as giant reservoirs that store carbon in their soils, leaves and other organic matter.

"As the Earth's climate changes, we expect to see more and more intense heat waves," said James Fourqurean, director of FIU's Center for Coastal Oceans Research and co-author of the study. "This release of carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide will only cause further heating of the atmosphere, heating of the oceans and climate change."

Although the devastating temperatures warmed Australia's waters nearly seven years ago, its full effects have yet to be seen. The scientists estimate the dead seagrasses could release up to 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the 40 years following the extreme weather event. If seagrass meadows stay intact, they can store carbon for thousands of years. Once killed, they release the stored carbon into the atmosphere as harmful carbon dioxide. A meadow's ability to recover is limited and slow, often requiring the removal of dead seagrass and repopulation with the seeds of more resilient types of seagrass.

Shark Bay has the largest carbon stores in the world with nearly 2,000 square miles of seagrass meadows. It was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1991. The Shark Bay Marine Reserves Management Plan protects the ecosystem against local threats, including agricultural and industrial pollution, overfishing and tourism. The plan, however, does not address global threats. Strategies are needed to address the impacts of heat waves, extreme weather events and climate change, which scientists said are difficult to plan for and manage.

"This work shows that even the seemingly most isolated, pristine marine ecosystems are threatened by climate change," Fourqurean said. "There truly are no pristine ecosystems on the planet that aren't feeling the effects of human activity. I hope our work makes it clear the consequences of environmental degradation can be felt everywhere around the globe."

Fourqurean leads FIU's Seagrass Ecosystems Research Lab which conducts research to inform scientists, decision-makers and the public about the important benefits seagrass ecosystems provide to people, animals and the environment. FIU has a long history of marine sciences research in Shark Bay, including estimating the amount of carbon stored in its seagrass ecosystems, the effects of the heatwave on endangered sea turtles, and seagrass recovery from the heatwave. Fourqurean has made presentations worldwide and testified before the European Union championing Blue Carbon, a global initiative that allows regulated sources to buy credits for greenhouse emissions, helping restore and preserve seagrasses for climate change mitigation.

The research was a collaboration with universities in Australia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Spain. It was led by Ariane Arias Ortiz from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. Fourqurean contributed and analyzed data. He was supported by the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research (FCE-LTER) Program. Housed at FIU and funded by the National Science Foundation, the FCE-LTER Program studies how water, climate and people interact to impact the Everglades.

More information: Click Here


 

Sea turtles use flippers to manipulate food

28 March 2018, Science Daily

 

A green turtle swiping the stinging jellyfish (Cyanea barkeri) in the water column at Hook Island, Queensland, Australia, taken June 2017. PHOTO CREDIT: Copyright Fujii et al. shared under Creative Commons CC BY

Sea turtles use their flippers to handle prey despite the limbs being evolutionarily designed for locomotion, a discovery by Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers published today in PeerJ.

The in-depth examination of the phenomenon -- Limb-use By Foraging Sea Turtles, an Evolutionary Perspective -- by authors Jessica Fujii and Dr. Kyle Van Houtan and others reveals a behavior thought to be less likely in marine tetrapods is actually widespread and that this type of exaptation of flippers may have been occurring 70 million years earlier than previously thought.

"Sea turtles don't have a developed frontal cortex, independent articulating digits or any social learning," says Van Houtan, Director of Science at Monterey Bay Aquarium. "And yet here we have them 'licking their fingers' just like a kid who does have all those tools. It shows an important aspect of evolution -- that opportunities can shape adaptations."

Lead author Jessica Fujii is part of the Aquarium's sea otter research team where she specializes in ecomorphology -- the intersection of evolution, behavior and body form. Fujii's expertise in sea otter foraging and tool use behavior has influenced her recent examination of sea turtles and how they have evolved to use their limbs in novel ways.

Analysis by Fujii and Van Houtan using crowd-sourced photos and videos finds widespread examples of behaviors such as a green turtle holding a jelly, a loggerhead rolling a scallop on the seafloor and a hawksbill pushing against a reef for leverage to rip an anemone loose.

Similar behaviors have been documented in marine mammals from walruses to seals to manatees -- but not in sea turtles. The paper shows that sea turtles are similar to the other groups in that flippers are used for a variety of foraging tasks (holding, bracing, corralling).

"Sea turtles' limbs have evolved mostly for locomotion, not for manipulating prey," Fujii says. "But that they're doing it anyway suggests that, even if it's not the most efficient or effective way, it's better than not using them at all."

The finding came as a surprise to the authors, given sea turtles' ancient lineage and the fact that the reptiles are considered to have simple brains and simple flippers. The results also offer an insight into the evolution of four-limbed ocean creatures that raises questions about which traits are learned and which are hardwired.

"We expect these things to happen with a highly intelligent, adaptive social animal," Van Houtan says. "With sea turtles, it's different; they never meet their parents," Kyle says. "They're never trained to forage by their mom. It's amazing that they're figuring out how to do this without any apprenticing, and with flippers that aren't well adapted for these tasks."

The study may also help inform the aquarium's ongoing sea otter research. How developmental biology predisposes animals to adopt dining strategies is of particular interest, given the aquarium's efforts to raise stranded sea otter pups and prepare them for a return to the wild. Rearing and releasing stranded pups contributes to the aquarium's work to recover California's threatened sea otter population.

Before they're released, ecologically naïve pups have to be taught foraging behaviors, be it for crabs or abalone, by adult female sea otters at the aquarium, which serve as surrogate mothers to the pups.

"What we're trying to understand is how to have the best sea otter surrogacy program," Kyle says. "This is kind of one end of the spectrum of that -- the opposite end of the spectrum."

More information: Click Here


 

 

Top marine scientists defend attack on Great Barrier Reef research

29 March 2018, The Guardian (Australia)

Scientists at Australia’s leading marine science agency say an attack on the integrity of their research into threats to the Great Barrier Reef was flawed and based on “misinterpretation” and “selective use of data”.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (Aims) researchers were responding to accusations made in November 2017 in a journal Marine Pollution Bulletin that claimed much of their work “should be viewed with some doubt”.

In November Dr Piers Larcombe, an industry consultant affiliated with the University of Western Australia, and Prof Peter Ridd, of James Cook University in Queensland, claimed in a “Viewpoint” article that there was a lack of “quality control” in marine science.

The pair claimed to have identified flaws in nine scientific papers published between 2003 and 2013.

But in the response, led by Aims scientist Dr Britta Schaffelke, several of the criticised scientists write: “Given their sincere call to improve quality control processes in science, it is interesting that nowhere in their Viewpoint article do Larcombe and Ridd make it clear to readers that many of their criticisms of the nine GBR [Great Barrier Reef] papers have been raised previously and have been thoroughly addressed by the original authors.”

Schaffelke told Guardian Australia: “We wanted to set the record straight. We have laid out clearly where we disagree and how the initial findings still hold.”

In an emailed response to Guardian Australia, Larcombe and Ridd maintained their concerns and rejected the criticisms. “There is not enough effort to check, test and replicate much of the science upon which we base important public policy decisions. The GBR is just one example of this,” they said.

Larcombe and Ridd had criticised research showing that water quality in the reef, linked to run-off from farms, was having an adverse effect on corals and that, overall, the reef was in a state of decline.

The pair pointed to documented problems in reproducing scientific results in medical and biomedical sciences, and said this issue might exist in marine science. They also said that science backed by industry was more rigorous.

But responding to those claims, Schaffelke writes: “This, however, does not seem supported by the fact that two fields of science where major credibility problems have arisen are medicine and biomedical science, both with a considerable proportion of industry-funded research.”

The criticisms, Schaffelke wrote in the journal, were “based on misinterpretation, selective use of data and over-simplification”.

The article added: “A large body of research on the condition of the GBR by many scientists from various organisations consistently shows that the GBR is under pressure from past and ongoing human activities, that the pressure varies regionally, and that the GBR still retains some level of resilience.”

One of the journal’s chief editors, Dr Pat Hutchings, senior fellow at the Australian Museum Research Institute in Sydney, said Larcombe and Ridd would be offered the chance to write a final response to the Aims scientists in the journal, which the pair said they would take up.

Ridd is currently suing James Cook University after the Townsville-based institution accused him of serious misconduct over similar public attacks on Aims research and other work carried out at the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, also based at the university.

Ridd declined to comment on the status of his court action against JCU, except to say the case was “proceeding”.

According to documents published on a blog maintained by Ridd, the university had censured Ridd and then, later, said he had broken the university’s code of conduct.

Ridd had given an interview to Sky News program Jones and Co to promote a book published by the Institute of Public Affairs with contributions from several climate science deniers. Ridd had written a chapter, again claiming flaws in reef science.

Ridd’s claims about marine science and his legal action have been cheered in conservative media circles, including the far-right Breitbart. Ridd has written articles that have appeared on Fox News and in News Corp Australia outlets.

Canegrowers- a group representing the sugar cane industry in Queensland – has also highlighted Ridd’s work. In December 2017, one Canegrowers manager sent Ridd’s paper to several stakeholders, saying they should “feel free to distribute the paper widely”.

In a statement to Guardian Australia, a spokesperson clarified that Canegrowers “has made no allegations or claims about the science called into question by Peter Ridd”.

The Canegrowers chief executive, Dan Galligan, said the paper from Aims “offers a scientific view of the rigour around the science that was called into question in November”.

“Pleasingly, it acknowledges that everyone would like to see greater rigour and assurance in the science – on that, there appears to be agreement from all parties in this point,” Galligan said.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Miami Beach pollution is creating a silent tide in our Biscayne Bay

29 March 2018, Miami's Community Newspapers (USA)

Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring more than 56 years ago. In this landmark work of environmental writing, she described how the use of chemicals by farmers, including DDT, had the consequence of wiping out the population of birds. And because no species exists entirely by itself, the death of birds and a spring devoid of birdsong, meant the coming destruction of our environment.

Miami Beach has brought a silent tide to Biscayne Bay and the consequences for sea life in South Florida are just as dire as those described by Carson in 1962.

Only the most pig-headed, obtuse, or foolishly blind would deny the effects of global warming. Objective measurements show that our global temperatures have been ratcheting consistently upward. Each new year brings an all-new record as the hottest ever on the books.

It only makes sense. Ice-core measurements show that carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, commonly called “greenhouse gasses,” have steadily increased since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th Century.

Low-lying areas like Miami Beach are on the front line of sea-level rise and climate change. But it’s the way that Miami Beach reacted to it that is causing more problems than it’s fixing.

Former Miami Beach Mayor and current gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine came into office with the goal of saving us all from the flooding that was inundating his island city. Always more concerned with doing “something” than doing “something right,” Levine proposed a program of expensive pumps to move flood waters out into the ocean and Biscayne Bay.

The Miami Beach City Commission bought into his ill-conceived plan. How ill conceived? Well, for one – and get ready, it’s a big one – the city failed to account for the possibility that this network of electric pumps might lose power in the event of storm. Tropical Storm Emily showed just how short-sighted Levine was. Because, when the city lost power, the pumps stopped working. And the water backed up into homes and businesses.

But even when the pumps are working, they cause problems that our environment may never recover from.

In his rush to protecting primarily the areas where Levine owned property, such as his business office and other parcels, he built the pumping system without first getting clearance from the County’s Department of Environmental Management. He built it so that all surface water, and all the contaminants found on city streets, like automotive oil and human and animal waste, would be flushed out to sea.

So it turns out that Levine has turned our beloved Biscayne Bay into a big toilet. And now all of that pollution is killing off vital sea grasses in Biscayne Bay, the very sea grass beds that serve as nurseries for small marine animals and fish.

This begs the question, what will become of the fishing business here, which is such an important part of our economy? What will become of this abundant local food source and major recreational attraction that draws so many tourists to South Florida?

The answer is, the death of the bay has the potential to kill it all. And Phil didn’t care. He wanted to be seen as a man of action. He knew he needed captivating film clips and sincere sound bites for his statewide election campaign.

The annoying thing is that the Miami Beach Commission, with Levine gone, has not even taken meaningful steps to stop the pumping of dirty surface water into the bay and the Atlantic.

Miami Beach’s new mayor, Dan Gelber, likes to portray himself as an open and transparent crusader. But on the issue of doing something about the rivers of filthy street waters, Gelber has remained strangely silent.

Biscayne Bay isn’t dead – yet. The City of Miami Beach, with its plumes of black water hasn’t killed it yet.

But the day may soon come when spring will find the bay still and silent, the grasses gone, its fragile ecosystem murdered. If not premeditated, then clearly the waters around us will be victims of manslaughter. And if that day comes, we will have to hold both Phil Levine and Dan Gelber accountable, the former for doing without thinking and the latter for thinking without doing.

More information: Click Here



 

Human activity causes fish diversity to drop in seagrass meadows

26 March 2018, Oak Bay News (Canada)

 

Influence of human disturbance on surveyed fish at 89 seagrass sites in British Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Hakai Institute)

A recent study out of the University of Victoria confirms that human activity around seagrass meadows reduces the diversity of the fish in the area.

Coastal seagrass meadows are important nursery grounds for commercial and ecologically significant fish species, however they have been in steep decline globally – seven per cent a year –since 1990.

UVic post-doctoral fellow Josie Iacarella and biology professor Julia Baum led the effort to examine 89 seagrass meadows across Canada’s Pacific Coast, including meadows in Saanich Inlet, Victoria Harbour and Sooke Harbour. The study found that while hardy species like the threespine stickleback dominated in high-disturbance areas, sensitive rockfish species and slow-swimming egg-guarders, such as pipefish and gunnel fish, were more likely to be found in areas with less human disturbance.

“We discovered that the number of different fish species that thrive across disturbed areas is reduced,” says Iacarella. “Understanding how human disturbance affects fish communities will inform our conservation efforts of seagrass meadows.”

The paper, “Anthropogenic disturbance homogenizes seagrass fish communities,” has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Global Change Biology.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Threatened blue carbon ecosystems store carbon 40 times faster than forests

26 March 2018, ABC Online (Australia)

 

The oxygen-poor soil of seagrass meadows prevents microbes from decomposing the stored carbon and producing CO2. PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Rule)

They can stink like fish and rotten eggs, breed swarms of mosquitos and lack the glamour of coral reefs. But mangroves, with other coastal habitats, are vitally important to our climate — and they're under threat.

In just the past decade, scientists have discovered that some of our underappreciated coastal habitats — called "blue carbon ecosystems" — play a huge role in tackling CO2 emissions.

But human activities such as burning fossil fuels and coastal development have already caused half of them to disappear.

"They're like the armpits of our coastline, but they are really important," said Deakin University marine ecologist Peter Macreadie.

What is blue carbon?
Blue carbon coastal ecosystems — such as mangroves, seagrass meadows and tidal wetlands — are named for their place at the boundary between land and sea, and their unmatched ability to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it in the ground below.

This process is called carbon sequestration.

It was intense carbon sequestration by ancient forests and algae millions of years ago that helped create the very deposits of coal and oil we tap into for fossil fuels today.

Nearby on the ecology colour palette are the better-known green carbon systems of trees and forests. While important, they aren't nearly as efficient at storing carbon as their blue counterparts.

"We know that forests are pretty good at [carbon sequestration], but their carbon stores are bound to the lifetime of the trees, for only 100 or so years, and then it is released back into the atmosphere," Dr Macreadie said.

As well as being a temporary carbon store, trees can only soak up so much carbon before they become "saturated".

Blue carbon ecosystems, on the other hand, can store more carbon for longer — thousands of years — and at a far quicker rate.

"These blue carbon ecosystems store carbon around 40 times faster than green carbon ecosystems," Dr Macreadie said.

"So you need a lot more green carbon habitat to do the same amount of carbon offsetting."

Conservation gets weird
Some ecologists are worried that these ecosystems don't receive the attention they deserve and are now being lost faster than we can conserve them.

Dr Macreadie estimated that about half of the world's blue carbon ecosystems have already disappeared, thanks to human activities.

Seagrass meadows have shrunk at a rate of 1 per cent every year since the start of the 20th century.

In 2016 there was extensive die-back of mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria, but it coincided with the mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, which received more attention.

To spur people into action to protect these "ugly duckling" habitats, Dr Macreadie and his team are getting creative with tea bags.

Around the world, citizen scientists have been burying tea bags in the soil of blue carbon ecosystems to find out how well the area stores carbon.

The tea leaves inside your everyday tea bag are carbon-based, which makes them a handy addition to the team's experimental toolkit.

If, after a few months of being buried in mud, the tea leaves are still there, then that might be a good spot for locking away carbon.

But if you dig the tea bags back up and the tea leaves have gone, it means the carbon has decomposed — indicating that area's not capable of carbon storage.

The project is uncovering how carbon storage ability varies even within blue carbon ecosystems.

Ticking carbon bombs: sinks become sources

 

We hear a lot about the amount of carbon in our atmosphere increasing, but what does that mean? Bernie Hobbs explains the basics.

Coastal development is the major danger to blue carbon habitats, and is now raising the issue that stored carbon will be emitted as CO2 back into the atmosphere.

"The really big threat is that the damaged ecosystems will release their ancient carbon stores," Dr Macreadie said.

"That's where you get the really big numbers."

An international team this week reported that a marine heatwave off Western Australia in 2010-11 that damaged seagrass meadows may have released of millions of tonnes of ancient carbon stores back into the atmosphere as CO2.

Oscar Serrano, a marine ecologist at Edith Cowan University involved in the research, said that the Shark Bay seagrass meadows accumulated around 144 million tonnes of carbon over the past 4,000 years.

"We estimated that around 1,000 square kilometres of seagrass was lost due to the heatwave, which could have released between 2 and 9 million tonnes of CO2," Dr Serrano said.

It's a climate change double-whammy; losing carbon sequestration habitat while adding to our CO2 emissions at the same time.

However, scientists acknowledge that measuring CO2 emissions from blue carbon habitat loss is very challenging.

"We have to base our estimates on a number of assumptions, and the main uncertainty is the fate of the carbon stored in the system," Dr Serrano said.

"It's very hard to study mainly because of the time it takes for stored carbon to be converted back to CO2, and because it's such a complex system."

Dr Macreadie has been studying blue carbon ecosystems since the term was first coined around 9 years ago.

The field has grown exponentially since, but there's plenty more to discover about our coastal armpits, the benefits they provide and how to make sure they keep squirrelling away CO2.

"If we're going to keep burning fossil fuels, we need to find ways to pay for our carbon sins," he said.

"We need people to recognise the importance of these ecosystems and the weird things they do for us, and how they can form a sort of green infrastructure along our coasts."

More information: Click Here



 

The Ocean Has Released an Insane Amount of CO2, And No One Even Noticed

24 March 2018, ScienceAlert (Australia)

Our planet's climate is built on a whole host of interlinked chemical reactions and counter-reactions, and we just learned about another: an underwater heatwave has triggered a worryingly huge release of CO2 from Amphibolis antarctica seagrass off north-western Australia.

Vast tracts of these flowering marine plants were killed by the stress of living in waters that were 2-4 degrees Celsius (3.6-7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal back in the summer of 2010-2011, researchers have found.

More than a third of the seagrass meadows were potentially affected. And no one really noticed.

And the findings have very real implications for the kind of self-perpetuating heat rises we could be in for, say the international team of researchers, as too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere warms the planet and leads to the release of even more greenhouse gases.

Losing seagrass is a double whammy for our environment's health – not only do we lose the plant's ability to capture and store CO2, all the CO2 that's already being stored gets released back out into the ecosystem.

"This is significant, as seagrass meadows are CO2 sinks, known as Blue Carbon ecosystems," says one of the team, Pere Masqué from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) in Spain.

"They take up and store carbon dioxide in their soils and biomass through biosequestration. The carbon that is locked in the soils is potentially there for millennia if seagrass ecosystems remain intact."

The rise in temperatures in 2010 through to 2011 put paid to that.

The new study estimates some 1,000 square kilometres (386 square miles) of seagrass meadows could have been wiped out in the years up to 2014.

Samples from 50 different sites and soil modelling calculations were used to estimate how much seagrass disappeared.

And what seagrass remained was sparser – the researchers logged a drop in the seagrass cover from 72 percent, which was classified as 'dense', in 2002 to a 'sparse' 46 percent in 2014.

As oxygen penetrates the layers of the dead seagrass, the chemical mix of bacteria changes, releasing carbon that is otherwise stored in sediment.

In total that would've equated to the release of around 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. That's about the same as you would get from 1.6 million cars driving around for a year.

"It's a carbon bomb," one of the team, Gary Kendrick from the University of Western Australia, told Michael Slezak at The Guardian. "And it's one that has gone off without documentation."

"If we're not counting this carbon, then we're underestimating our footprint."

The Shark Bay region we're talking about is one of the largest remaining seagrass ecosystems on Earth – about 1.3 percent of all the CO2 stored by seagrass across the world is stored here.

Coastal development, poor quality water, and even anchors from boats can also damage the ability of the seagrass to sequester carbon.

It's a bleak picture: seagrass meadows can be restored, but it takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money.

Plans are now underway to work out how to help the area recover, perhaps by removing dead seagrass (which can hamper regrowth) and planting new seedlings.

Even so, it's important to emphasise the urgency in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stopping adverse feedback loops like this from happening, say the researchers – otherwise dying seagrass will be giving up more CO2 than healthy seagrass can take back.

"With climate change forecast to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, the permanence of these carbon stores is compromised," says one of the team, Ariane Arias-Ortiz from ICTA-UAB.

The research has been published in Nature Climate Change.

More information: Click Here



 

UF/IFAS to Help Restore Seagrass in Citrus and Hernando Counties

21 March 2018, Newswise (press release)

Statia's seagrass swept away by two hurricanes
The Daily Herald (press release) (Sint Eustatius)

Seagrasses in the shallow coastal waters of St. Eustatius perform a vital role in the island’s marine ecosystems; however, visitors to the Science Café have learned that the destructive sea currents caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria have dealt a great blow to the native seagrass of Statia and possibly to its future.

“We used to have two species of seagrass on Statia – the native Syringodium and the invasive Halophila,” announced marine researcher of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research NIOZ Rebecca James. “Whereas Halophila has made a comeback, we have no way of knowing if Syringodium will return.”

For the last 12 months, James has dived and snorkelled in the waters around Statia, Bonaire and St. Maarten. Her scientific curiosity for these marine meadows is not misplaced.

“Seagrass is of particular value to the aquatic health of life beneath Statia’s waters,” she told her audience. “They protect the shoreline by attenuating strong waves, as well as stabilizing sediment. This prevents erosion. They also provide food for hundreds of species including green turtles, fish, sea urchins and crabs.”

Turtles seem to be particularly fond of Syringodium. “They will eat the invasive seagrass, but prefer the native variety since their thin leaves are full of nutrients,” said James.

However, in the past, the native seagrass was outcompeted by the invasive Halophila that arrived in the Caribbean about 12 years ago. This resilient seagrass originates from the Red Sea and is believed to have been transported through international shipping lanes.

James is uncertain as to whether the native seagrass will return to Statia. Director of Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI) Johan Stapel and seagrass expert is equally unsure.

“Our native seagrass clearly survived the destructive Hurricane Luis in 1995. It is highly efficient at controlling sediment and therefore improving the healthy development of our coral reefs. Various attempts around the world to cultivate and reintroduce Syringodium have so far proved a failure. On Statia, we can only wait and see if it returns.”

More information: Click Here


 

 

FOR THE SAKE OF THE LAKE: Residents want health check

22 March 2018, Clarence Valley Daily Examiner (Australia)

HAYLEY Talbot has seen more of the beauty of the Clarence River than most, solo paddling down it last year from its source to the mouth at Yamba.

But it's what she can't see anymore at the lake on her doorstep that worries her.

Ms Talbot is the face of a video on YouTube produced by environmental scientist Nick O'Brien and group Valley Watch asking for the reasons for the disappearance of the seagrass within Lake Wooloweyah to be a priority in next year's revised management plan.

"The Clarence has given me so much, and I'm so passionate about our river," Ms Talbot said.

"The lake is the lifeblood of our community, it's why we have a little village here, it's something that we all care about preserving and managing it in a sustainable way for our children's children."

In a statement, resident and ValleyWatch member Ros Woodward asked that council uses the total loss of seagrass in Lake Wooloweyah as a trigger to evaluate the health of the lake, identify the reasons behind the loss of the seagrass and assess how the loss of seagrass may impact the greater Clarence Valley area and the economy that relies upon it.

"Seagrass which used to be abundant throughout Lake Wooloweyah has declined rapidly over the last 20 years. The 1999 management plan captured seagrass throughout Lake Wooloweyah, in 2009 it showed that the seagrass had receded to the north eastern corner," she said.

"Recent inspections using boats and drones have been unable to find any seagrass. Seagrass has been referred to as the 'coastal canary', and changes to its distribution signal losses of essential ecosystem services."

It continues that seagrass is essential in keeping the Clarence River healthy and supporting the fish, prawns and crabs which have made Yamba famous.

"Seagrass provides many functions in the marine ecosystem; providing structure, nursery habitat and a food source for many marine species, acting as an enormous source of carbon sequestration, filtering nutrients and acting to structurally stabilise marine environments," she said.

"We believe if seagrass was allowed to return to the Lake Wooloweyah it would have positive environmental and economic flow on effects to the greater Clarence River region."

Clarence Valley Council environment, planning and community director, Des Schroder said people would be able to make submissions for the 2018/19 operational plan when it opens for comment in May.

"We are happy to work with the community on the plan when the time comes," he said.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Men fined $17k over killing of turtles, dugong in Hervey Bay

16 March 2018, Fraser Coast Chronicle (Australia)

TWO men were fined this week after illegally catching and killing two green turtles and a dugong near Hervey Bay in 2016.

Larry Matthew, 50 and Bongie Bowie, 22, both of Innisfail, pleaded guilty in the Innisfail Magistrates Court on Monday to one charge each of taking a protected animal from the Great Sandy Marine Park on October 7, 2016.

The pair were hunting with three other men in the Great Sandy Strait, Fraser Coast, when they were approached by officers from the Department of Environment and Science.

DES representative Peter Snedden told the court that officers found a dugong and two adult green turtles, all of which had been killed and cut up.

"Rangers spoke to a gentleman on the boat, who is not one of the defendants today, who informed the rangers that they were doing an official hunt and that they had permission from local elders to conduct that hunt," he said.

"The problem is that the local Butchulla people that have the traditional hunting rights to that area put in place a moratorium on any hunting four or five years ago.

"When they see people hunting, that raises a red flag that those people are hunting illegally."

Butchulla elder Frances Gala said population concerns for the species meant the Fraser Coast indigenous people did not support the hunting of dugong or green turtles in the region.

"There's not that many of them left," she said.

"We don't touch them."

She said she was concerned that people had been hunting the animals and she hoped the hefty fines would deter anyone from taking the animals.

"We don't bother them. We don't like it," she said.

Ms Gala said she was confident no Butchulla elder would give permission for the animals to be hunted.

The men's solicitor, Chris Blishen, said his clients were "led down the garden path" and believed that they had permission to hunt there.

"They had permission to hunt in another area but not having a GPS, they found themselves in an area where they didn't have permission to hunt," he said.

Mr Blishen said the person who gave permission was from the Torres Strait and was not allowed to give permission to the men to hunt in that particular area.

Both men were fined $7798.50 each for the conservation value of the animals.

Bowie was also fined an additional $500 and Matthew was fined an additional $1000.

No convictions were recorded.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Hernando County: a leader in artificial reef development

16 March 2018, Hernando Sun (USA)

Since 1990 Hernando County has been active in artificial reef development. Funding is provided by a combination of federal, state and local government, as well as private funds. This is done through the Division of Marine Fisheries Management of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The FWC assists in developing these reefs, enhancing existing reefs that are already successful and to monitor and assess artificial reefs. According to Frank Santo, chairman of the Hernando County Port Authority, there has been a a large grassroots effort by Hernando County which has had a huge impact on Hernando County's marine system. These state and federal programs are driven by the recognition of benefits for commercial fishing and tourism. Commercially important fish and sports species are frequently attracted to the artificial reefs for the food source and shelter they provide. As larger fish species migrate through the area in the spring and fall the artificial reefs provide shelter, food and resting areas for such fish as albacore, king fish, Spanish mackerel and cobia. Artificial reefs remain very popular with the fishing public and contribute significantly to local economies.

There are numerous considerations for artificial reef placement. Some individuals may be concerned that artificial reef structures may dislodge and be a detriment to the shore. According to research by Ryan Fikes Staff Scientist, with the Gulf Restoration Campaign National Wildlife Federation in an article in November 2013 titled Artificial Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico: A Review of Gulf State Programs & Key Considerations, artificial reefs need to be placed in clear shallow water with good light. “Water depth at the reef site may critically affect reef material stability and long-term structural integrity” when considering wave conditions. “The reef materials and designs should be properly matched to water depth and predicted wave conditions to ensure their stability. Planning for worst-case storms may need to be considered on sites where movement of materials would be detrimental or hazardous”. The reef material design needs to be matched to the water depth and predicted wave condition to resist breakup, movement or burial. Detailed engineering is important for the success of an artificial reef.

There are few natural reefs in Hernando County and they tend to be over-fished. So artificial reefs allow distribution, growth, and protection of marine life. This relieves the pressure on the natural reefs. Due to the importance of site placement, careful planning and permitting is required as artificial reefs need to be placed near seagrass beds but have to be at least 150 feet away. Hernando County has a rich seagrass bed of 190,000 acres. The bottom is flat and sandy with seagrass interspersed between hard bottom areas. Hernando County seafloor has no structure only flat with occasional holes. Naturally occurring reefs develop over hard, rocky bottoms. Areas between natural reefs are often loose sand that supports marine grasses, such as eelgrass or turtle grass. The seagrass beds support many species and are important in the ecology of adjacent reef systems, providing foraging and breeding sites for reef fish. They provide food, habitat, and nursery areas for numerous vertebrate and invertebrate species. They are the ideal environment for juvenile and small adult fish for escape from larger predators. Many small organisms live in the soft sea bottom like crabs, clams, and starfish for protection from currents. Initial monitoring of new artificial reefs which are placed near seagrass indicate after testing of the first week, there are already juvenile grouper living on the reef.

Much research has been completed internationally in regards to the benefits of artificial reef development. Researchers Gary M. Serviss and Steven Sauers, who were the principal investigators in a detailed research article published in 2003, Sarasota Bay Juvenile Fisheries Habitat Assessment, proved positive impact of these reefs. Although they found the natural reef sites had a higher density of resident and transient species, the artificial sites had a slightly higher mean density of nursery fish. Monitoring indicated that the habitats are doing fairly well when compared to that of the natural habitat types. Their research found that many of the reef-dependent species such as tomtate, gray snapper, and gag grouper were observed and this also held true for the commercially important stone crab. The researchers also found that the diversity of the species tended to increase with the complexity of the material. More crevices provided more safety from predators. Also, the older the artificial reef the higher the diversity of adult fish and fewer juveniles. They found the less uneven surfaces like “concrete block, generally did not provide the number of protected spaces needed for some of the species to successfully habitate. This material type generally had low numbers and low species diversity. However, increasing the complexity of a concrete block pile with the presence of reef balls greatly improved the diversity and numbers of fish species present.” This resulted in a wide variety of different species with four size classes, from the early juvenile stage of some up to the largest adult stages.

Mr. Santo stated that initially there was not much interest in the community for these projects, but now our county administrators have realized these artificial reefs have increased tourism and have had a sound environmental impact. As a result, Hernando County is getting respect among fisherman and the state for the advancement of protecting and enhancing our very important marine system.

There are currently a number of artificial reefs in Hernando County which include but are not limited to, Bendickson Reef where there are 10 M60 army tanks placed in 1995, these are now overgrown with sea and fish life. Permits were recently approved and an additional 600 tons were added to the reef. Monitoring will be provided by FWC and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and US Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE). The Florida artificial reef program is the only state program that is not exclusively run at a state agency level. FWC depends on its partnership with local counties to hold reef permits and manage new reef deployments.

Another artificial reef is reef project #1 which is a shallow reef project with 130 reef balls in 3 different spots. These aHre carefully researched locations. Monitoring is planned for April 15th by the Scubanauts, who are coming to assess the fish populations and new life growing on the artificial reef. The Scubanauts are students in a marine science education for young men and women, ages 12-18. These young marine scientists receive informal science education through underwater exploration focusing on diving experience, and personal development. Hernando County is fortunate to have these young scientists available to assist our community in our marine research.

Hernando County is also in the process of investigating 20 different sites where the next batch of material will be placed. The reef ball material is available and site planning and permitting is ongoing. Permitting is the responsibility of the ACOE in federal waters and by both the ACOE and the FDEP in state waters. Both agencies work with the FWC during the artificial reef application process. Sponsorships are now being offered through the Hernando Environmental Land Protectors (HELP). HELP is a not-for-profit corporation created in 1976 and is one of the oldest established environmental organizations in Hernando County. Through this organization, an individual or business can sponsor a reef ball. The reef balls will include permanent commemorative plaques and the location coordinates will be provided to the sponsors so they may visit their reef in the future. The sponsored reefs will also provide educational opportunities, as well as great fishing spots. All deployments will be monitored by Scubanauts International and data analyzed by the students of the University of Florida and other research institutions. Artificial reef projects are monitored by a variety of sources such as the Scubanauts, and sonar imaging of the seafloor and remotely operated underwater video. These assessments include fish censuses and mapping, reef spacing and design, material stability, storm impacts and comparisons of artificial reef fish communities with those on adjacent natural reefs.

Approval has also been received for development of an oyster reef and habitat restoration project in Centipede Bay. Research has proven that placement of oyster shell in bags will stimulate the growth of juvenile oysters, improve water quality and reduce shoreline erosion. On March 11, community volunteers loaded bags of specially processed and disinfected oyster shell to be returned to the sea for oyster regeneration. This was sponsored by UF /IFAS extension. Oyster beds are dying in the state of Florida because of freshwater intrusion and lack of nutrients. Hernando County has a rich area of nutrients. The tentative launch date for the oyster beds is April 2018.

Florida is responding to fisheries and habitat decline with one of the nation’s most progressive artificial reef program, with Hernando County being one of the leaders in the state.

For information on sponsored reefs, contact Frank Santo 352-200-0493 / FASanto@tampabay.rr.com

More information: Click Here


 

 

Stalemate on sea wrack trigger levels

15 March 2018, The West Australian (Australia)

Despite ongoing concerns about sea wrack accumulation at Port Geographe, the Department of Transport remains tight lipped on whether it will consider reducing the “trigger levels” that dictate when it will intervene. Pictured is the wrack late last year. PHOTO CREDIT: WA News

Despite ongoing concerns about sea wrack accumulation at Port Geographe, the Department of Transport remains tight-lipped on whether it will consider reducing the “trigger levels” that dictate when it will intervene.

Geographe resident and founder of the now disbanded Port Geographe Action Group Peter Maccora said the current trigger levels of 60,000cu m would render an entire beach amenity unuseable and unsafe if the department waited to act until the sea wrack reached that level.

Last year, the department estimated 16,000cu m of seagrass was trapped before the City of Busselton intervened for safety reasons.

“The seagrass extended all the way down to Morgan Street — if that was only 16,000cu m then their trigger of 60,000cu m would extend this all the way to Ford Road,” Mr Maccora said.

“This is ridiculous that as a result of spending $28 million to reconfigure the Port Geographe groynes we have achieved nothing.”

DoT coastal infrastructure general manager Steve Jenkins said the department was satisfied the current environmental monitoring and management plan thresholds were “appropriate” and said there were no plans to remove seagrass wrack unless it exceeded these thresholds.

He said that if the thresholds of wrack were exceeded, contingency works would be required but that at present, wrack volumes and odour were under the thresholds.

Despite questions from the Times, the department would not be drawn on whether it would consider reducing trigger levels.

Mr Maccora also expressed concerns at the date the trigger volumes were assessed, December 1, which he said meant there were limited options to do anything so late in the season to provide a safe and useable amenity for summer.

The department said it continued to regularly monitor the coast through site inspections, surveying and photography.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Manatee County fertilizer law remains in effect

13 March 2018, Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)

Although they could not take a formal voice vote, most members of the Manatee County Commission indicated Tuesday they are satisfied with a nearly 7-year-old law restricting summertime use of fertilizers — even though the lawn care industry considers it “arbitrary and certainly punitive.”

The ordinance is intended to reduce stormwater runoff of phosphorus and nitrogen during the rainy season. The pollutants contribute to algae growth and depletion of oxygen in waterways — which, in turn, can lead to fish kills and the destruction of vital seagrasses.

Representatives of the lawn care industry appealed to the commissioners to schedule a public hearing to review the ordinance and possibly enact changes granting more latitude to their profession.

They made their presentation during a work session in which commissioners could indicate their consensus opinion without taking a formal vote.

More information: Click Here


 

 

How saving an endangered species can mitigate climate change

12 March 2018, Down To Earth Magazine (press release) (India)

 
The forest department creates awareness about the mammal among fishermen and motivates them to let go of the mammals by giving awards and compensation for the loss of fishing nets. PHOTO CREDIT: V Sundararaju

Dugongs are marine mammals that relish sea grass, the most productive plant communities. Since dugongs (sea cow) and sea grass species are interdependent and interrelated, the extinction of dugongs is threatening sea grass meadows the world over. Interestingly, sea grass can sequester up to 11 per cent of the organic carbon buried in the ocean even though it occupies only 0.1 per cent of the total ocean floor. Conserving dugong, thus, improves not only sea grass but also helps mitigate global warming.

Sea grass grows in abundance in Palk Bay, which is a strait between Tamil Nadu and the Mannar, Northern Province, Sri Lanka and also a highly productive coastline in the southeast coast of India. The Tamil Nadu Forest Department has taken up a sea grass rehabilitation project which also targets the conservation of dugongs near Manora village, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu in Palk Bay.

The Species Conservation Action Plan for Sea Cow was organised by the Thanjavur Forest Division in 2016 under the Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening Project. The Japan International Cooperative Agency financially supported the project and various departments were involved in the training workshops, including marine police, fisheries, veterinary and police.

Sea grass meadow in Palk Bay serve as a breeding and feeding ground for fish, molluscs, invertebrate species and mammals including, Dugong, sea horses, sea cucumbers and pipe fishes are other co-habitants.

Due to the threats faced by dugong from humans, crocodiles, large sharks and killer whales, their distribution range in certain parts of the world is now absent. Research has shown that where there is no human impact, dugong population increases only by about 5 per cent per annum. If more than about 2 per cent of adult female dugongs are killed every year, their population will decline drastically. Dugongs are harvested for food, meat, oil, medicaments etc. When females are hunted, it leads to reduction in the breeding stock.

Activities such as pollution, trawling and silt accumulation by mining, mismanagement of catchment or coastal development has an adverse impact on the population of dugongs. Loss of sea grass due to large scale floods can destroy their feeding and breeding grounds. The noise by vehicles such as boats may scare the animals and fishing lines and nets can prove fatal.

The endangered species can be saved

Current and long-term monitoring of dugongs shows that their populations can be maintained or recovered by ensuring protection of their habitats, reducing their deaths due to fishing. Research and monitoring scientists are tracking dugongs through the aerial survey method to determine the grazing areas, duration and depths of dives, movements between grazing areas and between regions. By identifying the main feeding areas through aerial tracking, the management of net fishing and boat traffic in these areas are regulated. Population management can be done by creating awareness among the fishing community.

Fishermen take charge

Awareness programmes have been organised in many coastal villages, such as Kazhumanguda, Karanguda, Mallipattinam, Chinnamanai, Manora, Velivayal, Pillayarthidal, Somanathanpattinam, Sethubhavachathiram, along the coast of Thanjavur. Street plays with dance, music and drama explained the value of sea grass for sustainable fishing and conservation of dugongs. Hoardings, booklets and brochures were distributed among the fishing villages, schools, colleges and other line departments.

Fishermen were motivated to release dugongs into the sea by giving awards. Since releasing dugongs means the expensive nets have to be cut open, they were given compensation by the forest department. The awareness campaigns proved meaningful as the authorities released dugongs caught accidentally by fishermen, twice. On December, 2016, the fishermen from Keezhathottam village who caught two dugongs accidentally informed the Forest Range Officer (FRO), Pattukottai. The dugongs were released into the sea at Manamelkudi near Kattumavadi. One more dugong was also released at Kodimunai on January 30, 2017 and the fishing villagers who released the dugongs were duly compensated by the forest department. Besides, the persons who gave information about the movements of dugong were also rewarded.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Alarming number of manatees are dying in Florida this year

12 March 2018, Sarasota Herald-Tribune(Florida)

More than 160 sea cows have died in 2018, a pace that could set a record, according to environmental group.

An environmental watchdog group says manatees are dying at an alarming rate this year and cautions 2018 could be one of the deadliest years on record for the sea creatures.

More than 160 manatees have died in the first two months of the year — a morality rate that sets a pace to easily eclipse last year’s total of 538 manatee deaths and could surpass the all-time record of 803 deaths in 2013, national nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) warns.

So far, 166 manatees have died statewide through March 2, according to statistics by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Cold snaps in January accounted for 51 of the statewide deaths from cold-stress, state statistics show.

“Florida’s manatees are one big freeze away from an ecological disaster and need more, not less, protection,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a statement. “Manatees may join polar bears as one of the first iconic victims of extinction in the wild from climate change.”

Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties recorded three, four and six manatee deaths, respectively, according to state data. Three of the deaths in Sarasota and Manatee counties were due to cold stress, data shows.

PEER claims the biggest factor in the spike is the weather, which is nearly double the 27 cold-stress deaths from last year and more than double the five-year average for that cause of death. Severe cold spells in 2010 caused 282 manatees to die and prompted the FWC to declare the events “catastrophic.”

Exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees for long periods induces manatees to suffer cold-stress syndrome, which triggers weight loss, fat loss and dehydration. Juvenile manatees older than 2 are especially vulnerable to death from cold stress, when they are learning to find warm water for the first time without their mothers.

PEER also is concerned red tide, or toxic algal blooms, could be contributing to the high rate of deaths. Red tide through March 2 claimed 10 manatees. Concentrations of red tide organism, Karenia brevis, were recently found in low to medium amounts around Sarasota County beaches and low amounts in Manatee County beaches, according to state data. Manatees feed on sea grass and become poisoned if the grass is covered in the toxic algae.

Martine deWit, lead veterinarian at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s marine mammal laboratory in St. Petersburg, is not necessarily worried by the figures.

“It’s way too early to predict the deadliest year or a record year,” deWit said, adding the growing mortality numbers could be because there’s a larger population of manatees than there were 20 years ago.

The state’s manatee population has more than doubled in the past two decades to more than 6,000 manatees.

The public can help reduce manatee deaths by reporting unusual manatee behavior to FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline by calling 888-404-FWCC.

If a manatee is spotted with coordination problems, floating upside down or stuck in shallow waters — all signs of red tide poisoning, deWit urges the public to call the hotline.

More information: Click Here


 

 

"Brown tide" algae returns to Indian River Lagoon; groups work toward recovery

12 March 2018, Daytona Beach News-Journal (USA)

On a cool morning in early March, dolphins frolicked all across Mosquito Lagoon, chasing schools of fish, while wintering sea birds basked in the sun on sandbars.

The panorama thrilled Bob Chew just as much as it did when he and his wife first bought a home on the Indian River five years ago.

“It’s a magical place,” said Chew. But the idyllic scene belies the concern that Chew and many others feel about the state of the Mosquito Lagoon in south Volusia County and the rest of the Indian River Lagoon system. The main concern: Algae blooms have returned.

On this morning, Chew was armed with a water quality testing kit purchased by his Mid-Florida Fly Fishers group to conduct tests to help track the roller coaster-like changes in water quality the lagoon system has seen in recent years.

With algae blooms returning to the Banana River and Indian River in Brevard County, Chew and others fear it’s only a matter of time and warmer weather until the algae begins blooming across the entire lagoon system.The lagoon system stretches 156 miles from Ponce Inlet south to Jupiter Inlet near West Palm Beach.

As he dropped a secchi disk into the water, Chew was pleasantly surprised to find better water quality than he expected. The disk revealed the water was clear down to a depth of six feet. And sandy spots on the bottom were easily visible.

But many of those bare spots are telltale signs the lagoon system is still in trouble. Much of the bottom used to be covered in seagrass beds, but a series of virulent algae blooms starting in 2011 caused widespread damage in the lagoon, including the loss of thousands of acres of sea grass and the deaths of hundreds of dolphins, manatees and pelicans.

Scientists across the lagoon system are still trying to unravel what went wrong and how to fix it. Several key steps are expected in the weeks ahead.

  • The Mosquito Lagoon Reasonable Assurance Plan, a joint project of Volusia County and the cities of Edgewater, New Smyrna Beach and Oak Hill, has been completed. The Edgewater City Commission got a quick overview last month and the city of New Smyrna Beach is scheduled to hear a presentation at its meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in that city’s commission chambers located at 210 Sams Ave.
  • The Marine Resources Council has completed a long-awaited Indian River Lagoon report card, now undergoing peer review and expected to be released in May.
  • The results of a seagrass mapping project completed last year by the St. Johns River Water Management District is scheduled to be released in May or June.

In Brevard County, between Port St. John and Vero Beach, the volume of the brown tide algae — aureoumbra lagunensis — is near the point it was during a massive fish kill in 2016, said Duane DeFreese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon Council. The council, with representatives from local, state and federal agencies along the length of the lagoon, oversees the national estuary program.

“We are in full brown tide bloom in the Banana River and Sykes Creek and it’s pushed south to Vero Beach,” said DeFreese. “We’ve got numbers that are scary.”

One test in the Banana River in late February showed record levels of the brown tide algae.

“It’s ugly, but it’s not dangerous to humans,” he said. “It’s really hard on shellfish and sea grasses.”

As she sat in her office this week preparing to talk about the Marine Resource Council’s new report card on the lagoon, Executive Director Leesa Souto, looked out her window at a bloom of the brown tide.

“It looks like chocolate milk and it could result in another enormous fish kill, said Souto.

The Council’s goal with the report card is to measure the lagoon’s vital signs and relay them in a way the public can understand.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “But it was a lot of hard work.”

The Council’s goal wanted to come up with a way to use all of the existing data collected by groups working in the lagoon system to assess its health and compare it regionally. Using work done in the Chesapeake Bay as an example, Souto said they want to create numeric scores that can be compared over time and space.

“We wanted to collect 20 years of data to see what years were good and what years were bad,” she said. She thinks it’s the first time all of that data has been compiled in one place.

“It’s meant to present hopefully a message of hope so the public can see some incremental change over time,” she said. “We know that it’s going to take a long time to bring our lagoon back to health and we want people to see it happening.”

“They may not realize we’re seeing a change in the lagoon’s health just by looking at it,” she said.

The council used existing targets for pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus that have been set by state agencies, calculating the difference between the average concentrations and the targets.

The $180,000 effort was primarily funded by local family foundations and small donors. The Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program also provided $50,000, she said. The report card is now undergoing a required peer review process.

The Reasonable Assurance Plan from Volusia County and the local governments includes potential projects that could improve water quality in the lagoon system. For example, for New Smyrna Beach, one project is a low flow diversion weir in a canal near Turnbull Street and Industrial Park Avenue. City staff have recommended the city adopt the plan, and undertake the recommended steps to reduce pollution flowing into Mosquito Lagoon.

DeFreese remains hopeful.

“What we’ve seen, when we’ve had these moments of relief, like last year when the system was clear for a few months, is the system has resiliency.”

“We have been so impacted since 2011 with water quality issues that the big worry, and rightfully so, is we just don’t know how much this system can handle,” he said. “The story line is nutrient reduction, everywhere we can get it,” whether it’s with stormwater, wastewater or muck removal.

“We need to be taking out nitrogen and phosphorus everywhere we can,” DeFreese added. Addressing the plumbing and infrastructure problems will help the lagoon system to recover, he said, “but it will take some time.”

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Seagrass health check results 'encouraging'

8 March 2018, The West Australian (Australia)

Seagrass meadows in Geographe Bay underwent their annual health check last month, with scientists saying the meadows were in “good condition”.

Scientists from Edith Cowan University and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions carried out the annual monitoring on the health of seagrass, with seagrass shoot density similar to last year’s results.

Lead scientist Kathryn McMahon said scientists had been monitoring eight sites in Geographe Bay since 2012 with seagrass shoot density similar over the past seven years.

“These results are really encouraging, showing that Geographe Bay seagrass meadows are in good condition,” she said.

The program was initiated by GeoCatch in response to concerns of the potential impact of nutrients on seagrass meadows, with nutrients from the catchment having the potential to impact on seagrass health by enhancing growth of epiphytes and algae that grow on seagrass.

Algal epiphyte cover was much lower this year than has been recorded in previous years.

Ms McMahon said the main types of epiphytes on the seagrass with high to moderate cover was microalga accumulations but these accumulations were not generally associated with nutrient enrichment.

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UF receives nearly $300000 from the EPA

07 March 2018, WCJB (USA)

The University of Florida has received nearly $300,000 to help protect and restore damaged seagrass meadows on the Gulf Coast. The money is from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The project will focus on mapping seagrass meadows so thye can identify damage caused by boat propellers.

The project will be based in Citrus and Hernando Counties, including the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge and St. Martins March Aquatic Preserve.

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Cutting pollution in the Chesapeake Bay has helped underwater grasses rebound

06 March 2018, Phys.Org (USA)

Seagrasses are the "coastal canaries" of oceans and bays. When these underwater flowering plants are sick or dying, it means the ecosystem is in big trouble – typically due to pollution that reduces water quality. But when they are thriving and expanding, it is a sign that the ecosystem is becoming healthier.

We have collaborated on seagrass research for three decades in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond. One of us (Bob "JJ" Orth) has mapped and studied the bay's submerged aquatic vegetation since the 1980s. And the other (Bill Dennison) studies seagrass ecophysiology and has led efforts to make this science understandable and useful.

Seagrasses are critical to a healthy Chesapeake Bay. They provide habitat for fish and shellfish, stabilize sediments and help clarify the water. The bay's grasses declined sharply in the 1970s, as pollution and development degraded its water quality. States around the bay have been working together since 2010 on a sweeping plan to clean it up and restore its ecosystems.

In a new study, we provide conclusive evidence that reducing discharges of nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants into the bay has produced the largest resurgence of underwater grasses ever recorded anywhere. This success shows that coastal ecosystems are resilient and that concerted efforts to reduce nutrient pollution can result in substantial improvements.

 
Trends in acreage and density of submerged aquatic vegetation in the Chesapeake Bay. PHOTO CREDIT: Melissa Merritt/USEPA, CC BY-ND

Cutting nutrient pollution boosts seagrasses

Ten years ago we led an effort through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis to understand the global trajectories of seagrasses. What we found was that seagrasses were being lost at an alarming rate, equivalent to a soccer field of seagrass every 30 minutes since 1980.

So when we began to observe net increases over the past few years in the abundance of multiple types of seagrasses (collectively known as submerged aquatic vegetation) in our beloved Chesapeake Bay, we knew this event was globally unique.

To discern what was happening, we partnered with the Chesapeake Bay Program to initiate what is called a synthesis effort. Synthesis science brings together diverse teams of experts from different fields to pull new insights out of existing data.

We had access to 30 years of annual surveys of underwater grasses that JJ Orth personally oversees, plus a 30-year water quality data set collected by the Chesapeake Bay Program. Scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, St. Mary's College of Maryland, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided analytical firepower to help assess this complex information.

We started by identifying ways in which activities on land could affect trends in water quality and underwater grass abundance. Then we tested our hypothesized linkages using structural equation models that analyzed data in two different ways.

One approach focused on the cascade of nitrogen and phosphorus moving from sources on land, such as wastewater discharge and stormwater runoff, into waterways. The other showed what happened to underwater grasses once these nutrients entered in the water. Nutrients overfertilize the bay, creating huge blooms of algae that die and deplete oxygen from the water. This produces "dead zones" that cannot support fish or plant life.

In our analysis, we found conclusive evidence that reductions of excess nitrogen and phosphorus caused the underwater grass recovery in the Chesapeake Bay. Since 1984, the quantity of nitrogen entering the bay has decreased by 23 percent and phosphorus has fallen by 8 percent, thanks to a "pollution diet" that the EPA established in 2010. The plan, formally called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), requires states in the bay's 64,000-square mile watershed to reduce specific pollutants entering the bay to target levels on a fixed schedule.

As a result, underwater grasses have increased by over 300 percent and have reappeared in some locations around the bay where they had not been observed for decades.

 
Historic photos show water quality declining and underwater grasses disappearing off Solomons, Maryland. Chesapeake Biological Laboratory/University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, CC BY-ND

 

A healthier Chesapeake Bay

For the past 12 years, we have been using underwater grasses and other water quality data to produce an annual Chesapeake Bay report card. Our 2017 report card describes progress across the board, with 7 out of 15 reporting regions around the bay showing significant improvement and the rest holding steady.

We attribute these improvements to the TMDL plan. In particular, upgrades at area wastewater treatment facilities have reduced nitrogen and phosphorus inputs into the bay. Catalytic converters on automobiles and smokestack scrubbers in power plants have reduced atmospheric nitrogen emissions and subsequent deposition that finds its way into bay waters. It appears that these management actions are beginning to pay off, although there is more to do – especially reducing nutrient pollution from agriculture.

Progress at risk

The Chesapeake Bay Program is a partnership between six states (New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia), the District of Columbia and the federal government, represented by the EPA. It heavily leverages federal funding by engaging community groups, local municipalities and nongovernmental organizations to carry out actions that help reduce pollution entering the bay. Examples include re-engineering urban surfaces to reduce stormwater runoff and subsidizing farmers to grow winter cover crops that help retain nutrients on fields.

When EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was Oklahoma's attorney general, he joined other states in a lawsuit to block the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, calling it a federal overreach. Now, however, Pruitt has pledged to support the program, which was upheld by a federal court in 2013 and sustained on appeal in 2015.

But President Trump's 2017 budget called for eliminating the Chesapeake Bay Program completely. Congress enacted only small cuts, but Trump's 2018 budget request cuts the program's funding by 90 percent – ironically, just when we are finally starting to reverse degradation from past decades.

The Chesapeake Bay is arguably the best-studied estuary on the planet, and the fact that our study connects management actions to a huge resurgence of underwater grasses is a tribute to this rich history. Ongoing efforts to restore the bay have produced lessons about how pollution abatement can lead to ecosystem recovery.

These insights can and should be applied to other water bodies affected by nutrient pollution. We hope the story of the Chesapeake Bay's recovery inspires similar actions in many other places.

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Seven in 10 fishermen found to be using illegal nets that endanger marine wildlife

06 March 2018, The National (Abu Dhabi)

Seven out of 10 nets used by local fisherman are illegal, with the potential to kill marine wildlife, a snap inspection by environment inspectors has uncovered.

Officers from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi swooped on locations used by commercial and recreational fishing boats after the discovery of five dead dugongs, including a pregnant female, on Saadiyat Public Beach last month.

The inspectors, who arrived unannounced, uncovered widespread use of hiyali nets, which are banned under federal law and are easily lost at sea, ensnaring wildlife.

They also found 225 private and commercial fishing boats, which the agency describes as being “out of service”.

The agency took what it says were “extensive and unannounced inspections” after the drowning deaths of the protected species, in what is believed to be the worst incident of its kind in the UAE.

Working with maritime inspectors from the Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority, teams covered about 7,000 kilometres, or 14 per cent of the Abu Dhabi coastline, in just 36 hours.

They found three more dead dugongs in Al Dhafra to the west of the capital, and more than 2,000 metres of nylon fishing nets abandoned by fishermen in the water.

At least 10 fishing nets, known as gargoor, that did not meet legal requirements were confiscated, with four offences lodged for using nylon nets and unlicensed recreational fishing boats.

Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, executive director of terrestrial and marine biodiversity at the agency, called for “immediate and deterrent action" against offenders.

"In spite of strict recreational and commercial fishing rules and regulations in the emirate, effective management of our marine reserves and the great efforts made by other relevant authorities, the use of illegal and banned fishing gear and methods is still causing the death of dugongs, dolphins and turtles and other marine species,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

She has called the dugong deaths on Saadiyat “a harsh blow to one of Abu Dhabi’s most vulnerable species”.

Hiyali are drift nets that hang vertically in the water, using weights, and can be up to seven metres long. They are banned in many territorial waters around the world because of their destructive impact on fish stocks and marine animals.

Fish become entangled in the mesh, as do other wildlife like sharks, dolphins, and even seabirds.

In the UAE they are used to catch kingfish and Indian mackerel, local species of mackerel with consumers but declining in numbers because of overfishing. The season lasts from January to May, coinciding with the dugong fatalities.

According to Fadel Obaid, of the Umm Al Quwain fishing association, the nets need at least a kilometre of sea to work well.

“In Abu Dhabi there’s a strong possibility the net will draw near islands,” he said. “This can cause problems as it drifts with the tide.”

Laws on net use should be clear, said Mr Obaid.

“It’s very important to clarify these things because there are those who fish for a hobby and those who depend on God and the sea for a living.”

Arabella Willing, resident marine biologist and head of conservation at the Park Hyatt, Abu Dhabi performed post mortem examinations on the Saadiyat dugongs.

She described the banned drift nets as: "problematic and dangerous to wildlife” adding that she hoped greater awareness of the problem would promote “a general community feeling of taking care of the environment and being more mindful".

At least ten fishing nets of a traditional domed design known as gargoor did not meet legal requirements and were confiscated during the inspections, with four violation reports issued for using nylon nets and unlicensed recreational fishing boats.

Those convicted face hefty fines and prison sentences. For first offenders this is up to Dh50,000 with the possibility of a minimum three months behind bars. This rises to a maximum of Dh100,000 and a minimum of one year in prison for subsequent offences.

The areas inspected included the Eastern Mangrove Marina to Ras Haniora in Al Taweelah, the canals and khors around Al Saadiyat and Ras Ghurab Islands, Al Sadar Port, Al Bahya and Al Shilila areas.

A second group of inspectors covered the Al Dhafra region, including Al Radeem, Al Mugharah, Al Mirfa, Khor Al Bazam and Al Haramiyah.

The third group started from Al Sila Port covering Al Hamra, Shuweihat, Al Silaa, Doha Al Nakheel and Doha Tolab up to Ras Ghamis.

The UAE is home to an estimated 3,000 dugongs, the world’s second largest population.

The aquatic mammals are protected under Federal Laws No 23 and No 24, and the UAE is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species making it an international commitment to protect dugongs.

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