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News on Oceans
Weird and mysterious: scientists find new shark species
A long snout with teeth jutting from the sides? Check. Catfish-like barbels dangling from its chin? Got them. Gills on the side of its body? It has those, too. These are characteristics of a bizarre group of sharks known as sawsharks. And until recently, only seven species were recognized. However, a new discovery raises that number by one more.
Collateral damage: new findings shed light on the full impact of commercial fishing
Aside from reducing the populations of the species sought for capture, commercial fisheries are also killing thousands of nontarget creatures such as sharks, albatross, and sea turtles, collectively referred to as “bycatch.” However, the full extent of the problem is only beginning to be grasped.
Extinction crisis: rising sea levels will submerge thousands of islands
Sea levels are rising at the highest rate in thousands of years, putting at risk low-lying islands around the world. In a new study published in Nature Conservation, researchers found that projected rises in sea level stand to swamp more than 10,000 islands, displacing human communities and wiping many unique species off the face of the earth.
Is 20 millions tons enough? Scientists recommend plastic crackdown as oceans choke
Every year, 20 million tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans. In 2012, the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development dubbed marine plastic litter “a major environmental issue that the world must address,” and asked for management action by 2025.
Apocalypse now? Climate change already damaging agriculture, acidifying seas, and worsening extreme weather
It's not just melting glaciers and bizarrely-early Springs anymore; climate change is impacting every facet of human civilization from our ability to grow enough crops to our ability to get along with each other, according to a new 2,300-page report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The massive report states definitively that climate change is already affecting human societies on every continent.
Revealed for the first time: the surprising biodiversity of algae 'reefs'
Most people are familiar with coral reefs, but very few have ever heard of their algal equivalent – rhodolith beds. Yet, these structures provide crucial habitat for many marine species. In the first study of its kind, published in mongabay.com’s Tropical Conservation Science, researchers unveil just how important these beds are for bottom-dwelling organisms, and the species that depend on them.
3 environmental reporting prize winners to explore drivers of deforestation, community forestry, and sustainable seafood in China
Mongabay.org, the non-profit arm of environmental science web site Mongabay.com, has selected winners of three environmental reporting prizes under its Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program. The three prizes, which were launched in January, explore the impacts of rising human consumption on forest and marine ecosystems. The winners, selected from more than 150 applicants by a panel of issue-area experts, include Robert S. Eshelman, Ruxandra Guidi and Bear Guerra, and Dominic Bracco II and Erik Vance.
A Turtle's Tale: researchers discover baby turtles' kindergarten (photos)
Kate Mansfield, at her lab in the University of Central Florida, is holding a baby loggerhead turtle, smaller than her palm, painting manicure acrylic on its shell. When the base coat dries out, she glues on top a neoprene patch from an old wetsuit with hair extensions adhesive. Finally, she attaches a satellite tracker on top, the size of a two "party cheese" cubes, with flexible aquarium silicone, powered by a tiny solar battery. Now the little turtle is ready to be released back into the ocean.
Scientists spy on whales from space
Although whales are the biggest animals on the planet, scientists have found in difficult to count them. But a new study in PLOS ONE may change this: researchers tested the idea of counting whales using high resolution satellite imagery. Employing a single image from the WorldView2 satellite, scientists went about counting a pod of southern right whales in the Golfo Nuevo off the coast of Argentina.
Does haze from burning forests affect marine life?
Two scientists are calling on researchers, NGOs, and governments to begin studying the impact of burning forests and peatlands in Indonesia on the already-threatened marine ecosystems of Southeast Asia. Every year, Indonesian farmers set forests, vegetation, and peatlands alight to clear them for agriculture, often palm oil, and pulp and paper plantations. Not only do these practices destroy hugely-diverse tropical forests, but the resulting haze spreads to many parts of Southeast Asia, threatening regional health and impacting economies. Now, a new paper argues that the sinister impacts of Indonesia's burning may extend as far as the oceans.
Offshore wind farms could blunt hurricane damage
Massive offshore wind turbine arrays would reduce hurricane wind speeds and storm surge, reports a study published this week in Nature Climate Change. And while the size (tens of thousands of turbines) and cost (hundreds of billions of dollars) is difficult to imagine, the reduction in storm damage and value of electricity produced would effectively bring the price tag to zero according to the study authors.
Wonderful Creatures: the tiny, predatory penis-worm that lies in wait in the sand
The seabed is really where it’s at in terms of animal diversity. Of the 35 known animal lineages, representatives of all but two are found here. In contrast, the huge numbers of species that inhabit tropical rainforests represent a mere 12 lineages. One group of animals that illustrates the diversity of the seabed is the Priapulida, which also go by the unfortunate common name of "penis worms." Only 20 species of priapulid are known today, a shadow of their diverse past, which extends back for well over 500 million years. Not commonly seen, the priapulids have attracted little attention from the zoology community as a whole.
Saving sharks one sandwich at a time: conservationists target 'shark bake'
Thousands of Carnival revelers in Trinidad wouldn't think of missing the chance to go to Maracas Beach, the most famous strip of sand on the small Caribbean island off the northeast coast of Venezuela. Beachgoers might not think twice about eating a favorite food called "shark bake" either – at least, until now. But this week, conservationists launched a shark-saving campaign timed to get maximum exposure out of the celebration that will bring throngs of visitors to the island.
Plastic waste ingested by worms threatens marine food chains
Small fragments of plastic waste are damaging the health of lugworms, putting a key cog in marine ecosystems at risk. Published in Current Biology, a new study by scientists at the University of Exeter and the University of Plymouth shows the impact of microplastics on the marine worms' health and behavior.
Corals thriving despite acidified conditions in remote Pacific bay
Scientists have discovered a small island bay in the Pacific which could serve as a peephole into the future of the ocean. Palau's Rock Island Bay harbors a naturally occurring anomaly – its water is acidified as much as scientists expect the entire ocean to be by 2100 as a result of rising carbon dioxide emissions.
Ocean acidifying 10 times faster than anytime in the last 55 million years, putting polar ecosystems at risk
An assessment of ocean acidification, presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw in November 2013, starkly concluded that acidity is on track to rise 170 percent by the end of this century. As many key species are sensitive to changes in acidity, this would drastically impact ocean ecosystems, with effects especially pronounced in polar regions where the cold waters intensify acidification, and which are home to many organisms that are particularly vulnerable to acidification.
Indonesia pledges to protect manta rays
In a move signaling their commitment to CITES agreements on international trade of plants and animals, the Indonesian government declared two species of manta ray 'protected' under Indonesian law. Decree Number 4/KEPMEN-KP/2014 issued by Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries states that two manta ray species, Manta birostris and Manta alfredi, now enjoy full protection throughout their entire life cycle. The decree explicitly extends that protection to all parts of their body.
Scientists discover new whale species
Beaked whales are incredibly elusive and rare, little-known to scientists and the public alike—although some species are three times the size of an elephant. Extreme divers, beaked whales have been recorded plunging as deep as 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) for over an hour. Few of the over 20 species are well-known by researchers, but now scientists have discovered a new beaked whale to add to the already large, and cryptic, group: the pointed beaked whale (Mesoplodon hotaula).
Wonderful Creatures: the bizarre-looking marine worm with an incredibly important ecological role
Almost everyone knows what an earthworm is, but these very familiar animals are just one variation on a very rich theme that is at its most fabulously varied in the oceans. The mind-boggling appearances and lifestyles of the marine segmented worms are perfectly exemplified by this week's animal.
Incredible encounter: whales devour European eels in the darkness of the ocean depths
The Critically Endangered European eel makes one of the most astounding migrations in the wild kingdom. After spending most of its life in Europe's freshwater rivers, the eel embarks on an undersea odyssey, traveling 6,000 kilometers (3,720 miles) to the Sargasso Sea where it will spawn and die. The long-journeying eels larva than make their way back to Europe over nearly a year. Yet by tracking adult European eels (Anguilla anguilla) with electronic data loggers, scientists have discovered that some eels never make it to their spawning ground, but instead are swallowed-up in the depths by leviathans.
Study: 59% of Marine Protected Areas are ineffective
Protecting large, isolated areas of no-take zones for over 10 years with strong enforcement is the key to effective Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), according to a letter published this week in Nature. However, 59% of all MPAs meet less than three of the five criteria, making them protected in name only.
35 pictures of the sharkfin trade that will shock and dismay you
Last month scientists released a study warning that one quarter of all sharks and rays are threatened with extinction. The research was the result of collaboration between 300 scientists from 64 countries. It concluded that overfishing is the biggest threat to the most number of species, noting that up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins alone.
Scientists discover new eagle ray imperiled by Japanese pest program (photos)
Scientists have described a new species of eagle ray in the northwest Pacific Ocean, which they have named "narutobiei" (Aetobatus narutobiei) after its local name in Japan. While the new species has long been known by scientists, it was clumped together with the longheaded eagle ray (Aetobatus flagellum) for over two hundred years. Splitting the two species has large-scale conservation impacts, according to the paper describing the new species in PLOS ONE.
Wonderful Creatures: meet the animal that has evolved a cushy, worry-free life inside an octopus
The range of habitats that animals have come to occupy is nothing short of staggering. Take the dicyemids for example. They are among the simplest animals on the planet, with a tiny, worm-like adult body that consists of between 10 and 40 cells. They have no organs, body cavities or even guts—a structural simplicity which is a consequence of where and how they live. The only place you will find adult dicyemids is inside the bodies of cephalopods, typically octopuses and cuttlefish where large numbers of them cling to the inner wall of the mollusc's kidney.
Shell drops plans to drill in the Arctic for now
Facing plunging profits, Royal Dutch Shell has announced it will cut exploration and development funding by nearly $10 billion this year, including halting their long-suffering plans to drill in the Arctic ocean. Shell's new CEO, Ben van Beurden, made the announcement yesterday that controversial plans to drill off the Alaskan coast will be put on hold for another year.
Investigation finds Chinese factory slaughters 600 whale sharks a year
A four-year investigation by WildLifeRisk, a Hong Kong-based marine conservation group, has found that a single factory in China’s Zhejiang Province slaughters some 600 whale sharks a year to produce oil for cosmetics and health supplements.
One quarter of sharks and rays threatened with extinction
One quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, according to a new study published in the open-access journal eLife. The paper analyzed the threat and conservation status of 1,041 species of chondrichthyans—the class of fish whose skeletons are made of cartilage instead of bone which includes sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras—and found this group to be among the most threatened animals in the world.
Photos: Japanese fishermen slaughter 41 dolphins, capture 52 in 'The Cove'
The annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan ended on Monday with dozens being slaughtered for meat and captured for sale to amusement parks, reports Sea Shepherd, an ocean activist group that campaigns against the practice and just released photos documenting the weekend's harvest.
Underestimating global warming: gaps in Arctic temperature data lead scientists and public astray
No place on Earth is heating up faster than the Arctic, but just how fast has remained an open question due to large gaps in temperature data across the vast region. Now, a recent study in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society finds that not only is the Arctic warming eight times faster than the rest of the planet, but failure to account for temperature gaps has led global datasets to underestimate the rise of temperatures worldwide.
PHOTOS: Glowing fish - study finds widespread biofluorescence among fish
Biofluorescence is widespread among marine fish species, indicating its importance in communication and avoiding detection, finds a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. The research shows that biofluorescence — a phenomenon where organisms absorb light, transform it, and emit it as a different color — is more common in the animal kingdom than previously known.