Friday, January 29, 2010

Last decade was the warmest ever, says NASA

From an Agence France-Presse article posted on Grist:

WASHINGTON—The past decade was the warmest ever, according to a new analysis of global surface temperatures released by NASA.

The U.S. space agency also found that 2009 was the second-warmest year on record since modern temperature measurements began in 1880. Last year was only a small fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest yet, putting 2009 in a virtual tie with the other hottest years, which have all occurred since 1998.

According to James Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, global temperatures change due to variations in ocean heating and cooling. “When we average temperature over five or 10 years to minimize that variability, we find global warming is continuing unabated,” Hansen said in a statement.

A strong La Niña effect that cooled the tropical Pacific Ocean made 2008 the coolest year of the decade, according to the New York-based institute.

In analyzing the data, NASA scientists found a clear warming trend, although a leveling off took place in the 1940s and 1970s. The records showed that temperatures trended upward by about 0.36 degrees F per decade over the past 30 years. Average global temperatures have increased a total of about 1.5 degrees F since 1880.

“That’s the important number to keep in mind,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist with the institute. “The difference between the second and sixth warmest years is trivial because the known uncertainty in the temperature measurement is larger than some of the differences between the warmest years.”

Last year’s near-record temperatures took place despite an unseasonably cool December in much of North America and a warmer-than-normal Arctic, with frigid air from the Arctic rushing into the region while warmer mid-latitude air shifted northward, the institute said.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Florida cold snap killed numerous Keys manatees

From an article by Kevin Ladlow on

Frigid waters in the Keys during this month's record cold snap killed manatees and corals, in addition to untold numbers of fish, biologists say.

"This is an unprecedented event as far as the Keys marine environment is concerned," said Billy Causey, southeast regional director for the National Marine Sanctuaries Program.

"This one will do down in the history books," Causey said. "We'll be cleaning up after this one for quite some time."

Seven dead manatees were found in Upper Keys waters between Jan. 18 and 22, part of a record 107 manatees killed statewide from Jan. 1 to 23.

The 107 dead manatees nearly doubles the previous record of 56 manatee deaths in a single month, set in January 2009.

Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that 77 deaths are directly attributable to "cold stress," and several others likely died as a result of the cold.

Nine dead manatees were found in waters of mainland Monroe County, off Flamingo and Everglades City.

"Any time the water gets below 60 degrees, manatees don't do well," said Mary Stella of the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key. "It was colder tan that for a long time."


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Florida Keys coral takes lethal hit from cold

From an article on

SUMMERLAND KEY, Florida -- Sustained cold water temperatures in South Florida and the Florida Keys triggered severe coral bleaching and even coral death, alerting resource managers and prompting a coordinated assessment response from the science community. Temperatures in some nearshore areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary dropped to 52 degrees Fahrenheit for several days - well below average for this time of year — with fatal results for some corals.

A cold-water bleaching and die-off hasn't occurred in Florida since the late 1970s.

"The Keys have not seen a cold-water bleaching event like this since the winter of 1977-78, when acres of staghorn coral perished," said Dr. Billy Causey, southeast regional director of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. "But today we are better prepared to document and assess the impacts of stress thanks to numerous partners." Causey has lived and worked in the Keys since 1971.

Over the next two weeks, teams of science divers from federal and state agencies and non-governmental and academic organizations will be surveying sites from the Dry Tortugas through Martin County to assess and monitor mortality and changes in coral health. The site locations and survey protocol were developed by The Nature Conservancy and other members of the Florida Reef Resilience Program for monitoring impacts to corals following a major disturbance, such as a mass-bleaching event.

Coral bleaching occurs when a coral animal undergoes stress and loses its symbiotic algae (called zoxanthellae). Prolonged stress can result in coral death. Coral bleaching is most frequently associated with elevated water temperatures, but stress also occurs when water temperatures dip below the preferred 60-degree threshold.

"If there is any ‘good news' it's that reef managers and scientists are able to quickly respond to this event and are in a good position to learn more about how reefs will rebound following such a rare occurrence," said Chris Bergh, director of The Nature Conservancy's Coastal and Marine Resilience Program.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Group sues to force US protection of coral

From an Associated Press article by David McFadden published in the Omaha World-Herald:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - A U.S. conservation group announced Wednesday it would sue the federal government to force a decision on whether to protect 83 coral species it says are threatened by global warming and more acidic waters.

The Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity has sent notification of its intention to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service because the U.S. agency missed a deadline for an endangered species listing decision for dozens of coral species. A 60-day notification letter is required before a suit can be field.

Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the corals, found in Florida, Hawaii and island territories in the Caribbean and Pacific, face a growing threat of extinction from rising ocean temperatures.

"Timing is of the essence to reverse the tragic decline of these vitally important reefs," Sakashita said. "We can't afford any delays in protecting corals under the Endangered Species Act."

Connie Barclay, a spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said Wednesday that agency scientists are working on the conservation group's petition to put 83 coral species on the endangered species list. They hope to publish their findings in the next two weeks.

Among the group's list of 83 species is the mountainous star coral, once considered the dominant reef building coral in the Atlantic, and the ivory tree coral, a branching coral found in the Caribbean whose delicate limbs provide shelter for numerous reef fish.

Sakashita said protection under the Endangered Species Act would create new conservation opportunities and provide for greater scrutiny of fishing, dredging and offshore oil development.

Reef-building coral is a fragile organism, a tiny polyp-like animal that builds a calcium-carbonate shell around itself and survives in a symbiotic relationship with types of algae - each providing sustenance to the other. Even a 1 degree Celsius (1.7 degree Fahrenheit) rise in normal maximum sea temperatures can disrupt that relationship.

Unusually warm waters 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.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Silver lining around Florida cold snap: More turtles tagged than ever

From an article from the News Service:

TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- Even though the recent cold snap brought many cold-stunned sea turtles into shallow waters and onto shorelines across the state, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and its many partners saved the majority of the animals from certain death.

Frigid water temperatures stunned thousands of sea turtles throughout the state. If left unaided, most of these turtles would not have survived. Many would have been attacked by predators, been hit by boats or simply drowned. Rescuers worked feverishly for more than a week to save the immobilized animals, rescuing and eventually releasing nearly 80 percent of the affected sea turtles. FWC biologists are confident that most of the sea turtles will not suffer long-term impacts from the stunning event.

Additional good news is emerging from those who have been working diligently to save the animals. Rescue of the sea turtles by the FWC and its many partners could prove beneficial to the animals in the long term.

"We've been able to tag many more turtles than ever before, which enables us to learn about their biology," said Dr. Blair Witherington, FWC biologist. "It's been a great opportunity for data collection; it's unprecedented to have access to so many turtles at one time."


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lionfishes eat nearly anything that fits in their mouths

A lionfish spreading its fins herding and trapping prey fishes. From the site of Dr. Picciolo's summary.

Dr. Anthony Picciolo of NOAA's Coral Reef Information System (CoRIS) summarized a listserve discussion ( among marine professionals about the IndoPacific lionfish invasion of the U.S. south Atlantic sea coast and Caribbean Sea:

Lionfish experts are in agreement that invasive lionfish populations will continue to grow and cannot be eliminated using conventional methods. Lionfishes have become established along the southeastern coast of the United States, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and throughout the Caribbean. This places swimmers, snorkelers, divers, and fishermen at risk from their painful, venomous sting and leaves native reef fish populations and coral reef community stability at great risk from their interactions with this species. In a five-week experiment, scientists in the Bahamas established that lionfish can cause significant reductions (by 79%) in the recruitment of native fishes. One large lionfish was observed consuming 20 small fishes in a 30-minute period.

Lionfishes may, directly and indirectly, cause harm to coral reef ecosystems. As aggressive ambush predators with few predators of their own in their introduced range, lionfishes can quickly and alarmingly reduce local native reef fish (and some invertebrate) populations to the point where native piscivores cannot compete for these prey animals. This in-turn can cause a reduction in the growth and survival of the native predators. Stomach content analyses of lionfishes reveal a wide diversity in prey species and size classes. As stated by one participant in the discussion, lionfishes are eating nearly anything that will fit into their mouths.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Can cruise lines and the ocean coexist?

From an article by David Rosenfeld on eTurboNews

On a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, a few years back, Shauna and David Schober were snorkeling off the coast with a tour company that took them by boat to explore some underwater caves. But their snorkel excursion was cut short when less than a mile away a cruise ship discharged its septic tanks.

“As it was passing, the water behind it was bubbling up out of the back with almost like a sick green algae substance,” Shauna Schober said. “It looked like sewage, and you could smell it – like it was treated with chemicals, almost like it smells in a porta-potty.”

The tour guides said: Get out of the water. “They said the cruise ship was dumping its tanks and it was better not to be in the water,” she said.

The cruise line industry relies on pristine oceans, beautiful coral reefs and marine life to draw millions of travelers on cruise vacations each year. But the same ships that advertise excursions to untouched ocean scenery are threatening these very same natural resources with their standard practice of flushing harmful toxins, mostly as sewage and food waste, into the ocean.

These problems are not new or unknown. But the cruise line industry has been operating effectively with little federal government oversight for much of the past decade since Department of Justice in the late 1990s indicted the top three cruise companies for dumping oily bilge water (the stagnate oil and water that collect in the ship’s hull). Investigators found that ships had installed pipes – hidden in hand rails on some ships – that allowed crew members to bypass oil separators intended to purify the bilge water.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Big chill: Warmed-up sea turtles freed off Florida

From an Associated Press article by Brian Skoloff published in the Washinton Post:

JUNO BEACH, Fla. -- They came in crowded trucks and left by flipper: Hundreds of endangered sea turtles are being released back into the Atlantic Ocean now that Florida's weather has warmed enough.

Officials in the Sunshine State helped rescue nearly 3,000 turtles from frigid waters in the past week, plucking them from the ocean, lagoons and rivers as air temperatures dipped into the 30s along the coast.

The turtles - which weigh up to 400 pounds - were found across Florida as the unseasonably chilly temperatures sent them into a cold stress, leaving them stunned and largely motionless, the perfect prey for predators. Now after about a week of treatment, including soakings in heated pools and oxygen therapy, turtles by the truckload are headed back into the wild.

Tractor-trailer trucks full of turtles arrived Thursday at several Florida beaches, where the animals were hand-placed in the surf for their journey home. More were set to be released Friday.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti quake occurred in complex, active seismic region

From a news release issued by the Woods Hole Oceanogrphic Institution:

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake that triggered disastrous destruction and mounting death tolls in Haiti this week occurred in a highly complex tangle of tectonic faults near the intersection of the Caribbean and North American crustal plates, according to a quake expert at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) who has studied faults in the region and throughout the world.

Jian Lin, a WHOI senior scientist in geology and geophysics, said that even though the quake was “large but not huge,” there were three factors that made it particularly devastating: First, it was centered just 10 miles southwest of the capital city, Port au Prince; second, the quake was shallow—only about 10-15 kilometers below the land’s surface; third, and more importantly, many homes and buildings in the economically poor country were not built to withstand such a force and collapsed or crumbled.

All of these circumstances made the Jan. 12 earthquake a “worst-case scenario,” Lin said. Preliminary estimates of the death toll ranged from thousands to hundreds of thousands. “It should be a wake-up call for the entire Caribbean,” Lin said.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Coral can recover from climate change damage; fishing needs to be curbed

From an article on Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Jan. 10, 2010) — A study by the University of Exeter provides the first evidence that coral reefs can recover from the devastating effects of climate change. Published Jan. 11, 2010 in the journal PLoS ONE, the research shows for the first time that coral reefs located in marine reserves can recover from the impacts of global warming.

Scientists and environmentalists have warned that coral reefs may not be able to recover from the damage caused by climate change and that these unique environments could soon be lost forever. Now, this research adds weight to the argument that reducing levels of fishing is a viable way of protecting the world's most delicate aquatic ecosystems.

Increases in ocean surface water temperatures subject coral reefs to stresses that lead quickly to mass bleaching. The problem is intensified by ocean acidification, which is also caused by increased CO2. This decreases the ability of corals to produce calcium carbonate (chalk), which is the material that reefs are made of.

Approximately 2% of the world's coral reefs are located within marine reserves, areas of the sea that are protected against potentially-damaging human activity, like dredging and fishing.

The researchers conducted surveys of ten sites inside and outside marine reserves of the Bahamas over 2.5 years. These reefs have been severely damaged by bleaching and then by hurricane Frances in the summer of 2004. At the beginning of the study, the reefs had an average of 7% coral cover. By the end of the project, coral cover in marine protected areas had increased by an average of 19%, while reefs in non-reserve sites showed no recovery.

Professor Peter Mumby of the University of Exeter said: "Coral reefs are the largest living structures on Earth and are home to the highest biodiversity on the planet. As a result of climate change, the environment that has enabled coral reefs to thrive for hundreds of thousands of years is changing too quickly for reefs to adapt.

"In order to protect reefs in the long-term we need radical action to reduce CO2 emissions. However, our research shows that local action to reduce the effects of fishing can contribute meaningfully to the fate of reefs. The reserve allowed the number of parrotfishes to increase and because parrotfish eat seaweeds, the corals could grow freely without being swamped by weeds. As a result, reefs inside the park were showing recovery whereas those with more seaweed were not. This sort of evidence may help persuade governments to reduce the fishing of key herbivores like parrotfishes and help reefs cope with the inevitable threats posed by climate change."


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What would eat a spiny urchin?!

From a post on Climate Shift by Dr. John Bruno who has done research in Akumal Bay:

The black spiny Caribbean urchin Diadema antillarum is a formitable looking creature. It is basically a pin cushion with black hypodermic needles for spines. It seems reasonable to conclude that its spines are an adaptation to deter predators, and moreover, that they would be fairly effective. In fact, many Caribbean reef scientists assume few predators can eat Diadema. For example, Harbone et al (2009) recently stated;

“Urchins are particularly susceptible to unregulated ‘plagues’ because only a few specialist predators can overcome their defensive spines“

But surprising as it might seem, a wide range of fishes and invertebrates consume Diadema and could control it’s behavior and population densities. (I love these natural history surprises that defy logic and human biases.)

Predators of Diadema include: snapper, jacks, porcupinefishes, trunkfishes, grunts including black margate, porgies, triggerfishes, pufferfish, large wrasses, parrotfish, octopuses, lobsters, large gastropods and even small crabs (which eat juvenile Diadema).

The classic paper on predators of Diadema on Caribbean reefs is Randall et al. (1964). This paper, published before I was born, is a masterpiece of natural history and an invaluable documentation of the ecology of Diadema before it was wiped out by a disease in the early 1980s. Randall et al. reported;

"Predators of D. antillarum include 15 fishes of the families Balistidae, Carangidae, Diodontidae, Labridae, ostraciidae, Sparidae, and Tetraodontidae, two gastropod of the genus Cassis, and the spiny lobster (Panulirus argus)."


Monday, January 11, 2010

Caribbean ecocide or where did the Cancun and Playa Del Carmen beaches go?

From a post on YUC Director, "your guide to Merida and Yucatan:"

Looking out across the dark Caribbean night from Punta Allen one sees three equally sized glowing areas on the distant horizon to the north. The furthest out is Cancun, the next Playa del Carmen and the last Tulum.

Cancun has a bit less than a million people; Playa has 300,000 and Tulum now over 30,000. Playa Del Carmen is the fastest growing municipality in Mexico.

But from Punta Allen each lighted area appears to be the same size since Cancun is farther away than Playa and Playa is farther away than Tulum. The three groups of lights are a reminder of the environmental impact of civilization, including light pollution.

In the next 20 years these three lights will merge.

Biologists report the coral reefs are dead out from Cancun, dying off the coast of Playa Del Carmen and starting to die off Tulum. Progress, people and pollution are taking their toll.

If the reefs die, scuba diving will go soon thereafter and that is a major source of tourist dollars. Scuba diving, unlike snorkeling, is not cheap.

The turtles are also moving south. Cancun has too much activity so the turtles are moving down the Riviera Maya coast and eventually will all move into the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve.

The turtles are of course protected and the cute critters even have a radical environmental group just to make sure they stay around.

But many other creatures, like the pink conch and the jaguar, are slowly dying off as well. Such is progress.

The beaches too are dying.

Hurricane Wilma devastated the beaches on the Cancun strip and the replaced sand was not white and had broken shells in it and was not pleasing to the tourists.

Playacar Resort in Playa del Carmen is now being overtaken by water as the beach has totally washed away. Que pasa?

Hurricanes and storms seasonally move through the coast causing widespread damage and beach erosion.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cold snap stuns turtles

From an article by Sarah Hoye on Tampa Online:

Frigid waters stranded 93 sea turtles along the beaches of Florida's east coast on Wednesday.

The Florida Aquarium Animal Rescue Team will rescue 6 to 8 of sea turtles. They will board and rehabilitate the creatures until the waters warm up.

"There's not anything wrong with them," Wagner said. "We just need to warm them up."

The sea turtles are "cold stunned" said Jeni Hatter, spokeswoman for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, who are also helping with the rescue efforts.

Because the sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles (they do not maintain a regular body temperature) they take on the temperature around them and go into a somewhat state of shock.

"They stop swimming, they stop eating, and just start to float," Hatter said, and added that they are taking in 8 turtles today. "Every facility that can take in turtles are doing it."


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Only 150 days until World Oceans Day; start planning!

From The Ocean Project:

Start the year off on an ocean theme! The more you learn about our amazing blue planet, the more you will find that a healthy ocean is essential not only for the future of the fish, the coral reefs, and all life in the ocean, but also for our own future. No matter where you live, your actions impact the ocean and you can make a difference!

Remember to plan an event for World Oceans Day 2010 - it promises to be the biggest and best one ever. It seems far off but is only 150 days away so start planning an event soon!

Please visit to get ideas, inspiration, submit your event online, and connect with others. We also welcome feedback on how best to improve the website for our partners and other friends. A new design and new content is coming soon! Send your thoughts to Bill at We are also looking for help in translating the site so please contact if you are able to help.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sharks killed for oil used in swine flu vaccine

From an article by James Owen on National Geographic:

Vaccines being made to protect people from swine flu may not be so healthy for threatened species of sharks.

That's because millions of doses of the pandemic H1N1/09 vaccine contain a substance called squalene, which is extracted from shark livers. (Get more swine flu facts.)

More commonly found in beauty products such as skin creams, squalene can be used to make an adjuvant, a compound that boosts the body's immune response.

The World Health Organization recommends adjuvant-based vaccines, because they allow drug makers to create doses that use less of the active component, increasing available supplies.

Olive oil, wheat germ oil, and rice bran oil also naturally contain squalene, albeit in smaller amounts. But for now squalene is primarily harvested from sharks caught by commercial fishers, especially deepwater species. (Related: "Tomato, Tobacco Plants Produce SARS Vaccine.")

"There are several very disturbing issues associated with use of shark-liver-oil squalene," said Mary O'Malley, co-founder of the volunteer-run advocacy group Shark Safe Network.

"The deepwater sharks targeted have extremely low reproductive rates, and many are threatened species."

For example, one supplier has dubbed the gulper shark the Rolls-Royce of squalene-producing sharks—but the gulper is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Species, meaning the species faces a high risk of extinction.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Wear Blue for the Oceans, January 13

From the Facebook page of Wear Blue for the Ocean:

This is an invitation to begin building a movement to restore the health of our ocean. On January 13, 2010 we invite you to WEAR SOMETHING BLUE for the ocean and organize an event or gathering to make our message visible.

Who are we?
We are a group of committed citizens who have a common goal: to ensure that the public recognizes the need to restore the health of our ocean and the vast potential for good of a new ecologically sound U.S. Ocean Policy. We seek to unite on January 13, with purpose of taking our message to our leaders. . . .

January 13, 2010
Early 2010 will be a critical time to advance policy for the effective management of our ocean resources. On January 13, we invite you to wear blue and unite with others to take this message to our leaders. Please take pictures or video and upload them. And spread the word!

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

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