Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Akumal water quality program moves forward

From an article by Edith Sosa in the newsletter to Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA)

I would like to share with you three experiences that the Water Program had in 2008. First, we initiated the process for certification of Akumal Bay, which had many complications since results of the water quality samples, that were carried out over a six-month period, indicated that several points were above standards set for certification (which are the most stringent in the country). However, we are still in the process and concentrating on this project for next year. Another point was the review of sewage treatment in Akumal, both in the town and in the tourist zone, which we delivered to the authorities to be taken into account. Next year we hope that the State Committee on Potable Water and Sewage dedicates resources to provide sewage treatment to the rest of the town. Finally, we are participating in the development of the Ecological Zoning Plan of the Municipality of Solidaridad, which is in the environmental criteria development stage and, once approved, must be take n into account for new development construction in the area.

The importance of watershed conservation is emphasized in this process and key catchment areas have been identified, as well as the importance of aquifer protection in areas that are used for recreational tourism. It was a year with many activities and we thank you all for helping in this effort of protection. Without your support it would be very difficult to continue. I can only wish that you enjoy the holiday season and that next year we can work more closely together for a balance between development and nature.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Are the Moray Eels of Bonaire Really Dying?

From a post on the blog of Shifting Baselines:

This is rather distressing. It doesn't sound like there has been any sort of major, published, peer-reviewed, quantitative documentation of this yet. But that said, something is not right when so many sport divers not only count dozens of dead or dying eels (the diver on this blog itemized in detail 50 encounters with dead eels), but even posted video footage of one writhing in what looks to be the death throes.
Go to the blog post to see the video.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008 reef assessment: urgent action needed

From the abstract of Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008 posted on Reef Base:

- The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS/MAR) region has received increasing recent attention as a priority for international conservation organizations to provide more research and conservation effort;
- Human and natural threats are continuing, resulting in declining reef condition;
- Live coral cover has declined greatly while chronic human stresses escalate, in parallel with environmental changes and natural events. Coral cover on some reefs has declined by more than 50%;
- A 2006 comprehensive survey of 326 representative reefs revealed regional coral cover averaging 11% (11% Belize, 7.5% Mexico Yucatan, and 14.4% Honduras & Guatemala combined); but some sites have higher cover;
- Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) project found coral cover from 11–26% at 13 strategically selected sites from 2004–2005 (most/all within MPAs); 96 new surveys in 2007 to 2008 on shallow fore-reefs (2–5 m) in 6 Belize regions showed coral cover of 13%; total fish biomass had declined (average 49.8g per m2); coral and fish abundances are below the Caribbean average;
- Low coral cover indicates that reefs have not recovered from the 1998 bleaching and Hurricane Mitch;
- It is urgent to develop measures to increase reef resilience and lobby for stronger protection of reefs in good health.
The report includes this assessment of the reefs from Cancun south to Belize:

These reefs have suffered from intense fishing activity since the 1960s and increasing pressure from tourism since the mid 1970s. Reef patches at Punta Nizuc and El Garrafon at Isla Mujeres have already been affected by tourism-related activities and the damage appears to be spreading elsewhere to Akumal, Puerto Morelos, Mahahual and Cozumel. Shallow reefs at Cancun, Sian Ka’an and Chinchorro have been affected by boat damage. The reefs just off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and immediately westward (Punta Mosquito, Boca Nueva, Piedra Corrida) have very little (<2%) coral cover.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Good management of Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve

The The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) cited Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve for good practices in the protection and management of coral reefs:

In 1999 was developed the Reserve Management Plan, which includes the Financial Program, the Operative Program, the Management and Protection Program, the Public Use Program and the Administration Program, but the main issues are the Zonification and Administrative Rules.

In 2000 with the publication of the mentioned plan in the official paper of the country, the priority activities established in the programs will be executed.

For example, start the enforcement and surveillance program, which is supported by WWF with founds of the Packard Foundation and the Reserve with Federal funds. The objective of this program is to reduce the illegal fishing and to control the tourist activities, based in the zonification and the administrative rules. It is developed with the cooperation of the legal fishermen and the participation of diverse authorities (Navy Ministry and Communication and Transport Ministry and the Environment Ministry). The initial phase of eleven months is conducted by a team supported by two fast boats and a ultra light airplane.

Reasons for designation as "good practice"
- This Biosphere Reserve is a clear example of co-management.
- The elimination of use of nets and any type of compressed air for fishing.
- We will start a project with WWF to get the eco-certification for the fishing products
- The Management Plan has its own Financial Program

Results and lessons learned
The Management Plan was concerted as a result of the previous agreements and commitment with all the members of the Collegiate Advising Committee working since 1998. We understand co-participation implies co-management and compromise from all sectors involved in conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, so we get specific agreements with the different governmental and academic institutions and legal fisherman to develop some of the Programs and Components that are included in the Management Plan.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Stressed ecosystems trigger jellyfish swarms

Jellyfish occasionally "bloom" in the Mexican Caribbean and the wider basin. Here's a possible explanation from a story posted on Environmental News Service:

ARLINGTON, Virginia, December 16, 2008 (ENS) - Jellyfish blooms are ruining some of the world's most beautiful vacation spots, according to a new online report by the National Science Foundation on massive jellyfish swarms in U.S. waters and around the world.

At least 150 million people around the world are exposed to jellyfish every year, the report says. Swarms of stinging jellyfish and jellyfish-like animals are transforming many world-class fisheries and tourist destinations into "jellytoriums" that are intermittently jammed with the pulsating, gelatinous creatures.

This is happening in U.S. waters from Hawaii to the Chesapeake Bay, where 500,000 people are stung by jellyfish every year.

Another 200,000 people are stung every year in Florida, and 10,000 are stung in Australia by the deadly Portuguese man-of-war, according to the report.

These jellyfish explosions are generated by human activities, some scientists believe. Possible causes include pollution, climate change, introductions of non-native species, overfishing and the presence of artificial structures, such as oil and gas rigs.

Jellyfish swarms have damaged fisheries, fish farms, seabed mining operations, desalination plants and large ships, and they have disabled nuclear power plants by clogging intake pipes.

In the Gulf of Mexico's densest jellyfish swarms there are more jellyfish than there is water - 100 jellyfish can occupy each cubic meter of water.

"I'm often asked whether a single, overarching condition is triggering jellyfish swarms in diverse locations," says Monty Graham of Alabama's Dauphin Island Sea Lab on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. Graham says the abnormally large, dense or frequent jellyfish swarms are "a symptom of an ecosystem that has been tipped off balance by environmental stresses."


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ocean sanctuaries won't save reefs

From an article by Carmelo Amalfi posted on ScienceAlert.com:

According to research presented at the recent Ecological Society of Australia conference in Sydney, marine reserves may help save fish species in the face of climate change but they will not protect the coral reefs that shelter them.

University of North Carolina marine ecologist John Bruno and his former graduate student Elizabeth Selig compared data collected from 8,540 coral reefs in the Indian, Caribbean and Pacific regions from 1987 to 2005.

They compared coral cover, sea surface temperatures and whether the reef was in a marine reserve or not.

“We found while coral loss was reduced in marine reserves, the rate of coral decline with warmer temperatures was just the same in marine reserves as in highly fished areas,” Professor Bruno said.

He believes the results should sound a warning bell for reef managers, who generally believe marine reserves will be more resilient to climate change.

“The biggest stresses put on coral reefs are ocean warming and disease outbreaks,” he said.

“The stresses are both regional and global in scale and local protection through marine reserves is unlikely to help these reefs resist such changes. Marine reserves are very important for protecting fish populations, maintaining coral reef food webs and protecting against anchor damage but they are unlikely to reduce coral losses due to ocean warming.”

Associate Professor Bruno found marine reserves which have been established for at least 15 years were more effective in reducing coral loss than reserves established recently for a shorter period of time.

Marine reserves were effective in protecting coral from overfishing and pollution but they did not slow the effects of global warming.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Domincan Republic: Carving up paradise, killing the reef

From an article by Elizabeth Eames Roebling posted on Inter Press News:

LAS TERRENAS, Dec 15 (IPS) - Located along white sand beaches on the north coast of the lush Samana peninsula, this is the latest Dominican boom town. Entering the town from across the high mountains, developers' signs are perched on the steep hills, with prices in dollars, promising a piece of paradise.

Inside the small village, crowded with motorbikes and SUVs, real estate agencies seem to be the major business. Empty new storefronts dot the sidewalks. New four-storey apartment buildings crowd along the beach front.

Twenty-five years ago, the small village of a few hundred people lived off of fishing. Now the estimated 30,000 residents, including more than 5,000 foreigners, predominantly French, wait for others to come and buy the land that was long ago bought from the original owners.

Charlie Simon, a local artist, says things are worse for him now than a few years ago. He is concerned about all the new construction and what it will mean for the future of the place.

"It is not such a good thing to build so many apartments. People come for a week or two and then lock the place up and leave. Or people come for the weekend from the capital, they come with their own food, with everything. These people, what do they bring? You don't need many people to work in an apartment. It is not business for a town. Fifty apartments will produce maybe five jobs. How much will they make each month, the maids, the gardeners, maybe RD 5,000 pesos a month? This is a benefit for the country? No."

Free Trade Zone earnings and tourism are currently the country's fastest-growing export sectors. So-called "real estate tourism" -- foreigners building vacation homes -- alone accounted for 1.5 billion dollars for 2007, and that number is expected to double within three years, according to the Dominican Association of Real Estate Tourism Companies.

Dr. Jose Bourget, a Dominican who teaches via the internet as a professor at the University of Maryland, settled in Las Terrenas with his family six years ago.

He shares Simon's concerns about development. "I think Las Terrenas has grown too much, too soon. That has had a tremendous impact on basic services and infrastructure, on water, roads. People were building any way they wanted, anywhere they wanted. Much of it was done by paying off officials," he told IPS.

"The damage cannot be undone. The corals are dying. The quality of the water is...well, there is no quality. We know that the underground water cannot be trusted because there are too many septic tanks. Now they have built a town sewage treatment plant, but they put the collection tanks right on the beach. Some of us have reservations about how well it will work. But the damage has been done. No one was thinking of how to control it when the place exploded," he said.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Study: Ineffective implementation of coastal resource management

From an article posted on UnderwaterTimes.com:

Washington, D.C> -- A first of its kind study, "Socioeconomic Conditions Along the World's Tropical Coasts: 2008," reports on the social and economic ramifications of healthy coral reefs in 27 tropical nations and points to the inability of coastal managers to effectively implement decades-old recommendations as a significant barrier to coral reef protection.

Issued as a parallel report to the quadrennial "Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008" from the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the International Coral Reef Initiative, researchers from the NOAA-coordinated Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative, with funding from Conservation International, provide the first regional and global synthesis of socio-economic data looking at the importance of healthy coral reef for communities located along the world's tropical coasts. The study data was compiled from interviews with 14,000 households in 27 tropical coastline countries grouped into six broad geographical regions.

The study focuses on the dependence of coastal communities on fishing, the top three perceived threats to corals along the coasts, and how socio-economic data is being used in coastal ecosystem management.

In looking at nations located in the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Western Indian Ocean, the reports' editors repeatedly found three basic recommendations: 1) the need to develop alternative livelihoods for fishers; 2) the need to involve local community members in decision making processes for coastal and resource management; and 3) the need to improve education and awareness of the value of healthy coral ecosystems.

"None of these recommendations are new to coastal resource management," notes Christy Loper, the report's lead author and social science coordinator of NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program. "However, the fact that they are still emerging as the most important recommendations by dozens of communities indicates that coastal management efforts have not yet been able to effectively implement these site level recommendations in many parts of the world."

"The significance of this study can not be ignored," notes Kacky Andrews who directs the overall NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. "While we strive to minimize human impacts to reefs, I think this study also points to the critical need to consider how those negative changes to the reefs impact humans as well. The goal here is sustainable use of resources. By listening to local communities we can better mitigate both human impacts on the reef as well as the effects of those negative changes on the community. We need both to happen if we are to be successful."


Friday, December 12, 2008

Even the coral reefs shook

From an article by Dalia Acosta on Inter Press Service:

GIBARA, Cuba, Dec 11 (IPS) - The years will pass and their children’s children will ask how much truth there was in their grandparents’ stories.

The family who watched the water reach their second-floor apartment, the woman who dreamt the day before that she was swimming in her own house, or the story that along the coast, even the coral reefs shook will all seem like legends.

Or maybe not. Perhaps the deafening roar of the winds of Hurricane Ike or the six-metre high storm surge it caused in September will become such common occurrences that governments, local communities and families will have to bear them in mind whenever they decide where or how to build homes.

"When the strength of the sea is capable of destroying in just a few hours what it has taken nature centuries to build up, you have to be scared of it," says architect Alberto Moya, who worked for years to preserve the cultural heritage of this small city located 775 km east of Havana. "And that is what happened all along the coast in Gibara," he tells IPS.

The seaside neighbourhood of "Caletones looks like a different planet. The sea swept everything away. Not even the beach is left. They say the reef itself was shaking," says Moya.

The Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment reported that in this area, the winds pushed the sea up to 1,000 metres inland, vegetation was damaged along a 25-km stretch of coastal land, large chunks of coral were torn up and washed onto shore, and dunes were destroyed.

On the nearly pristine small beach of Caletones, used as a holiday and recreational spot by residents from the small port town of Gibara, which is 17 km away, only a few solidly-built cabins constructed by government companies were left standing. Seven of the 11 coastal neighbourhoods in the area were simply wiped out as the hurricane hovered for hours over the northern coast of the province of Holguín.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fifth of corals dead: only emission cuts can save the rest, says IUCN

From a media release issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN):

The world has lost 19 percent of its coral reefs, according to the 2008 global update of the world’s reef status.

The report, released by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, of which IUCN is a member, shows if current trends in carbon dioxide emissions continue, many of the remaining reefs may be lost over the next 20 to 40 years. This will have alarming consequences for some 500 million people who depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods.

Climate change is considered the biggest threat to coral reefs today. The main climate threats, such as increasing sea surface temperatures and seawater acidification, are being exacerbated by other threats including overfishing, pollution and invasive species.

“If nothing changes, we are looking at a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide in less than 50 years,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of the IUCN Global Marine Programme, one of the organizations behind the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. “As this carbon is absorbed, the oceans will become more acidic, which is seriously damaging a wide range of marine life from corals to plankton communities and from lobsters to seagrasses.”

Encouragingly, 45 percent of the world’s reefs are currently healthy. Another sign of hope is the ability of some corals to recover after major bleaching events, caused by warming waters, and to adapt to climate change threats.

However, the report shows that, globally, the downward trend of recent years has not been reversed. Major threats in the last four years, including the Indian Ocean tsunami, more occurances of bleaching, outbreaks of coral diseases and ever-heavier human pressures, have slowed or reversed recovery of some coral reefs after the 1998 mass bleaching event.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Conservation International (CI) launches BlueTubeTV

From BlueTubeTV, a site for CI's Marine Program videos:

Conservation International's Marine Program is committed to protecting the world's ocean and key marine regions. These areas possess critically important and threatened species. Strategy and innovation are two hallmarks of CI's marine program and our efforts rest firmly on CI's strategic pillars of science, partnership and human well-being. Today's efforts are generating exciting news and outcomes from the field. Blue Tube is just one of the many ways we are communicating those results to the world.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Florida's $5.5 billion reef economy at risk frrom climate change

From a media release issued by the Environmental Defense Fund:

(Sarasota, Florida- December 1, 2008) A comprehensive new analysis of business generated by Florida's coral reefs warns that more than 70,000 jobs and more than $5.5 billion in economic activity in the state are in grave jeopardy from climate change.

"A business-as-usual approach to climate change could mean a lot less business for Florida," said Jerry Karnas, Florida project director at Environmental Defense Fund, which commissioned the report, Corals and Climate Change: Florida's Natural Treasures at Risk.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Marine life responds instantaneously to Turks & Caicos artificial reef

From an Associated Press article posted on PR-inside.com:

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos (AP) - Nearly 100 concrete orbs have been submerged in shallow waters off Grand Turk island to encourage coral growth, shelter small fish and enhance snorkeling, a government scientist said Sunday.

The hollow domes submerged in recent days have quickly attracted marine life off Governor's beach, a popular stretch of coastline in Grand Turk, said Lucy Wells, a marine biologist who does reef restoration work for the Turks and Caicos Islands.

"The response from marine life was instantaneous," said Wells, who works for the island chain's Environment and Coastal Resources Department.

In Turks and Caicos waters, shallow-water coral reefs have been harmed by pollution, overfishing and unusually high sea temperatures in 2005. But scientists say coral colonies off the British islands are in better shape than those of many neighboring islands.

In recent years, reef balls have been submerged in dozens of locations around the globe to help marine habitats.

The newly submerged reef balls, anchored to the sandy seabed and weighing some 300 pounds (136 kilograms) each, have holes that create currents and circulate nutrients to marine life. Small fish can hide from predators inside the 2-foot (65 centimeter) wide, 3-foot (1 meter) tall spheres. Larval coral was placed on the rough exteriors.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday gifts to delight and support ocean causes

Nearly every conservation organization offers something special for the holidays; here's a very incomplete list of gift possibilities:

Adopt a turtle (Centro Ecológico Akumal)
Adopt a dolphin (World Wildlife Fund)
Adopt a hammerhead shark (Oceana)
Tree ornaments and other gifts (Sea Turtle Survival League)
CORAL calendar (Coral Reef Alliance)
Sea Turtle Note Cards (SeaTurtle.org)


Thursday, December 4, 2008

15th anniversary for Centro Ecológico Akumal

An e-mail from Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA):

As we celebrate our 15-year anniversary as a conservation organization and reflect on our goals for this year, we are pleased that we've achieved quite a lot, and understand that we still have more to do to make Akumal a truly ecological destination. Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA) has been working hard to establish a community program to manage our incredible bays in a more sustainable way and to develop a strategy to improve ground-water quality.

Based on two years of water quality studies and participation in regional wastewater management events, we have been able to form alliances with the municipal and state water authorities to begin to address the serious issue of wastewater treatment in Akumal. We are now able to address details for improved sewage treatment along the coast, and thus for reduced contaminants reaching the sea and choking off the reef.

Likewise, CEA has been able to facilitate the creation of a Community-based Management Plan for Akumal's bays, uniting such diverse actors as the local independent operators, dive shops and hotels, as well as outside tour operators. They all use the natural wealth of our bays, and are now working together to run and fund a program that seeks to balance economic benefit and environmental protection, with a focus on taking care of our resident sea turtles. Numerous workshops and meetings were held with all the actors, based on studies of both the sea turtles' and human activities in the bay. We were able to get stakeholders to understand their impact on and responsibility for the wildlife found in Akumal Bay. The program is now operating and it serves as a great example of a local initiative for sustainable tourism. We are excited about the positive results in the bay as tours and boats accept new operating rules aimed at human safety and wildlife protection.

In addition, our ongoing sea turtle protection was also very successful, with almost 300 nests protected and over 26,000 hatchlings able to reach the sea this year. This good hatchling rate is due in grand part to the cooperation CEA received from hotels and tourists each night as turtles nested or nests hatched.

Our challenge now is to build on these positive results, to protect and manage better all of Akumal. As tourism development grows in the region, we must be ready to serve as a model of what CAN be done to lessen the destruction of this beautiful area—demonstrating ways to treat wastewater, to manage beaches and bays, and to unite people for our future. CEA still has more to do, getting the government to improve enforcement of existing environmental laws, working with the local community to integrate our efforts, and sharing our goals and experiences with the global community. We look forward to concrete achievements in regional wastewater treatment and bay protection for all of Akumal.

We are grateful for all of the support we have received from so many people throughout the year and we are certain that, with your help, we will be able to report greater achievements next year. If you have not yet joined CEA with a new or renewed membership, or made a donation, please consider doing so before the end of this tax year. Please click here to explore your tax-deductible donation options.

Please join us to make 2009 a year of restoration of this paradise: cleaner ground-water, growing corals, and healthy sea turtles.

We are very thankful for your donations and we wish you a peaceful holiday season.

Best regards,

Paul Sánchez-Navarro


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Changes in Land Use, Changes in Climate

From an articleby Emilio Godoy posted on IPS News:

MEXICO CITY, Dec 2 (Tierramérica) - The countries of Latin America have failed to design integrated policies to control the processes of changes in land use, one of the causes of climate change. The region produces 12 percent of the world's emissions of greenhouse gases, which are driving up the planet’s average temperatures and changing the climate around the globe.

Half of the emissions are the result of deforestation, with Brazil and Mexico leading the region in terms of climate-changing pollutants.

"Latin America needs regional integration to combat deforestation," Brazilian Senator Renato Casagrande told Tierramérica.

Change in land use was one of the main issues taken up by 77 lawmakers from across the region at a meeting of the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE) that ended Nov. 23 in the Mexican capital.

The event, sponsored by the Mexican Congress, the World Bank, the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (COM+) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), marked the launch of the International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems.

"We hope that the Commission provides a clear set of measures that national parliaments can adopt through regulations, fiscal incentives or laws," said Casagrande. "That way we can advance towards an economic system that foments a sustainable use of the land."

In their 16-point declaration, the lawmakers stated that deforestation should be a priority in environmental action plans, especially considering the effective and low-cost opportunities associated with the measures and the important parallel benefits for local communities and biodiversity.
Not only does deforestation contribute to climate change, but deforested land can smother the ocean wtih eroded silt, as decribed in an entry on Mongabay.com:
As the suspended particles reach the ocean, the water becomes cloudy, causing regional declines in coral reefs, and affecting coastal fisheries. The loss of coral reefs worldwide, often labeled the rainforests of the sea, is especially distressing to scientists because of their tremendous diversity and the important services they provide. Coastal fisheries are affected not just by the loss of coral reefs and their communities, but by the damage inflicted on mangrove forests by heavy siltation.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

No place like home: new theory for how salmon, sea turtles find their birthplace

From an article on Science Daily:

How marine animals find their way back to their birthplace to reproduce after migrating across thousands of miles of open ocean has mystified scientists for more than a century. But marine biologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill think they might finally have unraveled the secret.

At the beginning of their lives, salmon and sea turtles may read the magnetic field of their home area and "imprint" on it, according to a new theory in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Earth's magnetic field varies predictably across the globe, with every oceanic region having a slightly different magnetic signature. By noting the unique "magnetic address" of their birthplace and remembering it, animals may be able to distinguish this location from all others when they are fully grown and ready to return years later, researchers propose.

Previous studies have shown that young salmon and sea turtles can detect the Earth's magnetic field and use it to sense direction during their first migration away from their birthplace to the far-flung regions where they spend the initial years of their lives.

The new study seeks to explain the more difficult navigational task accomplished by adult animals that return to reproduce in the same area where they themselves began life, a process scientists refer to as natal homing.

"What we are proposing is that natal homing can be explained in terms of animals learning the unique magnetic signature of their home area early in life and then retaining that information," said Kenneth Lohmann, Ph.D., professor of biology in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences and the first author of the study.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Manatees become conservation symbol for communities in Chiapas

From an article posted on Mongabay.com:

Local conservation efforts are helping protect endangered manatees in Chiapas, Mexico, report researchers writing in the December issue of Tropical Conservation Science.

Conducting surveys of local communities and recording manatee sightings in the Catazajá wetlands of northeast Chiapas, Jenner Rodas-Trejo and colleagues mapped the progress on conservation efforts in an ecosystem that is increasingly rare in Mexico due to transformation for cattle ranching, oil exploration, and human settlement. The researchers found hopeful signs that locals are changing practices harmful to the marine mammal and even actively promoting conservation of the species. The new sentiment is reflected by the elevation of the manatee as a community symbol.

"Since 2001, we have gradually involved the local communities in the conservation of manatees and the wetland ecosystem. Local people participation has been gradual and more recently accelerated," write the authors. "While still in progress, tangible outcomes of community involvement in conservation are the following: protection by the local community of manatee preferred gathering areas in the wetland is gaining strength, hunting of manatees is now almost non existent, local people trained by us now assist in keeping track of manatee sightings and local community members actively become involved in the rescue of stranded individuals. Importantly, the manatee has now become the animal emblem for the communities in the study area. A manatee festival is held once a year, with intensive participation by local inhabitants, including adults of all ages and school children."


Sunday, November 30, 2008

NOAA finds acidification in Caribbean

Recent findings document damaging ocean acidification around the world, and a report by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) focuses on acidification in the Caribbean:

A new study, which confirms significant ocean acidification across much of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, reports strong natural variations in ocean chemistry in some parts of the Caribbean that could affect the way reefs respond to future ocean acidification. Such short-term variability has often been underappreciated and may prove an important consideration when predicting the long-term impacts of ocean acidification to coral reefs.

Conducted by scientists from NOAA and the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the study was published in the Oct. 31, 2008 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research – Oceans.

Previous NOAA studies have shown that a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans place in the atmosphere each year ends up being dissolved into the ocean. The result is the ocean becomes more acidic, making it harder for corals, clams, oysters, and other marine life to build their skeletons or shells. A number of recent studies demonstrate that ocean acidification is likely to harm coral reefs by slowing coral growth and making reefs more vulnerable to erosion and storms.

In the new study, NOAA scientists used four years of ocean chemistry measurements taken aboard the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship Explorer of the Seas together with daily satellite observations to estimate changes in ocean chemistry over the past two decades in the Caribbean region. The resulting new ocean acidification tracking products are available online along with animations of the changes since 1988.

"Ocean acidification has become an important issue to coral reef managers and researchers,” said Tim Keeney, deputy assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere and co-chair of the United States Coral Reef Task Force. “These new tools provide these communities with better information to guide future research. This is the first time that anyone has been able to track ocean acidification on a monthly basis."

The study supports other findings that ocean acidification is likely to reduce coral reef growth to critical levels before the end of this century unless humans significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. While ocean chemistry across the region is currently deemed adequate to support coral reefs, it is rapidly changing as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise.

“The study demonstrates a strong natural seasonal variability in ocean chemistry in waters around the Florida Keys that could have important consequences for how these reefs respond to future ocean acidification," says NOAA's Dwight Gledhill, Ph.D., lead author of the study.

C. Mark Eakin, Ph.D., coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, said “Organisms from highly variable environments are often better adapted to changes like we have seen in the last 20 years. The real question is how far corals can adapt and if this natural variability will be enough to protect them."
NOAA's Web site includes page after page of coral reef information, as well as several informative animations of coral reef issues.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Slow progress on ocean protection

From a story by Richard Black on the BBC:

Less than 1% of the world's oceans have been given protected status, according to a major survey.

Governments have committed to a target of protecting 10% by 2012, which the authors of the new report say there is no chance of meeting.

Protecting ecologically important areas can help fish stocks to regenerate, and benefit the tourism industry.

The survey was led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and is published in the journal Conservation Letters.

"For those of us working in the issue full-time it's not a surprise, we've known all along that marine protection is lagging behind what's happening on land, but it's nice to have it pinned down," said TNC's Mark Spalding.

"It's depressing that we've still got so far to go, but there are points of hope," he told BBC News.


Reefs face mass extinction from acid oceans

From a media release issued by Oceana:

Washington, D.C., Nov. 11, 2008 – An Oceana analysis released today shows that ocean acidification, resulting from massive carbon dioxide emissions over the past decades, is likely to drastically change marine ecosystems worldwide. Oceana’s analysis, which draws heavily on published scientific literature, predicts a mass extinction of coral reefs in both tropical and colder deep waters this century. These die-offs will result from the absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, which leads to a lowering of pH, creating a more acidic environment for marine life.

Acidification reduces the ability of marine animals such as corals, crabs, lobsters, clams and oysters to create calcium carbonate skeletons and shells, which will likely reduce their survival rates, and their ability to mature and reproduce. Such a decline and widespread death of coral reefs will cost society billions of dollars annually in lost fishing and tourism revenue and will jeopardize the coastal protection services that coral reefs otherwise provide.

“Ocean acidification is a consequence of climate change that we don’t hear much about, but one that will change life as we know it in the coming decades if we don’t act now,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director for Oceana. “Marine animals that use carbonate to make their shells will suffer – including species that are vital components of marine ecosystems, and many that have tremendous economic value.”

Major CO2 Cuts Required

To protect coral reefs and the ecosystems that depend on them, we must stabilize carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at or below 350 parts per million (ppm); however, current levels already have reached 385 ppm. To achieve this ambitious goal, industrialized nations must slash global carbon emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020 and 80 to 95 percent by 2050.


Friday, November 28, 2008

British knight backs bid to save Virgin Island mangroves

From an article in The Independent:

Sir Richard Branson is backing a landmark legal challenge by environmental campaigners against a multimillion-pound luxury leisure complex which threatens to destroy some of the most eco-sensitive mangrove swamps in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the paradise home of the British business tycoon.

The case, which is to be heard in full next year, is expected to have far-reaching consequences for the protection of the fragile Caribbean environment. Sir Richard, head of the Virgin group of companies, has paid for a team of barristers, led by the former chairman of the Bar Stephen Hockman QC, to fly to the group of islands and seek to stop plans to build a marina, five-star hotel and golf course in the British overseas territory.

The Branson family home is on Necker Island, which Sir Richard bought for £180,000 in 1979 and is located just over the water from Beef Island where the development is planned. At threat is one of the most important mangrove systems in the BVI, providing a vital home for hatchlings and juvenile fish, lobster and conch. Under the BVI government plans one of the golf holes is to be sited in the middle of the disputed area.

The Virgin Islands Environmental Council (VIEC), a charity supported by Sir Richard and other interested groups, says it has brought the action to seek legal protection of the environment in the BVI for future generations.

A council spokesman said: "This is a landmark case that addresses a number of important issues which will impact on the future of environmental law and practice throughout the Caribbean. The outcome of this case will definitely impact the way other large projects currently under planning review are dealt with, leading to a more sustainable future for the BVI.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Columbian city drowning in rising Caribbean

From an article by Mario Osava posted on IPS News:

CARTAGENA, Colombia, Nov 24 (IPS) - The sea encroaching on the streets of this Caribbean resort city in northern Colombia dramatically underlines the challenges that 60 journalists, winners of awards from the Latin American Avina foundation, discussed over the weekend.

The award money is to be used for reporting or making documentaries on sustainable development.

In spite of the lack of rain or other exceptional circumstances, some 50 metres of the street were under water in front of the Almirante Estelar Hotel, where the 2nd Meeting of Investigative Journalism for Sustainable Development, sponsored by Avina, was being held.

Two participants at the meeting were unable to visit the historic centre of the city on the morning of Nov. 21. The avenue they had to take from the hotel's Bocagrande neighbourhood was flooded with water and impassable for cars.

Cartagena appears doomed to be one of the first victims of the rise in ocean levels due to global warming.

The lowest-lying streets of Bocagrande, a narrow strip of land covered with tall buildings and modern hotels that projects into the sea, are already under water when the tide is in.
The Netherlands Climate Assistance Program has a detailed discussion on Cartagena's vulnerability to the rise in sea level.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ocean acidification: Oceans passing critical CO2 threshold

From an article by Stephen Leahy on IPS News:

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 24 (IPS) - An apparent rapid upswing in ocean acidity in recent years is wiping out coastal species like mussels, a new study has found.

"We're seeing dramatic changes," said Timothy Wootton of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, lead author of the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study shows increases in ocean acidity that are more than 10 times faster than any prediction.

"It appears that we've crossed a threshold where the ocean can no longer buffer the effects of CO2 in the atmosphere," Wootton told IPS.

For millions of years, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the ocean were in balance, but the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation has put more CO2 into the atmosphere over the last 150 years. The oceans have absorbed one-third -- about 130 billion tonnes -- of those human emissions and have become 30 percent more acidic as the extra CO2 combines with carbonate ions in seawater, forming carbonic acid.

Each day, the oceans absorb 30 million tonnes of CO2, gradually and inevitably increasing their acidity. There is no controversy about this basic chemistry; however, there is disagreement about the rate at which the oceans are becoming acidic and the potential impact.

The ocean's pH -- the measure of acidity or alkalinity -- has been declining, or becoming more acidic, at a rate of about 0.02 per decade since 1980, said Ulf Riebesell, a biological oceanographer at the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in Kiel, Germany.

"We're just starting to realise the far-reaching impacts of ocean acidification," Riebesell told IPS, noting that the term ocean acidification was coined just four years ago.

Wootton and colleagues measured a massive pH decline of 0.4 units in just eight years off the northwest tip of Washington State in the U.S. And that abrupt increase has had a major impact on marine species in the tide pool on Tatoosh Island where the study was conducted.

"Large shell species like mussels and goose barnacles were dying at a faster rate and being replaced by other species," he said.

Increased seawater acidity means there is less calcium carbonate in the water for corals and shell-forming species like mussels and phytoplankton to grow or maintain their skeletons. The once verdant mussel beds in the study area were being replaced by algae, Wootton said.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Diving for people with disabilities

The freedom of movement in the water must be fantastic to people who have been limited by the unforgiving laws of gravity.

From an article by Fran Duckett-Pike in The News (Portsmouth, UK):

Petty Officer John Strutt is using his skills to help ex-forces men and women who had lost limbs to rediscover their confidence and to give them a chance to take up a new activity.

PO Strutt, who has served in the navy for 15 years, organised a diving weekend on November 1-2 at HMS Collingwood, Fareham, which saw nine members of the British Limbless Ex Servicemen Association (Blesma) take to the pool.

He said: 'It was very emotional for all of us in different ways.
From an Associated Press article in the International Herald Tribune:
RIO RANCHO, New Mexico: Jim Hay knows a thing or two about adventure and he certainly isn't one to shy away from a challenge.

So he was more than ready to pull on a wet suit, strap on a tank, gear and goggles and head into the deep end of the pool during a scuba diving excursion at the Rio Rancho Aquatic Center.

"You are really flying underwater. It's an amazing feeling," said Hay, a Vietnam veteran from Albuquerque. "It wasn't really scary, it was more exciting. It is just relaxing, fun and it's totally awesome."

Hay is like any other diver experiencing the weightlessness and tranquility of the sport. But for him, the underwater freedom is much more precious.

For more than 20 years Hay has been a paraplegic, dependent on his wheelchair for more mobility. Underwater, he is able to move his legs and direct his movements with a little help from trained diving instructors.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Celebrate 15th anniversary of Centro Ecológico Akumal, Nov. 26


Thursday, November 20, 2008

DVD, art, and award from IYOR

A few intersting items from the International Year of the Reef (IYOR):

Coral Reef Resilience DVD
The IUCN/CORDIO/IYOR Coral Reef Resilience DVD is an educational tool useful for managers, teachers, coral reef practitioners or anyone who is interested in learning more about coral reefs and climate change. It focuses on coral bleaching and how coral colonies and coral reef ecosystems can resist and recover from bleaching stress. The DVD explores various environmental and ecological factors that affect a coral reef's resilience to, or capacity to recover from, bleaching, and is a good introduction to the subject. Contact: ggrimsditch@iucnus.org Learn more about the IUCN Climate Change and Coral Reefs Working Group

AWARE Kids International Year of the Reef 2008 Art Contest
Nearly 1,400 art entries from around the world were received during the Project AWARE Foundation's International Year of the Reef Art Contest. AWARE Kids ages 3 - 12 from contributed stunning art depicting the contest theme "Celebrate the Reef - Every Act Counts". Wyland, Official Artist for International Year of the Reef 2008 and Rogest, renowned marine artist and conservationist, lent expertise to the contest, helping select prize-winners in each age group from Indonesia to Canada, Colombia to Slovenia. View the amazing art winners.

First Environment Achievement Contest to Help Save Coral Reefs
Magic Porthole's First Environment Achievement Contest to help coral reefs is now underway with a deadline of December 31st 2008. The contest, held in honor of the International Year of the Reef (IYOR) 2008, invites individuals of all ages and organizations to participate. It is attracting young and not so young to tell about their own or their organization's efforts to help save coral reefs. Efforts can be what you are doing far from the oceans to help reduce Global Climate Change with energy efficiency and to stop pesticides and other pollutants from getting into the water. Near the ocean shore your project might be to stop trash getting into the water. Nearby coral reefs, your project might be to help reduce damage from inadequately controlled tourism and excessive or destructive types of fishing. Prize winners will be chosen for best efforts and the impact of their actions. The First prize is a trip to a coral reef on board Research Vessel Tiburon with Captain Tim Taylor. Contact Janine Selendy.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pronatura studies whale sharks

From a project description on the Web site of Pronatura:

The objective of this Project is to generate technical and scientific information that contributes to the sustainable development of the whale shark (as a touristic attraction) in the marine area of Yum Balam, Contoy.

The Flora and Fauna Protection Area of Yum Balam is located in the northeast of the Yucatan Peninsula, close to Contoy Island. These two areas are very important to the whale shark.

This species is legally protected nationally and internationally. The project works in an area that seems to have the most sightings of whale sharks in the world. In the year 2004, 173 individuals were spotted within the area of Holbox, while 162 were seen in Ningaloo, Australia, and only 47 in Belize.

The whale shark is now threatened because of the little knowledge there is about its habits, ecology and biology. This knowledge and the strategy adopted for its management can only be successfully achieved if they are contemplated on a world-wide scale, because while overexploitation for sale and illegal consumption of the whale shark’s fins happens mostly in Asia and South Africa, this affects the global population of the species. . . .


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Caribbean Conservation Corporation accepting applications for research assistants, 2009

An announcement from the Caribbean Conservation Corporation:

Research and conservation of sea turtles at Tortuguero, Costa Rica was initiated in the 1950´s by legendary sea turtle researcher Dr Archie Carr, and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) continues to conduct annual monitoring programs at the site.

We are currently accepting applications for Research Assistants to participate in the 2009 Leatherback and Green Turtle Programs at our field station in Tortuguero.

If you would like the opportunity to be a part of the longest on-going sea turtle conservation program in the world, please click on the link below to find out how you can apply.

If you have any questions about the Programs or application process please contact CCC Scientific Director, Dr Emma Harrison, at emma@cccturtle.org

Anuncio en Español:
Caribbean Conservation Corporation Recibiendo Aplicaciones Para Los Programas de Asistentes de Investigación, 2009

La investigación y conservación de las tortugas marinas en Tortuguero, Costa Rica se inició en los años 50's por el legendario investigador Dr Archie Carr, y la CCC aún continúa desarrollando programas de monitoreo anuales en el lugar.

Estamos recibiendo solicitudes de aplicación para el puesto de Asistente de Investigación en los Programas de Tortuga Baula y Tortuga Verde 2009, en nuestra estación biológica en Tortuguero.

Si usted quiere tener la oportunidad de formar parte del proyecto; el cual representa el más largo y permanente programa de conservación y monitoreo de tortugas marinas en el mundo, "presione" el "link" abajo para saber cómo puede aplicar.

Si tiene preguntas sobre los Programas o el proceso de aplicación, por favor contactar a la Directora Científica de la CCC, Dra. Emma Harrison, a emma@cccturtle.org

Dr Emma Harrison
Scientific Director
Caribbean Conservation Corporation
Apartado Postal 246-2050
San Pedro
Costa Rica
Tel: +506-2297-5510
Fax: +506-2297-6576
skype address: emmaturtle


Monday, November 17, 2008

Cuba gets green credentials

The summary of a video by Public Television's Wild Chronicles from National Geographic Mission Programs:

November 14, 2008—Cuba is the only country that meets the criteria for sustainable development from the conservation group WWF. But concern persists for once thriving Caribbean marine turtles.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Coral reefs and mangroves worth $395-559 M per year in Belize

From an article posted on Mongabay.com:

Services provided by coral reefs and mangroves in Belize are worth US$395 million to US$559 million per year, or 30 to 45 percent of the Central American country's GDP — according to a new report released by the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund.

The study assessed the value of ecosystem services — including flood and erosion control and protection against storm surge — provided by reefs and mangroves as well as associated economy activities from fisheries and tourism.

The authors estimate that reef- and mangrove-associated tourism contributes US$150 million and US$196 million to Belize's economy each year, while reef- and mangrove-dependent fisheries contribute a US$14 million to US$16 million. Coral reefs and mangroves respectively provide $120-180 million and $111-167 million in avoided damages and protection each year.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Our Ocean Planet: A Teacher's Manual for Ocean Science -- Free!

The Central Caribbean Marine Institute makes the teacher's manual vailable online at no charge:

This teacher’s manual is intended to be a reference tool for Cayman Island teachers. In addition, we hope that the activities at the end of each section will provide Cayman Island children with a fun and enlightening glimpse into how important the sea around us is to our daily lives.

Though targetted to children in the Caymans, it would surely be an asset for any teacher anyplace in the world.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tips for protecting dolphins

The Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida, produced a video on human-dolphin interactions. View it and other marine videos here.


Monday, November 10, 2008

"String of Pearls for Belize", Reef symposium & gala

From the Web site of the International Year of the Reef:

Belize has over two decades of marine conservation leadership, beginning with the designation of the Mesoamerican Reef's first marine protected area, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument in 1981 and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, designated in 1987.

Belize has continued to develop a marine protected areas network that boasts eighteen MPAs forming the precious 'string of pearls" for Belize.

In celebrating the International Year of the Reef, the Government of Belize has redoubled its marine conservation efforts and has introduced a series of new initiatives, and legislation aimed at strengthening marine conservation. The NGO and donor community is poised to collaborate with government to increase support for expanding conservation programs. The Reef Symposium and Gala will highlight and invigorate these efforts.

Learn more about the events here.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Recipe for rescuing our reefs

From an article posted on the BBC Web site by Dr Rod Salm, director of The Nature Conservancy's Tropical Marine Conservation Program in the Asia-Pacific region:

The Nature Conservancy recently convened leading climate change experts, top marine scientists, and prominent coral reef managers from around the globe for a "meeting of the minds" session to chart a course of action for addressing ocean acidification.

The key findings and recommendations from this gathering were compiled into the Honolulu Declaration on Ocean Acidification and Reef Management.

The most logical, long-term solution to ocean acidification impacts is to stabilise atmospheric CO2 by reducing emissions around the globe.

Yet the Honolulu Declaration also outlines tangible steps that can be taken now to increase the survival of coral reefs in an acidifying ocean, while also working to limit CO2 emissions.

For example, we need to identify and protect reefs that are less vulnerable to ocean acidification, either because of good flushing by oceanic water or biogeochemical processes that alter the water chemistry, making it more alkaline and better able to buffer acidification.

We can achieve this protection by designating additional "marine protected areas" and revising marine zoning plans.

We also need to integrate the management of these areas with reform of land uses that generate organic wastes and effluents that contribute to acidification.

At the local level, we may need to restrict access to more fragile coral communities or limit it to designated trails, much as we do with trails through sensitive environments on land.

We should consider designating "sacrificial" reefs or parts of reefs for diver training and heavy visitor use.

Another intriguing option is the prospect of farming local corals that prove more resistant to acidification, and "planting" them in place of those that weaken and break apart.

The consequences of inaction are too depressing to contemplate.

Global leaders, reef managers, and citizens around the globe should give all the support they can to the Honolulu Declaration to ensure the survival of the beauty and benefits of our marine treasure trove for future generations.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Catch Conservation Fund

The Web site of The Catch Conservation Fund includes an beautiful video of a reef and this description of the organization:

The Catch: Costa Rica strives to protect the environment around Costa Rica and all over the world. That’s why we started The Catch Conservation Fund–a nonprofit corporation, whose goal is to protect and enrich fragile ecosystems around the globe, concentrating its efforts on developing countries. We work comprehensively with governments and dedicated private organizations to improve the natural surroundings on land as well as at sea. It’s our belief that the modern world can live and work in harmony with nature so that future generations can enjoy and benefit from the wonder that our earth provides.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Conservation of marine turtles on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula

From a program description explaining some of the work of PRONATURA:

The objectives of this project are: a) To ensure the successful nesting of female turtles in certain beaches, b) To study the reproductive health state of marine turtle populations in the region, c) To provide results of scientific research to authorities and decision makers, making it easier for them to access technical information, and d) Develop environmental education activities for the coastal and urban population, about the importance of marine turtles and their conservation.

The turtles are monitored on three coasts: Puerto de Celestún (in the Biosphere Reserve of Ria Celestún), El Cuyo (in the Biosphere Reserve of Ria Lagartos), both of the previous in the state of Yucatan, and un Isla Holbox (in the Flora and Fauna Protection Area of Yum Balam, Quintana Roo).

Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan has generated a database on different subjects, which has been analyzed and presented to various authorities. The project has shown its benefits by having contributed to the reduction of nest poaching incidence in the area, registering an average of only .5 nests in the last seven years. It has also contributed to environmental education in different communities.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Early turtle roundup upbeat

From an articleby Michelle Spitzer on FloridaToday.com:

Despite Tropical Storm Fay and bouts of strong wind, sea turtle nesting season ended Friday with encouraging results.

The number of nests in Brevard County surpassed expectations, said Llew Ehrhart, marine turtle biologist with Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and University of Central Florida.

"Fay and the rougher conditions from (Hurricane) Kyle, which was way out in the Atlantic, did wash out some nests, but sea turtles have been dealing with that for millions of years," Ehrhart said. "We have lost a number of green turtles because a greater percentage of them were still incubating when the storms came."

Exactly how many nests were lost won't be available until February. However, preliminary numbers are optimistic.

Loggerhead turtles had the most nests this year with 9,502. That's a 50 percent increase from last year.

Green turtles produced the most surprising numbers. Although it was considered a low season for them, there were 2,773 nests. Previous low seasons have seen as few as 200 nests, Ehrhart said.

"The increase, I think, is in response to all of our conservation measures, such as the Endangered Species Act," he said. "We need to keep protecting our beaches. We're doing a good job of it."

Leatherback turtles only had 24 nests this year, but Ehrhart said that number is deceiving.

"We got double what we expected because this is a low season," he said. "Although the number is quite small, the trend is that they are going up and up and up."


Friday, October 31, 2008

Not too late to save reefs, says CORAL

In response to reports on an earlier study that said reefs cannot be saved, the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) responded with a media release:

. . . CORAL's Conservation Programs Director Rick MacPherson is less pessimistic.

Chemical oceanographers Long Cao and Ken Caldeira looked at the effect of global CO2 emissions on our oceans. As CO2 saturates in the ocean, the net effect is more acidic seawater and greater difficulty for corals to build and maintain their calcium-based exoskeletons. Caldeira said the affected reefs would not disappear straight away, but the change in water chemistry would leave them vulnerable to attack, bleaching, or disease. He further summarized that "the likelihood [coral reefs] will be able to persist is pretty small."

However, a consensus of the world's leading coral reef scientists at the recent International Coral Reef Symposium focused on possibilities rather than gloomy predictions. The scientific forum held every four years addressed not only the issue of acidification, but also the impacts that increased ocean temperatures and rising sea levels will have on reefs. "Those in attendance agreed that the demise of coral reefs is not a foregone conclusion," said MacPherson. "Though time is running out, building resilience through large networks of marine protected areas will be key in securing the future of coral reefs."

CORAL acknowledges that reefs are in for tough times as society grapples with the climate issue. Moreover, ongoing research is required to understand how climate will affect the complex processes that underlie reef ecosystems. "Our concern is the finality of the recent study," said Brian Huse, CORAL's Executive Director. "Cao and Caldeira have written the post mortem while the patient is still alive. There are currently a large number of conservation projects worldwide that get to the heart of building resilience to climate impacts—and many are already showing positive results. . . ."


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Video shows destructive side of Jamaica's tourism industry

From an article by Dawn Marie Roper posted on the Environment News Service:

KINGSTON, Jamaica, October 28, 2008 (ENS) - The Jamaica Environmental Trust on Thursday night launched "Jamaica for Sale," a 92 minute video documentary highlighting disturbing issues behind the island's normally rosy sun, sea and sand tourism image.

"We want to raise hard questions about the tourism industry, especially in light of the recent rise in a certain kind of tourism. There are costs. We are asking questions about these costs," said Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of Jamaica Environmental Trust.

The video features the faces and voices of Jamaicans and other Caribbean personalities talking about life in the wake of a burst of construction of mega-hotels across Jamaica's coastline. The film shows how gains from tourism development come at a high price to the people.

"Government is selling of beaches and sometimes entire islands. This cuts off local citizens from having a say in what happens around them," said Mimi Sheller, a sociologist from Swarthmore College in the United States.

The film features small hoteliers and other citizens talking about the wide scale removal of the mangroves, wetlands and the breeding grounds of indigenous birds and turtles.

Early in the film, construction workers detail the ill-treatment and low wages they receive from the Spanish hotel developers. . . .

{This report is republished with permission from The Panos Institute of the Caribbean.}


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

U.S. rules provide greater protection from human threats to two coral species

From a media release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, October 29, 2008 --/WORLD-WIRE/-- The federal government today finalized a rule prohibiting activities that kill or harm elkhorn and staghorn corals, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The new rule, published in the Federal Register by the National Marine Fisheries Service, extends the full protections provided under the Act to these imperiled corals that are disappearing off the coast of Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, elkhorn and staghorn corals in 2006 became the first species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act due to the threat of global warming and ocean acidification. Once the most abundant and important reef-building corals in Florida and the Caribbean, staghorn and elkhorn corals have declined by upwards of 90 percent in many areas, mainly as a result of disease and “bleaching,” an often-fatal stress response to abnormally high water temperatures in which corals expel the symbiotic algae that give them color. The rising ocean temperature caused by global warming and the related threat of ocean acidification resulting from the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide are the greatest threats to these two coral species and coral reefs worldwide. Scientists have predicted that most of the world’s coral reefs will disappear by mid-century unless carbon dioxide emissions are greatly reduced.

“Our coral reefs are disappearing faster than you can say ‘global warming,’ ” said Miyoko Sakashita, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is undeniable that corals need the strongest protections available. We need to take action on every threat that we can manage. Today’s protective regulations are an important step forward in a race to prevent the extinction of our coral reefs.”

The new rule prohibits anyone from “taking” the threatened corals, which includes harassing, harming, or killing them.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

CO2 curbs may be too late for reefs, study warns

From an article by in The Guardian (UK):

A new global deal on climate change will come too late to save most of the world's coral reefs, according to a US study that suggests major ecological damage to the oceans is now inevitable.

Emissions of carbon dioxide are making seawater so acidic that reefs including the Great Barrier Reef off Australia could begin to break up within a few decades, research by the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University in California suggests. Even ambitious targets to stabilise greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, as championed by Britain and Europe to stave off dangerous climate change, still place more than 90% of coral reefs in jeopardy.

Oceanographers Long Cao and Ken Caldeira looked at how carbon dioxide dissolves in the sea as human emissions increase. About a third of carbon pollution is soaked up in this way, where it reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid. Experts say human activity over the last two centuries has produced enough acid to lower the average pH of global ocean surface waters by about 0.1 units.

Such acidification spells problems for coral reefs, which rely on calcium minerals called aragonite to build and maintain their exoskeletons.

"We can't say for sure that [the reefs] will disappear but ... the likelihood they will be able to persist is pretty small," said Caldeira.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Florida Keys Sea Turtle Workshop Weekend, Dec. 6-7

A post on the forum of Seaturtle.org:

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL, is hosting the annual Florida Keys Sea Turtle Workshop Weekend December 6th and 7th, 2008.

This workshop gathers people together from all over the world, who work with sea turtles in the medical, rehabilitation, captive and long term care fields and provides a forum to share ideas, procedures, cases and techniques.

The first day will consist of a series of lectures designed to communicate ideas between sea turtle care facilities.

Day two will consist of two wet labs at The Turtle Hospital. One lab will be “Sea Turtle Necropsy and Proper Biopsy/Sampling Collecting” with Dr. Brian Stacy from the University of Florida. The second lab will be with Dr. Douglas Mader and Dr. Jeanette Wyneken and focus on anatomy/physiology of sea turtles.

Registration for this event is limited to individuals that work directly with sea turtle care, husbandry, and medicine. To request information for the event please email Ryan Butts at turtlehosp@aol.com. We hope to see you all in December!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thieves steal sand from Caribbean beaches

From an Associated Press story posted on Fox News:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Ahh, the Caribbean. Sun, surf. But where's the sand?

It is disappearing at alarming rates as thieves feed a local construction boom.

Caribbean round grains, favored in creating smooth surfaces for plastering and finishing, are being hauled away by the truckload late at night. On some islands not much bigger than Manhattan, towns and ecologically sensitive areas are now exposed to tidal surges and rough seas.

In Puerto Rico, thieves once mined the dunes in the northern coastal town of Isabela, said Ernesto Diaz of the Department of Natural Resources. But now they are stealing the beaches of the tiny island of Vieques — 52 square miles where the U.S. military only recently halted its controversial bombing practice.

Among the hardest hit is Grenada, where officials are building a $1.2 million seawall to protect the 131-square-mile island. Large-scale sand thefts have exposed north-coast towns to rough seas, said Joseph Gilbert, the minister of works and environment.

One of the region's largest sand thefts targeted Jamaica, where nearly 100 truckloads were swiped from private property in the northwest, exposing protected mangroves and a limestone forest to wind and waves.

Roughly 706,000 cubic feet of sand were taken in late July, enough to fill roughly 10 Olympic-sized pools, said Jamaica Mines Commissioner Clinton Thompson, who suspects government officials were involved.

"I was surprised at the amount," he said. "This one could not have been stolen without persons knowing about it."

Police have refused to comment on their investigation.

Illegal sand mining in the Caribbean began in the 1970s, when people with shovels stole small amounts to build homes mostly made of wood. But the thefts increased as builders switched to concrete and have only gotten bigger with the rise in construction of resorts and hotels — built, ironically, for tourists drawn by the Caribbean's immaculate beaches. An estimated 80 new hotels and resorts are expected to open in the Caribbean through 2012, according to Smith Travel Research.

Some islands offer local quarries or designate certain beaches for mining, but large-scale nighttime thefts persist despite police patrols. Front loaders and other heavy equipment are now used instead of shovels to steal sand, which sells for nearly $200 for 1 cubic yard.

"If we continue to mine the beaches the way we've been doing, we will have no sand to boast about. Just sea and sun," Gilbert said.

No one knows how much sand in all has been carted away, but the islands of Tortola, Anguilla and St. Vincent are now vulnerable to flooding, said Gillian Cambers, associate researcher at the University of Puerto Rico. Up to two-thirds of sand dunes in Tortola and Nevis have been decimated, she added.

On Grenada's 13-square-mile Carriacou island, population 6,000, the beach is shrinking by 3 linear feet every year from illegal sand mining, Gilbert said. . . .


Lifestyles of loggerheads

A short entertaining film, with a bit of a down side (plastics), on the first few hours and days in the lives of loggerhead turtles.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Save the reef; eat a lionfish

From an article by Jacqui Goddard from The Times (London):

When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, no one gave much thought to the six exotic lionfish that spilt into Biscayne Bay as the storm smashed their Miami waterfront aquarium.

Sixteen years later, thousands of the fish are wreaking havoc off America's east coast, leading a potentially catastrophic marine invasion.

The highly poisonous hunter-killer, which is normally found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, is the first non-native fish to establish itself in the Atlantic, where it is eating its way through other species faster than they can breed.

“They are eating almost anything that fits in their mouths,” said Lad Akins, director of special projects for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (Reef). There could be, he added, “a severe impact across our entire marine ecosystem”.

With its needle-sharp spines and red and white stripes, the lionfish's hunting prowess is enhanced by the fact that other fish find them so baffling. “They kind of resemble a big clump of seaweed. Native fish don't see them as predators, or even as other fish,” said Mark Hixon, a coral reef ecology expert at Oregon State University. “That allows them to approach other fish and just slurp them up. . . .”

Scientists are looking at why the lionfish is reproducing more rapidly in the Atlantic than in its native waters, hoping to identify a predator to keep numbers in check.

Reef is working on another solution: educating fishermen in how to catch them, and restaurants in how to prepare and serve them. “Lionfish are very edible,” said Mr Akins. “In fact, they are quite delicious.”


Monday, October 20, 2008

Grouper Moon Project to expand in the Cayman Islands.

A project description from REEF.org:

Normally solitary and territorial, during the winter full moons grouper travel, sometimes over great distances, and “group” together to spawn. About fifty of these spawning aggregations sites have been recorded in different places throughout the Caribbean. Historically, once discovered, grouper aggregation sites have become synonymous with fisherman aggregation sites. Due to the timing and site fidelity of the spawning aggregations and the ease with which these relative loners can be caught while congregating by the hundreds and thousands to spawn, one-third to one-half of the known Caribbean aggregation sites are now inactive. The Cayman Islands used to be home to five Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) spawning sites. Today, four of these sites are dormant or depleted. But one site, on the west end of Little Cayman Island, is home to one of the last great reproductive populations of this endangered species.

In the Winter of 2002, REEF launched a ground breaking expedition to the Cayman Islands - the Grouper Moon Project. The Project’s objectives were to observe the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation off the western tip of Little Cayman, and to develop a protocol for monitoring their numbers and activity at the site. For two weeks, a team of divers from REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment visited the aggregation site and nearby reefs. Since that first year, REEF has coordinated annual efforts to monitor and study the Little Cayman Nassau grouper aggregation. The project has grown in scope to include an ambitious acoustic tagging research project, juvenile habitat and genetics studies, and early results have been published in the scientific literature. . . .

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF and our collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University (OSU) will greatly expand the conservation science research being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands. The funded research, broadly titled as "The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management" will evaluate the potential for spawning site MPAs to recover Nassau grouper stocks.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Microdocs: Ground truthing in the Bahamas

A project at Stanford University creates microdocs (micro-documentaries) on topics dealing with coral reefs, including a video on "ground truthing," which the site describes this way:

Satellites reveal many objects on the Earth’s exterior from their vantage point in space, but until recently they’ve never been able to accurately detail what is BENEATH the surface of the ocean. In this film, a team of scientists ‘ground truth’ an innovative use of satellite imagery to produce a new and groundbreaking research tool.

Researchers compare estimates of coral cover calculated from satellite images to what is actually present in the environment. Verifying this satellite image data makes this research tool, and any conclusions drawn from it, much more robust.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Real men don't need turtle eggs

From CasaTortuga:

Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatán's Sea Turtle Conservation Program focuses on the conservation of marine turtles in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. There are seven species of marine turtles in the word, six of which are found in Mexican waters. Four sea turtle species—the hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback and green turtle—can be found in the Yucatán Peninsula. Mexico is a popular region for conservation efforts, as it is both a favorable area for nesting and feeding for juvenile and adult turtles. As of May 28th, 1990, President Carlos Salina de Gortari signed an executive order declaring an end to Mexico's sea turtle industry. There is now a penalty of up to nine years in jail for anyone caught killing or capturing the turtle. Mexico also started a promotional campaign to help protect the turtle after 80 Olive Ridley sea turtles were found chopped to pieces on Escobilla beach in Oaxaca, Mexico. The poachers were believed to be after turtle eggs, thought to be an aphrodisiac. The poster reads, “My man doesn't need turtle eggs. Because he knows they don't make him more potent.” See the advertisement here.

Pronatura's main objectives are to ensure nesting success of female turtles by nightly patrols, assess the reproductive health of the nesting population and to contribute information for the management and conservation of sea turtles.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Become a REEF Check diver

From the Web site of REEF Check:

Become certified to conduct your own Reef Check surveys and take an active role in conserving your favorite coral reefs. This course is designed to teach you everything you need to know to conduct full scale Reef Check surveys. In this program you will learn all about the globally standardized Reef Check methodology as well as how to identify key indicator fish, invertebrates and substrates selected by Reef Check for global monitoring and conservation of coral reefs! Sound like a lot? It is! But all those who have taken the course have fully enjoyed every last bit. This course will allow you to join the Reef Check monitoring team and assist in underwater surveys around the world.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Meros Gigantes Protegidos (Goliath Grouper)

A nice video in Spanish about the Goliath Grouper.

On the NOAA's Coral listserve, the producer wrote about the video and added a funny note about the high TV rating it racked up:

Here is a 4-minute newspiece I co-produced for Telemundo TV-Miami, on the conservation of goliath grouper . . . .

The effort illustrates two important concepts I learned at this years's ICRS science-media session:

1) Allow the audience to identify with the science story. Here, romance bajo la luna (moonlight romance) referring to the spawning aggregations during full moon.

2) Hope that the final product (after journalist input and editors) will get the message mostly right. You can see some bloopers in the journalist story, but again mostly right....

Production team: marine biologist, Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres; cameraman Clemente Atia; reporter Ivan Taylor
Broadcast: Telemundo-Miami TV, noticiero-11 pm, Tuesday 30 October 2008

This newspiece, which was aired at the end of the noticiero (daily news) 11 pm Tuesday October 30, had some of the highest ratings in Telemundo-Miami history. Since there is no Paris Hilton or Britney Spears in the video, I would like to think it was due to the awesome work of the production team. However, as I discovered in a crash course with the Telemundo co-producers, TV ratings depend on what was broadcast prior to the actual segment being rated, as well as the ability to hold viewer?s attention in the transition from one program to the next.

From Monday through Friday, the program prior to the daily 11 pm news is the telenovela, ?sin senos no hay paraiso? [without breasts there is no paradise]. I will refrain from elaborating more on the content of the program, but this telenovela is a great hit right now. Traditionally, the audience changes stations en masse once the daily episode ends, and avoid the news program.

The main producer told me to come up with a "lead line" that will entice the audience to stay tunned until the end of the news program, where the grouper video was going to air. As you already know, female groupers have no breasts, so connecting the telenovela with the groupers proved to be quite a challenge. I proposed the following lead line (which was actually broadcast... but not shown on you tube video): "Next, what if each time you make love you risk death??" [?...a continuacion, que pasaria si cada vez que haces el amor arriesgas la muerte??]

With this lead line I wanted to illustrate that the behavioral trait of forming spawning aggregations (shared by groupers and many other reef fish) and people targeting those aggregations has been one of the major factors driving overfishing and aggregation extinctions.

Obviously, we'll never know whether the audience was expecting to see the fate of one of the telenovela characters, or a report on a new STD?. The fact is that the grouper video was delivered.

Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D.
Marine Conservation Biologist
Ocean Research and Conservation Association, Fort Pierce, Florida USA


Monday, October 13, 2008

Spotlight on Sergio Sandoval of Cozumel's Aquatic Sports

From an article on the Web site of the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL):

It’s not enough to cite scientific studies about the effects of climate change on coral reefs. Sergio Sandoval . . . wants to see “the real facts…show me what’s really going on underwater.” A mechanical engineer turned dive operator, Sergio has been photographing the reefs of Cozumel every day for almost four decades. He has witnessed increasing damage to his local reefs from issues related to climate change as well as rising pollution, overfishing, and staggering increases in tourism. According to Sergio, “There have been big changes in thirty-seven years of diving and we have to protect our reefs today!”

Providing dive, snorkeling, and fishing services through his company, Aquatic Sports, Sergio integrates subtle lessons about conservation and responsible marine practices into everything he does. Rather than giving his clients a list of no-nos, Sergio’s approach encourages people to help him care for Cozumel’s beautiful reefs. “You have to be positive,” Sergio claims. “Don’t tell people what they can’t do. Tell them how they can help. The way we treat people is the way we—and the reef—will be treated in return.”


Friday, October 10, 2008

Restoring coastal dunes

A volunteer at Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA) plants sea grapes as part of CEA's effort to restore the dunes along Akumal Bay.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Vote to save your favorite fish that you like to eat

From the Ocean Conservancy:

Americans will be going to the polls in all fifty states this November to pick a new president, vice president, and Congress. But starting today and throughout the election season, Americans of all political stripes can cast their vote for protecting their favorite fish from overfishing and other environmental dangers. Depending on whether voters prefer shrimp cocktail to tuna steaks, this could get every bit as heated and closely fought as the ongoing presidential campaign.

Ocean Conservancy, via the website www.oceanconservancy.org/vote4seafood, has opened the polls for FishVote08, the first ever conservation program directed simply by taste. Seafood lovers, along with environmental advocates and conservation minded individuals, can now elect a favorite from six "candidate" fish, and participate in a coordinated campaign to make their favorite seafood more sustainable.

Voters can choose between: red snapper, black grouper, cod, tuna, shrimp, or salmon. The FishVote08 website highlights the environmental hazards these fish currently face and what Ocean Conservancy and the public can do to help.

"Many seafood lovers face a difficult choice when told to stop eating their favorite seafood because it’s unsustainable. FishVote08 gives seafood lovers another option - working together to fix problems and make their favorite fish sustainable." said Mark Powell, Ocean Conservancy’s vice president for sustainability partnerships. "Ocean Conservancy wants to help seafood lovers work together to turn every fish into a sustainable fish. Let’s fix the problems instead of just walking away - it’s a solution that’s as American as apple pie."

Ocean Conservancy has decades of experience working with fisherman and fishery managers to restore troubled fisheries. With growing interest among consumers in seafood sustainability, the time is right to help seafood buyers invest in securing a productive future for their favorite seafood.

Consumers represent one of the most powerful segments of the population since they’re the ultimate customers of every fishery and seafood business. Ocean Conservancy believes that seafood lovers should not simply walk away from seafood in peril but rather commit to fixing the problem.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Ocean expert helps scientists speak plain English

From a story by Jeff Barnard on OregonLive.com:

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Besides keeping tabs on how global warming is changing the world's oceans, Jane Lubchenco — one of the world's leading marine biologists — is teaching her fellow scientists to drop the academic-ese they use among themselves and speak so regular folks can understand them.

Lubchenco is a member of the Pew Oceans Commission that recommended steps to overcome crippling damage to the world's oceans from overfishing, pollution, coastal development and climate change.

She is also founder of the Leopold Leadership Program, named for conservationist and author Aldo Leopold. It puts 20 scientists from colleges and universities through a communications boot camp.

"The philosophy behind it is that a key role of science is to inform people's understanding and decisions. Not to dictate those decisions, but to inform them," Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology and zoology at Oregon State University in Corvallis, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The first week of the boot camp is low-key in a retreat setting. The second is in Washington, D.C., where the scientists go through simulated press interviews and congressional hearings.

"Most of them won't even return journalists' phone calls because they're afraid of them," Lubchenco said of scientists. "They don't want journalists misquoting them."

She said that when scientists talk about their research, they "typically start with history, methods, materials, who did what in the field." Then they describe their experiments, "and only at the end get to their conclusion."

But scientists are beginning to see "that's not a very useful way of communicating with people who want to know first and foremost what is the bottom line, why should I care, and is this relevant," she said.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Job board

Seaturtle.org maintains a job board with positions in countries around the world.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bahamas proposes full ban on turtle harvesting

From a post on the listserve CTURTLE@LISTS.UFL.EDU:

For the past few years, CCC and a handful of groups working in The Bahamas has been urging Bahamian leaders to revise their arcane laws regarding sea turtle harvesting. Despite declining numbers of several species being targeted, particularly loggerheads, hawksbills and leatherbacks, there still has been an open season on sea turtles there.

Today, the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources announced that as of April 1, 2009, sea turtles will be fully protected in The Bahamas!

Hopefully, the action taken today by The Bahamas will encourage other island nations around the Caribbean to toughen their own laws regarding turtle harvesting.

I want to thank all of you who signed on to petitions and sent your own letters to Bahamian leaders. Together, we have achieved an important victory in the effort to protect and recover sea turtle populations in the Wider Caribbean.

It is very important to please take a moment and congratulate the Minister and his team at the Ministry for this long awaited positive move for the conservation of sea turtles. Send notes to: The Honourable Minister Larry Cartwright (LARRYCARTWRIGHT@BAHAMAS.GOV.BS).

David Godfrey
Executive Director
Caribbean Conservation Corporation
And then a clarification in another post on the list serve:

There is certainly encouraging news coming out of The Bahamas, and, after working with The Bahamas National Trust and the Department of Fisheries (now Marine Resources) for several decades, we are very pleased with the progress.

However, The Bahamas government has NOT YET declared that sea turtles will be fully protected as of 1 April 2009. They have announced PROPOSED regulations that will protect all sea turtles from commercial harvest, purchase, or sale as of 31 December 2008 and give sea turtles full protection as of 1 April 2009. These proposed regulations are now open for public comment. We believe that protection from commercial harvest is almost certain. However, because of the cultural traditions of subsistence living in The Bahamas, the full protection as of 1 April 2009 is not as certain.

We encourage you to send in comments. If you have visited or plan to visit The Bahamas, you should include that information. Public comments should be addressed to:

The Director
Department of Marine Resources
Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources
P. O. Box N-3028
Nassau, N. P.,
Bahamas, or
Email: fisheries@bahamas.gov.bs ,or
Fax: (242)-393-0238

Best wishes,
Karen Bjorndal and Alan Bolten

Want to post?
Ed Blume, a volunteer for Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA), moderates the blog. Anyone wishing to post can contact Ed at ed@ceakumal.org.

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