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: 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

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

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

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

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."

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