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Can You Read: Please Keep Our Oceans Clean!

This is the sad and ironic scene I discovered while in The Florida Keys last weekend. Obviously this was not an effective message for one “Stars and Stripes” fishing bait...

Tuna and Billfish in Double Jeopardy

An international team of scientists assessed the population status of several fish species for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species A new study by top fisheries experts presents an alarming assessment of several economically important fish populations. The analysis of 61 species of “scombrids,” which includes tunas, bonitos, mackerels and Spanish mackerels, and billfishes, which include swordfish and marlins, classified seven as threatened with extinction, four as “near threatened” for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science associate Professor David Die and colleagues scientifically evaluated the species population and conservation status under the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, which is the most widely accepted system for classifying extinction risk at the species level. “The IUCN assessments offer an alternative that can be used by fishery management organizations to assess conservation status of marine resources,” said Die, who has conducted research on highly migratory tuna and billfish for 12 years. Die conducts research on highly migratory tunas and billfish and regularly contributes to assessments of Atlantic billfish and Atlantic tropical tunas. He contributed information on abundance trends and biological parameters for the Atlantic species of large tunas and billfish participated in this recent IUCN review study. Of the 61 known species, seven are classified in a threatened category, being at serious risk of extinction. Four species are listed as Near Threatened and nearly two-thirds have been placed in the Least Concern category. According to the IUCN there is growing concern that in spite of the healthy status of several epipelagic fish stocks (those living near the surface), some...

Champagne Reefs

New research shows ocean acidification will likely reduce diversity and resiliency in coral reef ecosystems A new study from University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science scientists and colleagues from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Max-Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Germany concludes that ocean acidification, along with increased ocean temperatures, will likely severely reduce the diversity and resilience of coral reef ecosystems within this century. The research team studied three natural volcanic CO2 seeps in Papua New Guinea to better understand how ocean acidification will impact coral reefs ecosystem diversity. The study details the effects of long-term exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide and low pH on Indo-Pacific coral reefs, a condition that is projected to occur by the end of the century as increased man-made CO2 emissions alter the current pH level of seawater, turning the oceans acidic. “These ‘champagne reefs’ are natural analogs of how coral reefs may look in 100 years if ocean acidification conditions continue to get worse,” said Langdon, UM Rosenstiel School professor and co-principal investigator of the study. The study shows shifts in the composition of coral species and reductions in biodiversity and recruitment on the reef as pH declined from 8.1 to 7.8. The team also reports that reef development would cease at a pH below 7.7. The IPCC 4th Assessment Report estimates that by the end of the century, ocean pH will decline from the current level of 8.1 to 7.8, due to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. “The seeps are probably the closest we can come to simulating the effect of man-made...

Global Expedition Sets Sail to Study Coral Reefs Worldwide

This morning I was aboard the 220-foot motor yacht Golden Shadow, a floating laboratory and the new headquarters for 17 ocean scientists studying coral reefs worldwide. The vessel will set sail today from Miami to embark on the largest scientific effort study the threats and impacts coral reefs throughout the world. The 5-year global reef expedition, sponsored by the Khalid bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, will make their first stop in the warm blue Bahamian reefs where they will uncover the mystery of the famed “Bahamas blue holes” and mega-ripples of pearl-size sand growing along the seafloor off the Bahamas Banks. The ship is equipped with lots of science toys — from a ROV that can travel 500 feet below the surface to specially designed sensors to study the physical and chemical conditions of seawater. The entire expedition will span roughly 40,000 nautical miles, beginning in the Caribbean, head through the Galapagos into the Pacific to the bio-diverse Indo-Pacific coral triangle region and end in the Red Sea in 2015. The mission to assessment the health and resilience of coral reef environments is vital. Coral reefs are being lost at an alarming rate. According to the recent published Reefs at Risk Revisited report, 75% of coral reefs are threatened from human activities, such as coastal pollution and over fishing as well as from climate change and increased carbon dioxide in the world’s oceans. The ambitious and privately funded Global Reef Expedition will undertake research in oceans and seas around the world to help thwart the assault on coral reef ecosystems and to assist resource managers in their efforts to...

What Lies Beneath the Seafloor?

Study provides results from first microbial subsurface observatory experiment MIAMI — May 3, 2011 — An international team of scientists report on the first observatory experiment to study the dynamic microbial life of an ever-changing environment inside Earth’s crust. University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science professor Keir Becker contributed the deep-sea technology required to make long-term scientific observations of life beneath the seafloor. During the four-year subsurface experiment, the research team deployed the first in situ experimental microbial observatory systems below the flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, which is located off the coast of Washington (U.S.) and British Columbia (Canada). Becker and UM Rosenstiel alumnus Andrew Fisher installed the sub-surface observatory technology known as CORK (Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kit), which seals the sub-surface borehole for undisturbed observations of the natural hydrogeological state and microbial ecosystem inside Earth’s crust. “Similar to a cork in a wine bottle, our technology stops fluids from moving in and out of the drilling hole,” said Becker, a UM Rosenstiel School professor of marine geology and geophysics. “Ocean water is blocked from entering the hole and flushing out the natural system.” These natural laboratories allow scientists to investigate the hydrogeology, geochemistry, and microbiology of ocean crust. A large reservoir of seawater exists in Earth’s crust, which is thought to be the largest habitat on Earth. This seawater aquifer supports a dynamic microbial ecosystem that is known to eat hydrocarbons and natural gas, and may have the genetic potential to store carbon. Scientists are interested in better understanding the natural processes taking place below the seafloor, which also give...

Scientists Track Great Hammerhead Shark Migration

New study provides new insight into the largely unknown migratory patterns and habitat use of the endangered shark A study led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science details the first scientific research to successfully track a great hammerhead shark using satellite tag technology. Rosenstiel School research assistant professor Neil Hammerschlag and colleagues tracked one of the nomadic sharks for 62 days to uncover its northeastern journey from the coast of South Florida to the middle of the Atlantic off the coast of New Jersey. The straight line point-to-point distance of 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) represents a range extension for this species. The data also revealed the shark entering the Gulf Stream current and open-ocean waters of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean. “This animal made an extraordinarily large movement in a short amount of time,” said Hammerschlag, director of the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the UM Rosenstiel School. “This single observation is a starting point, it shows we need to expand our efforts to learn more about them.” The animal was likely following food, such as mahi-mahi and jacks, off the continental slope and into the Gulf Stream current, according to the authors. This preliminary study is part of a larger effort by Hammerschlag to satellite track tropical sharks to identify hotspots, areas that are important for feeding, mating, and pupping, and to document their largely unknown migration routes. In the last year, the Rosenstiel research team has tagged the fins over 50 large and environmentally threatened sharks in Florida and Bahamas, including great hammerhead, bull and tiger sharks. The...

Reefs at Risk

The World Resources Institute has published Reefs at Risk Revisited, a comprehensive view of the threats facing coral reefs worldwide. Here’s a story Jessica Carilli and I wrote for the publication on coral reef resiliency Mesoamerican Reef: Low Stress Leads to Resilience Shared by Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, the Mesoamerican Reef spans over 1,000 km, making it the largest continuous reef in the Western Hemisphere. Portions of the Mesoamerican Reef are World Heritage sites and more than two million people in four countries benefit from the ecosystem services the reef provides, which include productive fishing grounds and the attraction of millions of tourists. However, agricultural runoff from more than 300,000 hectares of cropland in the region is a prime threat tothe reef’s health.3 Other local stresses to the reef include coastal development and overfishing. Two recent scientific studies have shown that these local stresses negatively impact the reef’s ability to recover from climate-related threats, such as coral bleaching. In 1998, a mass coral bleaching caused significant coral death on the Mesoamerican Reef. A study conducted in Belize and Honduras showed that in areas with clean waters and healthy reefs, mountainous star corals (Montastraea faveolata) were able to recover and grow normally within two to three years after the bleaching. In comparison, corals living with excessive human pressures, such as pollution, coastal development, and runoff, had not recovered even eight years after the event. The fast-recovering corals were located far offshore, at Turneffe Atolland Cayos Cochinos.. The corals that took longer to recover were located in areas with significant land-based runoff and heavily populated and developed coastlines – the...

Diving in Negril and other Jamaican secrets

Saturday 13 November, 2010. Negril, Jamaica. I got tired of trying to go out in rough seas, and getting little (or likkle, in Jamaican patois) work done. So I headed for the calm waters of Negril on the west coast. In addition to re-surveying my 7-meter radius, permanent plots; I am also trying to get a sense of the density of these corals along the entire northwest coast. The folks from Jamaica’s National Environmental Protection Agency were nice enough to let us tag along on a Reef Check dive that they were conducting. There wasn’t much Elkhorn Coral in this area maybe 10 across a 300m area, but not a one of them showed up in my transect. Boo. Nevertheless, it was nice to see a different part of Jamaica. Friday November 19, 2010. It occurs to me that I’ve offered no background to the uninitiated. Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? More importantly, who are you? Why are you reading this? Are you a friend of mine curious about the details of what I actually do either over or under water, in the states or in Jamaica?A colleague looking for someone to verbalize the sometimes drudgery of SCUBA diving when it becomes your job? My hopiest of hopes is that you are a stranger to me, someone interested in the world. Take out your hand lens. Welcome to Jamaica. Mon. Jamaicans are great. I knew it from the second person I met here on my initial trip in 2007. I suspected that I had landed in a nice place when the immigration...

Tides and Sunsets in Jamaica

Sunday, Nov 14. Add two new ones to the list. Tides and Sunset. As I’ve mentioned before, this is my fourth time in Jamaica. In previous years, I check the tides, but pay them little mind, as the differential here is 2 feet at its most extreme (spring tide?), and usually no more than a foot. This year I need every foot of depth I can get. And wouldn’t you know that the low tides have been in the morning during the past week. Perf. Since the wind has been fairly constant throughout the day (I’m wearing socks and a hoody, items I brought solely for the airplane rides), I have relaxed my strict pre-7am departure time. Working on an ebbing tide sucks, so I opted today to start 2 hours past low tide. In other words I opted to sleep in, Sach, don’t hate me. It was nice. I woke up at 7ish, and read in bed in the morning. Pure luxury. I read Forest Rohwer’s Corals in the Microbial Seas. It is perfect — an expert and an intelligent — any interested novice could easily digest and enjoy it. The best part, in between well-researched, well-written, and concise chapters about coral reefs and why they are fascinating, delicate and tough at the same time, screwed, are laugh out loud character vignettes that transport you aboard a rusty old research vessel in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I hate to use a cliché but it’s late and I can’t think of a better way to say this: Forest’s super smart, funny voice makes science come alive. Now...

So Go Check It Out – A Field Report from Jamaica

I’m not sure how, when, or if these bloggy posts (blosts?) are going to get posted, so I’ll give some general background as to who I am and what I’m doing. I tend to shy away from these details for fear of boring my poor sister who is my target audience either consciously or subconsiously. Other friends, family, advisors, and colleagues are also in my mind as I write this, as well as a general audience, especially strangers. However, besides trying to preserve nature for all of eternity, give the mute animals of this world a voice, and stop the inevitable stomp of man on this earth, my life’s work beginning at age eight has been trying to make my sister laugh. Anyway these are my stories. I’m a sixth year PH.D. student at Scripps on my last field trip studying an endangered coral in very shallow water. Most of the stories so far are about how it’s too windy for me to find and resurvey my plots. Enjoy. Full disclosure: this blog may be one long confession to my daughter, once she is able to read, of why I had to leave her for three weeks. Sach, you are a wonderdad. Halloween. Oct 31. La Jolla. Speaking of wonderdads. Today was my dad’s birthday. A perfect birthday for a fun loving guy. My dad passed away in 2005 but he is never ever far from my memory. And especially on Halloween. A party day that carries for me a somber, not ghoulish tone. This was to be day one of my fourth journey to Jamaica. The last field...

More on Ocean Acidification

National Research Council has developed a national strategy to meet the challenges of a changing ocean. Are we addressing these challenges yet or still talking about...

Rocky Reef Ahead

Florida reefs are rebuilding due to artificial reef program; enhanced education and protection needed to survive I’ve been swimming at the same beach for the last 33 years, since I was 3-years old. Growing up, my parents would take every opportunity they could to head south out of New England to the Atlantic Ocean, destined for Singer Island, Florida. Recently, while just knee deep in the water at my childhood beach, I saw for the first time a nearly foot-long pufferfish. Three months ago, while swimming less than 10-yards offshore, I got to chase five squid as they tried racing away from me leaving puffs of ink between me and them. The waters are teeming with colorful reef fish, corals and soldier-like barracuda protecting their newly acquired territory. The sandy bottom that was once home to the occasional starfish, conch and out of place barracuda or migratory fish, is now showing signs of a thriving reef ecosystem. This new aquatic life that has taken hold at my beach is the result of an artificial reef program. Last summer, contractors working with the Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management dropped rock boulders in Singer Island as part of a $1.3 million artificial reef program that, when complete, will have 9,700 tons of limestone boulders covering 11.5 acres area of new reef. Along with this new reef come threats to the new underwater inhabitants. Just as got excited to snorkel with my new friends, I watched other amazed snorkelers as they stood on the new reef and plunged down to get a closet look only to find plastic bags...

Seeking an Aquatic Baby Boom

Imagine a vast forest of coral spread across the seafloor as far as the eyes can see. The warm, crystal blue Caribbean water is an aquatic forest filled with colors and teeming with fish. Few underwater tropical paradises like this still exist — but Scripps Institution of Oceanography graduate student Tali Vardi is hoping to change that. Vardi is studying the elkhorn coral, known in the scientific community as Acropora palmata. It gets the name from its antler-like branches, which once dominated the Caribbean seafloor in waters from Florida to Venezuela. Today, only 5-10% of them remain. She goes to work underwater with transect lines, tape measures, billiard balls, a camera and quarter-size metal tags to collect information on the growth growth rates. She is collecting the data in order to build a mathematical population model for the coral species that marine resource managers in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean hope can help them devise a recovery plan for the coral before the small remaining population  disappears forever. How fast is each population abundance declining or recovery? Will planting recruits lead to stable population size? If so, how many recruits must be planted? How many recruits are necessary to reach former density levels? Which populations should we save —  those most at risk or those with signs of recovery? These are the questions Vardi is seeking answers to in hopes of bring scientists closer to a solution for the rapid demise of elkhorn, which in 1996 was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species List, as well the entire Caribbean coral reef ecosystem. Coral-eating snails, fireworms and damselfish...