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UVI Researchers Seek Help to Stop Invading Sea Grasses
08 December 2014, Saint Croix Source (US Virgin Islands)
In addition to lionfish, another invasive species is impacting the territory’s waters. A seagrass with the scientific name of Halophila stipulacea is spreading, and University of the Virgin Islands faculty and student researchers are asking residents to report the locations, UVI said in a Monday press release.
“Controlling the spread of this invasive species is critical due to its high capacity to replace and displace existing, native sea grass beds,” said Howard Forbes Jr., UVI Virgin Islands Marine and Advisory Service coordinator. “We are not sure what consumes this sea grass and so, should it completely dominate the marine ecosystem, it could mean the loss of food and habitat for some ecologically important marine organisms.”
The seagrass is not the sargassum weed that’s piling up on the territory’s beaches.
The invasive seagrass originated in the western Indian Ocean and is thought to have spread into the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas in ship ballasts and by fragmentation caused by anchoring and other bottom disturbances.
“It was first noticed in Guadeloupe and three years ago it was found here,” according to Rafe Boulon, who retired several years ago as chief of resource management for V.I. National Park.
According to the press release, UVI faculty and students are applying research, knowledge and education in an effort to combat the problem.
Marine and Environmental Sciences graduate students Sam Mitchell and Jess Keller recently wrapped up a study of the invasive sea grass as a part of the capstone project for their degrees. Their study revealed evidence that local animals eat the invasive sea grass, but the rate of consumption is not sufficient to prevent its expansion.
Native sea grasses are threatened by the invading sea grasses as they compete with the invasive species for resources and space. The fast growth rate of the invasive sea grass and its ability to regenerate from a tiny fragment enables it to rapidly establish new colonies in bare sand.
“This may have dire consequences for shallow, tropical marine ecosystems, since many organisms rely on native sea grasses for food and shelter,” Mitchell said.
Additionally sea grasses buffer currents, surge and beach erosion.
Mitchell said the invasive species can grow in the sand halo that typically surrounds coral reefs. This is important because this is an area where sea grasses are absent and represents an ideal location for the invasive species of sea grass to take root.
UVI asks that the public report any sightings of the invasive sea grass. Halophila stipulacea is commonly found in disturbed areas of between 98 to 147 feet in depth. Its leaves are usually between .11 to .59 inches long and .11 to .38 inches wide, which is small in comparison to the native species of sea grasses found within the Caribbean.
“An awareness campaign will target mitigation measures to prevent further expansion and any future invasions of nonnative species,” Keller said.
It is also important to identifying bays and estuaries that have not yet been invaded.
“These native strongholds are precious commodities at risk of invasion that need protection from the nonnative species,” Keller said. “Careful control of invasion vectors such as boat ballast storage areas, mobile attachments and the hulls of boats is necessary.”
Boaters are asked to avoid anchoring in sea grasses. This will limit damage to native sea grasses and encourage the growth of the nonnative sea grasses.
Anyone with knowledge of the presence of the foreign sea grass Halophila stipulacea, please report the sighting to the UVI Center of Marine and Environmental Science at (340) 693-1380.
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Turtles Betty and Barney released in Qld
06 December 2014, The West Australian (Australia)
Turtles are solitary creatures but after two years living flipper to flipper it was no surprise Betty waited for Barney when the pair were released back into the ocean.
Hundreds turned out at Kurrimine Beach, south of Cairns, on Saturday morning to farewell the green turtles who have been cared for at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island since 2011.
Centre co-founder Jennie Gilbert says it was an emotional day.
"There were a lot of tears but they're out there where they belong," she told AAP shortly after the turtles were released.
Ms Gilbert says turtles normally spend their lives alone but Barney and Betty appear to have made a connection after spending the past two years in a tank together.
"When they were put together (after being taken out of the tank when it was cleaned) they would be nose to nose and flipper to flipper," she said.
"Today when we released Betty she took off but then she waited for Barney and then they took off together."
Both have been fitted with GPS tracking devices so researchers can follow their movements, which will hopefully give them a better chance of survival and prove whether they remain long-term buddies.
Animals released by the centre have an 85 per cent survival rate.
Betty and Barney were found sick and starving - they weighed between six and 12kg - at separate beaches in the state's far north in 2011.
After three years of feasting on squid they now weigh between 65-70kg and are about 25 years old.
Turtles generally spend six to 12 months recovering at the rehab centre, which cares for about 40 turtles a year, but Barney and Betty were kept longer because they were so malnourished.
Most are taken to the centre suffering from starvation after their normal food source, seagrass, has been destroyed by storms or coastal developments.
Others are injured by boats, fishing nets or ingest rubbish.
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World's leading seagrass scientists confirm that despite conservation initiatives, all regions of the globe are experiencing seagrass habitat loss from human pollution and rapid development
03 December 2014, press release, IUCN
Seagrass losses threaten already-endangered species that depend on seagrass for food and habitat, including sea turtles, dugongs and sea horses. Seagrass habitats are a nursery for many fisheries species. It stabilizes and filters shallow coastal environments. The food security of coastal people worldwide depends on healthy seagrass meadows. Additionally, ocean carbon is stored in seagrass meadows, preventing its release into the atmosphere where it would contribute to global climate change.
The Seagrass Species Specialist Group, part of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), confirmed at the China workshop that although initiatives for seagrass recovery and conservation are occurring in some areas, all regions of the globe are experiencing seagrass habitat loss from human pollution and rapid development along the world’s coastlines.
The assembled scientists summarized seagrass status and health from their regions of the globe:
Seagrass scientists will continue their research and advocacy across all regions of the world. They are committed to ensuring that management agencies and governments have the best information available to safeguard seagrass meadows and to slow or halt their decline – a challenge that cannot be met without global public support. The next gathering of seagrass scientists will be at the 12th International Seagrass Biology Workshop in Wales, UK in 2016. Much must be done before then to stem current seagrass habitat losses.
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Australia: fast-tracked reef mega port could be approved by Christmas
05 December 2014, Dredging News Online (Australia)
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has expressed concern that the new dredging and dumping plans for Abbot Point are being fast tracked and could be approved by Christmas.
Felicity Wishart, AMCS Great Barrier Reef campaign director said it was reprehensible that such a dangerous and risky development in a precious area right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef could be rushed through.
The Queensland government has released reams of ‘preliminary documentation’ about this dredging and dumping project and given the community just ten working days to respond. "This consultation is a total sham for a development that has generated huge community concern," said the AMCS.
“This port expansion will see millions of tonnes of seafloor dredged up and dumped in the Reef’s sensitive wetlands, the natural filters and fish nurseries for the Reef and home to 40 000 shore birds.
“The Great Barrier Reef could be ruined with reckless industrialisation if the Abbot Point proposal is allowed to continue without adequate time to consider the risks.
“The state and federal governments are making all of the same mistakes that led to the environmental disaster in Gladstone Harbour.
“The toxic mix of poor regulations without adequate enforcement, fast tracked approvals, dredging and dumping behind poorly constructed seawalls was followed by sick fish, dead dugongs and the collapse of the local fishing industry.
“The Queensland government is hell bent on rushing this port expansion through and Federal Environment Minister has been complicit by not requiring a full environmental impact study and allowing community consultation to be the absolute minimum of only 10 days.
“This rush means the Federal Minister could approve the port expansion and environmental consequences as early as Christmas.
“We need to remember that this new dredging and dumping plan has come about because of international outrage at the decision to dump in the Reef’s waters.
“The Queensland and Federal governments are failing in their obligations to ensure the toughest environmental scrutiny and standards for the protection of our most precious natural asset, the Great Barrier Reef,” said Ms Wishart.
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Loss of sea meadows in the Lakshadweep lagoons
05 December 2014, The New Indian Express (India)
A study led by CMFRI principal scientist P Kaladharan showed that the loss of sea meadows in the Lakshadweep lagoons would adversely affect tuna fishery. The sea-grass, which is considered to be underwater prairies, is facing severe damage in the Lakshadweep waters.
The loss is estimated to be 60-70 per cent across the five islands where the study was conducted. An immediate causality would be the bait fish used for Tuna fishing. Since the sea meadow provides habitat for reef fish, its depletion would affect them also. Excessive grazing by turtles and ecological changes due to increased anthropogenic activities are identified as the prime causes of the depletion of sea grass.
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Abbot Point plan open for public comment
04 December 2014, 9news.com.au (Australia)
A Queensland government plan to dump millions of cubic metres of dredged seabed on wetlands as part of a project to expand a coal port has been released for public comment.
Members of the public have 10 days to make submissions on the proposal which involves reusing the dredge spoil on land at Abbot Point coal port near Bowen in the state's north.
The onshore disposal project would replace an already approved plan to dump the three million cubic metres of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Public submissions will be considered by Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who has the final say over whether the new plan goes ahead.
Australian Marine Conservation Society spokeswoman Felicity Wishart claims authorities are trying to fast-track the plan and says 10 days isn't enough for people to consider all of the complex reports.
"The Great Barrier Reef could be ruined with reckless industrialisation if the Abbot Point proposal is allowed to continue without adequate time to consider the risks," she said.
The dredged seafloor will be dumped on the nationally significant Caley Valley Wetlands which is a natural filter for the reef and home to fish nurseries and 40,000 shore birds, she says.
Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney says documents for the Abbot Point Port and Wetlands project have been publicly available since October 3.
"Consultation on additional information requested by the Commonwealth began today and closes on 18 December," he told AAP, adding that the timeline had been set by the federal government.
Mining firms GVK Hancock and Adani have said they want to begin the dredging project by June, while Mr Seeney has said he's hopeful the onshore plan will be approved by the end of the year.
The Abbot Point expansion is a crucial step in the development of $28.4 billion of coal reserves in the Galilee Basin which will be shipped out of the port.
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Australian government taken to international tribunal over Great Barrier Reef
04 December 2014, ABC Online (Australia)
THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT'S handling of the dangers facing the Great Barrier Reef will be brought before an international tribunal in Lima, Peru on Saturday. It is one of 12 cases being heard at the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature.
Michelle Maloney, national convenor Australian Earth Laws Alliance and chair of the Environmental Defenders' Office, Queensland helped prepare the case. She said the aim was to generate a strong statement of concern from the "ethical leaders" of the Tribunal over the governments' perceived neglect of the Reef in the face of climate change, increasing development and agricultural run-off.
"We will be presenting the escalating threats from industrial development that the Queensland and Australian governments are allowing to happen and that threatens the existence of the Great Barrier Reef in contravention of UNESCO's World Heritage Convention. AELA is bringing the case to bring to the attention of the global community what's happening to the Great Barrier Reef," she said.
The International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature formed earlier this year from an alliance of nearly 100 environment and law groups. It aims to promote what it describes as "wild law", the idea that ecosystems have an intrinsic right to exist and are not simply a resource for humans.
"The rights of nature movement says we shouldn't just have legal efforts to mitigate around the edges of a fundamentally pro-growth, development-oriented legal and governance system; we should radically rethink and transform our legal governance system to reflect what we actually know as a truth in science, which is human beings are just one part of an interconnected community," said Maloney.
A judging panel, made up of legal, environmental and community representatives is expected to find in favour of the case, in which case they would write to the Australian and Queensland governments urging them to do more to protect the Reef.
"The reality is as a citizen's tribunal it doesn't have the weight of government," conceded Maloney. But she said that the statement is a reflection of certain society views and the correspondence will "support and add weight" to a wider movement to protect the Reef.
She said it helps present a more complete picture of the views of the community, like when the wider community expresses dismay at a judge's sentence in a domestic abuse case, for example.
"We're not aiming for winners and losers, we're looking for statements of ethical and moral concern. It could well come back and say the evidence presented doesn't actually indicate there's been a violation of the rights of nature. But the fact that the case has been accepted means the Tribunal is obviously sympathetic to the plight of the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs around the world."
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Turtles starving to death in wake of Queensland cyclones, floods
27 November 2014, ABC online (Australia)
Marine wildlife such as turtles and dugongs are still starving to death as a result of Cyclone Larry, Cyclone Yasi and the Brisbane floods, researchers at James Cook University in far north Queensland say.
Queensland Government figures show more than 5,000 turtles had washed up dead or dying onto Queensland's beaches since 2010.
There had also been more than 350 cases of stranded dugong in the past four years.
Dr Jennie Gilbert said those natural disasters killed many of Queensland's seagrass and it was yet to grow back.
She was concerned for the long-term future of green turtles after recent stranded cases in Cairns.
Dr Gilbert said the university had conducted several examinations of dead animals to find out the cause of death.
"We've just done actually six necropsies today," she said.
"Three of those turtles were suffering from starvation so we're still getting starvation turtles in.
"One of them had an impaction in its gut caused by a huge blockage and the other two had unfortunately fishing line through their intestinal tract and a lot of fishing line."
Dr Gilbert said humans were impacting on turtle populations as well.
"If you do have a fishing line that's snagged please don't cut it off and just let it go in the water," she said.
"Don't throw fishing line that's no good over the side of the boat.
"Unfortunately these animals are starving - they're becoming opportunistic eaters, they're eating what they can see - they don't know the difference.
"It's a horrendous way to die when you open them up and see the fishing line through them, it's terrible."
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Indian River Lagoon seagrass showing signs of recovery
26 November 2014, Florida Today (USA)
Despite entering its dormant season, seagrass is showing signs of recovery in the Indian River Lagoon.
The bottom plant that provides a key barometer of the lagoon's overall health is stable in the south-central Indian River Lagoon, data released this month shows.
St. Johns River Water Management District surveys near Wabasso and Vero Beach found that seagrass coverage has remained stable since October.
The news comes on the heels of district reports last month that lagoon seagrass had increased by 4,700 acres, or 12 percent, between 2011 and 2013.
Seagrass is the lagoon's prime nursery for fish and other marine life that helps drive $3.7 billion in annual economic activity.
Despite recent improvements, seagrass remains well below what it was just two years before a 2011 algae "superbloom." That event and subsequent algae blooms killed some 47,000 acres of lagoon seagrass, about 60 percent of the lagoon's total coverage.
Hundreds of manatees, pelicans and dolphins died in the fallout from the seagrass loss.
In October and early November, fish deaths were reported in the Merritt Island-Sykes Creek area of the lagoon. No algae blooms have been identified, district officials said.
But in late October, state wildlife officials found a bloom of a type of algae that can trigger fish kills and turn some pufferfish and other marine life toxic to humans. When stirred at night, the algae causes the water to glow brightly, a phenomenon called bioluminescence.
Seagrass the district transplanted last year throughout the lagoon has shown mixed results, with natural seagrass growth outpacing the transplants. The district plans to spend about $85,000 on the three-year transplant project.
The Sebastian Inlet District — which pioneered seagrass transplant methods in the lagoon — chipped in about another $25,000 for similar efforts near the inlet, with positive results so far.
"We have had great success on the shoals with the acreage of seagrasses going from nine acres in 2012 to currently having 84 acres on the shoals," said Don Deis, a senior scientist with Atkins North America, a consultant to the inlet district.
Recent data from the St. Johns district shows seagrass coverage in Volusia, Brevard and Indian River counties is still almost 40 percent less than what it was before the 2011 superbloom.
Seagrass grew from just over 38,300 acres in that region in 2011 to more than 43,000 acres last year.
But the increase may only reflect normal year-to-year variations, district officials said.
Just two years before the 2011 superbloom, lagoon seagrass thrived at levels not seen since the 1940s. Restoration efforts finally seemed to be paying off, with some help from drought, which meant less polluting runoff into the waterway.
But drought, coupled with record cold winter temperatures, also was among the major driving factors that fueled the superbloom and subsequent brown algae blooms, according to scientists at the University of Florida and the district.
Extreme cold in December 2010 and January 2011 killed tiny marine organisms that graze on algae, allowing the superbloom to thrive, the researchers concluded in a recent research paper published in the journal Estuaries and Coasts. Drought also drove lagoon salt levels into the ideal range for the algae species that bloomed in recent years, the researchers concluded.
Officials expect seagrass to rebound more quickly near inlets. But grass beds near cities could take much longer.
"It is showing good signs that it has the ability to recover," said Martin Smithson, director of Sebastian Inlet District.
"In the urban areas, it will probably take six to 10 years."
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Vietnam to host first Dugong Festival on Phu Quoc Island
26 November 2014, Thanh Nien Daily (Vietnam)
A festival will be held on Phu Quoc on November 30 to raise awareness about the protection of the Dugong, an endangered marine creature that lives in the waters around Vietnam’s largest island.
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Canegrowers warned 'alternative' chemicals a threat to reef health
17 November 2014, ABC Online (Australia)
A researcher is warning new herbicides used within the Queensland sugarcane industry could be just as damaging to the environment as the ones they're replacing.
The industry has been gradually reducing its reliance on a group of herbicides known as photosystem II inhibitors (PSIIs), which includes products such as diuron and atrazine.
Usage restrictions were placed on some of these chemicals in the Great Barrier Reef catchment during 2009, with the industry encouraged to move towards another group of mostly non-PSII herbicides.
However, James Cook University researcher Dr Aaron Davis says a desktop study of 25 'alternatives' shows many could be just as harmful as the regulated chemicals.
"Some of the alternative herbicides in fact did come out as posing, in a lot of ways, more risk to the environment, I guess, due to their proneness to movement offsite in runoff water," he said.
"Also their toxicity [is greater] than some of the regulated herbicides now that have been red-flagged to a certain extent.
"Virtually any herbicide can cause problems if it moves off-farm, and I guess there's not too many that tick the box of working really well at killing weeds, but also causing no problems if they run off the farm.
"But a number of those which may pose additional, we think, or comparable risks to regulated herbicides include things like metribuzin, pendimethalin and terbutryn.
"And some of the shorter lived herbicides, the ones that have had the sales pitch of being shorter lived and friendly for the environment, they may also pose problems down the track, glyphosate and 2-4-D.
"It's not to say they're quite as bad environmentally, but there's lots of different issues, not just from an environmental perspective."
Implications for canegrowers
The research findings were published in May, but will only go before the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for consideration later this month.
In a statement, APWMA executive director Dr Raj Bhula says 'it's too early to tell what the regulatory response may be'.
Dr Davis says regulation was an 'ad hoc' reaction to the reef health issue, and is cautioning against further restrictions being placed on the industry.
"I think we may be doing the industry a bit of a disservice if we push them in a certain direction, when we're not really even sure ourselves about what are the long term implications of almost forcing that shift in some ways," he said.
"There's a need for a broad range of herbicides in certain industries and a lot of the ones that growers have used in the past, they use because they work well.
"I don't personally think [more] regulation is necessarily the best way to go, and I don't think the APVMA or the industry thinks that either."
Industry 'supports the science' behind chemical regulation
While the long-term implications of the findings remain unclear, the industry has thrown its support behind the research effort.
Manager of Canegrowers Herbert River and Ingham, Peter Sheedy, says if additional regulations are imposed as a result of the study, growers will simply have to adapt.
"We support the science that enables us to keep on doing things better and better," he said.
"With the chemicals people do use, they've all been through an evaluation and approval process, through the APVMA.
"I guess what we're hearing is that JCU might have some good information to pass onto that process, and I guess that's where that effort really needs to be directed."
The Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection says that, since 2009, $5.4 million has been invested to support graziers and cane growers develop best management programs to prevent sediments, fertilisers and pesticides entering the reef.
Almost $9 million has also been spent on research projects to give graziers and cane growers more information and tools to develop property action plans.
The Department says its latest Reef Report Card (released in June) showed the decline in the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef had halted and reversed.
It also says 49 per cent of Queensland sugarcane growers had adopted improved land management practices by June last year, with a 28 per cent drop in pesticides now entering the reef.
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Speared dugong swims ashore to die
07 November 2014, Solomon Star (Solomons)
THE unexpected happened on Thursday at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources head office when from the ocean; a dugong came ashore and died at the Ministry’s ramp (seafront).
The event which seemed unusual was the first of its kind to have occurred, stirring many of the Ministry’s officers to stand and watch in amazement.
After careful observations, it was determined that the dugong was believed to had been speared by fishermen at sea a while ago, and had come ashore to die.
“It had a huge spear mark on its side believed to have been inflicted by fishermen.
“It was indeed so sad to see it coming slowly ashore, rested on our ramp and died peacefully there,” a witness informed this paper, Thursday.
“This is the first time such has occurred in our premises. It’s amazing and at the same time sad to have seen what happened,” an officer from the Ministry recalled.
The corpse was believed to have been butchered and then shared amongst those who were at the scene on Thursday.
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03 November 2014, ABC
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