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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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 month 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.


Vaquita still doomed without further disruption of totoaba cartels (commentary) [02/28/2019]
- According to our sources on the ground in Baja California, recent arrests of totoaba traffickers in China and pressure on the Chinese traders in Mexico are beginning to have an effect on the illegal totoaba supply chain.
- This is the most important news for the vaquita, the world’s smallest and most threatened porpoise, in years, and a result of — and proof that — intelligence activities and law enforcement can disrupt these criminal enterprises and significantly slow their illegal operations. Intelligence operations produce results.
- Without these efforts aimed at direct disruption of the supply chain itself and the operations of the wildlife crime networks involved, there is absolutely no chance to win the war in the Sea of Cortez, save the vaquita, and save the rest of the region’s extraordinary marine life.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Blue whales remember best times and places to find prey [02/26/2019]
- A new study demonstrates that blue whales in the northern Pacific Ocean use their memories, instead of cues in the environment, to guide them to the best feeding spots.
- The researchers used 10 years of data to discern the movements of 60 blue whales.
- They compared the whales’ locations with spots with high concentrations of prey over the same period.
- The whales’ reliance on memory could make them vulnerable to changes in the ocean brought about by climate change.


AI and public data identifies fishing behavior to protect hungry seabirds [02/22/2019]
- In an effort to reduce albatross deaths as bycatch of longline fishing, Global Fishing Watch (GFW) and Birdlife International researchers are using machine learning models to determine if fishing vessels are setting their lines at night, a recommended technique to avoid accidentally killing albatrosses.
- Mapping fishing vessel behavior involved training new models to recognize when a long-line ship is setting its line.
- This new application broadens the range of GFW’s toolkit to combine machine learning and public data to protect marine wildlife and better manage fisheries.
- Results of the new algorithm formed the basis of a January 2019 regulatory decision by the South Pacific Regional Management Organization.


Plastics found in dolphins, seals, and whales in UK waters [02/21/2019]
- In a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports last month, a research team from the UK’s University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory detailed their findings after studying the digestive tracts of 50 individuals from 10 species of dolphins, seals, and whales that had been stranded on the coast of Britain.
- “Microplastics were ubiquitous with particles detected in every animal examined,” the authors of the study write.
- Just 5.5 microplastic particles were found in each animal, on average, which suggests that the particles might be simply passing through the marine mammals’ bodies, the researchers said. But the animals’ stomachs were found to contain more microplastics than their intestines, pointing to “a potential site of temporary retention,” they added.


Corruption-riddled caviar trade pushes fish closer to extinction [02/18/2019]
- TRAFFIC, WWF and several other organizations and institutions have published a report demonstrating that corruption drives the illegal trade of caviar around the world.
- Many of the species of fish, including those that produce the highest-priced caviar, are critically endangered.
- The report’s authors surfaced evidence of bribery, conflicts of interest, poaching and improper labeling in the industry, all of which are putting further pressure on the resource.


Wisdom, world’s oldest known wild bird, is a mother again at 68 [02/13/2019]
- Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, is believed to be at least 68 years old and is the world’s oldest known wild bird.
- She returned to her regular nesting site in Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, located within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the northern Pacific, in November last year, and her new chick hatched earlier this month.
- Millions of Layson albatrosses were slaughtered in the early 1900s for their feathers, which were used in hats in Europe. That makes Wisdom’s contribution to the species’ regeneration important as it recovers from the large-scale hunting, biologists say.


Nicaragua crisis takes an environmental toll with plunder of turtle eggs [02/13/2019]
- Residents of communities around Nicaragua’s La Flor Wildlife Refuge raided some 2,000 turtle nests and killed at least six turtles during the summer of 2018, a conservation NGO says.
- The scale of the theft was exacerbated by an ongoing political and security crisis that has left the refuge devoid of rangers and military patrols.
- The country’s first lady has launched an “I love turtles” media campaign, but critics are skeptical about how effective it will be.


What’s in a name? The role of defining ‘wilderness’ in conservation [02/07/2019]
- In a recent opinion piece published in the journal Nature, several ecologists question recent efforts to delineate areas of wilderness and intactness around the world to define conservation targets.
- They argue that it would be better to build broadly supported consensus that includes the perspectives of local and indigenous communities.
- But the leader of a team that recently mapped out the remaining wilderness on land and in the ocean said that identifying these areas and developing new targets that incorporate their conservation is critical because current international agreements do not prioritize their protection.


Fries with that shark? U.K. chippies found selling threatened species [02/06/2019]
- Researchers tested DNA from tissue samples collected from fish-and-chip shops and fishmongers in the U.K. and found that majority originated from the threatened spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias), frequently sold under generic names like rock, huss, and rock salmon.
- The study also analyzed shark fins from wholesalers in the U.K., and found that many of them had come from the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark.
- Seafood should come with accurate, complete species information for consumers to make informed choices, the researchers write, instead of ambiguous, “umbrella” terms that cover multiple species.


Conservation groups press world leaders to protect 30% of the planet [02/05/2019]
- Thirteen nature conservation organizations are urging world leaders to back a plan to protect 30 percent of the world’s surface and oceans by 2030.
- Recent research has shown that less than a quarter of the world’s wilderness still remains.
- The group released a statement as negotiators were meeting in Japan to begin drafting a plan to meet that goal.


Tech prize encourages solutions to threats from invasive species [02/04/2019]
- The second round of the Con X Tech Prize offers 20 awards of $3,500 each, plus the chance to win the $20,000 grand prize, to help beginning inventors develop their ideas for solving conservation problems into prototypes.
- The challenge particularly encourages interdisciplinary teams to generate technological ideas to address the threats to economies and ecosystems from invasive species, though it welcomes submissions to help other conservation challenges as well.
- Teams must submit their proposals by March 13, 2019 to the Conservation X Labs Digital Makerspace.


Indigenous peoples unite in fight to heal the Salish Sea [02/01/2019]
- Indigenous communities on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border have called for a moratorium on a proposed port terminal in British Columbia and for a cumulative environmental assessment to be carried out.
- The communities fear an increase in ship traffic will be the final nail in the coffin of a local orca population that is already under severe stress.
- The Lummi Nation, on the U.S. side of the border, faced a similar fight in 2016, when they succeeded in blocking the construction of a coal port in Washington state.


Deadly disease and warming ocean are wiping out a key starfish species [01/31/2019]
- The mysterious sea star wasting disease has caused massive declines of the sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), a major predator within kelp forests in the Northeast Pacific.
- The widespread decline of the starfish, especially in deeper waters, has been particularly shocking, researchers say, because it means that the animals have not been able to take refuge in deep waters as people had expected.
- The study found that the occurrence of the largest declines in the sunflower sea star numbers coincided with abnormally high sea surface temperatures, suggesting that warming oceans due to climate change could have exacerbated the disease’s impact.
- The collapse of the sunflower sea star could have cascading effects on the ecosystem: the sea star is a major predator of sea urchins, and without the sea stars to keep a check on the urchin population, the latter would feast on the kelp forests, leaving behind a barren seascape.


Warmer waters shrink krill habitat around Antarctica [01/30/2019]
- A new study has found that fewer young krill are surviving to adulthood around Antarctica as ocean temperatures have risen in the Southern Ocean in the past few decades.
- The researchers, who looked at decades of data on krill body lengths and abundance, found that the highest densities of krill had shifted southward by some 440 kilometers (273 miles) since the 1920s.
- The scientists note that the findings could alter food webs in the Southern Ocean.
- Currently, the internationally managed krill fishery does not take the location and size of the krill population into account.


Climate change is making waves stronger and putting coastlines at risk [01/29/2019]
- According to research published in the journal Nature Communications this month, the energy of ocean waves has grown over the past seven decades, which could have significant implications for coastal communities and ecosystems.
- The energy in ocean waves is transmitted from the wind. As the upper ocean has warmed, wind patterns have been affected globally, resulting in stronger ocean waves. The researchers behind the Nature Communications study say they found a long-term trend of wave power increasing globally in direct association with historical warming of the ocean surface.
- The researchers say their results show that global wave power could be used as an indicator of global warming similar to how atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration levels, global sea level rise, or global surface atmospheric temperatures are used now.


After a year of no babies, 3 right whale calves spotted off U.S. coast [01/24/2019]
- After a year of no reported births, whale surveying teams have observed three North Atlantic right whale calves so far during the 2018-2019 calving season, off the coast of Florida, U.S.
- Researchers photographed the first calf in late December last year, followed by a second calf on Jan. 13 and a third baby on Jan. 17.
- The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered species of whales in the world, with their numbers dropping due to a combination of human-caused factors like collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear, as well as a declining birth rate.


As animal tagging goes cutting-edge, ethical questions abound [01/24/2019]
- An increasing number of animal tracking devices, known as biologgers, also measure environmental variables such as sound, temperature, and ocean salinity.
- Data from biologgers complement information on an animal’s movements and help scientists understand its environment, but can have measurable effects on the animal’s behavior or reproduction.
- As the field of biologging rapidly grows, scientists are trying to develop ethical frameworks for applying devices to wild animals.


A ‘FitBit for squid’ could help track the ocean’s squishier species [01/21/2019]
- The ITAG, a neutrally buoyant sensor device for soft-bodied invertebrates, is currently in development through joint research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Monterey Bay Aquatic Research Institute.
- The device has shown success in tracking animals such as squid and jellyfish as they respond to environmental changes.
- The casing is 3D printable, and the electronics array will be open-sourced, so scientists may quickly develop tracking devices for other marine invertebrates previously difficult to monitor.
- The current ITAG versions are smaller and more easily retrievable than a 2015 prototype, but researchers are still working to bring the size down and the retrieval rates up.


Solomon Islands province bans logging in bid to protect environment [01/21/2019]
- The leaders of Central Island province, part of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, have decided not to issue new business licenses to logging and mining companies following a local petition and recent reports detailing the lack of sustainability and legality in the country’s logging sector.
- Local and international organizations have blamed unsustainable and corrupt logging practices for destroying the islands’ sensitive habitats and creating civil strife among the people who live there.
- Provincial governments in the Solomon Islands lack the power to block logging outright, leading Central Island province to take the licensing approach to stop new operations.


Antarctica now shedding ice six times faster than in 1979 [01/14/2019]
- Antarctica’s ice is melting about six times faster than it was in the late 1970s.
- Between 1979 and 2017, melting ice caused the global sea level to rise by around 14 millimeters (0.55 inches).
- The pace at which ice is melting is also increasing: Through 1990, the continent lost 40 billion metric tons (44 billion tons) per year; between 2009 and 2017, that figure jumped to 252 billion metric tons (278 tons) annually.


Latam Eco Review: Resistance, hope and camera traps [01/11/2019]
The recent top stories from Mongabay Latam, our Spanish-language service, include a call to cover climate change, the dangers of opposing Colombia’s largest hydropower plant, and the most inspiring conservation news of 2018. ‘We are not doing enough’: 25 media groups commit to cover climate change “Journalists across the continent have a profound obligation to […]

Ocean warming projected to accelerate more than four-fold over next 60 years: Study [01/10/2019]
- 2017 currently holds the record for hottest ocean temperatures, but, according to a new study, 2018 is likely to take the top spot as hottest year on record for Earth’s oceans as global warming’s impacts accelerate.
- The mean speed of ocean warming over the past 60 years, from roughly 1958 to 2017, was 5.46 zettajoules per year, according to the study. The oceans will warm at an even more rapid pace over the next 60 years, with the mean speed of ocean warming projected to be 23.78 zettajoules per year.
- If we proceed with “business as usual,” the upper ocean (above a depth of 2,000 meters) will warm by 2,020 ZetaJoules by 2081-2100, six times more than the total ocean warming recorded over the past 60 years, the researchers found. If we were to meet the emissions reductions targets that countries committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement, however, we could cut total ocean warming within that timeframe nearly in half to about 1,037 zettajoules.


Protecting India’s fishing villages: Q&A with ‘maptivist’ Saravanan [01/10/2019]
- Fishing communities across the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are fighting to protect their traditional lands as the sea rises on one side and residential and industrial development encroaches on the others.
- To support these communities, a 35-year-old local fisherman is helping them create maps that document how they use their land.
- By creating their own maps, the communities are taking control of a tool that has always belonged to the powerful.
- Their maps allow them to speak the language of the state so they can resolve disputes and mount legal challenges against industries and government projects encroaching on their land and fishing grounds.


‘Everything’s moving’: Indonesia seeks global pushback on illegal fishing [01/06/2019]
- Officials in Indonesia, home to one of the world’s biggest fisheries, say their fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing continues to be stymied by the complex web of offshore holdings that own much of the illegal fishing fleet.
- Enforcement efforts have failed to net the owners of these vessels, instead only going as far as punishing the crew caught on board the boats.
- Indonesia’s fisheries minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, has long called for an international consensus to recognize IUU fishing as a transnational crime, putting it in the same bracket as drug trafficking and human smuggling, which would enable greater international cooperation to identify and prosecute owners of illegal fishing boats.


Worst mass extinction event in Earth’s history was caused by global warming analogous to current climate crisis [01/03/2019]
- The Permian period ended about 250 million years ago with the largest recorded mass extinction in Earth’s history, when a series of massive volcanic eruptions is believed to have triggered global climate change that ultimately wiped out 96 percent of marine species in an event known as the “Great Dying.”
- According to Justin Penn, a doctoral student at the University of Washington (UW), the Permian extinction can help us understand the impacts of climate change in our own current era.
- Penn led a team of researchers that combined models of ocean conditions and animal metabolism with paleoceanographic records to show that the Permian mass extinction was caused by rising ocean temperatures, which in turn forced the metabolism of marine animals to speed up. Increased metabolism meant increased need for oxygen, but the warmer waters could not hold enough oxygen to meet those needs, and ocean life was left gasping for breath.


Cyclone harmed Fijian crab fishery in 2016, research finds [01/03/2019]
- Research published in the journal Climate and Development demonstrates that Tropical Cyclone Winston damaged mud-crab fisheries in Fiji in 2016.
- Surveys of the mostly women crab fishers in Bua province before and after Winston, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, revealed that mud crabs were smaller and less numerous following the cyclone.
- The research could help government agencies address the lingering impacts of natural disasters to community fisheries.


Research links specific 2017 extreme weather events to climate change [01/02/2019]
- According to the seventh annual special report by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) probing the causal links between rising global temperatures and extreme weather events, issued last month, climate change made the Northern Great Plains drought of 2017 some 1.5 times more likely and greatly enhanced its intensity by driving long-term reductions in soil moisture.
- For the second year in a row, scientists were able to identify specific extreme weather events that cannot be explained without factoring in Earth’s warming global climate.
- A team of 120 scientists from 10 different countries used historical observations and model simulations to produce the 17 peer-reviewed analyses collected in the BAMS special report examining extraordinary weather events from around the globe that were made more likely or exacerbated by anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.


Top 10 happy environmental stories of 2018 [12/31/2018]
- Throughout 2018, efforts to protect habitats and conserve threatened species were driven by governments, scientists, NGOs and indigenous communities.
- The world pledged more conservation funding to protect the oceans, while protections for coastal ecosystems were also boosted.
- Conservation initiatives steered by indigenous communities continue to garner attention and praise, not least because they tend to be more sustainable and effective than top-down programs.
- These were among the upbeat, happy environmental and conservation stories we reported on in 2018.


China seizes totoaba swim bladders worth $26 million, arrests 16 [12/29/2018]
- Chinese customs officials have confiscated 444 kilograms (980 pounds) of totoaba swim bladders, estimated to be worth about $26 million.
- The ongoing Chinese investigation also led to the arrest of 16 people known to be part of a major totoaba trafficking syndicate.
- The illegal totoaba fishery has spelled doom not just for the totoabas themselves, but also for the vaquita, the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise, also found only in the Gulf of California.


10 ways conservation tech shifted into auto in 2018 [12/28/2018]
- Conservation scientists are increasingly automating their research and monitoring work, to make their analyses faster and more consistent; moreover, machine learning algorithms and neural networks constantly improve as they process additional information.
- Pattern recognition detects species by their appearance or calls; quantifies changes in vegetation from satellite images; tracks movements by fishing ships on the high seas.
- Automating even part of the analysis process, such as eliminating images with no animals, substantially reduces processing time and cost.
- Automated recognition of target objects requires a reference database: the species and objects used to create the algorithm determine the universe of species and objects the system will then be able to identify.


Drone 3D models help assess risk of turtle nesting beaches to sea level rise [12/27/2018]
- In a recent study, researchers took drone-based images to map the structure of sea turtle nesting beaches in northern Cyprus to determine their susceptibility to flooding from sea level rise.
- Automated drone flights with on-board cameras can record sequences of photos of the surface below, which can be merged in a process called photogrammetry to construct three-dimensional models of the survey area.
- The fast pace of innovation and versatility of drones can improve sea turtle conservation efforts through cheaper, more efficient monitoring.


After the loss of a ship, deep sea mining plans for PNG founder [12/26/2018]
- In 2011, Nautilus Minerals was granted a license to mine precious minerals from the seabed off the coast of Papua New Guinea, the first project in the world to gain deep-sea mining rights.
- Nautilus said the project would be less destructive than land-based mining, but met with protests due to the potential impact on the complex deep-sea ecosystems as well as coastal communities.
- A year ago, Nautilus failed to make a payment on a specialized ship being built for the project. Now the ship has been sold to another company, making it unlikely Nautilus will be able to fulfill its mining ambitions.


A development project in a Bali mangrove bay gets a new lease on life [12/25/2018]
- A controversial plan to reclaim land in Bali’s Benoa Bay for a commercial and entertainment development project was thought to have ended in August when its permit expired.
- In late November, Indonesia’s maritime ministry issued the developer a new permit that effectively revives the plan.
- Reclamation can only proceed, however, if the developer can obtain approval for its environmental impact assessment from the environment ministry. Its failure to do so earlier this year was what led to its initial permit expiring.
- Activists say they will continue to oppose the project, which they fear will destroy the mangrove-rich ecosystem and harm the livelihoods of thousands of local fishermen.


Photos: Top 10 new species of 2018 [12/25/2018]
- Every year, researchers describe new species of animals and plants, from forests and oceans, after months, or even several years, of trials and tribulations.
- In 2018, Mongabay covered many of these new discoveries and descriptions, some a result of chance encounters.
- In no particular order, we present our 10 top picks.


2018’s top 10 ocean news stories (commentary) [12/24/2018]
- Marine scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara, share their list of the top 10 ocean news stories from 2018.
- Hopeful developments included international efforts to curb plastic pollution and negotiate an international treaty to protect the high seas.
- Meanwhile, research documenting unprecedented ocean warming, acidification, and oxygen decline spotlighted the real-time unfolding of climate change.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.


DNA test helps officials spot dodgy shark shipments [12/21/2018]
- Researchers have developed a rapid DNA testing method to detect the presence of nine trade-restricted shark species in shipments of wildlife products.
- When tested on shark fins collected from retail markets in Hong Kong, the protocol reliably detected the presence of these species in less than four hours, at a cost of less than $1 per sample.
- The protocol doesn’t determine which specific CITES-listed species is illegally present, only that at least one is, which is sufficient to justify customs officials holding a shipment for more detailed inspection.
- The approach enables amplification and detection of long DNA fragments, which ultimately allows customization to detect for other types of wildlife that cannot be visually identified.


The female park rangers protecting turtles from traffickers in Nicaragua [12/21/2018]
- The female park rangers in Nicaragua’s San Juan del Sur area patrol the beaches against the theft of eggs from endangered sea turtles that nest there.
- Species like the leatherback turtle have dwindled to less than 3 percent of their population in the eastern Pacific in the last three generations.
- In Nicaragua, an estimated more than 6,000 dozen turtle eggs are sold every month, with restaurants by the coast offering them in dishes as part of their menus.
- The NGO that hires the rangers say they manage to preserve 90 percent of turtle nests on the beaches they patrol, compared to 40 percent on government-patrolled beaches.


Deep-sea survey of Australian marine parks reveals striking species [12/19/2018]
- A monthlong survey of deep-sea seamounts in and around Australia’s Huon and Tasman Fracture marine parks has revealed a spectacular range of species, from feathery corals and tulip-shaped glass sponges to bioluminescent squids and ghost sharks.
- Researchers surveyed 45 seamounts and covered 200 kilometers (124 miles), collecting 60,000 stereo images and some 300 hours of video.
- Close to the surface, they recorded data on 42 seabird species and eight whale and dolphin species. The researchers also used a net to collect some animals from the seamounts for identification, many of which are potentially new to science.


U.S. whale entanglement figures steady in 2017 [12/19/2018]
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded 76 whale entanglements in U.S. waters in 2017.
- Floating fishing gear and other trash in the sea can impede a whale’s ability to feed and swim.
- Humpback were most often seen entangled; historically, the species usually accounts for about two-thirds of reports in a given year.
- Despite North Atlantic right whales only having been involved in two known entanglements in 2017, scientists say that any run-in with gear or trash threatens the recovery of the species, which now numbers around 450 animals.


Photos highlight evolving roles of AI, citizen science in species research [12/17/2018]
- A recent observation by an amateur naturalist of a fiddler crab species hundreds of kilometers north of its known range challenged the complementary strengths of computer vision and human expertise in mapping species distributions.
- The naturalist uploaded this record to the iNaturalist species database used by amateurs and experts to document sightings; expert input correctly identified the specimen after the platform’s computer vision algorithms did not acknowledge the species outside its documented range.
- Citizen naturalist observations can be used to document rapid changes in species distributions. They also can improve modeling and mapping work conducted by researchers and play an increasing prominent role in building environmental databases.


Latam Eco Review: Jaguar protection plan signed by 14 Latin countries [12/15/2018]
A 14-country jaguar conservation plan, efforts to protect the last 7 female southern right whales in Peru and Chile, and unexpected biodiversity discovered along Chile’s north coast were among the top stories last week by our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Jaguar protection plan signed by 14 Latin countries Fourteen countries launched a plan to secure […]

Hobby-grade drones can monitor marine animals beneath the surface [12/14/2018]
- Researchers in The Bahamas have been testing just how good drone videos can be for estimating the abundance and distribution of large marine animals found just beneath the ocean’s surface.
- They flew aerial surveys using commercial-grade drones along six tidal creeks facing high and low human impact, to count sharks, rays, and sea turtles — groups that are both threatened and difficult to monitor. The findings from multiple sites suggest that shoreline development negatively affects the abundance and distribution of various marine species.
- The study also showed that using lower-cost consumer drones equipped with video cameras could help researchers effectively and non-invasively estimate abundance of these marine megafauna in shallow waters and compare data across sites.


Madagascar auctioning a large swath of virgin waters for oil exploration [12/14/2018]
- In September, Madagascar announced the opening of a large area of marine territory to oil exploration: 44 concessions totaling 63,296 square kilometers (24,440 square miles) in the Mozambique Channel off the country’s west coast.
- Members of the hydrocarbon industry expressed excitement about the news, but civil society groups oppose the sale, arguing that the potential projects’ environmental and social impacts have not been evaluated.
- Some of the 44 blocks overlap with a marine protected area, territory marked for potential future marine protected areas, or areas managed by local fishing communities.


Argentina creates two new marine parks to protect penguins, sea lions [12/14/2018]
- Argentina has officially created two large marine protected areas: the Yaganes Marine National Park, lying off the country’s southern tip, and the Namuncurá-Burdwood Bank II Marine National Park in the South Atlantic.
- Together, the two parks cover a total area of about 98,000 square kilometers (37,000 square miles).
- Industrial fishing is both an important source of revenue for Argentina and a threat to the country’s marine life. But the areas destined to become protected areas have had little fishing activity in recent years, which helped move negotiations in favor of the marine parks.


Feed a fishery, starve a seabird [12/12/2018]
- Industrial fisheries increased their share of fish taken by 10 percent, while seabirds’ take dropped by nearly 20 percent, between 1970-1989 and 1990-2010, new research has found.
- The study mapped out 40 years of data comparing the takes of seabirds and fisheries during that timeframe.
- Scientists say that seabirds, which also face threats from pollution, plastic garbage and possible entanglements, could also face starvation as a result of the competition with large-scale fisheries for the same resource.


Audio: The true story of how 96 critically endangered sea turtle hatchlings survived New York City [12/11/2018]
- On this episode, the true story of how 96 critically endangered sea turtles survived a New York City beach — with a little help from some dedicated conservationists.
- This past summer, beachgoers in New York City spotted a nesting Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle on West Beach, which is on National Park Service land.
- Luckily, two of those beachgoers had the presence of mind to call the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation’s 24-hour hotline to report the nesting turtle — which very likely saved the lives of 96 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle hatchlings.


Brazilian regulators deny French oil giant Total license to drill near Amazon Reef [12/11/2018]
- Brazil’s environmental regulatory agency, Ibama, announced last Friday that it was denying French oil company Total license to drill for oil near the Amazon Reef.
- Greenpeace announced earlier this year that a team of scientists onboard one of the environmental group’s ships had documented a reef formation under one of Total’s drilling blocks, contradicting Total’s Environmental Impact Assessment, which stated that the closest reef formation was 8 kilometers away.
- In a statement about the rejection of the environmental licenses Total was seeking in order to begin drilling in the Foz do Amazonas Basin, Ibama president Suely Araújo said that there were “deep uncertainties related to the Individual Emergency Plan (PEI) of the enterprise, aggravated by the possibility of eventual oil leakage affecting the biogenic reefs present in the region and marine biodiversity more broadly.”


Tiny bits of ocean plastic threaten the survival of sea turtle hatchlings [12/05/2018]
- Smaller and smaller pieces of single-use plastic are ending up in the stomachs of juvenile sea turtles off the coast of Florida.
- Of 96 stranded sea turtle hatchlings collected in a study, more than half died, while all the survivors passed plastic fragments through their bodies.
- Increasing amounts of plastic entering the ocean and disintegrating into microscopic bits have increased the risk that sea turtles will choke on or struggle to pass plastic debris, making it harder for them to reach adulthood.


Bits of DNA in ocean water can reveal white sharks swimming nearby [12/04/2018]
- Environmental DNA in small samples of seawater can show whether white sharks are in an area.
- In a pilot study, researchers found genetic material from white sharks along two southern California beaches where drones and tagging data indicated white sharks were present.
- Refining this technique could minimize dangerous human-shark interactions and improve shark conservation efforts.


‘Drifters of opportunity’: Seabirds track energy in tidal currents [12/03/2018]
- A recent study used location data from GPS-tagged seabirds called razorbills to track currents in the Irish Sea.
- When a team of biologists compared the movements of resting birds on the surface of the water with a mathematical model that lays out the currents, they found that the birds provided solid information on the speed and direction of the flow of water.
- The researchers suggest that similar research using data from resting seabirds could help identify areas for the harvest of renewable tidal energy.


For the birds: Innovations enable tracking of even small flying animals [12/03/2018]
- Advances in satellite communications have revolutionized wildlife telemetry, yet tracking the movements of small animals, especially ones that fly, and marine species, which rarely break the ocean’s surface, has remained a challenge.
- In a November 20th virtual meetup on next-generation wildlife tracking, three speakers introduced developments that have broadened telemetry’s reach to new species and new types of data being collected.
- Recent innovations — including the ICARUS tracking system, hybridization of communications platforms, and miniaturization of sensors — are producing tiny solar-powered tracking tags and tags carrying various environmental sensors that function within private networks flexible enough to use the most efficient of several communications technologies available at a given site.


Trump Admin moves closer to authorizing oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic coast [11/30/2018]
- The Trump Administration announced today that it will issue five Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) for airgun blasting off the Atlantic coast. Seismic airgun blasting is used to search for oil and gas deposits deep beneath the floor of the ocean.
- Seismic surveying involves ships towing airgun arrays that continually blast intense bursts of compressed air into the water every 10 to 12 seconds as a means of determining what resources might lie beneath the ocean floor. These seismic airguns are so loud that the noise can travel as many as 2,500 miles underwater.
- Environmentalists were quick to decry the Administration’s decision to issue the IHAs on the grounds that marine mammals will face severe threats as a result of seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.


Latam Eco Review: Microbial memories of Venezuela’s lost glaciers [11/30/2018]
Microbiomes of Venezuela’s lost glaciers, mile-high Andean lizards, and starving baby seals are among the recent top stories from Mongabay Latam, our Spanish-language service. The abandoned microbes of Venezuela’s last glaciers Venezuela will be the first country where glaciers disappear. In 30 years, from 1978 to 2008, its glaciers lost 9 vertical meters a year […]

Whale stress levels influenced by human activity, earwax study suggests [11/28/2018]
- Using earwax collected from baleen (filter-feeding) whales in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, scientists have been able to map the animals’ stress levels in relation to human activities over 146 years.
- Between 1870 and 2016, the whales’ stress levels closely corresponded to activities such as industrial whaling, naval operations during World War II, and rising sea-surface temperature, the study found.
- The effects on the whales of climate change, increased fishing and krill harvests, and sea ice decline need to be studied further, the researchers say.


Women in small-island states exposed to high levels of mercury: study [11/27/2018]
- Tests of hair samples from hundreds of women in small-island countries and territories found 75 percent had mercury levels high enough to cause fetal neurological damage.
- Nearly 60 percent of the women had mercury levels exceeding a threshold beyond which brain damage, IQ loss, and kidney and cardiovascular damage can occur.
- The report attributed the mercury pollution in fisheries in these regions to air emissions of the toxic heavy metal emanating from coal-fired power plants and artisanal gold mining.
- The researchers have called for a complete ban on the trade in and use of mercury, and urged a transition away from coal power to renewables.


Catalyzing action on sea litter in Brazil and beyond [11/26/2018]
- The impact of plastic on the world’s oceans has been garnering a lot of attention of late.
- In Brazil, a key catalyst for raising awareness on the issue of sea little has been Menos 1 Lixo, an educational platform that runs online campaigns and organizes beach clean-ups to spur behavior change.
- Menos 1 Lixo was founded by Fe Cortez, a Brazilian TV presenter, social media expert, and environmental activist.
- Cortez is speaking December 1 at the Global Landscape Forum in Bonn, Germany.


Chile fishers brace for fallout after massive mining port is approved [11/26/2018]
- The iron ore export terminal was approved for an area rich in marine resources that artisanal fishing communities rely on, and is just 29 kilometers (18 miles) from the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve and the Choros and Damas Islands Marine Reserve.
- The project’s approval went practically unnoticed at a time when attention was focused on a debate over the planned construction of another mining port, Dominga, just 5 kilometers (3 miles) to the south.
- Once completed, the Cruz Grande port will serve 75 ships a year carrying away 13.5 million tons of iron ore — less than 300 meters (1,000 feet) from fishing sites that hundreds of families rely on for their incomes.
- This section of the coast is an important whale migration corridor and is also home to 122 species of birds, among them the Humboldt penguin. Chile’s only colony of bottlenose dolphins also lives there, as do 68 species of fish and 180 species of microalgae and invertebrates.




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