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.

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