Category Archives: Coastal

Record Numbers of Endangered Green Sea Turtles Return to Florida to Nest

All seven species of sea turtles are at risk of extinction. But there is hope for one sub-population in Florida.

In 2015, researchers counted 14,152 turtle nests in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, the principal green sea turtle nesting habitat in North America. This number broke the previous record of just under 13,000 in 2013 and completely shattered past yearly totals, ranging from slightly below 200 in 2001 to slightly over 6,000 in 2011.

Executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy David Godfrey says:

“From any spot on the beach during the peak of nesting, we might just within eyesight see see maybe 10 turtles. And imagine, all these turtles are approaching 300 pounds each…That’s a phenomenon we have not seen before in Florida.”

Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-ND 2.0

Green sea turtles lay between 75 and 200 eggs per nest, so this past season may have produced as many as 3 million babies. However, because of all the threats they face, such as hungry gulls and fishing nets, only a fraction of these nestlings will likely survive to maturity.

Fortunately, this should still be enough for future viable nesting seasons. In fact, the 2015 turnout was so significant that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is preparing to downgrade the turtle’s conservation status on the federal list from “endangered” to “threatened.”

Photo by Keenan Adams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Keenan Adams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region / CC BY 2.0

The Archie Carr refuge was established in 1990 and since then, the green sea turtle nesting numbers have steadily risen. Lending to this increase are the efforts of conservationists, government officials and residents to reduce pollution and other human effects.

Godfrey says:

“We’re really seeing the fruits of all that work now with the exponential growth in green turtle nesting. That is what it takes with sea turtles in particular, because they grow so slowly. Those hatchlings from 30 years ago are reaching adulthood and coming back.”

 
 
Featured image by Keenan Adams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region / CC BY 2.0

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What the Reef Looks Like Through the Eyes of a Turtle [VIDEO]

Ever wonder what it would be like to be an animal swimming in the Great Barrier Reef? Now you can find out, thanks to a helpful turtle and a GoPro. See what the reef looks like through the eyes of one of its very own inhabitants.

Seabird Populations Have Declined By 70% Over the Past 50 Years

According to a recent study, seabirds have faced a massive drop in numbers – approximately 70% over the last 60 years.

Seabirds are those that forage primarily at the sea, such as pelicans, gulls, albatross, penguins and more. The study covered half of the 325 species of seabirds that exist and collected data from as far back as the 1950s, with most of the information from the 70s and 80s.

The findings showed that, of the monitored populations that make up 19% of the world’s seabirds, there was a total decline of 70%. That accounts for a loss of around 230 million birds since the 1950s.

But the drop in numbers isn’t that surprising, as seabirds have faced increasing threats for decades. Threats range from food depletion, fishing gear, pollution, non-native predators and climate change.

Photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis / CC BY-SA 2.0

Seabirds are very important to both marine and terrestrial ecosystems. They are part of a delicate food chain and also enrich the terrestrial ecosystem through fertilization. Their disappearance would be tragic, as well as have a negative impact on the food chain and ecosystems.

Study co-author Michelle Paleczny explains:

“Seabirds are threatened by a suite of different human activities in the world’s oceans. [They] play an important role in how the marine food web works. Removing seabirds from the food web would alter the overall health of the marine and coastal ecosystems.”

How can we help? The public can help by reducing pollution, particularly plastic pollution and fossil fuel consumption. People can also lobby the goverment or vote to support large marine protective areas that provide refuge for seabirds.

Featured image by Tony Fischer / CC BY 2.0

Australia’s Ban on Dumping in the Great Barrier Reef

A step forward for the Great Barrier Reef is a step forward for conservation.

Earlier this year, the Australian government banned dumping in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In November, the government extended the ban outside the park, to include the entire World Heritage Area, where 80% of the dumping had occurred closer to the shore.

This closed a legal loophole that would have allowed 46 million cubic meters of seabed to be dug up and dumped in the fragile and biodiverse ecosystem. The Great Barrier Reef is home to more than 1,500 species of fish, 134 species of sharks and rays, over 30 species of marine mammals, six of the world’s seven species of threatened marine turtles, as well as 411 kinds of hard coral and one-third of the world’s soft corals.

WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said:

“For everyone around the world who cares about the Reef, this is a moment to savor.”

 
 
Featured image by Kyle Hovey / CC BY-ND 2.0

What Was Behind the Mysterious Whale Deaths on the Pacific Coast in 2015?

Since May, more than 30 whales have been found dead on the pacific coast without explanation.

11 fin whales, 14 humpbacks, one gray whale and four unidentified cetaceans were found dead in the western gulf of Alaska. Six more whales were found dead off the coast of British Columbia including four humpbacks, one sperm and one fin whale.

The unknown cause behind the deaths prompted the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to declare it an “Unusual Mortality Event” last month. But after investigation, scientists think a widespread algae bloom located off the coast could be suspect in the deaths. NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle told the Guardian:

“Our leading theory at this point is that the harmful algal bloom has contributed to the deaths. But we have no conclusive evidence. The bottom line is we don’t know what’s causing these deaths.”

Scientists have already been monitoring a large stretch of warm water that started out off the coast of Alaska two years ago and has grown to almost 500 miles across. “The Blob,” as it has been named, is several degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean and has caused a record algae bloom spanning the West Coast from Alaska to California.

Photo by NOAA
Photo by NOAA

However, the fast rate of decomposition makes it nearly impossible to sample the dead whales, meaning there may never be a definitive conclusion. Scientists do know of one species of phytoplankton that produces a neurotoxin, which enters the food chain in smaller fish and birds, can cause disorientation and fatal seizures in severe cases.

Although the death count is almost three times the historic average annual mortality rate, whale populations are not overly affected. Marine mammal specialist with the Alaska Sea Grant marine advisory program and on-site coordinator of the UME investigation Bree Witteveen tells Yahoo Canada News:

“From a population perspective, the level of deaths that we’ve seen are not likely to have much of an impact. It’s more of a warning sign.”

Featured image by Sarah Nichols / CC BY-SA 2.0

What Marine Ecosystem is Most Threatened By Human Impact?

What marine ecosystem is most at risk of extinction from human impact? An international team of scientists used 23 million years of fossil records to conclude that the tropics are most at risk of extinction today.

In a paper published in the journal Science, researchers found that the predictors of extinction vulnerability, geographic range and the type of organisms have remained consistent over the past 23 million years.

Study co-author and professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, University of Queensland John Pandolfi states:

“We used these estimates to map natural extinction risk in modern oceans, and compare it with recent human pressures on the ocean such as fishing, and climate change to identify the areas most at risk. These regions are disproportionately in the tropics, raising the possibility that these ecosystems may be particularly vulnerable to future extinctions.”

Coral Reef, Santo, Vanuatu
Image credit: Roderick Eime / CC BY 2.0

With these records, the scientists were able to assess a baseline extinction risk for tropical ecosystems and marine animals like sharks, whales, dolphins, snails, clams, corals and more. They then mapped the regions where those species with high risk were most impacted by humans and climate change.

By identifying these regions, humans can now target the tropics and the species that dwell there in conservation efforts and policies. From Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, co-author Dr. Sean Anderson says:

“It’s very difficult to detect extinctions in the modern oceans but fossils can help fill in the gaps. Our findings can help prioritize areas and species that might be at greater risk of extinction and that might require extra attention, conservation or management – protecting vulnerable species in vulnerable places.”

Pulau Rawa, Rawa Island, Malaysia
Image credit: Phalinn Ooi / CC BY 2.0

Featured Image: Greg McFall, NOAA’s National Ocean Service / CC BY 2.0

Julia Roberts is Mother Nature, Harrison Ford is the Ocean in a Powerful Video Series About the Environment, “Nature is Speaking”

“Some call me nature, others call me mother nature. I’ve been here for over 4.5 billion years. 22,500 times longer than you. I don’t really need people, but people need me.”

These are the dramatic first lines spoken by Julia Roberts in Conservation International’s chilling series of short videos about environmental protection. The series, entitled “Nature Is Speaking,” features eight celebrities who speak as the voices of different parts of our planet that are threatened by humans.
 
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Julia Roberts is mother nature, Harrison Ford is the ocean, Kevin Spacey is the rainforest, Edward Norton is the soil, Penélope Cruz is water, Robert Redford is the redwood, Ian Somerhalder is coral reef and Lupita Nyong’o is the flower. Each conveys the message that Conservation International calls their “Humanifesto”:

Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature. Human beings are part of nature. Nature is not dependent on human beings to exist. Human beings, on the other hand, are totally dependent on nature to exist. The growing number of people on the planet and how we live here is going to determine the future of nature. And the future of us. Nature will go on, no matter what. It will evolve. The question is, will it be with us or without us?

The videos originally came out in October of 2014, but are still relevant in spreading awareness about environmental degradation and inspiring further conservation efforts. Conservation International’s “Humanifesto” explains the project’s mission:

…there are aspects of how our planet evolves that are totally out of our control. But there are things that we can manage, control and do responsibly that will allow us and the planet to evolve together…Our movement is dedicated to managing those things we can control…Country by country. Business by business. Human by human. We are not about us vs. them…This is simply about all of us coming together to do what needs to be done.

Here are the seven other chillingly powerful celebrity-narrated videos:


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Mekong River Dolphin Death Reduces Local Population in Lao to 5

In April, a female Irrawaddy river dolphin was found dead close to the border of Laos, reducing the area’s population to five.

Locals discovered the dolphin on Cheutal Touch Island, Cambodia and immediately alerted river authorities. She weighed approximately 490 pounds (223 kilograms) and measured nearly 8 feet (2.4 meters) long. Although, the cause of death is unknown, marks on the female’s body indicated old age.

Down to just five left in Laos, the Irrawaddy species is critically endangered in the Mekong River. Manager of World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Greater Mekong Species Program Thomas Gray stated:

“This is a very sad time for this dwindling population of dolphins. There are now just five dolphins left in Laos and it is another warning that the species is facing the grave risk of extinction from the country, and also throughout the Mekong River.”

Mekong River Dolphin2
Image credit: Donald Macauley / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Irrawaddy dolphins, which inhabit the Wang Paa Khaa river pool, have been fighting for survival over the past few decades, due to gillnet entanglement and illegal fishing methods like explosives and poison.

Gillnet entanglement, in particular, has been identified as the main cause of dolphin mortality. Cambodia has banned gillnet fishing on its side of the border, but Laos has only prohibited its use in the deepest parts of the pool.

In addition, Laos is planning to build the 260 megawatt Don Sahong Dam, which poses perhaps one of the largest threats to the dolphin population. The dam’s construction will entail the use of explosives to unearth tons of rock that will potentially kill or seriously harm nearby dolphins.

Mekong River Dolphin3
Image credit: Ken Marshall / CC BY 2.0

In the past, as many as 40 to 50 dolphins used this river pool, but numbers fell to 25 in the 1990s. Despite this drop, the dolphins are a major source of tourism and attract around 20,000 visitors per year.

WWF has and continues to urge Laos and Cambodia to work together on collective solutions to save this huge source of tourist revenue and one of the most iconic species in the world. WWF-Greater Mekong Conservation Director Teak Seng says:

“The small population size and high calf mortality means these rare and beautiful dolphins are facing a highly uncertain future, but there is still hope for them. Joint conservation action between both countries is paramount. The key is collaboration between Laos and Cambodia. It’s time to end the use of all types of illegal fishing gear and strictly regulate the use of gillnets and boat traffic. Working on these issues is the only long-term hope for the dolphin’s survival in Laos and the greater Mekong.”

There are approximately 85 dolphins left in the Mekong River, most of which reside in Cambodia.
 
 
Featured Image: Ken Marshall / CC BY 2.0