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Posts Tagged ‘Ocean Ecology’

ScienceDaily, June 19, 2010

The first comprehensive synthesis on the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans has found they are now changing at a rate not seen for several million years.

In an article published June 18 in Science magazine, scientists reveal the growing atmospheric concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases are driving irreversible and dramatic changes to the way the ocean functions, with potentially dire impacts for hundreds of millions of people across the planet.

The findings of the report emerged from a synthesis of recent research on the world’s oceans, carried out by two of the world’s leading marine scientists, one from The University of Queensland in Australia, and one from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in the USA.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, lead author of the report and Director of The University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, says the findings have enormous implications for mankind, particularly if the trend continues.

He said that the Earth’s ocean, which produces half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs 30% of human-generated CO2, is equivalent to its heart and lungs. “Quite plainly, the Earth cannot do without its ocean. This study, however, shows worrying signs of ill health.

“It’s as if the Earth has been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day!”

He went on to say, “We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail,” says Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg. “Further degradation will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide.”

He warned that we may soon see “sudden, unexpected changes that have serious ramifications for the overall well-being of humans,” including the capacity of the planet to support people. “This is further evidence that we are well on the way to the next great extinction event.”

The “fundamental and comprehensive” changes to marine life identified in the report include rapidly warming and acidifying oceans, changes in water circulation and expansion of dead zones within the ocean depths.

These are driving major changes in marine ecosystems: less abundant coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves (important fish nurseries); fewer, smaller fish; a breakdown in food chains; changes in the distribution of marine life; and more frequent diseases and pests among marine organisms.

Report co-author, Dr John F. Bruno, an Associate Professor at The University of North Carolina, says greenhouse gas emissions are modifying many physical and geochemical aspects of the planet’s oceans, in ways “unprecedented in nearly a million years.” “This is causing fundamental and comprehensive changes to the way marine ecosystems function,” Dr Bruno said.

“We are becoming increasingly certain that the world’s marine ecosystems are approaching tipping points. These tipping points are where change accelerates and causes unrelated impacts on other systems, the results of which we really have no power or model to foresee.”

The authors conclude: “These challenges underscore the urgency with which world leaders must act to limit further growth of greenhouse gases and thereby reduce the risk of these events occurring. Ignoring the science is not an option.”

In their study, the researchers sought to address a gap in previous studies that have often overlooked the affects of climate change on marine ecosystems, due to the fact that they are complex and can be logistically difficult to study.

According to leading US marine scientist, the University of Maine’s School of Marine Services Professor Robert S. Steneck, the study provides a valuable indicator of the ecological risk posed by climate change, particularly to coastal regions.

“While past studies have largely focused on single global threats such as ‘global warming’, Hoegh-Guldberg and Bruno make a compelling case for the cumulative impacts of multiple planet-scale threats,” Prof. Steneck said.

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MARSHA WALTON, MNN.com, June 8, 2010

The last thing that supporters of a promising renewable energy source want is a technology that harms wildlife.

So before wave energy buoys are deployed off the Oregon coast, scientists and developers want to make sure that 18,000 migrating gray whales are not put in jeopardy.

These whales, weighing 30 to 40 tons each, make a twice-yearly journey, heading south to breed off Baja, Mexico, in winter, and back up to the Pacific Northwest in spring.

Biologist Bruce Mate wants to find out if a low power underwater noise can be used effectively to nudge the whales away from wave energy devices.

“We want them to turn their headlights on,” says Mate, director of Oregon State’s Marine Mammal Institute.

Mate says the “whoop-whoop-whoop” sound being tested “is designed to be something unnatural. We don’t want them to think of it as background noise, as a wave, or as another animal. We want it to be something that is disconcerting,” he says.

Disconcerting enough so that the animals would move a few hundred yards away from the energy-capturing buoys, expected to weigh about 200 tons.

The underwater cables on these wave buoys are solid, 4 to 6 inches in diameter. Mate says a gray whale swimming 3 to 4 mph could be seriously hurt if it collided with a cable.

Mate has a grant from the Department of Energy to test whether the acoustic device is the right strategy to keep whales and buoys away from each other. Tests will begin in late December, and end before mothers and calves migrate north in May.

The noise-making device, about the size of a cantaloupe, will be located about 75 feet below the ocean surface, moored in about 140 feet of water. During the testing, it will make noise for three seconds a minute, six hours a day.

Gray whales stick close to shore, about 2.5 to 3 miles away. Swimming farther out, they can become lunch for killer whales.

During the tests, researchers will use theodolites, surveying instruments that measure horizontal and vertical angles. Mate says the animals’ actions should be fairly easy to observe as they encounter the noise.

“These animals track very straight lines during migration. They are motivated to get to the other end,” he says.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses wave energy technologies, and dozens of agencies oversee how this technology will affect ocean life.

“Wave energy developers are required to undergo a rigorous permitting process to install both commercial-scale and pilot projects,” says Thomas Welch of the Department of Energy (DOE).

Ocean Power Technologies is set to deploy the first of 10 energy-generating buoys off Reedsport, Ore., later this year.

Wave energy developers say they have worked with conservation groups from the start, dealing with everything from whales to erosion.

“As an untapped renewable resource there is tremendous potential,” says Justin Klure, a partner at Pacific Energy Ventures, a company that advances the ocean energy industry.

A believer in clean energy, Klure says it is imperative that the technology be the least disruptive.

“Nobody knows if a large buoy or any other technology is going to have an impact on an ecosystem. A misstep early could set back the industry. This is hard work, it’s expensive, if you don’t have a solid foundation, we feel, that is going to cost you later,” he says.

Klure says the industry has studied how other energy development, including wind and solar, have dealt with environmental challenges.

“I think the lesson here is how critical project siting is. It’s the same concept as land use planning for the ocean. Where are the most sensitive ecosystems? Where are areas that need to be preserved for recreation, or commercial fishing?” Klure says.

It will likely be five to 10 years before wave energy provides significant electricity production. But the acoustics research by Mate could provide help to animals, reaching beyond the Pacific coast.

“We certainly hope it has broader uses,” Mate says. If the sounds do move animals to safety, similar devices could be used to lure whales back from shallow waters if they are in danger of stranding — or even help whales or other marine mammals skirt the poisons of a large oil spill.

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MICHAEL COLLINS, Ventura County Star, January 18, 2010

Americans’ insatiable love of seafood is back on the federal government’s plate.

Five years after former President George W. Bush’s administration first proposed allowing fish farming in federal waters, the Obama administration is set to come up with its own set of rules for offshore aquaculture, including deepwater fish farming.

The new rules, which are expected to spell out a permitting process for offshore aquaculture operations, could come as early as this summer, said Michael Rubino, manager of the aquaculture program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We’re looking at this whole question of aquaculture in federal waters — how to go about it,” Rubino said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, has filed legislation that would establish a regulatory framework for aquaculture operations in federal waters, which begin three miles beyond the nation’s shores.

Capps’ proposal not only lays out the permitting process for offshore aquaculture facilities, but also contains environmental safeguards to see that any such projects pose a minimal risk to ocean ecology — a concern that derailed the Bush administration’s efforts.

“It is important to take a strong public health standard approach and make sure we have food safety and environmental protection as a basis for any kind of aquaculture project that would come up,” Capps said.

Ocean fish farming has long been seen by advocates as a way to guarantee a plentiful bounty of seafood even as a number of wild fish stocks decline. An estimated 80% of all edible seafood supplies in the United States is imported, and nearly half of all seafood is farmed, according to the San Diego-based Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute.

Right now, fish farming is limited to state waters, which begin at the shoreline and extend out for three miles.

In 2005, the Bush administration proposed allowing fish-farming operations up to 200 miles off the coast, which would have marked the first time such facilities would have been permitted in federal waters.

But that proposal, and subsequent plans, died in Congress in large part because of environmental concerns associated with fish farming, such as the discharge of waste and the use of pesticides, antibiotics and other potentially harmful chemicals.

Capps objected to the Bush plan because of the environmental issues and a belief that it was too closely tied to the fishing industry. “They wanted to go out of their way to see that industry was satisfied,” she said.

In contrast, the congresswoman’s aides say, her proposal offers a comprehensive policy that spells out the permitting process for aquaculture facilities while putting in place standards for environmental, public health and consumer protection.

Under the Capps plan, a special office to deal with offshore aquaculture would be established within the National Marine Fisheries Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

The office would be responsible for implementing the aquaculture permitting and regulatory program, as well as conducting environmental impact studies for each region of the country. The studies would determine which locations are appropriate for offshore aquaculture, the type of fish suitable for farming in each region and the impact such projects would have on other marine life.

Aquaculture permits would be good for 10 years and could be renewed for subsequent 10-year periods. Permit holders would be required to report fish escapes, the prevalence of disease and parasites and the use of any antibiotics, pesticides or other drugs and chemicals.

By putting in place a comprehensive regulatory framework, “It will be very clear to all of the stakeholders what the rules of the game are,” Capps said.

President of Hubbs-SeaWorld, said Capps’ bill would create “a regulatory jumble” because some of the safeguards it would put in place already are covered by other federal agencies.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, for example, already regulate the use of antibiotics, he said.

The additional requirements would be so cumbersome that, if the proposal were to become law as written, “there won’t be an (aquaculture) industry in federal waters in the United States,” he said. “I won’t do it under the existing bill.’’

Hubbs-SeaWorld had wanted several years ago to set up an experimental fish farm on Platform Grace — an old oil rig about 10 miles off the coast of Ventura County — to raise California yellowtail, bluefin tuna and striped bass. The project eventually was abandoned, however.

The research institute also has put on hold plans for a commercial fish farm five miles off the San Diego coast in light of the Obama administration’s announcement that it is developing an aquaculture policy.

Capps’ office responded to his concerns by saying the congresswoman’s proposal attempts to legislate “a common sense national framework for aquaculture” and that it is the result of a collaboration with environmental and consumer groups, the scientific community, the aquaculture industry and others.

The congresswoman will continue to work with all stakeholders as the process moves forward, said her spokeswoman, Emily Spain.

Rubino said NOAA has no comment on the Capps proposal, other than to reiterate that the administration prefers a national approach to aquaculture instead of a region by region approach.

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