10-second nature news digest

Conservation news digest for busy people from @Mongabay. Story summaries that can be read in about ten seconds per post.

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Coal spill bedevils Indonesian beach more than a year later [11/22/2019]
- Coal from a barge that spilled onto a beach in Indonesia’s Aceh province in July 2018 still hasn’t been fully cleaned up.
- Lampuuk Beach, on the northern tip of Sumatra, is hosting a surfing championship this weekend, but participants and residents say that coal continues to litter and contaminate the site.
- The coal was destined for a power plant run by a cement producer, which had experienced an identical spill in 2016 at a nearby beach.
- While authorities have ordered the cement producer to clean up the site, the company says the barge operator should be held responsible.


In Indonesian waters, filter feeders can ingest dozens to hundreds of microplastic particles every hour [11/20/2019]
- Researchers looked at plastic pollution in three coastal feeding grounds in Indonesia that are frequented by manta rays (Mobula alfredi) and whale sharks (Rhincodon typus): Nusa Penida Marine Protected Area, Komodo National Park, and Pantai Bentar, East Java.
- After estimating the amount of microplastic particles that are present in the waters of their three study areas, the researchers were then able to determine how much of that plastic might find its way into the digestive tracts of reef manta rays and whale sharks.
- They found that reef manta rays may eat up to 63 pieces of plastic per hour when feeding in Nusa Penida and Komodo National Park, while whale sharks could be consuming up to 137 pieces per hour during seasonal aggregations in Java.


Nearly three months after Brazil oil spill, origins remain uncertain [11/18/2019]
- Oil was first sighted on Brazil’s northeastern coast on August 30, with more than 4,000 tons washing up since. Authorities claim the oil didn’t come from Brazil, but rather had come from a tanker loaded with crude from Venezuela — a failed state.
- The trending theory is that the dumping was done by a “dark ship” with its location transponders intentionally turned off so as to dodge U.S. sanctions against the transport of Venezuelan oil. While “bilge dumping” could be the cause, analysts say the practice isn’t likely to have resulted in Brazil’s mass spill.
- The government initially identified one tanker as the likely perpetrator and then expanded to five possible culprits. But a new analysis of satellite data by Federal University of Alagoas researchers may have pinpointed the responsible tanker; those findings are to be presented to the Brazilian Senate on November 21.
- The Bolsonaro government has been faulted for its disaster response. It seemed unaware of Brazil’s 2013 National Contingency Plan for dealing with spills, and didn’t enact the plan until October 11. Also, the executive committee charged with implementing the plan was disbanded by the administration early in 2019.


Last of the belugas from Russia’s ‘whale jail’ released [11/15/2019]
- Late last year, drone footage revealed 87 belugas and 11 orcas packed in cramped, icy pens at Srednyaya Bay in Russia’s Far East.
- Following international outrage, Russian authorities began an investigation and started releasing the whales to the Sea of Okhotsk, the place the mammals had been originally captured from.
- On Nov. 10, Russian authorities announced that the last of the 50 beluga whales had been released to Uspeniya Bay, in the Primorsky Region, about 62 miles away from the holding facility. But it’s not the whales’ native habitat, conservationists say.
- Activists and conservationists have criticized the lack of transparency in the release effort and the manner in which the whales have been moved to the sea without a proper rehabilitation process in place.


Safer at sea: The unexpected benefit of traceability for small-scale fishers [11/12/2019]
- Consumers are demanding to know where the seafood they buy comes from to ensure catches are legal, sustainable and free from labor abuse.
- The technology to deliver that information, once out of reach for small-scale fishers, is becoming more accessible in places like the Philippines.
- Its adoption is not only increasing seafood traceability but also improving the safety of fishers while they’re out on the water.
- Fishers and their families, among the most vulnerable in the seafood supply chain, say they welcome the security and peace of mind the technology brings.


Can a national management plan halt Madagascar’s shark decline? [11/11/2019]
- Sharks once were plentiful in Madagascar’s waters, but a spike in demand for shark fins dating to the 1980s has led to heavy exploitation and a reduction in the fishes’ abundance and size.
- Madagascar has no national laws that specifically protect sharks. In June, though, the country released a new national plan for the sustainable management of sharks and rays.
- The plan calls for a shark trade surveillance program, a crackdown on illegal industrial fishing, more “no-take” zones, and a concerted effort to collect better data.
- Conservationists welcomed the plan as an important step — provided the country can enforce its provisions.


Emperor penguins could disappear by 2100 if nations don’t cap emissions [11/08/2019]
- Researchers have combined a global climate model that projects where and when sea ice forms and a model of penguin populations to predict how penguin colonies would react to changing sea ice under future climate scenarios.
- The models found that under the business-as-usual scenario, where countries fail to halt climate change, emperor penguin numbers will decline by around 86 percent by 2100.
- However, if countries meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, limiting the global increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, then emperor penguin numbers would decline by about 31 percent, giving them a fighting chance at survival.


Facebook and Instagram posts help locate pygmy seahorses in Taiwan [11/06/2019]
- By contacting underwater photographers and divers and searching for photos and posts on Facebook and Instagram, researchers have confirmed the presence of five species of pygmy seahorses in Taiwan.
- This makes Taiwan one of the world’s pygmy seahorse diversity hotspots, the researchers say.
- Green Island and Orchid Island, in particular, were hotspots for pygmy seahorse diversity, the researchers found, and they hope that these discoveries will help inform conservation planning.


Ban on destructive fishing practice helps species recovery in Indonesian park [11/04/2019]
- In 2011, a destructive fishing practice known as muroami was banned in Karimunjawa National Park off Indonesia’s Java Island.
- In 2012-2013, the overall biomass of herbivorous fish species in the park had more than doubled from the 2006-2009 period, researchers have found.
- They attribute this recovery to the muroami ban and have called for it to be implemented in other marine parks across Indonesia.


The tragedy of the fishermen of Ventanas, ‘the Chilean Chernobyl’ [10/29/2019]
- The sea near Ventanas, Chile, was generous in the 1980s. There were urchins, limpets, clams and fish. Tourists summered there and fishermen thrived.
- That all changed as the local industrial park grew. In 2000 the National Health Service discovered serious heavy-metal and fecal-bacteria contamination of local shellfish, and prohibited their sale, effectively shuttering the local seafood industry.
- Fishermen attempted to revive their aquaculture operations, despite a series of oil spills. But poisoning episodes in 2018 quashed that initiative.
- “Could they have seen us as a dumpsite? Like their backyard? … I don’t know how the government saw us,” said Carlos Vega, a longtime Ventanas fisherman.


’Rampant’ fishing continues as vaquita numbers dwindle [10/29/2019]
- An expedition surveying the Gulf of California for the critically endangered vaquita porpoise has reported seeing more than 70 fishing boats in a protected refuge.
- Vaquita numbers have been decimated in the past decade as a result of gillnet fishing for another critically endgangered species, the totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder can fetch more than $20,000 per kilogram ($9,000 per pound) in Asian markets.
- Local fishing organizations in the region say that the government has stopped compensating them after a gillnet ban, aimed at protecting the vaquita from extinction, went into effect in 2015.


Commitments worth $63 billion pledged for ocean protection [10/28/2019]
- The sixth annual Our Ocean conference took place in Oslo, Norway, on Oct. 23 and 24.
- Governments, businesses, organizations and research institutions made 370 commitments toward improving marine health and productivity that were worth more than $63 billion.
- The commitments, a considerable boost from the $10 billion committed last year, reflect a new level of urgency around ocean protection as its role in mitigating climate change becomes ever clearer.
- Focus areas of the conference included building the sustainability of the global fishing industry and reducing plastic pollution.


The Ocean Cleanup successfully collects ocean plastic, aims to scale design [10/28/2019]
- The Ocean Cleanup announced that it has created a device that successfully captures plastic waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
- The device has undergone many design iterations, each stage facing criticism from oceanographers, environmentalists, and plastic pollution specialists for its feasibility, durability, safety, and allocation of funding.
- The group now plans to increase the size and quantity of their devices with the goal of one day ridding the ocean of most of its plastic debris.


Beach clean-ups, community visits, and compensation to fishers build environmental awareness in Nigeria [10/25/2019]
- Children visit the Kids’ Beach Garden in Lagos, Nigeria, every week to learn about aquatic creatures, oceans, plastic pollution, recycling, and the environment while they help clean the beach.
- The project staff and volunteers bring families to join the beach clean-ups; they also visit schools and communities and introduce these themes using demonstrations, activities, and dance and drama presentations.
- In addition, the team works with fishers to reduce sea turtle hunting and bycatch and build awareness of the importance of turtles to fish lifecycles and the local ecosystem.


Indonesia’s ex-fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti leaves big shoes to fill [10/24/2019]
- Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia’s popular and highly regarded fisheries minister, has been replaced in the new cabinet unveiled by President Joko Widodo for his second and final term in office.
- Maritime and fisheries observers have criticized the move to drop Susi, who has a proven track record in the sector, in favor of a transparently political appointee with only tangential exposure to fisheries.
- The move signals a loosening of protections for coastal and marine ecosystems and fishing communities as the president seeks to ramp up investments and development projects, the observers warn.
- Susi has called on her successor, Edhy Prabowo, to maintain the pace of reforms already achieved and to ensure the protection of the environment and coastal communities from extractive industries.


New grouper species discovered in Australian fish market [10/23/2019]
- A newly discovered species of grouper almost became someone’s dinner before it could be described to science.
- Jeff Johnson, an ichthyologist with Australia’s Queensland Museum, had been asked about the fish before, 15 years ago. Over the intervening years, he would occasionally be sent pictures of the same type of grouper, one lacking distinctive features that struck him as a potential new species, but had never found a specimen to examine.
- Johnson’s big break came in 2017 when a fisherman got in touch and sent along a photo of a grouper, also known as rockcod, that the fisherman was hoping the fish expert could identify. Johnson recognized the fish in the photo as his mystery grouper and asked for the specimens so he could study them, only to be told that the fisherman had already sent the fish to be sold at a local market. But that didn’t stop Johnson from at last getting his hands on a specimen to prove this was an entirely new species.


For one Indonesian fisher, saving caught turtles is a moral challenge [10/23/2019]
- Sea turtles are protected species under Indonesian law, but continue to be caught and killed for food and ornaments in many parts of the country.
- Official wildlife conservation agencies are typically underfunded, and large-scale conservation programs run by NGOs are far from effective, a conservationist says.
- But in a fishing village on the island of Sulawesi, a lone fisherman is playing his part by buying live turtles accidentally caught by other fishers and usually injured, and caring for them until they heal and can be released back into the ocean.
- Conservationists have welcomed his initiative and intent, but raised questions about his expertise, with some of the more than 20 turtles he has cared for so far dying.


Once close to extinction, western South Atlantic humpback population close to full recovery [10/22/2019]
- According to a study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science last week, there were nearly 27,000 western South Atlantic humpbacks as of 1830, but the population was reduced by some 95 percent, to just 450 whales, by the mid-1950s. In the 12 years between 1904 and 1916 alone, the population lost approximately 25,000 individuals.
- Protection measures for humpbacks adopted in the 1960s and the broader moratorium on all commercial whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in the 1980s appear to have reversed that downward trajectory, however. There has been no hunting of the species since 1972, the report states, which is when the recovery really took off.
- “Once protected, [western South Atlantic] humpback whales have recovered strongly, and their current abundance is close to 25,000 whales,” the authors of the study write. That means that the current population is estimated to be at 93 percent of its numbers prior to the exploitation by whalers that nearly extirpated the entire population.


Study finds massive reorganization of life across Earth’s ecosystems [10/21/2019]
- A new study pulls together data from 239 studies that looked at more than 50,000 biodiversity time series.
- The research reveals that almost 30 percent of all species are being swapped out for other species every 10 years.
- The scientists found that the reorganization and loss of species are happening much more quickly in some environments than in others, a finding that could help inform future conservation.


Scientists emphasize disease control in booming aquaculture sector [10/18/2019]
- The World Organisation for Animal Health held a conference in Santiago, Chile, focused on aquatic animals
- Compared with land animals, little is known about diseases of aquatic animals.
- Yet experts are looking to aquaculture to support human food security in the coming years.


Biodiversity ‘not just an environmental issue’: Q&A with IPBES ex-chair Robert Watson [10/17/2019]
- The World Bank and IMF meetings from Oct. 14-20 will include discussions on protecting biodiversity and the importance of investing in nature.
- A recent U.N. report found that more than 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction.
- In a conversation with Mongabay, Robert Watson, who chaired the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that produced the report, discusses the economic value of biodiversity.


Audio: Exploring the deep sea with biologist Diva Amon [10/16/2019]
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with deep sea biologist Diva Amon about what we do and don’t know about biodiversity at the bottom of the ocean.
- Plans to mine the ocean floor are moving forward around the world, especially around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea that create deposits of valuable metals. But given the fact that humans have explored less than 1 percent of the deep sea, it’s fair to say that we really have no idea what’s at risk.
- Amon is here to talk about the findings of a recent study she co-authored about biodiversity and research effort at deep sea vents, what got her into studying the bottom of the ocean in the first place, and two of her favorite deep sea creatures: the Dumbo octopus and the headless chicken monster.


For the Philippines, a warming world means stronger typhoons, fewer fish [10/16/2019]
- Global warming is expected to increase the frequency of El Niño and La Niña weather events in the Pacific, resulting in more powerful typhoons hitting the Philippines, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- The report’s authors warn that even under a low-carbon-emission scenario, such extreme weather events are inevitable.
- The Philippines also has to contend with warming ocean waters that threaten to kill its coral reefs and drive its once-plentiful fish stocks to cooler regions of the Pacific.
- The IPCC authors say more research is needed to better understand how ocean warming will impact the Philippines and the wider region.


Cook Islands MPA leader fired after supporting seabed mining freeze [10/15/2019]
- Last month the Cook Islands government dismissed the director of the world’s biggest mixed-use marine protected area (MPA), which is called Marae Moana.
- Jacqueline Evans, a marine scientist, had played a key leadership role in the seven-year campaign to establish Marae Moana and served as its director since the MPA was enshrined into law in 2017.
- Her firing came after she expressed support for a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining across the Pacific Ocean. Seabed mining has been a sticking point throughout the history of Marae Moana, with some environmentalists hoping to prohibit it outright and other parties wanting to explore it as a potential source of revenue.
- Evans was a 2019 winner of the prestigious international Goldman Prize for grassroots environmentalists in recognition of her work to make Marae Moana a reality.


Education, compensation, and spiritual outreach protect threatened whale sharks [10/14/2019]
- In the 1980s and 90s, whale sharks were being killed in their hundreds off the western coast of India. Demand for the shark’s fins and meat in south-east Asia meant a fisherman could earn as much as $7,000 for a large shark.
- In 2001, India declared the whale shark a protected species. In 2004, the Whale Shark Conservation Project began its effort to spread awareness of the ban among the fishermen in the state of Gujarat, where the killing was taking place, and to convert the fishermen from hunters to protectors of the fish.
- Through a combination of community outreach, participation of a popular spiritual leader, and financial compensation, the community was convinced to stop killing the sharks. Since then, 710 whale sharks have also been rescued after getting entangled in fishing nets, while scientists have been able to tag eight sharks for research purposes.


Saving an island from the worst oil spill in the Philippines: The case of Guimaras [10/11/2019]
- On August 11, 2006, the oil tanker M/T Solar 1, hired by Petron Corporation, sank off the coast of Guimaras, an island province in the Philippines, spilling more than 2.1 million liters (about 555,000 gallons) of bunker fuel. It is still known as the worst oil spill in the Philippines’ history.
- The oil that contaminated the water was not only devastating for the environment but also for the people and the economy of Guimaras.
- Thirteen years later, Guimaras once again boasts pristine beaches with white sand and the fisherfolks have returned to harvesting the abundance of the waters.


Bali mangrove bay is now a conservation zone, nixing reclamation plan [10/11/2019]
- Indonesia’s maritime ministry has designated Bali’s Benoa Bay a conservation zone for religious and cultural activities, and traditional and sustainable fisheries.
- The decision effectively kills a $2 billion plan to reclaim land in the mangrove-rich bay for a tourism development featuring hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues and a convention center.
- While opponents of the development project have welcomed the decree, they say it’s only the first step toward ensuring that the bay receives full and permanent legal protection against such development plans.


Madagascar: Opaque foreign fisheries deals leave empty nets at home [10/09/2019]
- Malagasy fishers blame shrimp trawlers that ply coastal waters for their declining catches.
- However, the bulk of industrial fishing in Madagascar’s waters takes place far from shore and out of view. It’s conducted by foreign fishing fleets working under agreements that critics say lack transparency.
- Conservationists argue that these foreign vessels are also depleting the country’s fish stocks and marine ecosystems.
- With negotiations to renew a fisheries deal with the European Union having flopped late last month and uncertainty lingering over an enormous and controversial fisheries deal with a Chinese company, much is at stake for Madagascar’s small-scale fishers.


Companies’ solutions to global plastic crisis miss the mark: Report [10/09/2019]
- A new report from Greenpeace contends that multinational consumer goods companies are addressing the global plastics crisis with “false solutions.”
- Some of those solutions, the group says, harm the environment, such as the replacement of plastic straws with paper ones.
- Others, such as bioplastics, amount to little more than greenwashing, the report’s author writes, as they don’t provide the purported benefits compared to conventional plastics.
- Greenpeace argues for the phaseout of single-use packaging and investments in developing reusable containers that would substantially cut down on plastic waste.


Expedition finds new humpback breeding ground and sends first deep divers to Amazon Reef [10/04/2019]
- A number of marine species, from whales and dolphins to sea turtles and sharks, are known to migrate through the waters off the coast of French Guiana, the same biodiversity-rich waters that harbor the Amazon Reef, which was discovered in 2016.
- Scientists with the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza discovered and documented humpbacks as well as tropical whale species feeding and breeding in the area, which they say is a first.
- As part of the same expedition, the first dives down to the Amazon Reef were undertaken in order to document the reef ecosystem via high-resolution photography and collect biological samples.


Give it back to the gods: Reviving Māori tradition to protect marine life [09/27/2019]
- Ra’ui is an ancient Polynesian form of resource management in which traditional leaders close designated areas to the harvest of key species.
- While the power of ra’ui remains strong in the outer Cook Islands, where local tradition often trumps national decree, the system fell into disuse on the largest and most populous island of Rarotonga half a century ago.
- There, traditional leaders briefly and successfully revived the ra’ui system two decades ago, only for it to falter again in recent years.
- Today, traditional leaders in the Cook Islands are cautiously optimistic that the country’s 2017 decision to designate its entire marine territory as a mixed-use protected area will help reinvigorate ra’ui across Rarotonga.


IPCC special report finds oceans and cryosphere changing rapidly due to global warming [09/25/2019]
- As a massive expanse of unusually warm water spreads across the northeastern Pacific Ocean for the second time in the past five years, the latest special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released today, finds that marine heatwaves have “very likely” become twice as frequent and increasingly intense over the past four decades.
- The report focuses on the benefits of taking action to limit global warming — and the costs of delaying that action — for the world’s oceans and cryosphere (the parts of Earth’s surface that are frozen, such as ice sheets and frozen ground). It is the work of more than 100 authors from 36 countries who assessed 7,000 scientific publications to assemble the latest scientific findings on the current and future impacts of global climate change.
- Conservationists characterized the report as a dire wake-up call for world leaders. “With today’s release of the Special Report… international leaders are confronted by the stark and immediate consequences of failing to adequately address greenhouse gas emissions, as they impact the oceans,” Jason Patlis, executive director of the Marine Conservation Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), said in a statement.


‘The Blob’ is back: Pacific heat wave already second-largest in recent history [09/24/2019]
- The original Blob was a vast expanse of unusually warm water in the northeast Pacific that persisted from 2014 to mid-2016. (The unusual moniker came about because the marine heatwave appeared as a giant red blob on ocean surface temperature maps.) It eventually stretched all the way from the Gulf of Alaska to the California coast and had a number of adverse effects, contributing to a global coral bleaching event and impacting coastal salmon fisheries.
- The new Blob resembles the first in extent and location, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which reported on September 5 that the current marine heat wave in the northern Pacific is already the second-largest recorded in the past 40 years, behind only the 2014-2016 Blob.
- Sea surface temperatures in the northeast Pacific have been more than 3 degrees Celsius above average during the current heat wave. In the 2014-2016 Blob, water temperatures reached up to 5.5 degrees Celsius above average in some places.


For one Indonesian village, mangrove restoration has been all upside [09/24/2019]
- Demand for firewood in recent years led to the depletion of the mangrove forest in the Indonesian village of Paremas.
- But the local government and NGOs worked with the community to emphasize the importance of restoring the mangrove, with surprising results.
- Today, the tidal pools on the coast provide food that can both sustain the locals and provide an income, allowing families to be less dependent on the remittances sent home by mothers and fathers working arduous jobs overseas.
- In addition to protecting biodiversity, the mangroves also absorb energy from large ocean swells and stop garbage from piling up in foul-smelling sumps on the beach.


Paradise, polluted: Cook Islands tries to clean up its tourism sector [09/23/2019]
- Tourism accounts for almost 70 percent of the Cook Islands’ economy, but the industry is proving extremely damaging to its delicately balanced island ecosystem, and is contributing to islanders’ detachment from traditional ways of life.
- Now, though, some tourism players, activists and government officials are pushing the industry to change tack in hopes it can start to sustain the island’s people and culture while protecting its ecology, too.
- Tourism operators are being asked to live up to the sustainability street cred that the country’s 2017 decision to designate its entire exclusive economic zone as a multiple-use marine protected area has granted it on the international stage.


15 years after tsunami, Aceh reckons with an inconsistent fisheries recovery [09/23/2019]
- When a tsunami killed tens of thousands of people in Indonesia’s Aceh province, international donors contributed billions of dollars to disaster recovery efforts
- Today, gaps in post-disaster recovery are still visible. A breakdown of community dynamics post-disaster limited the effectiveness of some initiatives.
- The example of Aceh provides lessons to be learned for future disaster recoveries under the “build back better” approach, including the importance of long-term thinking when it comes to such initiatives.


Will a massive marine protected area safeguard Cook Islands’ ocean? [09/19/2019]
- In 2017, the Cook Islands government passed the Marae Moana Act, which designated the country’s entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as a multiple-use marine protected area (MPA).
- Spanning almost 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) — an area roughly the size of Mexico — the MPA is the biggest of its kind in the world.
- Now, as bureaucrats, NGOs and traditional leaders get to grips with implementing Marae Moana, many stakeholders are wondering what the act will mean in practice and whether it can meaningfully change the way the ocean is managed.


A pearl oyster farm in Bali aims to be a sustainable source of the jewel [09/13/2019]
- A pearl oyster farm on the northern coast of the Indonesian island of Bali is working to establish a sustainable source for the creatures that produce South Sea pearls, prized for their use in jewelry.
- But the industry’s fast growth has taken a toll on wild oyster populations, and there’s also been a decline in the quality of pearls.
- In response, Indonesia has launched a pearl oyster breeding initiative.
- Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of South Sea pearls, accounting for 43 percent of global supply.


On an island coveted by miners, villagers prepare to raise a ruckus [09/13/2019]
- Residents of the Indonesian island of Wawonii believed they had won a long-running battle against mining companies with concessions on their land after authorities promised to revoke the permits in March.
- However, only nine of the 15 permits were scrapped, while at least one of the remaining companies continues offering to buy out residents and clearing land.
- Organizers of the earlier protests are now bracing for an even more intensive campaign, in the hope of drawing enough attention to their cause that the government steps in and cancels the remaining permits.
- One of the companies involved says the land belongs to the state and the villagers have no claim to it.


New detection devices could record microplastic pollution levels in real time [09/11/2019]
- Microplastic pollution is a threat to marine life and is found in the bodies of animals all along the food chain.
- Detecting microplastic pollution levels in the oceans is becoming increasingly important, in part so that sources can be found and vulnerable species protected if possible.
- Traditional testing via tow nets and lab analysis is slow and expensive, but a new generation of sensors is being developed to measure microplastics faster and at various depths.
- Mongabay spoke with Sheila Hemami, Director of Strategic Technical Opportunities for Massachusetts-based R&D laboratory Draper, which is developing new tools to record microplastic pollution levels in real time.


Uncovered coal barges are polluting North Sumatra’s waters [09/10/2019]
- Coal is brought by ship to fuel a power plant in the Pangkalan Susu area of Indonesia’s North Sumatra province.
- Mongabay observed ships waiting for days to be unloaded, moored in the Malacca Strait with piles of coal exposed to the open air.
- The strait ecosystem, including the fish and shrimp that local communities rely on for their sustenance and livelihood, is threatened by exposure to toxins from both the coal and ash settling in the water.
- The local community and fishermen have reported decreased catches and failed fish farm harvests, and attributed these to the operation of the Pangkalan Susu power plant.


Into the abyss with deep sea biologist Diva Amon [09/09/2019]
- Dr. Diva Amon was raised on the shores of the Caribbean Sea and has become an expert on what lies deep below its surface, where light refuses to go.
- “We can’t effectively manage what we don’t understand or protect what we don’t know,” she tells Mongabay in a new interview.
- The promise and peril of deep sea mining is just one of the reasons she and her colleagues are working hard to understand the biodiversity of the oceans’ greatest depths.
- Dr. Amon is speaking at the upcoming Jackson Wild Summit in Wyoming later this month.


Sri Lanka scales up its domestic campaign to protect sharks with a global push [09/05/2019]
- With the killing of sharks and rays on the rise, Sri Lanka played a lead role in pushing three proposals to extend global protection to 18 species at the recently concluded CITES wildlife trade summit in Geneva.
- Sixty-three sharks and 42 ray species are found in Sri Lankan waters, and are threatened by overexploitation driven by an ever-increasing demand for sharks fins, meat, and liver oil.
- While five species of sharks currently enjoy legal protection against the species trade in Sri Lanka, conservationists see an urgent need to extend protection to all reef sharks and other endangered shark and ray species.


‘No place to hide’ for illegal fishing fleets as surveillance satellites prepare for lift-off [08/30/2019]
- A low-cost satellite revolution is paving the way for real-time monitoring of fishing vessels using synthetic-aperture radar (SAR).
- SAR allows researchers to monitor ‘dark vessels’ that aren’t transmitting Automatic Identification Signals (AIS) location data.
- Disabling or manipulating AIS transmitters is a tactic commonly used by vessels engaged in illegal fishing activity.


Manta rays are social creatures who are choosy about their friends [08/28/2019]
- Researchers have found evidence of structured social relationships among wild, free-ranging reef manta rays. The rays appear to actively choose other individuals to socialize with, according to a study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology last week.
- The researchers say that certain social groups were regularly seen together at specific cleaning stations, where the rays are cleaned by cleaner wrasse and other small fish, suggesting that they may be using those sites as meet-up points. Some rays were observed returning frequently to certain cleaning stations despite the close proximity of several other sites.
- Reef manta rays are listed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List, which reports that the ray’s numbers are believed to have declined by as much as 30 percent globally over the last 75 years. The researchers hope that by revealing the social lives of manta rays, they can help build public support for protection measures around the world.


With record support, rhino rays and world’s fastest sharks get new trade protections [08/28/2019]
- Governments from around the world have voted to strictly regulate the international trade in two species of mako sharks, six giant guitarfish species, and 10 species of wedgefish — sharks and rays that have been declining rapidly in recent years.
- All 18 species have now been formally approved for listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which mandates that countries track their exports of the listed sharks and rays, and show that fishing them will not threaten their long-term survival in the wild.
- With majority of the global trade in sharks and rays and their products, especially shark fins and meat, being unregulated, conservation groups and researchers have welcomed this decision.
- The three shark and ray proposals received the highest number of co-sponsors in the history of CITES convention with 61 countries supporting at least one of the three proposals.


Jumping the Shark: The Decline of the North Atlantic’s Shortfin Mako [08/28/2019]
- Conservation scientists have recommended a total fishing ban on shortfin mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) to allow the species’ population in the North Atlantic to recover from decades of overfishing.
- The shortfin mako has a slow breeding cycle, making overfishing particularly deletirious and recovery a slow process.
- A decision on whether to ban fishing of the species will be made in October by nations that are party to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), but past decision have often veered away from scientific recommendations.


Hawaii braces for potential mass-coral bleaching event [08/23/2019]
- Current sea surface temperatures are warmer than normal for this time of year and have exceeded the temperatures preceding the catastrophic 2015 bleaching event.
- Bleached coral is not dead, but because the vast majority of the energy for the coral is coming from the algae’s activities, the vacated coral is severely weakened.
- People can act to alleviate coral stress by not touching, standing or anchoring on the reef; keeping chemicals such as sunscreens with oxybenzone or octinoxate out of the water; and suspending fishing for herbivorous fish.
- Visitors to Hawaiian reefs are being urged to participate in the real time monitoring of the reefs’ health using the newly launched Hawaiicoral.org website


Tests show multi-rotor UAVs can improve cetacean behavioral studies [08/09/2019]
- Researchers assessing the utility of small, multi-rotor unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to survey and study humpback whales found that video data collected from a UAV improved upon data recorded by an expert observer from a research vessel, a standard technique.
- The observer mischaracterized certain behaviors, primarily socializing and nurturing, as other activities, such as traveling or resting, that the aerial viewpoint of the UAV captured clearly, even when the animals were below the surface.
- The whales did not show changes in behavior when the UAV approached or remained present at 30 meters above them.
- Their results suggest that small UAVs add value to cetacean behavioral research as a non-invasive research tool that can capture information that is otherwise difficult to detect from the angle and distance of a ship or shore observer.


Stunning new wrasse species underlines need to protect deeper-lying reefs [08/05/2019]
- A new species of wrasse discovered in mesophotic reefs off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania, underlines how little is known about marine environments.
- Deeper-lying reefs are just as threatened by climate change and other human impacts as shallow reefs and need greater protection.
- Mesophotic reefs could be an important and under-recognised source of fish larvae that supports coastal fisheries.


New toolkit identifies multiple species from environmental DNA [08/03/2019]
- Researchers have developed a DNA analysis toolkit designed to speed the identification of the multiple species in a biological community by analyzing environmental DNA from a sample of water or soil.
- To confirm the presence of a species at a site, the tool compares its genetic barcode (short DNA sequence) to barcodes of known species in one of several reference databases.
- The toolkit’s advantage is its ability to quickly process many barcode sequences, at multiple analysis locations on the gene, that enable it to identify the species of the DNA sequences of many organisms at the same time.


Reef fish are faring fine in eastern Indonesia, study suggests [07/31/2019]
- A new study examines the health of reef fish populations in the lesser Sunda-Banda seascape, a part of the Coral Triangle, which overlaps with Indonesian waters in the western Pacific.
- In remote areas far from large human populations, reef fish are generally doing well, the researchers found.
- The researchers propose turning one area in Southwest Maluku, Indonesia, into a marine protected area.


A Philippine community that once ate giant clams now works to protect them [07/31/2019]
- The island of Samal in the southern Philippines is home to one of 40 sites around the country where giant clams (Tridacna spp.) are nurtured as part of a conservation program.
- For the local community, giant clams had long been a source of food, so there was initially some resistance to the program when it started in 2001.
- Today, the clam sanctuary has grown into an ecotourism venture that generates revenue for the community and employs local seniors, particularly women.
- However, the mollusks are threatened by rising ocean temperatures, declining salinity and other human-driven factors, leaving their fate — and that of the community that has come to depend on them — in the balance.


Top Mongabay beach reads for the ‘dog days’ of summer [07/30/2019]
- The name Mongabay derives from a tropical island off the coast of Madagascar, so we wanted to share some relaxing ‘beach reads’ for some easy reading, whether you are on holidays or not.
- The ‘dog days’ are that time each year when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises just before the sun, and ranges from July 3 to August 11. It also coincides with beach time holidays for many residents of the Northern Hemisphere.
- Here are a few top ‘beach reads’ our editors at Mongabay bureaus around the world suggest for our readers. Many more relaxing, good news stories can be found at our page that aggregates them all.


In Indonesia, a court victory for Bali’s ban on single-use plastics [07/26/2019]
- Indonesia’s top court has rejected a challenge to a ban on single-use plastics on the island of Bali.
- The ban was proposed last December and was subsequently challenged by plastic-recycling industry, which argued it would harm the livelihoods of manufacturers, recyclers, and trash pickers.
- The ruling potentially paves the way for other local governments around Indonesia to impose their own bans on plastic.
- The country is the number two source of the plastic waste that ends up in the oceans, behind only China, and has set itself the target of reducing that waste output by 70 percent by 2025.


Baby whale wears a camera, reveals its travel and nursing behavior: video [07/25/2019]
- A video taken by a camera carried by a baby whale shows underwater nursing behavior from the calf’s perspective.
- The CATS Cam camera used in the filming incorporates multiple environmental sensors, such as depth and temperature, as well as movement and acceleration by the calf.
- The unusual perspective may help researchers better understand the nursing process of a baby whale, including surfacing to breathe while its mother remains underwater and suckling from mammary slits on each side of its mom.


Newly described pocket shark likely glows in the dark [07/22/2019]
- Researchers have described a new species of pocket shark, a small shark measuring just 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) long, that possibly glows in the dark.
- The shark has been named the American pocket shark, or Mollisquama mississippiensis, in recognition of the biologically rich region in which it was discovered.
- Only two pocket sharks have ever been caught from the ocean. The previous specimen, M. parini, was collected from the eastern Pacific Ocean in 1979.
- The discovery of a new pocket shark species shows there is much more to learn about the Gulf of Mexico, researchers say.


Conservation tech prize with invasive species focus announces finalists [07/19/2019]
- The Con X Tech Prize announced its second round will fund 20 finalists, selected from 150 applications, each with $3,500 to create their first prototypes of designs that use technology to address a conservation challenge.
- Seven of the 20 teams focused their designs on reducing impacts from invasive species, while the others addressed a range of conservation issues, from wildlife trafficking to acoustic monitoring to capturing freshwater plastic waste in locally-built bamboo traps.
- Conservation X Labs (CXL), which offers the prize, says the process provides winners with very early-stage funding, a rare commodity, and recognition of external approval, each of which has potential to motivate finalists and translate into further funding.
- Finalists can also compete for a grand prize of $20,000 and product support from CXL.


June 2019 was the hottest on record: NOAA [07/19/2019]
- June 2019 was the hottest June recorded in the 140 years since the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began collecting global temperature data, the agency announced yesterday.
- On land, June’s global average surface temperature was 2.41 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average of 55.9°F, the highest June land temperature on record, beating the previous record set in 2015. At sea, average surface temperatures were 1.46 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century monthly average of 61.5 degrees Fahrenheit, tying June 2016 as the highest global average ocean temperature on record for June.
- 2019 also saw the second-smallest Arctic sea ice extent for the month of June in the 41-year record, according to an analysis of NOAA and NASA data by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. For the fourth consecutive June, Antarctic sea ice extent was also lower than average, reaching a mark 425,000 square miles, or 8.5 percent, below the 1981-2010 average.


U.S. Virgin Islands bans coral-damaging sunscreens [07/17/2019]
- On June 25, lawmakers in the U.S. Virgin Islands voted to ban common chemical sunscreen ingredients that can damage coral reefs.
- With the ban, the U.S. Virgin Islands joins a handful of other jurisdictions around the world pioneering action on harmful sunscreens.
- It will be the first such ban to take effect in the United States, followed by Hawaii and Key West, Florida, and among the first internationally.


Study examines how the Atlantic surfclam is successfully adapting to climate change [07/12/2019]
- Global climate change poses a severe threat to marine life, but scientists have found at least one species that appears to be successfully adapting to warmer ocean waters.
- A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that, even without factoring in the impacts of fishing, global animal biomass in Earth’s oceans is expected to decrease by as much as 17 percent by 2100 under a “high emissions” scenario that leads to 3-4 degrees Celsius of warming.
- However, a new study published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, shows that, as ocean temperatures rise, Atlantic surfclams, a large saltwater clam found mostly in the western Atlantic Ocean, are capably shifting their range into waters that would have previously been inhospitable to their survival.


Rattled by sardine stock crash, India begins regulating its fisheries [07/11/2019]
- In India, fishing has transformed over the decades from a small-scale artisanal practice into an increasingly industrialized sector, and catches have grown apace.
- The industry has largely gone unregulated, and yields have slowed in the past decade, including an unexpected and disruptive crash in the sardine catch.
- In response, India’s coastal states and central government have begun to take measures to make fishing more sustainable.
- The latest, and potentially the most important move, is the creation of the first ministry for fisheries just last month.


Audio: Listen to the first-ever recordings of right whales breaking into song [07/09/2019]
- On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Jessica Crance, a research biologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who recently discovered right whales singing for the first time ever.
- Gunshot calls made by right whales are exactly what their name suggests they are — loud, concussive bursts of noise. Perhaps that doesn’t sound terribly musical, but the critically endangered eastern population of North Pacific right whales appears to use gunshot calls in a repeating pattern — the first instance ever recorded of a right whale population breaking into song.
- Jessica Crance led the research team at NOAA that documented North Pacific right whales breaking into song in the Bering Sea. On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, Crance will play recordings of two different right whale song types and discuss what we know about why the critically endangered whales might be singing in the first place.


Film that fish: Stereo-video speeds surveys of marine fish communities [07/05/2019]
- Researchers use underwater visual surveys to assess the sizes of fish in marine communities and their associated habitats, but diver-based data collection is time-consuming and requires expertise, and results may vary among different data collectors.
- A multinational research team recently published the first guide to help researchers using diver-operated stereo-video methods (stereo-DOVs) to standardize surveys of fish assemblages (species and their abundances) and their associated habitat.
- The video provides a permanent, shareable record of each survey transect, including the species and numbers of fish seen, while the stereo option allows researchers to measure fish using overlapping images.
- The guide provides information on appropriate equipment; designing a stereo‐DOV if needed; operating it during underwater studies; processing the video data after collection; and analyzing fish behavior, population features and habitat in the resulting video.


Ocean currents spin a web of interconnected fisheries around the world [07/04/2019]
- Most marine catches are made within a given country’s territorial waters, but the fish most likely originated in spawning grounds in another country’s jurisdiction, a new study shows.
- The modeling of catch, spawning and ocean current data shows that the dispersal of baby fish caught by ocean currents creates an interconnection between global marine fisheries.
- The finding highlights the need for greater international cooperation in protecting marine ecosystems everywhere, as an estimated $10 billion worth of fish spawn in one country and are caught in another every year.


Was Sierra Leone’s one-month fishing ban enough to replenish fish stocks? [07/03/2019]
- The Sierra Leone government closed the country’s waters to fishing by industrial vessels during the entire month of April to give flagging fish stocks a chance to rebuild. During that period artisanal fishers were allowed to fish.
- Both industrial and artisanal fishers appeared to support the closure, the first of its kind, amid declining catches and an influx of virtually unregulated foreign fishing vessels.
- Officials declared the closure a success, as part of Sierra Leone’s broader effort to formalize and gain regulatory control of its fisheries.
- However, outside experts have expressed doubt that the move would do much to improve the state of the country’s fisheries.


New eDNA sampling system aims for cleaner, more efficient field research [07/02/2019]
- Researchers tested a new self-preserving filter housing system that automatically preserves eDNA from water samples, while reducing the risk of DNA contamination and plastic waste.
- Scientists who use eDNA currently rely on cumbersome cold storage or liquid preservatives and single-use sampling equipment to preserve their eDNA samples, which are highly sensitive to degradation as well as contamination.
- The new system incorporates a hydrophilic plastic material in its filter housing that physically pulls water from the sample without having to add chemicals.
- In a six-month test, it allowed data collectors to preserve samples quickly and easily, at ambient temperature and with far reduced plastic waste, preventing degradation for weeks and with slightly higher amounts of captured DNA than a standard method.


Japan resumes commercial whale hunting [07/02/2019]
- For years, Japan exploited a loophole in international rules to continue hunting whales despite being a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) bound by the commercial whaling moratorium that went into effect in 1986. The country has now quit the IWC altogether and resumed commercial whaling.
- The first minke whale caught under the country’s new commercial whaling program was landed yesterday at Kushiro port in northern Japan, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, a London-based NGO.
- IWC members Norway and Iceland are the only other countries on Earth that currently hunt whales commercially. But Iceland’s two whaling companies have announced that they’ll be sitting out the summer 2019 whaling season, meaning that, for the first time in 17 years, no whales will be caught in Iceland’s waters.


In India’s Sundarbans, communities shrink as their island sinks [07/01/2019]
- In India and Bangladesh, millions of people live in the Sundarbans islands and face losing their homes to rising seas caused by climate change.
- The region was the first in the world to record an unfolding climate refugee crisis as people fled an island lost to the sea. More islands remain at risk of succumbing to the rising waters.
- The government has long relied on building embankments to keep the seawater out, but in a report it co-wrote in 2014 it acknowledges that this measure is no longer sufficient.
- One expert calls for restoring the Sundarbans’ original mangrove habitats to both mitigate the impacts of rising seas and storm surges, and to serve as a carbon sink in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions.


Six endangered North Atlantic right whales died last month alone [07/01/2019]
- In June this year, six endangered North Atlantic right whales were spotted dead in Canadian waters, including a 40-year-old breeding grandmother, and a 34-year-old grandfather.
- With only some 400 North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) estimated to survive today, researchers and conservation groups are worried.
- Necropsies carried out so far suggest that some of the whales died from collisions with ships.
- Entanglement in fishing gear is another leading cause of death among this extremely threatened species of baleen whale.


What happens to an ecotourism town when the wildlife doesn’t show? [06/28/2019]
- Since the mid-1990s, the town of Donsol in the Philippines has based its economy around tourists viewing whale sharks.
- Whale sharks are migratory fish. And while they showed up in reliable numbers during the first decade of Donsol’s venture into shark tourism, their numbers have become highly unpredictable in the past decade for reasons still unknown.
- Tourism has declined as well, with 2018 registering the fewest visitor arrivals since whale shark tourism started. The local economy, which it had buoyed, is now flagging, although 2019 seems off to a strong start for both whale sharks and tourists.
- Wildlife tourism, by nature, is susceptible to biodiversity loss and changes in animal behavior; it places host communities on a thin line between profit and loss.


Researchers discover right whales singing for the first time ever [06/28/2019]
- Right whales — three species of large baleen whales in the genus Eubalaena — have never been known to sing. As far as scientists knew, right whale vocalizations consisted entirely of individual calls, as opposed to the repeated, patterned phrases of true whale songs.
- But according to a study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America this month, the extremely rare eastern North Pacific right whale appears to use its gunshot calls in a repeating pattern — the first instance ever recorded of a right whale population breaking into song.
- A research team with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) analyzed 17-years’-worth of data from autonomous recorders deployed in the Bering Sea and documented four distinct right whale song types at five different locations between the years 2009 and 2017.


Altered fish communities persist long after reefs bleach, study finds [06/28/2019]
- In a new study, bleached reefs in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles had fewer predators like snappers and groupers and more plant-eating fish such as parrotfish and rabbitfish.
- The researchers found that this change in the composition of fish species persisted for more than a decade and a half after bleaching occurred in 1998.
- Scientists expect bleaching events to occur more frequently as a result of climate change, making it likely that these shifts in fish communities will become permanent.


Southeast Asian countries pledge to tackle marine plastic waste crisis [06/27/2019]
- Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including some of the biggest producers of the plastic waste in the oceans, have declared their commitment to addressing the trash crisis.
- Together with China, the ASEAN members Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand account for half of the 8 million tons of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans each year.
- Any meaningful action to tackle the problem should focus on reducing the production of plastic to begin with, rather than dealing with the waste after the fact, an environmental activist says.
- A growing refusal by Southeast Asian countries to take in plastic waste from developed countries for processing could provide the impetus for action by the global community to cut back on plastic production.


Crackdown after Sri Lanka bombings may help in fight against blast fishing [06/26/2019]
- Sri Lanka’s fight against the destructive practice of blast fishing may be boosted by a nationwide security crackdown on explosives, instated in the wake of the April 21 Easter Sunday terrorist attacks that killed 259 people.
- The frequent use of dynamite to stun and kill fish is destroying Sri Lanka’s marine ecosystems, particularly its coral reefs, conservationists say.
- Experts say the crackdown shouldn’t focus only on the fishermen who use explosives, but also on the parties that sell the material to them.


Sponges supply DNA for new method of monitoring aquatic biodiversity [06/26/2019]
- Tracking environmental DNA (eDNA) is fast becoming a popular method of monitoring aquatic biodiversity, but current methods are expensive and cumbersome.
- Filter-feeding sponges can act as natural sieves to collect and concentrate eDNA from seawater.
- Using sponge samples collected from the Antarctic and the Mediterranean Sea, researchers identified 31 organisms, including fish, penguins, and seals, clearly separated by location.
- Although the method is still a proof of concept, it may lead to the development of simpler, less expensive technologies for aquatic eDNA collection.


Having taken a toll in Chile, salmon industry arrives in Argentina [06/25/2019]
- Argentina’s National Aquaculture Project, signed with Norway in March 2018, aims to spur the development of the salmon industry in Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago at the southern tip of South America.
- Environmentalists and scientists fear that errors committed on the Chilean side of Patagonia will be repeated, to the detriment of the environment on the Argentinian side.
- Among the environmental impacts of the Chilean salmon industry are escapee fish that become established as introduced species, pollution from farms’ waste food and feces, and the overuse of antibiotics.


Recreational divers help researchers track movements of rare stingray [06/18/2019]
- The smalleye stingray, thought to be widely distributed across the Indo-West Pacific, is rarely seen and is listed as “data deficient” on the IUCN Red List.
- By compiling photographs and videos of the stingrays taken opportunistically by both research teams and recreational divers over the last 15 years off the coast of Mozambique, the only place the giant rays are regularly spotted, researchers have created a photographic database of the animals.
- This database is now helping researchers gain some of the first insights into this elusive species. For example, researchers found that a female stingray had made a 400-kilometer (250-mile) round trip to birth her pups.


Canada passes ‘Free Willy’ bill to ban captivity of all whales, dolphins [06/11/2019]
- On June 10, Canada’s House of Commons passed a bill that bans the practice of keeping cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in captivity in the country.
- Bill S-203 also prohibits breeding of the animals and collecting reproductive materials from them. The only exceptions to these provisions will be in cases of rescues and rehabilitation, licensed scientific research, or “in the best interests of the cetacean’s welfare.”
- The legislation, also known as the “Free Willy” bill, allows Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland in Niagara Falls, the only two facilities in Canada that still house cetaceans, to continue to keep their animals as long as they do not breed or bring in any new individuals.


Caribbean nations boost protection for extremely rare largetooth sawfish [06/08/2019]
- On June 5, Caribbean countries agreed to boost protection for the largetooth sawfish by adding it to Annex II of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol under the Cartagena Convention.
- Plants and animals added to Annexes I and II of the SPAW Protocol are afforded the highest levels of protection, with countries falling within the Caribbean region committing to ban the collection, possession or killing of the species, prohibit their commercial trade, and take steps to reduce disturbances to the species.
- Experts have welcomed the measure, but say that SPAW countries must “follow through with their obligations to implement protections.”
- Legal protection aside, education and local community involvement is key to giving species like sawfish “a fighting chance,” experts say.


New pilot whale subspecies revealed: Q&A with marine biologist Amy Van Cise [06/07/2019]
- For centuries, Japanese seafarers have noted two distinct types of pilot whale in their waters: One with a squarish head and dark body, the other a bit bigger with a round head and a light patch on its back.
- The two types have long been officially classified simply as forms of the same species, short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), but a new genetic study finds that they are actually distinct subspecies.
- The finding is just the latest shake-up of the cetacean family tree after the discoveries of new whale species in recent years.
- Mongabay spoke with the new study’s lead author, Amy Van Cise, a marine biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, about the science of whale taxonomy and what her team’s discovery means for the conservation of short-finned pilot whales.


Healthy reefs, healthy people: Community-based marine conservation in Papua New Guinea (commentary) [06/07/2019]
- Marine resources play a vital role in food security for coastal communities across Papua New Guinea, which, after Australia, is the largest and most populated country in Oceania. The maintenance of marine ecosystem integrity (the health of these habitats) ensures the provision of the goods and services communities rely on, including seafood, medicine, coastal protection, and carbon capture.
- Today, these ecosystem services are in jeopardy — but a solution exists in working with local communities to reverse destructive trends.
- Although this community-focused approach takes time, effort, and money, it represents our best chance for long-term success.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Microplastics a key factor in Sri Lanka’s plunging fish stocks, survey shows [06/07/2019]
- Microplastics and overfishing are the leading causes of extensive marine pollution in Sri Lanka, a new survey has found.
- The survey, the first of its kind carried out in 40 years, showed that the island’s fish stock had dropped drastically by about 80 percent, in part due to high levels of microplastic contamination.
- The island’s northwestern seas recorded the highest levels of marine pollution, while seas to the east remain rich with marine life and should be made a conservation priority, researchers say.


Twice as many fishing vessels now, but it’s harder to catch fish [06/06/2019]
- The global fishing fleet has more than doubled from about 1.7 million boats harvesting fish in 1950 to 3.7 million fishing vessels in 2015.
- More fishing vessels have become motorized as well: while only 20 percent of the world’s fishing vessels were powered by motors in 1950, this number rose to 68 percent in 2015.
- The growing fishing fleet is, however, catching less seafood for the same effort.
- There are geographic variations: while Asia’s fishing fleet has dramatically increased over the past decades, catching fewer fish for the same effort, fleet sizes in North America and Western Europe shrank slightly, accompanied by an increase in fish catch per unit effort.


For artisanal fishers, fish fences are an easy, but problematic, option [06/05/2019]
- The widespread use of fish fences by fishing communities in tropical countries leads to extensive economic, social and environmental damage, a new study finds.
- The technique involves stringing a net along stakes typically set in an intertidal flat, where it traps fish as the tide goes out. But the practice results in the indiscriminate catch of juvenile fish, threatening the sustainability of fish stocks.
- In the area studied, in eastern Indonesia, the fences are also a source of social tension, where they’re the exclusive domain of the island-based ethnic group and denied to the seafaring Bajo community.
- The researchers have called for restrictions on the use of fish fences, but acknowledge that getting fishermen to start going out to sea to fish will be difficult, given the low risk and high convenience that fish fences afford.


Small-scale women seaweed farmers ride the rough tides of climate change [06/03/2019]
- The decline in fish catches in Palawan has spurred an interesting shift in society as the community’s women, previously reliant on their husbands’ income, play a greater role as breadwinners.
- Men hold most of the jobs in fishing, but more than half of the seaweed farmers in the province are women.
- Despite the growing demand for seaweed and the increasing participation of women in the industry, warming sea temperatures attributed to climate change are threatening seaweed farming.


New nets make shrimp trawling more sustainable in Latin America and Caribbean [06/03/2019]
- When fishers accidentally catch non-target species, they either sell the so-called bycatch or throw it back into the ocean, almost always dead.
- Newly invented nets have allowed shrimp trawlers to reduce bycatch by 20 percent.
- Globally, almost 10 million tons of potentially usable fish are thrown back into the ocean every year.


Brazil green-lights oil prospecting near important marine park [05/31/2019]
- In April, the president of Brazil’s environmental regulatory agency authorized the auction of seven offshore oil blocks located in highly sensitive marine regions.
- In doing so, he ignored technical recommendations made by his own environmental team — a first in the team’s 11-year history.
- The environmental team argued that if there were to be an oil spill, the contamination could affect the coasts of two Brazilian states, including the Abrolhos Marine National Park, which is considered the most biodiverse area in the South Atlantic.
- More broadly, the Brazilian Congress is also considering a bill that would profoundly change the way environmental authorizations are issued, abolishing the need for licenses for most farming and infrastructure activities and accelerating the procedure for other ventures.


Chile pledges to make its fishing vessel tracking data public [05/31/2019]
- In mid-May Chile finalized an agreement to publicly share proprietary data from its satellite system for monitoring fishing boats via Global Fishing Watch (GFW), an online interactive mapping platform that tracks ship movements across the globe.
- The country joins Indonesia and Peru, whose data already appear on the GFW platform, as well as Namibia, Panama and Costa Rica, which have pledged to do so.
- Countries are motivated to go public by the prospect of enhancing their ability to enforce fishing regulations, keep an eye on foreign fishing fleets operating outside or transiting through their waters, and, in Chile’s case, prevent the spread of disease in its salmon aquaculture industry.


Underwater ultrasound scanner to support manta conservation [05/28/2019]
- Researchers used a new contactless ultrasound device to scan reef manta rays in the wild, enabling them to assess the animals’ maturity and reproductive status underwater.
- The successful scanning of a pregnant female manta produced clear images of her fetus.
- By helping researchers better understand the factors that influence the timing and location of mantas’ breeding, the researchers say, the ultrasound technology can help them determine reproductive rates and guide manta conservation strategies.


For migrating songbirds, ‘baby shark’ is more than just an annoying tune [05/22/2019]
- Researchers who opportunistically examined the stomach contents of tiger sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico over eight years found that the sharks had been eating land-dwelling songbirds.
- The months during which the researchers encountered tiger sharks with birds in their guts coincided with the peak timings for coastal bird sightings for 11 species of songbirds, suggesting that the shark-bird interactions could be linked to the annual migration of these terrestrial birds.
- Surprisingly, most of the recorded shark-bird interactions occurred during the fall, when the migrating songbirds are about to start crossing the Gulf of Mexico and are presumably well-rested.
- The researchers speculate that unpredictable storms could be forcing the migratory birds to the water, making them easy prey, especially for baby tiger sharks that are yet to learn how to forage.


The health of penguin chicks points scientists to changes in the ocean [05/22/2019]
- A recent closure of commercial fishing around South Africa’s Robben Island gave scientists the chance to understand how fluctuations in prey fish populations affect endangered African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) absent pressure from humans.
- The researchers found that the more fish were available, the better the condition of the penguin chicks that rely on their parents for food.
- This link between prey abundance in the sea and the condition of penguin chicks on land could serve as an indicator of changes in the ecosystem.


Monitoring hack shines a light on fishing boats operating under cover of dark [05/17/2019]
- A new report shows that many of the fishing vessels that operate at night in Indonesian waters don’t broadcast their location, masking a potentially massive problem of illegal and undocumented fishing.
- Though many of these boats fall below the 30 gross tonnage threshold for which the use of the vessel monitoring system (VMS) is required, the study highlights the indication of “dark vessels” where larger boats have switched off the tracking device, likely to avoid detection.
- The researchers suggest that if the matching of two data sets in near real time becomes available, it would greatly help authorities identify these dark vessels and crack down on illegal fishing.


Extreme weather puts traditional livelihoods in peril in Sri Lanka, studies warn [05/17/2019]
- New assessments identify Sri Lanka’s northern region as a hotspot for climate change impacts, with the district of Jaffna named the top hotspot.
- The Global Climate Risk Index 2019 lists Sri Lanka as the second most impacted country in 2017 for having faced extensive losses due to climate catastrophes in a single year.
- With extreme weather events predicted to increase with rising levels of impact, the assessments call for rapid adaptation, particularly in terms of livelihoods vulnerable to an increasingly unpredictable climate.


Models, maps, and citizen scientists working to save the Great Barrier Reef [05/14/2019]
- As global warming drives more events that impact coral reefs, managing the Great Barrier Reef’s resilience demands comprehensive and detailed mapping of the reef bed.
- Available surveys and maps with geographically referenced field data have been limited and fragmented.
- A diverse research team recently demonstrated a successful approach, applying statistics to image data to build predictive models, integrate diverse datasets on reef conditions, and provide a comprehensive map of the Reef that informs reef management decisions.


Amid aquaculture boom, report guides investors toward sustainability [05/08/2019]
- More than half of all seafood now comes from farms, and that percentage is projected to rise.
- However, environmental problems currently bedevil the aquaculture industry, and a consensus on the most sustainable practices has yet to emerge.
- A new report released May 8 aims to guide the private sector, NGOs and policymakers toward better aquaculture strategies.
- In place of business-as-usual practices, the report advocates for three alternatives: a land-based aquaculture strategy called recirculating aquaculture systems; offshore fish farms; and seaweed and shellfish farming.


New map shows warming waters where coral reefs could be under threat [05/08/2019]
- A new interactive map can help you identify, in near-real-time, areas where the sea is warming up at alarming levels, increasing the risk of coral reef bleaching.
- The Coral Reefs at Risk of Bleaching Operations Dashboard, launched by Esri, a company that creates geographic information systems (GIS) and mapping software products, relies on data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch program.
- While the satellite data itself isn’t new, the way the data is displayed is more understandable for the general public, the tool’s developer says.
- The Esri map distills NOAA’s data and displays regions that are facing both high heat stress, increasing the risk of coral bleaching, such as those under Alert 1 and Alert 2 categories, as well as areas where the likelihood of coral bleaching is low or none at the moment, such as those under “Warning” and “Watch.”


Counting on eDNA for a faster, easier way to count coral [05/08/2019]
- Environmental DNA, known as eDNA, is genetic material sloughed off by animals or plants and found in soil, air, or water, and allows scientists to collect and analyze genetic material without having to retrieve it from a species directly.
- Researchers in Hawaii found that the amount of eDNA in water samples is related to coral abundance and thus can be used to conduct accurate surveys of local coral populations using less time and money than sending SCUBA divers down to do the surveys.
- Coral reefs have the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem globally and are one of the most threatened, thanks to climate change and direct human impact. eDNA could help researchers evaluate coral abundance and health more quickly, easily and cost-effectively.


’Unprecedented’ loss of biodiversity threatens humanity, report finds [05/07/2019]
- The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a summary of far-reaching research on the threats to biodiversity on May 6.
- The findings are dire, indicating that around 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction.
- The full 1,500-page report, to be released later this year, raises concerns about the impacts of collapsing biodiversity on human well-being.


Radio drama encourages Belizean fishers to follow the rules [05/06/2019]
- The Belizean radio show “Punta Fuego” teaches local fishing communities about fishing regulations.
- Listeners can phone in to the show’s “Talking Fuego” segment and interact with hosts and conservation experts.
- The show aims to earn fishers’ support for the expansion of “replenishment zones.” In April, the government approved these new strictly protected areas to give marine species a break from fishing pressure.
- Critics say the show doesn’t address a wider problem: fishers won’t follow regulations that the government does not enforce, even if they understand the purpose.


Mobile app encourages Indian fishers to free entangled whale sharks [05/01/2019]
- When whale sharks in waters off the Indian state of Gujarat get trapped in fishing nets, a new mobile app lets fishers easily document their release.
- Conservationists and fishers alike hope the app will speed up the compensation fishers receive for damaged nets.
- However, fishers say the compensation, a maximum of 25,000 rupees ($360), should be increased to reflect the true loss of their revenue during their downtime without nets.


Building the world’s biggest MPA: Q&A with Goldman winner Jacqueline Evans [04/30/2019]
- In July 2017, the South Pacific nation of the Cook Islands made a bold bid to convert its entire territorial waters, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), into a mixed-use marine protected area.
- Called Marae Moana, or “sacred ocean,” the MPA spans almost 2 million square kilometers (772,200 square miles), making it the biggest in the world, although only parts of it are strictly protected from fishing and other extractive activities.
- Jacqueline Evans, a marine conservationist, was the driving force behind the MPA.
- This week, Evans was awarded a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her work on Marae Moana.


Meet the winners of the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize [04/29/2019]
- This year is the 30th anniversary of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.
- Also called the Green Nobel Prize, the annual award honors grassroots environmental heroes from six continental regions: Europe, Asia, North America, Central and South America, Africa, and islands and island nations.
- This year’s winners are Alfred Brownell from Liberia, Bayarjargal Agvaantseren from Mongolia, Ana Colovic Lesoska from North Macedonia, Jacqueline Evans from the Cook Islands, Alberto Curamil from Chile, and Linda Garcia from the United States.


An epic Pacific survey reveals mixed fortunes for green and hawksbill turtles [04/29/2019]
- An expansive survey over 13 years of green turtles and hawksbill turtles found the population of the former rebounding in the Pacific Basin.
- Both these species are historically threatened by overexploitation, fishing bycatch and habitat loss, and are protected under CITES.
- While green turtle numbers remained stable or increased in the regions covered by the in-water survey, hawksbill turtle numbers remain low.
- Another major study released this week found that warming global temperatures impact cold-blooded marine animals, such as turtles, twice as much as terrestrial ectotherms.


Guns, Corals and Steel: Are Nuclear Shipwrecks a Biodiversity Hotspot? [04/28/2019]
- My team and I used deep technical diving techniques to explore the coral biodiversity of warships sunk in the 1946 nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll.
- Our surveys revealed that eight nuked warships harbored 27 percent of the world’s coral genera on their hulls, superstructures and armaments.
- At depths down to 55 meters (180 feet), these ships lie well below the 21st-century ocean warming danger zone.
- As a result, Bikini’s massive warships have become unexpected arks of coral biodiversity.


Weak governance undermines South America’s ocean ecosystems [04/26/2019]
- Illegal fishing, overfishing and pollution are common problems in the waters of South America.
- For instance, Ecuadoran small-scale fishing captures at least 250,000 sharks every year, most of them apparently illegally, and 62 percent of Chile’s fisheries are overexploited or depleted.
- But the overarching problem, the one that enables the rest, is weak governance, according to experts.
- This article encapsulates a series of stories by Mongabay Latam examining the state of the sea in Chile, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador.


Large emperor penguin colony suffers ‘catastrophic’ breeding failure [04/26/2019]
- Until recently, the emperor penguin colony at Halley Bay on the Weddell Sea in the Antarctic was one of the world’s largest, supporting between 14,000 to 25,000 breeding pairs, or around 5 to 9 percent of the bird’s global population.
- Since 2016, satellite images have shown that the colony has suffered a complete breeding failure, something that’s never been recorded before.
- This breeding failure started in 2016 when, following abnormal stormy weather, the sea ice broke up in October, long before the chicks had fledged and were ready to go out to sea. In 2017 and 2018, the sea ice broke up early too, leading to the likely death of all chicks.
- Around the same time, there was a massive increase in the numbers of emperor penguins at the Dawson-Lambton Glacier penguin colony 55 kilometers (34 miles) south of Halley Bay, suggesting that many of the emperor penguins from Halley Bay had moved to Dawson-Lambton.


Ocean winds, wave heights have increased around the world [04/25/2019]
- An analysis of 33 years’ worth of data finds that ocean winds and wave heights are becoming more extreme worldwide, with the Southern Ocean seeing the largest increases.
- In order to examine long-term trends, Ian Young and Agustinus Ribal of Australia’s University of Melbourne combined nearly 4 billion measurements of wind speeds and wave heights collected from 31 satellite missions between 1985 and 2018 and data from 80 ocean buoys deployed around the globe into a single, extensive dataset.
- The researchers found that there have been small increases in mean wind speed and wave height over the past 33 years, but they found stronger increases in extreme conditions, which they define in the paper as wind speed and wave height measurements that fall in the 90th percentile or above


Killer whale vs. great white? No contest — the shark always flees [04/25/2019]
- Both the great white shark and the killer whale or orca are fearsome top predators. But of the two massive animals, the killer whale may be the more formidable one, a new study has found.
- Researchers monitoring white sharks, lion seals and orcas around California’s Southeast Farallon Island have found that every time orcas pass through the area, the great white sharks vanish and don’t return to their hunting grounds until the next season.
- The researchers aren’t sure why the sharks move away as soon as orcas arrive. It could be because orcas may be targeting white sharks as prey, or the killer whales could be bullying their competition out of the way to gain access to the island’s elephant seals.


Indonesia trains its citizens to deal with sea-mammal strandings [04/24/2019]
- The waters around Indonesia serve as both a habitat and an important migratory route for dozens of species of whales, dolphins and porpoises.
- These cetaceans, however, are often found dead on Indonesian beaches, or alive but unable to return to deeper waters themselves.
- To prevent the deaths of marine mammals that strand themselves on its shores, the government has sought to establish a network of first responders equipped with the knowledge and training to deal with problem.
- Experts say what’s more important than providing an adequate response is to reduce the threats that lead to the strandings, including by improving the management of marine habitats and tackling pollution in the sea.


Bird flu in Namibia’s penguins wanes, after killing nearly 500 [04/24/2019]
- More than 450 African penguins, an IUCN-listed endangered animal, have died in an outbreak of bird flu on three islands off the coast of Namibia.
- The virus, H5N8, is thought to have been introduced to the colonies, which hold 96 percent of Namibia’s penguins, by another bird traveling from South Africa, where a similar outbreak occurred in 2018.
- The disease appears to be abating, and researchers are hopeful that the country’s penguins will recover.
- However, they continue to face threats from food shortages caused by overfishing and climate change.


Swelling amount of plastic in the ocean confirmed by new study [04/17/2019]
- A new study used log books from 60 years of plankton research to document the increase in the amount of plastic in the ocean.
- The study’s authors tabulated the entanglements of the continuous plankton recorder, a sampling device that’s towed behind ships, revealing a significant increase in plastic in the ocean since the 1990s.
- Scientists have long suspected such a trend but have been unable to demonstrate it with data until now.


Waters off Galápagos have way more alien species than previously known [04/16/2019]
- The waters off the Galápagos Islands have nearly 10 times more alien marine invertebrates than previously recorded, a new study has found.
- The study recorded a total of 53 non-native marine invertebrates (animals that lack a backbone, such as marine worms, sea squirts or moss animals) in the waters off two islands in the archipelago, up from five that were previously known.
- Researchers suspect there are many more non-native species present in the Galápagos waters that remain to be discovered.


Scientists urge overhaul of the world’s parks to protect biodiversity [04/11/2019]
- A team of scientists argues that we should evaluate the effectiveness of protected areas based on the outcomes for biodiversity, not simple the area of land or ocean they protect.
- In a paper published April 11 in the journal Science, they outline the weaknesses of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, which set goals of protecting 17 percent of the earth’s surface and 10 percent of its oceans by 2020.
- They propose monitoring the outcomes of protected areas that measure changes in biodiversity in comparison to agreed-upon “reference” levels and then using those figures to determine how well they are performing.


30 percent by 2030? Study maps out how to protect the world’s oceans [04/11/2019]
- Scientists have mapped out an enormous network of potential marine protected areas that cover more than one-third of the world’s oceans and represent all marine ecosystem categories.
- The proposed network is part of a wider movement to get countries to commit to protecting 30 percent of the oceans by 2030. Governments are already working toward an international pledge to protect at least 10 percent by 2020.
- The scientists released their report outlining the network on April 4, a day before the conclusion of the second round of negotiations at the United Nations toward a landmark treaty to address the ongoing decline of marine biodiversity on the high seas.


Russia plans to release nearly 100 belugas, orcas from icy ‘whale jail’ [04/10/2019]
- Russian authorities have announced that they will release all 97 whales currently being held captive in Russia’s Far East.
- The whales made news in November last year when an aerial drone video showed several of them cramped inside small, rectangular sea pens at Srednyaya Bay, which the local media labeled a “whale jail.”
- The initial video showed some 90 belugas and 11 killer whales or orcas in the pens, caught by four companies that allegedly planned to illegally sell the animals to Chinese aquariums and amusement parks. Experts believe some of the whales may have since died.


Indonesia creates three marine protected areas within Coral Triangle [04/10/2019]
- Indonesia has designated three new marine protected areas (MPAs) in the waters of eastern North Maluku province.
- The new protected zones are expected to improve the local fisheries sector and support national food security.
- The establishment of the areas is part of the government’s target to create 200,000 square kilometers (77,200 square miles) of MPAs by 2020; it has already achieved 96 percent of that goal.


Belize to nearly triple area under strict marine protected areas [04/08/2019]
- The government of Belize has approved a plan to expand its marine areas designated as no-take zones from 4.5 percent to 11.6 percent of its total waters.
- Much of the expansion will cover deep-sea areas at depths ranging from 200 to 3,000 meters (660 to 9,850 feet), currently underrepresented in Belize’s system of marine protected areas, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
- The expansion will also include a no-take area in Belize’s exclusive economic zone, covering an extensive coral reef complex known as the Corona Reef.


Fishing for sharks in Honduras’s sanctuary seas: Q&A with biologist Gabriela Ochoa [04/08/2019]
- In 2011, Honduras declared the creation of a shark sanctuary encompassing all its waters.
- A 2016 decree allows for the sale of sharks caught incidentally, but in the absence of monitoring and inspection, hundreds of sharks are still being caught daily during certain seasons to supply an Easter-time demand for dried fish.
- Mongabay spoke with marine biologist and conservationist Gabriela Ochoa, who studies Honduras’s ongoing shark fishery, about the trade.


Indonesia oil slicks highlight weak enforcement against bilge dumping [04/05/2019]
- An environmental monitoring group has published reports saying that two ships have been pumping their waste oil out to sea, in a process known as bilge dumping, off the coast of Sumatra.
- The findings are based on a combination of satellite imagery of the slicks, which extend a total of 135 kilometers (84 miles), and tracking data from the ships.
- Activists say these findings highlight just how common bilge dumping is in Indonesian waters, and the lack of enforcement against the practice.
- Officials had not commented on the matter as of the time this story was published.


‘Plastic Soup:’ Photos and Q&A with author of new book documenting plastic pollution and solutions [04/03/2019]
- Earth’s oceans are drowning in plastic. Humans created 311 million metric tons of the stuff in 2014, and it is expected that we’ll be making four times as much by 2050 — yet only about 5 percent of plastic is currently recycled. It’s been estimated that 8 million metric tons of the plastic that goes to waste is dumped into our oceans every year — which is equivalent to a full garbage truck of plastic being dumped into the oceans every minute.
- In a series of stunning photos and informative graphics, new book Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution documents the plastic pollution crisis engulfing Earth’s seas, the impacts of that pollution on wildlife and people, and initiatives that have been created to tackle the problem.
- The book, set to be published tomorrow by Island Press, was written by Michiel Roscam Abbing, a political scientist who reports on the latest scientific research around plastics for the Plastic Soup Foundation. Mongabay spoke with Abbing via email to get a sneak peek at what’s in the book, including a handful of its most compelling images and graphics.


To stop extinctions, start with these 169 islands, new study finds [04/02/2019]
- New research shows that culling invasive, non-native animals on just 169 islands around the world over roughly the next decade could help save almost 10 percent of island-dwelling animals at risk of extinction.
- A team of scientists surveyed nearly 1,300 islands where 1,184 threatened native animals have collided with 184 invasive mammals.
- Their analyses gave them a list of 107 islands where conservationists could start eradication projects by 2020, potentially keeping 80 threatened species from sliding closer to extinction.


Solomon Islands: Oil stops spilling but environmental toll still being calculated [04/02/2019]
- On Feb. 5, a Hong Kong-based bulk carrier, the MV Solomon Trader, ran aground off a remote island in the Solomon Islands. It spilled heavy fuel across coastal waters, beaches and a sensitive coral reef system not far from a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- On March 18, the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office reported that salvage experts have finally stabilized the beleaguered ship and stopped the fuel leak.
- An estimated 80 metric tons (88 tons) of heavy fuel oil escaped from the ship, but the government maintains that the full environmental impact of the spill remains to be determined.
- The Solomon Islands government, aided by Australia, began a cleanup operation in early March that continues.


Crab season to be cut short in California to protect whales and turtles [04/01/2019]
- A settlement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will close California’s Dungeness crab fishery three months early in 2019 to reduce the chances that whales and other sea life will become entangled in fishing gear.
- The crabbing season in 2020 and 2021 will also be shuttered early in places where high concentrations of whales come to feed in the spring, such as Monterey Bay.
- Conservationists applauded the changes, saying that they will save animals’ lives.
- The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations was also involved in hammering out the settlement, and its representative said that the new rules, while “challenging,” would help the industry move toward a “resilient, prosperous, and protective fishery.”


Suspected totoaba poachers shot by authorities in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez [03/29/2019]
- Three suspected totoaba poachers were reportedly shot yesterday by Mexican marines following a confrontation over illegal gillnets that had been confiscated.
- According to local news outlet Fronteras, the governor of the Mexican state of Baja California, Francisco Vega, has confirmed that three people were injured in a shootout between suspected poachers and Mexican marines early Thursday morning in San Felipe, a small fishing town on the coast of the Sea of Cortez.
- Gillnets are a piece of fishing tackle that have been banned in the Sea of Cortez because vaquita, a small porpoise considered the most endangered mammal on the planet, become entangled in them and drown. It is believed there are only 10 vaquita left in the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Upper Gulf of California, the vaquita’s only known range.


Global analysis of coral bleaching finds equatorial reefs less impacted by ocean warming [03/28/2019]
- As rising sea surface temperatures drive more frequent and more intense coral bleaching episodes around the world, global models have often predicted that few healthy coral reefs will remain in tropical oceans a century from now. But a new study finds that coral reefs at or near Earth’s equator are actually impacted less by ocean warming than other corals.
- The global coral survey that informed the study included more than 3,300 study sites in 81 countries and was performed by U.S.-based NGO Reef Check between 1998 and 2017.
- The researchers’ results show that coral bleaching was most common in areas that experienced anomalously high water temperatures most frequently. They also showed that coral bleaching was much less common in areas with high variability in sea surface temperatures, and that, over the last decade, coral bleaching has occurred at temperatures about 0.5 ° Celsius higher than in the previous decade.


Fishery on the brink: The fight to save the Nassau grouper [03/28/2019]
- The Nassau grouper, a commercially valuable reef fish found in the Caribbean, is now listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.
- Nassau groupers migrate yearly to breed at massive gatherings known as spawning aggregations, where they are an easy target for fishers.
- Fisheries management officials say they often lack the resources to enforce fishing regulations, leaving the Nassau grouper’s spawning aggregations vulnerable to illegal harvest in Belize and throughout the region.


New research teases apart complex effects of naval sonar on whales [03/28/2019]
- A pair of recent studies shows the unique responses of different whales to sonar, typically used by navies to detect submarines.
- Sonar sounds have been linked to hearing loss, deadly mass strandings and interference with whales’ communication with each other.
- One of the studies found that the distance the whales were from sonar sounds didn’t matter — they generally fled whether they were close to or far from it.
- Another study showed that sonar affected the feeding patterns of deep-diving blue whales, but not those that were feasting on krill at the surface.


Ocean acidification could impact Atlantic cod populations more severely than previously thought [03/27/2019]
- A 2016 study determined that, at the ocean acidification levels expected by the end of the century if we do nothing to draw down CO2 emissions, twice as many cod larvae will die within their first 25 days, causing the number of cod who reach maturity and reproduce to drop by 8 and 24 percent for the Western Baltic and Barents Sea populations, respectively.
- Scientists hoped that those cod who managed to reach maturity might be helping the species adapt to the conditions brought on by global climate change. But new research appears to have dashed those hopes.
- The new study, which was published in the journal Global Change Biology last month, found that surviving cod larvae suffer significant organ damage and developmental delays that could cause problems throughout their lifetimes.


Ascension, the Atlantic ‘Galápagos,’ to get massive marine reserve [03/27/2019]
- The British government has announced the creation of a fully protected “no-take” marine protected area (MPA) in the waters around Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean.
- The MPA will cover 443,000 square kilometers (171,000 square miles), making it one of the largest MPAs in the Atlantic.
- The British government has joined calls for the protection of 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030.


Study maps where tunas, sharks and fishing ships meet [03/25/2019]
- By analyzing the trails of 933 fishing vessels and more than 800 sharks and tunas in the northeast Pacific, researchers have identified regions where the two tend to overlap in a new study.
- While the ships could be traced back to 12 countries, most that operated within the high seas part of the study region belonged to just five countries: Taiwan, China, Japan, Mexico and the United States.
- The study found that 4 to 35 percent of all the species’ core habitats overlapped with commercial fishing ships. But where they overlapped differed: for species like the salmon shark, most of the overlap occurred within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or domestic waters of the U.S. and Canada, while 87 percent of blue shark overlap with fishing occurred in the high seas
- Such fish-fishing overlap maps would be particularly useful for guiding fisheries management in the high seas, researchers say.


Latam Eco Review: Pumas hate disco and Ecuador’s newly described glass frog [03/23/2019]
Ecuador’s most recently described glass frogs, a model plan for coastal management in Colombia, and using lights to scare away pumas in Chile were among the top recent stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Colombia: Integrated coastal management protects local species and culture A fisheries zoning plan is protecting both local species and artisanal fishing […]

World’s fastest shark, and many others, edge toward extinction [03/23/2019]
- Seventeen species of sharks and rays have joined the list of those threatened with extinction, according to the latest updates from the Shark Specialist Group (SSG) of the IUCN, which recently assessed the population trends of 58 shark and ray species.
- Among them is the shortfin mako, the world’s fastest known shark, whose threat status has been uplisted from vulnerable to endangered, as well as its cousin, the longfin mako.
- Three shark species — the Argentine angelshark, whitefin swellshark and smoothback angelshark — have been uplisted to critically endangered from lower threat categories.


‘Managed resilience’ not a successful strategy for conserving coral reefs, researchers find [03/22/2019]
- Coral reefs in protected areas that regulate fishing and pollution have declined to the same extent as reef systems in unprotected areas, according to recent research.
- The study, published in the Annual Review of Marine Science in January, determined that ocean warming is the primary cause of the global decline of reef-building corals.
- The researchers behind the study say their findings are consistent with a growing body of evidence that shows so-called “managed resilience” efforts, such as controls on fishing and pollution, don’t help coral reefs cope with the impacts of climate change.


Chilean law pits indigenous people against salmon industry [03/20/2019]
- Last fall, Chile’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the indigenous community of Pu Wapi in its quest to manage 80 square kilometers (31 square miles) of marine habitat in southern Chile.
- The ruling means that local officials must reconsider the community’s application to designate a so-called Coastal Marine Space of Native Origin (ECMPO in its Spanish initials).
- The law enabling indigenous communities to establish ECMPOs has been questioned for prioritizing the demands of native peoples over those of other users in coastal areas, with the salmon fishing and aquaculture industry a particularly vocal opponent.


Sea otters leave behind unique archaeological traces, study finds [03/20/2019]
- Sea otters are the only marine mammals known to use stone tools. Now, a new study has found that by striking shells on rocks, sea otters leave behind distinct archaeological signatures.
- These marks can be used to trace sea otters in locations where they are now extinct.
- The study also found clear damage patterns on mussel shells left around the stationary rocks. These shell break patterns provide a new way to distinguish the evidence of sea otter food consumption from that of humans, researchers say.


Indonesia wins $2.52 million settlement for coral damage by foreign ships [03/19/2019]
- In 2017, two foreign-flagged ships struck coral reefs in the Bangka-Belitung archipelago off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, damaging more than 18,000 square meters (4.5 acres) of reefs.
- The Indonesian government announced this month that it had reached a settlement with the operators of both ships, who have agreed to pay a combined $2.52 million for the damage.
- The government says it will allocate a third of the money to direct restoration efforts for the damaged reefs, while the rest will be collected as state revenue.


Tear down the dams: New coalition strives to enshrine rights of orcas [03/19/2019]
- A new coalition of scientists, indigenous peoples, community groups and lawyers is pushing for legal recognition of the rights of an endangered orca population living in the Salish Sea.
- The population, known as the Southern Resident Killer Whales, numbers just 75 individuals, down from 98 in 1995.
- The orcas are imperiled by noise and chemical pollution, the impending construction of Canada’s Trans-Mountain pipeline, and, most of all, severe salmon shortages caused by the damming of the rivers that feed into the sea.


Possible vaquita death accompanies announcement that only 10 are left [03/18/2019]
- The environmental organization Sea Shepherd said it found a dead vaquita in a gillnet on March 12.
- One day later, scientists from the group CIRVA announced that around 10 — as many as 22 or as few as six — vaquitas survive in the Gulf of California.
- Despite a ban on gillnets used catch totoaba, a fish prized for its swim bladders used in traditional Chinese medicine, vaquita numbers have continued to decline.


Indonesia’s tuna fisheries seek out sustainability certification [03/15/2019]
- One tuna fishing operation in Indonesia has been certified for its sustainable practices, and at least a dozen more are seeking similar certification to meet growing global demand for eco-labeled seafood.
- Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of tuna, but its fisheries have long been plagued by poaching and destructive fishing practices.
- NGOs working with local fishing communities have called on the government to do more to support the drive toward sustainable fishing certification, given the costs of undergoing the necessary assessment and implementing operational changes.


‘Like seeing a dinosaur’: Scientists locate mystery killer whales [03/14/2019]
- For years, there have been stories and photographs of “odd-looking” killer whales lurking in some of the roughest parts of the sub-Antarctic seas.
- Named Type D killer whales, these whales are quite different from regular killer whales: they’re smaller, their heads are more rounded, they have considerably smaller white eye patches, and their dorsal fins are narrower with sharp pointed tips.
- Now, researchers have finally located and filmed a group of these mysterious Type D killer whales off the tip of southern Chile.
- They have also collected tiny bits of tissues from the animals that they hope to use to analyze the whales’ DNA to see if they’re actually new to science.


Putting the Blue in the Green New Deal (commentary) [03/13/2019]
- The Green New Deal (GND) is a U.S. resolution that aims to address economic inequality and global warming through a set of proposed economic stimulus projects.
- As nearly half of the U.S. populace lives in or near coastal areas, the GND needs to prioritize the sustainable use and preservation of the marine environment – called the “blue economy.”
- David Helvarg of Blue Frontier and Jason Scorse of the International Environmental Policy Program and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies suggest a series of policy and investment priorities for incorporation of the blue economy into the GND.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Genetic test reveals Baltic flounder migration routes and a new species [03/13/2019]
- Look-alike flounders in the Gulf of Finland are not one but two different species, and the predominant species about thirty years ago has now almost completely disappeared from there.
- Using flounder inner ear samples collected over the last 40 years, researchers used a genetic test to map the distribution of the two species over time.
- The disappearance of one species in the early ‘90s coincided with environmental change in the central Baltic Sea, the spawning grounds from where larvae or juveniles are thought to migrate to more northern waters off the Finnish coast.
- Real-time monitoring of catch data using the genetic test may help target individual conservation efforts for the two species.


For fisheries activists, Indonesian candidates offer little to work with [03/13/2019]
- Neither of Indonesia’s presidential candidates has articulated a strong position on boosting sustainable management of the country’s fisheries or empowering small-scale fishermen, activists say.
- The incumbent, Joko Widodo, has rolled out policies aimed at cracking down on illegal fishing by foreign vessels, but has fallen short on measures to empower local fishermen, according to the critics.
- His rival, Prabowo Subianto, has framed his fisheries policy in the context of resource nationalism, while his proposed programs to support fishing communities are a rehash of what’s already being done.
- Fishing communities also face threats to their livelihoods from coastal development projects for land reclamation, mining, and tourism.


Flip-flop-clad boat brings plastic recycling message to East African coast [03/08/2019]
- In January, the Flipflopi, a boat built of recycled plastic, set sail on a 500-kilometer (310-mile) voyage along the East African coast.
- The purpose? To raise awareness about ocean pollution and call for the repurposing of, and a possible ban on, single-use plastics.
- Globally, research on and attention to marine plastic pollution is mounting, showing that microplastics travel up the food chain, and that marine life and people alike are being exposed to microplastics through their food.


Seahorse trade continues despite export bans, study finds [03/08/2019]
- Many countries with export bans on seahorses are still trading in the tiny animals, a new study has found.
- Traders in Hong Kong, the world’s largest importer of dried seahorses, told researchers that their stocks of dried seahorses for 2016-17 had mostly come from Thailand, the Philippines, mainland China, Australia, India, Malaysia and Vietnam — most of these countries have export bans in place.
- Much of the seahorse trade seems to persist despite the bans largely because of indiscriminate fishing practices like trawling that catch millions of seahorses every year while targeting other fish species.
- This suggests that both outright bans on the seahorse trade as well as trade restrictions under CITES aren’t being enforced effectively.


Something smells fishy: Scientists uncover illegal fishing using shark tracking devices [03/07/2019]
- Sharks become unlikely detectives as marine ecologists discover a link between their acoustic telemetry data and the presence of illegal fishing vessels.
- Researchers acoustically tagged 95 silvertip and grey reef sharks to assess whether the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Marine Protected Area was helping to protect these species.
- Detailed in a recently released paper, the almost simultaneous loss of 15 acoustic tags coincided with the capture of two illegal fishing vessels, arrested for having 359 sharks on board.
- While helping to map sharks’ movements around the reef, scientists expect that they will be able to use data collected from the acoustic tags to predict the presence of illegal fishing vessels.


New MPA established in Philippines includes community-led monitoring program [03/07/2019]
- A new marine protected area (MPA) has been founded in the Philippines within what are considered some of the most biologically diverse waters on Earth.
- The new MPA, which has been given the name Pirasan, encompasses more than 54 acres (about 22 hectares) of thriving coral reef habitat. The MPA was designed to protect this pristine reef system and, at the same time, boost an emerging local ecotourism industry.
- In addition to establishing the new protected area, the municipality of Tingloy has committed to a uniquely ambitious two-year program to monitor the reef’s health and empower local residents as stewards of the reef.


You’re gonna need a smaller boat: Media obscures shrinking ‘newsworthy’ fish [03/05/2019]
- The sizes of certain species of fish that qualify as “newsworthy” have diminished over time, a new study has found.
- The authors scoured English-language newspapers going back to 1869, searching for terms like “massive” and “giant” in mentions of noteworthy fish landings, and compared the reported lengths with the largest specimens on record for that species.
- They found that for some “charismatic megafish,” such as whale sharks and manta rays, the size that qualified as large has declined over time.
- That shifting baseline could pose a problem for conservation efforts because it gives the impression that “there are still a lot of very large fish in the sea,” marine ecologist Isabelle Côté said.


Our brains can lead us astray when making ‘eco-friendly’ decisions [03/04/2019]
- Humans rely on a set of cognitive tools, developed to help us sustain interpersonal relationships, to govern our choices that affect the global climate, a pair of psychologists suggests.
- People who purchase food with “eco-friendly” labeling might be apt to buy more of it thinking of it as an offset, when, in reality, all consumption has a climate cost.
- The team suggests that more accurate labeling could help consumers understand which choices are “less bad” rather than “good” for the environment.




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