Friday, May 22, 2009

Marine mammals' brains exposed to hazardous pesticide cocktails

From an article posted on Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (May 21, 2009) — The most extensive study of pollutants in marine mammals’ brains reveals that these animals are exposed to a hazardous cocktail of pesticides such as DDTs and PCBs, as well as emerging contaminants such as brominated flame retardants.

Eric Montie, the lead author on the study currently in press and published online April 17 in Environmental Pollution, performed the research as a student in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution-MIT Joint Graduate Program in Oceanography and Ocean Engineering and as a postdoctoral fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The final data analysis and writing were conducted at College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, where Montie now works in David Mann’s marine sensory biology lab. . . .

The chemicals studied include pesticides like DDT, which has been shown to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity, and PCBs, which are neurotoxicants known to disrupt the thyroid hormone system. The study also quantifies concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs (a particular class of flame retardants), which are neurotoxicants that impair the development of motor activity and cognition. This work is the first to quantify concentrations of PBDEs in the brains of marine mammals.

The results revealed that concentration of one contaminant was surprisingly high. According to Montie, “The biggest wakeup was that we found parts per million concentrations of hydroxylated PCBs in the cerebrospinal fluid of a gray seal. That is so worrisome for me. You rarely find parts per million levels of anything in the brain.”


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sea turtles get it on, and on, and on…

From a guest blog entry on Deep-Sea News by Wallace J. Nichols, a sea turtle biologist and marine conservation activist affiliated with the California Academy of Sciences, Ocean Revolution, and the Sea Turtle Network, among others. J’s blog is dedicated to new beginnings and fresh ideas, especially among young people.Peter Etnoyer on Deep Sea News:

There should be a sign posted along beaches of the world during a certain season: “WARNING: Enter water at your own risk”. I’m not speaking of extreme undertow or heavy shore-break. Not water quality, or red tide concerns. Nor warnings against poisonous jellyfish. These are all important water safety concerns, but I am referring to something else, something almost as dangerous. I am talking about the distinctly unique experience of being in the water with green turtles during mating season.

On a recent research expedition to Indonesia, we had the opportunity to sneak up on a pair of mating green turtles. It’s a sight to behold for its grace, beauty, ancient simplicity and…well, its ruggedness.

Green turtle mating happens in the water. Often in beautiful turquoise tropical water, near idyllic sandy beaches backed by bent palm trees. Add a Barry White soundtrack and a couple of mai-tai’s and it’s honeymoon city.

A bit of an aquatic turtle dance precedes copulation. Males nip and bump and eventually mount the female. To a biologist, it’s kind of like watching two boulders with flippers getting it on. Other than the female guiding the rigid ball of turtle to the surface to breath, there’s not much apparent movement during the act. Throughout the mating season males maintain high activity levels, presumably associated with locating and mating with as many females as possible to maximise their reproductive output (Hays et al., 2001).

The male turtle hangs on to the front edge of the female’s shell with a pair of large recurved claws. The male’s tail has another “claw” at the end. This facilitates a sturdy three-point attachment, whereby the penis can enter the cloaca of the female. Attempts to knock male #1 off of the female turtle by males #2 through 17 are frequent, severe and generally unsuccessful. Physical damage to both members of the copulating pair is common.

Occasionally, a horny, excluded male will mount the pair (this is going absolutely nowhere for male #2). Further on, another male may join the fun and attach his tripod of claws to male #2. So on and so on, as a chain of turtle love and hormones extends to four or more. When this sort of thing happens with earthworms in the garden, it’s merely curious. With 400 pound sea turtles its a bizzarely orgyastical circus of ancient oceanic sexuality. Bring your camera.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rules for protecting whale sharks

From the Web site of Serious Diving:

The creation of the Whale Shark tourism industry in this area of Mexico [Isla Mujeres] was carefully designed to be eco-friendly and to provide protection for participants and the Whale Sharks themselves. Prices, season dates and rules are set by the controlling bodies and are strict and heavily enforced. Our tour services are fully licensed and adhere strictly to the rules. Violating the rules not only puts you in danger but also endangers the animals and their ability to sustain their habits.

If you decide to use another provider, be sure to verify that they comply with all rules listed [on the Web site]. The Mexican Army is charged with enforcing rules and can detain non-compliant boats who do not comply with the rules. We want everyone to have a fun, exciting and ultimately safe tour no matter which provider they choose.


Beware of anyone offering you a price below the legal standard or who claims they will allow you to violate the rules below. No one wants to waste a day of their vacation or hard earned money with a spoiled trip.

Support your local tour operators by booking directly with them rather than with large tour operators!


Friday, May 15, 2009

U.S. halts Costa Rican shrimp shipments for failure to protect sea turtles

From a news release issued by the Turtle Island Restoration Network and Pretoma:

The U.S. State Department has banned Costa Rican shrimp from being shipped into the U. S. until further notice. The embargo is due to Costa Rica's failure to enforce its laws that require commercial shrimp fishers to protect sea turtles from capture and death in trawl nets by using Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). Most shrimp vessels that violated the law were never punished when found to be breaking the law, according to the statement by the State Department that is awaiting publication in the Federal Register.

Proper use of TEDs reduces the number of turtles caught in shrimp nets by 90% or more and is required to be used by any shrimp fishery that sells to the U. S.

"Costa Rica can make its shrimp fishery turtle-safe, or it can lose the privilege to sell shrimp to the U. S.," said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, in Forest Knolls, CA ( "Shrimp fishers' non-compliance with TED laws is a chronic problem occurring throughout the world."

TIRN is also in negotiations with the U. S. government after submitting a 60-day notice of intent to sue the US Department of State for its failure to create a meaningful and transparent process of evaluating nations to ensure proper protection of sea turtles in shrimp fishing under Public Law 101-162 section 609 of the U. S. Endangered Species Act. This provision requires nations exporting shrimp to the US to use comparable technology to ensure sea turtles do not drown in shrimp nets.

"The shrimp trawl industry doesn't only ignore TEDs legislation, it also flagrantly violates legislation that prohibits fishing in marine protected areas", said Randall Arauz, Pretoma's president. "Without a national entity willing to enforce the country's sea turtle protection laws, we're left with no choice but to turn to nations that do," meaning the United States.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vacationers can help prevent damage to corals this summer

From a news release issued by SeaWeb:

WASHINGTON, May 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As millions of summer vacationers prepare for their annual trek to a beach or favorite vacation spot, a coalition of conservationists, scientists and fashion and jewelry designers is encouraging travelers to consider bringing home coral-inspired souvenirs instead of real coral this year. Scientists estimate that 20 percent of the world's coral reefs have already been lost. Those that remain are threatened by climate change, pollution, destructive fishing methods, overfishing and other human-induced damage, including activities related to tourism, such as harvesting for jewelry and other decorative items.

Leaving real coral where it belongs is one of the most immediate and tangible steps vacationers can take to prevent damage to corals and reefs. SeaWeb's Too Precious to Wear campaign is working with those in the jewelry industry, including Tiffany & Co., in addition to coral scientists and policymakers to encourage a demand for coral conservation by highlighting other alternatives available to consumers who love the look and feel of ocean-inspired accessories.

"The Tiffany & Co. Foundation has been active in coral conservation since its inception and we applaud the work of SeaWeb," said Fernanda Kellogg, President of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation. "The Foundation's programs reflect the values of Tiffany & Co.--which has refused to use real coral in jewelry designs since 2002--and we believe that coral should not be harvested for jewelry or home decor."

The Trade Environment Database (TED) calculates that 3.3 million pounds (1.5 million kilograms) of corals and pieces of reef are removed from the ocean each year.

"The unregulated trade in coral and coral reef species puts unnecessary pressure on fragile ecosystems that are already under threat from a poisonous cocktail of global climate change, overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution," said Andrew Baker, assistant professor of marine biology and fisheries at University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

"Souvenir seekers who purchase actual coral products as mementos from their summer travels are unknowingly contributing to the loss of one of our ocean's most important ecosystems," said SeaWeb President Dawn M. Martin.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Akumal celebrates anniversary with festivities and dive festival

From an article posted on

The picturesque coastal town of Akumal on the Riviera Maya in Mexico will celebrate its 50th birthday on May 29, 2009.

The relaxed, laid back community between Playa del Carmen and Tulum will host a 3 day festival to commemorate 50 years since Pablo Bush Romero 'rediscovered' Akumal on an expedition to the area's famous Matanceros shipwreck.

Local real estate agent, RE/MAX
Investment Properties, said Akumal's secluded, unspoilt location offers some excellent real estate opportunities. Visitors to the celebrations could even fall in love with the area and decide not to leave.

Apart from its breathtaking ocean side and exciting list of outdoor activities, one reason for this gorgeous resort’s popularity is its relaxed atmosphere and tranquil tropical lifestyle. Bedded into breathtaking nature and lined by magical white beaches, Akumal real estate is the perfect comfort for mind, body and soul.

The Matanceros wreck was a frigate class Spanish merchant ship that crashed into the coral reefs just offshore on February 22, 1741.

When looking for the wreck, Pablo Bush Romero was so taken with the beauty of Akumal's white sand bay he purchased it from a land owner and founded a city consisting of a small resort catering to scuba divers.

To this day, Akumal has preserved its unique character and resisted the commercialization seen in some other Mexican Caribbean resorts.

The festival will include live music, entertainment, food, drink and a fishing tournament. It is open to the locals and tourists alike, from May 29 to May 31.

The Pablo Bush Romero Dive Festival takes place on May 30.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Decline of Caribbean big fish may have 'surprising and unanticipated effects'

From an article on Underwater Times:

TALLAHASSEE, Floirida -- Sharks, barracuda and other large predatory fishes disappear on Caribbean coral reefs as human populations rise, endangering the region's marine food web and ultimately its reefs and fisheries, according to a sweeping study by researcher Chris Stallings of The Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.

While other scientists working in the Caribbean have observed the declines of large predators for decades, the comprehensive work by Stallings documents the ominous patterns in far more detail at a much greater geographic scale than any other research to date. His article on the study, "Fishery-Independent Data Reveal Negative Effect of Human Population Density on Caribbean Predatory Fish Communities," is published in the May 6, 2009 issue of the journal PLoS One ( "Seeing evidence of this ecological and economic travesty played out across the entire Caribbean is truly sobering," said Associate Professor John Bruno of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who served as the PLoS One academic editor for Stallings' paper.

"I examined 20 species of predators, including sharks, groupers, snappers, jacks, trumpetfish and barracuda, from 22 Caribbean nations," said Stallings, a postdoctoral associate at the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory. "I found that nations with more people have reefs with far fewer large fish because as the number of people increases, so does demand for seafood. Fishermen typically go after the biggest fish first, but shift to smaller species once the bigger ones become depleted. In some areas with large human populations, my study revealed that only a few small predatory fish remain."

Stallings said that although several factors — including loss of coral reef habitats — contributed to the general patterns, careful examination of the data suggests overfishing as the most likely reason for the disappearance of large predatory fishes across the region. He pointed to the Nassau grouper as a prime example. Once abundant throughout the Caribbean, Nassau grouper have virtually disappeared from many Caribbean nearshore areas and are endangered throughout their range.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Turtle season begins in Akumal, Mexico

From Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA):

2009 Nesting Season has begun in Akumal. We all hope this will be a very successful nesting season and invite you to join CEA in managing the beaches so each nesting mother can come ashore and find a great place to dig a hole and leave her eggs, and then safely make it back to sea. Stay posted throughout the season to see updated numbers on nests and hatchlings in Akumal.

CEA offers Turtle Talks and Turtle Walks, Monday - Friday throughout Turtle Season. Stop by the CEA Center for more information.

Also, May 23rd is World Turtle Day, celebrating these endangered species. Help us celebrate by following these simple guidelines when you are on the coast:
Change lights facing the beach areas to amber or red colored bulbs; or even better, change the direction of the lighting so lights shine from the edge of your property toward the building, not toward the beach. Bright lights disorient the turtles.

If you are going to be on the beach at night and need some light, use amber or red light on your flashlight, illuminating the path only.

Do not leave objects (beach chairs, floats, kayaks, etc) on the beach, as they may obstruct the turtles’ path as she crawls up the beach to find a place to nest.

Do not make excessive noise at night from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., during the nesting season (May to October). The noise frightens the turtles.

If you see a turtle arriving, making a nest or laying her eggs, do not approach her, nor shine a light towards her, and please, no flash photos. Please notify Centro Ecológico Akumal staff (CEA) of any sightings.

If you see hatchlings coming out of the sand, stay nearby and make sure they find their own way to the sea. Do not pick them up or play with them.

When you visit the beaches, please pick up any garbage even if it’s not yours. Help us to keep the beaches clean.

Always dispose of plastic waste properly; so much plastic is floating around at sea and the turtles mistake it for food, filling their bellies with toxic plastics and eventually dying.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Coral reefs could provide the medicines of tomorrow

From an article by Henrylito D. Tacio posted on People and Planet:

“Marine sources could be the major source of drugs for the next decade,” says Dr. William Fenical, an American natural products chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

In Japan’s reefs - one of the most studied coral coasts in the world - there is a chemical called kainic acid, which is used as a diagnostic chemical to investigate Huntington’s chorea, a rare but fatal disease of the nervous system.

Coral reefs also produce a natural sunscreen, which is now being marketed to sell as a sunscreen in the United States. The porous limestone skeleton of coral is now being tested as bone grafts in humans.

“If used properly, the reefs of the entire world can better serve humans with medicine rather than with food,” some researchers claim. “Half the potential pharmaceuticals being explored are from the oceans, many from coral reef ecosystems,” estimates the US State Department.

Writing in Reef Research, Dr. Patrick Colin, a marine biologist, described the hopes that had led him to spend the 1990s collecting marine samples in the Pacific for the US National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“Over the years, the NCI has been screening terrestrial plants and marine organisms worldwide for bioactivity against cancer and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and has come up with a number of hot prospects, a number of which are in clinical trials,” Dr. Colin says.

“Many coral reef species produce chemicals like histamines and antibiotics used in medicine and science,” reports The Nature Conservancy, an organization whose mission is to preserve plants, animals and natural communities by protecting the lands and waters needed for their survival.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Eat lionfish, save the reefs!

From an article by David Rogers in the Palm Beach Daily News:

Residents of Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas have organized the first Lionfish Derby and Tasting, set for June 5-6, to help fight an invasion by the nuisance, exotic species, reef diver and Shore Protection Board member Bobbie Lindsay said.

The derby will award cash to the divers who collect the most lionfish, the largest fish and the smallest fish.

A lionfish tasting in Palm Beach raised funds for the derby's purse and to equip more Bahamian fishermen with the nets and protective gloves needed to capture lionfish.

The events are organized in cooperation with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation in Key Largo, a conservation group that recruits recreational divers to conduct surveys on the size and diversity of fish populations off the coasts of north and central America, the Caribbean and Hawaii. . . .

The situation for native marine life in the Bahamas is "pretty bleak," according to Lad Akins, special projects director for REEF. In waters there, nothing preys on the lionfish, because larger fish and sharks simply do not recognize it as a food source, Akins said. Its venomous barbs are part of the deterrent.

"We may not have seen the wholesale extinctions of fish, but that's a possibility in the future," Akins said.

While lionfish sightings are still relatively rare off the waters of Palm Beach County, reports of a few lionfish in the Bahamas in 2004 turned into an explosion about two years ago, according to Akins.

Stephanie Green, a doctoral student at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, said lionfish are becoming one of the most abundant fish of their size in the Bahamas.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Nominate an Ocean Hero before May 8

From Oceana:

Oceana is accepting nominees for its first Ocean Heroes Award. This award was created in honor of a recent action by the United Nations recognizing June 8 as World Oceans Day. Seventeen years and thousands of petition signatures after it was originally proposed, World Oceans Day will now and forever be a day to celebrate our oceans. We hope to pay tribute to the passionate, dedicated fish-huggers disguised as normal civilians and we need your assistance to expose their true identity.

Please help us find our inaugural Ocean Hero.

Eligible Nominees: This award is open to all individuals, regardless of age or residence, except for Oceana staff, directors and their immediate family members

Nomination Period: Nominations will be accepted via Oceana’s web form at from April 27, 2009 to May 8, 2009. You may nominate yourself or someone you know. When nominating someone else, you’ll need to provide their contact information so we may ask their permission to be an ocean hero nominee.

Selection Criteria: A panel of Oceana experts will choose a select number of ocean hero finalists. To be an ocean hero, the nominee must demonstrate an exceptional personal commitment to ocean conservation. This commitment may be a hobby or a career, and can be paid or unpaid.

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