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International Manatee Day September 7th

07 September 2014

In honor of International Manatee Day, and to heighten public awareness about this endangered species, Save the Manatee Club reminds Floridians and visitors to the Sunshine State to watch out for manatees on the crowded waterways and also be equipped to help protect the slow-moving marine mammals.

The Club produces free bright yellow waterproof boating banners with the message, “Please Slow: Manatees Below.” Displaying the banner helps alert other boaters to manatees in the area. Free shoreline property signs, weatherproof boat decals, and waterway cards that feature manatee protection tips in English, French, Spanish, and German, are available, too. The Club also produces a family-friendly outdoor sign to teach the public “manatee manners” and help stop manatee harassment. The signs are distributed to state, municipal, and county parks; marinas; and other sites where human/manatee interaction can be a problem.

“We have a wide variety of programs, both in America and in other countries manatees inhabit,” says Patrick Rose, Save the Manatee Club’s Executive Director. “We continue to expand our programs which include funding more rescue, rehabilitation, and release efforts in the U.S. and abroad, advocating for the strongest possible protection measures for both endangered manatees and their aquatic habitat, and continuing to raise public awareness with the Club’s free outreach materials.”

Rose explains that one of the Club’s most pressing tasks right now is to ensure manatees are not stripped of their current federal endangered species protections. “The Pacific Legal Foundation, representing anti-manatee interests in Crystal River, Florida, filed a petition earlier this year with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to change the status of the manatee with the goal of rolling back much-needed protection measures, despite very high manatee mortality over the last several years. Last year alone, 17% of the known population died in a single year from all causes. Even with their current protective status, manatees continue to die in vast numbers in Florida’s dangerous waters – just imagine how much worse it would be if protection measures were lifted. Together we must resist efforts to prematurely downlist the manatee because this is about political rather than scientific reasons.”

Save the Manatee Club is an award-winning international nonprofit conservation organization in operation since 1981 when it was co-founded by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and Bob Graham, former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator. It is the recognized worldwide leader in manatee education and conservation efforts.

More information: Click Here

Read more on Manatees in Seagrass-Watch Issue 46: Manatee - June 2012








Inquiry urges halt to reef dredge dumping

03 September 2014, 9 News, AAP (QLD, Australia)

Dumping dredge spoil near the Great Barrier Reef must stop until the impacts on the tourist attraction are properly investigated. It's a parliamentary inquiry recommendation that has bipartisan support, along with approval from the Australian Greens.

The health of the reef is in danger, with reports showing up to a 50 per cent deterioration of coral cover in the past three decades. Several factors could be to blame, including climate change, coastal development, crown-of-thorn starfish, coral bleaching and severe weather like tropical cyclones. The impacts of dredging are less well documented but there are concerns spoil could do long-term damage.

A panel has been set up to research the impacts of the activity and a Labor-Greens Senate committee has recommended a moratorium on dredge spoil dumping until that is completed. That has support from coalition committee members as do 22 of 28 other recommendations. "We acknowledge that the dredging, and the disposal of dredge spoil, can have some quite significant localised impacts," Liberal senator and committee deputy chair, Anne Ruston, said.

But Labor senator and committee chair Anne Urquhart accused the Abbott government of showing little interest in protecting the reef and focusing on mining in the area. The Australian Greens welcomed the moratorium but said it didn't go far enough, calling for a permanent ban on dumping in the world heritage area.

Among the recommendations with bipartisan support was consideration of a cap on dredge spoil in the area, completion of the Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan, continued research into best farming practices and an upgrade of sewage treatment plants in the area. However, despite the somewhat rare agreement on several recommendations, there were clashes over the government's one-stop-shop environment approvals.

Legislation before the Senate would hand approval power for nationally significant environment decisions to the states. Currently, projects need a tick from both the state government and the federal environment minister. Labor and the Greens oppose one-stop-shops, saying state governments don't have the standards or safeguards in place to deal with such approvals. It's not yet known if the government has the numbers to pass the legislation.

More information: Click Here

To read the parliamentary inquiry report and full list of recommendations


Fact file: How healthy is the Great Barrier Reef?

03 September 2014, ABC Online (Australia)

Green Turtle feeding on seagrass at Green Island, Cairns.. (Photo: Seagrass-Watch HQ

The health and sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef has been the subject of much debate, with UNESCO considering listing the world heritage site as in danger.

There are concerns over new industrial and mining developments, dredging, fishing, climate change and pollution.

Managed by the Queensland and federal governments, the reef is one of Australia's best-loved natural attractions, and a significant tourism drawcard.

So how healthy is the reef? ABC Fact Check investigates.


Threats facing the reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef ecosystem. Covering almost 350,000 square kilometres off the coast of Queensland, it is home to 2,900 coral reefs, 1,500 species of fish, 30 species of whales and dolphins and 133 species of sharks and rays.

The 2,300 kilometre reef also shelters sea animals threatened with extinction such as the dugong and multiple species of turtles.

Stretching up to 250 kilometres offshore at its widest, the reef includes shallow inshore waters supporting diverse seagrasses and mangroves, as well as mid-shelf and outer reefs that can extend to depths of more than 2,000 metres.

Protected by a marine park since 1975, the reef received world heritage status in 1981. UNESCO , the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, says it "is of superlative natural beauty above and below the water, and provides some of the most spectacular scenery on earth". It says the reef is "is one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on earth, and one of the most significant for biodiversity conservation".

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, a Federal Government agency, the reef faces a number of threats.

They include climate change, which is causing warmer waters and coral bleaching; declining water quality from coastal catchments and flow-on effects of agricultural practices; coastal development; fishing; and extreme weather, including flooding and cyclones.

UNESCO has been considering listing the Great Barrier Reef as a world heritage site in danger since June 2012. A final decision will be made in 2015.

Protecting the reef

Reef targets

In 2003, the federal and Queensland governments adopted the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. The plan was updated in 2009.

It aimed to halt and reverse the decline of water quality entering the reef until it was of a high enough standard to have no detrimental impact.

Targets set in 2009 relating to water quality included:

  • 50 per cent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus loads at the end of catchments by 2013
  • 50 per cent reduction in pesticides at the end of catchments by 2013
  • 50 per cent late dry season groundcover on dry tropical grazing land by 2013
  • 20 per cent reduction in sediment load at the end of catchments by 2020

Targets relating to management practices included:

  • 80 per cent of landholders in agricultural enterprises (sugarcane, horticulture, dairy, cotton and grains) will have adopted improved soil, nutrient and chemical management practices by 2013
  • 50 per cent of landholders in the grazing sector will have adopted improved pasture and riparian management practices by 2013
  • There will have been no net loss or degradation of natural wetlands by 2013
  • The condition and extent of riparian areas will have improved by 2013

A new plan with updated targets, Reef Plan 2013, was developed last year.

Risk management

In 2012 the federal government commissioned a strategic assessment to identify and manage risks to the reef in response to a request from UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

The strategic assessment investigated the adequacy of the existing management arrangements, and assessed development policies that could have any impacts on the reef. It was published on August 12, 2014.

The strategic assessment will be used to inform the Reef 2050 Plan, an Abbott Government initiative being developed with the Queensland Government and the marine park authority.

Biodiversity strategy

There is also a Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2013, which aims to identify at-risk habitats and species and reduce the threats and pressures they face.

Many of the projects are collaborations between the state and federal governments and other partners.

Reef report card

In June, the Queensland Government released the Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2012 and 2013 on the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. The report card measured what progress had been made since the 2009 targets set in the water quality protection plan.

It found the immediate goal of halting and reversing the decline in the quality of water entering the reef had been met.

Annual average pollutant loads had been significantly reduced, but overall marine conditions of the inshore reef (including coral, seagrass and water quality) remained poor. Land management practices across agricultural industries also improved but targets that were supposed to be met in 2013 had not actually been met.


Habitat and species health

The federal government's strategic assessment, carried out by the marine park authority, looked more broadly at the health of the reef.

It examined the condition and trends of all species living and migrating through the reef and their habitats, and areas further inland that are associated with the reef's condition.

The assessment "identified overwhelming evidence that a range of threats are continuing to affect inshore habitats along the developed coast, and the species that use these habitats".

The 34 habitats ranged from very good to very poor condition and most were considered stable. Some were deteriorating, and none were improving.

The strategic assessment listed 17 species including corals, seagrasses, sharks and rays, sea snakes, turtles, dolphins and dugongs.

Only crocodile and whale populations were found to be improving. They were among the few examples of populations recovering from past impacts, such as humpback whales that had been affected by commercial whaling. All other species were either stable or in decline.


Infographic: Species of the Great Barrier Reef (ABC Fact Check )

The assessment also considered environmental factors like sea temperature, ocean acidity, and reef building. None of 21 environmental processes considered by the assessment were improving - they were either stable or in decline.

The marine park authority also released its Outlook Report 2014, which identifies outbreaks of disease in some marine species in recent years, although most were "not recorded on a wider scale". It also identified an increasing number of outbreaks of the damaging crown-of-thorns starfish, and said this is an indicator that the ecosystem's health is declining.

Overall, the report found recovery in the ecosystem was poor, and had deteriorated since the last outlook report in 2009.

It concluded that: "Even with recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009 and is expected to further deteriorate in the future."

What the experts say

Using the same 2009 baseline levels as Reef Plan 2009, the Newman Government's Reef Plan 2013 set a number of targets for 2018 and updated slightly its long-term goal "to ensure that by 2020 the quality of water entering the reef from broadscale land use has no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef".

Water quality research scientist Dr Jon Brodie, from James Cook University, examined the updated targets in Reef Plan 2013 and told Fact Check some of the new targets were lower than the targets set in 2009.

Despite this, experts told Fact Check that there had been some measurable improvements in the quality of water entering the reef from catchments, largely as a result of improvements in agricultural practices.

But spatial information scientist Alana Grech, from Macquarie University, said there is more to the health of the Great Barrier Reef than addressing catchment water quality. Biodiversity factors such as those included in the federal government's strategic assessment are an important indicator of the condition of the reef. "You have to make a quantifiable link between what is happening in the catchments and what's happening in the Great Barrier Reef, where there's been a decline in biodiversity," she said.

What isn't improving

A 2013 report, of which Ms Grech is an author, documents ongoing decline in biodiversity in the region. This includes loss of coral cover and declining populations of dugongs, loggerhead turtles and hawksbill turtles. Weather events have also contributed to large losses of seagrass meadows and mangroves.

The report attributes much of the decline in biodiversity to human activities. Ms Grech identified catchments, port developments and management, urban development and activity, shipping, fishing and climate change as factors that impact biodiversity outcomes to various extents.

In a 2012 article, Dr Brodie said research over the last 30 years had established that the factors known to be most responsible for the loss of coral cover were "terrestrial pollution including the link to outbreaks of crown of thorns starfish, fishing impacts and climate change".

Climate change is listed as one of the leading causes of threats to the reef in the Marine Park Authority's outlook report.

Dr Brodie told Fact Check that, in addition to addressing climate change, the most pressing task is to "improve water quality from both agriculture and, increasingly, ports".

Queensland ports

Port development in the reef area has sparked controversy.

The Abbot Point coal terminal expansion project was criticised earlier this year following the marine park authority's January approval for a proposal to dump 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil within the park. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed he is considering a proposal that would see the dredge spoil dumped on land, not into the reef.

In June 2014, the Queensland Government released the Queensland Ports Strategy which restated the government's 2012 commitment to "restrict any significant port development, within and adjoining the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, to within existing port limits until 2022".

In 2011 and 2012 the risks to the reef from Queensland ports were reinforced after a bund wall - a retaining wall specifically designed to contain liquid or other products and prevent spills - in Gladstone Harbour failed.

The bund wall leaked dredge spoil into the reef and the leak coincided with an outbreak of fish disease in the area.

The Queensland government then allocated $4 million over two years to monitor the Gladstone Harbour following an investigation into water quality, fish and human health.

Dredging and the reef

Marine park authority chief executive Russell Reichelt says the Queensland Government placed "47 stringent conditions" on the development approval to allow dredging at Abbot Point, in addition to those already imposed by the Federal Government.

The aim of these conditions is to provide a net benefit for water quality. But in an article published in February, Dr Brodie said that was "likely to be impossible to achieve".

Dr Brodie believes bund walls and longer jetties are more environmentally-friendly alternatives to dredging.

He told Fact Check the Newman Government had chosen "the worst management decision for the Great Barrier Reef out of all the potential options they could have used".

Ms Grech also linked the decline in biodiversity in shipping ports to governments not conducting thorough assessments of the environmental impacts of port developments.

Professor Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies, is also critical of the dredging.

He says while there have been some improvements in water quality in catchment areas, "those improvements are being [outweighed] by the new permits for dredging".

Professor Hughes says a study published in May showed further evidence of the detrimental impact of ports on the reef.

The study maps levels and movements of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which Professor Hughes described as like a "chemical signature" from coal dust and which are also carcinogenic. It found that PAHs in some areas of the reef are approaching toxic levels.

"This is strong evidence of the scale of impact of coal mining on the Great Barrier Reef," he said.

Two studies published by the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in 2008 and 2012 point to immediate impacts on seagrass meadows as a result of dredging at the port of Hay Point in 2006. The studies found that seagrass meadows recovered in following years, but not to the state they were in before the dredging.

Senate report

The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee handed down a report into the health of the reef on September 3, 2014, which called for greater protection.

The report drew on many of the same sources already mentioned in this fact file. It concluded: "The committee is deeply concerned that the health of the Great Barrier Reef has declined and appears to be on a continual downward trajectory."

The committee made 29 recommendations including stopping the dumping of dredge spoil into the reef, at least temporarily, and investigating banning the practice altogether.

It also found that climate change is a significant threat to the future health and sustainability of the reef.

But the committee was divided, with Coalition senators dissenting from some key recommendations, including one that recommended the Senate not pass government legislation that would create a "one-stop shop" for environmental approvals.

"The Government's One-Stop Shop will streamline environmental assessment and approval processes by removing duplication between the Australian Government and states and territories. Importantly, this will be achieved while maintaining high environmental standards," the dissenting report says.

The bottom line

The Reef Plan Report Card 2012 and 2013 shows improvements in agricultural land management practices and reductions in pollutants entering the reef, which are positive outcomes for water quality. But in the majority of cases, those improvements were not good enough to meet the targets set in 2009.

Experts agree that there are many other ways to assess the health of the Great Barrier Reef, and many of those indicators, like biodiversity, are in decline and likely to get worse.

Without addressing problems including climate change, species and habitat health and the impact of coal mining and dredging, reef quality is unlikely to improve.

More information: Click Here


Mapping seagrass beds

22 August 2014, The News-Press (USA)

Mike Campbell, the environmental specialist for Lee County Natural Resources documents sea grasses at the entrance to shell cut at at Jug Creek on Bokeelia on Wednesday August, 13, 2014. He is documenting the grasses as part of monitoring study to determine the locations and movements of the grasses. (Photo: ANDREW WEST/THE NEWS-PRESS )

One morning last week, Mike Campbell did a little sole searching.

In water from waist- to neck-deep, the senior Lee County environmental specialist mapped a seagrass bed in Jug Creek at the north end of Pine Island, feeling the grass with the bottoms of his feet.

Starting in the middle, he shuffled through the grass bed; whenever his feet felt bare sediment instead of grass, he knew he was at the edge and marked the point with GPS; connecting the points, he determined the grass bed's size and shape.

"I do it stupidly without shoes, but I've got to feel the grass with my feet," Campbell said. "I just have to be careful and watch out for oysters."

Seagrasses are critical to Southwest Florida's marine and estuarine ecosystems because, among other things:

  • 80 percent of the area's recreationally and commercially important finfish and shellfish use sea grass beds for food and shelter.
  • Seagrasses filter water and absorb nutrients.
  • Seagrasses provide dissolved oxygen and stabilize sediments.

Seagrass covers about 60,000 acres of Southwest Florida's estuary bottom, but the area lost 29 percent of its seagrass between 1945 and 1982, mainly due to development, said Mindy Brown, an environmental specialist for the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves.

Since 1982, area seagrass beds have stabilized, though there are still losses due to poor water quality, dredging and filling and prop scarring.

In water from waist- to neck-deep, the senior Lee County environmental specialist mapped a seagrass bed in Jug Creek at the north end of Pine Island, feeling the grass with the bottoms of his feet. (Photo: ANDREW WEST/THE NEWS-PRESS )

"Seagrasses are an important indicator of how healthy our estuaries are," Brown said. "They often respond to water quality. If we see a decline in seagrass, we can relate it to changes in water quality and try to figure out why."

Scientists from Lee County's Division of Natural Resources, Florida Gulf Coast University, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation monitor seagrass beds in various parts of the county.

Lee County scientists monitor grass beds near public boat ramps, such as the bed in Jug Creek, which is near Lavender's Landing ramp in Bokeelia.

"We have some really old maps that need to be updated," Campbell said. "We need an accurate inventory of the resource: If the grass beds are damaged, we need to know what we had so we can tell what we lost.

"If there's a natural disaster, like a hurricane, and we lose grass beds, there might be funding available to restore them, but we'd have to be able to prove we had them."

When he finished mapping the grass bed in Jug Creek, Campbell drove the county's Carolina Skiff through Shell Cut into Charlotte Harbor, where he put on a dive mask and snorkel for his next task.

Standing in the shallow water, he randomly threw a 1-meter-square quatrat (a four-sided frame) and let it settle into the grass; then he ducked underwater to document how much grass was inside the quadrat and which of the area's three dominant seagrass species (turtle grass, shoal grass and manatee grass) were present.

After several throws, Campbell returned to the Jug Creek grass bed and threw the quadrat several more times, pausing once to play with a comb jelly and again to watch a manatee swim by.

"This area doesn't seem to be doing too bad," Campbell said. "The grass beds have definitely changed. The old lines don't match up with the new ones, but it's not that we've lost seagrass. It's more a shifting of the resource."

Although Southwest Florida is losing seagrass in some places, Lee County's seagrass beds are relatively healthy, said James Douglass, an FGCU assistant professor of marine ecology.

"Pine Island Sound is one of the healthiest seagrass sites in the area because it's not as exposed to runoff of cities and towns and isn't exposed to discharges from Lake Okeechobee through the Caloosahatchee River," Douglass said. "The most unhealthy seagrass is in the Caloosahatchee estuary; we've lost a lot of grass there.

"I've studied seagrass in Chesapeake Bay, in Massachusetts and places like that, and we're a long way from getting that bad. That makes it more important to save what we have now."

More information: Click Here


Heat wave offers glimpse into climate change

22 August 2014, Nassau News Live (USA)

An unprecedented marine heat wave that swept the Southeast Indian Ocean in 2011 has given FIU scientists a glimpse into the future of climate change.

The heat wave caused the loss of more than 90 percent of the dominant seagrass in some regions of Shark Bay, Australia. Since seagrass meadows provide habitat for many ecologically important species, and provide food for large grazers like turtles and sea cows, this dieback could have significant impacts on marine wildlife in the region, particularly the deteriorating health of green sea turtles. The heat wave also led to declines in scallops and blue manna crabs, triggering fishery closures for these species.

The findings, published in Global Change Biology today, show extreme climatic events, which are likely to become more frequent and intense under climate change, can abruptly restructure ecosystems if they disturb key habitat-forming species including seagrasses.

“When we think of climate change impacts on ecosystems, we often think they happen slowly over time, but we’re increasingly seeing that extreme events can trigger abrupt shifts in ecosystem structure and function,” said FIU marine sciences researcher Jordan Thomson, who led the study. “Increased temperature disturbances should be expected in this region in the future.”

Using in-water surveys, harvested plants and video footage from cameras worn by Shark Bay’s resident sea turtles, the FIU researchers along with researchers from the University of Western Australia found temperature extremes have the potential to trigger large-scale disturbances in seagrass ecosystems, and can impact the health of animals that are closely associated with seagrasses. While animal-borne video recorders have been widely applied to the study of animal behavior and ecology, this is one of the first studies to use them as a tool for monitoring ecosystem health from the perspective of large, free-ranging animals.

“We were able to detect a clear fingerprint of a warming event on the severe dieback of a temperate seagrass, showing that extreme temperatures alone are sufficient to produce abrupt, high-magnitude disturbances where foundation seagrasses occur near their thermal limits,” Thomson said.

The research in Shark Bay is unique because this region is remote, well-protected and is relatively free of most human stressors. According to Mike Heithaus, co-author of the study and interim dean of FIU’s College of Arts & Sciences, it is essential to determine how increasing levels of disturbance under climate change will interact with other common stressors, including pollution, overexploitation, habitat loss and fragmentation, to affect coastal marine ecosystems. The researchers hope to expand the research and explore how declining shark populations, the primary predator of sea turtles, may interact with climate disturbance to influence these ecosystems in the future.

“We are learning that sharks — many of which are disappearing at an alarming rate — can be critical to ecosystem health,” Heithaus said. “And they could be necessary for helping systems bounce back after getting knocked down by climatic events.”

More information: Click Here



Pave Paradise, Put Up a U.S. Military Airstrip

20 August 2014, Vocativ (Japan)


Despite protests, the U.S. military has begun construction of runways off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, potentially harming a critically endangered marine mammal

In the bright blue waters of Henoko Bay, off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, endangered dugong graze on fields of sea grass growing on the ocean floor. The gentle, manatee-like mammals, also called “sea cows,” have long been regarded as cultural icons by the Okinawans and are lauded as the inspiration for seafarers’ tales of mermaids and sirens. They’re also disappearing at a rapid rate.

The local population is estimated to include only one remaining herd with as many as 50 to as few as three animals, which is why American and Japanese conservation groups are outraged that the U.S. military is set to pave over their last remaining habitat.

The Department of Defense has already begun preliminary construction of what will be an airstrip extending offshore for the U.S. Marine Corps, which is relocating from its current location in a crowded, residential area of Okinawa to a stretch of shoreline in Camp Schwab. Environmental activists have filed a supplemental complaint against the DoD as a final, desperate attempt to halt the project.

Locals have also taken to protesting from the base’s future site by paddling out in small skiffs and kayaks.

“There is definitely a strong concern that this base construction could have very serious ramifications for the survival of the dugong population,” says Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner, who issued the complaint on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The recent filing was an addendum to a suit initially brought against the DoD in 2003, requiring that the government agency conduct a detailed analysis of the airstrip’s potential impact on dugong population.

In April of this year, the U.S. military concluded that the construction of the base and its runways would have no effect on the health of the marine mammals, but Wagner claims the military excluded both the public and local dugong experts from its investigation, making it null. “Procedural and substance issues proved that there was a lack of good science to allow them to draw the conclusions that they drew,” says Wagner.

The new complaint calls for a more adequate, scientific assessment.

“Basic respect demands that the United States make every effort not to harm another country’s cultural heritage,” Wagner says.

For the Okinawan people, the dugong have also become a symbol of the multitude of burdens they’ve faced because of the presence of the U.S. military, which now occupies 20 percent of the main island. Frequent grievances include aircraft noise, the risk of aircraft accidents and crimes committed by U.S. military personnel, such as the rape and sexual assault of local women.

Protesters stage a rally on Aug. 14 at the gates of Camp Schwab, near the site of the new U.S. military runways in Nago, Okinawa. AFP/Getty Images

Okinawan leaders are also largely opposed to the U.S. military’s occupation of the area. In January of this year, Susumu Inamine, the major of the town where Henoko is located, was elected on an anti-base platform and is fighting to block the construction of the airstrip.

“Pushing forward with this tramples on the human rights of the people, and the rich diverse natural life of this region,” Inamine said in a recent statement. “This is no longer about democracy.”

But Japanese Prime Minister Shizo Abe has repeatedly given the project his blessing, describing it as vital for the country’s alliance with the U.S. amid territorial disputes with China and nuclear intimidation from North Korea. And for the DoD, the new base will be an integral part of the military’s ongoing realignment to the Pacific (also known as the “pivot to Asia“).

Courtney Caimona, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps, says she cannot comment on pending litigation. “The Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) construction project at Camp Schwab is a Japanese project,” she adds. “Japan is reaffirming its commitments under the United States-Japan Security Treaty and helping to maintain regional peace, security and economic stability.”

Unfortunately for the dugong, the fate of their tenuous existence now rests on a court decision.

“These gentle animals are adored by both locals and tourists,” says Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Paving over some of the last places they survive will not only likely be a death sentence for them, it will be a deep cultural loss for the Okinawan people.”

More information: Click Here



Endangered dugong spotted just east of Henoko site

19 August 2014, The Japan Times (Japan)

A dugong, a rare marine mammal that inhabits waters around Okinawa, was spotted about 5 km east of Henoko on Sunday, the same day as seabed surveys started before landfill operations begin at the relocation site for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma.

A dugong, a threatened species due to the loss and degradation of underwater sea-grass meadows, was spotted and photographed from a helicopter by a Kyodo News reporter.

“There’s no doubt this is a dugong,” confirmed Mariko Abe of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan, who specializes in the area’s ecosystem.

The dugong, a species of marine mammal which is believed to be the source of the mermaid and siren myths, was watched for about 10 minutes at around 4:25 p.m. when it repeatedly appeared at the surface and then dived.

The mammal’s large nostrils on the muscular upper lip, which enable it to breathe when it surfaces, and its tail fluke were also visible.

In the Henoko coastal area, just a few kilometers away from where the mammal was spotted, a barge was readied Sunday. Around it, orange buoys and other floating devices have been installed to mark the restricted area where the survey of the seabed will be carried out.

Outside the marked-off area, as many as 15 Japan Coast Guard patrol ships were on duty in an effort to keep protesters away from the site.

More information: Click Here



Great Barrier Reef will deteriorate further after decision to dump spoil from Abbot Point, former marine park official says

18 August 2014, ABC Online (Australia)

Australian authorities are failing to protect the country's greatest natural icon, the Great Barrier Reef, by approving the dumping of dredge spoil inside the marine park, a former government official says.

Jon Day, until recently the director of Heritage Conservation at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), has told the ABC's Four Corners that not enough was being done to repair the reef.

He says the dumping of dredge spoil will put more pressure on the reef, which is already in decline.

In January, the GBRMPA approved a plan to dump 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil inside the marine park for the expansion of Queensland's Abbot Point coal port.

Tonight Four Corners reveals the fraught year-long struggle within the GBRMPA against this proposal by scientists and senior officials who feared the effect it could have on an already weakened reef system.

The decision has been widely condemned by senior marine scientists and was criticised by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which will decide next year whether to declare the reef as "in danger".

Mr Day, who resigned from the authority last month, says alternatives to sea dumping for Abbot Point were not properly considered.

He says the dumping will add to the stress already on the reef from agricultural run-off, overfishing and extreme weather.

"If we take that into account and if we did a proper evaluation of all the alternatives, that decision would not have been made," he said.

"Our own legislative mandate says 'the long-term protection and conservation of the values', and we're not doing that."

But GBRMPA chairman Russell Reichelt says the disposal will only be done under tough environmental conditions and will not do long-term harm to the reef.

Four Corners can also reveal discussions are taking place which could see the reversal of the Abbot Point dumping decision.

Inquiries are underway into an alternative to sea dumping.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who also approved the dumping, told Four Corners that Abbot Point was a "line in the sand" and he has guaranteed that no further dumping will take place in the marine park under his watch.

"I made the decision that this would be the last time, that we were changing the practice," he said.

"Since then we have stopped four inherited proposals from proceeding which would have seen material deposited into the marine park."

Last week GBRMPA released its 2014 outlook report which outlined the poor health of the reef and painted a bleak picture, citing climate change and ocean acidification as the greatest long-term threats to the reef.

"Even with the recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009, and is expected to further deteriorate in the future," the agency said in its report.

Watch the full report, Battle For The Reef, on Four Corners

More information: Click Here



'Don't tangle with seagrass': Hornsby mayor

16 August 2014, Cadtle Hills News (Australia)

Hornsby Council has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the fragile seagrass beds in the Hawkesbury Estuary, urging boat users to take care around them.

Mayor Steve Russell said the seagrass beds were vitally important to the health of the estuary, as they act as nurseries for young fish.

“Boat propellers, anchors and mooring chains can very easily damage them – even small scars reduce resistance to erosion and lead to far greater damage,” Cr Russell — who lives on the river and drives his boat to work every day — said.

Hornsby Cuncil has also created a pamphlet and posters, to be distributed throughout the area, with information boaters need to avoid damaging the seagrass.

“The message is a simple one – don’t tangle with seagrass,” Cr Russell said.
Points to remember when boating:

  • Avoid shallow water;
  • Observe signs and marker buoys; and
  • Don’t anchor on seagrass.

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Let's Start Caring About Seagrass Like We Care About The Rainforest

16 August 2014,

Seagrass deserves just as much attention as the tropical rainforest

The rainforest gets a lot of attention. There are many Save the Rainforest campaigns, and while there is certainly much more work to be done to ensure that we do what we can to stop deforestation, there’s no denying that it’s definitely a part of our collective environmental conscience. Seagrass, on the other hand, is a different story.

When was the last time you saw a Save the Seagrass initiative? Probably never. Seagrass deserves just as much attention as the tropical rainforest, because it’s disappearing just as quickly, to the tune of two soccer fields an hour.

Why is seagrass so important? It plays an essential role in the lives of juvenile fish, providing them with a habitat in which they can thrive. For example, a new study shows that seagrass contains higher fish abundance than adjacent sand. This has a big impact when we’re thinking about commercial fishing. As the report’s abstract explains, “Although fisheries are of major economic and food security importance we still know little about specific juvenile habitats that support such production. This is a major issue given the degradation to and lack of protection afforded to potential juvenile habitats such as seagrass meadows.”

If we don’t protect those areas of seagrass, those fish in turn will have a harder time surviving. “When you start to lose these habitats you’ll see smaller juveniles and smaller fish stocks,” Dr. Richard Unsworth, lead researcher on the study, told the BBC.

Seagrass deserves as much attention as some of the other sensitive environments that have taken the headlines in terms of environmental causes. “The rate of loss is equal to that occurring in tropical rainforests and on coral reefs yet it receives a fraction of the attention,” Dr. Unsworth said.

Seagrass is up against a lot. It’s facing the problems of ocean acidification, coastal development and degraded water quality, and the problem is being felt around the globe. Part of a complex ecosystem, the loss of seagrass has many impacts beyond just fish. As a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences stated:

“Losses of seagrass meadows will continue to reduce the energy subsidies they provide to other ecosystems such as adjacent coral reefs or distant areas such as deep-sea bottoms, diminishing the net secondary productivity of these habitats (14). Seagrass losses also threaten the future of endangered species such as Chinook salmon (39) and the habitat for many other organisms. Seagrass losses decrease primary production, carbon sequestration, and nutrient cycling in the coastal zone (5).”

Ultimately, with the current rate of seagrass loss, we’re looking at serious environmental and economic consequences. “If the current rate of seagrass loss is sustained or continues to accelerate, the ecological losses will also increase, causing even greater ill-afforded economic losses,” wrote the authors of the NAS report.

Maybe it’s time we paid a little more attention to protecting seagrass.

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Seagrass fish feeding grounds 'lost like rain forests'

12 August 2014, BBC News (UK)

Seagrass - here with a conger eel - is usually found in sheltered waters, including coves and moorings

Underwater fish "meadows" are being lost at the same rate as the Amazon rain forests, researchers have warned.

Seagrass is a key habitat for feeding and sheltering young fish, including plaice, haddock and pollock.

But every hour an area the size of two football pitches is destroyed.

Scientists from Swansea University believe the habitats need to be protected otherwise fishing stocks could be affected.

"The rate of loss is equal to that occurring in tropical rainforests and on coral reefs yet it receives a fraction of the attention," said Dr Richard Unsworth, lead researcher.

"If you're a small fish, like a juvenile cod, then you need food and shelter. Seagrass meadows provide both."

The biggest threat is from poor water quality and damage caused by boat anchors and moorings.

The Swansea research, for the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc), is part of a global conservation effort to save seagrass.

The team, using baited underwater camera systems and netting, took a year to measure the size and number of fish in seagrass meadows in the seas around Britain, and compared the results with nearby sand habitats.

Seagrass is found just off the shoreline so is vulnerable to pollution and disturbance by marine anchors

The study included Porthdinllaen and Pen-y-Chain on the Llyn peninsula in Gwynedd.

In one seagrass site off the Gwynedd coast, divers found 42 fish species, 10 of which are important commercially.

"If there's lots of food available for them to eat and reduced predation, like there is in seagrass meadows, they don't spend all their time hunting for food so they're more likely to survive and put on weight faster," said Dr Unsworth.

"When you start to lose these habitats you'll see smaller juveniles and smaller fish stocks."

The research is part of a wider project assessing the benefits of seagrass meadows across the Atlantic, which is funded by the Welsh government and the EU.

"We want to work with partners around the country to look at trying to get this up the conservation agenda," said Dr Unsworth.

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Read more on Porthdinllaen : Seagrass-Watch Magazine: Issue 47









Planting meadows in the ocean: technique may help restore disappearing seagrass beds

11 August 2014, (USA)

Seagrass spathes (the part of the plant that contains its seeds) surrounded by netting that allow the seeds to fall to the seabed below. Photo by Jude Stalker.

Seagrass meadows form important parts of many ocean ecosystems, but is disappearing due to human impacts. However, a study published recently in PLOS ONE found eelgrass beds could benefit from a restoration technique using seed-filled pearl nets.

The technique, called Buoy-Deployed Seeding (BuDS), uses pearl nets filled with seed-containing “spathes,” which are much like peas in pea pods. The spathe-filled pearl nets are attached to a buoy anchored to the substrate so that the net sways with the tides. The seeds in the spathes develop naturally and drop to the floor as they ripen. This is closer to what happens in nature compared to other artificial seeding methods that broadcast mature seeds at once, according to Dr. Brian Ort, lead author of this study that was conducted at the Romberg Tiburon Center of San Francisco State University.

Eelgrass is a genus (Zostera) of a marine plant that has long, grass-like leaves, which grows in coastal waters and brackish ares around the world. It provides the foundation for entire ecosystems, just as corals do for a coral reef ecosystem, according to Ort.

“Eelgrass provides physical structure and shelter for many other organisms,” he explained. “Fish, including commercially important species, use it to hide from predators or prey. Some, like herring, use it as a nursery in which they lay their eggs, giving their young a safer place to grow before migrating to sea.”

Eelgrass and other seagrass species also provide ecosystem services that benefit humans.

Buoys are used to suspend the spathe nets high in the water so that their seeds disperse widely. Photo by Jude Stalker.

“Being rooted in the sediment, they stabilize substrates and shorelines, improving water quality and guarding against erosion, like terrestrial grasses do,” Ort said. “In addition, their shoots absorb wave energy, also protecting shorelines. This also improves water clarity by trapping fine sediments in the water column, allowing them to settle to the bottom.”

Eelgrass, however, is disappearing from sea floors due to human influences.

“Eelgrass is impacted by the filling of shallow waters, dredging,…boat anchoring and mooring chains, wave energy from boats, trawling, poor water clarity as a result of sediment, and nutrient run-off,” Ort said. “The elimination of shallow areas, for example by dredging a channel and then protecting the steepened shoreline by the use of rip-rap, also eliminates eelgrass habitat. Climate change, and the rising sea levels that come with it, is also reducing the amount of suitable habitat available for eelgrass.”

The study found that BuDS is especially effective for preserving genetic diversity. The method was tested in tanks filled with water from San Francisco Bay and with seed-filled nets floating in each. The seeds fell from the nets and started to grow as they matured, and the researchers compared the genetic diversity of the seedlings in the bins to that of the natural environment where the seeds were collected. They found the resulting crop of eelgrass was just as genetically diverse as the beds where they came from.

Genetically diverse ecosystems, in relation to homogeneous ones, are better able to survive through stressful situations since a wide variety of genes allow for more flexible adaptive responses. Likewise, genetically diverse patches of seagrass tend to be better at withstanding heat and grazing by geese, increasing the likelihood that restoration will succeed.

Several years ago, BuDS was used for a project to restore a meadow that had suddenly died a few years earlier. Currently, this method is used as part of the Living Shorelines Project in the San Francisco Bay area, which aims to protect shorelines with sustainable resources and natural vegetation in lieu of conventional shoreline reinforcement methods that degrade wildlife habitat.

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