Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Dec 30th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Man is assaulting the oceans. They will smite him if he does not take care
NOT much is known about the sea, it is said; the surface of Mars is better mapped. But 2,000 holes have now been drilled in the bottom, 100,000 photographs have been taken, satellites monitor the five oceans and everywhere floats fitted with instruments rise and fall like perpetual yo-yos. Quite a lot is known, and very little is reassuring.
The worries begin at the surface, where an atmosphere newly laden with man-made carbon dioxide interacts with the briny. The sea has thus become more acidic, making life difficult, if not impossible, for marine organisms with calcium-carbonate shells or skeletons. These are not all as familiar as shrimps and lobsters, yet species like krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures, play a crucial part in the food chain: kill them off, and you may kill off their predators, whose predators may be the ones you enjoy served fried, grilled or with sauce tartare. Worse, you may destabilise an entire ecosystem.
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That is also what acidification does to coral reefs, especially if they are already suffering from overfishing, overheating or pollution. Many are, and most are therefore gravely damaged. Some scientists believe that coral reefs, home to a quarter of all marine species, may virtually disappear within a few decades. That would be the end of the rainforests of the seas.
Monday, December 29, 2008
December 27, 2008
For generations, bottom trawling has been a way of life for many coastal B.C. fishermen. Yet dragging, as the fishermen themselves refer to it, has come at considerable cost to the ocean floor and to many species of marine life. That's the conclusion of a report by the Ecology Action Centre, the Living Oceans Society and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute.
The report, titled How We Fish Matters, looked at 13 types of fishing gear and determined that bottom trawling was the worst. It resulted in more bycatch of other species, including non-food creatures such as starfish and coral, and more damage to the environment. On the other hand, diving, harpooning and the use of pots and traps were the least damaging.
The ecological impacts of fishing gear on seafloor habitat and the incidental catch of non-target marine species should play a significant role in fisheries management. Nevertheless, as of 2008 Canadian fisheries managers seldom consider habitat impacts in management decisions, and only selected fisheries are managed with bycatch quota or with bycatch mitigation measures for non-target species. As a result, significant unrecorded discarding of marine species and damage to marine habitat are ongoing problems in a number of Canadian fisheries.
Within this context, MCBI collaborated with Ecology Action Centre (EAC) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Living Oceans Society (LOS) in Sointula, British Columbia, and Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee at Memorial University, Newfoundland on a research project to assess the ecological impacts of a wide range of fishing gears, from bottom-tending gears to mid-water nets to pelagic fishing methods.
The assessment culminated in 2008 following an extensive review of fisheries statistics and scientific literature on fishing impacts; an experts’ workshop, where fisheries professionals, including fishermen, scientists and conservationists rated fishing impacts; and a survey to rank fishing methods according to their impacts.
The key findings are:
- Harpoon, dive, and hook and line are the fishing methods that result in the least impacts on habitat and discarded bycatch.
- Despite the frequently contentious nature of fisheries management decisions, the study found that stakeholders share similar judgments regarding the impacts of fishing gear on habitat and the amount of discarded bycatch. This provides a common place from which to begin building a new vision for Canada’s fisheries.
- The primary concern of survey respondents was the impacts of fishing gear on habitat damage.
- There are significant data gaps in many Canadian fisheries with regards to habitat damage and bycatch. Government data collection and public access to data were often found to be in need of improvement.
- Fisheries managers should immediately implement ecologically risk averse strategies to minimize the impacts of fishing gear on habitat and bycatch.
- Adequate monitoring and research on fishing gear impacts to habitat and non-target species must be undertaken, and made publicly available, to support ecosystem and spatial management practices.
- Implement, inform and develop policies and management practices that prioritize the minimization of habitat destruction and incidental catch and discarding of target and non-target species.
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Live softshell turtles are on sale at a fish market in L.A.'s Chinatown.
The reptiles, especially softshell turtles, are prized in China as food and as a source for traditional medicines. U.S. experts fear the trade could lead to extinctions.
By Kim Christensen
December 27, 2008
The turtle tank at Nam Hoa Fish Market is empty, but not to worry: The manager of this bustling Chinatown store says he has plenty in back.
"Big ones," he says, spreading his hands as wide as a Christmas turkey.
He nods to a worker, who slides a large, waxed-cardboard box from a stack behind the counter and strips off the lid. Inside is a squirming burlap bag, from which he dumps two 15-pound softshell turtles that hit the concrete with a clop, then flail helplessly on their backs.
"Miami," the shopkeeper says of the reptiles' origins. "All from Miami."
Fresh off a plane at Los Angeles International Airport, one of the hubs of the sprawling international turtle trade, the critters will help feed a huge and growing appetite for freshwater turtles as food and medicine.
The demand pits ancient culture against modern conservation and increasingly threatens turtle populations worldwide. As Asian economies boomed, more and more people began buying turtle, once a delicacy beyond their budgets. Driven in particular by Chinese demand, Asian consumption has all but wiped out wild turtle populations not just in China, but in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere in the region. Now conservationists fear that the U.S. turtle population could be eaten into extinction.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
ROME -- Whale and dolphin strandings are almost always a mystery. As soon as the animals wash, or propel themselves, ashore, the blame game starts.
Were their navigational skills thrown off-kilter by chemical pollution? Were they in pursuit of food and made a fatal turn? Were they chased into the shallows by fishing boats? Did something scare them?
A new theory says man-made carbon dioxide emissions could be at fault.
Scientists have known for some time that carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, is making the oceans ever more acidic. They have also known that acidic seawater absorbs sound less readily, that is, it transmits sound farther. What they did not know until recently is that even fairly small changes in acidity levels can have a dramatic effect on seawater's noise-transmission capability.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
By Colin Woodard
For once it's a good day at the Portland Fish Exchange in Maine.
Two dozen buyers representing fish processors, distributors, and retailers crowd in the auction room, consulting computer monitors and parrying one another's bids for the freshly landed catch laid out on ice in the refrigerated hangar next door.
Remnants of a tropical storm blew into the Gulf of Maine overnight, driving the fleet into port with whatever it had caught. Harmony, one of the few big bottom trawlers to have survived New England's fisheries crisis, has disgorged thousands of winter flounder caught in the Nantucket Sound, 180 miles to the south. Now packed in dozens of ice-filled totes, the small flatfish are displayed next to heaps of haddock and a 40-pound codfish brought in by one of a dozen smaller gillnetters, day boats that deploy their stationary gear on banks closer to home.
By Peter N. Spotts
Christian Science Monitor
In its waning weeks, the Bush administration is sorting through options that could lead to the largest marine conservation reserves in United States history.
At issue: Proposals to protect at least one of two vast reaches of ocean that host some of the most pristine coral-reef and under-sea mountain ecosystems in the Pacific. One candidate, a loose cluster of islands and atolls in the central Pacific called the Line Islands, covers a patch of ocean larger than Mexico. The other, a section of the northern Mariana Islands, is larger than Arizona.
The administration has been heavily criticized for its stance on environmental issues such as global warming and for its last-minute efforts to ease some environmental regulations. So its interest in a bold marine-conservation move may seem surprising. But the president “has had a strong interest in the health of the oceans,” says Dennis Heinemann, a senior vice president with Ocean Conservancy, a marine-conservation group in Washington.
In 2006, President Bush established a vast marine reserve along the northwest Hawaiian Islands, the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument. The monument spans an area larger than all of the country’s national parks combined.
It’s unclear at the moment whether the White House will take the same regulatory approach now. Mr. Bush could establish vast no-take zones, perhaps with exceptions to allow indigenous people to fish there. Or, he could merely endorse the concept of preserving these areas and punt the decision to the incoming Obama administration.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
By Andrew Revkin
There was new evidence early this week that the world has not yet absorbed just how deeply humans have depleted our “exhausted oceans.” At the latest meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, created under a treaty 42 years ago to manage shared fisheries in that ocean, European governments ignored a strong recommendation from the group’s own scientific advisers for deep cuts in some harvests of the Atlantic bluefin tuna. On its face, that would seem to be a strange development considering that the organization’s Web site says flatly: “Science underpins the management decisions made by I.C.C.A.T.”
But such moves seem unremarkable, for now, in a world seeking to manage limited, shared natural resources while also spurring economic growth — whether the resource is the global atmosphere or an extraordinary half-ton, ocean-roaming predator. The European stance — insisting on a harvest in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean 50 percent above the limit recommended by scientists — was sharply criticized by environmental campaigners, marine biologists and United States fisheries officials. Some biologists criticized the United States, as well, for playing down the role of American fishers, both recreational and commercial, in destroying the once-bountiful fishery.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
November 26th, 2008
Environment ministers preparing for next week’s talks on global warming in Poznan, Poland, have been sounding decidedly downbeat. From Paris to Beijing, the refrain is the same: This is no time to pursue ambitious plans to stop global warming. We can’t deal with a financial crisis and reduce emissions at the same time.
There is a very different message coming from this country. President-elect Barack Obama is arguing that there is no better time than the present to invest heavily in clean energy technologies. Such investment, he says, would confront the threat of unchecked warming, reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil and help revive the American economy.Call it what you will: a climate policy wrapped inside an energy policy wrapped inside an economic policy. By any name, it is a radical shift from the defeatism and denial that marked President Bush’s eight years in office. If Mr. Obama follows through on his commitments, this country will at last provide the global leadership that is essential for addressing the dangers of climate change.
Monday, December 01, 2008
But now, as he’s leaving office, the 43rd president is attempting to “blue” his legacy by granting national-monument status to a string of pristine islands, atolls and coral reefs in the center of the Pacific Ocean. Even those most critical of Bush’s environmental policies have voiced support for what could be the largest conservation initiative in American history, one that would protect wildlife by completely prohibiting commercial activity.
That’s good news for plummeting ocean diversity. The designated area boasts 19 species of whales and dolphins, giant clams, sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals and 14 million birds, including many of the last albatross and boobies. Endangered and threatened species are rarely found in such profusion elsewhere on the planet. Don Palawski, a Pacific Islands refuge manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says the region is a model of what healthy coral-reef ecosystems should look like and, if well-preserved, could teach us how to better steward damaged reefs closer to civilization.
Although public opinion on the few inhabited islands leans in favor of the plan, the Northern Marianas House of Representatives voted against monument designation, citing fear over future fishing restrictions. A similar proposal for islands off North Carolina and in the Gulf of Mexico was dropped last year after vigorous opposition from industrial fishing interests.
Somewhat ironically, Bush’s best ally in this battle may be climate change. With warmer waters and spiking ocean acidity eroding coral reefs, and 90 percent of the world’s predatory fish—such as tuna, sharks and swordfish—eradicated, conservation takes on a new urgency. “It is imperative,” says Lance Morgan, vice president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, “to fully protect this monument.”