Thursday, December 31, 2009

How 14 Days In The Yucatan Made Me Realize The Value of Planet Earth

From a post by Shawna Coronado on her blog Gradening Nude on Chicago Now:

. . . My family and I took the eco-journey of a lifetime in 2009 into the jungles, caves, and ocean of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Above you see me getting ready to zipline across a jungle - note the giant grin - it was a blast! I wrote and posted a blog every day for fourteen days about our journey using greening and eco-nature information as a tool to educate readers about environmental concerns in the world. . . .

Understanding the fact that we impact all of the world, not just our little corner is so important. For example, areas of coral are dying out in the Yucatan from our fertilizer run-off. If the chemicals do not go down into our water aquifer, they are whooshed out through the storm water system. All those chemicals then react with ocean life - ultimately causing green blooms and death where ever the chemicals settle. This is disastrous for coral.

Who taught me that? An amazing man in Akumal, Mexico named Paul Sanchez- Navarro who is the Director of Centro Ecological Akumal (Photo to the right). He explained how nearly one quarter of all marine species are believed to depend on coral at some stage of their development. Many fish live their entire lives on reefs, while others use them as nurseries; if the coral dies out it is assumed the fish will too. The economic impact of losing coral is also significant - in the billions of dollars worldwide.

There were so many questions I wanted answered when I returned from the trip. What will happen if we are unable to provide fish for the world to eat? Will people starve? Without the coral and fish, millions of people will lose their jobs and be unable to support themselves. Without smaller fish which inhabit the coral reefs will all the larger fish die such as tuna and shark - the very same fish we use to feed our nation?

We went to jungles, beaches, caves, and protected eco-parks throughout the Yucatan Peninsula area and experienced some incredible things in nature, but one of the most powerful messages I saw everywhere we went is that you have an impact on planet earth. What we do here in the U.S. directly touches the rest of the world - the water supply issue is just the beginning.

Make a difference for planet earth - start paying attention to the chemicals, fertilizers, and products you use at home that might be making a difference half-way around the world.

Shawna Coronado says Get Healthy! Get Green! Get Community!


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

To save the planet, save the seas

From an op ed by Dan Laffoley, the marine vice chairman of the World Commission on Protected Areas at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the principal specialist for marine at Natural England, in the New York Times:

For the many disappointments of the recent climate talks in Copenhagen, there was at least one clear positive outcome, and that was the progress made on a program called Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Under this program, key elements of which were agreed on at Copenhagen, developing countries would be compensated for preserving forests, peat soils, swamps and fields that are efficient absorbers of carbon dioxide, the primary heat-trapping gas linked to global warming.

This approach, which takes advantage of the power of nature itself, is an economical way to store large amounts of carbon. But the program is limited in that it includes only those carbon sinks found on land. We now need to look for similar opportunities to curb climate change in the oceans.

Few people may realize it, but in addition to producing most of the oxygen we breathe, the ocean absorbs some 25 percent of current annual carbon dioxide emissions. Half the world’s carbon stocks are held in plankton, mangroves, salt marshes and other marine life. So it is at least as important to preserve this ocean life as it is to preserve forests, to secure its role in helping us adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Sea-grass meadows, for example, which flourish in shallow coastal waters, account for 15 percent of the ocean’s total carbon storage, and underwater forests of kelp store huge amounts of carbon, just as forests do on land. The most efficient natural carbon sink of all is not on land, but in the ocean, in the form of Posidonia oceanica, a species of sea grass that forms vast underwater meadows that wave in the currents just as fields of grass on land sway in the wind.

Worldwide, coastal habitats like these are being lost because of human activity.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What makes the Mesoamerican Reef extraordinary

From a description of the work of the WWF in the Mesoamerian

The jewel of the Caribbean Sea, the Mesoamerican Reef is a rich tapestry of fringing reefs, atolls,patch reefs, sea grass pastures and mangrove forests. An ancient natural system dating back 225 million years, it acts as a natural barrier against severe storms for Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, and its presence is vital to the survival of many plants and animals as well
as humans.

As the most important barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in the world, the Mesoamerican Reef provides shelter for fascinating species, such as the mammoth whale shark and the endangered salt water crocodile. It is also home to one of
the world’s largest populations of manatees.

The place. A large mosaic of ecosystems, the Mesoamerican Reef covers nearly 115 million acres—from the northern end of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and the Caribbean coasts of Belize and Guatemala, to the Bay Islands in northern Honduras. It includes ocean habitats, coastal zones, tropical and cloud forests, and watersheds that drain the Caribbean slope.

The species. The Mesoamerican Reef hosts more than 65 species of stony coral and more than 500 species of fish—including commercially-vital grouper, snapper and spiny lobster. It also provides refuge for sea turtles that feed and nest along the shoreline. Its watershed is home to jaguars, howler monkeys and birds such as the quetzal.

The people. More than two million people live in the coastal communities that span four countries. This population of great cultural and ethnic diversity depends on economic activities linked to coastal and marine resources, such as fishing and tourism. The region is also experiencing rapid population growth and increased exploitation of land and resources.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Reverse climate change

One of serveral posters from WWF. Click on picture to enlarge.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mexico's conch shells yield clues into effects of warming

From an article distributed by Agence France-Presse (AFP):

CANCUN, Mexico, Dec 21 (AFP)- Divers plumb the turquoise depths of ocean waters some 100 kilometers south of this vacation paradise, in search of the distinctive queen conch shell prized by vacationers and souvenir-seekers.
These divers were not searching for a Mexican holiday keepsake however.

They were scientists conducting vital research into the reach of global warming over the centuries in this fragile aquatic ecosystem.

The researchers were attaching electronic probes to about 60 specimen of the queen conch, also known by its marine name Eustrombus gigas, a species of large, edible sea snail native to these waters.

The scientists, who were seeking more information about the impact of climate change off of the Yucatan Peninsula, said the data they are collecting, they said, can provide information yielding information dating back to pre-Columbian times.

"Our findings will not only be relevant for the future of this species, but for mapping the future of global warming" said Dalila Aldana, lead investigator on the project.

The oversized pink conch, which have seen their habitat seriously degraded in the past decade and a half by global warming, are being tagged with computer sensors to monitor their eating and reproductive patterns. . . .

The research aims to identify the temperature variations over time and to determine how these are manifested in the conch shells and how they impact the viability of the mollusks.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sea level rise impacts on the Caribbean region

Frorm the summary of an upcoming report on the impacts of climate change in the Caribbean region:

The Caribbean will be affected more seriously by SLR [sea level rise] than most areas of the world; SLR in the northern Caribbean may exceed the global average by up to 25%. In addition, the impacts of tropical storms and hurricanes on coastal areas, even at present intensity and frequency, will be compounded by SLR. The impacts of SLR will not be uniform among the CARICOM nations, with some projected to experience severe impacts from a 1 metre SLR. In nations where low lying-land is extensive and who are therefore more exposed to the impacts of SLR and storm surge, concerns are of damage to agriculture, industry and infrastructure as well as salt water penetration into the groundwater reservoirs. For nations with a more complex topography and characterized by steep sloped coasts fronted by only a narrow strip of low lying land, the main concerns are landslides, beach erosion and disruption to infrastructure that is concentrated in limited flat land areas. In both cases, damage to mangroves and seagrass beds is of concern, especially since these areas are of importance in coastal protection as well as fishery resources.

In the case of most of the countries, the tourism industry is of particular concern, since it is preferentially located very close to the coastal, often in low-lying areas with highly erodible sandy beaches. These impacts and changes mean that much more needs to be done in terms of coastal protection and in the planning of coastal development.

It terms of protection, the importance of natural inhibitors to erosion, such as beaches and mangroves, needs to be emphasised. In terms of planning, attention needs to be paid to the location of industry, communication and of course housing. In addition, care will need to be taken in the ‘siting’ of tourist developments, which generally occur close to the coastline. In all these matters, the topographic and geologic setting of locations at risk must be taken into account. The most vulnerable CARICOM nations to SLR were found to be: Suriname, Guyana, The Bahamas, and Belize.

The key impacts of a 1 metre rise in SLR can be summarised as follows: over 2,700 km2of Caribbean land area lost and 10% of The Bahamas land area; with the market value of undeveloped land lost across the CARICOM nations being over US $70 billion. Over 100,000 people will be displaced (8% of the population in Suriname, 5% of The Bahamas, 3% of Belize). The cost to rebuild basic housing, roads and services water, electricity) for displaced population approximately US $1.8 billion. The annual GDP losses will be at least US $1.2 billion (over 6% in Suriname, 5% in The Bahamas, 3% in Guyana and Belize) not including hurricane and storm impacts on GDP. At least 16 multimillion dollar tourism resorts lost, with a replacement cost of over US $1.6 billion and the livelihoods of thousands of employees and communities affected. In addition to the impacts of increased temperature on agricultural yield over 1% agricultural land will be lost, with implications for food supply and rural livelihoods Transportation networks will be severely disrupted: 10% of CARICOM island airports will be lost at a cost of over US $715 million; lands surrounding 14 seaports will be inundated (out of a total of 50) at a cost of over US $320 million, the reconstruction cost of lost roads exceeds US $178 million (6% of road network in Guyana, 4% in Suriname, 2% in The Bahamas).

From Wikipedia:
Currently CARICOM has 15 full members:
Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas (not part of customs union), Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat (a territory of the United Kingdom), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago.

Associate members(all British overseas territories):
Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands

There are seven observers:
Aruba, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico, Venezuela


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Perry Institute for Marine Science announced internships for 2010

LOCATION: Lee Stocking Island, Exuma, Bahamas
DURATION: 6–12 weeks
APPLICATION DEADLINES: Spring: February 1 Summer: April 15 Winter: October 1
OPEN TO: All students pursuing or have recently completed a degree in marine science or biology.

DESCRIPTION: Interns will split their time between direct involvement in support of scientific research and operational support of science. Responsibilities will depend largely on the current projects being conducted during each period. Interns will gain firsthand experience with standard field procedures, experimental design, sampling protocol, environmental monitoring techniques, diving and boating, and perhaps most valuable, personal interaction with some of the world's leading marine scientists.

Open water SCUBA certified
First aid, CPR and oxygen administration certified
Experience operating small vessels (preferred)

TO APPLY: Please visit for application form and detailed internship descriptions and agreement. Send additional questions to

*Number of internships awarded each season will vary and are dependent on research demands and funding availability.
*Internships are non-salaried, however, room and board (shared accommodation) and transportation between LSI and Exuma International Airport (Georgetown, Bahamas) will be provided.


Monday, December 21, 2009

NOAA releases expanded world ocean database

An article from Ocean Advocate, the newsletter of The International SeaKeeper Society:

NOAA has released the World Ocean Database 2009, the largest, most comprehensive collection of scientific information about the oceans with records dating as far back as 1800. The 2009 database, updated from the 2005 edition, is significantly larger providing approximately 9.1 million temperature profiles and 3.5 million salinity reports. The 2009 database also captures 29 categories of scientific information from the oceans, including oxygen levels and chemical tracers, plus information on gases and isotopes that can be used to trace the movement of ocean currents.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Octopus joins elite club of tool-users with coconut sanctuary

Veined octopus using coconut shells as tools. Footage shot by Dr. Julian Finn of Museum Victoria.

From an article by Jeremy Hance on

Highly-intelligent, octopuses have been observed opening containers, navigating mazes, and escaping from cages. Now, researchers have discovered a new intellectual feat for the octopus: tool use. Once the province of humans only, over the last 50 years researchers have discovered that many species—including primates, apes, and birds—employ tools, but the octopus is the first invertebrate.

The veined octopus has been observed spreading its body over an upright halved-coconut shell and walking the bowl with its eight legs rigid across the sea floor. The octopus use the shell—or sometimes two shells—as shelter.

"There is a fundamental difference between picking up a nearby object and putting it over your head as protection versus collecting, arranging, transporting (awkwardly), and assembling portable armor as required," explains Mark Norman of the Museum Victoria in Australia.

Divers spent some 500 hours observing the behavior of twenty octopuses. They watched as some individuals would travel up to 20 meters (awkwardly) carrying stacked coconut shells with them. Researchers say another important fact of the octopuses' unusual behavior was that it was crafting a tool not for food, but for periodic sanctuary.

Julian Finn, also of the Museum of Victoria, explained the behavior: "I could tell that the octopus, busy manipulating coconut shells, was up to something, but I never expected it would pick up the stacked shells and run away. It was an extremely comical sight—I have never laughed so hard underwater


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Coral and leatherbacks among climate change "flagship" species

From an article by Christine Dell-Amore on National Geographic News:

Starving koalas and homeless clownfish are among ten species likely to suffer huge losses due to global warming, according to a report released today at the Copenhagen climate change conference by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Although the ten species aren't those most at risk, IUCN selected them because they are well-researched "flagship" species that are being affected by a spectrum of climate change impacts, from melting sea ice to beach erosion.

"The polar bear has become an icon of climate change, and it's doing a fabulous job," report co-author Wendy Foden of IUCN's Species Programme said by phone in Copenhagen.

But "there are other species too [that] help to highlight what climate change is doing."

Sea Turtle Gender Bending
Many of the animals featured in the new report already appear on IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species for other reasons, such as habitat destruction and overharvesting. This makes climate change an "additional and major threat," the report authors say.

For instance, critically endangered leatherback sea turtles are already at risk of becoming entangled in fishing nets or choking on plastic debris in the ocean.

In a warmer world, the sea turtles must also try to nest on beaches severely eroded by extreme storms, which have been linked to rising sea-surface temperatures.

In addition, a hatchling turtle's gender is determined by the average temperature during the egg's development—and hotter sand is spawning a disproportionately high number of females.

Perhaps the most vulnerable species on the new list is the staghorn coral, which has been greatly weakened by bleaching, IUCN's Fodel said.

Bleaching occurs when warmer oceans cause corals to lose their symbiotic algae, leaving the blanched reefs to slowly perish.

At the same time, coral declines mean that another of the report's threatened species, the clownfish, is suffering from lost habitat.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification

From the Natural Resources Defense Council:

ACID TEST, a film produced by NRDC, was made to raise awareness about the largely unknown problem of ocean acidification, which poses a fundamental challenge to life in the seas and the health of the entire planet. Like global warming, ocean acidification stems from the increase of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Leading scientific experts on the problem, many of whom appear in the film and the outtakes . . . believe that it's possible to cut back on global warming pollution, improve the overall health and durability of our oceans, and prevent serious harm to our world, but only if action is taken quickly and decisively.

Watch the film on YouTube.


Monday, December 14, 2009

World Wilderness Conference presentations now online

From The Wild Foundation:

With WILD9, the 9th World Wilderness Congress [held in Mérida, Mex), just a few short weeks in the past, we’ve already started to post video footage from the plenary sessions online! For delegates at WILD9 and those who weren’t able to attend, you can now watch many WILD9 presentations online in both English and Spanish. Over the next several weeks, we’ll continue to role out new video content, and will post a weekly blog with links of each video posted that week.

Here are the videos currently posted:

•President of Mexico Felipe Calderon, WILD9 Opening Ceremony (English and Spanish)
•Dr. Ian Player (English)
•Sylvia Earle, Introducing Dr. Jane Goodall (English and Spanish)
•Dr. Jane Goodall , “Conservation Heroes and Hope for Our World” (English)
•Bittu Sahgal (English and Spanish)
•Mario Molina , “Climate Change: The Current Status, Potential Impacts, and What We Can Do” (English and Spanish)
•Amory Lovins, “Reinventing Fire: The Profitable Transition from Oil and Coal to Efficiency and Renewables” (English and Spanish)
•Hi Excellency Michael Pierre Jon Tijen Fa, Minister of Physical Planning, Land & Forest Management, Suriname, “In Pursuit of a Green Development Strategy” (English and Spanish)
•Trista Patterson, “What Would Nature Do” (English and Spanish)
•Cleansing Ceremony by Mayan Shamans
•Highlights of the Opening Ceremony including the Stamp Cancellation
•Carlos Manuel Rodriquez, “Tierras Silvestres: A Critically Important Protected Area Concept for Latin America” (English)
•Human Elephant Foundation (English)
•Ilarrion Merculieff , “Native Peoples: Facing Climate Change at Home” (English and Spanish)
•50 Years of Wilderness in iMfolozi (English)
•The WILD9 Closing Slide Show


A resource for members of the world ocean community

From the announcement launching a new Web site:

OCEAN and CLIMATE are locked in a continuous dance, the condition of one profoundly affecting the other. This powerful synergy is complicated and constantly adjusting to human interventions. Through this site, you can explore this complexity in its many forms -- the key issues and possible responses -- and express your views through our Ocean-Climate Forum. We invite you to join an interactive global conversation about ocean and climate and to engage in individual and collective efforts to address the challenging situations examined here.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scientists work to protect Cuba's unspoiled reefs

From a story on NPR by Nick Miroff:

Cuba has some the most extensive coral reefs in the hemisphere, but political strains between Washington and Havana largely have kept American scientists away.

A new partnership for marine research is trying to change that at one of Cuba's most remote places, far from people and pollution.

Off of central Cuba's southern coast, hundreds of tiny islands stretch into the Caribbean. They are ringed with narrow beaches and thick stands of red mangrove.

When Christopher Columbus arrived here, he named the area Los Jardines de la Reina — The Queen's Gardens. Five centuries later, there isn't a single town or road or permanent human presence.

The underwater gardens of pristine coral are still here. The Cuban government banned fishing over a 386-square-mile section of the islands in 1997, creating what scientists say is the Caribbean's largest marine reserve.

Only a few hundred divers visit each year. Dropping below the surface into underwater canyons of black coral and giant sea fans, U.S. scientist David Guggenheim of The Ocean Foundation encountered species he had only seen in photographs, like the nearly extinct Nassau grouper.

He looked stunned after he came up from his first dive in the islands and took off his mask.

"It's amazing. It's sort of like 'Jurassic Park.' Scientists are seeing these species they never expected to see in their life, because they're extinct. Well, these fish aren't extinct, but they might as well be for most of us. So I feel very lucky to see them," he says.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Copenhagen climate conference: What you need to know

From an article by Christine Dell'Amore on National Geographic News:

What Is COP15?
"COP15" acronym is short for the 15th Conference of Parties, or countries, to the UNFCC. COP15 is also the fifth meeting of parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding emissions-reduction treaty created in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. The Kyoto agreement aims to reduce global industrial greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5 percent against 1990 levels over a five-year period—from 2008 to 2012.

The Kyoto climate treaty, which went into force in 2005, was ratified by 185 nations but not the United States.

Because the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, an "ambitious new deal" needs to be worked out this year to provide governments guidance beyond Kyoto, the UNFCC says.

What Are the Copenhagen Climate Conference's Goals?

The UN Framework on Climate Change aims to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to a level that will not create "dangerous" interference with the climate.

Though there is still debate as to what constitutes "dangerous," the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before the industrial revolution was 278 parts per million, contrasted with 381 today.

By 2050 the UNFCC hopes to cut atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations in half, versus 2000 levels.

The Copenhagen climate conference has four achievable goals, according to the UNFCC:

1. Make clear how much developed countries, such as the U.S., Australia, and Japan, will limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Determine how, and to what degree, developing countries, such as China, India, and Brazil, can limit their emissions without limiting economic growth.

3. Explore options for "stable and predictable financing" from developed countries that can help the developing world reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

4. Identify ways to ensure developing countries are treated as equal partners in decision-making, particularly when it comes to technology and finance.

Possible Outcomes of the Climate Conference?
According to the International Institute for Environment and Development, there could be several outcomes to the Copenhagen climate conference, including the following:

1. No agreement: The meeting could result in a decision to resume talks in 2010.

2. Voluntary agreement: The climate conference could yield nonbinding pact that allows each government to decide its own goals and how to reach them. Opponents to this approach argue that targets need to be internationally binding and enforced. Otherwise, they say, reductions will take too long or not happen at all.

3. Binding agreement: A new legally binding agreement, ratified at the December climate conference, could replace Kyoto when the protocol expires in 2012.


Monday, December 7, 2009

From Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA):

We had a great day painting murals in Akumal Pueblo with the children of the primary and secondary schools to celebrate World Conservation Day. [The slogan roughly says, "If you want to preserve the ecosystems, you shouldn't be throwing trash around."]


Friday, December 4, 2009

Dominican Republic protects 31 areas to conserve coral

From a news release posted by The Nature Conservancy:

Dominican Republic, Caribbean — On the heels of a recent declaration expanding and establishing new land and sea parks in The Bahamas, The Nature Conservancy applauds a recent Presidential decree in the Dominican Republic, which will add 31 new protected areas into its national protected areas system. The new protected areas encompass a total of 1,321,024 hectares—just over 3.2 million acres—of terrestrial and marine habitat.

The decree acknowledged the need to reinforce the Dominican Republic’s existing National System of Protected Areas, particularly in near shore marine diversity. Of the new protected areas, 217,455 hectares—approximately 537,343 acres - is terrestrial habitat. The remaining 1,103,569 hectares—approximately 2.7 million acres—spans marine environments.

During the announcement, Jaime David Fernández Mirabal, Secretary of State for Environment and Natural Resources in the Dominican Republic, thanked The Nature Conservancy for conducting the biological gap analysis that served as the scientific basis for the decision on at least 22 of the 31 new protected areas. . . .

Because less than 7 percent of the islands and waters here are protected and managed to ensure their future survival, the coral reefs, beaches, rivers, mountains, forests and fisheries that are the foundation of all life in the Caribbean are increasingly at risk.

The Caribbean Challenge, which represents the largest coordinated, multi-national conservation campaign in the region, is no small undertaking. The Nature Conservancy has pledged $20 million in private funding to help leverage another $20 million in public financial commitments. The goal of the Challenge is to permanently establish a network of 20 million acres of marine parks across the territorial waters of at least 10 countries, and also to ensure that once established, the protected areas also receive sufficient, permanent funding through sustainable financing tools.

The Dominican Republic was one of the first nations to reach its goal of protecting 20 percent of its marine habitat when it declared the country’s largest Marine Protected Area with the National Whale Sanctuary.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Coral reef troubles indicate broader ecological problems

From a commentary by Jeff Wise on Mongabay:

Today, many of our planet's natural areas are seriously threatened by human incursion, overexploitation and global warming: Less than a fifth of the world's original forest cover remains in unfragmented tracts, while just one-third of coastal mangroves survive to protect coastlines from storms and erosion. But none of these are declining as rapidly as coral reefs. By revealing what could be in store for other natural systems, reefs resemble the proverbial canary in a coal mine.

Jacques Cousteau first brought the wonders of these underwater marine vistas to millions around the globe, just over 50 years ago. In award-winning documentaries like "Silent World," he captured in living Technicolor the awesome beauty of the Earth's oldest and largest living structures.

Providing a safe harbor where more than a quarter of all marine life can feed, spawn and raise their young, reefs' ecological diversity rivals that of the world's lushest rainforests. Unlike the forests, however, the relative remoteness of many reefs seemed to promise a small degree of protection for these fragile ecosystems.

What a difference 50 years makes.

The combination of destructive fishing practices and marine pollution hits reefs hard. A 2006 U.N. report found that close to one-third of corals are already destroyed or damaged, a figure that could double by 2030. And as reefs are extremely sensitive to changes in both the temperature and acidity of seawater, climate change will only make this situation worse.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

NOAA shows turtle protection prosecution

From the narrative of a video on NOAA Today:

The U.S. Government has charged NOAA with enforcing the laws and treaties related to the conservation and protection of marine resources. The Office of Law Enforcement investigates crimes, and the Marine Forensic Lab provides scientific evidence to support their cases. Together they bring Marine Criminals to justice. Here are their stories.

January 2007. Investigators in Puerto Rico were tipped off that an organized ring of poachers was selling turtle meat on the black market. All seven species of marine turtles are protected under an international treaty.

February 24, 2007. Officers observed a suspicious vessel. On board they found a slaughtered green sea turtle, a spear gun, knives, and blood. This evidence was shipped to the Marine Forensics Lab in Charleston, South Carolina. Scientists extracted DNA from subsamples of the evidence. From this analysis, scientists conclusively identified traces of at least three individuals: one Green Sea Turtle and two Hawksbill Turtles.

This evidence was used to convict the turtle poachers on charges of illegally fishing and selling the meat and eggs of an endangered species.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

ID guide for Cancun-area fish

A three-page printable PDF fish ID guide is posted on Here's one of the pages.


Monday, November 30, 2009

WILD9 adjourns with call to protect half of the planet

From a post on the blog of The Wild Foundation:

The week-long WILD9 congress concluded with the launch of a vision that humanity should move immediately to protect a least half of planet — land and sea — in an interconnected manner.

“That is what the science says; this is what many aboriginal people say. It is time for us to state clearly the scale of conservation intervention needed to make the 21st century one of hope instead of despair,” said Harvey Locke, The Wild Foundation vice president of conservation strategy, in the closing plenary session.
The launch of this vision built on a host of resolutions, strategies, initiatives and united support for international wilderness protection as the essential foundation of a healthy planet by more than 1500 conservation leaders and delegates from 51 countries representing academia, government, the private sector, science, native peoples, the arts, media and social sciences.

During WILD9’s opening ceremony Nov. 6, Mexico President Felipe Calderon announced a ground-breaking trilateral agreement between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada to cooperate on wilderness protection– the first time countries have formally agreed to collaborate on continent-wide conservation measures to protect ecosystems, migratory wildlife, and natural resources that do not start and end with geographical boundaries.

Both President Calderon and Yucatan Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco committed to increase the amount of protected wild areas including fragile and critical mangrove habitat on the Yucatan peninsula, emphasizing the new concept in Latin America of “tierras silvestres.” President Calderon underscored Mexico’s commitment to wilderness by canceling the first issue of the country’s first series of postage stamps featuring wild areas during WILD9’s opening night events.

WILD9 chairman Exequiel Ezcurra and WILD9 executive committee embodied the mission and character of WILD9 in The Merida Message (Mensaje de Merida), released Nov.10, which calls for the protection of critical land and sea wilderness areas to mitigate climate change and conserve biodiversity and healthy ecosystems that provide products and services vital to human well-being. Many of the world’s leading conservation organizations and hundreds of individuals have already signed The Merida Message, which will be presented at the Copenhagen UNFCC climate change talks next month.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Healthy reefs buoy Haitian hopes for tourism revival

From an article by Nathanial Gronewold in The New York Times:

ARCADINS COAST, Haiti -- There was a time when Haiti was known as the "Pearl of the Antilles," a Caribbean vacation destination as famous as Jamaica or Puerto Rico are today.

Haiti's sandy beaches and coral reefs lured tourists by the boatload. Its 1,100 miles of coast offered playgrounds for scuba divers, yachtsmen and cruise ships. And the tourism trade until the early 1990s provided solid incomes for Haitians.

"It was much easier because you had a lot of tourists," recalled Jose Roy, a Haitian dive master here. "You really didn't have to fight for survival."

The government and private entities want the good old days and the tourists to return. They are pouring money into schemes aimed at restoring and protecting marine areas, much of which are still pristine despite the devastation wrought on land by deforestation and dense development of wetlands and floodplains.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Investment in ecosystems will reap rewards: UNEP

From a Reuters article by Nina Chkestney:

LONDON (Reuters) - Nations that take into account natural resources in their investment strategies will have higher rates of return and stronger economies, a report backed by the United Nations' Environment Programme said on Friday.

With less than one month until a U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen, the report urges policymakers to reform their economic policies to stop the destruction of natural resources such as forests and oceans.

"Repairing the ecosystem by replanting forests, restoring mangroves along coastlines or rebuilding coral reefs are very smart ways of doing adaptation. People going into Copenhagen are not necessarily aware of these things," Pavan Sukhdev, the leader of the study prepared by UNEP's Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Initiative, told Reuters.

For example, planting and protecting nearly 12,000 hectares of mangroves in Vietnam costs over $1 million but it saves over $7 million in dyke maintenance expenditure.

The report estimates that investment in mangrove and woodland restoration could achieve rates of return up to 40 percent, tropical forest investment up to 50 percent and grassland investment 79 percent.

"We studied the economics of using nature better -- through adaptation and restoration. In each case we found the benefits exceed the cost, typically between 3 and 75 times," Sukhdev said.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Oceana Adoption Center open for the holidays

An announcement from Oceana:

Have you ever tried to gift wrap a shark? Put a bow on a polar bear? Wrangle a penguin into a gift box? Thankfully, you don’t have to actually wrap up an animal to give an Oceana gift. I’m so excited to tell you that the Oceana Adoption Center is open for business!

All the familiar creatures are back this year - sharks, sea turtles, octopuses, polar bears, penguins, seals, dolphins and whales - and we've made a special addition too. We are now offering The Casey Kit, a deluxe limited-edition sea turtle adoption inspired by Casey Sokolovic, a young ocean hero who has been baking and selling cookies to support the rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles.

Until wrapping paper comes in rolls large enough for a hammerhead, Oceana’s adoptions are the best way to give the ocean-lovers on your list the perfect holiday present. Make sure to order before December 15 to get free holiday shipping. Your tax-deductible donation is not only a thoughtful gift to a lucky friend or family member, but it helps us here at Oceana do our work – protecting the oceans all over the world.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Seafood Choices Alliance’s 2010 Seafood Summit

From an announcement made by SeaWeb:

Registration is now open for Seafood Choices Alliance’s 2010 Seafood Summit, "Challenging Assumptions in a Changing World." The Summit returns to Europe this year and will be held for the first time in Paris, France from January 31 to February 2, and is one of the world's largest conferences dedicated to sustainable seafood. The 2010 Seafood Summit will feature panels, workshops and presentations on current issues in aquaculture, developing world fisheries, sustainability in Asian markets, certification, climate change and more. The goal of Summit is to foster dialogue and partnerships that leads to a global seafood marketplace that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mexico's 'giant underwater museum'

From a story by Dhruti Shah on BBC News:

Visitors to a national park in Cancun could soon come face-to-face with life-sized sculptures in human form fixed in the seabed, as plans to create what could be the world's largest underwater museum start to become a reality.

On 19 November, four sculptures are due to be submerged in the Caribbean waters, off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico's south-eastern state of Quintana Roo.

They will be the first of many hundreds of figures, which will be dotted around an area of the region's national park.

The sculptures will be made of PH-neutral concrete, which, it is hoped, will attract algae and marine life and give the local ecosystem a boost.

According to the park's director Jaime Gonzalez, one of the aims is to reduce the pressure on the natural habitat in other areas of the park by luring tourists away from existing coral reef, which has suffered damage from hurricanes and human activity.

Some 750,000 people visit the park a year, said Mr Gonzalez, with about 450,000 of them visiting Punta Nizuc, an area of just four hectares.

Link to another post with more on the sculptures.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coastal habitats may sequester 50 times more carbon than tropical forests by area

"I took a journalist interested in mangroves into a small lagoon where juvenile sharks could be found. Instead of finding sharks, we found a backhoe dredging a large sand spit across the lagoon. The work was being done without sediment traps and as we later found out, without permits. One mangrove shoot stood in the eventual path of the backhoe and I decided to get a shot of it standing tall - both condemned and yet defiant to the bitter end." Photo and explanation by Matthew D Potenski, MDP Photography/Marine Photobank.

From an article by Jeremy Hance on

Highly endangered coastal habitats are incredibly effective in sequestering carbon and locking it away in soil, according to a new paper in a report by the IUCN. The paper attests that coastal habitats—such as mangroves, sea grasses, and salt marhses—sequester as much as 50 times the amount of carbon in their soil per hectare as tropical forest.

"The key difference between these coastal habitats and forests is that mangroves, seagrasses and the plants in salt marshes are extremely efficient at burying carbon in the sediment below them where it can stay for centuries or even millennia. Tropical forests are not as effective at transferring carbon into the soil below them, instead storing most carbon in the living plants and litter," explains the paper's author and Conservation International’s Marine Climate Change Director, Dr. Emily Pidgeon. "But coastal ecosystems keep sequestering large amounts of carbon throughout their life cycle. Equally, the majority of carbon stays locked away in the soil rather than the plant, so only a relatively small amount is released when the plant dies."

This capacity for coastal environments to lock away carbon for thousands of years has largely been ignored in accounts of the global carbon cycle, according to the paper, even though the amount of carbon they are responsible for storing is very high.

Coastal habitats with vegetation "[contribute] about half of the total carbon sequestration in ocean sediments even though they account for less than 2 percent of the ocean surface,” Pidgeon writes, explaining that much of this is capacity is due to the fact that coastal vegetation usually spreads deeper below ground than it grows above with some plants going as deep as eight meters.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Caribbean, Gulf spared widespread coral damage

From an article by David McFadden of the Associated Press:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Lower-than-feared sea temperatures this summer gave a break to fragile coral reefs across the Caribbean and the central Gulf of Mexico that were damaged in recent years, scientists said Thursday [November 5, 2009].

Unusually warm water in recent years has caused the animals that make up coral to expel the colorful algae they live with, creating a bleached color. If the problem persists, the coral itself dies — killing the environment where many fish and other marine organisms live.

"We dodged a bullet this year. The good news is that temperatures didn't get quite warm enough for there to be a large-scale bleaching problem," said C. Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch network. He was among scientists gathered in Puerto Rico's capital for a meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.

The worst coral bleaching in the region's recorded history occurred in 2005, when hot seas caused bleaching of as much as 90 percent of corals in the eastern Caribbean, with more than half of that dying.

In July, the Coral Reef Watch network warned that high temperatures this year might lead to severe coral problems because sea surface temperatures in parts of the Caribbean were unusually hot.

Eaken said the threat had passed for 2009, since temperatures are now cooling, but the problem could return.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Climate change killing sea turtles

From an article on

PLAYA GRANDE, Costa Rica, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Climate change threatens the extinction of leatherback sea turtles that have called the Pacific Ocean home for 150 million years, scientists said.

Warmer temperatures and rising seas are further reducing turtle populations already devastated by beach development, net fishing and restaurants that consider turtle eggs a delicacy.

Just 32 leatherbacks were seen digging nests last year on a beach at Leatherback Sea Turtle National Park, Playa Grande, Costa Rica, where the park's turtle museum was abandoned three years ago and now is surrounded by weeds.

"We do not promote this as a turtle tourism destination anymore because we realize there are far too few turtles to please," Alvaro Fonseca, a park ranger, told The New York Times in a story published Saturday.


Friday, November 13, 2009

We get to choose fate of the seas

From a post on the blog of The Ocean Project:

Sylvia Earle - also known as "Her Deepness" and featured earlier this year in this blog when she won a coveted TED Prize - has written a book, The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One, published earlier this year and in which she discusses the huge changes in the world's ocean she has witnessed over the decades and offers her hopeful thoughts on how we can restore the health of our shared world ocean.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Earle provides her wise take on the state of our world ocean and what can be done, summarized nicely here: “We get to choose. We either get to choose by conscious action or by default because we are complacent... thinking somebody else will look after this. But nobody else will take care of these issues.”

Read the interview with Sylvia Earle, watch her on Colbert Nation (after the :30 commercial, you'll get a 5:47 interview by Stephen Colbert with Sylvia Earle)


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Coral highlights complexity of climate change

From an article by Lucy-Claire Saunders on China View:

UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 11 (Xinhua) -- Eli Fuller traverses the waters of Antigua's south shore like it was his backyard pool. He cuts left and right on his 45-foot speedboat the Xtreme, confidently dodging crosscurrents and coral reefs, saltwater spraying behind his silhouette.

The third generation Antiguan has been exploring this area for over two decades. Fuller's grandfather, who came to Antigua in 1941 as a United States vice-consul and opened the country's first hotel, making Fuller take his guests on day tours.

Now Fuller runs an eco-tour business and charges per person.

As he pulls back on Xtreme's throttle, the boat glides to a standstill over Cades Reef, a two-mile long wall of coral. But most of the reef is now a white skeleton of its former glory.

"It happened so quickly that you went from having what looked like an underwater jungle, like something you'd see in the Amazon forest, to being complete wreckage, like what you'd see at Ground Zero in New York," he said. "Just carnage."

In 2005, as much as 90 percent of the coral reefs in the Eastern Caribbean were destroyed bringing the worst year of coral bleaching and disease in Caribbean history. The reason could be a mixture of factors like warming waters and pollution, but more scientists are looking at Africa. But that shall be explained later. . . .

John Maginley, the minister of tourism, is in charge of the primary source of income for Antigua and Barbuda. He told Xinhua that tourism generates around 200 to 300 million U.S. dollars a year, roughly 65 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP).

With fewer reefs to protect Antigua's valuable beaches from powerful storms, Maginley worries about his country's main source of income.

"Our motto in tourism is, 'The beach is just the beginning,'" he said. "And if we have a situation where beaches are being eroded, and the shoreline will be affected, things we have to offer to our tourism visitors are affected."

On Antigua's southwest coast on Crabb Hill beach, for example, OJ's Beach Bar has been dubbed by locals as OJ's Rock Bar because they had to put rocks along the shoreline just to stop the bar from falling into the sea.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Help ocean giants

Goliath grouper, Naples, Florida, taken by Bryan Fluech/Marine Photobank

From NOAA's coral listserve:

Goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) is one of the last representatives of the marine megafauna that were once abundant in tropical and subtropical latitudes of the world's oceans. Critically endangered throughout its distribution range, goliath grouper (previously known as jewfish), have been protected in U.S federal and state waters since 1990 through a total fishing ban. After reaching commercial extinction, the species is now in a path towards recovery. Florida is one of the few places in the world, where we can still dive with these giants.

Powerful lobbies are pressuring politicians to relax the protected status of goliath grouper to re-open the fishery at some point. This is against scientists recommendations. In a meeting early December, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will decide on whether to facilitate the process for a fishery re-opening or continue with the complete fishing ban and full protection.

The SCUBA diving community, conservationists and scientists are now lobbying so politicians will listen to the voice of reason. Please, consult the petition below, and consider adding your signature (you can also add your own comments). We hope to reach at least 1,000 signatures (more will even be better). -

Thank you for your time.You can find links to goliath grouper publications and a dedicated Endangered Species Research issue in my internet page. Also a short documentary film under "teaching."

Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

International League of Conservation Photographers

The International League of Conservation Photographers: Trailer
from The WILD Foundation on Vimeo.

The ILCP is a project-driven organization. Our mission is to translate conservation science into compelling visual messages targeted to specific audiences. We work with leading scientists, policy makers, government leaders and conservation groups to produce the highest-quality documentary images of both the beauty and wonder of the natural world and the challenges facing it.

The unique set of skills, talent and years of field experience spent documenting delicate and complex environmental subjects as well as a real commitment to conserve the landscapes, people and wildlife in the places where they work, is what sets the photographers of the ILCP apart. From poaching to global warming, from habitat loss to cultural erosion, from sustainability to biological corridors, the work of conservation photographers covers the entire range of threats to biodiversity and is indeed a critical component in the conservation toolbox.

Our mission is to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography.

We believe that awe-inspiring photography is a powerful force for the environment, especially when paired with the collaboration of committed scientists, politicians, religious leaders and policy makers. We plan to replace environmental indifference with a new culture of stewardship and passion for our beautiful planet.


Monday, November 9, 2009

NOAA launches new site for Coral Reef Conservation Program

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

The redesigned site is focused first and foremost on coral ecosystems..
You'll find greatly expanded content areas dedicated to bringing to life the value of coral ecosystems (and conserving them) to humans and the global environment. New resources and products (such as expanded information on coral biology, values, threats, and conservation techniques; a deep-sea coral section; more current news about coral conservation; and new resources for students and teachers) have been added to the site. . . .

The site will be updated often with fresh, multimedia-rich content and expanded information on existing topics. We also have plans in the short-term to add even more videos, additional photos and graphics, and social media.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Endangered species in the Yucatán

The BBC's site has stunning photos highlighting threatened wildlife in the Yucatan Peninsula in Central America.

(Sorry; copyright laws prohibit posting them here, but they're worth a click on the link above.)


Thursday, November 5, 2009

And the Freakiest Fish of 2009 is...

From Oceana:

The results are in and the freakiest fish is… the hairy angler! This deep-sea creature not only looks frightening, but has a scary big appetite. Due to its expandable stomach, it can eat prey as big, or even bigger, than itself. This certainly comes in handy in the food-scarce depths of the ocean.

Photo by Oceana


Mexico fifth on list of countries with most endangered species

From an article by Rhishja Larson on EcoWorldly:

The animals and plants that call this planet their home haven’t got a chance if humans keep it up. Wildlife destruction is happening faster than current conservation efforts can replenish - or even stabilize - most endangered species numbers.

Now, the 2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species figures are in - and the news isn’t good.

From lowest to highest, take a look at this list of 10 countries with the greatest number of endangered species, according the 2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

10. Philippines
◦Total 2009: 682
◦Total 2008: 641

9. India
◦Total 2009: 687
◦Total 2008: 659

8. Brazil
◦Total 2009: 769
◦Total 2008: 738

7. Australia
◦Total 2009: 804
◦Total 2008: 788

6. China
◦Total 2009: 841
◦Total 2008: 816

5. Mexico
◦Total 2009: 900
◦Total 2008: 897

4. Indonesia
◦Total 2009: 1126
◦Total 2008: 1087

3. Malaysia
◦Total 2009: 1166
◦Total 2008: 1141

2. United States
◦Total 2009: 1203
◦Total 2008: 1192

1. Ecuador
◦Total 2009: 2211
◦Total 2008: 2208

EcoWorldly also has a chart to show the breakdown of each of the 10 countries by mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, molluscs, other invertebrates, and plants.

See the complete list of endangered species on the IUCN Red List.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NOAA, The Nature Conservancy address coral reef threats

From a news release issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

NOAA and The Nature Conservancy have entered into an agreement to protect the health of the nation’s valuable but increasingly vulnerable coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean, Florida, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. The four-year agreement will dedicate $3.6 million in NOAA funding and $3.6 million in matching funds from The Nature Conservancy to address the top three threats facing coral reef ecosystems: climate change, overfishing, and land-based sources of pollution. The agreement is the result of a competitive request for proposals issued by NOAA in late 2008.

The decline and loss of coral reefs has significant social, cultural, economic, and ecological impacts on people and communities in the United States and around the world. As the ‘rain forests of the sea,’ coral reefs provide services estimated to be worth as much as $375 billion each year.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hundreds of children save sea turtles

From a post by Andy on PRETOMA:

Hundreds of children from several schools around San José are educating their families and community members about sea turtles, and at the same time raising money through the sale of turtle stickers to support projects that protect these animals. The children are part of the “Save the Marine Turtles” campaign sponsored by Mamá Activa – a group of mothers with children ages 0 to 12 – and the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas (Pretoma). By selling stickers that cost five hundred colones, the little protagonists learn to protect these animals, while at the same time collecting funding to be invested in sea turtle conservation projects.

Mamá Activa approached Pretoma earlier this year with the idea to collaborate in an environmental education program for children. Members from both organizations held interactive workshops in schools, teaching children about the different types of marine turtles that nest on Costa Rica’s beaches, about the threats they face, and how the kids can help protect these animals. Students were then given stickers with a baby turtle on them and asked to talk to friends and family members about what they had learned. Moms and dads, neighbors, and many others then collaborated by donating five hundred colones to the program with each sticker they purchased from the children.

“We have problems with the turtles, there are bad people who steal the turtles, their eggs, and meat, and they eat it, and we should never eat it again,” said four year old Felipe Sánchez from the pre-kindergarten of the San Clare College in a YouTube Video. “We shouldn’t build houses or hotels, not even put lights because if we do, the turtles will loose their place to go back to the ocean”, added the little conservationist. Through this video, Felipe managed to sell 100 stickers.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Reefs for People - Helping communities protect their reefs

From an article posted on ReefBase:

The tool contains a series of models based on parameters for the Philippines and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, but can be adapted to use in other locations worldwide. It is the result of five years of work by the Modelling & Decision Support Group (MDSWG) of the Coral Reef Targeted Research & Capacity Building for Management (CRTR) Program. It is accessible via and a demonstration CD is now available.

MDSWG Chair Professor Roger Bradbury said the user-friendly tool will help planners, governments, property developers, managers of reefs, non-government organisations and reef scientists understand how models may be used to predict the impact of human activity, coastal development and climate change on their coral reefs. “This is a sophisticated tool which can be easily tailored for any of the world’s coral reefs and which allows users to take a strategic and long-term view of their coral reefs and explore a range of scenarios they might face at both the local and regional levels,” Prof Bradbury said. “For example, it will enable planners to predict economic and conservation consequences of coastal development, and ensure any development undertaken is sustainable. As well as demonstrating any negative consequences, it will open up a range of sustainable possibilities.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Loggerhead nests reach record lows in Florida

From an article by Paul Quinlan in the Plam Beach Post:

Loggerhead sea turtles are in a "dire state," with a 40 percent decline in nests over the last decade, experts say.

Florida, home to 90 percent of loggerhead nests in the U.S., saw the fourth-worst nesting season on record in 2009, with the number dropping 15 percent, according to the environmental group Oceana.

Scientists at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center who count turtle nests every year on Boca Raton's beaches say the two of the last three years brought record low counts.

"We're finally getting below 400 nests, which is scary," said marine conservationist Kirt Rusenko. "When I first started here 14 years ago, our nest number was more like 900."

Loggerhead sea turtles typically hatch from eggs the size of ping pong balls on beaches from Texas to North Carolina, then follow the brightest light to make their way into the ocean, eventually growing shells about three feet long as they reach adulthood.

The turtles face threats from beachfront development, which eats up habitat and creates light pollution that can lead hatchlings astray. Another peril: longline fishing, which involves cables strung with hooks that can snare the turtles.

Improved techniques and tighter regulations have helped reduce the fishing industry's impacts on turtles, say experts, although the practice remains a leading threat.

Oceana, The Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, have petitioned the federal government to boost protections for loggerhead turtles by re-classifying them from threatened to endangered.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Freeze coral to save it?

From an article by Joe Kelly in The Australian (Sydney):

Should the Great Barrier Reef perish as a result of rising ocean temperatures and acidity levels, it appears scientists will have, at least, a small consolation prize.

The Zoological Society of London is planning the world's first coral "cryobank", which would preserve hundreds of samples of each species in liquid nitrogen.

Samples taken from the Great Barrier Reef would be included in the radical preservation effort, although none has so far been removed for this purpose.

For some marine scientists, however, the concept is deeply flawed since it fails to tackle the root of the problem -- the feared obliteration of coral reefs by mid-century.

Charlie Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said he supported the effort but warned it was no consolation for the eradication of reefs.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Why do your seafood choices matter?

From the Monterey Bay Aqurium:

Worldwide, the demand for seafood is increasing. Yet many populations of the large fish we enjoy eating are overfished and, in the U.S., we import 80% of our seafood to meet the demand. Destructive fishing and fish farming practices only add to the problem.

By purchasing fish caught or farmed using environmentally friendly practices, you’re supporting healthy, abundant oceans.

Check the seafood pocket guide for the southeastern U.S., which seems to apply to the Caribbean.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Bleached corals ruin fish camouflage

From an article by Matt Kaplan posted on Nature News:

No hiding place from ecosystem collapse on the reef

Fish that usually camouflage themselves among colourful coral reefs are losing their ability to hide from predators as corals are bleached by Earth's acidifying oceans.

Bleaching often leads to coral death, and is a stress response to two key factors: increasing ocean acidity, caused by uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and a rise in ocean temperature. It's all too apparent that ecosystems near bleached corals tend to collapse, but the reasons why are not fully understood.

Some ecologists speculate that fish in bleached reefs simply move to areas where corals are still healthy, whereas others suggest that they succumb to increased predation as the corals provide less cover. To test these ideas, graduate student Darren Coker, of Australia's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, and his colleagues have done laboratory experiments to test the effect of coral bleaching on predator evasion in reef fish.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

For fish in coral reefs, it’s useful to be smart

From an article by Sean B. Carroll in The New York Times:

I have long suspected that fish are smarter than we give them credit for.

As a child, I had an aquarium with several pet goldfish. They certainly knew it was feeding time when my hand appeared over their tank, and they excitedly awaited their delicious fish flakes.

They also exhibited a darker, disturbing behavior. Evidently, a safe life with abundant food was not fulfilling. From time to time, either sheer ennui or the long gray Toledo winter got to one of the fish and it ended its torment with a leap to my bedroom floor.

Maybe my anthropomorphizing is a bit over the top. But, really, just how smart are fish? Can they learn?

A 10-gallon tank with a plastic sunken pirate ship is certainly not the most stimulating habitat. But in the colorful, diverse and dangerous world of coral reefs, fish must be able to recognize not only food, but also to discriminate friends from foes, and mates from rivals, and to take the best action. In such a complex and dynamic environment, it would pay to be flexible and able to learn.

A series of studies has recently revealed that reef fish are surprisingly adaptable. Freshly caught wild fish quickly learn new tasks and can learn to discriminate among colors, patterns and shapes, including those they have never encountered. These studies suggest that learning and interpreting new stimuli play important roles in the lives of reef fish.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Protection sought for 83 coral species worldwide

From a news release issued by the Center for Biological Diverstiy:

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal petition seeking to protect 83 imperiled coral species under the Endangered Species Act. These corals, all of which occur in U.S. waters ranging from Florida and Hawaii to U.S. territories in the Caribbean and Pacific, face a growing threat of extinction due to rising ocean temperatures caused by global warming, and the related threat of ocean acidification.

Scientists have warned that coral reefs are likely to be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to global warming; all the world’s reefs could be destroyed by 2050.

“Coral reefs are the world’s most endangered ecosystems and provide an early warning of impacts to come from our thirst for fossil fuels,” said Miyoko Sakashita oceans director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Within a few decades, global warming and ocean acidification threaten to completely unravel magnificent coral reefs that took millions of years to build.”

Corals are among the species most imperiled by climate change. When corals are stressed by warm ocean temperatures, they experience bleaching — which means they expel the colorful algae upon which they rely for energy and growth. Many corals die or succumb to disease after bleaching. Mass bleaching events have become much more frequent and severe as ocean temperatures have risen in recent decades. Scientists predict that most of the world’s corals will be subjected to mass bleaching events at deadly frequencies within 20 years on our current emissions path.

Not only is greenhouse gas pollution causing corals to bleach and die, but it also makes it difficult for corals to grow and rebuild their colonies. Ocean acidification, caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide, is already impairing the ability of corals to build their protective skeletons. At CO2 levels of 450 ppm, scientists predict that reef erosion will eclipse the ability of corals to grow. Moreover, ocean acidification and global warming render corals even more susceptible to other threats that have led to the present degraded state of our reefs, including destructive fishing, agriculture runoff, storms, sea-level rise, pollution, abrasion, predation, and disease.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2009 nesting data for SE U.S. shows dire status of loggerheads

From a news release issued by Oceana:

WASHINGTON -- Oceana announced today that 2009 was one of the worst years on record for loggerhead sea turtle nesting from North Carolina to Florida. In Florida for example, loggerhead nesting decreased by more than 15 percent in 2009.

“The data is disappointing, but not surprising,” said Kerri Lynn Miller, marine scientist at Oceana. “The downward trend will only continue unless permanent protections are established.”

Florida accounts for nearly 90 percent of loggerhead nesting in the United States and is one of the two largest nesting hot spots for the population in the world. Florida’s loggerhead nesting population has decreased by more than 40 percent in the last decade and 2009 marked Florida’s fourth lowest nesting season on record.

Nesting was down from 2008 levels in Georgia, but loggerhead nesting numbers remained consistent. Preliminary data for South Carolina shows 2009 to be one of the worst loggerhead nesting years on record. In North Carolina, Topsail Island recorded its second lowest loggerhead nesting year since 2001 and Bald Head Island experienced its worst nesting year on record since 1983. 2009 data also shows that nesting numbers from 2008, slightly higher than dismal 2007 levels, were merely part of the natural flux in nesting females rather than the beginning of a population rebound.

“We must protect sea turtles in the water and on land,” said Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana. “Sea turtles tend to forage in the same areas year after year and return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. Destructive fishing gear in key forage areas and development on nesting beaches pose grave danger to the struggling loggerheads’ survival.”

On a positive note, ocean foraging and nesting beach conditions for Kemp’s ridleys in Texas and leatherbacks in Florida appeared to improve as 2009 brought the highest nesting year on record for both species.


Monday, October 19, 2009

'Superbowl' of international underwater photography & video dompetitions launched

From an article on

NEW YORK, New York -- Underwater photographers and videographers have become the unsung heroes of the most important ecosystem on earth. During a time when the oceans are in crisis, a growing global community of scuba divers and photographers have become the eyes and ears of the ocean, helping to educate and inspire the rest of the world.

One of the largest and most prestigious international underwater photography and video competition series celebrates its five year anniversary this year. The competitions showcase the beauty, mystery and delicacy of the marine environment, as well as the art of underwater photography. Underwater photographers of all levels, from novice to professionals, will compete in what has become the "Superbowl" of international underwater imagery events, with over $80,000 of world-class prizes, major industry involvement, and the opportunity to have their images showcased to the world as some of the best. Esteemed judges include leading professional underwater photographers, cinematographers and magazine editors from around the world.

The unique competition series was founded by professional underwater photographers Jason Heller & Eric Cheng and hosted by popular websites and The series is held in association with two leading scuba diving expos on opposite sides of the world, simultaneously - Our World Underwater, now in its 40th year, and one of the largest consumer scuba diving expos in the US, and DEEP Indonesia, the first and only scuba diving and watersports expo in Indonesia, one of the most bio-diverse marine ecosystems in the world.


Friday, October 16, 2009

What are coral reef services worth? $130,000 to $1.2 million per hectare, per year

From a news release issued by Diversitas, which means diversity in Latin:

Economists, assigning values to 'ecosystem services,' report staggering totals and rates of return on investment

Experts concluding the global DIVERSITAS biodiversity conference today in Cape Town described preliminary research revealing jaw-dropping dollar values of the “ecosystem services” of biomes like forests and coral reefs – including food, pollution treatment and climate regulation.

Undertaken to help societies make better-informed choices, the economic research shows a single hectare of coral reef, for example, provides annual services to humans valued at US $130,000 on average, rising to as much as $1.2 million.

The work provides insights into the worth of ecosystems in human economic terms, says economist Pavan Sukhdev of UNEP, head of a Cambridge, England-based project called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).

Based on analysis of more than 80 coral reef valuation studies, the worth of services per hectare of coral reef breaks down as follows:

•Food, raw materials, ornamental resources: average $1,100 (up to $6,000);
•Climate regulation, moderation of extreme events, waste treatment / water purification, biological control: average $26,000 (up to $35,000);
•Cultural services (eg. recreation / tourism): average $88,700 (up to $1.1 million)
•Maintenance of genetic diversity: average $13,500 (up to $57,000)

Taken together, coral reef services worldwide have an average annual value estimated at $172 billion, says Mr. Sukhdev.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Watch Turtle Festival closing ceremony online, Oct. 17,
5:30 pm

A note from Paul Sanchez-Navarro, executive director of Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA):

Watch the 7th Annual Sea Turtle Festival closing events in Akumal this Sunday on a live feed at WWW.RIVIERAMAYATV.ORG - it's going to be fun (we hope; it's the first time in Akumal and all the CEA staff are working very hard to make it happen)!!!!!!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sustainable living workshops in Playa del Carmen, MX

From an announcement on Playa Maya News:

Starting October 24th, 2009 Ak Lu'um International School will be hosting a series of Sustainable Living Workshops in coordination with BambuSur; a locally owned, ecologically responsible building company. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about sustainable building techniques, materials, and eco-friendly systems.

The cost of each workshop is $250 pesos per person including a vegetarian lunch. Child care and activities are available for $100 pesos per child. (ages 3 and up)

To reserve a place, email Stacy at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it or call 984-128-1765 (English and Spanish spoken)


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Humans Are Destroying Earth's Coral Reefs

From an article on CO2 Science:

In a major review of the status of earth's coral reefs and their prospects for the future, Riegl et al. (2009) write that "20% of the world's coral reefs are already lost, 24% under imminent risk of collapse, and another 26% in grave danger of irreparable damage," based on the results of the survey report of Wilkinson (2006). And, of course, they pay politically-correct homage to the role that the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 concentration may be playing in this regard. But is it really the case that the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for the dire straits in which the world's coral reefs currently find themselves?

The five U.S. researchers begin their analysis of the subject by noting that "coral reefs, similar to those we know today, have existed for approximately 215 million years (and, in another taxonomic guise, for about 500 million years)," even surviving the turmoil that brought about "the extinction of the dinosaurs and the climate changes of the ice ages," which known facts would seem to suggest, in their words, that earth's corals possess a "remarkable evolutionary resilience," which "would certainly suggest," as they describe it, that "there is scope for ecological resilience as well." So why are earth's coral reefs in so much trouble today?

Clearly, all forms of life on earth are subject to various environmental challenges that periodically threaten their existence on a large spatial scale; and corals are no exception. Tectonic upheavals, asteroid impacts, natural climate changes, disease pandemics and predator outbreaks: all of these challenges and many others confront earth's biosphere on a variety of different time scales and to a greater or lesser degree. So what is the cause of the current coral crisis?

The problem, as we and many others see it, is a whole set of what Riegl et al. describe as "smaller-scale, localized, and entirely man-made threats," among which they list "runoff, sedimentation, and nutrient enrichment; coastal construction leading to smothering of habitat and creation of high turbidity around coasts; overfishing and destructive fishing." In a study designed to reconstruct multi-century histories of fourteen coral reefs from various places around the world, for example, Pandolfi et al. (2003) found that "all reefs were substantially degraded long before outbreaks of coral disease and bleaching." In fact, they determined that the "degradation of coral reef ecosystems began centuries ago," when the world was in the midst of the Little Ice Age and the air's CO2 concentration was a hundred parts per million less than it is today. It is our belief, therefore, that this long-term degradation has severely weakened the ability of many of earth's corals to adequately cope with the challenges of temperature-induced bleaching and potential ocean acidification.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Festival de la Tortuga Marina, Oct. 16-18, Akumal & Tulum

Friday, Oct. 16, 16:00–19:00, Casa de la Cultura de Tulúm: Opening – Murals – Drawing Contest – Sea Turtle Season Information – Cultural Performances – Quelonios Ak, Visual Art Exposition

Saturday, Oct. 17, 07:00–14:00, Playa Pescadores, Tulúm and Akumal Bay: Beach Clean Up – Sand Sculpture and Kite Contest. 18:00, Xcacel: Live Music – Performance – Fire Dance – Symbolic Hatchlings Release. Parking at Xel-Ha.

Sunday, Oct. 18, 10:00–20:00, Akumal: PET Contest – Drums – Mayan Ceremony. 19:00, Symbolic Hatchlings Release.

For further information please contact:
Alma D. Boada S. Comunication Coordinator.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Report lionfish sitings in Akumal waters

From the newsletter of Centro Ecologico Akumal (CEA):

During the last few months, the lionfish has been spotted in several different diving sites in Akumal's fore reefs.

This brings a new concern to the reefís delicate ecosystem and measures need to be taken.

Centro Ecológico Akumal, in collaboration with the local diving community and CONANP, is acting as a collecting center in the area.

What to do in case you spot a lionfish
Report any sighting of the lionfish to the closest dive center or directly to Centro Ecológico Akumal. In your report include the time, exact location and size of the animal, if possible.

For further information please contact:
Biol. David Placencia, Reef Monitoring Coordinator.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Latest edition of Seagrass Watch

The latest issue (issue 38) of Seagrass-Watch news (the official magazine of the global seagrass and assessment program) is now available online at

August 2009 marked a decade of Seagrass-Watch monitoring. This makes Seagrass-Watch one of the most comprehensive seagrass monitoring programs globally.

In July this year, a significant article by Waycott et al. was published in PNAS titled "Accelerating loss of seagrass across the globe threatens coastal ecosystems". They concluded that not only were seagrass meadows among the most threatened ecosystems on earth, but that the largest data gap in seagrass status exists in the tropical Indo-Pacific region (from East Africa to Hawaii), where seagrasses are widespread and abundant. Filling this gap is an important role Seagrass-Watch monitoring efforts can play.

Also, with over ten years of monitoring data now available from some locations, there is now a better understanding of not only how seagrass meadows change within and between years, but also between habitats and regions.. Unfortunately, some regions are less well monitored than others and this is a future challenge which needs to be addressed.

Rising to this challenge is the increase of participants across the Indo-Pacific, including Thailand, Indonesia, Fiji and Western Australia. You can read about their efforts in this issue. Also included is an article on the champion efforts of TeamSingapore to raise public consciousness about the importance of our beloved marine flora.

In this issue you can also read about the importance of connectivity between marine habitats (seagrass, mangroves and coral reefs) and why marine managers should take a more holistic approach to Marine Protected Areas.

Read how the seasonal monsoon is a major driver of seagrass abundance and productivity in Palk Bay (India) and how seagrass are a significant component of the Seribu Islands marine ecosystem in Indonesia.

In this issue you'll also find articles on monitoring efforts by the University of the South Pacific in Fiji and the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Townsville (Australia). Included are also reports on the program's educational efforts with Tagai College in Torres Strait and the International School in Suva. You can even learn about jellyfish.

Happy Reading

Dr Richard Unsworth
PhD M.Sc B.Sc CMarSci
4/57 Sims Esplanade
Yorkeys Knob, 4878

Mob: +61 (0) 437681169
Skype: richard.unsworth
personal e-mail:
work e-mail:
my website:


Monday, October 5, 2009

The seas are becoming deserts

From an article on

London — The world risks a "global crisis" in marine fisheries as a result of overfishing, a group of 24 acclaimed scientists and academics warned this week.

The experts claim in a joint study - 'From Hook to Plate: the State of Marine Fisheries' - that plummeting fish stocks are leading to wide-ranging and damaging consequences for marine habitats and vulnerable communities, requiring urgent and concerted government action.

"People are increasingly concerned that the seas are becoming deserts - no longer able to produce the wealth of fish and other products that we all value so much," Mark Collins, co-author and Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, told High Commissioners, industry experts and media at the launch at Marlborough House, London, UK, on 28 September 2009.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Sound machines could help monitor health of coral reefs

From an article on Tree Hugger:

Putting EARs in the water among the bustling life of coral reefs could help us monitor the health of coral reefs around the worlds. EAR is an Ecological Acoustic Recorder, a device developed by NOAA and the University of Hawaii, listens in on the sounds of coral reefs and helps determine the overall health and changing status of reefs. It looks to be a promising technology, and the first one to be deployed in the Coral Triangle has just been installed.

Alison Green, senior marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy, writes, "Preliminary evidence suggests that these EARs may provide an exciting new technology for monitoring coral reefs around the clock and throughout the year. Do healthy reefs sound different than stressed reefs? If so, we may be able to use these devices to monitor coral reefs using sound to augment less frequent underwater visual censuses by divers."


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cayman coral reefs bleached

From an article on the Caymanian Compass:

The Cayman Islands Department of Environment has confirmed significant amounts of coral bleaching on local reefs.

Following up on reports from the diving community as well as a ‘bleaching potential’ alert from the recently installed ICON weather monitoring station in Little Cayman, DoE staff conducted a rapid assessment of reefs on the north, west and south coasts of Grand Cayman.

The scientific diving team found that nearly all corals in the shallow reefs to about 30 ft showed signs of moderate to severe bleaching, while approximately 80% of corals in the deeper reefs to 120 ft exhibited the early signs of coral bleaching.

Bleaching appeared more intense on the north coast although the reasons for this are not fully understood at this stage.

Coral bleaching is a stress related reaction whereby the coral colonies lose their colour and ‘bleach’ white either due to the loss of pigments by microscopic algae living in symbiosis with their coral hosts, or because the algae have been totally expelled. Bleaching is closely associated with sustained elevated water temperatures and UV light and has been linked to global climate change as the world’s oceans heat up.

Corals can recover from less severe bleaching episodes although recovery is variable and in some instances entire reefs have been lost to single bleaching events. The last major bout of bleaching to impact the Cayman’s reefs occurred in 1998 with significant mortality following. Minor bleaching events have been recorded in the warmer summer months with increasing frequency during the last decade.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Underwater museum to attract tourists away from reefs

From an article by Verónica Díaz Favela of IPS/IFEJ on Tierramérica:

MEXICO CITY, Sep 28 (Tierramérica).- Four sculptures in human forms, made of concrete, will be submerged in November in the depths of the Mexican Caribbean. They are the first of 400 figures that will comprise the world's largest underwater museum.

The Subaquatic Sculpture Museum will be situated in the West Coast National Park in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatán Peninsula. The park receives nearly 300,000 visitors each year. The museum's mission is to attract some of those tourists, reducing the pressures on important natural habitat.

The watery museum will become even more attractive when the sculpture area fills with thousands of colorful fish. The concrete of the sculptures is pH neutral, which allows rapid growth of algae and incrustation of marine invertebrates.

"With the underwater museum we ensure a diversion of tourists, which permits us to give a rest to the natural reefs. It's as if it were a restoration process," explained national park director Jaime González to this reporter.

"In becoming healthier, the coral reefs will be more resistant to hurricane damage," he added.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (PCC) has warned that extreme weather phenomena, like hurricanes, will become more intense and frequent as a result of global warming. The panel also predicts higher acidity of ocean waters and consequent bleaching of coral - which can kill it. . . .

In the West Coast National Park of Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún and Punta Nizuc, the challenge is to draw tourists away from natural habitats without losing the 36 million dollars they bring into the area each year.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Coral Reef Alliance celebrates 15th anniversary

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) celebrated its 15th anniversary with a festive party which highlighted CORAL's work, including projects in Mexico:

CORAL's two current program sites in Mexico are located in the major tourism destinations of Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, both of which are well known for offering incredible diving experiences. As increasing popularity and lack of education about sustainable tourism began to take its toll, CORAL chose Playa del Carmen as a pilot workshop location to implement local stakeholder conservation projects now underway. Cozumel had a national marine park but needed assistance in connecting its goals to the community to make it more effective as a protected area for coral reefs. CORAL used its innovative checklist as a means of forging connections and building a vision of cooperation to expand local capacity for conservation. In addition, the CORAL Reef Leadership Network is now active in Mexico, offering an expanded reach for environmental and best practices education in the country.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Intense bleaching along the Mexican Caribbean

A post from NOAA's coral listserve:

An intense bleaching event is also occurring along the Mexican Caribbean
Coast. Our first observations of pale corals was done in May in Akumal reef, with 7% of the colonies showing pale coloration at a depth of 10-15m. By June, 9% of the colonies were bleached-pale in Mahahual Reef at the same depth. By July, 32% of the colonies were bleached-pale in Punta Allen reef.

At present, (August-September) surveys at Puerto Morelos reef show that 41% of the colonies were bleached and 31% of them were completely white. Surveys were done at a depth of 4-8m.

The number of colonies sampled at each site was over 2000. Almost all
scleractinian species showed bleaching signs, as well as some gorgonians, Milleporas and zoanthids.

We will continue monitoring this event and possible disease outbreaks.

Best regards,
MC. Rosa Rodr?guez-Mart?nez
Lab. Sistemas Arrecifales
Unidad Acad?mica de Sistemas Arrecifales
Puerto Morelos, Q. Roo, M?xico
Tel. 52 (998) 87 102 19 xt. 128
Fax. 52 (998) 87 101 38

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