Jun 19

Over $1.8 billion has been pledged by various parties at the ‘Our Ocean’ 2014 summit, and proposals have been made to double the amount of protected marine habitats around the world.

‘Our Ocean’ 2014 brought together leaders from business, government and academic institutions, and NGOs from over 80 countries to discuss how economic development and ocean conservation can be reconciled. The oceans are extremely important for humans, generating more than 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe, absorbing excess carbon dioxide, and providing a source of food and income for millions of people worldwide.

Oceans provide invaluable environmental services and supports vast arrays of animal and plant life.

The summit concentrated on several key themes in ocean conservation including sustainable fishing, marine pollution, and ocean acidification. Perhaps one of the most significant announcements at Our Ocean was President Obama’s intention to expand and create new marine reserves in the Pacific Ocean, while Kiribati announced it will expand its already vast Phoenix Islands Protected Area. If implemented, these proposals will more than double the total area of legally protected oceans.

President Obama said in a video to participants at Our Ocean, “I’m going to use my authority to protect some of our nation’s most precious marine landscapes.”

The yellowfin tuna, along with other tuna species, are heavily fished for commercial and recreational purposes.

Many of the world’s fish stocks are being fished at unsustainable levels, and it is thought that around 30 percent of the world’s fisheries are overexploited. The Our Ocean summit aimed to examine the steps fishery management authorities need to take to reduce, and ultimately end, overfishing and to mitigate adverse impacts on the broader marine environment. Initiatives proposed at the summit aim to end all overfishing on marine fish stocks by 2020, through a series of measures including increased transparency in allocating fishing rights, tougher enforcement of legislation and penalties for illegal fisheries, elimination of excess capacity in fishing fleets and minimising bycatch.

To this end, President Obama has announced a comprehensive new national programme on seafood traceability and openness which will allow customers in the United States to ensure that their seafood has been harvested legally and sustainably. Additionally, the United States launched the ‘mFish’ partnership, which will provide mobile devices to small-scale fisheries in developing nations with apps designed to access market and weather information and ensure accurate and easy catch reporting. Norway also pledged more than $150 million to promote fishery management and development abroad, including a new research vessel to train fisheries experts and managers around the world.

Laysan albatross fledging with neck caught in plastic coathanger, an example of the effects of marine pollution.

Significant advances have been made in addressing marine pollution from land- and ocean-based sources, by individuals and local communities at the regional and global scale, although much more needs to be done. Our Ocean 2014 has facilitated the development of initiatives to reduce total nutrient pollution in the ocean by 20 percent and to significantly reduce the input of debris into the marine environment by 2025. To help achieve this, Norway will allocate up to $1 million for a study on measures to combat marine plastic waste and microplastics. Additionally, the United States announced the Trash Free Waters programme, which aims to stop waste and debris from entering the ocean though sustainable product design, increased material recovery and recycling, and a new nationwide waste prevention ethic.

It is thought that coral reefs could be the first victims of ocean acidification, with one reef being destroyed every other day.

Due to ocean acidification, our oceans are approximately 30 percent more acidic than before the industrial revolution, and the ocean’s chemistry is currently changing 10 times faster than at any other time in the past 50 million years. Many organisms will not be able to adapt to the changes within their habitat, which will negatively impact both biodiversity and the crucial services that the oceans provide us. Initiatives to prevent further increases in ocean acidification were developed at the Our Oceans summit, which aim to reduce carbon emissions and monitor ocean acidification on a global scale.

Norway announced that it will allocate over $1 billion to climate change mitigation and adaptation assistance in 2015. The United States presented new projects to meet the challenges of ocean acidification and marine pollution in Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean, as well as contributing $640,000 to support the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Center in Monaco.

Find out more about the Our Oceans summit.

Find out more about coral reef conservation on Arkive.

Read more about ocean acidification on Arkive.

Read our blog on protecting our oceans for the future.

Learn more about the islands of the South Pacific on Arkive.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

Jun 12

“When I first landed on what was Rat Island in 2007, it was an eerily silent place. A typical Aleutian island is teeming with wildlife, swirling with noisy, pungent birds. Not this place. It was crisscrossed with rat trails, littered with rat scat, scavenged bird bones, it even smelled…wrong,” reports Stacey Buckelew, an Island Conservation biologist. Buckelew first visited the island to help document centuries of damage to native birds and plant species from introduced invasive Norway rats.

Hawadax Island (formerly Rat Island), located in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska, is a 6,861 acre island uninhabited by humans. This treeless island has steep costal cliffs, a small central mountain range and broad rolling plateaus of maritime tundra. In the early 1780’s a shipwreck left the island with invasive Norway rats. Since their arrival the rats had decimated the islands native bird species by eating eggs, chicks, adult birds and plants.

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Hawadax Island (formerly Rat Island), Alaska © Island Conservation

In September 2008, Island Conservation, The US Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy successfully removed invasive rats from Hawadax Island. Following the removal of the rats all direct impacts, such as predation and competition for resources, immediately ceased.

Today the island is thriving. Since the removal of the rats, breeding tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) have been documented on the island for the first time and species thought to have been extirpated due to the rats, such as Leach’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) and fork-tailed storm-petrels (Oceanodroma furcate), have been recorded.

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Tufted Puffins in waters around Hawadax Island, Alaska © Rory Stansbury / Island Conservation

Ground-nesting and shorebird numbers are increasing as well. A 2008 survey documented nine glaucous-winged gull nests whereas an identical survey carried out in the summer of 2013 discovered twenty eight nests, a three-fold increase. Black oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) and rock sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis) nests have also increased significantly. Song sparrows (Melospiza melodia), thought to be nearly extirpated by rats, and snow buntings, also decimated by rats, are rebounding as well.

Snow bunting in autumn

In 2012, Rat Island formally had its original Aleut name, Hawadax, restored in acknowledgement of the absence of rats.

To find out more about the great work that Island Conservation carry out, visit their website or facebook page.

Find out about more North Pacific Islands on Arkive.

Jemma Pealing, Arkive Content and Outreach Officer

Jun 10

Located 14 miles off the coast of California, Anacapa Island is the easternmost island in the Channel Islands Archipelago. Comprised of three islands strung closely together (East, Middle and West Anacapa), Anacapa Island is part of the Channel Islands National Park. Native species to the island include the Vulnerable Xantus’s murrelet (now renamed Scripps’s Murrelet), the endemic Anacapa deer mouse and the largest breeding colony of brown pelicans in California.

West and Middle Anacapa Islands, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA

Once an island with no natural predators for nesting birds, invasive non-native black rats were inadvertently introduced to the island from ships visiting the islands in the 1940’s. The invasive rats decimated native seabird populations by eating eggs and chicks. In 2001 and 2002, Island Conservation, the Channel Islands National Park, California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration removed the invasive rats from Anacapa Island. In the absence of these invasive predators Xantus’s murrelets (now renamed Scripps Murrelet) rebounded almost immediately with nesting success increasing by 91% the year after the rats were removed. The nesting success has remained at around 90%, compared to just 20% when rats were still there.

Xantus’s murrelet on water

This was not the only success story. Since the removal of the rats, ashy storm-petrels have been recorded nesting on the island for the first time ever and the Cassin’s auklet, a small seabird which had been unable to nest on Anacapa Island due to the risk of rat predation, has returned. Populations of the island’s only endemic mammal, the Anacapa deer mouse, are also thriving after the removal of the rats which used to compete with the mice as well as predating on them.

Ancapa deer mouse

Anacapa deer mouse © Jacob Sheppard/ Island Conservation

To find out more about the great work that Island Conservation carry out, visit their website or facebook page.

Find out about more North Pacific Islands on Arkive.

Jun 8

This year the Society of Biology’s amateur photography competition is inviting budding photographers to think creatively about forests, grasslands, deserts and watery environments, fitting in with the theme ‘Home, Habitat & Shelter’.

Entries can focus on any of the world’s amazing ecosystems, although as today is World Ocean’s Day we thought we would give potential entrants some inspiration from one of nature’s most mysterious and varied environments. Occupying approximately two thirds of the Earth’s surface and containing around 95 percent of the Earth’s water, the world’s oceans provide numerous habitats for a wide range of species. The oceans are divided into five distinct areas: the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern (Antarctic) and Arctic.

Oceans are divided into five layers, and each layer is designated depending on its depth, physical characteristics and biological conditions, and the richness of life within each zone can vary considerably. Oceanographers categorise the open ocean as the pelagic zone, while the far depths, including the oceanic trenches, are described as hedalpelagic. At depths between 6,000 and 11,000 metres, there is a very low density of marine-life due to the harsh physical and chemical conditions.

But even at great depths and with no direct access to sunlight, creatures have evolved to survive and thrive. The giant tube worm lives around strong flowing hydrothermal vents, which are cracks on the ocean floor from which very hot, mineral-rich water flows into the surrounding ocean water. These vents are usually found near volcanically active places and the surrounding water is heated by the magma beneath the Earth’s surface.

Giant tube worm plume – a deep-sea species

The giant tube worm lives inside thin, tube-like structures made from chitin (a hard, protective material found in the outer skeleton of some invertebrates) and can grow up to two metres long. It has an impressive, haemoglobin-rich, red plume which is extended when it is undisturbed. The highly specialised body is divided into four sections, each of which plays a role in gas exchange, structure and support, and absorption of nutrients. Like other worms, it does not have a digestive tract and relies on a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in its body tissue. The bacteria perform chemosynthesis, a process by which organic molecules are produced for the worm to feed on.

Giant tube worm specimen

The remoteness of the hydrothermal vents prevents scientists from studying the ecology and biology of this species and others that live in these deep-sea areas. So although it is clear to see they have adapted to thrive in harsh oceanic environments, other biological features such as reproduction and feeding habits are relatively unknown.

If you have been inspired to think about a creature that has developed to flourish in a unique environment or you have simply been struck by the beauty of a creature in its natural habitat, why not enter the Society of Biology amateur photography competition. Photographs could focus on biological research which helps to answer the complex question of why and how different organisms survive in diverse environments; or, could simply capture the beauty of an animal in its natural habitat.

Further details on entering the photography competition are available on the Society of Biology website

Jun 7

Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus)

Species: Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Atlantic bluefin tuna can swim at speeds of up to 72 kilometres per hour when pursuing its prey.

More information: The enormous Atlantic bluefin tuna can grow to lengths of 4.6 metres and weigh up to 684 kilograms. This fish species has two types of muscle, one for continuous long-distance swimming and the other for short, fast bursts of speed. This amazing adaptation means that individuals of this species are able to swim across the Atlantic Ocean in just 60 days. Although the Atlantic bluefin tuna is generally found swimming in mixed species schools close to the surface of the water, it is capable of diving to depths of up to 1,000 metres when chasing prey. Another fascinating adaptation of the Thunnus genus is the blood exchange system known as the rete mirable which enables individuals to swim in water that is much to cold for other fish. The Atlantic bluefin tuna is a highly migratory species and has a naturally occurring magnetic mineral located in its head that helps with navigation to and from its spawning grounds.

The severe exploitation of the Atlantic bluefin tuna has led to the drastic decline of every known population, particularly in the North Atlantic Ocean. Despite quotas being in place to ensure sustainable numbers are removed from the population, the limits are frequently not respected and unless the legal levels are suitably enforced, it is predicted that some Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks will collapse. The western Atlantic stock may have already collapsed and is now in grave danger of extinction due to overfishing. In the Mediterranean, tuna ranching poses the greatest threat to this species. Individuals are captured alive and taken to a ranch where they are fattened before being sold. Since 1998, catch limits have been in place and in 2006 the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) established a 15 year recovery plan for the Atlantic bluefin tuna. The plan includes stricter catch limits and closing certain fisheries at specific times of the year to allow the local stocks to recover.

Find out more about Atlantic tuna conservation: International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

See images and videos of the Atlantic bluefin tuna on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer.

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