The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, but much of its lifecycle remains shrouded in mystery. These gentle giants gather in just a handful of places around the globe – something which has long baffled scientists – but our new research has started to explain why. Better understanding of whale shark movements could help prevent further population loss in a species that has already experienced a 63% population decline over the past 75 years.
When swimming solo, the whale shark, which can grow up to 18.8 metres in length and 34 tons in weight, travels all over the world. Recently, a group of scientists tracked the remarkable journey of one whale shark across the Pacific from Panama to the Philippines. At more than 12,000 miles it proved to be one of the longest migrations ever recorded.
Yet whale sharks are known to come together at just a few specific locations around the world. Anything from ten to 500 whale sharks may gather at any one time in areas off the coasts of Australia, Belize, the Maldives, Mexico and more.
A recent viral video of a diver swimming through a sea of plastic is a stark reminder of what we are doing to the world’s oceans. We’ve been reporting on this issue since 2012, watching the development of a massive gyre of plastic forming in the Pacific Ocean, devastating wildlife in the Midway Atolls.
“About 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year. In the US alone, about 30+ million tons of plastic waste is dumped into the solid waste system, including various plastic containers, bags and other types of packaging, with only about 10% being recycled.” [Source]
Researchers warn of a serious threat to fish, mussels and other marine species as carbon dioxide acidifies the world’s waters and increases temperatures.
LONDON, 7 July, 2015 – Pink salmon – the smallest and most abundant of the Pacific salmon species, and a supper table mainstay in many parts of the world – may be swimming towards trouble.
And they are not the only dish likely to disappear from the menu. Mussels, oysters, clam and scallop could all become scarcer and more expensive as the seas become more acid. And as the world’s waters warm, fish will start to migrate away from their normal grounds at an ever-increasing rate.
Previous studies have repeatedly and consistently explored potentially problematic consequences of change in the pH value of the world’s oceans. The higher the carbon dioxide concentrations in the air as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels, the greater the change in oceanic acidity levels.
But researchers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and colleagues looked at the special problems of freshwater fish.
Only about 0.8% of the world’s water is fresh – that is, found in lakes and rivers – but freshwater species represent 40% of all fishes. Salmon spawn and the young are reared in fresh water, before taking to the seas to mature, then returning to repeat the cycle.
The Vancouver scientists report in Nature Climate Change that they tested very young embryos in water at acidity levels expected at the end of this century, and observed them for 10 weeks.
They found that these laboratory-reared salmon were smaller, and their ability to smell was reduced, which could mean problems in returning to their spawning grounds or for scenting danger and responding to it.
“It is not too late for society to benefit greatly from immediate reductions in CO2 emissions”
At the age of seaward migration, they were less able to use oxygen in their muscles, which promised problems finding food, evading predators or making long journeys.
“The increase in carbon dioxide in water is actually quite small from a chemistry perspective, so we didn’t expect to see so many effects,” said Michelle Ou, lead author of the study. “The growth, physiology and behaviour of these developing pink salmon are very much influenced by these small changes.”
Salmon aren’t the only freshwater fish at risk from climate change. Research published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reveals that a rise in water temperatures of 5°C could make common pesticides and industrial contaminants ever more toxic.
Ronald Patra, an environmental scientist at the Department of Planning and Environment in New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues tested rainbow trout, silver perch, rainbowfish and western carp gudgeon at temperatures higher than optimum for the species and in the presence of endosulfan, chlorpyrifos and phenol − all of which wash into waterways from the land.
Results varied according to pollutant, species and temperature, but, overall, all three chemicals became increasingly toxic as water temperatures rose.
On the coast of Mangalore in southwest India, where mussel farming has become a growing industry, researchers decided to test future toxicity conditions for the green mussel.
The Society of Experimental Biology meeting in Prague learned that the bivalves were raised in high temperature and low salt conditions and exposed to toxic algae and bacteria of the kind that might be expected in a changing climate, which in turn affected the timing of the monsoon in ways that could lower seawater salinity.
“This is likely to increase the chance of outbreaks of toxic plankton blooms and make farming bivalves such as mussels increasingly challenging,” the meeting was told.
But changes to water chemistry – once again, the shift in pH values as yet more carbonic acid builds up in the seas – create problems enough for the commercial shellfisheries.
Wiley Evans, research associate at the Ocean Acidification Research Centre of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and colleagues report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Onethat shellfish farmers off the Alaska coast might, at extra expense, have to start modifying the sea water in their hatcheries because, the researchers reported, they expect “significant effects” from acidification by 2040.
The scientists monitored for 10 months the effects of water chemistry changes on oyster, clam, scallop and other shellfish larvae.
Alaska – with a limited growing season, melting glaciers that affect salinity, and with colder waters that more readily dissolve carbon dioxide – is a special case.
But in general, as researchers have repeatedly found, increasingly corrosive waters would make it more difficult for shellfish to exploit the calcium carbonate minerals needed to make shells.
But a 5°C average warming in global atmospheric temperatures – and climate scientists have repeatedly warned that this is possible before 2100 – means that fish are likely to migrate away from their existing habitats considerably faster than they are doing now.
Jean-Pierre Gattuso, of the Oceanological Observatory in Villefranche, France, and colleagues looked at the evidence on a global scale and report in Science journal that, without attempts to mitigate global warming, the oceans and the creatures in them will be seriously affected by temperature changes and acidification.
This is very bad news for the millions of people in the communities that depend on the seas for a living.
“On a positive note, we still have options to substantially reduce these impacts now, but the longer we wait the fewer and fewer options we have,” warns co-author William Cheung, of the fisheries centre at Canada’s University of British Columbia.
Commenting on the research, Jason Hall-Spencer, a professor of marine biology at Plymouth University in the UK, said: “This review screams at me that the evidence is in, and it is not too late for society to benefit greatly from immediate reductions in CO2 emissions.” – Climate News Network ……………’
Will EPA Heed the Pope’s Call to Save Our Oceans?
By Miyoko Sakashita
When it comes to saving our oceans, I’m wondering: What would Pope Francis do?
With his sprawling encyclical on the fate of our planet this month, the pope became an unexpected revolutionary. I never thought I’d see bold environmental leadership arise from this powerful, historically conservative institution.
By now, everyone knows about his call to fight climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and loss of the planet’s biodiversity.
Pope Francis opened a unique opportunity for a renewed environmental movement with his landmark encyclical Laudato Si, or “On Care for our Common Home.” Now the burden is on society to seize this moment and for the United States to robustly regulate carbon dioxide – the chemical compound that is warming our atmosphere and acidifying our oceans – as the powerful pollutant that it is.
The pope observes that the wealthy countries that have plundered and degraded the natural world “because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production” have the greatest duty to clean it up — starting with the United States, among the world’s top carbon dioxide emitters.
“Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain. If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us,” the pope wrote.
Despite the growing climate crisis, the U.S. government barely even recognizes carbon dioxide as a pollutant, let alone one that it is serious about regulating in meaningful way. Despite some improvements, the federal government’s regulation of carbon pollution has been timid under the Clean Air Act. We’re still a far cry from cutting carbon dioxide in a way that will help us avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.
So imagine if the EPA were emboldened like Pope Francis we could use the full extent of existing laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and others to solve these problems.
During the heyday of environmental law reforms of the mid-1970s, Congress also passed another, broader law to act as a backstop when other measures fail: the Toxic Substances Control Act. So we at the Center for Biological Diversity, along with Dr. Donn Viviani – a retired scientist who headed the Climate Policy Assessment Division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – have just formally petitioned the federal government to broadly regulate CO2 under the TSCA.
We lay out a litany of problems that carbon pollution is causing in our oceans as it increases their acidity, from the oxygen-deprived dead zones to widespread weakening of corals and shellfish that are unable to create the carbonate coverings they need for protection, problems that ripple up and down the food chain.
Our first-of-its-kind petition to regulate carbon dioxide as a toxic substance gives the Obama administration an opportunity to show important leadership on this global challenge just as international negotiators prepare for the Paris climate talks this December.
This is an urgent problem requiring immediate action, as the pope indicated: “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity.”
Nowhere is that more clear than in our oceans, which are collecting about 30 percent of our carbon emissions and becoming more acidic in the process and weakening the basic building blocks of life.
“Particularly threatened are marine organisms which we tend to overlook,” the pope noted, “like some forms of plankton; they represent a significant element in the ocean food chain, and species used for our food ultimately depend on them.”
He’s right: When we save the oceans and all the life they hold, we save ourselves and a viable future for generations to come. Who can argue against that?
Society has solved difficult social and environmental problems in the past, and we can all work to fix this one. Now we need to call on EPA for bold leadership to do the right thing.
Diving in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean in March, I saw why the obituary for the Caribbean’s ocean health has been written multiple times.
Invasive lionfish are overpopulating and preying upon native fishes. Overfishing and pollution have enabled algae to devastate coral reefs. Those corals lucky enough to escape the algae are being bleached by rising ocean temperatures due to the continuing advance of climate change.
The Caribbean isn’t alone — all of our oceans are under assault from human activities, threatening the benefits we receive from them.
There is no doubt: We need significant action to secure ocean health and prosperity for the people that depend on it. Several recent developments make me confident that we can put oceans on a path to recovery:
1. The number and size ofmarine protected areas are increasing.
Protected areas are not new: Since the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, hundreds of thousands have been established around the world. It took longer for the concept to be applied to the ocean, in the form of marine protected areas (MPAs), and only 3% of the ocean — an area larger than the United States — is covered by MPAs. This kind of marine management is catching on, though.
More marine protected area coverage will keep ecosystems intact, shelter biodiversity (including important commercial species) and boost coastal economies through tourism.
2. Signs offisheries recovery are growing.
It has been a while since we have had any objectively good news about fisheries. In 1974, 10% of global fish stocks were overexploited. By 2011, that percentage rose to 29%. This is alarming because fisheries are a source of essential nutrition for people — worldwide more than 3 billion people get much of their protein from fish. For years, warnings about overfishing were ignored due to short-term economic and political interests, but in some parts of the world that trend has shifted.
The number of overfished stocks in the U.S. declined from 31% of known fish stocks in 1997 down to 16% in 2014. Nations such as Iceland and New Zealand, which have enforced catch limits and created incentives for fisheries recovery, also report that overfishing has stopped and that some stocks are recovering.
Chronic overfishing remains a problem, especially in countries with weak governance and large populations of small-scale fishers with few economic alternatives. Showing that properly managed fish stocks can recover, though, is a great sign.
3. New technologyincreases monitoring and enforcement.
Technology has helped accelerate ocean exploitation: Better boats, fish-finding technology and fishing gear enable fishers to go farther and deeper, and on the high seas, it’s easier to pursue destructive activities without concerns about environmental impacts.
Technology, however, can also keep an eye on distant waters. Several systems now use GPS information from vessel transmitters to track a boat’s actions at sea. By applying algorithms to vessel movement patterns, it is possible to identify vessels fishing illegally.
Ocean conservation — viewed as a luxury few countries could afford when busily pursuing economic development and poverty alleviation — is changing as more countries realize their people depend on healthy oceans for nutrition, livelihoods, protection from storms and other benefits.
Increased awareness and desire for action is manifesting itself through adoption of the Ocean Health Index, which defines ocean health in terms of its ability to provide a range of benefits to people. Since its launch in 2012, 15 countries are using the Index to set priorities and to take action for ocean health.
5. There is a growing appetite for global action on oceans.
I have spent the last quarter-century working on marine conservation and have seen support for global action to conserve our oceans grow substantially in recent years. Heads of state, ministers, CEOs and development organizations have realized their constituents and businesses depend on oceans, and that our impacts need to be brought under control.
The draft set of Sustainable Development Goals, to be finalized this September, includes one dedicated to oceans, which is receiving outspoken support from country delegations and CEOs. Earlier this year, countries agreed to begin discussions on how to better manage areas beyond national jurisdiction, where weak governance currently threatens sustainability. The reason for my visit to the Caribbean in March was to attend a meeting of the Global Blue Growth Network, a group of countries and organizations working to build capacity and guidelines for sustainable blue growth.
6. Conservation actions are recovering endangered species.
On my eye-opening Caribbean dive, I saw a ray of hope: the shadow of a green sea turtle in the distance.
Green and hawksbill turtles were once a much-valued source of tortoiseshell and of meat for turtle soup. So many turtles were taken, however, that numbers plummeted and the species became endangered.
Their numbers have been rising since the 1970s, thanks to improved legislation and trade regulation; awareness campaigns by environmental groups; and alternative livelihood options for coastal inhabitants — they can make more money from taking tourists to see live turtles than they ever could have made from killing them.
In Barbados, thousands of hawksbill nests are now laid each year; in Costa Rica, nesting numbers of green turtles have increased exponentially in a few decades. The revival of these turtles shows that through concerted actions, we can recover the health of our oceans.
What are your reasons for hope for the oceans? Feel free to share them in the comments on this blog.
Sebastian Troëng is the senior vice president and managing director of CI’s Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science and Oceans. …….’
‘……….By Catherine A. Novelli U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment
It’s not an exaggeration to say that we depend upon the ocean for our very existence. It regulates our climate and our weather. It generates half of the oxygen we breathe. It provides food and income for billions of people. Covering almost three-quarters of the planet, the mighty ocean is — without a doubt — a natural resource like no other. Our fate is inextricably tied to the ocean’s fate and the ocean is in trouble.
Many of the world’s fish stocks are depleted and continue to be overfished. Runoff and debris are choking our waters. The very chemistry of the ocean is changing, becoming more acidic because of the carbon we are pumping into the air. That’s the bad news. The good news is these problems can be solved. Fixing them, however, will require significant and sustained action by all of us — individually and together.
Ocean issues have come to the center of the world stage in the year since Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the first Our Ocean conference. That conference spurred action by heads of state, businesses, scientists, philanthropists, and NGOs to protect fish, keep plastic out of the ocean, and measure ocean acidification.
As part of this wave of action, President Obama expanded the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, making it the largest marine protected area (MPA) in the world. Gabon, the United Kingdom, Palau, and the Bahamas, among others, have recently committed to establishing new MPAs. We have a global goal of protecting 10 percent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. Working closely with other governments and NGOs, we are also exploring new technologies to monitor and enforce fishing bans in MPAs to ensure that these MPAs safeguard the ocean as intended.
We are also developing a system to keep illegally caught seafood out of the United States by tracking it throughout the supply chain — from harvest or farm to market. Because the United States imports about 90 percent of the seafood we consume and because we are one of the largest importers of seafood in the world, this traceability program should lead to a significant crackdown on illegal fishing around the globe. We are also advocating for entry into force of the Port State Measures Agreement, a new international treaty that would block illegally caught seafood from entering the stream of commerce in countries around the world. These actions will help level the playing field for all those countries and fishers who follow the rules and work hard to sustainably manage our ocean resources.
Overfishing isn’t the only threat to marine life. At the same time, we are taking too many fish out of the ocean, we are putting too much plastic waste into it. Plastic products are the ultimate irony. Many are created for a single, short-term use, and then they live on for centuries as trash. And when not managed properly, plastic waste inevitably finds its way into our waterways, and ultimately the ocean. In 2010, an estimated eight million metric tons of plastic waste ended up in the ocean — enough to line up five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline in the world. Experts estimate that by 2025 there could be one ton of plastic in the ocean for every three tons of fish. Plastic entangles sea creatures and damages important habitats like coral reefs. It breaks down into non-biodegradable microplastics that are eaten by fish and then eaten by people.
Plastic waste in the ocean is a problem we know how to solve. We need to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce; improve systems for waste collection and management; and reuse and recycle plastics whenever possible. Waste-to-energy projects and recycling innovations hold great promise. Discarded fishing nets are being recycled into skateboards and jeans. Companies are looking at ways to reduce plastic packaging in the near term and in the long term create a “circular economy” where all the parts of a product and its packaging can be reused.
Besides adding plastic waste into the ocean, we are also adding carbon, which is changing the ocean’s chemistry. The ocean has absorbed about 30 percent of all carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution, which has caused the ocean to be about 26 percent more acidic than it was in pre-industrial times. The rapid rate of carbon dioxide uptake by the ocean means that its chemistry is changing 10 times faster than at any other time in the past 50 million years.
Ocean acidification has the potential to undermine dramatically the growth, behavior, and survival of numerous marine organisms, including oysters, clams, urchins, corals, and calcareous plankton. In collaboration with partners worldwide, we are working to increase monitoring of ocean acidification, and help shellfish farmers address the negative impacts that are already affecting their industries. Our efforts to achieve an ambitious, durable international agreement at the United Nations climate meeting in Paris later this year, and the stated intention of the United States to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025, will contribute substantively to protecting these resources and the businesses and people that depend on them.
Although we are making progress to address the challenges the ocean faces, there is much more to be done. The world will come together again in October when Chile hosts the next Our Ocean conference and we will keep up the momentum for action.
Protecting the ocean is not just a job for governments. Whether you live on the coast or thousands of miles from the nearest beach, each of us needs to take action to keep the ocean healthy. Carrying a reusable grocery bag, eating only sustainable seafood, and biking to work to reduce your carbon footprint can make a big difference when millions of us each do our part. Let’s all join together for our ocean — not just on World Oceans Day, but every day. ………..’