Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Small-scale fisheries are having a greater impact on shark and ray populations than previously thought. A recent study in Madagascar, Kenya, and Zanzibar found significant underreporting of bycatch, including over 35,000 tonnes of sharks. With 30% of shark species worldwide listed as under threat by the IUCN, the study authors urged governments to better manage smaller fisheries and reduce bycatch. Via EurekAlert!

A team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Hawaii reported female baby turtles now outnumber males 116 to 1 in the largest baby sea turtle nesting ground in the Pacific ocean on Raine Island, Australia. Her team believes this is largely due to climate warming because the heat of the sand where the eggs are buried ultimately determines the sex. Additionally, the higher than normal temperatures are making it even harder for baby sea turtles to make the journey back into the oceans after hatching. But her team believes there is still hope because sea turtles are quite resilient. For example, they found male sea turtles mating with multiple females in high female hatchling populations. Also, Dutch researchers discovered that providing more shade from palm leaves actually cooled down the sand and help restore the male to female ratios. Allen reassures us, “ we may lose some smaller populations, but sea turtles are never going to go away completely.” Via National Geographic

Using a combination of SCUBA surveys and high resolution satellite imagery, scientists have pioneered a new method to map coral reefs and other shallow water habitats. The team created a novel atlas that documents more than 65,000 square kilometers of coral reefs and surrounding habitat. Moreover, their methods reduce the time, costs, and resources that are otherwise needed to survey coral reefs. With less than 50% of coral reef habitat still intact, this massive collection of coral and shallow water habitat can help resource managers identify areas in the greatest need of conservation. Via Phys.org

Water Quality and Supply

The effects of oil spills may be more long-lasting than previously thought.  The largest marine oil spill in history began nine years ago – April 20, 2010 – when crude oil began leaking from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig into the Gulf of Mexico.  That oil spill is still affecting the salt marshes of the Gulf Coast, and scientists report that marsh grasses play an important role in the recovery of the coastal salt marshes.  They found that mitigation strategies for any future spills should include planting of foundation species of these grasses. Via EurekAlert!

Government Initiatives

The governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, and the orca task force passed a whale watching ban in the waters of Puget Sound and Salish Sea between Washington and Canada aimed at helping these orcas. This ban raised heated controversy between supporters and opponents in the public and private government sectors. The task force argue this ban is critical because it will give the orcas a break from the constant noise and interference from whale watching boats. Orcas are auditory animals that rely on precise sound to find food. At the same time, this ban will help the orca population rebound from 75 individuals now back to around 200 orcas as it was historically. In contrast, representatives from the House argue commercial orca watching boats are essential because they alert other vessels in the vicinity of nearby orcas, thereby protecting them. Additionally, business managers from this industry believe this ban needs to be lifted because whale watching builds public support for saving orca whales and this industry is an important part of the region’s economy. As a result, the legislation has bipartisan support in both chambers, but is expected to be approved in the House and signed by the governor. Under current law, vessels cannot approach orcas within 200 yards. Via Crosscut

Energy and Power

Satellites, weather stations and climate modeling enables researchers to measure the rate of melting ice with great accuracy. Now, a team of glaciologists from Europe and California have used up to date methods to reassess old data, and to recalculate the amount of ice lost in Greenland since the 1970s. They were alarmed to find that Greenland’s ice is melting at six times the rate that it was in the 1980s. The data will allow climate scientists to understand the effect of Greenland’s recent ice loss on future changes to sea level. Via Phys.org

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