May 14

1aOur oceans are critical to our very existence; it’s a simple matter of healthy oceans = healthy people.  Besides providing us with food (today almost one in six people in the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein), oceans provide us with many other important services that our survival depends on.  They maintain our renewable supply of fresh water through the water cycle, regulate our climate, and produce more oxygen than the world’s rainforests. With growing concern over climate change, we are turning more and more towards the oceans for clean, renewable energy.

In addition to being an important source of protein, many marine organisms have been found to provide therapeutic uses in antioxidant, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, or antibiotic medicines. Additionally, the marine and coastal ecosystems offer endless recreational opportunities such as sea kayaking, sport fishing, surfing, whale watching and scuba diving, activities which not only feed our souls, but also drive economic benefits through employment for local peoples.

2a

Today almost one in six people in the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein.

Although critical to our existence, our oceans are in desperate trouble.  Depleted fishery stocks, habitat destruction, pollution, coastal development, climate change and invasive species, are some of the major issues threatening the healthy existence of our oceans.  In the Pacific Ocean for example, there is an area 1000 kilometres from the US coast which is larger than the entire land mass of South Africa and which is covered in plastic. It contains six times more plastic than plankton, and is growing all the time as more than 10 million tonnes of plastic finds its way into the sea each year.

3a

The marine and coastal ecosystems offer endless recreational opportunities such as sea kayaking, sport fishing, surfing, whale watching and scuba diving.

This current state of affairs is largely as a result of the dilemma known as “The Tragedy of the Commons”, in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long term interest for this to happen.

Plastic debris littered along the beachfront

Our oceans are in desperate trouble. Depleted fishery stocks, habitat destruction, pollution, coastal development, climate change and invasive species, are some of the major issues threatening the healthy existence of our oceans.

Overfishing, together with global climate change and habitat destruction, are considered as the three major risks facing our oceans. When looking at this, obviously the first thing that we have to do is to control our own levels of exploitation. That means fishing within the biological limits of a fish population and assuring that the gear that we use does not destroy habitats. Today, many stocks are just hanging on to survival because of regulations that were inadequately or not properly enforced in the past. We need to abide to these regulations and support good science that guides the future regulatory parameters around fishery off-take.

5a

Fishing is taking place across food chains and thereby breaking down the efficiency of the oceans.

Globally, as human populations continue to grow, along with the popularity of seafood, fish stocks are coming under increasing pressure and can no longer keep up with pressure of current commercial fishing operations. A recently published report on the state of the world’s fisheries by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), estimated that approximately 80% of the world’s fisheries were fished at (52%) or beyond (28%) their maximum sustainable limits.

A small-pelagic fishing trawler at dawn and surrounded by seagul

Overfishing, together with global climate change and habitat destruction, are considered as the three major risks facing our oceans.

Increased levels of fishing do not only result in the overexploitation of our marine resources, but also results in the destruction of marine habitats. More than 50% of the world’s total marine catch (81 million tons) is harvested using towed fishing gear. Studies have shown that fishing can damage the seabed by, for example, breaking deep-water coral reefs and other fragile habitats.

7

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), estimated that approximately 80% of the world’s fisheries were fished at (52%) or beyond (28%) their maximum sustainable limits.

Habitat destruction is not only about the physical loss that may come from the destruction of a reef or the damming of a river, but also from pollution, diverted stream flows, and even the introduction of invasive species. Through habitat destruction, biodiversity is negatively impacted which ultimately is the cornerstone of a productive ecosystem that in turn drives the fishery resource upon which we depend. We know that 85 % of all commercially valuable fish are dependent upon wetlands and estuaries during some part of their lifecycle. Two-thirds of our estuaries and bays are already severely degraded through torrents of chemical and other poisonous runoffs and irresponsible development and agricultural practises.

8

Pollution is negatively impacting on the biodiversity of our oceans.

Protecting our oceans and coast is more than stopping pollution and regulating fishing. It also means controlling our activities onshore and controlling unregulated coastal development. With all of these poisonous pollutants running into the oceans, “dead zones” have been created where only some of the smallest marine organisms can survive. These areas are created in significant part by synthetic nitrogen fertilizers flowing into the sea and nourishing massive algal blooms which then decay and cause oxygen- depletion, killing everything except the hardiest in its vicinity.

9

We know that 85 % of all commercially valuable fish are dependent upon wetlands and estuaries during some part of their lifecycle.

Although these kinds of reports on the state of our marine resources may be disheartening, it is important for us to realize that there are solutions, and that if we all work together, we can turn things around. Marine Protected Areas are globally recognised as an essential tool for marine conservation and for helping restore the health of our oceans. They allow for the protection of habitats and provide areas where fish species can grow and breed without disturbance. As habitats are able to re-establish back to their natural state, they help in preventing damage from severe storms, reducing the impacts of pollutants while also aiding in reducing the impacts of climate change.

Blouberg Strand and Table Mountain

Protecting our oceans and coast is also about controlling unregulated coastal development.

Where fishing is concerned, it is important that all stakeholders abide by set fishing regulations and laws- we need to build a culture of voluntary compliance and self-regulation. Fisheries need to start implementing what is known as an Ecosystem Approach to fisheries (EAF), which seeks to protect and enhance the health of our marine ecosystems as a whole, to ensure the long-term survival of marine life and the communities that depend on it.

Marine Protected Area signage overlooking an estuary mouth

Marine Protected Areas are globally recognised as an essential tool for marine conservation and for helping restore the health of our oceans.

It is also important that we promote a sustainable seafood trade. By simply asking questions about our seafood and making more informed choices about the fish that we trade, buy and eat, we could make a huge impact in influencing positive change in the seafood chain of custody.  But this requires urgent and concerted effort from all parties involved- from the fishing industry all the way to the consumer.

12

It is important that all stakeholders abide by set fishing regulations and laws.

Our oceans are a common heritage, and we all have the responsibility and the ability to help conserve and protect them- if not for our sake, then for the sake of future generations- our children.

13

Support the South African Seafood Initiative (SASSI) and only eat and buy the healthiest and most well managed fish populations.

More tips on what you can do to help save the oceans:

1. Support South Africa’s Marine Protected Areas
2. Eat sustainable seafood: Support the South African Seafood Initiative (SASSI) and only eat and buy the healthiest and most well managed fish populations. For further information visit: www.wwf.org.za/sassi
3. Don’t dispose of trash or toilet waste in the ocean.
4. When enjoying recreational fishing, obey regulations and try to enjoy only catch-and-release fishing and use care when releasing fish back into the ocean. Take photos, not fish
5. Keep beaches clean. Plastics and other debris harm sea life and pollute the ocean. Clean up after yourself. Get involved! Participate in beach cleanups if you live in a coastal area.
6. Don’t purchase items that exploit marine resources unnecessarily such as shell and coral jewellery and sharks teeth.
7. Spread the word: Tell people what’s going on with the world’s oceans and what they can do to make a difference.

14

Peter Chadwick
http://www.peterchadwick.co.za

Apr 23

It’s a well-known fact that Britain is a nation of animal lovers and is particularly obsessed with its wildlife. However, there is one group which often gets overlooked – our piscatorial friends the freshwater fish. Currently there are 54 species of freshwater fish swimming around the United Kingdom, including species like the mullet and flounder which, despite just visiting the estuarine parts of rivers, can be found surprisingly far up from the sea! Non-native species such as the wels catfish, which resembles a giant tadpole, and the topmouth gudgeon are also present in the UK. Despite the UK not suffering from the presence of non-native species as much as other countries such as Spain, the tiny topmouth gudgeon does still cause big problems by outcompeting native fish and spreading disease.

The topmouth gudgeon has been described as Europe’s most invasive fish species

In recent years, the number of native European eels has declined by around 95%. However, 2013 was recorded as one of the best elver runs in recent years, with millions making their way up the Severn. Whilst many may think that floods are not good for fish, flooding helps the European eels get into ponds and lakes where they can grow before returning to the Sargasso Sea with the next floods.

European eel image

The European eel is very long-lived, potentially reaching an impressive 85 years old

There are many other native freshwater fish species which are less well known to the general public and even wildlife enthusiasts (I bet most birders in the UK have never heard of a spined loach or allis shad, for example). One such species is the Arctic charr, a cousin of the trout, which lives in deep glacial lakes mostly in the Lake District and Scottish Lochs. The Arctic charr can also be found in Iceland where it reaches much larger sizes of up to 20lb and, unlike the British populations, goes out to sea like a salmon.

Male and female Arctic charr

So next time you’re walking by your local canal or river, take a look and see what you can spot –  you’ll be surprised by the wealth of fish life beneath the waterline in British waterways.

Video showing 28 species filmed by me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjAIUKfYtHA

Jack Perks Photography – Underwater & Wildlife Photographer

Website – http://www.jackperksphotography.com and http://www.btwlfishproject.com/
Twitter – @JackPerksPhoto

Jan 23

A shocking one quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, according to the results of a new study.

Great white shark image

The great white shark is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Threat analysis

The paper, published this week in the open-access journal eLife, analysed the threat and conservation status of an impressive 1,041 species of chondrichthyans, a fascinating group of fish species including sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras whose skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone. The results were rather alarming, revealing that this group is among the most threatened in the animal kingdom.

The paper is the result of collaboration between more than 300 experts from 64 countries, and reports that, while no species has yet been driven to global extinction, at least 28 populations of skates, sawfishes and angel sharks are now locally or regionally extinct. In addition, several shark species have not been seen for several decades.

Reef manta ray image

Reef manta ray parts are highly valued in traditional medicine, posing a threat to this majestic species

Threat hotspots

The study highlights two areas which are currently experiencing a higher than expected level of threat: the Red Sea and the Indo-Pacific Biodiversity Triangle. The latter is considered to be among the most biologically and culturally diverse regions on the planet, yet unfortunately it is also one of the least regulated.

The authors of the paper explain that, “The Indo-Pacific Biodiversity Triangle, particularly the Gulf of Thailand, and the islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Sulawesi, is a hotspot of greatest residual threat, especially for coastal sharks and rays with 76 threatened species.”

It is feared that, should no national or international action be taken, these species could rapidly become extinct.

Shark finning image

Finning was revealed to be a major threat to many shark species

Major threats

The results of the study revealed that the main threat to chondrichthyans is overexploitation through targeted fisheries and incidental catches. Of particular concern for the future of sharks, wedgefishes and sawfishes is the process of ‘finning’, which is driven by the huge market demand for shark fin soup, a highly sought-after delicacy in China.

The authors of the new research paper state that, “Fins, in particular, have become one of the most valuable seafood commodities. It is estimated that the fins of between 26 and 73 million individuals, worth US$400-550 million, are traded each year.”

Habitat loss is a further threat to chondrichthyans, with 22 species being threatened by the destruction of estuaries and river systems for the purposes of residential and commercial development, and 12 species being placed at risk due to the conversion of mangroves into shrimp farms. In addition, pollution and climate change have been identified as major threats to sharks, rays and their relatives.

Scalloped hammerhead shark image

The scalloped hammerhead shark is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Additional factors

As well as providing a vital insight into the type and extent of threats to chondrichthyans, the paper also revealed other interesting factors which come into play. It was found that large body size and occurrence in shallow habitat are the biggest factors determining a species’ likelihood of being threatened. The results showed that with every 10-centimetre increase in a species’ maximum body length came a 1.2-percent increase in the probability that the species would be threatened. Dwellers of deep water appear to fare better than their shallow-water relatives, with a 10.3-percent decrease in the probability of being threatened for every 50-metre increase in the minimum depth limit of the species.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – One quarter of sharks and rays threatened with extinction.

View photos and videos of chondrichthyans on ARKive.

Read more about shark conservation and conservation in the Indo-Pacific Region.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

 

Oct 5
Photo of barndoor skate

Barndoor skate (Dipturus laevis)

Species: Barndoor skate (Dipturus laevis)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Adult male barndoor skates have widely spaced teeth with sharply pointed cusps, but females have close-set teeth with rounded cusps.

More information:

The largest skate in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, the barndoor skate can grow up to about 1.5 metres in length. Like other skates, this species has a flattened body which is fused to the expanded pectoral fins to form a broad disc. Its snout is pointed and its tail bears three rows of spines as well as two small dorsal fins. The barndoor skate grows slowly, taking at least 6 to 7 years to reach maturity, and can potentially live for up to 18 years. Its diet consists mainly of bottom-dwelling prey such as fish, squid, crustaceans, bivalves and worms. The eggs of the barndoor skate are laid in smooth, rectangular capsules and hatch after about 11 to 16 months.

Although not specifically targeted by fisheries, the barndoor skate has often been taken as accidental bycatch, and has been part of a group of several skates fished in U.S. waters which are not recorded by species. The flesh of this and other skates has been used as lobster bait, fish meal, pet food and seafood. The slow growth, late maturity and low reproductive rate of this species make it vulnerable to overfishing, and its population has undergone a dramatic decline. Possession of the barndoor skate in U.S. waters is now banned, and ‘no-take’ zones in areas such as Georges Bank have decreased mortality of this species and increased the number of juveniles being produced. A reduction in fishing effort is thought to have allowed the barndoor skate population to start recovering, but if fishing was to increase again the skate would be likely to decline once more.

 

Find out more about the barndoor skate at the Ichthyology Department of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

You can also find out more about the conservation of skates, rays and sharks at:

See more images of the barndoor skate on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Sep 13

Its grouchy face and slimy, gelatinous body have won the blobfish the honour of becoming the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, as well as the unofficial title of world’s ugliest animal.

Public vote

First taking form as a science-themed comedy night, the society launched a campaign urging members of the public to vote for its mascot from a pool of ‘aesthetically challenged’ threatened species. The main aim of the campaign, which was run in conjunction with the National Science and Engineering Competition, was to draw attention to the threats facing these bizarre and often ignored creatures.

Our traditional approach to conservation is egotistical,” said biologist and TV presenter Simon Watt, president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society. “We only protect the animals that we relate to because they’re cute, like pandas. If extinction threats are as bad as they seem, then focusing just on very charismatic megafauna is completely missing the point.”

The campaign featured eleven ‘ugly’ species, each of which was championed by a comedian and was promoted via a special YouTube video message before the public was asked to vote for their favourite. “I have nothing against pandas,” added Watt, “but they have their supporters. These species need help.”

Proboscis monkey image

Proboscis monkey males have enlarged noses

Blobfish emerges victorious

After around 88,000 video views and more than 3,000 votes, the campaign came to its conclusion at the British Science Festival in Newcastle with the announcement of the blobfish as the winner. Supported by comedian Paul Foot, this species received a whopping 795 votes and will now become the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society.

Some would describe it as a bit ugly, but I think the sad face of the blobfish belies a kind and very wise little brain in there,” said Foot of his chosen species.

A strange, gelatinous creature, the blobfish lives off the coast of south-eastern Australia and Tasmania, where it lives at depths of between 600 and 1,200 metres and is rarely seen. Incredibly, the blobfish is able to thrive at these depths, despite the pressure being several dozen times higher than at the surface. With its body being just slightly denser than water, the blobfish spends its life bobbing around in the ocean, feeding on crabs and lobsters. However, fishing trawlers pose a significant threat to this aesthetically challenged species, as it becomes caught up in their nets.

Titicaca water frog image

The Critically Endangered Titicaca water frog

Daily extinctions

With an estimated 200 species going extinct each day, the Ugly Animal Preservation Society is keen to promote the conservation of less well known or less adored species, and Watt is pleased with the success of the campaign, saying, “We’ve needed an ugly face for endangered animals for a long time and I’ve been amazed by the public’s reaction.”

Watt also hopes that the attention given to these animals has brought a lighter side to conservation, and that it has highlighted the importance of habitat conservation.

Carly Waterman, from the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE of Existence programme which aims to highlight and conserve evolutionarily distinct, ‘one-of-a-kind’ species, praised the efforts of the campaign, saying, “A large proportion of the world’s biodiversity is being overlooked, so flying the flag for these species is a really positive thing.”

Axolotl image

The axolotl, an unusual amphibian

Other contenders

A whole host of fascinating creatures were in line for the title of world’s ugliest animal, including the flightless dung beetle, the European eel and the dromedary jumping-slug. In addition to the blobfish, the other four species in the top five following the public vote were the:

Read more on this story at BBC News – Blobfish wins ugliest animal vote and The Guardian – Blobfish voted world’s ugliest animal.

Watch Paul Foot’s acceptance speech on behalf of the blobfish.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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