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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

 

 

 

 

 

Dead ‘Dugong’ Sighting On Fijian Shore Surprises Villagers

22 May 2018, Fiji Sun Online (Fiji)

Malelei Veidreyaki and Vilikesa Karalo with the dead Dugong at Kiuva Beach Tailevu on May 20,2018. PHOTO CREDIT: Simione Haravanua

The public is advised to contact the fisheries depart­ment or the University of the South Pacific (USP) should they spot a rare sea creature dead or alive on our shores.

The notice comes after the carcass of a sea creature, declared a dugong by a marine biologist, was spotted washed ashore yesterday at Kiuva Beach, Tailevu, by two villagers of Nasemila.

Such rare findings could present an opportunity for the authorities to study and investigate why or what caused its death and why or how it was in our shores.

USP lecturer Susanna Piovano, a trained conservation biologist in­terested in marine/aquatic biology and behavioural ecology, declared to Fiji Sun that the dead sea crea­ture spotted in the shores of Tai­levu was a dugong.

A Dead Dugong at Kiuva Beach Tailevu on May 20,2018. PHOTO CREDIT: Simione Haravanua

The carcass was spotted by Vi­likesa Karalo, 24, and Maleli Vei­dreyaki, 27.

“We just came to walk along the beach and we saw something float­ing near the shore. We thought it was some wood, but as we got clos­er, we realised that it was some sort of sea animal,” Mr Karalo.

They had also assumed that it was a dead seal.

“We touched it, it was not moving and then we dragged it ashore.”

Vilikesa Karalo (left), Maleli Veidreyaki and Paula Tukai standing next to the burnt 2 meter sea cow (manatee) which was found dead along the Naselai beach in Tailevu on Sunday. PHOTO CREDIT: JOVESA NAISUA. http://www.fijitimes.com/dead-dugong-shocks-men/

The villagers have burnt the carcass, fearing that its blood may draw sharks closer to an area where many children from the village use as a popular swimming spot.

Dugongs are herbivorous mammals that are restricted to coastal waters. Dugongs are known to be hunted for their meat and oil. The IUCN lists the dugong as a species vulnerable to extinction, while the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) limits or bans the trade of derived products.

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Seagrass 'supports 20% of fisheries', Swansea Uni finds

21 May 2018, BBC News

Popular fish for eating such as cod and pollock are reliant on the existence of healthy seagrass meadows, research led by Swansea University has found.

The meadows - areas of sea plants just off the coast - support the production of a fifth of the world's largest fisheries, the joint study with Cardiff and Stockholm universities showed.

Researchers called for better management of seagrass zones to protect the future of fish stocks they support.

Globally, the meadows are in decline.

Lead researcher Dr Richard Unsworth of Swansea University explained seagrass acted as a nursery habitat for fish stocks such as Atlantic cod, walleye pollock and tiger prawns.

The meadows also had a knock-on supportive effect to adjacent deep water habitats by providing a source of food to nearby fishery zones.

Dr Unsworth wants seagrass zones to be officially recognised and protected from threats such as land run-off, coastal development, boat damage and trawling.

"There is a global rapid decline of seagrass and when seagrass is lost there is strong evidence globally that fisheries and their stocks often become compromised with profound negative economic consequences," he said.

"To make a change, awareness of seagrass' role in global fisheries production must pervade the policy sphere."

Cardiff University researcher Dr Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, who also carried out work along with Stockholm's Dr Lina Mtwana Nordlund, added: "The chasm that exists between coastal habitat conservation and fisheries management needs to be filled to maximise the chances of seagrass meadows supporting fisheries, so that they can continue to support human wellbeing."

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No competition for $450m reef grant

21 May 2018, 9news.com.au (Australia)

An independent foundation was granted nearly half a billion dollars to protect the Great Barrier Reef but might have to second staff from a government department to spend it.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation was given $444 million in this month's federal budget for reef protection efforts, but an environment official revealed on Monday it was allocated without a tender process.

Labor and Greens senators have teamed up to quiz officials on why the money had been allocated to a small foundation rather than the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which has legal responsibility for protecting the reef.

"You've forked out $450 million to this group that have 10 staff," Labor senator Anthony Chisholm said, demanding accountability from government officials during Senate estimates hearings on Monday.

Environment department deputy secretary Dean Knudson said there were talks with the foundation about seconding experienced staff from the authority.

That left Greens senator Richard Di Natale asking why the money wasn't given directly to the authority.

Government minister Simon Birmingham backed the allocation, saying the government had done its due diligence and the foundation was best placed to lead the effort to protect the reef.

He said the foundation had the expertise to handle large sums, but after a record contribution it would be expected there would be some expansion of its resources to handle it.

Environment Department secretary Finn Pratt denied a characterisation by Labor senator Kristina Keneally that the grant was the result of an "unsolicited tender" from the foundation.

But the department was forced to take questions on notice, unable to say whether there was any open invitation or opportunities for other organisations to put forward plans.

"It does appear the department cannot answer basic questions how this massive allocation of money came to go to one foundation," the senator said.

Earlier Mr Pratt said the Great Barrier Reef Foundation was in talks with the department about its plans to spend the money over six years.

The grant agreement will include provisions for collecting funds if the foundation experiences financial difficulty.

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Professor parts ways with James Cook University over climate change studies battle

18 May 2018, TropicNow (Australia)

Controversial James Cook University professor Peter Ridd is no longer working at the university, but it's unclear if he's been sacked or resigned from his position.

Townsville-based Prof. Ridd and JCU have been at legal loggerheads over climate change research, with their stoush currently before the Federal Court as the Professor seeks to overturn a “serious misconduct” ruling brought against him by the university last year.

It stems from Prof. Ridd publicly criticising the university in media interviews and claiming that JCU could not be trusted to provide accurate research results. This, the university alleged, breached the university’s code of conduct.

A JCU media spokesperson declined to comment on Prof. Ridd's departure from the university due to "ongoing litigation before the court".

Due to a non-disclosure agreement, neither parties would comment on whether he was fired or resigned from the university.

In August last year, Professor Ridd was interviewed by Alan Jones on Sky News about a chapter in the book Climate Change: The Facts 2017 published by the Institute of Public Affairs. In his chapter, Professor Ridd wrote: "Policy science regarding the Great Barrier Reef is almost never checked."

"Over the next few years, the Australian Government will spend more than a billion dollars on the Great Barrier Reef; the costs to industry could far exceed this. Yet the keystone research papers have not been subjected to proper scrutiny. Instead, there is a total reliance on the demonstrably inadequate peer review process."

The JCU spokesman said the university "strongly supports academic freedom".

"JCU's academic staff members are free to pursue critical and open inquiry and participate in public debate and express opinions about issues and ideas related to their respective field of competence, in accordance with the University's Enterprise Agreement and Code of Conduct," the spokesperson said.

"The Code of Conduct is the standard by which we conduct ourselves towards others and perform our professional duties on behalf of the University, to the highest standards of ethical conduct.

"All staff members must comply with the Code of Conduct. No employee is immune from their responsibilities to treat people with respect and to maintain professional standards of communication."

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Protected Posidonia grasslands to receive million Euro funding

26 April 2018 Olive Press (Spain)

THE MINISTRY of Environment has agreed to give almost €2 million in funding to the Balearic Institute of Nature (Ibanat) to control and protect the Posidonia grasslands through 2021.

Ibanat will receive €485,000 annually, funding 15 boats around the islands, five for Mallorca and five for Formentera, the two islands with the largest natural protected sea-grass areas.

They will patrol for illegal activities, fishing and anchoring in the protected areas.

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Great Barrier Reef sediment flow reduced by 97 per cent at test site

18 May 2018, The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

Sediment flowing down the Burdekin River towards Upstart Bay near Bowen. PHOTO CREDIT: Tony Moore

A north Queensland test site has reduced the amount of sediment flowing into the Great Barrier Reef by 97 per cent, Greening Australia has revealed.
The 1.5-hectare site forms part of the Burdekin River catchment, south of Townsville, which has been identified as the highest sediment-producing river catchment impacting the Great Barrier Reef.

Ten million tonnes of sediment flow down Queensland river catchments and settle across the Reef each year.
Sir Richard Branson visited Australia in March 2016 as Virgin Australia launched with Greening Australia the $120 million Reef Aid project to reduce sediment erosion by 70 per cent.

This week at Strathalbyn, a privately owned cattle property about three hours south of Townsville, Greening Australia's gully remediation expert Damon Telfer said results showed they could reduce sediment at the site by 97 per cent.

Mr Telfer said sediment suspended in the water flowing through a “control eroded gully” at Strathalbyn, with no modification, was “between 60 and 180 grams of sediment per litre”. At another unmodified gully, the suspended solids was 400 grams per litre.
In areas where the erosion had been repaired, Mr Telfer said the results were stunning.

“The figures we are getting out of this one (the repaired gully) are that the material coming out is in the order of 0.01 grams to 0.02 grams per litre suspended sediment, so it is a dramatic result,” he said.

The soil at Strathalbyn is fine-grained sodic soil, which is a high erosion risk as it does not bind well.
As part of its scheme, Greening Australia bulldozes the entrenched, tunnel-eroded soil, then battens and revegetates the soil to completely recreate the original landlines at Strathalbyn.

It plans to repair 15 hectares of eroded Strathalbyn soil in 2018, a tenfold increase on 2017, and wants to raise $132 million to rehabilitate 2000 hectares at about 35 different locations by 2030.

Australian Institute of Marine Science marine biologist Ken Anthony said the erosion project should be scaled up quickly, because the impact of climate change "would begin to bite by 2030".

"It's a closing opportunity, but if we take it, we can change history," Dr Anthony said.

Since 1945, gullies on the property have leached an average 956 tonnes per hectare every year into the Burdekin River, equating to more than 550,000 tonnes of fine silt.

More than 65 per cent of the fine silt from Strathalbyn and 47 per cent of the sediment from the overall Burdekin River basin gets to the Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science is a partner in the Reef Aid project, matching “dollar to dollar” funds from private donors and contributing $2 million over four years to the erosion control project.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the initial results were encouraging.

The department was cautiously optimistic, but cautioned the erosion measures had only been through one wet season.

“They do not indicate monitored results over multiple seasons and years,” Ms Enoch's spokesman said.

“It would be premature to assess on these results alone, even though they could be expected to continue if the area continues to be well managed.”

Mr Telfer said Greening Australia was deeply committed to the Reef Aid erosion project.

“We don’t want to just make it look pretty on the surface, come back in five years and find the whole thing has just gone off again,” he said.
Greening Australia chief executive Brendan Foran said ecologists had known of Great Barrier Reef problems caused by sediment and nutrient run-off for 30 years.

“Yet when we started here two years ago, people would say you can’t just go off and fix gullies,” he said.

“I think we have shown with this pilot here that you can and that you can significantly affect water quality.”

Mr Foran said improving water quality is acknowledged by reef experts as the second-highest priority in preserving the Reef.

“By 2030 we can do 2000 hectares of gullies that look like this and they are the shittiest, biggest sediment-producing gullies in the reef catchment,” he said.

Bristow and Ureisha Hughes run 5000 to 6000 head of cattle on their Strathalbyn cattle property.

They allow Greening Australia to work on their 34,000-hectare property, where 64 hectares is badly eroded.

Greening Australia will rehabilitate the 64 hectares of badly eroded soil on their cattle property, which will cut erosion, but not allow him to run more cattle.

"That is why it is so hard for a farmer to get in and fix this because it costs so much to do with very little - or no gain - from doing it," he said.

"We really do want to look after the environment, but when you have to spend $500,000 to fix a hectare, we simply cannot afford to do it."

However, Mr Foran said the cost of rectification was closer to $50,000 per hectare.

The reporter travelled to Strathalbyn as a guest of Greening Australia.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Sir Richard Branson's financial contribution to the project.

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UVI Confers Masters of Marine and Environmental Studies Degrees on 14 Students

17 May 2018, St. Croix Source (press release)

The Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES) at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) has prepared 14 students to be marine and environmental scientists. They will all receive a Master of Marine and Environmental Science (MMES) degree on Thursday, May 17.

“Given that we have had approximately 50 graduates in the first decade of the MMES program, for us to see 14 finish in a year after such devastation is remarkable. This accomplishment speaks to the perseverance of the MMES and CSM faculty who guided these new scientists towards completing their degree requirements while working without offices and lab space.

“As for the graduating students, kudos to them as well, and I’m particularly excited to see such relevant research emerge from their theses that can help inform territorial resource managers and scientists alike,” said Dr. Kim Waddell, director of VI-EPSCoR (www.viepscor.org)

To illustrate the range and complexity of the students’ research topics and the relevance to the territory, the student abstracts are listed below. It is notable that much of the work relies on VI-EPSCoR-sponsored acoustic tracking technology, and it is centered within Brewers Bay. Therefore, the work draws from, and adds to, the wealth of information gathered within the Brewers Bay Ecosystem Analysis Project (https://viepscor.com/brewers-bay/).

One consistent theme of the students’ work is their interest in studying the relationship of marine organisms with their environment, such as their habitat and food preferences. The use of new technology provides these new researchers unique insights into the behavior of these species that are otherwise virtually impossible to track in the sea. The research findings are particularly important as scientists work to understand the effects of a changing environment on these important marine species.

VI-EPSCoR’s investment in the acoustic tracking arrays within Brewers Bay is being used to support and inform the research. Acoustic telemetry uses tags surgically implanted into or onto marine animals. These tags emit unique pings every minute. The pings deliver information to strategically placed hydrophones or receivers that record the animal’s identification code, date and time.

Scientists turn this information into maps of the animal’s movements over weeks and months. Atlantic tarpon, lane and mutton snapper, and green and Hawksbill sea turtles are some of the species tagged and tracked using this technology.

Climate change and environmental disruptions, in the form of marine debris, watershed runoff and coral diseases, are also areas of focus. CMES sees these as issues that affect the territory as a whole, and it will help support the work of marine researchers and environmental decision makers.

“The UVI Class of 2018 has endured many challenges the past nine months. I believe we are among a short list of institutions to ever experience two natural disasters during a two-week period. During the aftermath of the storms, these scholars increased their engagement through research and voluntarism to assist with our recovery. As these graduates seek new challenges and research opportunities, we are confident their experience at UVI prepared them for any challenge they may encounter in the future. These scholars are not just graduates of our marine science program, they are our Ambassadors of Excellence,” said Mitchell A. Neaves, vice president of Institutional Advancement, University of the Virgin Islands.

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Things you only know if you're a dugong keeper

16 May 2018, Time Out (Australia)

Sam Hillman swimming with dugong Wuru

… according to Samantha Hillman, 29, senior dugong keeper at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

Dugongs aren’t as placid as they seem
“Depending on how you walk they can actually figure out who’s coming [to feed them] by our mannerisms. We have a new junior keeper and our male, Pig, he’s incredibly cheeky. Sometimes he’ll take the feeding tray and actually hide it from them. So he does play a lot of tricks on new keepers.”

They’ve a palate for protected plants
“In the wild they eat seagrass, but seagrass is a protected species of plant so we don’t actually go out and harvest it because we’d be ruining other marine habitats. So here at Sea Life we feed them lettuce – between 60-80 kg daily.”

But they’re picky
“Every 10-15 minutes we’re replacing their trays. Naturally seagrass is quite crunchy and obviously lettuce will become soggy after the 15 minute mark, so then they’re not very interested in it. Sometimes we try and give them a bit of a variety. If you can imagine trying to put a piece of spinach into a bit of lettuce and then rolling it like a spring roll and putting it into the trays, that piece will come back when we pull the tray out. They’re super fussy – they know what we’re trying to do.”

The aquarium’s sea cows are safest in human care
“Our dugongs are rescue dugongs. Our female sleeps on the surface and naturally wild dugongs sleep on the bottom. This is one of the reasons she wasn’t released, because she could be hit by boat or be a prime target for a shark because her belly would be so exposed and she’s quite vulnerable sitting at the surface.”

You can tell their age like you would a tree
“The oldest one on record is 72 years old and a way to tell how old they are – you know how a tree [trunk] has the rings – if you were to look at their tusks it’s the same thing; you’d be able to tell how old they are from the rings on their tusks.”

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A new mysterious disease has engulfed half of the coral species from Florida Keys

16 May 2018, Science Examiner (USA)

Coral reefs around the globe are being battered and bleached off due to numerous reasons. After two massive bleaching events at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia which disrupted 30-odd percentage of coral reef, it is Florida Keys, the third largest coral reef system in the world which is suffering from the wrath of climate change, rising sea temperature, bleaching, and a new disease that has impacted plenty of corals at the eastern coast of Florida. Mote Marine Lab’ Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration has been working for five years raising baby corals from embryos in shallow tanks called raceways which could prevent the extinction of coral reefs at the Florida Keys.

According to the reports, coral bleachings, rising ocean temperatures aren’t the only disturbing factor that has stressed reefs but a new disease has weakened the coral reef system in Florida. Researchers are struggling to find the cause and cure of the new mysterious disease that has spread across 360 miles which is the total extent of Florida Keys coral reef. It is also contemplated that it could be a bacterial disease which has engulfed more than half of the coral species.

Researchers stated that the disease causes necrosis which leads to tissues sloughing off the coral’s skeleton. In fact, the disease is so deadly that it could kill the entire coral if infected within weeks. The disease is ever spreading and has shown no signs of slowing down. In 2014, researcher William Precht who was appointed by the state to monitor the corals at the port of Miami reported the outbreak of the disease. He noticed that the disease has been spreading from one patch to another thereby killing the majority of the species in the infected region.

As per the data, the disease seems to have a deadly effect on star and brain corals which form the foundation for many reefs turning them into white colored dead corals. He stated that it would be very difficult to spot corals in the now affected reef at the Miami-Dade County where only three to four species can be seen now. There are plenty of reasons behind the spreading of this mysterious disease where one is the flow of ocean current.

Researchers across the country have been employing different methods in order to detect the cause and curb the disease using DNA Analysis, chlorine-laced epoxy antiseptic and more. Scientists stated that antibiotics can prove instrumental in saving the corals if the disease is bacterial. There are numerous reasons has said by the researchers that allowed the outbreak of this mysterious disease which includes poor water quality, decades of dredging and development, rising sea temperatures and others and due to the long exposure to these elements, now only a few species have left capable of reproduction.

Mote Marine Lab which has been raising baby corals have stated that these corals have shown resistance towards the disease as of now and might give a new lease of life to Florida’s reefs when transplanted.

More information: Click Here


 

Manatee released back into the wild after being rescued months before

15 May 2018, FirstCoastNews.com WTLV-WJXX (USA)

 

Dozens experience the release of a manatee back into the wild, Tuesday at the Oak Harbor boat ramp.

It’s not your everyday sight on the First Coast, but there are many qualities that separate this manatee from all others.

Vilanzo, the 900-pound mammal was rescued in March on Vilano Beach.

In March, the manatee was taken to the Jacksonville Zoo’s Manatee Critical Care Center. It stayed in rehab for two months.

Craig Miller, the Zoo’s Curator of Mammals, who also serves as Chair of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, said the zoo will do anything to conserve the animals and their environment.

“It’s almost like bringing your kid to the first day of school,” Miller said. “It’s Vilanzo’s territory, it’s his place, but it’s rough out there with potential for boat strikes.”

Miller is certain after months of strengthening, Vilanzo was ready to return to the wild.

“We just hope for the best,” Miller said.

According to the Humane Society, you can help conserve more animals like Vilanzo and the environment by:

Respecting speed limits in manatee zones, designated areas throughout Florida in which boats are required to travel at minimum or no-wake speeds.

Staying in deep water channels; avoid boating over shallow seagrass beds, where manatees might be feeding or the grass can be destroyed.

If you’re operating a small powerboat, consider using a propellor guard, a metal cage that will help prevent strikes.

Wear polarized sunglasses to help you see below the water’s surface.

Pay close attention to your surroundings. If you see a manatee when operating a powerboat, maintain a safe distance of at least 50 feet and cut your motor.

If you see an injured, dead, harassed, tagged or orphaned manatee, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on its manatee hotline: 1-888-404-FWCC, *FWC on your cellular phone or VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio

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Jurien Bay Boat Harbour seagrass build-up may be solved by air bubble curtain

14 May 2018, Community Newspaper Group (Australia)

The Department of Transport hopes a bubble curtain will reduce seagrass build-up in Jurien Bay Boat Harbour.

A CURTAIN of air bubbles may be a solution to seagrass build-up at a boat harbour north of Perth.

Department of Transport maritime projects manager James Holder said the department was starting a $150,000 trial at Jurien Bay Boat Harbour as part of an ongoing investigation to improve conditions at the facility.

Mr Holder said it would test if an air bubble curtain could reduce the amount of seagrass wrack entering the harbour during winter.

“Weighted pipes, commercially manufactured to create a bubble curtain, will be anchored to the seabed across the harbour entrance and connected to an air compressor located on the northern breakwater,” he said.

“The bubble curtain generates a current, which is hoped to be strong enough to push seagrass wrack away from the harbour, potentially preventing its entry.

“If successful, the bubble curtain offers a low cost, environmentally friendly solution to a problem that impacted operations at the harbour and affected water quality over the (past) decade, resulting in expensive maintenance dredging.”

Mr Holder said storms would activat the compressor and the bubble curtain could minimise annual build-up that causes poor water quality and kills fish in the harbour.

Bubble curtains have been used overseas on commercial and environmental applications, including for aeration, silt management, weed and pollution control.

The department has used the technology at other locations in WA, including on a smaller scale within Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour to contain rubbish.

Mr Holder said while they hoped the trial would be successful, there were some uncertainties about the 150m bubble curtain.

“Its performance against the storm generated currents and seagrass wrack volumes in this location will need to be assessed,” he said.

Mr Holder said during the trial, the department would continue investigating other structural solutions to seagrass wrack build-up at the harbour.

Visit www.transport.wa.gov.au/jurienboatharbour for more information.

More information: Click Here



 

Warning Cape York land-clearing approval puts Great Barrier Reef at risk

13 May 2018, The Guardian (Australia)

 Princess Charlotte Bay, Queensland, on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, where runoff from Kingvale station flows. PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Stocktrek Images

The Turnbull government faces a test of its $500m budget commitment to protect the Great Barrier Reef, after federal environment officials ruled that a farmer could clear almost 2,000 hectares of Queensland forest.

A draft report from the Department of Environment recommends that the clearing at Kingvale station on Cape York, which was authorised under the former Newman state government 2014, should be permitted to go ahead with conditions.

This is despite the report finding that there were endangered species on the land to be cleared, and the government’s own consulting scientist warning that it would likely increase sediment runoff.

The land is in the Normanby catchment and the river system flows into Princess Charlotte Bay, an untouched tidal wetland that has large seagrass beds, an important part of the reef ecosystem.

Advice from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, referred to in the report, warned “increases in sedimentation and nutrients may result in loss of biodiversity by promoting algae growth and reducing the light availability for coral, seagrass, and benthic organisms, which may result in detrimental impacts to the marine ecosystem.”

The report by Dr Jeff Shellberg advised that the increase would come from a variety of cumulative sources on site: sheet erosion, rill and gully erosion, bank erosion, road and fence erosion, and possible sub-surface erosion (piping).

He also warned that nutrient and herbicide loads could also increase; and that fine sediment pollution from Kingvale station is likely to be a contributor to poor water quality in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.

But another consultant said he thought the risks could be managed by ensuring the land clearing was restricted to areas with a gradient of less than 2%.

The draft recommendation imposes conditions including keeping a buffer of vegetation around waterways, maintaining 50% native vegetation ground cover, and building contours to manage water flows during the rainy season.

A period for comments ended last week, and the final decision now rests with environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg. Environmental groups say it is rare for ministers to overturn departmental decisions.

The land clearing had already been authorised by the former Newman government in Queensland, without an environmental impact statement, on the grounds that it would create high value agricultural land.

Since the referral, the Turnbull government has announced its $500m rescue package for the reef in this month’s budget, including $201m to deal with water quality.

Green groups, including the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society are now lobbying furiously to pursuade Frydenberg to back up the governments spending promises with a refusal of this land-clearing permit.

The Wilderness Society’s Queensland campaign manager, Gemma Plesman, said bulldozing the forest could accelerate runoff of sedimentation and nutrients into the Great Barrier Reef’s waters.

“Allowing almost 2,000 hectares of native forest to be bulldozed in a catchment that drains into the Great Barrier Reef is incredibly risky. And even the proponents concede there is a range of endangered species on the land they want to clear,” Plesman said.

“Over the past four years Queensland has cleared 1m hectares of native vegetation because the former Newman government axed important environment protections. This bulldozing plan is a hangover from this disastrous period and must be rejected by the federal government, she said.

But the intervention of the Federal government has been contentious within the Coalition. The former agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce and the minister for resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan, both strongly opposed it, arguing that there was no proof the land clearing would damage the reef, and that it was a decision for the Queensland government.

More information:Click Here


 

 

Cebu town has healthiest coral habitat cover in Central Visayas

10 May 2018, Manila Bulletin (Philippines)

Two barangays in Sibonga town, Cebu, have the healthiest massive live coral covers in Central Visayas based on an assessment survey by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)

The survey was made as the department embarked on a 10-year Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Management Program (CMEMP).

Lorenz Gideon Esmero, the regional focal person of CMEMP, said Barangays Sabang and Poblacion got the highest coastal marine environmental rating of 86 percent in terms of live corals habitat.

Pamilakan Island in Bohol and Sumilon Island in Oslob, Cebu had a 79 percent rating.

Some of the poorest live corals are in Loon, Bohol and Medellin, Cebu, Esmero said.

His CMEMP team had assessed 32 local government units in the region, the most LGUs in the country that have been assessed so far.

Esmero said the habitat assessment aims to provide the local governments with scientific-based data and decision for planning and management of sustainable coastal marine programs in their areas.

Data on the assessment “are published in a shared website that with one click on any barangay in Central Visayas, the reader is given the full state of the coastal marine habitat of live corals, sea grass, mangroves, fishes and assorted fauna,” he said.

In 2017, the CMEMP team assessed over 9,388 hectares of coral cover, exceeding its target of 5,266 hectares. It also assessed 12,571 hectares of sea grass cover from the target of 5,261 hectares.

This year the team expects to assess 1,800 hectares of corals and sea grass coverin Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor, Esmero said.

More information: Click Here


 

 

Two Manatee Lost in St. Croix Waters

10 May 2018, ST Thomassource.com ( U.S. Virgin Islands)

 An emaciated manatee in the waters around St. Croix. Animal rescuers are racing to get to the two marine mammals, strangers to the Virgin Islands, before their health can degrade much further. PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Beauregard)

Friends of the St. Croix National Parks sent out an alert this morning for the community to be on the lookout for two manatee sighted by multiple snorkelers on St. Croix.

Friends of the Park has partnered with the Department of Planning and National Resources, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center, to locate and rescue the manatees.

“This is the first time a manatee sighting has been reported in St. Croix in decades,” said Zandy Hillis-Starr, resource management specialist of the National Park Service. The closest manatee population is in Puerto Rico. The first of the pair was seen on Sunday, about 150 feet south of the pier in Frederiksted. The other was spotted near Buck Island yesterday.

They are approximately six to eight feet and four feet long respectively.

Hillis-Star stressed the importance of finding the manatees quickly.

“St. Croix has no regular source of freshwater that they need. Once we find them, we can assess their health, then determine how best to help them,” she sai d.

Through a manatee rescue permit, Tony Mignucci of the Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center is leading the rescue team scouring the waters for the manatees. After examining photographs of the manatees, he theorized that their state of emaciation indicates that they were displaced by 2017 hurricane season.

“It takes about four to six months for that amount of weight to be lost, so I think it’s safe to say they were displaced by the hurricanes,” Mignucci said.

Once the pair has been located and their health properly assessed, a net will be used to secure them on a boat, from which aerial assistance by the U.S. Coast Guard can assist in transporting the manatees back to Puerto Rico.

“The goal here is to give the manatees a chance at survival,” said Mignucci.

Additional manatee sightings can be reported to the National Park Service in St. Croix or to @manatipr.org on Facebook.

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Bubbling up: listening to photosynthesis may help reef conservation

10 May 2018, Cosmos

Marine scientists using underwater microphones have managed to eavesdrop on the sound of photosynthesis.

The process works by measuring the rate at which underwater plants such as seagrass, kelp and other algae release tiny bubbles of oxygen, created as a byproduct of photosynthesis.

At low rates of photosynthesis, marine plants simply release dissolved oxygen into the water. But at higher rates, oxygen collects on the leaves as bubbles. Eventually, these grow large enough to break loose and rise to the surface, where they reach the air without dissolving.

Traditional measurements of dissolved oxygen miss these bubbles and therefore underestimate the rate of photosynthesis in a seagrass bed or kelp forest — an important omission for climate scientists wanting to use oxygen production as a proxy for the rate at which marine plants removes carbon dioxide from the water and, by extension, from the atmosphere.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. It is also possible to use a sonar-like process to monitor the rate at which the bubbles are released, Jean-Pierre Hermand, an acoustical oceanographer at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, reported this week at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“Physical acoustics is very sensitive to the presence of bubbles,” he says, adding that cardiologists use the same effect when they inject microbubbles into the body, then monitor them by infrasound to determine blood flow through constricted arteries.

Better yet, says Hermand, it’s possible to use this process to monitor oxygen production over the length or breadth of an entire seagrass meadow. “The longest I have done is 1.5 kilometres,” he says.

Seagrass, he adds, is important because it is not only a major player in both marine ecology and the Earth’s climate cycle, but because it has also been declining.

“Over the last century, about 30% has been destroyed,” he says.

In 2010 to 2011, he says, a heat wave destroyed about one-fifth of Western Australia’s seagrass, reducing its ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere by nine million tonnes per year, “which is enormous.”

In addition, carbon previously sequestered by the dead seagrass, accumulated in roots and sediments, will gradually decay and escape.

“The estimation is that in the next 40 years there will be about 21 million tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere,” Hermand says.

Similar issues apply to kelp, the oxygen production of which can also be monitored by acoustics.

“In Tasmania, the [ocean] current pattern has changed, so there is a significant impact on the ecology of the kelp forests,” explains Hermand.

In another presentation at same conference, Simon Freeman, a US Navy oceanographer, reported preliminary results (now under review for publication) showing that with sensitive-enough microphones, it may be possible to truly listen in on the release of these oxygen bubbles without the need for beaming them with sonar-like signals.

Freeman’s interest is in monitoring the health of coral reefs — for which the appearance of algae is a death knell. “Once a reef has been taken over by algae, the ecosystem is in an ‘alternate stable state’,” he says. “The coral will never come back because the algae is established and makes it almost impossible for coral to return.”

A couple of years ago, he adds, he and his wife (also part of the team on his present paper) spent six months in Hawaii, using acoustics to study coral reefs at 23 different sites. One of the things they found was that healthy reefs were dominated by low-frequency sounds, while unhealthy ones (where the coral was dead and replaced by algae) were dominated by high-frequency sounds.

Intriguingly, the high-frequency sounds occurred disproportionately during the day, not at night.

Eventually, the two Freemans and a team that included colleagues from New Zealand and The Netherlands formed a hypothesis: what they were hearing was a sound created by the release of oxygen bubbles from the algae that had invaded the unhealthy reefs. As these bubbles broke free from the algae, they deformed then vibrated, ringing like bells as they rose toward the surface.

To test the hypothesis, they put algae in a tank, illuminated it with grow lights and carefully listened to the sounds of the bubbles it produced.

The result matched what he’d heard in Hawaii. That suggests that listening for similar sounds could be a simple way of monitoring the health of other reefs, such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where recent “bleaching” crises appear to have killed a great deal of coral, allowing algae to invade.

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New addition to James Cook University's Turtle Health Research Facility

10 May 2018, Townsville Bulletin (Australia)

Baby turtles have a new place to bask in the sun and swim after the opening of a nursery at James Cook University’s Turtle Health Research Facility yesterday.

The nursery is an addition to the centre’s main facility known as the “Caraplace”, which opened in August 2016.

Associate Professor Ellen Ariel said the opening of the new section named the “Outer Shell” would allow further research into the species.

“In the indoor Caraplace we can house 48 little green sea turtle hatchlings each in their own tank where they can freely eat, swim and rest on a sub-surface platform,” she said.

“The Outer Shell will protect hatchlings from predators while allowing them exposure to sunlight via retractable shade sails that will keep them cool in summer and warm in winter.

“The facility caters for the needs of the turtles under near natural conditions, and it also enables us to study them close up, which is impossible to do in the wild.”

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Another dead dugong — or sea cow — washes up in Palawan

08 May 2018, Philippines Lifestyle (Philippines)

The body of a seven foot long male dugong — or sea cow — has been found washed ashore in Puerto Princesa City.

Vivian Soriano, senior ecosystems management specialist of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, said the dead sea cow was observed to have scars and scratches all over its body.

The creature was found off Purok Baybay, Barangay Babuyan, by fisherman Brandon Tunga at about 1pm on Saturday (May 5).

Soriano said an autopsy led by Dr Theresa Aquino of the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines revealed that the sea cow had “fluid in the chest cavity” with its stomach “full of undigested food with no plastic or garbage inside as previously suspected”.

“The actual cause of death could not be determined although the necropsy findings hinted to the possibility of drowning,” she added.

“There’s a large bruise of the dugong behind the pectoral fin, but maybe it got it due to a natural cause or maybe when it accidentally hit something in the sea.

“This is the second time this year that a dead dugong was reported from the area that’s why we will be doing a monitoring in Babuyan to determine what is causing the deaths and if there is a population, how many are there?

“We will do the monitoring because we do not want dead sea cows to turn up from the area. It’s critically-endangered, which means its population needs protection,” she said.

The dugong is the largest sea-living mammal which grazes on seagrass.

The rare species is classified as “critically endangered” under DENR Administrative Order 2004-15.

As we reported in March, the carcass of a female adult “dugong” was found by a local fisherman on a sandbar in the same barangay. It weighed an estimated 400 kilograms and more nearly 10 feet in length.

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State and baymen finding common ground

07 May 2018, Shelter Island Reporter (USA)

If a February meeting between baymen and members of the Town Board resembled an angry tango, the May meeting was a sweet waltz with few missteps and most trying to dance to the same tune.

Revisions to a town-developed plan for an underwater seagrass project changed the atmosphere. Councilman Jim Colligan, who had led the effort to write the initial plan, acknowledged at last month’s meeting with the baymen that it was his mistake not to have involved them from the outset.

He quickly agreed to strike from the plan all mentions of fines and violations. The aim isn’t to punish, he said, but to adopt a plan to guide anyone from harming the underwater meadows of seagrass.

Tom Field, a spokesman for the baymen, let Soren Dahl, New York State Seagrass Coordinator with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, know from the outset of the May 2 meeting that local people control sea bottom resources.

Mr. Dahl told the adjunct committee of baymen attending the afternoon meeting that “I’m not here to say you have to do this or that,” explaining his mission was offering assistance to the baymen.

“All I’m asking is let’s try it,” he added, about working together on a plan. Mr. Dahl said he’s a “contract player” with no federal regulatory power, but simply someone who appreciates the sea and the food it renders. There’s no requirement for the town to act, he said and “there is no grand plan for everywhere.”

Despite Mr. Dahl’s reassurances, Marcus Kaasik, who has fished local waters all his life, said baymen are still suspicious about bringing “big government into local waters.”

Shelter Island is one of the areas where viable seagrass still exists, Mr. Dahl said. If anything, he wants to understand why, especially in areas like Coecles Harbor, and why it isn’t thriving in places like West Neck Harbor.

If no actions are taken, he said more seagrass could be lost. Trying to replant damaged seagrass hasn’t proven very effective, he said, so the emphasis should be on protecting what exists.

“Seagrass is a little piece of a big, giant puzzle,” Mr. Field said and shoreline-based pollution is the root of the problem.

Mr. Kaasik agreed and said runoff water that’s part of the Municipal Separate Storms Sewer System program is a large part of the problem. The program is supposed to deal with stopping pollutants from running into surrounding waters, but isn’t always effective.

Communities throughout the state and around the country have plans, but they’re unfunded mandates, leaving it to local communities to find a way to reduce pollutants with little money to accomplish the goal.

The baymen generally agreed that pollution from chemicals — from septic systems or other sources — is the main problem. Fisherman Steve Lenox said because of algal blooms, the seagrass isn’t getting the light it needs in some areas.

Mr. Dahl said he’s concerned about eelgrass being torn from the roots, something the baymen said comes from outsiders who don’t know the local waters.

The baymen also don’t want a flurry of signs surrounding the Island, but are open to small universal signage created by the state that would be understood by most boaters in the area.

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. described the way forward as an empty table on which Mr. Dahl wants to offer some tools that could work here and listen to the baymen about what won’t work here.

“Soren is somebody to help us with what we’ve got,” Mr. Colligan said, while agreeing to work with an adjunct committee of baymen to rewrite the draft that would then be submitted to all the baymen for input before it is implemented.

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Seagrass survey completed in Sarasota Bay

06 May 2018, WWSB ABC 7 (USA)

Another successful year for the annual seagrass survey in Sarasota Bay.

Over one hundred volunteers using a part of their Saturday to help the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program analyze sea grass.

Volunteers found different types of grass while

snorkeling or kayaking in Sarasota, then input the data using a smart phone app.

Registered volunteers helped identify seagrass species, in an effort to collect data for Sarasota County's Seagrass Monitoring Program.

The seagrass survey celebrates Sarasota County's commitment to protecting its water resources and focuses on increasing awareness of the economic and environmental value of seagrass habitat.

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WWF accused of politicising plight of Queensland dugongs as debate rages over gill net purchase

06 May 2018, ABC Online (Australia)

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been accused of playing political stunts and making a "money grab" as a divisive debate rages over the future of far north Queensland's dugong population.

The conservation group this week signed a deal to purchase the last remaining commercial gill net off the east coast of Cape York and intends to retire the licence to protect vulnerable species.

It says it raised a confidential six-figure sum from nearly 3,000 donors to make the deal.

The nets can span large distances along the seabed in order to trap fish swimming through and are often blamed for indiscriminately trapping endangered animals including dugongs and turtles.

But the purchase has raised the ire of a motley crew including conservationists, academics and fishermen.

Colin Riddell, environmentalist and campaigner against hunting by traditional owners, said gill nets were not a big killer of the protected species.

"I think the biggest catchers of [dugongs] are the ones who eat them," he said

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

"I think the WWF skirts the issue. It's a bit of a hot potato because it involves Indigenous hunting and [WWF] goes for the easy one which is the trawlers," Mr Riddell said.

"I think it's just a money grab by the WWF."

"I get sick and tired of seeing them adopting every issue that's around trying to get money in.

"If they didn't have people sitting in offices and actually did something, I'd respect them."

'Nothing to do with science': Marine researcher
A former fisheries officer and marine researcher said it appeared the WWF was more interested in gaining political sway than protecting wildlife.

"They're a multinational and they suck in money and use it for their political objectives … it's got nothing to do with science in any shape or form," James Cook University's Geoff McPherson said.

"They've been trying to get other licences as well … it's a way of getting the foot in the door and managing the fisheries of the state."

He said fisherman using gill nets were required to stay near them, and not many dugongs were actually caught.

"Because they're sitting on the net they can hear the dugong coming if it's a calm night, and some of the guys still use acoustic alarms," Mr McPherson said.

The WWF's head of oceans Richard Leck rejected the suggestion that gill nets were of low concern.

"We rely on the best scientific advice and before we undertook this action we spoke to Professor Helen Marsh, who is the foremost Australian expert on dugong conservation, and she very strongly endorsed this action," Mr Leck said.

"Professor Marsh has looked at the issue of traditional hunting in the far north and she doesn't see it as significant as gill netting.

"We also respect the rights of traditional owners to undertake their traditional activities … so that is not a focus for us."

A secret Federal Government report from 2016 found "no substantive evidence" of an illegal trade in dugong meat in Queensland.

The commercial fishing industry is also up in arms over the conservation group's purchase of the gill net.

"[The WWF] has the capacity to shut down commercial fishing by stealth if it continues to outbid genuine commercial fishermen who would otherwise buy these licences," Queensland Seafood Industry Association President Keith Harris said in a statement.

"The Queensland Government needs to step in and put a stop to it so the flow of local seafood can be maintained for consumers."

Debate full of 'mistruths': Traditional owner
Duane Fraser, a Wulgurukaba traditional owner from the Townsville region, said he was growing increasingly frustrated by the "seemingly everlasting" debate about traditional hunting.

"There needs to be a sensible conversation … but emotion and public rhetoric don't always allow for an environment that fosters real discussions and conversations around the space," Mr Fraser said.

Mr Fraser said traditional owners had already self imposed quotas on the number of animals taken from the ocean.

"People understand their responsibility to the conservation of these species … they're our species as well and we've been harvesting these animals for a very long time," he said.

"In the Townsville region we haven't harvested those species for some time for good reason.

"We understand that the numbers were low so we put in place quotas, we put in place cultural measures, to ensure that those species could then again thrive.

"If individuals want to start using very emotive language and placing in the public facts that are just not true, mistruths, then there is no real opportunity for positive dialogue."

He said there were so few traditional hunters in Queensland that it was "physically not possible" to catch dugongs and turtles in quantities "that some individuals claim they are capturing".

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6 drones on mission to save Krishna's sea cows

06 May 2018, Daily Pioneer (India)

India is scrambling to protect its critically endangered dugongs with the help of the unmanned aerial technology i.e. drones. Dugong, the only marine herbivorous mammal, also finds mention in the Indian mythology as Lord Krishna’s humble sea cow.

Being imported from New Zealand, six drones — that can be used in air and under sea — will be pressed into service in Gulf of Mannar (Tamil Nadu), Gulf of Kutch (Gujarat) and Andaman & Nicobar to keep a tab on the movement and habitat of dugongs whose population has sharply declined to less than 200 due to entanglement in fishing nets, killing for for its meat, speeding boat strikes and depleting seagrass bed.

“With a population of 100, the Gulf of Mannar has the highest number of dugongs. The Andaman & Nicobar Islands follow with 50-60 of them, while the Gulf of Kutch, where a live dugong has not been seen in the last 7-8 years, might have as few as 10 individuals,” said Dr K Sivakumar, research scientist and dugong expert at the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) which is executing the project.

“We have already placed the order for drones which will help in high-resolution mapping besides gathering terrain and vegetation information about the mammal and their habitat,” he added.

Each drone having high specifications is suitable for taking photographs underwater too and will cost around Rs 2 lakh each.

Dugong — protected under the Schedule-1 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 — has also been declared vulnerable by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The WII expert explained why saving these mammals, which can grow up to 3 metres in length and weigh up to 500 kilograms is vital for the marine ecosystem.

“Dugongs are important for the health of sea grass which uses sunlight to absorb nutrients from the ocean floor.

These nutrients would otherwise be locked down there forever if there were no Dugongs. They graze the sea grass beds turning the grass into digestible fibre for small fish.

“Sea Cow excrement is actually the only way small fish can get all sorts of proteins and fibres, which would otherwise be inaccessible to them (they cannot eat raw sea grass). Most of these fishes are the source of income of our fishermen and their families,” said Dr Sivakumar.

In a nutshell, he said, Dugong conservation is nothing but coastal conservation. After the drone project gets underway, there are plans to tag at least 10 Dugongs so that they can be closely monitored. While Dugongs are an important chain in the marine ecosystem to ensure livelihood of the fishermen community, it is mentioned in the Indian mythology too. “It is believed that when Lord Krishna’s Dwarka sank under the ocean on the coast of Gujarat, Krishna did not forget his holy cows that were living in the temple gardens. He converted them into Sea Cows so that they can live in the sea as well,” said Dr Sivakumar.

Conservation of Dugong is part of the Union Environment Ministry’s endangered species recovery plan launched in 2015. As per the plan, aerial surveys have been undertaken to locate their hideouts. Now to keep a tab on their movement, drones are being used.

Experts feel that getting the fishermen and local community besides coastguards on the side of the Dugongs is the only way to protect the mammal. “An initiative has been taken. In Tamil Nadu, where Dugongs are hunted for their meat, youth from the fishing community have been sensitised to watch over their population. We have also launched Dugong scholarship scheme for school students from the fishing community to give information about the Dugongs, if strayed on beaches,” said Dr Sivakumar.

BC Choudhary, scientific adviser to the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), said that propeller-driven vehicles are also a big threat. Pollutants released by coastal industries can also damage sea grass beds and the Dugong’s reproductive system. Gillnets used by fishermen are the worst killers, added Sivakumar.

Of the three populations in Indian waters, Sivakumar feels those found in the Gulf of Mannar have the best chance of surviving and breeding. “That is because this area has the best sea grass meadows. In the Andaman & Nicobar area, the sea grass is very patchy and cannot support a big population. If even some individuals there are killed, the entire population could be wiped out. And in the Gulf of Kutch, there is a huge problem of industrial pollution,” he explains.

MS Negi, ADG (Wildlife) in the Environment Ministry said status of sea grass meadows including composition, the threats, the need for monitoring the population, conservation and management imperatives and awareness and capacity building are part of the Dugong recovery plan.

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Greece's new startup culture: technology and seagrass sunglasses

03 May 2018, Reuters (Greece)

Greek student Stavros Tsompanidis was walking on a beach when he saw a business idea in the piles of dried-up seagrass.

Greek student Stavros Tsompanidis was walking on a beach when he saw a business idea in the piles of dried-up seagrass.

He decided to recycle it to make iPhone cases, sunglasses and gift boxes.

Four years on, his startup, PHEE, sells its products across Greece and abroad. He represents a change in mindset among young Greeks who are turning to entrepreneurship as a result of the crisis.

“If we don’t act, in the next five years we’ll be saying the same things: that Greece isn’t going well, that there are no jobs ... that we have a new program by the International Monetary Fund and European Union to support us,” the 25-year-old said.

Greek startups are mushrooming in a financial crisis that started in 2008. The economy is only just recovering. It shrank by a quarter and cut off traditional routes to employment — jobs in government and family businesses.

“Startups” were virtually unheard of a decade ago but they are now creating jobs and offering some hope that Greece can reverse an exodus of its highly skilled youth.

Greece has no official startups register but several private databases show they number between around 600 and 1,100. The earliest count of startups, made in 2010 by non-profit advisory Endeavour Greece, stood at just 16.

AngelList, an online database, puts the current number at 600 while audit firm Grant Thornton found 1,127 in a 2017 report. Greek venture capital firm Marathon VC, established only last year, counts about 1,000 tech startups in its database.

Venture capital in the sector is growing.

under of PHEE Stavros Tsompanidis, 25, arranges dried leaves of seagrass on a panel at the manufacturing workshop of PHEE in Patras, Greece, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A European Investment Fund (EIF) initiative, supported by private investors, is expected to pump about 400 million euros ($479.48 million) into Greek startups and other small businesses over the next five years.

In 2008, when George Tziralis, a partner at Marathon VC, launched a networking event for startups, about 12 people turned up. Now, between 200-300 people attend each month and three to five new startups are presented.

“Ten years ago there was almost nothing,” Tziralis said. “Today we’re seeing something much more mature which we believe to be the tip of the iceberg.”

Marathon VC has made five investments so far, has three more in the pipeline and Tziralis believes it can allocate its entire 32 million-euro fund in under a year.

“IT COULDN’T GET WORSE”
Tourism and shipping, Greece’s two main industries, are driving a tentative economic recovery. The structure of the economy could change if the number of startups continues to grow, economists say.

During the crisis thousands of firms shut and unemployment peaked at 27.9 percent, with six in 10 young job-seekers out of work. About 223,000 Greeks aged 25-39 emigrated in 2008-13 to richer countries, central bank data shows.

The austerity that was a condition of repeated international financial bailouts deepened the depression. Those who stayed in Greece had to innovate to survive.

“The crisis created necessity entrepreneurship,” said Panagiotis Zamanis, vice chairman of the Hellenic Startups Association.

Greek lender National Bank says the tech startup sector is showing particular promise even though it only has a total valuation of around 300 million euros.

“The Greek ecosystem of tech startups is still in its infancy though it already shows signs of high growth potential,” it said in a report.

Three engineers founded Ex Machina, a software startup offering predictive analytics for weather-sensitive industries in the summer of 2015 when capital controls were imposed..

“We wanted to take more risk because we believed that — the way things were — it couldn’t get worse,” said one of the founders, 38-year-old Manolis Nikiforakis.

He was speaking in Ex Machina’s Athens office in Greek lender Eurobank’s startup hub EGG, where cubicle walls are covered in business plans and Post-it notes.

Ex Machina now has Greece’s biggest gas supplier among its customers and is in talks for funding to expand abroad.

“FIGHTING BRAIN DRAIN”

Sunglasses made by processed leaves of seagrass, in partnership with Greek handmade eyeware maker ZYLO.

The owners of Ex Machina and other startups say they have succeeded despite the constraints of Greece’s business environment. Red tape, high taxes and funding constraints are holding back entrepreneurs, they say.

Greece ranks 87th out of 137 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, behind Tajikistan and Ukraine. Taxation, which has climbed as a result of austerity, and crippling bureaucracy are cited among hurdles to business.

It took Ex Machina three months to open a bank account so clients could not pay them. Funding was scarce as Greek investors were used to more traditional sectors such as restaurants and tourism. Ex Machina and PHEE, both relied on savings, grants and winning startup competitions at first.

The Greeks behind taxi-hailing app Beat, bought by Germany’s Daimler last year, set up in London because of the more flexible legal framework and lower start-up costs.

“I tried to see with my accountant how long it would take to open the company in Greece, to open a bank account, and then get the money,” Beat’s founder Nikos Drandakis told the Greek parliament in March.

“We were talking about more than one to two months... We opened the company in England in one day.”

The government is considering introducing tax breaks for startups this summer.

“The economy’s growth depends on how well these businesses fair in the next 10 years,” Eurobank Deputy CEO Stavros Ioannou said. “We have to help them.”

The government teamed up in April with the EIF to launch Equifund, the 400 million euro fund-of-funds aimed at startups and other small companies. About a quarter of the money will be from private investors, the rest will be public funds.

The EIF said in an emailed statement it hoped to fight “brain drain, maybe even reversing it into brain gain.”

The money should focus on helping startups expand beyond the Greek market, said Costas Andripoulos, professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London’s Cass Business School.

Workable, a startup whose software aims to make hiring easier, was launched in Athens in 2012. It now has offices in London and Boston and 180 staff, most of whom are in Greece.

It has raised $32 million from investors and counts Porsche, Ryanair and Marks & Spencer among its 6,000 customers.

Workable’s Nikos Moraitakis quit a job in Dubai to set up Workable in Athens despite Greece’s problems.

“Successful (startups) are often created in recession,” he said

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The Great Barrier Reef Is Getting Too Quiet

03 May 2018, Pacific Standard

A healthy coral reef is a noisy place, with a cacophony of chatters, chirps, and clicks to match its rich visual displays. These sounds help young fish to identify appropriate habitat.

But a new study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that damaged coral reefs have quieted down over recent years, making them less attractive to fish, which could have serious consequences for marine ecosystems.

The study found that three years of coral bleaching and the ravages of powerful cyclones have rendered areas of the Northern Great Barrier Reef less "acoustically diverse" than before. "It's heartbreaking to hear," said lead author Tim Gordon, a marine biologist at the University of Exeter, in a press release. "The symphony of the sea is being silenced."

Fish help to keep reefs healthy by removing algae and helping coral grow, and degraded reefs with healthy fish populations bounce back more quickly than reefs with fewer fish. "A reef without fish," explained Harry Harding, a co-author on the study from the University of Bristol, "is a reef that's in trouble."

This latest research comes alongside some decidedly more optimistic news for the Great Barrier Reef: The Australian government announced this week it is investing $377 million ($500 million Australian) in the reef, which it called "the planet's greatest living wonder." Much of the funding will go toward implementing restoration work, limiting pollution, and managing starfish that decimate reefs.

Such efforts may seem like an uphill battle in the face of global warming. But, Gordon urged, "it's still possible to protect some of the reefs that are left."

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Coral Babies might just save the Great Barrier Reef, but what are they?

02 May 2018, ABC Local (Australia)

Coral populations have been on the decline for three decades and yesterday a $500 million package to help deal with the problems facing the Great Barrier Reef was announced.

A big chunk of that money will be going towards Coral babies, but what are they?

Professor Peter Harrison is from Southern Cross Uni and is the lead researcher with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, he spoke to Craig and Rebecca this morning.

More information and pod cast: Click Here


 

 

Canal skimmer project seeks clean sweep

02 May 2018, KeysNews.com (USA)

Capt. Anthony Colarusso and mate Hayley Colarusso move the 'RV Clean Waters' workboat into a Tavernier basin to collect floating seagrass before the trapped vegetation degrades and damages nearshore water quality. Monroe County oversees the ongoing demonstration project as part of a canal-restoration effort. PHOTO CREDIT: KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press

The catamaran powerboat slowly maneuvered into the oceanside Tavernier basin, its twin hulls swallowing a swath of floating seagrass.

Mate Hayley Colarusso raked the seagrass into metal troughs in the centerline of the “RV Clean Waters,” Adventure Environmental Inc.’s flat-deck workboat.

She inspected the skimming harvest, pulling out discarded water bottles, plastic shopping bags and the occasional lost shoe.

“It’s always good to get rid of the trash and debris,” Colarusso said.

The main focus of the sweep was to keep seagrass and seaweed from clogging canals. Floating marine vegetation pushed by wind and tides into Florida Keys canal systems often stays there, eventually degrading into a threat to water quality. The rotting vegetation also can stink up a neighborhood.

“The primary goal is to remove the vegetation from the surface before it sinks in the canals and decomposes into organic muck, which depletes the canal waters of dissolved oxygen,” a county statement says. “This lack of oxygen prevents fish and other marine organisms from inhabiting the canal.”

Monroe County in late March launched a $147,168 pilot project to see if collecting the canal-bound marine vegetation proves more effective than trying to keep it at bay.

“If it seems to be a success, we’ll see if it can be expanded to other problem areas, particularly in the Lower Keys,” said Rhonda Haag, Monroe County’s sustainability director.

A six-month trial period, with the skimmer boat working two days a week in Key Largo and Tavernier, was funded by a water-quality grant from Florida Department of Environmental Protection under a Florida Keys Stewardship Act appropriation.

The vegetation-removal project is separate from the effort to clean Keys canals of Hurricane Irma debris.

Monroe County in recent years paid for a canal-restoration test program that included using air-curtain weed gates to block seagrass from entering canal systems. Haag said the hurricane destroyed most of the weed gates, which require motors, power and maintenance, before a determination of their overall value and effectiveness could be made.

With no money to replace the gates, she said, “we decided to try a pilot project with the skimming boat to see how it works out.”

Adventure Environmental, a company with Florida Keys roots, has been running its twin-engine skimmer boats, 25 feet long with a 10-foot beam, to clean trash and seagrass from Miami Beach marinas and canals for five or six years, said Greg Tolpin, an Upper Keys resident and company vice president.

“We designed the boats that were custom-built in Islamorada,” Tolpin said.

After winning a bid process, Adventure Environmental started work March 20. The skimmer boat runs Tuesday and Thursday, moving through some of the 86 problematic canal systems from mile marker 106 on Key Largo to the Tavernier Creek Bridge near mile marker 91.

When the skimmer boat’s troughs fill with vegetation and small trash is removed, the marine growth is taken farther from shore and returned to the Atlantic Ocean or Florida Bay.

The marine vegetation “is part of the environment,” boat captain Anthony Colarusso said. “Crabs, shrimp and all kinds of sea creatures live in there. We’re helping the fish and marine life.”

Key Largo and Tavernier residents can report floating seaweed or floating trash in their canal by calling an Adventure Environmental hotline at 305-254-8887.

“At the beginning, we were getting a flurry of calls, maybe 30 in the first week,” Tolpin said. “Now people know we’re coming, so we might only get two or three a week.”

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The Protectors of the Inlet

01 May 2018, InJupiter Magazine (press release)

The Foundation’s core goal is to protect and conserve the natural areas along the waterways of the Jupiter Inlet . PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Biege Photography

A 400 foot-wide turquoise channel where the Loxahatchee and Indian River meet and spill out to the open waters of the eastern Florida coast—that’s our Jupiter Inlet, and it is teeming with marine life, mangrove swamp ecosystems, and archaeological deposits.

On the north side of the Inlet, there are 120 acres that surround the Jupiter Lighthouse known as the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Area (ONA) that encompass one of three natural sites in the United States that is protected by the Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Lands program. On the south sector of the Inlet, however, there is a specific area spanning the Loxahatchee to the Jupiter River Oxbow of equal environmental and historic importance that is not federally protected. Moreover, this 9.5-acre parcel between Clemons Street and DuBois Park that is popularly referred to as Suni Sands is currently subject to intense development plans that pose a great ecological threat to the area.

The Jupiter Inlet Foundation (JIF), a recently formed non-profit corporation dedicated to the preservation of the natural wonders and historical treasures found in and around the Jupiter Inlet, has made the protection of this area its first order of business.

What makes the Suni Sands area so unique? It lies along an estuary that contains a large seagrass bed, which is the food source for green sea turtles, manatees, and fish. The seagrass also acts as a sanctuary for juvenile sawfish, stingrays, and a myriad of other marine species. In addition to marine life, the estuary is also the natural habitat for an array of bird types such as blue herons, ospreys, brown pelicans, and great egrets. Even more fascinating than the wildlife the site boasts, though, is the two-layer mound platform that sits on the shore of the Inlet that, according to JIF, provides evidence of the existence of a pre-historic Indian village where Indian chiefs once lived. Because of its wildlife and historical attractions, the estuary is a common stop for kayakers and paddleboarders.

Given the site’s most recent use, there has likely been minimal impact to the seagrass bed and to the aquatic and bird life that feed there. Soon, that might change. The board members of JIF are concerned that new development and more intensive boat use in this area may pose a serious threat to this fragile ecosystem. Whether by dredging, anchoring of boars, or via propeller impact, damage to this vital seagrass bed and habitat may be irreversible.

“We are leading an effort to conserve areas such as the estuary and protect them from the damage that would be caused by dense commercial development and overexposure,” says Cheryl Schneider, who sits on JIF’s Board of Directors.

The organization was formed by Schneider, MB Hague, Robert Shaw, and Teri Grooms, four environmentally conscious and concerned Jupiter residents that collectively look to “preserve the natural wonders and resources that are true and unique to Jupiter.”

In order to protect the Suni Sands parcel, JIF looks to bring their case to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to add the area to the Aquatic Preserve Program. As a sustained aquatic preserve, the waterfront estuary would be protected under Florida state statute of the Aquatic Preserve Act and, according to the FDEP website, considered
“a submerged land of exceptional beauty that would be maintained in such a way that its aesthetic, biological, and scientific values may endure for the enjoyment of future generations.” With this designation, the estuary would continue to flourish as a fish nursery, a habitat for endangered creatures, and a rookery for rare birds. It is a big first step, but JIF is forming alliances with the FDEP, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Loxahatchee River District (LRD) and the Jupiter Inlet District, as well as collaborating with other various federal, state, and local agencies responsible for the monitoring and management of the Loxahatchee River area where the estuary is located. With their help, JIF is collecting the necessary credentials to move forward with the process, so they are well on their way to achieving their goal.

“The Aquatic preserve designation would provide natural resource protection to the estuary. A management plan would be created to protect the natural condition of the submerged land and associated waters and ensure the long-term health of the ecosystem in the estuary,” says Hague. “Also, if the estuary is part of the Aquatic Preserve Act, there’s a chance that we can obtain signage and channel markers that can protect the area from propeller damage of passing boats. It’s crucial.”

If JIF succeeds in conserving and preserving the estuary, their next goal is to partner with universities and schools to facilitate awareness to the community through historical, archaeological, and environmental management programs. They will implement this precise model for subsequent projects.

“Once these areas have been preserved, the Foundation will provide educational programs that will allow residents and visitors to appreciate the riches and natural beauty of the Jupiter Inlet,” notes Grooms. “We want to be able to reach as many people on the importance of preserving these natural areas.”

Of notable importance is that JIF is not completely against waterfront development, but rather they are advocates for responsible building derived from smart decision-making with consideration of the natural areas.

“We want to affect change and time is of the essence,” concludes Shaw. “We might only have one chance to do it and we want to make that chance count.”

For more information about the Jupiter Inlet Foundation and how to get involved, please visit www.jupiterinletfoundation.org.

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