Category Archives: Ocean

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

New Zealand To Create One of the Largest Marine Protected Areas in the World

Spanning almost 240,000 square miles, New Zealand’s new Kermadec ocean sanctuary will be one of the largest and most significant fully protected ecosystems in the world.

The sanctuary will be located approximately 620 miles north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean and will expand over an existing protected marine area surrounding the Kermadec Islands. It will be 35 times bigger than the combined area of New Zealand’s existing 44 marine reserves, twice the size of New Zealand’s landmass and will cover 15% of its exclusive economic zone.

This area is considered critical for biodiversity with 150 kinds of fish, 35 species of whales and dolphins, three of the world’s seven endangered sea turtles, more than six million seabirds from 39 different species and many creatures unique to the area such as corals, shellfish and crabs.

Additionally, the area is geologically significant, housing the world’s longest chain of underwater volcanoes and the second deepest ocean trench at over 6 miles.

One of the most important protections for the ocean sanctuary will be a ban on commercial and recreational fishing, along with oil, gas and mineral prospecting, exploration and mining. New Zealand plans to monitor the protected are via navy and satellite technology. The government hopes to establish the sanctuary next year. New Zealand prime minister John Key said:

“The Kermadecs is a world-class, unspoiled marine environment and New Zealand is proud to protect it for future generations. New Zealanders value our coasts and oceans, which are an important part of our culture, economy and environment and we are committed to managing them sustainably. Creating protected areas will support not only our own fisheries, but those of our Pacific neighbors, adding to New Zealand’s efforts to help grow Pacific economies through the responsible management of their ocean resources.”

The new Kermadec sanctuary will join three other key areas in the Pacific ocean, protected by the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

Kermadec Map

 
 
Featured image by Joanna Penn / CC BY 2.0

The Top 10 Types of Trash Found in the Ocean and More [INFOGRAPHIC]

What is the most common type of trash in our oceans? And which ones are the most deadly?

More than 560,000 volunteers in 91 countries spanned over 13,000 miles in the 2014 International Coastal Cleanup. And over 16 million pounds of trash were collected in last year’s Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup program.

The data from the program, dating back 30 years, in addition to a survey of 274 experts, was put into a study that ranked their findings.

The most common types of trash found were cigarette butts, food wrappers, bottles and bottle caps. And some of the deadliest types for marine mammals, turtles and seabirds included fishing gear, plastic bags and utensils, balloons, cigarette butts and bottle caps.

See the report by the numbers with Ocean Conservancy’s infographics:

top-ten-items-infographic

entangled-animals-infographic

weird-finds-infographic

tiny-trash-infographic

plastics-infographic

people-pounds-and-miles

 
 
Featured image by USFWS – Pacific Region / CC BY 2.0

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

Humpback Whales Are Making a Huge Comeback in Australia

In Australia, the humpback whale population has rebounded to 90% of the pre-whaling numbers on the country’s west coast and 63% on the east coast.

Scientific research conducted by an international team of collaborators and published in the Marine Policy journal found that, since 2012, numbers are rising at about 9% per year off the west coast and 10% off the east coast – some of the highest recorded in the world.

Co-author on the paper and Murdoch University Professor Lars Bejder told Guardian Australia:

“Our point here was [that] we are really keen to bring out a successful story. It’s usually all doom and gloom in marine conservation. And it’s very depressing and demoralising for managers, politicians, NGOs and the general public, so what we wanted to do here was say there are rare occasions where it works, so don’t give up.”

Photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly / CC BY 2.0

Decades and decades of legal and illegal whaling since the 19th century severely diminished humpback numbers in seven major breeding populations in the southern hemisphere. For example, one group was reduced to 500 whales but is now at an estimated 14,552.

Because of these population increases, the risk of extinction is extremely unlikely and Australian humpback whales can be removed from their threatened status. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still be protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), though. Bejder says:

“If humpback whales were removed from the Australian threatened species list, the EPBC Act would still protect them from significant impacts as a matter of national environmental significance, as these whales are a migratory species. Beyond Australia, the International Whaling Committee manages the global moratorium on commercial whaling, which is essential for the humpback whales’ continued success.”

The Australian humpback whale comeback represents a conservation success. But continued success rests upon ongoing efforts to protect this species and keep its numbers on the rise.

Photo by Christopher Eden / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Christopher Eden / CC BY 2.0

Featured image by texaus1 / CC BY 2.0

Drone Footage Gives Rare Sight of Blue Whale Mother and Calf [VIDEO]

Blue whales are the largest animals in the world. They can grow up to 100 feet long, weigh 180 tons and live to 90 years old. But people rarely get to witness these majestic giants. Fortunately, activist group Sea Shepherd Society gives us a rare sight of these creatures, after encountering two in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica in late January. They sent a drone up from their boat, the Steve Irwin, and captured this stunning footage of a mother and calf blue whale.

Almost Every Seabird Has a Stomach Full of Trash and Plastic

A new study has found that a whopping 90% of seabirds are living with a gut full of plastic, trash and other ocean pollution.

An Australian team of researchers conducted a study on seabirds and debris, finding that nine out of 10 birds carry pollution in their stomach. They published the study, called “Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing” in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The cause is from a combination of plastic overproduction and birds mistaking plastic for fish eggs and other food. Study co-author and senior research scientist at the CSIRO, an Australian federal agency devoted to scientific research, Denise Hardesty says:

“It’s pretty astronomical. In the next 11 years we will make as much plastic as has been made since industrial plastic production began in the 1950s. [Birds] think they’re getting a proper meal but they’re really getting a plastic meal.”

Photo by Duncan / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Duncan / CC BY-SA 2.0

Certain birds are especially prone to eating plastic, including some species of albatross, shearwaters, fulmars, and petrels. The plastic has devastating effects on the birds, with many choking on the various pieces. Others collect plastic bits in their gut, which reduces their ability to absorb nutrients, causing weight loss and eventual death. Still others suffer from toxic chemicals leaking out of the plastic in their stomach.

Interestingly, the biggest problem didn’t occur where there was the most pollution, but where there were the most species: specifically, in the southern hemisphere near Australia and New Zealand.

After reaching the conclusions in this study, the researchers are estimating numbers will increase to 99% of seabirds holding plastic in their guts by 2050. But the research also offered some positive insight into how to seabirds. Lead author of the study and senior research scientist at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Chris Wilcox says:

“Another surprise in our research was that seabirds eat plastics in proportion to the rate in which they encounter them. If a seabird is in an area with a lot of plastic, they eat a lot of plastic. That makes the problem a very tractable one.” Identifying where birds feed and where oceanic plastic is, he says, will allow conservationists to “make pretty straightforward predictions about the risk to birds.”

Featured image by Michael Chen / CC BY 2.0

Speedy Dolphin

Photo by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0

Speedy Dolphin