By Jake Johnson
In a move that environmentalists warned could further imperil hundreds of endangered species and a protected habitat for the sake of profit, President Donald Trump on Friday signed a proclamation rolling back an Obama-era order and opening nearly 5,000 square miles off the coast of New England to commercial fishing.
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An estimated 90% of the Dominican Republic's coral reefs have been destroyed, creating a knock-on effect for the entire coastal ecosystem. Local businesses and conservationists are now working to reverse this damage.
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Richard Hamilton Smith / Corbis NX / Getty Images
By Susan Cosier
Come February in Wisconsin, almost everything will be covered in ice and snow. In little shanties on frozen Lake Winnebago, a 30-by-13-mile lake in the eastern part of the state, fishers will keep watch over rectangular holes cut into the ice with a chainsaw. When they spot a fin passing below, they'll jab their spears down deep. The lucky ones will earn themselves a lake sturgeon, a species that has prowled the earth's waters for more than 150 million years.
“The Right Thing for the Great Lakes”<p>Ryan Koenigs, a fisheries biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is among those dedicated to bringing the lake sturgeon back. He's part of a team that keeps track of every individual caught, and he helps run the registration stations where fishers who spear a sturgeon in Lake Winnebago must go before taking their catch home. Koenigs and his colleagues look for a passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag, which offers information about the fish. These tags are implanted in each fish reared or caught and released by the agency. Some individuals caught in the past few years were tagged decades ago. "I'm reaping the benefits right now of what the biologists two generations before me did in the 1970s," Koenigs says.</p><p>Restoration efforts also exist in many other states bordering the Great Lakes. In New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe harvest sturgeon eggs from the St. Lawrence River and send them to hatcheries in the central part of the state and in Wisconsin. In Michigan, fisheries biologists, researchers, and state agencies successfully protected the sturgeon population in Black Lake and now use the data collected from their efforts to guide their restocking of nearby lakes and streams.</p>
Mysteries Unsolved<p>In 1995, Baker was tasked with finishing and implementing Michigan's new sturgeon rehabilitation plan. He observed reach after reach, finding only a few places were the fish still existed. One of those was the Upper Peninsula's Black Lake. Locals still spearfished sturgeon, and the population appeared to be falling. In 2001 Baker and Kim Scribner of Michigan State University set out to study the fish and get a rough population estimate. They concluded that over a 25-year period, sturgeon numbers had <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1577/1548-8675(1999)019%3C1080%3ALSAAHI%3E2.0.CO%3B2" target="_blank">declined by more than 60 percent</a>.</p><p>The state's Department of Natural Resources decided sturgeon spearfishing could continue, but fishers could harvest no more than five fish a year. Baker and his team stocked the lake, too, and the sturgeon population grew. The limit is now up to 14. Still, the population isn't recovering as quickly as expected.</p><p>To figure out why, Baker and Scribner continue their research. They also use the information they collect on basic sturgeon biology, genetics, and behavior to inform conservation efforts in other Michigan water bodies.</p><p>One major question they hope to answer concerns the timing of the sturgeon's reproduction. As with steelhead and salmon, it appears that the river where sturgeon spend the first summer of life, between May and October, is imprinted on the fish, and they come back to that place to spawn. Confirming this would help in their stocking efforts—especially in reaches where the fish haven't swum for decades.</p>
In a new report about how the world's coral reefs face "the combined threats of climate change, pollution, and overfishing" — endangering the future of marine biodiversity — a London-based nonprofit calls for greater global efforts to end the climate crisis and ensure the survival of these vital underwater ecosystems.
Coral Reefs in Crisis<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/386250260" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fcffbfeac80dddb74a304966b7f5995a"></iframe><p>"Tropical coral reefs support an estimated quarter of all marine species: hundreds of thousands of animal and plant species, who rely on the reef for food, shelter, and a safe place to live and reproduce," the report says. "These complex ecosystems include hard and soft corals, sponges, crustaceans, molluscs, fish, sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, and much more—including 'foundation' and 'keystone' species such as corals and sea turtles."</p><p>The report also spotlights a U.N. estimate that at least 275 million people rely on healthy coral reefs as an "essential source of food, employment, income, and storm protection for coastal communities."</p><p>In terms of the economic value of coral reefs, EJF puts tourism and recreation at $9.6 billion, coastal protection at $9 billion, fisheries at $5.7 billion, and wildlife at $5.5 billion. Directly below the economic figures, the report features "a note of caution: Valuing biodiversity in this way is of course subjective, how do we put a value on a species' intrinsic right to exist?"</p>
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Scientists have concluded of the largest freshwater fish species in the world is now extinct because of human activity.
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By Julia Conley
Sen. Elizabeth Warren expanded her vision for combating the climate crisis on Tuesday with the release of her Blue New Deal — a new component of the Green New Deal focusing on protecting and restoring the world's oceans after decades of pollution and industry-caused warming.
By Eoin Higgins
The climate crisis is hurting the New England fishing industry, claims a new report published Monday, with a decline of 16% in fishing jobs in the northeastern U.S. region from 1996 to 2017 and more instability ahead.
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By Emily Petsko
For many, the end of October evokes images of falling leaves or Halloween's ghosts and ghouls. But those of us focused on oceans also know October as National Seafood Month.
1. Seafood can provide a healthy source of protein to a growing population.<p>Right now, 821 million people around the world are living in hunger. This problem isn't likely to disappear anytime soon, especially with the population projected to grow by 2 billion people over the next 30 years. But by ensuring that fisheries are managed sustainably, and within scientifically sound parameters, we can restore ocean abundance and put enough fish in our waters to feed a sizable portion of the planet. If we look after our oceans properly and avoid overexploiting their resources, they could provide a nutritious meal every day for 1 billion people.</p>
2. Seafood could fill the micronutrient void that exists in many developing countries.<p>Enough fish are caught in many developing countries to nourish their populations, and yet malnutrition remains a persistent problem. How can this be? A team of researchers, including Oceana Science Advisor Dr. Eddie Allison, found that the fish being caught in tropical countries are chock full of important micronutrients — including calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, omega-3 and vitamin A — but they don't always end up on local people's plates. That's because much of the catch is exported, sometimes for the sole purpose of being churned into fishmeal and fed to carnivorous farmed fish like salmon, which are ultimately consumed by people in higher-income countries.</p><p>This has consequences for both local people and the economy. "A lack of fish-derived nutrients has been found to have a large effect on public health, notably infant mortality and hence GDP," Oceana Board Member and fisheries scientist Dr. Daniel Pauly wrote in a <a href="https://oceana.org/blog/daniel-pauly-having-access-fish-good-us" target="_blank">response</a> to the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1592-6" target="_blank">study</a>, which was led by Dr. Christina Hicks. That's why, when we consider the benefits of seafood, it's important to also consider who has access to those benefits.</p>
3. Seafood tends to be a low-carbon food, so it reduces the strain on the environment.<p>Compared to land-based animal proteins like beef and pork, wild-caught seafood has a significantly lower carbon footprint (as long as it's not being carted around the planet by plane). Plus, it requires virtually no fresh water or arable land to harvest it. At a time when concerns over habitat destruction and <a href="https://oceana.org/blog/climate-change-and-oceans-what-you-need-know-united-nations%E2%80%99-new-report" target="_blank">climate change</a> are growing, it's more vital than ever to rethink our global food systems.</p><p>A recent <a href="http://dev-oceanpanel.pantheonsite.io/sites/default/files/2019-09/19_HLP_Report_Ocean_Solution_Climate_Change_final.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> from the High Level Panel for A Sustainable Ocean Economy suggested that climate change could be mitigated, in part, by shifting global diets towards plant- and ocean-based options. "Food from the sea, produced using best practices, can (with some notable exceptions) have some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein produced of all protein sources," the panel wrote.</p>
4. The fishing sector provides jobs to millions of people — half of whom are women.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA0NTkxMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjQ1NzU4MX0.oXvmpilVB0-MJEhsqxKrSRD_AU855m0QPizlAXoIoe4/img.jpg?width=980" id="a29f6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2913e41194d8df4252bfc88b9adb73ed" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Women and children fish in Pemba, Mozambique. © OCEANA / Ana de la Torriente<p>Roughly 120 million people work in capture fisheries around the world. Over 95% of those people live in developing countries, and nearly half of them are women. Although fishing is typically viewed as a "masculine" occupation, many women make a living by spearing octopus, digging for clams, diving for abalone and packing and processing seafood. This industry is particularly important in small island nations. In Palau and Seychelles, for instance, 10% to 50% of their GDPs may be derived from fisheries, according to <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesellsmoor/2019/01/26/rethinking-our-oceans-investing-in-the-blue-economy/#603e11983531" target="_blank"><em>Forbes</em></a>.</p>
5. Fisheries are vital to many Indigenous coastal communities.<p>Indigenous peoples eat roughly 2 percent of all the seafood caught annually around the world, according to a 2016 <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0166681" target="_blank">study</a> written by Dr. Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor and co-authored by Dr. Pauly. Considering that Indigenous groups comprise just 5% of the global population, their seafood consumption works out to be 15 times higher than that of non-Indigenous peoples.</p><p>So what exactly does this mean? As the study's authors put it: "Marine resources are crucial to the continued existence of coastal Indigenous peoples, and their needs must be explicitly incorporated into management policies." Canada's revamped <em>Fisheries Act</em>, which was championed by Oceana and our allies, is a good example of how this can be achieved. The new version of the Act recognizes Indigenous knowledge and states that the Minster of Fisheries and Oceans has a duty to consider any adverse effects that decisions may have on Indigenous peoples.</p>
Fish at a market in Punta Gorda, Belize. © OCEANA / A. Ellis<p>From coastal communities to octopus fishers to people living in the tropics, it's clear that millions of people around the world depend on abundant oceans. Of course, when we talk about the benefits of seafood, sustainability is an important caveat. <a href="http://www.ecowatch.com/tag/overfishing" rel="noopener noreferrer">Overfishing</a> and destructive fishing methods are still ravaging marine habitats, rendering them less capable of providing for people's nutritional needs in the future. That's why, when you select a fish from a restaurant or your local supermarket's seafood counter, it's important to check the source. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a helpful tool called <a href="https://www.seafoodwatch.org/" target="_blank">Seafood Watch</a> that simplifies the process.</p><p><em>Want to learn more about how Oceana is helping to save the oceans and feed the world? Visit their campaign page <a href="https://oceana.org/feedtheworld" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from our media partner <a href="https://oceana.org/blog/5-ways-sustainable-seafood-can-benefit-people-and-environment" rel="noopener noreferrer">Oceana</a>.</em></p>
Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.
Tuna is the star of the show: The meaty fish is in such high demand that stocks have come under severe pressure.
Lively trade: In Tokyo, the fish market isn't just big business, it's become a tourist attraction.
By Tara Lohan
Visitors walk slowly through a room of dimmed lights and glowing tanks that bring the mysteries of the sea into plain view. The Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is home to 900 different species — everything from brightly colored reef fish to prickly sea urchins, even an albino alligator named Claude.
Reefs at Risk<p>Shallow tropical reefs face a long list of threats including <a href="http://www.ecowatch.com/tag/overfishing" rel="noopener noreferrer">overfishing</a>, disease and pollution, but one of the biggest dangers is <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" rel="noopener noreferrer">climate change</a>, which is contributing to rising sea surface temperatures and increasing ocean acidification. It's estimated that in the past 30 years half the world's coral reefs have died and by the end of the century we could lose 90 percent.<br></p><p>That's bad news for millions of people and marine life.</p><p>Coral reefs have important biodiversity and economic values. Reefs are like rainforests, providing food and shelter to thousands of other species. Coral reefs cover just 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, but they host more than 25 percent of the ocean's biodiversity. "So if we lose them, then we lose a disproportionate amount of biodiversity," said <a href="https://www.calacademy.org/learn-explore/science-heroes/rebecca-albright" target="_blank">Rebecca Albright</a>, a coral reef biologist who co-leads the California Academy of Science's <a href="https://www.calacademy.org/major-initiatives/hope-for-reefs" target="_blank">Hope for Reefs</a> initiative that works on researching and restoring coral reefs.</p><p>Reefs also provide key ecosystem services, valued at an <a href="https://reefresilience.org/value-of-reefs/" target="_blank">estimated at $375 billion</a> a year. Coastal communities rely on subsistence and commercial fishing supported by reefs, and their beauty and biodiversity bring in big tourism dollars. Reefs also provide a buffer for shorelines, helping to protect against storms and erosion — increasingly expensive threats with climate change.</p><p>Albright spent years studying what was going wrong with reefs. "I've done a lot of work looking at impacts of ocean acidification on reproduction and coral settlement and there's not a lot of good news there," she said.</p><p>So she shifted her focus.</p><p>"If we're losing corals at an unprecedented rate, then the only way we're going to get them back is if they can reproduce or grow more quickly."</p>
Coral Reproduction<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1ODU1OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzM1NTQ3N30.GB3R6j9c1AMVE7IRGjrDsPZ58lyYeWfRYUJr7OCT3qk/img.jpg?width=980" id="e1d4a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="002f15595ecfe7b9b1355323156694ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Corals and algae grow in a lab at the California Academy of Sciences.
Tara Lohan<p>To understand how scientists are hoping to help save corals, you need a quick primer in coral reproduction.<br></p><p>Most corals can reproduce in two ways. There's asexual reproduction — like a starfish, you can break off a piece of coral and the fragment will regenerate. Many conservation efforts have (and continue to) focus on fragmenting corals and then planting them back out onto reefs. These kinds of efforts work well at the hectare scale, said Albright, but they're not effective for ecosystem-wide restoration. At this rate we're a long way from being able to keep pace with the rate of environmental loss.</p><p>"You can imagine it's very laborious and time consuming," she said. "And when you look at the fact that we've lost 50 percent of the Great Barrier Reef, which is 2,300 kilometers long, individual divers going out and physically planting onto the reef is just not scalable."</p><p>Corals, however, can also reproduce sexually. Synchronized reproductive events happen in a rather dramatic fashion — usually just once a year for most corals, and for many it's at the end of the summer, after sunset and following a full moon, said Albright. Eggs and sperm are "broadcast" into the water column, where they combine and fertilize to produce larvae that eventually fix themselves to the ocean floor or other hard surfaces where they begin to grow from individual polyps into a colony. It will be a few months before the growing coral is even visible to the naked eye.</p><p>Understanding these reproductive processes could help solve another natural problem: Some reefs are currently dominated by a single clone and that low genetic variation can lead to disaster in times of environmental change. It's of special concern now as corals try to adapt to warming waters.</p><p>Sexual reproduction is "the only avenue for genetic diversity and so that's the one that we're focused on right now," said Albright.</p><p>"So what we're trying to do is just focus on helping corals sexually reproduce, get as much genetic diversity out there as possible and then let nature pick which ones win and which ones lose, because that's how it's supposed to happen," she said.</p>
Spawning in Captivity<p>At the California Academy of Sciences darkroom, Albright and her team have built a special environment filled with tanks programmed to simulate the seasonal temperature and light changes of the Palau archipelago, home to the staghorn corals (<em>Acropora cervicornis</em>) they're growing.<br></p><p>This complex process, which took a year and a half to develop, provides a unique opportunity to observe not just the reproduction but what happens to the resulting larvae, helping the researchers to better understand what may help more larvae make it to maturity out on the reef.</p><p>In nature, that's not an easy task. Life is tough for a microscopic coral on the ocean floor — there are endless things that could eat or outcompete it. Only about one in a million survive.</p><p>"The goal here is just to figure out how to get these corals to produce more offspring that are more viable and then use that knowledge to help field efforts," said Albright. "If we can increase survivorship by 10- or 100-fold, then that would be hugely helpful." This is especially true for reefs that are already depleted.</p>
Rebecca Albright examines baby corals spawned in the lab under a microscope.
Tara Lohan<p>One of the things her lab will study over the next several years is whether energetic enhancements, like better nutrition, can help corals like they do in early life stage for humans.</p><p>"If you could add things that would make the larvae more energetically replete, would that translate into better post-settlement survivorship?" she asks. "We'll be looking at that, along with how different [water] flows may make them grow faster and other ways to enhance their survivorship."</p><p>Hope for Corals isn't the only project out there trying to save corals. Other scientific efforts are studying how to get corals to be more robust against stress or to selectively breed "super corals" that are more resistant to heat or other pressures. Albright said she's heartened by this broad array of scientific efforts. "I think the solutions that are being explored by working at the intersection of disciplines like biology, engineering and technology are the most exciting as they have high capacity to help us scale results to meaningful levels," she said. "Most of that work is in early days but is exciting in terms of potential."</p><p>But she admits, there's still a long way to go, much to learn and no magic bullet for reefs.</p><p>Also, the clock is ticking.</p><p>"We're losing things so quickly right now, most conversations are switching towards talking about saving certain things and where we focus our efforts — because we can't save everything," she said.</p>
Scientists continue to uncover more ways climate change poses a threat to our health, such as the spread of tropical diseases northward and the loss of crucial nutrients in crops. Now, researchers at Harvard have added another risk to that list: increased neurotoxins in seafood.