Merri Marine Sanctuary, a local protected area with some serious crays

Over the summer, I helped out on the Marine Summer Ranger program that Parks Victoria run across their land and marine parks. Locally, where in live in Warrnambool on the south west coast, the program involved rockpool rambles in the Merri Marine Sanctuary.
This is an area that, from anecdotal reports, was close to being overfished as the population of the town increased from the 1970s to 90s. One of my Deakin University lecturers shot the video above that shows the health of fish and crustacean stocks in the mainly shallow water protected area.
Sweep, magpie perch, salmon, wrasse and zebra fish can be regularly seen in the park, as well as some of the larger crayfish around this area. Commercial cray boats commonly target the borders of the marine park but it is good to see some larger specimens in this video still hiding under ledges throughout the park.
The New South Wales government is trying to wind back protection of some of the most important marine parks in their state, upsetting conservationists and local people who can see the value of large no-fishing zones. Fishing trawler captains may welcome the reduction of marine parks but as usual it will be a short-term win for them versus the possible longer term goal of allowing fish stocks to recover.

Why sea cucumbers aren’t just another ‘delicacy’ for Asian buffets

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Prickly redfish, a type of sea cucumber. This one was near Opal Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef an hour from Port Douglas.

io9 is generally a scifi website, full of short monologues on the current state of scifi cinema, but occasionally they run very good articles on real science. Like the one below on the issues with sea cucumber harvesting:

Sea cucumbers are in trouble. Everyone knows about the problems that elephants and rhinos face due to poaching, that dolphins face due to drive hunts, and that sharks face when overzealous governments try to convince their constituents that they’re helping them avoid shark attacks. Sea cucumbers may not be as charismatic as their megafaunal counterparts, but they actually provide an important service for reef ecosystems.

They help to keep the sand in reef lagoons and seagrass beds fresh by turning them over, and by feeding on the dead organic matter that’s mixed in with the sand, the nutrients they excrete can re-enter the biological web by algae and coral. Without the sea cucumbers, that sort of nutrient recycling could not occur. It’s also thought that sea cucumbers help to protect reefs from damage due to ocean acidification. Feeding on reef sand appears to increase the alkalinity of the surrounding seawater.

The problem, according to a study conducted by Steven Purcell and Beth Polidoro, is that sea cucumbers are considered a luxury snack. As they explain at The Conversation, dried-out versions of the tropical species retail between $10 and $600 per kilogram in Hong Kong and on mainland China.

There’s actually one species that is sold for $3000 per kilo, dried. Sea cucumbers are thought of as “culinary delicacies,” and often adorn the buffets of festival meals and are served at formal dinners.
There are 377 known species of sea cucumber. Percill and Polidoro’s study shows that the more prized a species is as a delicacy, the more likely the IUCN is to categorize it as vulnerable or threatened – at least for the species they investigated. It’s plain to see that the more expensive the critters are, the more likely they are to be plotted with orange or red dots.

It’s not just a correlation. In most cases, it’s the rarity of a species that drives up the value, leading to exploitation and eventually, extinction. It’s basic supply/demand economics. But the researchers say that for the sea cucumbers they looked at, the causal relationship is reversed. “High-value drives rarity in sea cucumbers, not vice versa,” they write. “None of the naturally rare species are particularly high value.”

Is there anything that can be done to protect these awkward, squishy creatures? “Species-specific bans have been placed on threatened sea cucumbers in a few instances,” the researchers note, “but these regulations do not prevent serial depletion of other species further down the value chain.” Instead, they recommend that a short list of allowable species be created, sort of like Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sustainable seafood card, but for cucumbers. It would exclude threatened species and those most critical for providing ecosystem services to reefs. If sea cucumber fishing can be controlled, the rarer species just might have a fighting chance to survive.

New year, same attack on the sharks

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Around this time last year, fishermen were hanging up their prize catches in a big annual fishing competition here in Warrnambool.
One of the fish that brought the biggest crowd was a 110kg mako shark- a common enough catch in Southern Australia but still of concern given the huge global exploitation of various shark species.
The Standard newspaper posted this photo yesterday of an 81.3kg mako from the first 2014 competition and it looks like nothing has changed – same happy crew posing with a trophy shark that may win them more praise than competition prizes. Catch and release should be the protocol for fish such as this: get the photo on the boat, have it signed off by judges and leave the fish in the ocean. The article stated that fishers in the competition had caught “several sizable Mako sharks”.
A local fishing group has been criticised lately for its targeting of unnecessary species for competition points, criticism that was definitely warranted. I attended one of their club meetings recently and a few members were complaining about fishing restrictions that stop them racking up points for certain species. Given that one member caught more than 30 fish in two days, some of which were inedible or destined for the closest rubbish bin, their whinging seemed pointless.
These groups may slowly understand the effect of their ‘overfishing’ when they pull in less the next year or have to hunt harder for elusive species (just like the global commercial industry).

Australian Government Scraps Management Plans For New National System Of Marine Reserves

With the international flak over its shark culling programs and threats to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia should be working hard on other fronts to promote its ocean conservation agenda. Sadly, the Coalition Government is intent on making things worse for those who care about the ocean and instead assisting commercial fisheries with its removal of some marine park protections.

Thanks to MPA News for the article below. To view an updated map of global marine protected areas, visit Protect Planet Ocean.

The new Coalition Government in Australia, elected by national vote in September, has scrapped management plans developed by the prior Labor Government for most of the nation’s representative system of MPAs.  The impacted MPAs are the 33 sites that were designated in 2012 by the Labor Government.  The dropped management plans would have taken effect in July 2014.

The impacted sites increased the national MPA system last year from 27 sites to 60, expanding the system to a total of 3 million km2 (MPA News 14:3 and 14:1).

The sites include the 1-million km2 Coral Sea Marine Reserve, of which roughly half would have been no-take under its now-dropped management plan.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt told MPA News in October that the new reserves were “imposed without fair or adequate consultation” of industry, and would unfairly lock out recreational fishermen from large areas of the ocean (MPA News 15:2).  He said the sites’ management must be reviewed and redeveloped before final management plans are adopted by Parliament.

The management plans for the 33 sites were passed by the Australian House of Representatives – one half of Parliament – earlier this year.  Some conservationists anticipated the Senate – the other half of Parliament – would pass the plans, too, in coming months, thus making the plans law.  But the Coalition Government scrapped the plans on 16 December by having the nation’s Governor-General re-proclaim the reserves, effectively restarting the management plan development process.

However, the Coalition Government stopped short of calling for a review of the sites’ boundaries.  The boundaries will remain as designated under the Labor Government, although for the time being they are simply lines on a map.  Their designation one year ago followed a series of six phases of public consultation conducted by the Labor Government, with strong support from conservation organizations and opposition from several fishing industry groups, including commercial and recreational ones.

A review of the management plans, expected to last about six months, will now begin.  The Government will appoint a scientific panel and several Bioregional Advisory Panels to facilitate and improve consultation with stakeholders.  The make-up of the panels will be announced in early 2014.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s statement on the MPA management plans:

http://bit.ly/managementplans

Statement by Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation on scrapping of MPA management plans:

www.recreationalfishing.com.au/index.php/rss/31-coalition-government-delivers-on-marine-park-promise-to-australia-s-5-million-recreational-fishers

Statement by Australian Marine Conservation Society on scrapping of MPA management plans:

www.marineconservation.org.au/news.php/153/uncertain-future-for-worlds-largest-network-of-marine-reserves

Western Australia Shark Cull

oceanicexplorer:

Shark cull, harm reduction scheme, elasmobranch slaughter: call it what you like, it’s still an overly-simplified method of dealing with increasing shark attacks. Queensland and NSW have been killing sharks that come near baited drum lines for years and alongside shark nets, it’s the policy they claim works. The truth is that more than 70 million sharks are still being killed worldwide for food, fins, as by catch and for sport, and this latest effort makes no attempt at conserving large ocean predators.

Originally posted on Divers Who Want To Learn More:

‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ Nelson Mandela

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Cull verb ‘reduce the population of (a wild animal) by selective slaughter.’ synonyms: slaughter, kill, destroy.

‘It was unscientific, unprovoked and wrong’

More people die in Australia from horses than from sharks, yet the Australian government aren’t planning a great horse cull. The sea is a shark’s home, it is wrong for us to enter their home full stop. Let alone swim with them, capture them, lock them up in aquariums and kill their habitat. We are the people at fault, yet its the sharks who have to take the stick for it.

People are aware that sharks have teeth – ask anyone who has watched ‘Jaws’. People obviously love sharks, this was proved when the Australian’s took to the beaches with peaceful protests after the cull was announced.

BfXr2g1CMAEVjz_BfXguWKCQAAKCZkWhilst AWARE members are swimming…

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Seadragon, sunset and seascape

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Reef sharks and aggressive triggerfish: diving on Fiji’s Coral Coast

I’m still sorting through about 200 short videos from my Fiji trip so put together a clip of some highlights from the first week. I could make a Finding Nemo sequel with all the anemonefish footage (though they weren’t the clownfish variety but still very cute). Yes, not all fish in anemones are clownfish – try telling that to kids who grew up watching Nemo and expect to see talking orange and white-striped fish under every rock :)

And the fishing shot at the end is from a morning trip with a local villager, who charged tourists FJ$50 to help catch fish for his village. Well worth the (minor) expense and my first chance to see reef sharks up close, though my videos were mainly blurry.

2013 in review: no surprise that ‘shark attack’ tops search list

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Seal pup all grown up!

20131220-162409.jpgSpotted this seal and his mates a few months ago hanging around the marine sanctuary. It wasn’t long before one of them worked out that begging for fish in front of the pier is an easier way to get snapper carcasses and other tasty leftovers!
Seals in this area don’t have too much to worry about: the larger colony at Lady Julia Percy Island has to contend with a variety of sharks including makos and threshers and the occasional opportunistic orca.

Big fishing nations that won’t stop overfishing

oceanicexplorer:

Tuna overfishing was a hot topic at the conferences I attended in Fiji over the past month, as reps from Kiribati, Tuvalu and Cook Islands among others talked about their issues with foreign fleets in their waters

Originally posted on HOUSE of OCEAN:

A recent Guardian article exposes some of the figures behind industrial tuna fishing in the pacific.

The article says that the US, China, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Taiwan are responsible for 80% of bigeye tuna caught each year. The remaining 20% is captured by vessels flagged to smaller fishing nations. Some of the smallest nations depend on their fisheries for basic survival.

In 2012, 2.6m tonnes of tuna were extracted from the Pacific – 60% of the global total. Scientists are in agreement that tuna is being overfished at an alarming rate. Some species are practically on the brink, with bluefin tuna populations being currently just 4% of what they were before industrial fishing commenced.

Yet, the organisation that has been entrusted by the international community to be the steward of tuna fisheries in the Pacific ocean, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, has failed to protect the fish for…

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