Category Archives: conservation

Stopping the spread of marine pests in Victorian waters

While out on a seagrass monitoring boat trip with Parks Victoria on the Pelican1 recently, I caught up with acting Marine Science Program Manager Mark Rodrigue.

Mark talked about the new campaign Check Clean Dry that’s aimed at stopping the spread of marine pests such as North Pacific Seastars (Asterias amurensis), wakame (Undaria pinnatifida), Pacific Oyster (Crassostrea gigas) and some tidal and benthic habitat critters.

The seastars are the most concerning of all, popping up in previously undocumented areas in large numbers around Port Phillip Bay and Westernport near Melbourne, and across into South and East Gippsland at Wilsons Prom and Gippsland Lakes. Here’s a few I removed on a recent dive near my home at Frankston, a spot called Olivers Hill where I’ve previously never seen these seastars in any significant numbers. Recent sea surface temperature warming, a decline in their predators (the eleven armed seastar) or other factors may be at work here.

Mark spoke to Ross and John on local radio station 3AW this morning after some recent sightings of seastars near the mouth of the Maribyrnong River:

https://omny.fm/shows/3aw-breakfast-with-ross-and-john/confirmed-maribyrnong-river-invaded-by-starfish/embed

Three years is too long between Great Barrier Reef dives!

Along with my reduced frequency of blogging, it’s been hard to find time to get away in the past few years for warm water snorkeling and tropical beach trips. We last went to Port Douglas three years ago and finally made it back in August 2018 after a few aborted attempts to book in trips between house renovations, a wedding and other  big events.

It’s hard to believe some people get to dive on the Great Barrier Reef every week (or the commercial dive boat crew, just about every day). Coming from a fairly cool winter where the water temperature was around 9 degrees Celsius, jumping in 24 degree water in a rash vest and shorts was an amazing relief. And the abundance of life on the GBR is well known but no Attenborough documentary prepares you for the variety of fish, coral, sponges, invertebrates… a truly incredible sight every time.

I was one of the lucky few on our Wavelength cruise that spotted a white tip reef shark (in the slideshow below), though most of the snorkelers seemed pretty inexperienced and happy to bob around the surface, far from the hiding spots of the sharks and rays.

Wavelength also regularly maintains a coral garden, where pieces of coral are grafted onto small cement blocks and grown until then can be transplanted onto new ground. A fellow uni graduate working on the boat was pretty enthusiastic about the potential of these coral gardens, though expanding the project to compensate for widespread coral bleaching is nearly impossible in today’s warming ocean (and political climate).

 

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The last straw- Deakin grad helping to change worldview on plastic pollution

Fellow Deakin Warrnambool marine biology graduate Nicole Nash has had, by the sounds of it, a pretty envious post-university career so far – ranger with Queensland Parks and Wildlife and founder of a campaign to end single-use plastics by tourist boats known as The Last Straw on the Great Barrier Reef.

Nicole-portrait

Plastic straws are one of those absurd plastic implements people may use on a daily, once-off basis, throw away and then forget about – think plastic-handled cotton earbuds, cheap disposable razors.

While there are bamboo and steel straws on the market, like reusable coffee cups they rely on the user having the forethought to take them in their bag to a cafe, restaurant or bar. I have several reusable coffee cups and can count on one hand the time I’ve used a single-use plastic cup in the past year (always because I was caught out with no alternative).

Nicole is having some success convincing tourist boat operators to ditch plastic straws and has the backing of Tangaroa Blue and other partners to produce this video and push the message further. Well done!

More info via How to Join

Dirty secrets revealed during International Coastal Cleanup Day

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I’d been threatening to join the Seaford Beach Patrol group for months to take part in their monthly cleanup and, seeing as I helped them join the International Coastal Cleanup Day movement, thought I should finally get along to the cleanup on the 18th of September. Weather was the standard Melbourne September grey and cold, which didn’t deter 17 locals from turning out to collect more than 35kg of rubbish in a one-hour stint along a 200-300m stretch of our bay beach.

Apart from the scary numbers of cigarette butts, plastic-based food wrappers, bottles, tin cans and foam pellets, the cleanup revealed some surprising finds shown in this table below:

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Considering lollypops (usually Chupa Chup style but varied in size) are not the fashionable thing they once were, it might be that recent storms and winter king tides have revealed layers of historic plastic waste, and also dumped a larger than expected amount of foam and plastic on this stretch of beach. And the old saying about lost socks turning up in the damnedest places holds true, though why there were two socks and four shoes found is anyone’s guess.

Greenland sharks can live to 400 years old, only reach sexual maturity at 150

Researchers using radiocarbon dating have determined that Greenland sharks, slow-moving giants that live in the cold, dark waters of the North Atlantic, are the longest-living vertebrates on Earth, with one recorded as being 400 years old. Which explains the old Greenland shark quip that goes something like: “God must like practical jokes; why would He make […]

via Scientists say Greenland sharks can live for 400 years — The Cotton Boll Conspiracy

Sharks smarter than we think (and probably smarter than the average shark-hater)

Some great UWA research is being reported as showing sharks have better comprehension of their surroundings and are “smarter than we think” – though I presume that means smarter than most clueless people would have thought.

danny green shark

That one time boxer Danny Green next to a dead mako and everyone went crazy. Photo credit: Danny Green

Yes, it’s obvious that scientists are still learning how sharks think, what their motivations are to make long distance swims and even (for any species) their relatively little-known mating and breeding habits. But whenever I see interesting articles in the general media, it still bugs me to read reader comments about how bloodthirsty and stupid sharks are, from people who clearly know nothing about them firsthand.

Anyway, here’s some grabs from the article and I’m sure Dr Yopak is tired of having to always dispel these misconceptions:

University of Western Australia researcher Kara Yopak presented her research into the use of brain anatomy to understand cognitive ability in sharks.

Dr Yopak said it was a common misconception that “sharks are these small-brained pre-programmed eating machines”.

“They are actually relatively large-brained species and they are capable of such an incredible range of complex behaviours,” she said.

Part of her research involved comparing the brains of sharks to mammals, including humans.

“There is a number of similarities that I would say have originated at least as early as sharks and then have been carried through vertebrate evolution to our own brains,” she said.

Dr Yopak said the brains of sharks varied across different species, casting doubt over the effectiveness of one-size-fits-all shark deterrents.

“When we are investigating repellents we probably need to take a species-specific approach,” she said.

COP21 – the world weighs in

UN Climate Talks Live

The Paris terrorist attacks weighed pretty heavily on the attendees of COP21 and tightened security around the venues, resulting in protest marches being banned and the unusual sight of shoes in place of marchers.Climate Change Protesters Take to the Streets  Despite Canceled Paris March   New Republic

Conservationists, as expected, took to social media to get in on the conversations denied after being shut out of the French capital and the UN Climate Talks Live Feed gives a great rundown of the discussions from various levels from negotiators to participants and media around the event.

Check out the Civil Society Representatives feed for one – doesn’t include some of the expected organisations and it’s a concern to see climate change skeptic Bjorn Lomberg and downright tool in the top three posters today (Monday 30 November).

aaaUN Climate Talks Live

Lizard Island provokes paradise envy with its #FeatureScientists posts

Living in the cooler climes of south-eastern Australia, I’m often envious of the crew working at the Lizard Island Reef Research Station and other Great Barrier Reef islands.

While there are some pretty amazing (but less colourful) reef and seafloor communities not far from my home on Port Phillip Bay, I still have to make do with reports on tropical research for  my daily warm-water, coral reef region fix. This one below focused on the humble cleaner wrasse and its affect on algae growth – loss of these fish can also lead to increased coral bleaching.

Our first feature scientist was Eva McClure, part of Dr. Lexa Grutter‘s lab team. Dr. Grutter, of the University of Queensland, investigates how the cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, influence the ecology of coral reef communities. For the past 15 years, she has run a study on Lizard Island, which sees these fish removed from isolated ‘patch reefs’, and then observes the affect their removal has on the reefs.

Eva has been working for Lexa for the past 3 years. She is currently on Lizard Island wrapping up a 2-year component of Dr. Grutter’s larger, long-term study. In this project, terracotta pavers were placed on the reefs in July 2013, to investigate how the absence of cleaner wrasse may indirectly influence the benthic community (organisms living in the benthic zone are those living at the lowest level of a body of water).

Lexa’s team have found that reefs without cleaner wrasse attract less herbivorous fish than reefs that offer cleaning services (those that have cleaner wrasse present). Reefs without cleaners may therefore have more algae compared to reefs with cleaners, as there are less large herbivorous fish grazing on the benthic community. By placing out algae-coral settlement pavers and periodically measuring the abundance and height of the algae, Eva (as part of Dr. Grutter’s team), hope to make a definitive determination as to whether cleaner wrasse population affects algae levels.

To wrap this project up, a final underwater measurement and photograph is taken (photos 1 and 2), before collecting all 200 pavers, checking them for coral recruits (3) and scraping them of turf algae, calcerous algae, coral recruits and other encrusting organisms. The product is then dried, weighed and taken back to the University of Queensland for analysis.

In Eva’s own words: “It’s exciting and quite satisfying finishing up a 2 year long project like this one, especially when it involves working in a beautiful place like Lizard Island!”

Shark Attack 2: Revenge of the Tabloid Headline Writer

Sydney's Daily Telegraph, constant offenders on the 'savage man-killing shark' front

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, constant offenders on the ‘savage man-killing shark’ front

When I was Sydney last October, preparing for the IUCN World Parks Congress with the French marine protected areas agency, this headline above was splashed in similar formats across several Australian newspapers.

Shark scientists were kept very busy responding to misinformation, stupidity and downright dangerous reporting in the Australian spring and summer – and this headline (and the strapline above it about the ‘4.5m monster’ shark) summed up the challenge they and shark conservationists face. It was absurd for the writer and editor to let this go through:

  • the surfer’s arms were not ‘ripped off’, the writers make it clear in the introduction that he lost parts of both arms
  • a 4.5m shark (if that was even the correct size) is not a monster in size. If it had been a validated sighting of a 6m white shark, I would have been more impressed.

My most popular article from this irregularly-updated blog is another shark attack post that made exactly the same criticisms I can make two years later. I image the people googling that phrase came across the post, saw it was attaching the whole tabloid concept of ‘shark attacks’ and left to find juicy photos of actual shark encounters.

Because that’s what these incidents are: encounters. The increased populations around coastal areas in the warmer months, coupled with overfishing of shark prey species, surfers spending longer in the ocean due to thicker and more comfortable wetsuits, climate change and other unpredictable factors, is leading to more encounters with sharks. And if one in 1000 of those encounters ends in a shark bite, we shouldn’t be surprised every time and call for that shark’s head. This only supports the view of shark fishers that they are removing dangerous animals from the ocean, rather than murdering an endangered animal (in the case of some shark species).

Australian Geographic posted a great article about shark research that revealed we are to blame for shark attacks due to the factors mentioned above. And no matter how big a year we have for shark ‘assaults’, it pales in creation to deaths from car crashes, domestic injuries and even bee stings:

So far in 2011, there have been at least 61 recorded attacks and 10 deaths. However, compared to deaths from smoking, road accidents, lightning strikes or even other animal attacks, the risk is minute, say experts.

So please can we stop with the tabloid shark bashing, stick to the boring but correct title of shark encounters and help target the real villains in this debate: fishing trawlers that are destroying the shark-prey food chain and governments who keep approving shark hunting after each encounter in the misguided view that killing that one ‘manhunter’ shark will end the chance of any further shark bites.

#WorldParksCongress wraps up #WPCMarine

I worked some of the longest days of my career at World Parks Congress and dealt with a variety of event teething issues never experienced before. On the upside, I met some amazing people (including the wonderful Sylvia Earle, who I interviewed for our webtv channel) and worked with a great team from the French Marine Protected Areas Agency. Please make sure you check out our videos at http://oceanplus.tv/en/

 

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Sylvia Earle being interviewed at Ocean+ pavilion

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Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, Manly, Sydney

 

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