In the News

 

Monday, July 21

  •   Here fishy, fishy: Herefishy...mpeg (712.8 KB)

Saturday, July 19

Monday, July 14

  •  Thanks to Tracy!

    Cartoon from the Tours de Jours comic strip that formerly appeared in
    The Catalina Islander provided by Thelma Nowlin

Tuesday, July 08

  •  Thanks to Patrick!

    "Tim Berg of Soldotna, Alaska, poses in Seward, Alaska, with the 319.6-pound halibut he caught in the Gulf of Alaska on Tuesday, June 24, 2008, during the Seward Halibut Tournament. Less than a week before the Seward Halibut Tournament's final day, Soldotna angler Tim Berg wrestled a herculean halibut from the Gulf of Alaska on Tuesday morning that could be worth $10,000."

    (AP Photo/J-Dock Seafood, Blaine Bachman)

Monday, July 07

Saturday, July 05

  •  Departing GSEAS Dean Reflects on School's Development

    An underwater robot pod, part of the Adaptive Sampling and Prediction network, is launched off the deck of a research vessel into Monterey Bay. This cold-water upwelling, oceanographic research was developed with the help of NPS’ Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and headed by a team of multidisciplinary investigators. The departing dean of GSEAS, Dr. James Kays, understood the importance of each department’s role in the development of the nation’s defense and established interdisciplinary focus areas to help articulate its strengths to the Navy. Full story.

Wednesday, July 02

Tuesday, July 01

Thursday, June 26

  •  Giant Squid Found Floating Off California Coast http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,372183,00.html
     
  •  If you eat sushi, you may want to be involved with the following:

    Seeking sushi sources
    Help us with the details for our upcoming Seafood Watch sushi guide!  This fall Seafood Watch will launch our first-ever sushi pocket guide in collaboration with the Blue Ocean Institute and we could use your help. Have you wondered how our Seafood Watch research staff decide which fish to include and what common names to use on our pocket guides and website? You can help us with this very important step so our recommendations are relevant and useful.
    Here's how:
    1. Let us know what your favorite sushi restaurants are serving. It's a way to start a conversation and get chefs thinking about what types of fish they use, where it comes from and how it's caught.
    2. After selecting your favorite sushi restaurant, review their menu and ask your server or sushi chef these questions. If they ask, "Why you are you so curious?", tell them you're helping the Seafood Watch program with some of its market research.
    3. To help you remember what questions to ask, we recommend you click the link to the survey, print it out and bring it with you to the restaurant. Fill out as many questions as you can, but don't worry about answering every question; anything you can do is helpful. When you get back to your computer click the survey link again and enter your results!
    4. Everyone who submits a survey will be entered to win a cookbook from one of our Cooking for Solutions celebrity chefs or a Seafood Watch reusable canvas tote bag. You must submit your results by July 14th to be entered into the drawing.

Wednesday, June 25

Monday, June 23 

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wednesday , June 18, 2008

Tuesday , June 17, 2008

Thursday , June 12, 2008

 



Long-Lost Rubber Duckies Head for British Beaches

Monday , July 02, 2007

By Simon de Bruxelles

FC2

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A flotilla of rubber duckies, washed overboard from a container ship in the North Pacific in 1992, is about to invade Britain, according to an American oceanographer.

For the past 15 years Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking nearly 30,000 Chinese-made plastic bath toys — yellow ducks, green frogs, blue turtles and red beavers — that were released into the Pacific Ocean when a container was washed off a cargo ship during a storm.

Some of the bath toys, marketed in the U.S. as "Friendly Floatees," are expected to reach Britain after a journey of nearly 17,000 miles, having crossed the Arctic Ocean frozen into pack ice, bobbed the length of Greenland and been carried down the eastern seaboard of the United States.

• Click here to visit FOXNews.com's Natural Science Center.

Ebbesmeyer, who is based in Seattle, said yesterday that those that had not been trapped in circulating currents in the North Pacific, crushed by icebergs or blown ashore in Japan were bobbing across the Atlantic on the Gulf Stream.

Any beachcomber who finds one of the ducks or their kin will be able to claim a $100 reward from the toys' American distributor, The First Years Inc.

The ducks began life in a Chinese factory and were being shipped to the U.S. from Hong Kong when three 40-foot containers fell into the Pacific during a storm on Jan. 29, 1992.

Two-thirds of them floated south through the tropics, landing months later on the shores of Indonesia, Australia and South America.

But 10,000 headed north and by the end of the year were off Alaska and heading back westwards.

It took three years for the Friendly Floatees to circle counterclockwise east to Japan, past the original drop site and then back to Alaska on a current known as the North Pacific Gyre before continuing north towards the Arctic.

Many were stranded as the currents took them through the Bering Strait, which divides Alaska from Russia.

Ebbesmeyer predicted that they would spend years trapped in the Arctic ice, moving at the rate of one mile a day towards the Atlantic.

In 2000, eight years after their journey began, the ducks were reported in the North Atlantic. In 2003, when they were expected to wash up on the American eastern seaboard, The First Years announced the reward offer.

By that point the Floatees had been bleached white by the sun and sea water.

Sightings in the past two years have been scant, but oceanographers believe that their next port of call is southwestern England, southern Ireland and western Scotland.

Simon Boxall, of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, England, said that the ducks offered a great opportunity for climate-change research.

"They are a nice tracer for what the currents are doing as they travel around the world, and currents are what determines our climate, and cycles of carbon," he said. "I would ask [vacationers] to keep an eye out, as they might be very few and far between by now. It's a real adventure story and the plastic should last 100 years, so we hope it will continue."

The landfalls have all been logged on a computer model called the Ocean Surface Currents Simulation, which is used to help fisheries and find people lost at sea.

Two children's books have been written about the saga and the ducks have become collector's items, some changing hands for $1,000.

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Organism ID'd That May Be Killing Sheep

Monday, July 02, 2007

By KEITH RIDLER, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho — 

An organism that may have played a part in killing thousands of bighorn sheep in the West over the last five decades and in thwarting repopulation efforts has been isolated in a lab and found in struggling bighorn herds in the wild, biologists say.

 

Research done at Washington State University on tissue taken from dying lambs captured in Hells Canyon _ a chasm that borders Idaho, Oregon and Washington _ isolated a type of bacteria called mycoplasma ovipneumoniae.

Biologists say that could be the initial organism that attacks the sheep and works by inhibiting the ability of hairlike structures in airways to eliminate bacteria that lead to deadly pneumonia.

Biologists have known that pneumonia often proves fatal to the wild sheep, but have been stumped for years as why so many bighorns are susceptible.

"This is the first problem I've worked on where there is quite a bit of evidence piling up where the agent is a mycoplasma," said Tom Besser, a professor in WSU's department of veterinary microbiology and pathology. He works at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory on the school's Pullman, Wash., campus.

In herds known to be infected with mycoplasma, anywhere from half to all the lambs die each year from pneumonia. The lambs are most susceptible mainly because their immune systems are not fully developed, said Frances Cassirer, a wildlife research biologist with Idaho Fish and Game.

Among adult bighorns that hadn't previously been exposed to mycoplasma, 25 percent to 75 percent die, she said, noting the variation could be due to how many were initially exposed or to how virulent a strain of the disease is at work.

She said pneumonia is the leading killer of bighorn herds infected with mycoplasma. In herds not infected, the leading cause of death is predators, mainly cougars, she said.

After WSU researchers identified the mycoplasma, biologists in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and the Canadian province of Alberta sent the researchers blood samples previously collected from 18 herds.

Researchers found antibodies to the mycoplasma in herds that saw deaths due to pneumonia, but not in herds that were not experiencing large losses due to pneumonia.

"We found some really promising patterns and things seemed to fit together really well," Cassirer said.

More tests are being done to confirm whether mycoplasma is leaving bighorns open to pneumonia. One test involves infecting captive bighorn lambs at Washington State University to see how they react.

Biologists say about 2 million bighorns once inhabited the West, but they disappeared over most of their range in the 1800s and early 1900s due to unregulated hunting and disease believed to have been carried by domestic animals.

Repopulating projects and added protection in the last 50 years have now boosted bighorn numbers to about 50,000, Cassirer said.

But sweeping epidemics of a mystery illness have wiped out thousands of Rocky Mountain bighorns, California bighorns, Sierra Nevada bighorns, and desert bighorns since reintroductions began. Cassirer said precise numbers of deaths are not known.

Vic Coggins, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said pneumonia likely was the main reason, even more than unregulated hunting, for the bighorns' decline from 2 million. He said habitat loss also factored in, but there is enough habitat available now across the West to support far more than the current population.

"Easily," he said. "We estimate that in Hells Canyon we could have over 10,000."

Currently, the area has a population of about 900, he said.

Cassirer said biologists aren't finding that infected herds can build up a resistance with successive generations.

"If it's happening, it's not obvious to us," she said. "That's why we're looking for another solution because the sheep might not be able to deal with it on their own."

She said she didn't know how bighorn herds already infected with mycoplasma _ if that's a crucial factor in what's killing them _ could be helped.

She said attempts to find mycoplasma vaccines for domestic sheep have failed, and even if one existed it would be difficult to administer to bighorns in the wild.

Besser said mycoplasma is found in domestic sheep, but they typically survive. He said he didn't know if domestic sheep were transmitting the bacteria to wild sheep.

But Greg Dyson, executive director of the Hells Canyon Preservation Council, is convinced domestic sheep are making bighorns sick.

"All indications are that the domestics are passing diseases and killing off the bighorns," said Dyson. "And the bighorns just can't get a foothold to become re-established. There have been entire herds that have died off."

In May the U.S. Forest Service, facing a lawsuit from Dyson's group and two other environmental groups that share his concerns, announced that it was restricting domestic sheep grazing in some areas of the Payette National Forest this summer. The forest borders Hells Canyon.

In a federal court lawsuit filed in late June against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over sheep grazing on land near Yellowstone National Park, the Western Watersheds Project and the Center for Biological Diversity claim that allowing domestic sheep to graze in the greater Yellowstone region of Idaho and Montana puts wild bighorn sheep herds at risk of catching diseases from the domesticated animals.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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Undersea Robots to Probe Mid-Arctic Ridge

Monday , June 25, 2007

AP

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BOSTON — 

The Gakkel Ridge, encased under the frozen Arctic Ocean, is steep and rocky, and scientists suspect its remote location hosts an array of undiscovered life.

 

Researchers hope newly developed robots will give them their first look at the mysterious ridge located between Greenland and Siberia.

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod plan to begin a 40-day expedition of the ridge on July 1. They plan to use the robots to navigate and map its terrain and sample any life found near a series of underwater hot springs.

• Click here to visit FOXNews.com's Natural Science Center.

Tim Shank, lead biologist on the international expedition, said researchers have no idea what new life at the ridge might be like.

"I almost think it's like going to Australia for the first time, knowing it's there, but not knowing what lives there," he said.

The Gakkel Ridge marks a 1,100-mile stretch from north of Greenland toward Siberia, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates continuously move away from each other.

Scientists believe new life could be discovered there because of hot springs that are created at such tectonic boundaries when ocean water comes into contact with hot magma rising from the earth's mantle.

The organisms known to exist in the Arctic basin, where the Gakkel is located, may have evolved in a unique fashion because they were mostly isolated from the life in the deep waters of other oceans for all but the last 25 million years, said Robert Reves-Sohn, the expedition's lead scientist.

The job of reaching any new organisms at the ridge falls to scientists operating three new robotic vehicles, two of which are designed to navigate untethered under the ice.

The two robots, named Puma and Jaguar, cost about $450,000 each and received significant funding from NASA because their mission is similar to what scientists hope to do in a future exploration under the ice of one of Jupiter's moons, Europa.

The robots are built to descend to about 5,000 meters and work 5 to 6 meters off the bottom, photographing and removing samples, said Hanumant Singh, the project's chief engineer.

The advances are no guarantee of success, however.

The hot springs are difficult to find in far less challenging conditions and the margin for error is thin, since the robots cannot surface through the ice and be retrieved if there are problems.

Singh said the excitement of finding new organisms and understanding the geology in the Arctic outweighs any risks to the robots.

"Even though we know there's a strong probability, or there's a reasonable probability of losing a vehicle, it's still worth it," he said.


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Troubled Times for Endangered Sea Otters

Sunday, June 10, 2007

By LISA LEFF, Associated Press Writer

 

MONTEREY, Calif. — 

Training her binoculars on a dark patch of floating seaweed, Gena Bentall gasped. After searching for sea otters all day, the research biologist had spotted one: a mother with a pup on her belly, but the otter's face was mauled and dripping blood and a male was hot on her tail.

 

Female sea otters often bear scars on their noses, the price of breeding with clumsy, sharp-toothed partners. But vicious injuries like this are showing up with unusual frequency, one of several signs leading marine scientists to suspect something is amiss for the threatened species.

"This is one of the things that makes us think the sex ratio is skewed in an unhealthy way," said Tim Tinker, another otter expert who joined Bentall in watching the injured mother try to outswim her menacing attacker in a rocky cove near Monterey's famed Cannery Row.

The biologists have seen female otters _ many nursing babies, which makes them incapable of getting pregnant _ with their muzzles ripped off. Even young males have become targets of aggressive mating. The culprits are thought to be itinerant, adolescent otters invading the territories of males who typically guard their harems jealously.

Every spring and fall for the last quarter-century, teams of scientists have fanned out along 375 miles of California coastline to count southern sea otters, a species that was hunted to near-extinction a century ago. The census is used to gauge whether the population is rebounding or declining, with at least three years of similar results required to demonstrate a trend.

Tinker, a research biologist based at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Bentall, who works for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, were assigned to an area that has one of the state's highest concentrations of sea otters.

Armed with binoculars and portable telescopes, they scanned the nearshore water for three days, counting otters and noting their activities. The task is tricky since sea otter heads can look an awful lot like floating kelp from a distance. And observers can miss otters hidden by rocks or scared off by scuba divers and kayakers.

Overall, the May survey brought welcome news following two years of declines _ a solid 12 percent, or 334-otter increase that brought the number of adults and pups combined above 3,000 for the first time. For the California sea otter to be removed from the threatened species list, the count would have to average 3,090 or more over three years.

Scientists greeted the figures with measured optimism, noting that unusually balmy, clear weather in early May provided good conditions for the census.

More significantly, they note, the average population over the last three years is 2,818, still far below the delisting criteria but a 2.4 percent improvement over the previous three-year benchmark. Combined with similarly sluggish growth rates since the mid 1990s, the data suggest the species is hanging on, but not bouncing back.

"The fact is the population is not recovering, and we really don't have a good explanation for why," said Jim Estes, a veteran sea otter expert with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Scientists are pretty sure elevated mortality rates among adult and young adult otters are responsible for the disappointing comeback, as opposed to low birth rates. Of particular concern is that survival rates for female otters have gone down since the 1980s while increasing for the more mobile males, Tinker said.

No one knows for sure why the otters are failing to thrive, although there are plenty of theories.

Tests on the carcasses of dead otters that wash ashore suggest they are succumbing to diseases that may be linked to water pollution damaging their immune systems. But scientists cannot know the cause of death for otters who never end up on land, so they can't say whether disease or something else is the problem.

"Here we have this otter population that seems to be on the cusp," Estes said. "With a ratcheting down of the quality of the environment, it doesn't bode very well in my mind for the future, which is just on the balance right now."

The first spring census, in 1982, found 1,856 otters. The population expanded steadily _ by an average of 6 percent _ throughout the 1980s.

Based on previous growth rates of 13 to 15 percent seen in Alaska's northern sea otters, experts thought it reasonable to expect the California population would climb to about 16,000, the number estimated to have occupied the region between Oregon and Baja Mexico in the 19th Century, before the otters were nearly killed off by hunters seeking their thick, luxurious fur.

"But the population stopped growing," Tinker said.

In the case of the mother otter with the bloody face, Tinker said her marauding suitor may have been trying to get her to wean or abandon her pup, which would make her available for mating.

"When you just describe them as being cute, furry animals, you do them a disservice," Bentall said. "They are incredible survivors."

___

On the Net:

Sea Otter Alliance: http://www.seaotterresearch.org/

 

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November 30, 2006
Something to Read:

Preschoolers and Penguins: Propaganda pawns

----------------------------

Thursday, 2 November 2006, 19:01 GMT

"Only 50 years left' for sea fish"
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

  Graph of fish decline.

There will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the middle of the century if current trends continue, according to a major scientific study.

Stocks have collapsed in nearly one-third of sea fisheries, and the rate of decline is accelerating.

Writing in the journal Science, the international team of researchers says fishery decline is closely tied to a broader loss of marine biodiversity.

But a greater use of protected areas could safeguard existing stocks.

"The way we use the oceans is that we hope and assume there will always be another species to exploit after we've completely gone through the last one," said research leader Boris Worm, from Dalhousie University in Canada.

 

  This century is the last century of wild seafood
Steve Palumbi
"What we're highlighting is there is a finite number of stocks; we have gone through one-third, and we are going to get through the rest," he told the BBC News website.

Steve Palumbi, from Stanford University in California, one of the other scientists on the project, added: "Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood."

Spanning the seas

This is a vast piece of research, incorporating scientists from many institutions in Europe and the Americas, and drawing on four distinctly different kinds of data.

 

Catch records from the open sea give a picture of declining fish stocks.

In 2003, 29% of open sea fisheries were in a state of collapse, defined as a decline to less than 10% of their original yield.

Bigger vessels, better nets, and new technology for spotting fish are not bringing the world's fleets bigger returns - in fact, the global catch fell by 13% between 1994 and 2003.

Historical records from coastal zones in North America, Europe and Australia also show declining yields, in step with declining species diversity; these are yields not just of fish, but of other kinds of seafood too.

Zones of biodiversity loss also tended to see more beach closures, more blooms of potentially harmful algae, and more coastal flooding.

 

  We should protect biodiversity, and it does pay off through fisheries yield
Carl Gustaf Lundin
Experiments performed in small, relatively contained ecosystems show that reductions in diversity tend to bring reductions in the size and robustness of local fish stocks. This implies that loss of biodiversity is driving the declines in fish stocks seen in the large-scale studies.

The final part of the jigsaw is data from areas where fishing has been banned or heavily restricted.

 

These show that protection brings back biodiversity within the zone, and restores populations of fish just outside.

 

"The image I use to explain why biodiversity is so important is that marine life is a bit like a house of cards," said Dr Worm.

"All parts of it are integral to the structure; if you remove parts, particularly at the bottom, it's detrimental to everything on top and threatens the whole structure.

"And we're learning that in the oceans, species are very strongly linked to each other - probably more so than on land."

Protected interest

What the study does not do is attribute damage to individual activities such as over-fishing, pollution or habitat loss; instead it paints a picture of the cumulative harm done across the board.

Even so, a key implication of the research is that more of the oceans should be protected.

 

But the extent of protection is not the only issue, according to Carl Gustaf Lundin, head of the global marine programme at IUCN, the World Conservation Union.

"The benefits of marine-protected areas are quite clear in a few cases; there's no doubt that protecting areas leads to a lot more fish and larger fish, and less vulnerability," he said.

"But you also have to have good management of marine parks and good management of fisheries. Clearly, fishing should not wreck the ecosystem, bottom trawling being a good example of something which does wreck the ecosystem."

But, he said, the concept of protecting fish stocks by protecting biodiversity does make sense.

"This is a good compelling case; we should protect biodiversity, and it does pay off even in simple monetary terms through fisheries yield."

Protecting stocks demands the political will to act on scientific advice - something which Boris Worm finds lacking in Europe, where politicians have ignored recommendations to halt the iconic North Sea cod fishery year after year.

Without a ban, scientists fear the North Sea stocks could follow the Grand Banks cod of eastern Canada into apparently terminal decline.

"I'm just amazed, it's very irrational," he said.

 

"You have scientific consensus and nothing moves. It's a sad example; and what happened in Canada should be such a warning, because now it's collapsed it's not coming back."

 

1. Experiments show that reducing the diversity of an ecosystem lowers the abundance of fish
2. Historical records show extensive loss of biodiversity along coasts since 1800, with the collapse of about 40% of species. About one-third of once viable coastal fisheries are now useless
3. Catch records from the open ocean show widespread decline of fisheries since 1950 with the rate of decline increasing. In 2003, 29% of fisheries were collapsed. Biodiverse regions' stocks fare better
4. Marine reserves and no-catch zones bring an average 23% improvement in biodiversity and an increase in fish stocks around the protected area

 
 

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Civil Defense Message - County of Hawaii
Read of today's [10-15-06] 6.3 magnitude earthquake, by clicking above.

 


Dozens of fish, shrimp and coral species, including two new types of a shark that walks on its fins, have been discovered in waters off New Guinea in the South Pacific, conservationists announced Monday.

The researchers described the area as “Earth's richest seascape” and “the most biodiverse marine area on the planet.” But they also warned that it faces threats such as fishing with dynamite and cyanide, commercial fishing and degraded water quality from mining and logging in Papua province, a section of New Guinea governed by Indonesia.

“These Papuan reefs are literally ‘species factories’ that require special attention to protect them from unsustainable fisheries and other threats so they can continue to benefit their local owners and the global community,” expedition leader Mark Erdmann, a researcher with Conservation International, said in a

“Six of our survey sites, which are areas the size of two football fields, had over 250 species of reef-building coral each — that’s more than four times the number of coral species of the entire Caribbean Sea,” he added.

The entire area covers 45 million acres off a peninsula in northwest New Guinea. Researchers have counted 1,200 species of fish there and 600 species of reef-building coral — the latter equal to 75 percent of the world’s known total.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, covering an area 10 times bigger, has more types of fish — 1,464 species — but just 405 species of coral. And the bigger Caribbean Sea has fewer than 1,000 species of fish and just 58 types of coral.

During two surveys earlier this year, Conservation International and Indonesian experts found at least 36 new species of fish, coral and mantis shrimp in the waters, which are peppered with 2,500 islands and submerged reefs. The area also includes the largest Pacific leatherback turtle nesting area in the world, and is visited by whales, orcas and several dolphin species.

Two of the new species are members of the epaulette shark family, which distinguishes itself by sometimes using its fins to scamper away. Their name comes from the fact that they have two large round spots near their heads that look like epaulettes, the shoulder ornaments on military uniforms.

Dynamite, cyanide threats
The researchers, who plan additional surveys next year, said it's already clear that Indonesia should extend protections around the region, only one-tenth of which now has national park status.

Erdmann told MSNBC.com that as resource-rich as the region is, it faces immediate threats such as the use of dynamite and cyanide by locals to stun and then capture live fish for export.

"At two sites we heard ear-shattering fish bombing blasts in the near vicinity," he said, "and our socio-economic team from the State University of Papua documented a number of villages where cyanide fishers were actively targeting grouper for capture with cyanide before exporting to China live.

"We also saw past evidence of illegal logging, though I'm happy to say that the Indonesian government's crackdown on illegal logging over the past five years seems to have greatly reduced this activity in Papua and we did not see any active logging. We are, of course, concerned about stated plans for both mining and logging in steep coastal areas that would be done legally.”

Commercial fishing in area
Erdmann said a potentially greater problem could be the introduction of commercial fishing in the area as Indonesia transfers fishing pressure from its overfished western seas eastwards towards Papua.

"During our survey our socio-economic team did interview one Chinese-owned fish processing plant that is set up in the southeast of the Kaimana coastline," he said. "They are currently fishing just offshore for shrimp using trawls, but confided they had plans to bring approximately 100 additional vessels on line over the next two years targeting fish stocks just offshore. Needless to say, this is only one company, and this level of investment would clearly be unsustainable and likely collapse the fishery within three to five years at most."

Conservation International — which has been working with Indonesia as well as The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund — said it was optimistic that Indonesia would see the value of protecting the region.

"We've been very pleased with the positive response of the Indonesian government to our survey results, and with indications ... of their interest in expanding a network of marine protected areas to both protect the unparalleled marine biodiversity and also ensure sustainable management of fisheries in order that local communities maintain their food security."

Papua's amazing biodiversity was brought to the public's attention last February, when Conservation International reported that an expedition to the Foja Mountains, some 200 miles inland, had revealed a "lost world" of wildlife.

© 2006 MSNBC Interactive

 


Indonesia Tsunami Survivors Sought as Death Toll Climbs

Tuesday , July 18, 2006

PANGANDARAN, Indonesia — Corpses were recovered Tuesday from beaches, homes and hotels ravaged by Indonesia 's second tsunami in as many years, pushing the death toll to at least 341. Nearly 230 people were missing.

The government, under fire for failing to pass on warnings about the impending disaster, vowed to quickly build an alert system across the country that straddles one of the world's most violent seismic zones.

Bodies covered in white sheets piled up at makeshift morgues, while others lay beneath the blazing sun in the tourist resort of Pangandaran, a 6-month-old baby among them.

The search for survivors continued Tuesday, with parents among the last to give up.

"The water was too strong," said Irah as she dug through a pile of rubble with her bare hands, close to the spot where she last saw her 6-year-old son. "Oh God. Eki, where are you?"

CountryWatch: Indonesia

The magnitude 7.7 undersea quake on Monday triggered walls of water more than six feet high that crashed into a 110-mile stretch of beach on Java island, an area spared by the devastating 2004 Asian tsunami.

The waves destroyed houses, restaurants and hotels and tossed boats, cars and motorbikes far inland.

The death toll rose Tuesday to at least 341, according to Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie, and, with 229 more missing, the number was expected to climb.

"We are still finding many bodies. Many are stuck in the ruins of the houses," said police chief Syamsuddin Janieb.

Almost all the victims were Indonesians, but a Pakistani, a Swede and a Dutch citizen were among those killed, officials said.

At least 42,000 people fled their homes, either because they were destroyed or in fear of another tsunami, adding to the difficulty of counting casualties.

At the area's main hospital, in the town of Banjar, medics scrambled to treat a steady stream of patients, most from the Pangandaran coast. Some slept on dirty mattresses on the floor, while others were treated in the admissions hall.

Among the handful of foreign patients was Hamed Abukhamiss, a 40-year-old Saudi who was eating french fries with his family at a beach-side cafe when the tsunami came into view on the horizon.

His 12-year-old son, Yousif, saw the wave approaching through binoculars, but no one believed him when he yelled "Tsunami!"

Less than a minute later the family was swept away in the torrent of water, and Abukhamiss' wife and 4-year-old son were killed.

"I'll bury them here, but I will never come back," he said, crying in his hospital bed. "How am I going to tell my daughter her mother is dead?"

Monday's quake struck at 3:24 p.m. about 150 miles beneath the ocean floor, causing tall buildings to sway hundreds of miles away in the capital, Jakarta.

After the quake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Japan's Meteorological Agency issued warnings of a possible tsunami. It struck Java about an hour later.

Science and Technology Minister Kusmayanto Kadiman said Indonesia received the bulletins 45 minutes before the tsunami hit but did not announce them because they did not want to cause unnecessary alarm.

"If it (the tsunami) did not occur, what would have happened?" he told reporters in Jakarta, noting that there was no effective way to spread a warning without a system of sirens or alarms in place.

He said Indonesia now planned to speed up plans for a nationwide warning system.

Indonesia was hardest hit by a 2004 tsunami that killed at least 216,000 people in a dozen Indian Ocean nations — with more than half the deaths occurring in Sumatra island's Aceh province.

Though the country started to install a warning system after that disaster, it is still in the early stages. The government had been planning to extend the alert system to Java — which was hit by a quake in May that killed more than 5,800 people — in 2007.

Answering reporters' questions as to why no warning was issued on Monday, Vice President Jusuf Kalla claimed there was no need because most people had fled inland after the earthquake, fearing a tsunami.

"After the quake occurred, people ran to the hills ... so in actual fact there was a kind of natural early warning system," he said. However, of dozens of people interviewed by The Associated Press in Pangandaran on Tuesday, only one person said he felt a slight tremor. None said there was a mass movement of people to higher ground before the tsunami, though some residents recognized the danger when they saw the wall of water approaching.

Indonesia is on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

 


Imported Canned Tuna High in Mercury, Enviro Group Warns

Tuesday , July 11, 2006

WASHINGTON  — Many imports of canned tuna have mercury levels higher than the federal limit, according to analysis by an environmental group.

Defenders of Wildlife found the highest levels of mercury in tuna from Ecuador and Mexico — countries known for setting nets where they see dolphins to catch large tuna swimming below.

"They tend to catch larger, more mature fish, which tend to have higher levels, being at the top of the food chain," said Bob Irvin, the group's senior vice president for conservation.

The group is a longtime advocate of dolphin-safe tuna.

The group had a laboratory test 164 cans of tuna labeled as being from Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and the United States. Tests were done by New Age/Landmark laboratory, a Benton Harbor, Mich., company that has been used by the federal government.

Analysis of the samples found:

--Average mercury content of U.S. tuna was generally lower than imported tuna.

--Tuna from Asia had the lowest average levels of mercury.

--Tuna from Latin America had the highest mercury levels, with some exceeding the government limit of 1.0 parts per million.

The lab found higher levels of mercury even in light tuna, which the Food and Drug Administration considers to be low in mercury.

FDA says it's safe to eat two meals a week of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, such as canned light tuna, shrimp, salmon, pollock and catfish.

But the agency says to limit albacore, or "white," tuna to one meal per week because it contains higher levels of mercury.

Defenders of Wildlife said people should limit light tuna to one meal each week, instead of two, and avoid canned tuna that says it is imported on the label.

"The occasional tuna sandwich is not going to cause any problems, but we are saying the government needs to do a better job of looking at mercury content in light canned tuna, which up to now has been touted as a low-mercury source of protein," Irvin said.

The federal government advises pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to avoid fish with high levels of mercury — shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish. Elevated mercury levels have been linked to learning disabilities and developmental delays in children and to heart, nervous system and kidney damage in adults.

Traces of mercury are found in nearly all fish and shellfish. Released through industrial pollution, mercury falls and accumulates in streams and oceans as methylmercury. Methylmercury builds up in fish and shellfish as they feed, in some types more than others.

However, eating fish also has widely acknowledged health benefits. The American Heart Association advises people to eat fish at least twice a week.

 

 


Coral Polyps Can Adjust Skeletons to Water Chemistry

Friday , July 07, 2006

By Sara Goudarzi

Corals can alter their skeletons to match the changing chemistry of seawater, making them the only known animals to achieve such a feat, according to a new study.

These animals are the building blocks of reefs, large coral skeletons which host a variety of other animals, plants, algae and bacteria, and protect shores from erosion by absorbing wave energy.

Coral reefs are made from calcium carbonate secreted by coral polyps over millions of years.

Corals generally use aragonite, a carbonate material, to make the calcium carbonate.

But the new study, detailed in the July issue of the journal Geology, shows that when there is a decrease in the ratio of magnesium to calcium in the seawater, corals can switch to calcite for producing calcium carbonate.

"This is intriguing because, until now, it was generally believed that the skeletal composition of corals was fixed," said co-author Justin Ries, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University.

Ries formulated six different magnesium-to-calcium ratios that existed throughout the 480-million-year history of corals and then, in his lab, added three species of Caribbean reef-building corals.

Two months later, he examined the mineral composition of the coral skeletons and found that each kind of coral had produced its skeleton based on the kind of water it was in.

"This is particularly significant given recently observed and predicted future changes in the temperature and acidity of our oceans via global warming and rising atmospheric [carbon dioxide], respectively," Ries said. "That will presumably have a significant impact on corals' ability to build their skeletons and construct their magnificent reefs."


July Fourth Revelers Trash Beaches

SAN DIEGO - Well over half a million people celebrated the Fourth of July on San Diego County beaches Tuesday.

Evidence of the party was everywhere Wednesday morning. Thousands of pounds of garbage carpeted Mission and Pacific beaches. The leavings included plastic bottles, leftover food, coolers, tents, umbrellas and beach chairs.

Volunteers picked up more than 4,000 pounds of litter from county beaches after last year's July Fourth celebration, according to the San Diego County Surfrider Association. The tonnage is likely to be comparable this year.

The association is asking volunteers to help clean up Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon. Those willing to lend a hand should gather at:

  • the Ocean Beach Pier
  • Belmont Park
  • La Jolla Shores
  • 15th Street in Del Mar
  • South Carlsbad State Beach
  • Oceanside South Jetty

 

Volunteers under 18 need a signed note from a parent or guardian to participate.

Over the course of the four-day holiday weekend, an estimated 1.5 million people hit the beaches. Lifeguards made about 1,500 rescues between Saturday and Tuesday, including more than 500 on July Fourth, they said.


Have a Fun Summer!

Beach Safety 101: Tips for Staying Healthy Seaside
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
By Denise Mann

From death-defying rip currents and red-hot sun to jellyfish stings and shark attacks, the beach can be a pretty scary place. But it doesn’t have to be.

Experts tell WebMD that a day at the beach can be … well … a day at the beach -- when you know what to look out for.

“Swimming and water activities are very healthy so long as you use appropriate caution for yourself and your family when you visit the beach,” says B. Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA), a national organization based in Huntington Beach, Calif. The first step is knowing where danger lurks and how to avoid it.

Conquering Rip Currents

Rip currents, often misnamed rip tides or undertows, occur when surf pushes water up the slope of the beach and then gravity pulls it back. This creates concentrated rivers of water moving offshore. They tend to form as waves disperse along the beach, causing water to become trapped between the beach and a sandbar or another underwater feature. The water converges into a narrow, river-like channel moving away from the shore at high speed.

They are anything but benign. In fact, about 80 percent of lifeguard rescues at ocean beaches are due to rip currents and 80 percent of drowning deaths are also due to rip currents, Brewster says. “Rip currents can occur at any surf beach and they tend to be more intense as surf size increases,” Brewster says.

The best way to protect yourself from rip currents is to avoid them. ”Select a beach where lifeguards are present because the chances of drowning are 1 in 18 million if a lifeguard is present,” he says.

Sounds simple enough, but there are many beaches around the U.S. where no lifeguards are provided by the local community, he says.

“Make sure beaches are staffed at the time you are swimming,” he adds. “At some beaches, lifeguards are only staffed until 6 p.m., for example, so the mere fact that you go to a beach where a lifeguard is present doesn’t mean a lifeguard will be present when you are swimming,” he says.

Brewster advises checking with the lifeguards and asking them to point out the safest places to swim. “It is their role to help you find the safest place [and] if there are no lifeguards present, you may find a kiosk or signs at beach access points listing such information.”

If you do happen to get caught in a rip current, Brewster advises swimming to the side one way or the other until you no longer have difficulties or feel yourself being pulled.

Whatever you do, don't fight the current.

"These currents can move up to 8 knots, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer can swim,” he says. “In many cases, you will be simply unable to outpower the rip current, so you’ll want to outsmart it,” he says.

Another option is to tread water until someone can assist you, Brewster suggests.

“Learn to swim in the environment where you are going to be swimming,” Brewster says. “You may be a confident pool swimmer, but that doesn’t prepare you for conditions on the North shore of Oahu in Hawaii,” he says.

“Always swim near a lifeguard and never swim alone,” he says. “Even a very confident swimmer can experience difficulties and if there is an emergency and you are alone, you may not be noticed.”

Alcohol and Swimming Don't Mix

“You should avoid alcohol while swimming,” Brewster says. According to the USLA, alcohol can reduce your body temperature and impair your swimming ability as well as impair judgment, causing you to take unnecessary risks.

Float Where You Can Swim

“If you have a raft, don't take it any further from shore than you have the capability to swim,” Brewster says. “If you are using a floating device such as a body board or raft, use a leash so that if you fall off, you don’t lose the device,” he recommends.

Steer Clear of Sharks

Each summer, we tend to hear about at least one horrific shark attack. In fact, in mid-June, a surfer died after a shark bit him in the left thigh in waters off northeastern Brazil that are known for large concentrations of sharks, according to media reports.

But shark attacks are actually rather rare. In fact, worldwide there is an average of 50 to 70 shark attacks every year, according to statistics compiled by the International Shark Attack File.

“You are far more likely to be injured in a car accident driving to the beach than to ever even see a shark,” says Brewster. To avoid becoming a statistic, “don’t wear shiny jewelry or swim at dusk,” Brewster suggests. “Shark bites are believed to be a result of prey identification mistakes where the shark thinks you are a fish or a seal.”

Jumping Over Jelly Fish

“Generally you want to avoid any and all jelly fish,” Brewster says. “If they are in the water, you may want to avoid the water or check with a lifeguard to determine what level of problems they are experiencing,” he says. Still, “jelly fish stings tend to be annoyances rather than life-threatening events.”

Mind the Water Quality

Most communities test beach waters and are required to do so under federal legislation,” Brewster says.

“It’s a good idea to find out what the water quality is before you go in because the results of poor water quality are gastrointestinal distress, ear infection, and occasionally more serious problems,” he says.

Some beaches will post updates on water quality but, explained Brewster, this information is not always reliable because most testing is random and occurs on an infrequent basis.

“By the time the signs are up, the water quality may have already been poor for over a day,” he says. A good call is to avoid the ocean right after a rain fall. “If you have recently had heavy rainfall, there is a high likelihood that water quality may have degraded to at least some degree.”

Slather on Sunscreen

Nothing can ruin a day at the beach like sunburn. Research has shown that sun exposure prior to the age of 18 significantly increases the risk of developing skin cancer later in life, including the potentially fatal melanoma. New research has shown that sunburns after the age of 20 also increase the risk of developing melanoma.

“You can substantially reduce your risk of getting burnt and developing skin cancer by taking certain precautions,” says Bruce Katz, MD, the director of the JUVA Skin and Laser Center in New York City.

The first step is wearing sunscreen. "It’s not just about sun protection factor (SPF), it’s also about the other ingredients,” Katz says. Choose sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

“These ingredients block both ultraviolet-B (UVB) and ultraviolet-A (UVA), while other ingredients block only UVB,” he says. Choose an SPF of 15 or higher.

Remember that no sunscreens are sweat-proof or rub-proof, so they will have to be reapplied every two hours, particularly if you are sweating or swimming. It’s also important to wear hats with broad rims and sunglasses with protection built into the lenses.

“The sunlight is most intense from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” he says. “Be careful and stand under an umbrella, and remember that the sun is a lot stronger than it was 10 or 20 years ago because ozone has thinned out.”

By Denise Mann, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Chris Brewster, president, United States Lifesaving Association. Bruce Katz, MD, director, JUVA Skin and Laser Center, New York City.


Gray Whale Birth Rate on Upswing

Thursday , June 29, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO — The number of baby gray whales born along the Pacific Coast has rebounded from record low levels, suggesting that pregnant females are thriving despite a warming Arctic feeding environment, biologists said.

The number of calves that passed Point Piedras Blancas near San Luis Obispo jumped from 945 last year to 1,018 calves in 2006, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers said.

Fewer than 300 of the 3-month-olds were spotted in 2000 and 2001.

The whales have traditionally migrated to summer feeding grounds in the northern Bering Sea, but have been forced farther north in recent years because warming air and water has reduced the population of its favored prey, the fatty amphipod.

In 1999, about 270 whales washed up dead or dying on the Pacific Coast, some severely malnourished, according to NOAA.

But the whales appear to have taken advantage of melted polar sea ice, discovering new routes to food farther north near Barrow, Alaska, and finding enough crustaceans in the mud to nourish pregnant females, scientists said.

"It's a reasonable level of reproduction, and the overall trend over the past five years is positive," said Wayne Perryman, a NOAA fisheries biologist in La Jolla.