Friday, August 29, 2008

Sponges feel the heat from climate change

Fron an article by Jessica Marshall on Discovery News:

Aug. 28, 2008 -- In the oceans, it's not just corals that feel the heat from climate change.

New research finds that marine sponges suffer at the same elevated water temperatures that cause corals to bleach, suggesting that coral reef ecosystems may experience broad effects in a warming ocean.

Coral bleaching is a well-known phenomenon predicted to occur in warming oceans. It happens when the single-celled algae living within the corals disappear, leaving only the white coral skeleton behind.

Because of the symbiotic relationship between the algae and the coral -- the algae provides up to 90 percent of the coral's food -- the corals die when the algae leave.

But Nicole Webster of the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville noted that corals are not the only marine creatures that rely on a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms to survive.

Microorganisms can make up as much as 40 to 60 percent of the weight of some sea sponges. Meanwhile, clams, nematode worms and even starfish can have bacteria or other microbes living on or in them, although not enough research has been done in many cases to know whether the relationship is truly a "you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours" symbiotic association.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Akumal . . . in Decline selected for San Diego Undersea Film Exhibition

A blog reader sent this message:

Just an FYI... this video was selected to be among the 32 shown at this year's San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition which was held at the Qualcomm Hall in San Diego Aug 22-23. It was very well received. SDUFEX receives submissions from all over the world. All features are under 5 min in length.

A really great event for anyone interested in seeing quality presentations (all but one entry was shot in High-Def) ranging from just the beauty found in our underwater world to messages about conservation and research from all parts of the world. 2009 SDUFEX was announced for Sept 11-12, 2009.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

NGOs save Belizean manatees from deadly boat collisions

From an article by Rob Goodier from Eco-Exchange, a publication of the Rainforest Alliance:

Boaters and manatees have a fabled history of killing each other, often inadvertently. Early sailors are rumored to have confused the gray seagrass grazers with mermaids. Their... well... curvaceous figures and "fish" tails caused enamored captains to wreck their ships, which says more about the effect of weeks at sea on a man than it does about the manatee's good looks. This phenomenon lent the creatures the name of their scientific order, Sirenia, and now gives boat guides a good joke for manatee watching tourists.

Eventually sailors no longer fell for the siren's lure, so the fatalities became one-sided, starting with man's hunting one manatee species, the Steller's seacow (Hydrodamalis gigas), to extinction in the mid-18th century, and continuing today with the accidental maiming and killing by boat propellers, a leading threat to manatees.

Nicole Auil, program director for the Wildlife Trust in Belize, is working to reduce boat injuries of the Antillean manatee, one of two subspecies of the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus). Though manatees are one of the great marine mammals, little is known about their behavior or populations. The best studied are the West Indian manatees that cruise the warm, shallow coasts and estuaries of the Caribbean and Mexico. They are divided into two subspecies, commonly called the Florida manatee and Auil's specialty, the Antillean.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Billy the dolphin teaches his flippered friends to walk on water

From an article by David Derbyshire in The Mail:

Like most dolphin trainers, Billie is patient and dedicated teacher.

Over the last few years, the 23-year-old has taught up to half a dozen wild dolphins how to tail-walk - the skill of 'walking' backwards through the water on their tails.

What makes the feat even more remarkable is that Billie herself is a bottlenose dolphin - the only known example of a mammal teaching human tricks to friends and family members in the wild.

Marine scientists have described the discovery as astonishing - and say it shows dolphins are even brighter than we realised.

Billie is thought to have learned the skill during three weeks in captivity in the early 1980s.

The female - who lives off the Adelaide coast in Australia - was captured by a local dolphinarium after she became trapped behind a marine lock and was unable to return to the sea.

After three weeks in a concrete tank she was released back into the wild with a '3' branded on her dorsal fin to make her easy to spot.

Billie returned to her usual haunts and - to the astonishment of dolphin experts - began to tail-walk herself.

Despite receiving no formal training, the scientists believe she learned the trick by watching her cell mates being fed for performing the tricks.

Now - more than 20 years after being released back into the wild - she is passing on the skill.


Monday, August 25, 2008

A sea turtle walks into a restaurant and . . .

A little humor perhaps from Reuters, though it highlights a serious problem. Maybe they were looking for a bite to eat before they headed to the sea:

ROME (Reuters) - About 60 newly hatched sea turtles lost their way during their ritual passage to the sea and marched into an Italian restaurant instead, a conservation worker said on Monday.

The baby turtles -- which ended up under the tables of startled diners at the beachside restaurant -- were probably thrown off track and lured by the eatery's bright lights, said Antonio Colucci, who was called to help rescue the group.

"They saw the artificial lights and took the wrong route," said Colucci, who works on a turtle monitoring project for the conservation group WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).

"The diners were at first quite curious and then someone alerted the coastal authorities."

The stranded turtles, which had hatched on a beach in the southern Italian region of Calabria, were released into the sea.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Shark protection

Oceana reports success on one front and asks for help on another:

When we told you that the Vermont Country Store was selling a cosmetic product known as "squalane"obtained from shark liver oil, thousands of you contacted the store. Thanks to you, they stopped selling the product. But WaveMakers didn't just flood the inbox of the Vermont Country Store, many of you also wrote to us -- furious about beauty care supplier Dr. Susan Lark and her enthusiastic promotion of products containing squalane from sharks. Well, you spoke up and we listened! We asked her nicely and made little progress. Now it's time to get Dr. Lark to change her ways. . . .

On her website, Dr. Lark touts squalane for its ability to help skin "maintain its moisture and elasticity." She goes on to say that "the very best source comes from deep-sea Centrophorus sharks that live in the clean, non-polluted waters of Tasmania."

If Dr. Lark is such a fan of squalane - she can find it in a much more abundant source: olives. I'm willing to bet that her customers would prefer using moisturizers from olives instead of sharks. . . .

Tell Dr. Lark she ought to leave deep-sea sharks alone. The health - and beauty - of our oceans depends on it.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

International Clean Up Day, September 20

From the Project AWARE Foundation:

Volunteer to help make clean waters a reality and join the biggest underwater cleanup of its kind.

Project AWARE is calling all divers, snorkelers and water enthusiast to make their data count and help reverse debris trends this September. . . .

Project AWARE Foundation spearheads global underwater cleanups during International Cleanup Day and year round. This annual volunteer event addresses the devastating impact of marine debris on the aquatic environment.

Project AWARE empowers dive centers and individuals to clean the world’s oceans, lakes, rivers and shorelines. Vvolunteers take part in practical cleanup solutions and collect data which is vital for change.

International Cleanup Day is held annually on the 3rd Saturday in September but cleanup and data collection activities are supported by Project AWARE, partners and volunteers on an ongoing basis.

In 2007 a total of 358,617 recorded volunteers helped Project AWARE clean 34,560 miles of shoreline and remove seven million pounds of rubbish.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Biology prof, students get rare opportunity to study rebirth of coral

From an article by Elizabeth Gibson in The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio, USA):

In this classroom, students can't hear a word their professor says, have to juggle notebooks and jellyfish, and must remember to breathe regularly.

Every January, 15 or so Capital University students dive along a small coral reef off the Mexican island of Cozumel, east of the Yucatan Peninsula, to catalog its incredible biodiversity as well as document natural and manmade factors contributing to its demise.

"It is probably the highlight of my career," said Stephanie Petitjean, 27, of Reynoldsburg, a graduate student who has been swimming the waters since 2005.

"Hopefully these corals won't be extinct by the time I do a postdoctoral (research project)."

Petitjean and other students almost lost their unique classroom once already.

In October 2005, Hurricane Wilma slammed Mexico's Caribbean coastline, wiping away the Paraiso Reef and 10 years of research on at-risk species conducted by Philip Whitford, a Capital biology professor.

"God, where is everything?" Whitford recalled thinking the day he returned to the reef in May 2006. "I had expected there to be damage, yes, but not the ocean floor to be leveled."

Colorful heads of coral once the size of minivans were reduced to rubble. Feather duster worms, Christmas tree worms and sea cucumbers flooded the area to feed on the remains.

Whitford estimated that as much as 98 percent of the corals, some 150 to 200 years old, were lost.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Huge gatherings of whale sharks discovered in Gulf of Mexico

From an article by Jim Tharpe in The Atlanta Constitution:

Scientists have become increasingly convinced that huge gatherings of giant whale sharks occur with clockwork regularity in the northern Gulf of Mexico off the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Scientist Eric Hoffmayer, who is trying to unravel the mysterious “aggregations,” said that as many as 100 of the bus-sized sharks have been spotted feeding in clusters at three separate areas about 40 to 100 miles offshore.

“We have lots of reports of 30 or 50 animals in one place,” said Hoffmayer, a scientist with the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Miss. “They are obviously gathering for a reason. But right now we are not sure what that is, or how they know to show up at these spots.”

Whale sharks, a key attraction at the Georgia Aquarium, are the planet’s biggest shark and can grow to more than 45 feet long. They are generally solitary, ocean-roaming creatures. Nobody knows how many exist. But there are a handful of locations around the globe where the polka-dotted, filter-feeding sharks congregate in large numbers to feast on plankton or fish eggs.

The northern Gulf aggregations, which occur from June through September, would be a major new discovery if scientists can confirm that they are occurring at regular, predictable intervals.
Photo by Lisa Carne from Marine Photobank.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Scientist warns of mass extinctions and 'rise of slime'

From a media release issued by Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UC San Diego:

Human activities are cumulatively driving the health of the world's oceans down a rapid spiral, and only prompt and wholesale changes will slow or perhaps ultimately reverse the catastrophic problems they are facing.

Such is the prognosis of Jeremy Jackson, a professor of oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, in a bold new assessment of the oceans and their ecological health. Publishing his study in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Jackson believes that human impacts are laying the groundwork for mass extinctions in the oceans on par with vast ecological upheavals of the past.

He cites the synergistic effects of habitat destruction, overfishing, ocean warming, increased acidification and massive nutrient runoff as culprits in a grand transformation of once complex ocean ecosystems. Areas that had featured intricate marine food webs with large animals are being converted into simplistic ecosystems dominated by microbes, toxic algal blooms, jellyfish and disease.

Jackson, director of the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, has tagged the ongoing transformation as "the rise of slime." The new paper, "Ecological extinction and evolution in the brave new ocean," is a result of Jackson's presentation last December at a biodiversity and extinction colloquium convened by the National Academy of Sciences.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Record year for sea loggerhead nests along U.S. coast

From an Associated Press article in the International Herald Tribune:

Rare loggerhead sea turtles are having a record nesting season on the Georgia coast and have been laying eggs in promising numbers on southern Atlantic beaches from Florida to the Carolinas.

Still, biologists warn the population of mammoth turtles, which weigh up to 300 pounds, remains fragile. And the federal government is considering a proposal to classify loggerheads as endangered after 30 years of listing them as a threatened species.

Along the 100-mile Georgia coast, biologists and volunteers working with the state Department of Natural Resources have counted 1,544 loggerhead nests since the nesting season began May 1.

That's the most turtle nests recorded since Georgia began keeping count in 1989, breaking the previous record of 1,504 nests in 2003. And new nests discovered since August 1, the final month of the season, haven't been tallied yet.

Mark Dodd, the biologist in charge of the Georgia sea turtle recovery program, said Wednesday he suspects the state will top 1,600 nests by the end of the season. That's still short of the state goal of 2,000 nests per year for 25 years.
Check the latest numbers on nests in Akumal.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Turtle tattoos

From the Caretta Research Project:

. . .from the creative genius of Mike Frick, come some perfect designs for body ornamentation. The only question now is... where will you put it?
Click here to see the designs.

If you have a turtle tattoo to show off, please send a photo to to post on this site.

Ed Blume's turtle tat copies a logo from the Hotel Akumal Caribe in Akumal, Mexico.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A site for kids: Magic Porthole

From the Web site of the Magic Porthole:

Magic Porthole™ takes you into the fascinating and fragile world of coral reefs with online and offline multimedia and multifaceted experiences. Explore virtual reefs with reef creatures as guides. Enjoy playing games and winning prizes as you make discoveries about the lives of frogfish, cleaning gobies, turtles, seahorses, sharks, and many of the myriad other reef creatures. Join Environment Achievement Contests - Your efforts to help save coral reefs may win you a prize as well as a chance to encourage others through your example. Deepen your knowledge with exciting resources.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Another blog to report on coral spawning

From a post on NOAA's coral-list listserve:

. . . a team of scientists and aquarium professionals will leave to Puerto Rico for the 4th SECORE workshop. Two research teams around Iliana Baums (Penn State) and Mary Hagedorn (Smithsonian) will join the SECORE group for the spawning of the threatened Elkhorn coral Acropora palmata. Spawning is predicted around Aug 22 and 23.

Because of its great success in the past year, we have set up a weblog again to give people around the globe the chance to join us online!
From the SECORE Web site:

SECORE is a unique initiative to address coral conservation issues by combining the best of two worlds. It creates a platform where public aquaria & zoos work closely together with marine science, sharing knowledge and practical skills in coral husbandry and coral research. SECORE aims at contributing to a healthy future for the most diverse ecosystem of the sea: the coral reef.

Focussing on sexual reproduction of reefbuilding corals around the world, SECORE (SExual COral REproduction) provides tools for live stock management in public aquaria. We promote cooperation between top scientists in coral reproduction biology and related fields. SECORE is an active partner in coral conservation and public outreach.


Monday, August 11, 2008

ICRI outcomes posted

From a report on the recent symposium:

A defining theme of the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium is that the news for coral reef ecosystems is far from encouraging. Climate change is now much faster than in an ice-age transition, and coral reefs continue to suffer fever-high temperatures as well as sour ocean conditions. Corals may be falling behind, and there appears to be no special silver bullet remedy. Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs that we should not despair.

Reef ecosystems respond vigorously to protective measures and alleviation of stress. For concerned scientists, managers, conservationists, stakeholders, students, and citizens, there is a great role to play in continuing to report on the extreme threat that climate change represents to earth's natural systems. Urgent action is needed to reduce CO2 emissions. In the interim, we can and must buy time for coral reefs through increased protection from sewage, sediment, pollutants, overfishing, development, and other stressors, all of which we know can damage coral health.

The time to act is now. The canary in the coral-coal mine is dead, but we still have time to save the miners. We need effective management rooted in solid interdisciplinary science and coupled with stakeholder buy-in, working at local, regional, and international scales alongside global efforts to give reefs a chance.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Acropora Spawn

From Jennifer Moore on the coral-list listserve of NOAA:

Last year I set up a blog to track the Caribbean Acropora Spawning event. Please consider posting your observations from this years event. If you posted last year, you should be able to post again this year. If you would like to be added to the blog, so that you can post, please email me at I hope we have a successful spawn this year and look forward to your observations.
And from Jennifer's blog:

Our BEAR (Benthic Ecosystem Assessment and Research) team will be monitoring 2 sites for Acropora palmata spawning in the upper florida keys on the nights of August 19, 20 and 21st (2008). We will try to post promptly and hope to hear from others as this helps us know what to expect the next night. Happy spawning!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Coral reef 'glue' may not stick under climate change

From an article by Jessica Marshall on Discovery News:

July 29, 2008 -- The cement that buttresses coral reefs, giving them the strength to withstand crashing waves and other onslaughts, may stop forming as oceans acidify under increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Researchers have already predicted that a more acidic ocean will make it more difficult for corals to build their calcium carbonate skeletons. The new finding suggests that the reef's broader structure may also suffer because a lower pH reduces the formation of the reef's cement binder. The binder is made from calcium carbonate that precipitates out of ocean water when it rushes through the pores of coral skeletons.

"Until now, we've mostly addressed acidification in terms of what it does to the living organism," said study author Joan Kleypas of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

"Here we're finding that the reef structure itself can certainly feel the effect of ocean acidification, even if the biology somehow finds a way to cope with acidification. This is mainly an inorganic process, so we're looking at something that will happen regardless of what the biology does."

The researchers made their findings by comparing places around the world where CO2 levels in the ocean vary naturally.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Exploration of Quintana Roo's Basement - Caves

An article by Edith Sosa Bravo and Dr. Patricia Beddows in the August newslettter of Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA):

From May 18–27 we were visited by Dr. Patricia Beddows with her team of friends and researchers. They came to carry out exploration of the cave systems and this is the story Dr. Beddows prepared about the goal of the trip:

We must all be crazy! For some silly reason, we have all decided that crawling around in some wet and mucky Yucatán caves would be a heck of a lot of fun, and a very rewarding way to spend our time. For some of us in the group, this will also be an intensive opportunity to build skills in caving and surveying. Part of my personal impetus for arranging this group adventure is that we can make a contribution to this region along the Caribbean Coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The coastline is experiencing rapid development and that includes directly above a number of poorly or completely undocumented cave systems. Part of the contribution is providing some training to some select people new to caving from local NGOs and research organizations (CICY–Centro de Estudios de Agua and CEA), part of the contribution is to get more field data for a scientific understanding of the region, and finally also the contribution is to provide more knowledge on what will truly be the basements of the villages, or the Sótano del Pueblo. The availability of data on these caves hopefully will serve local planners in considering the caves during the planning process to create safe communities within this karst landscape.
CEA's newsletter and article are also available in Spanish.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Starfish aren’t toys for dogs to fetch

An Associated Press story published in the Las Vegas Sun:

ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada - Tourism officials on the Caribbean island of Grenada say they are concerned about dog owners snatching starfish out of the sea and throwing them like flying discs for their dogs to catch.

Russ Fielden is president of the local hotel and tourism association. He says officials have received several reports of the practice and are launching an education campaign to stop it.

Fielden said Saturday that treating starfish this way is "cruel and should be strongly discouraged." He said the sea creatures are being left to die on the island's popular Grand Anse beach and also are creating a foul smell.

According to

Seastars used to be called starfish, but scientists decided that was too confusing because they are not fish at all; they are invertebrates known as echinoderms.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Workshop: Green Homes & Renewable Energy in the Riviera Maya, Nov. 6-8, Akumal

Green Homes & Renewable Energy in the Riviera Maya, a three day workshop, will be November 6-8, 2008, in Akumal, Mexico.

Whether you want to "green" your home or business in the Riviera Maya or anyplace else in the world, you'll gain invaluable insights from two exceptional green building and renewable energy professionals.

You can register for all three days or any combination of days.

November 6 - Green building and remodeling techniques and tools, including water and waste management
Presenter: Sherrie Gruder, Sustainable Design Specialist, LEED Accredited Professional

November 7 - Using the sun to make electricity and hot water
Presenter: John Hippensteel, Lake Michigan Wind and Sun*

November 8 - Using wind to generate electricity
Presenter: John Hippensteel, Lake Michigan Wind and Sun*

Co-sponsored by Yucatan Environmental Foundation, a U.S. 501(c)(3), and RENEW Wisconsin, a non-profit promoting renewable energy.

Workshop details here.

Registration here.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Akumal Field Survey Report

From the an artilce by Audrey Smith, REEF HQ Volunteer, on the Web site of REEF:

My husband and I recently joined 10 other REEF volunteers on a Field Survey to Akumal, Mexico. Akumal is located on the Mayan Riviera, quite near the Mayan ruins at Tulum, and about 60+ miles from Cancun, Mexico. Our time was filled with diving and conducting REEF surveys, fish identification seminars, exploring cenotes, and learning about sea turtle nesting research.

We stayed at Gran Bahia Principe Resorts, part of an international resort group, which is really 3 resorts in one and covers an enormous acreage on the ocean. The area was so large that one had to catch one of the resort’s trams to travel from one place to another. Sunny weather is the norm that time of year and we had no rain the entire week.

One of the interesting geographic features in this part of Mexico is the cenote, a type of sinkhole which connects to subterranean bodies of water and sometimes cave systems. The rainwater which fills the cenote is crystal-clear because it has been filtered through rock substrata and contains very little particulate matter. The REEF group had the opportunity to dive and snorkel several of these cenotes when ocean conditions turned too rough for dives on the reef, and it proved to be an amazing and unique experience! Since freshwater and salt water are both found in some cenotes, REEF divers surveyed some unusual fish, and experienced the sensation of diving through a halocline, a region below the surface of a body of water where there is a significant change in density due, in the case of cenotes, to increased salinity. Many of the divers described the experience of ascending from salt water into fresh as akin to a dream state. –“The fresh water was so clear, it was hard to believe I was still underwater!" Strange and unusual formations in the caves accentuated the dreamlike atmosphere. Illuminated only by divers’ lights, stalagmites, stalactites and columns stirred the imagination. Fish, bats and birds find a sanctuary in these caves.

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

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