Thursday, March 31, 2011
When people ask me what inspired me to get into the marine conservation field, usually I cite the amazing Dr. Sylvia Earle and her life-changing book (for me), Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans. And while that is the truth, it's not the whole truth.
The first inkling that this is what I wanted to do can be traced all the way back to my favorite Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. Citing Disney as an inspiration doesn't sound as impressive as Dr. Earle, they both played significant, yet different, roles in my love and perception of the oceans. Dr. Earle's book described in detail the plight of our planet and ways in which we could help save the ocean. It was powerful and made me want to jump in and start working immediately.
The Little Mermaid taught me about the joys of the sea. I wanted to be Ariel, surrounded by my fish and lobster friends, singing upbeat songs while swimming through the beautiful coral forests. Given the continued dire news regarding the health of the oceans, it is easy to feel helpless. Returning to The Little Mermaid, though, reminds me of the hope and happiness that exist in underwater. Even if the fish don't really sing and I don't have fins, it is the feeling that matters and keeps my hope alive.
May 20th through May 23rd, the BFC and members of the national and international marine community will come together for the 2011 Blue Vision Summit. The summit helps to "raise the profile of our community and work towards the enactment and enforcement of national ocean policy, addressing climate change impacts and Gulf restoration."
Planning is currently underway. To join us in Washington DC in May go to the registration page. Sponsorship opportunities are available. Visit the sponsorship page, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
*Note: no tattoos or piercings involved
Monday, March 28, 2011
The tsunami sent a 5 foot tidal wave crashing over Midway Islands which devastated the islands, particularly thousands of chicks in their nests on the beach. The chicks were too young to fly away to safety and wound up trapped in debris onshore or floating on debris mats out on the water.
Fish and wildlife staff members stationed on the island did whatever they could to save as many birds as possible. But there is a glimmer of hope in the darkness The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced this week that
"In the face of tremendous losses of Laysan and black-footed albatross at the Refuge — including an estimated 110,000 chicks and 2,000 adults — to the tsunami that overwashed portions of the Refuge, biologists are thrilled to discover that Wisdom survived, said Barry Stieglitz, Project Leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex."Wisdom, as The Associated Press has previously reported, is at least 60 years old. The wire service says that "a U.S. Geological Survey scientist first banded the seabird as she incubated an egg in 1956. She was estimated to be at least 5 years old at the time." Wisdom has raised at least 30 chicks. No other bird that has been banded by U.S. or Canadian wildlife agencies is older — hence her claim to fame.
The "average life span" of a Laysan albatross is 12 to 40 years, the Midway Atoll refuge says. The World Wildlife Federation says albatrosses can live "up to 60 years," which means Wisdom is a rarity.
No word yet on the fate of Wisdom's chick. As the chick was not banded, we may never know what happened to it, but we certainly hope it survived and is being cared for.
To see more pictures and learn more about what happened to the birds on Midway, check out this blog by Fish and Wildlife staff members that are stationed there:
Monday, March 21, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The tiny Juan de Fuca tectonic plate sits a few miles offshore, snuggled in-between the massive North American and Pacific tectonic plates, and slowly, but surely, subducting under the North American plate at the Cascadia subduction zone. Due to this phenomenon, Northern Californians do all that they can to prepare for what we call "The Big One"; no building taller than 3 stories, everything built with earthquake "stability" in mind, etc. The Japanese, who live in a similar situation, have done the same thing and after last week's 8.9 earthquake, most things remained shaken, but relatively intact. Even the nuclear power plants, which had only been built to withstand an 8.2 earthquake, withstood 7x the force and remained in good condition. So where did things go wrong? One word...tsunami.
Tsunamis scare me. I won't go into a lesson on what a tsunami is, or how they're formed, I'm sure recent reports from the media outlets have bombarded you with enough such details. However, I will point out that there is no way to really "prepare" for the impact of a tsunami. The best you can do is to have an early warning system in place to detect the impending arrival of one, hopefully with enough time to head for the hills. What barrier can be built to withstand a 30 foot wave crashing down on the shoreline at 45 mph? Interestingly enough, there are barriers out there that can help lessen a tsunami's impact, all you have to do is look a little offshore. Hopefully what you'll see is an intact coastal forest system, and a little beyond that, a healthy reef system; two wonderful and natural disaster prevention systems.
After studying the impacts of the Asian tsunami in 2004, UNEP and IUCN reported that areas with intact, healthy coral reefs and mangrove forests escaped with little damage and loss of human life compared to areas where these systems had been gravely impacted by anthropogenic stressers. We regularly hear about the effect climate change and overfishing are having on our coastal ecosystems, and how their loss will affect livelihoods and sustenance for hundreds of millions of people, but those are future consequences and somewhat intangible to the everyday human life. What about the reality of a tsunami happening at anytime with little notice? Are we directly endangering our lives by harming coral reefs and other important coastal ecosystems?
It's not just tsunamis that coastal ecosystems protect us from, they also help lessen the impact of erosion, and flooding and high waves from typhoons and hurricanes. These natural buffer zones are irreplaceable and immensely important to our protection, and on the plus side, they're free. All we have to do is manage them in a sustainable way.
The world renowned American oceanographer, Sylvia Earle, is convinced that our seas, and therefore our planet, are in grave peril. But how can she convince the world to take notice of a global threat which is invisible to most of us?She spoke to Stephen Sackur at the Editorial Intelligence conference in Portmeirion, in North Wales. Watch the video.
You can watch the full discussion on BBC World News on Wednesday 16 March 2011 at 0430, 0930, 1530, and 2130 GMT and on BBC News Channel at 0430 and 2330.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
In June 2006 President George W. Bush designated Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument thanks to advocacy by MCBI. We are now advising NOAA and USFWS on the development of monument management plans.
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, also referred to as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, is home to millions of seabirds, an incredible diversity of coral reef species, and the highly endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Approximately 90% of Hawaii’s green sea turtles nest in the monument, as do about 99% of the world’s population of Laysan albatross, and 98% of the black‐footed albatross. These islands are also important to Native Hawaiians for culture, history, and religion.
Now it appears that one of the island’s elderly residents has benefitted from the area’s continued protection.
BBC Earth News
The bird has probably raised 30-35 chicks during her life (Image courtesy BBC News)
The oldest known bird in the US, a Laysan albatross named Wisdom, has been spotted with a chick.
This image of the bird with its newly-hatched chick was taken by US Geological Survey (USGS) scientists at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the North Pacific.
The USGS put an identity ring on Wisdom in 1956, as she was incubating an egg.
Laysan albatrosses typically breed at eight or nine years of age, so the bird is likely to be in its early 60s.
Bruce Peterjohn, from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, said that the bird "looked great".
"To know that she can still successfully raise young at age 60-plus, that is beyond words," he said.
"While the process of banding (ringing) a bird has not changed greatly during the past century, the information provided by birds marked with a simple numbered metal band has transformed our knowledge of birds."
Scientists estimate that Wisdom has probably raised 30-35 chicks during her breeding life.
These birds lay only one egg per year, and spend most of the year incubating and raising their chicks.
Adult albatrosses also mate for life, with both parents raising the young, but researchers do not know if Wisdom has had the same partner during her 60 years of raising young.
Monday, March 07, 2011
The annual “Green Budget” report, delivered to Congress today by 35 organizations (including Marine Conservation Biology Institute), details wise environmental investments as the Federal government struggles to balance the budget. The Green Budget recommendations benefit America’s health, safety, energy and economic sectors. They also have the ability to enhance public welfare, accelerate the growth of our economy, create millions of well-paying jobs and protect the limitless value of our natural capital and ecosystems.
Marine Conservation Biology Institute led the ocean advocates community to analyze and thoughtfully recommend a selection of programs that are crucial to the recovery of our oceans as well as our economy. “Covering 71% of the Earth, our living oceans are humankinds’ biggest life support system. They provide jobs, food, medicines, energy, recreation and tourism opportunities, and are crucial highways for our trade with other nations. As economist Judith Kildow and coauthors showed, coastal counties contribute an astounding 43% of the USA’s Gross Domestic Product. Sustained funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the USA’s lead agency for ocean scientific research and management, is therefore absolutely essential to maintain and recover our country’s jobs and economic might", stated Elliott Norse, President of Marine Conservation Biology Institute.
Please read the report here: http://www.saveourenvironment.org/
It's one of the first marine protected areas to specifically protect sea mounts. Seamounts are like underwater mountains, and are islands of biodiversity in what is otherwise a biological desert of the open ocean. Currents around seamounts bring nutrient rich waters up from the deep ocean and support vibrant communities of sea life.
Click here to learn more about the new marine park and why seamounts are so important to protect.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
I know that's quite the definitive statement, and you may initially beg to differ, but I'd wager that I can change your mind.
Peacock mantis shrimp are what are known as "smashers" in the stomatopod world, and when I say smashers, I mean smashers! Name one other creature whose front appendages can have the same force as a .22 caliber bullet, and at maximum, will only grow to the length of your standard school ruler. Grabthar uses these fantastic weapons to stun mobile prey and smash open shells through cavitation to get at the yummy goodness inside. To see such prowess in action, I highly recommend watching this fantastic presentation by biologist Sheila Patek.
You may be thinking, yeah, that's pretty cool, but what else ya got? I'd respond that you should look deep into Grabthar's eyes, and staring back at you will be eyes that are considered the most complex in the animal kingdom. His compound eyes are mounted on the ends of mobile stalks and move independently of one another. He sees in 12 different primary colors (human eyes can only perceive 3), and can detect ultraviolet, infrared, and circularly polarized light, meaning he could probably watch 3-D movies without the 3-D glasses. Grabthar has some seriously amazing eyes.
On top of his “smashers”, and the crazy cool eyes, mantis shrimp are also endowed with a multitude of other appendages (17 pairs in all). Some of my other favorites are Grabthar’s 6 grasping “arms” which he uses to delicately tear off the soft corals anchored to the live rock in his tank and unceremoniously stuff them in some gaping hole he doesn’t like.
So why haven't you heard about Grabthar and his brethren before? Surely something this unbelievably amazing should be front and center in our consciousness, right? I would wager that Grabthar and his cohorts are just playing hard to get. Stomatopods are known as cryptofauna, which means they are very skilled at hiding. You will find their secret lairs hidden among coral reefs all around the world, a fact which does not bode well for the future of Grabthar’s fellow stomatopods or any other reef dwelling creature for that matter.
Last week, the World Resources Institute (WRI) launched its "Reefs at Risk Revisited" report. This report underscores yet again that we have barely scratched the surface of what we know about coral reefs. These “rainforests of the sea” support the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people and are home to the majority of the diversity in the world’s oceans. Despite this, more than 60% of the world's coral reefs are under immediate and direct threat from human activities. If we continue on our present course of inaction this number is projected to increase to 90% by 2030 and to 100% by 2050. Yet, there’s still hope. With sufficient effort and political will, most direct impacts to coral reefs can be alleviated. MCBI works to protect corals and coral ecosystems through collaboration with other NGO’s, to justify to Congress the need to fund federal programs that support coral reef conservation like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Conservation program. This funding is in jeopardy due to Congress' attempt to reduce federal funding levels, but MCBI strongly believes that this program is one worth protecting.
There are around 400 species of stomatopod that we know of, ranging from plain brown to the multi-colored fluorescent beauty of Grabthar. Aquarists know them as pests who hide out in live rock and prey upon the unsuspecting fauna of their reef tanks. Divers know them as something to avoid lest you want your finger bone smashed to pieces as you poke amongst the corals (known as "thumb-splitters"). My daughter knows them as the fascinating creature that swims around our reef tank, manipulating his environment in an amazingly destructive, yet delicate way. What will you know them as?
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
I have just returned from an absolutely marvelous visit to the Cayman Islands where I was participating in the Nassau grouper spawning project, called Grouper Moon, which is run jointly by the Cayman Islands Government and REEF (http://www.reef.org/programs/grouper_moon). This species of grouper gather together near the full moon in winter months to spawn at specific sites every year. Unfortunately this fidelity has made them very vulnerable to overfishing as the fishers know exactly when and where the aggregation will form. The historical aggregations consisted of tens of thousands of hungry fish so fishing was lucrative and very heavy. The largest fish were being harvested just as they are making the next generation, which seems nonsensical but such traditional fisheries are very difficult to stop. The Cayman Islands finally closed their grouper aggregations in 2003, and the Grouper Moon project has been studying the spawning ever since. Although greatly depleted from historical times, the 3500-4000 fish at the Little Cayman aggregation is relatively healthy. I saw several spawning ‘rushes’ where a large female shoots up through the water column releasing eggs as she goes, surrounded by several males releasing sperm. The eggs are fertilized in the water, and the larvae spend several weeks in the plankton before settling in their nursery habitats to grow big enough to move out to the reef. Nassau groupers’ natural range extends from northern Florida to South America, but intensive fishing has severely depleted populations and unfortunately the historical spawning aggregations that were fished out decades ago have still not returned. The Little Cayman spawning aggregation is one of the very few remaining in the Caribbean, and fortunately seems to be holding its own, with more juveniles appearing every year. Thanks to the considerable efforts of the Caymanian scientists and the REEF program, this aggregation will hopefully survive into the future.