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Sonia Doblado

Invasive species: Can they help restore degrading habitats?

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One of the most destructive invasive species in Europe is the American crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), and in America the most destructive invasive species is the European green crab (Carcinus maenas). You can find this crab in almost every coastline in the world. They are very aggressive in that they can eat every kind of food and they chase and kill native species, which sounds terrible. But…

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Coral microborers starving as CO2 and temperature rise

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We have talked many times about the threats a coral reef has to face, like ocean acidification or global warming. But they don’t affect just the coral itself! A healthy coral has a balance between growth of new parts and erosion of the older ones, which is done by waves, fishes and photosynthetic microborers. Well, these microborers seem to be more effective in warm and acidic oceans.

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The microborers can be algae, blue-green algae or fungi, and they make little holes in the coral skeleton, “eating” the carbonate part, the skeleton. Which is less consistent due to acidification, because it reduces the amount of carbonate in the water. To see exactly what the effects can be of the warm and acidic environment combination, researchers from ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) and The University of Queensland (UQ) designed an experiment with three different scenarios: one with present-day conditions as a control, and another two with the predicted conditions for the end of the century, with medium and high predictions. Other coral samples were kept in the dark. They used two kinds of reef-building corals. Porites cylindricaand Isopora cuneata.

Looking at their results, they concluded that microborers were essential in the skeleton dissolution, as the samples in the dark didn’t decalcify. On the high futuristic scenario, the conditions were made thinking that humans won’t do anything to decrease CO2 emissions. And the rate of erosion by the microborers was almost the double compared to the control!

In P. cylindrica the rate was 89% higher than the control, per month! And in I. cuneata it was 46% higher. They also associated enhanced skeletal dissolution with increased endolithic biomass and respiration under high CO2 temperature conditions.

The principal microborer identified is the green algae Ostreobium spp, which inhabits 85% of the world’s corals. That means that maybe these results could be applicable to many corals species.

Everyday we discover new awful threats to the coral reefs, so do you think its time to take this studies more seriously?

The way to a radioactive Great Barrier

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Imagine the perfect underwater location, full of reefs, little fish, sharks, with thousands of different colors,… Most of you are imagining something like the Great Barrier of Reef for sure! And at this time, you know many of the threats it has to face… Here comes another one that you might not expect: URANIUM. Yes! Uranium! There has been a ban in Queensland on uranium mining for 28 years, but last October Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman ended the ban.

The problem is that the Great Barrier is located off the coast of Queensland, so every ship exporting uranium must go travel across the gorgeous sets of coral reefs. They say that it would not only create hundreds of jobs, but it would bring a lot of money to the citizens… they are talking of about $2 billion! The potential of this industry could be $10 billion, according to the uranium businessmen. It looks like a huge amount of money… but the Great Barrier makes $5 billion every year in tourism, employing about 54,000 people, and many argue argue that the Great Barrier Reef is priceless!

The Mining Minister received 40 recommendations by a uranium mining implementation committee investigation. They tried to look for a solution to preserve the Great Barrier while developing the uranium industry. And that was transporting the uranium oxide by truck South to Adelaide or Northwest to Darwin, with existing ports. But the Minister, Mr. Cripps, wants to build a new port in Townsville (the most important touristic city for divers), because it is “necessary!” So the uranium would be exported through the reef. What is funnier, is that the current political party won the elections with a non-mining position. Politicians…Go Figure!?!?!?

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This is not only an Australian problem, is a global one! Even UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization) had threatened the Australian authorities, which agree with the uranium project, with taking off the World Heritage status, because of an increase in coastal development and shipment (with the current gas and coal industries expansion, it is estimated that 7000 ships a year will cross the Great Barrier). The UNESCO committee will have a meeting with the Federal Government in June, so we’ll have to wait to what will happen until then.

Politicians are promising strict laws to protect the reef from the uranium, but do you think they will work? It worth it to put at risk a unique place like the Great Barrier, just for a few years of benefits? 

Climate Change: Canadian glaciers on an irreversible mass loss

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It’s usual to find information about Antarctica or Greenland ice melting…but what’s going on with the rest of the world’s glaciers? Canada, in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA), has the third largest repository of frozen water, and according to a new study, its melting is irreversible.

The CAA is formed of 36,000 islands, with the 10% of its surface covered by glaciers. Under normal conditions, the CAA glacier mass balance is ruled by the balance between the fallen snow and the meltwater. Well, researchers from Utrech University developed a model recreating the present conditions, and the glacier lost mass in the 99% of the recreations. By the end of this century, the glacier would lose about 20% of its mass, a increase of 75% more of what it was thought to lose before.

Maybe you’d think, ok, it’s a lot, but not THAT much. Think about it this way: this loss of ice mass would result in a rise in the sea level of about 3.5 cm, which is 12 trillion cubic meters of water more in the ocean!

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The worst part is that researchers said that this loss could be irreversible. Its melt rate is going faster, because the ice-loss is exposing the soil, which will retain more heat on the ground, while the sea and the snow surface reflect it. According to Lenaerts, the study director, the worldwide temperature will rise 3ºC, but the temperature around the glacier will rise 8ºC. It already had risen by 1ºC or 2ºC since 2000!

What should be the answer to this study? We have to be really worried about ice melting, not only because of the resulting habitat destruction, but for the rising sea level that will affect a lot of important cities around the world, which are on the coast and lie only meters above the present sea level (some are even below sea level, like New Orleans!).

The major cause of arctic ice melting is increased temperature caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal-fired power plants and burning woods. So by reducing our carbon production, maybe we’ll be able to decrease the melting rate.

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Do you think we can reverse the melting rates of Arctic Ice? Let us know in the comments below and SPEAK UP for the OCEAN!

Whale mass strandings could be a result of broken families

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One of the most mysterious and sad things about marine mammals are mass strandings. A dolphin or a whale can get disoriented and end being washed ashore, but what’s going on when this happens to a lot of them at the same time? A new study give us some light about the long-finned pilot whales strandings, the primary species in these cases.

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Pilot whales are large dolphins, which can reach 20 feet, so it’s really difficult to move them to the sea again. For example, last year in New Zealand, where the mass strandings are usual, volunteers rescued 17 of 100 animals, and all of them returned to the beach and re-strand themselves. It is thought that the stranded whales are always members of the same families, from the same matriline or at least kins. I mean, there are two major ideas that we apply to strandings: they are from the same group, as they stranded at the same time all together, and usually a mother is close to her calf, so when they strand in lines you’ll find the mother and the calf next to each other.

According to researchers from the Auckland University, this is not as true as we thought. Analyzing mtDNA haplotypes (only inherited from your mother) of 486 individuals from 12 different strandings, in 9 of them they found multiple maternal lineages, and in all of them there were no correlation between spatial distribution and kinship. That’s not all, they found a spatial disruption on the proximity between the mother and their dependent calves. This offers another explanation: interactions between unrelated social groups for feeding or mating could break kinship bonds, and probably this is a major cause in stranding events. So, maybe, when a group is separated, they can get disoriented looking for their relatives! The study is quite relevant, as it’s not focused on environmental factors but on the animals and their behavior.

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This discovery needs to be checked with more DNA analysis, and more stranding records. But if it’s true, and it looks like it is, is very important for the future of conservation projects! This helps us to understand the complicated social relationships between marine mammals and how to react to a stranding!

Which factor do you think plays a more prevalent role in marine mammal mass strandings: environmental causes or animal behaviour?Speak Up and let yourself be heard on behalf of marine mammals everywhere!

Zooplankton can swim and adapt to water changes!

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Plankton is the basis of the oceanic food chain. It is composed by little algae (phytoplankton) and animals, mostly crustaceans (zooplankton). Because of their little size, it was thought that they weren’t able to swim against the currents, so they will be the perfect prey. Maybe we’ll have to change our minds!

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Researchers from Texas found that the animal organisms that make up the plankton are able to adapt to water temperature. The researchers are trying to understand which effects climate change will have on them.

And that’s important because the colder the water, the higher the viscosity! So cold water is more difficult for them to swim. They used a 3-D holographic technology and used Nauplius, the copepods larvae. And in natural thermal extremes, the larvae were able to escape to the same distance while maintaining optimal velocity.

How are they able to do that? Well, when they feel a colder temperature, they are able to alter the rhythm of their pulsing appendage, being faster. Jian Sheng, one of the researchers said: “At 3,000 frames per second, it was like tracking a race car through a microscope” .

Now we know that zooplankton is not only able to swim, but to adapt to changing temperatures. But they are not able to react to viscosity changes, which can be produced by pollution or algal blooms. And maybe you’ll think that we can’t do anything about algal blooms. Well, their causes remain unclear, but coastal water pollution, higher sea temperatures and an excess of nutrients due to fertilizers can have a huge importance here.

Plankton is the basis of the oceanic food change, so it is vital for us! We need to protect them, even if we can’t see them without a microscope. So remember, an oil spill or a red tide not only affects birds or manatees, they also affect the tiny organisms that are the support of all the marine ecosystems. The worst pollution is the one that you can’t see!

You can start helping from home, for example, reducing your plastics, or using natural fertilizers as deserved to avoid water pollution!

How do you think we can further protect plankton? Take part in the conversation! Conservation starts with you!

Death of a sperm whale linked to greenhouses

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It is very usual to see whales in spanish waters, as it is the only way for them to get into the Mediterranean sea. But seeing the whales being washed ashore is not that common. Last year, a dead sperm whale was found in southern Spain. At that moment, researchers of the Doñana Biological Station, run by the Spanish National Research Council, discovered a plastic canvas on its stomach, so it became a suspect of the whale’s death. Now, a year later, the same researchers confirmed it: the whale died from ingesting a huge amount of plastic in the ocean.

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It was a 4.5 tonne individual, and it had over 17 kg of plastic in its stomach! You can see in the picture above the biologists taking the 30 square meter plastic canvas. And a dozen meters of plastic rope, some plastic bags, even two flower pots! This is no joke, the whale has an entire greenhouse in its stomach. So the animal died from starvation, because there was no space enough for the food to get through its body…

The area where the sperm whale was found is near Almeria, which is completely full of greenhouses. Spanish people call it the “plastic sea”, because when you look at it, it’s shinning and you don’t know where the sea starts. You can see it from space…These greenhouses produce about 2,4 tonnes of plastic per hectare per year, and that’s a lot.

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Other animals like sea turtles or otters usually have problems with plastics, but it is unusual in large mammals. So discoveries like this one are really worrying. And as one of the researchers said, “these big plastics crumble and the little pieces also go inside fish. And that is what we end up eating.”

 Should we start to eat seasonal vegetables to reduce our necessity of greenhouses? Would it be a big effort?

Navy’s plans to use sonar could harm marine mammals

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On Friday 6th of march, the California Coastal Commission had to make a decision: let the Navy train on Southern Californian waters or not. The Navy’s plans were approved in 2007 and 2008, but with some conditions to protect the wildlife. And they didn’t accomplish any of them. This training is really harmful to dolphin and whales (including the blue whale) as they are planning to detonate about 50.000 underwater explosives with charge enough to sink a warship, and to run 10,000 hours or high-intensity sonar. And that’s just a year of their five-year project.

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This time, the conditions for the approval are more restrictive. They include the creation of safety zones near marine sanctuaries and protected areas, and also a safety kilometer from shore. The first kind of area would protect grey, beaked, fin and blue whales (seasonally) and the second one would protect bottlenose dolphins (as well as other species). And from May to October, ships should slow to 10 knots in areas with baleen whales. Environmentalists from the Natural Resources Defence Council and other organizations now want the California Coastal Commission to be stronger than ever, and the U.S. Justice to enforce the agreement.

We still need more studies about how sonars affect marine mammals, but it is well known that marine mammals are affected. At first, sonars will affect their behaviour. Whales would stop feeding, and even stop diving. Some of them could be deaf because of the sonar. Because of this changes, they could even die! It seems that beaked whales are the most sensitive to them. Sonars are often linked to massive marine mammals strandings, but it remains unclear the exact cause so by now it’s not possible to mitigate the effects of sonar. The only solution now is to avoid its use.

The Navy itself posted a Marine Mammal Protection Act, in colaboration with the NMFS (National Marine Fisheries pBlue-Whale-FlukeService), and they considered two levels of harassment: level B (behavioral disturbance) and level A (damages to the tissues of the ear). They estimated the number of death marine mammals is 130 individues but enrivonmentalists think that this is an underestimate.

In their Marine Mammal Stranding report, they talk about the amount of strandings with speculated links to U.S. sonar activities around the world, but their conclusions are that with the current studies about this, no one can assure that their sonar is the main cause.

Finally, the Commision rejected the proposition, thankfully. Ok, the Navy needs to train and prove their technology, but do they have to do it in the state with the highest number of marine protected areas?

Is there any appropiate area to train, or they should start to use some kind of simulators?