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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

#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

 

Marine stream videos from #WorldParksCongress

While working in Sydney on the #‎WorldParksCongress‬, I’ve been helping the French Marine Protected Areas Agency with their Oceanplus webtv channel. Day 4 video updtae is now online for the ‪#‎WPCMarine‬ stream, focusing on useful & efficient MPAs and featuring UQ Global Change Institute Director Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, @envirogov’s National Parks Director Sally Barnes & more guests.

All videos produced so far can be viewed at: http://www.oceanplus.tv/en/

Filming sights of Sydney for Agence des aires marines protégées

Sydney ferry, view to Port Denison and CBD

Sydney ferry, view to Port Denison and CBD

I’ve been showing one of the Agence des aires marines protégées (French Agency for Marine Protected Areas) video team around Sydney over the past few days, filming at the Sydney Fish Market, Bondi Beach, Circular Quay and marine-focused touristy spots. Perfect weekend for it and the trip across to Taronga Zoo (pictured) provided some great footage.

Looking forward to World Parks Congress kicking off on Wednesday, so much prep work has gone into it over the past four months!

Oceanic microplastics: the implications of tiny pollution

My classmate Dom Lawler deserves most of the credit for producing this video on microplastics, made in less than four days using iMovie for a university assignment on aquatic pollution.

Check the film out and watch some other related one on YouTube if it sparks your interest.

Here’s some quick details on the plastic pollution issue:

– 10% of the 280 million tonnes of plastic produced annually worldwide ends up in the ocean, contributing to 60−80% of all marine debris (Kaposi et al. 2014)

– First reports of plastic litter in the ocean were in the 1970s (Andrady 2011)

– Plastics could take centuries to completely mineralise or biodegrade (Moore 2008)

– 10% of all static fishing gear – including plastic nets, fishing line and ropes  – is lost worldwide (FAO 1991)

– In the environmental context, microplastics are regarded as pieces of plastic debris less than 5mm in size

– Studies have found that 267 species of marine organisms worldwide are known to have been affected by plastic debris, a number that will increase as smaller organisms are assessed. (Moore 2008)

 

References (and other useful video sources)

Plastic Oceans, broadcast on Catalyst, ABC TV1, 6 September 2012:

http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3583576.htm

Plankton film clip: Ren Kyst, Norway www.facebook.com/RenKystFilm

Plastic planet: www.natracare.com/sisters http://youtu.be/73sGgmZoMBQ

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), Canada, 1991. In: Smith, A. (Ed.), Report of the Expert Consultation on the Marking of Fishing Gear, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 14–19 July, 1991.

Moore, CJ 2008, ‘Synthetic polymers in the marine environment: A rapidly increasing, long-term threat’, Environmental Research, vol. 108, no. 2, pp. 131-9.

Andrady, AL 2011, ‘Microplastics in the marine environment’, Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 62, no. 8, pp. 1596-605.

Kaposi, KL, Mos, B, Kelaher, BP & Dworjanyn, SA 2014, ‘Ingestion of microplastic has limited impact on a marine larva’, Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 1638-45.

 

Predicting mining impacts on deep sea communities

Group shot at the 4th SPREP/SPC Deep Sea Minerals workshop

Group shot at the 4th SPREP/SPC Deep Sea Minerals workshop

 

The complex and little-understood nature of deep sea biological communities needs to be further researched before any deep sea mining licenses are granted in the Central and West Pacific.

Speakers at the 4th Regional Training Workshop: Environmental Perspectives of Deep Sea Mineral Activities in Nadi, Fiji, discussed the potential commercial value of deep sea minerals and the expensive but vital research that should be continued to determine the impacts of mining on abyssal plain, seamount and hydrothermal vent communities.

The four-day workshop, organised by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), aims to build on the work undertaken by the SPC-EU Deep Sea Minerals Project to strengthen governance systems in Pacific Island countries and territories to manage and minimise environmental impacts from mining activities.

Mining companies have yet to start any mining operation in the deep sea but are exploring several zones in the Central and West Pacific, searching for rich deposits of manganese nodules, cobalt-rich crusts and seafloor massive sulphides.

Duke University Marine Laboratory director Professor Cindy Van Dover, who has piloted the Alvin submersible to assess deep sea environments, said mining operations could have potentially long-term impacts on the fish, molluscs, sponge and worm communities of the deep sea.

“A single mining event could have the same impact as a volcanic eruption and it would be no big deal. Multiple events would be different,” she said.

“Hydrothermal vents are likely to be more resilient than anything else … but there’s still potential for things to go wrong.”

Prof Dover said hydrothermal vents, a key target for seafloor massive sulphide mining, were also being utilised for their genetic resources to develop medical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and therapeutic products.

Dr Malcolm Clark, Principal Scientist at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), said the faunal communities in manganese nodule and cobalt-rich crust environments were very different and mining operations should build in large buffer zones to reduce impacts.

Professor Mike Petterson, director of SPC’s Applied Geoscience and Technology Division (SOPAC), also launched the SPC-UNEP/GRID-Arendal Pacific Marine Minerals Assessment Report and presented Mr Samuela Namosimalua, Permanent Secretary, Fijian Ministry of Local Government and Environment, with copies of the report.

More information on the SPC-EU Deep Sea Minerals Project is available at

http://www.sopac.org/dsm

 

 

 

Marine Spatial Planning – one of the daily session summaries

I was asked by a few people at the Marine Spatial Planning workshop in Suva over the past week to post a few updates on my blog (the original articles I wrote appear on the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program website)

What is Marine Spatial Planning, you might ask? Many attendees did this week and among many complex definitions I heard this was the easiest to comprehend: “It is the process of analysing and making recommendations on the distribution of human activities affecting coastal and marine areas. A key goal is to balance ecological, economic, social and cultural objectives.”

Attendees at the Marine Spatial Planning workshop, Suva, Nov 2013

Attendees at the Marine Spatial Planning workshop, Suva, Nov 2013

26 November 2013, Steve Pogonowski, Marine Spatial Planning, Suva Fiji – Marine spatial planning will become ever more vital as the Pacific islands and territories deal with the impacts of rising sea levels, ocean acidification and ocean warming, attendees at a workshop at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, heard yesterday.

The second day of the Marine Spatial Planning workshop looked at climate change and other challenges to central and west Pacific countries and territories, case studies of marine spatial planning across the region and new projects being brought in to assist cross-boundary planning.

Attendees on the second day represented organisations in countries and territories including Wallis and Futuna, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, French Polynesia, Micronesia and Samoa.

Sangeeta Mangubhai, Senior Programme Officer for IUCN Oceania Regional Office, said she hoped participants would all gain a greater understanding of initiating and carrying out good marine spatial planning.

“One of the things I really liked was listening to the case studies and also hearing some of the regional efforts being made to support countries if they decide to implement marine spatial planning from coastal waters out to their EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone),” she said.

“Especially for our Pacific Island participants – and there are some here representing their governments – I hope they can gain a real understanding of marine spatial planning is and the role it can play in managing the valuable resources in their countries to achieve the ecological, social and economic outcomes that they want.

“If they undergo a marine spatial planning process, they now realise there are experts and experiences in this region that they can tap into to get support and assistance.”

Discussion topics included the success of Locally Managed Marine Areas in involving communities in conservation; how data collection on tuna fishing can track the effects of climate change; and the importance of local socioeconomic, governance and ecological issues in cross-boundary planning.

François Gauthiez from the French Marine Protected Areas Agency (AAMP) said the workshop had also generated interesting discussions on various software tools and how they can be used to present data simply to help island communities develop their fishing and conservation plans for the future.

Scales tell the story of a farmed rainbow trout

Scales tell the story of a farmed rainbow trout

There are common grumbles during my Marine Biology degree (sometimes from my direction, often from others) that there’s not enough practical work and too much theory.
While both are necessary, the most visually interesting is obviously those good prac classes that people go away raving about, such as yesterday’s look at methods of ageing farmed (and somewhat sickly-looking) rainbow trout.
This  photo is taken from a scale reader – showing scales from below the lateral line on a 1+ year old trout, with growth lines (annuli) helping indicate the age.
The trick is picking scales from the fish that haven’t regenerated and so have been on the fish for its lifetime – not an easy task on a small fish brought up in a farmed environment!
My ancient phone doesn’t take the best shots (I drowned my smartphone on another field prac earlier this year and reverted to the old Nokia) but you can still make out the circular lines on the larger right portion of the scales.
The lecturer also showed us how to remove the otolith (ear stones) from the fish to assist with age identification by measuring the growth rings, and also measuring the teeth and intestine to determine feeding category (such as herbivore, omnivore, predator).
I’m in the middle of writing an essay on the age, diet and reproductive capacity of southern bluefin tuna (thunnus maccoyii), so practical work such as this helps to give an appreciation of the work that goes into academic research on those topics.

Palau weighs up cost of banning foreign trawlers; Fiji conference beckons

The MPA News is a regular and very word-heavy newsletter with usually at least newsy story to interest those not excited by the remaining policy-driven interviews (some would call them ‘boring but important’).

This piece from the latest newsletter looked at Palau’s plan to ban foreign commercial fishing from their Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nautical miles from a country’s coast), a strategy that will deprive the country of license revenue but boost the local fishery and of course the sustainability of fish populations for the long-term.

Palua, north-west of Papua New Guina

Palua, north-west of Papua New Guinea

Earlier this year, President Tommy Remengesau of Palau announced he intends to ban foreign commercial fishing throughout his nation’s 604,000-km2 EEZ.  A study group is now examining the “total marine sanctuary” proposal, as it is known.  The examination will include how the large protected area would be financed.

Like Kiribati and other Pacific Island nations, Palau generates revenue from the sale of commercial fishing licenses to foreign tuna vessels.  The closure of Palau’s EEZ to foreign commercial fishing would result in a loss of fishing license revenue.  Umiich Sengebau, Palau’s Minister of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism, told MPA News the marine sanctuary study group is exploring all possible options for offsetting that revenue loss, including conceivably a reverse fishing license mechanism like PIPA’s.

That being said, Palauan waters are not as tuna-rich as other nations in the region, and as a result Palau is not as dependent on fisheries revenue as Kiribati and others.  Palau has focused instead on other revenue sources, particularly the use of environmental protection as a lure for foreign tourism.
This led Palau to designate its waters as a shark sanctuary in 2009.

In a speech in Monaco this year, President Remengesau said, “People have started to equate Palau with sharks.  Palau has effectively cornered the market on seeing sharks.  This is only the beginning of what the protection of apex predators can accomplish for us.”

An article on the total marine sanctuary plan, as well as Palau’s new initiative to test the use of drones to enforce its shark sanctuary, is at http://bit.ly/totalmarinesanctuary

On another note, I’ve signed up to volunteer at the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas in Fiji in December.

A uni lecturer (written about previously for her efforts in promoting seaweed cuisine) helped to initiate contact with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, which saw my previous PR and journalism experience as a useful addition to their conference team.

Should be a fascinating experience, as well as chance to explore more of Fiji in between long days at the conference!

Conference promotional poster

Conference promotional poster

Japan still misses point on whale, doplhin and shark conservation

A very small section of Japanese society would like to eat this guy. Photo: www.capelodge.com.au

A very small section of Japanese society would like to eat this guy. Photo: http://www.capelodge.com.au

Like many who care about the fate of some of the world’s biggest marine creatures, I’ve been watching in disbelief at the farcical arguments being thrown around at the International Court of Justice over the past two weeks.

Australia is aiming, through the ICJ, to prove that Japan’s Southern Ocean JARPA program is actually a commercial operation.

But, just as Japan has done at CITES and various other major environmental meetings, they couldn’t let commonsense and good legal arguments cloud their representations.

Just look at Japan’s greatest hits from one day of the ‘trial’, (story appeared in Wednesday’s Guardian)

“Japan insists lethal research is both lawful and necessary”

Tokyo was seeking “scientific information on the basis of which Japan might be able to ask for the moratorium [on commercial whaling] to be lifted”

Japan itself had reason to be offended by Australia’s “factual misrepresentations and … misleading use of selective references and quotes”, Tsuruoka said.

The Japanese government told the UN’s top judicial body it was a court of law, not a “medieval inquisition”

I think Japan may have been feeling like this:

I think this is a 'medieval inquisition', which looks very unlike the ICJ courtroom Photo: morriscourse.com

I think this is a ‘medieval inquisition’, which looks very unlike the ICJ courtroom
Photo: morriscourse.com

But after all the nonsense arguments from Japan, they still missed the point: ‘After the hearing, government spokesman Noriyuki Shikata told AAP that Japan was content with its “powerful case”.’

I’m no lawyer but a “powerful case” in this arena would seem to be one based on watertight arguments and sound scientific backing and hopefully support from other countries who have proven strong environmental consciousness. Not from those with commercial whaling programs and vested interests in keeping the dream alive for their kids who one day will get to harpoon whales, just like their parents.

Carl Safina, in the Huffington Post, wrote about a similar situation at the CITES meeting in March, where Japan and China were fighting to keep endangered sharks… well, off the endangered list:

… Because Japanese and Chinese delegates are applying intense pressure (read: $) on certain poor countries in Africa and elsewhere to reverse their votes. Japan always does this, bribing countries with aid packages or even individual delegates with cash. And so, a week that has started with a monumental decision for sharks may conclude with another black eye for shark conservation and for CITES.

At least these countries weren’t successful, this time:

Delegates at the triennial meeting in Bangkok of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna adopted the proposals to put the oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and porbeagle sharks on a list of species whose trade is closely controlled.

More than two dozen species of shark are officially endangered, and more than 100 others considered either vulnerable or near threatened. Like manta rays, sharks are seen as valuable to nations with dive tourism industries, with island territories such as the Bahamas, Fiji and the Maldives deriving major benefits. Eleven nations, including Brazil, the U.S. and Egypt, proposed regulating trade in the species.

The oceanic whitetip proposal passed in a secret ballot with 92 votes in favor, 42 against and 8 abstentions, while the hammerhead proposal passed with 91 votes in favor and 39 against. The porbeagle proposal was adopted with 93 votes in favor, 39 against and 8 abstentions.

It seems that international trade and foreign relations plays a big part in whether a country feels safe to denounce the whaling or shark and dolphin hunting activities of another.

Australia is a key market for Japanese cars and gadgets and they provide vast tourism dollars and a market for our grain, beef and raw materials so there is some financial risk here (but you could safely say, not as big a risk as the Sea Shepherd crews have been taking each summer during Antarctic whaling season).

Economic sanctions by Japan could potentially hurt our economy but if other countries step up and support Australia’s position at the ICJ, it could help Japan to change its position on whales, sharks and dolphins and become active in seeking their protection.

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