Weird underwater discoveries such as an egg-eating Australian sea serpent and a strikingly coloured worm named after Star Wars‘ Yoda could carry on for decades to come, with new research estimating that up to one third of species remain undiscovered.
A study co-led by a University of Auckland expert and published today in international journal Current Biology calculated there were fewer than one million marine species on the planet, lower than some previous estimates. The number undiscovered likely amounts to a third of all species.
Hot spots for new finds included deep sea ecosystems and those in tropical areas, said Associate Professor Mark Costello from the University of Auckland, who co-led the research with Ward Appeltans of Flanders Marine Institute and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of Unesco.
“If we look at the number of undescribed species and samples from around the world, especially deep sea and tropical areas, the average over 100 studies was that about 30 per cent of those new species were new to science,” he told the Herald.
Easier identification, better technology and more scientists would boost the rate of discovery.
“It’s likely it will get harder and harder to find the rarer things, but it also gets more exciting.”
Bizarre species discovered within the past year included Yoda purpurata, which had features resembling the Jedi master’s large sagging ears, a crimson shrimp found at a depth of 2600m beneath the Norwegian Sea, and an odd-looking bristle worm discovered 1600m below the northeast Pacific.
“Knowing how many species there are in our oceans, and describing them, is vital for science and conservation for several reasons,” Professor Costello said.
“Species are the most practical measure for distinguishing habitats and tracking progress in exploring the earth’s biodiversity.
“They are as fundamental to biology as elements are to chemistry and particles to physics.
“So failure to consider all species in an ecosystem is analogous to an accountant ignoring items of inventory in a company’s stock.”
Better understanding of what species exist enabled more accurate estimates of extinction rates through habitat loss, while having a “master list” of species’ names was essential for quality assurance.
Research efforts have been boosted by the World Register of Marine Species - an open-access, online database that has received contributions from almost 300 scientists from 32 countries.
The study supports previous research by Professor Costello and colleagues, which used statistical modelling and an earlier version of the register to reach a similar estimate of the number of species on earth and in the oceans. It is also the culmination of 14 years’ work for Professor Costello, who began a European register of marine species in 1997 that expanded until the world register was initiated in 2006.
OCEANS STILL TO GIVE UP THEIR INHABITANTS
Around 226,000 species have been described by science and as many as 72,000 more are in collections awaiting description - yet hundreds of thousands more may still be waiting for discovery in our oceans.
The rate of discovery is, however, increasing, with an unprecedented 20,000 new marine species described in the past decade alone, suggesting that most marine species will be discovered this century.
Earlier estimates of ocean diversity had relied on expert polls based on extrapolations from past rates of species descriptions and other measures.
Those estimates varied widely, suffering because there was no global catalogue of marine species, and a new study gauging a more accurate figure canvassed 120 of the world’s top experts on the taxonomy, or classification, of marine species.
Mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and larger plants were some of the best-described groups of marine species to date.
Many of the species yet to be discovered will come from among the smaller crustaceans, molluscs, algae, worms, and sponges.
In Canada’s Fraser River, a mysterious illness has killed millions of Pacific salmon, and scientists have a new hypothesis about why: The wild salmon are suffering from viral infections similar to those linked to some forms of leukemia and lymphoma.
For 60 years before the early 1990s, an average of nearly 8 million wild salmon returned from the Pacific Ocean to the Fraser River each year to spawn.
Now the salmon industry is in a state of collapse, with mortality rates ranging from 40 percent to 95 percent.
The salmon run has been highly variable: The worst year came in 2009, with 1.5 million salmon, followed by the best year in 2010, with 30 million salmon. But the overall trend is downward.
Losses were particularly high in elevated river temperatures; warmer water makes it more difficult to deliver oxygen to the tissues of salmon.
Seven of the last 10 summers have been the hottest on record for the Fraser River. But experts say it’s too soon to pin the blame on global warming.
“Clearly, a warming climate is going to produce some new stresses for Pacific salmon,” said Daniel Schindler, a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Some of those stresses will certainly be expressed through increased susceptibility to disease, including something like this.”
But he added: “The reality is we have very poor understanding of how climate and disease dynamics interact with each other in salmon. We know they’re going to be important, but we can’t say a lot in detail.”
Two years ago, Canada’s prime minister ordered a judicial inquiry - known as the Cohen Commission - to investigate the salmon deaths, with a final report due by June 2012.
Scott Hinch, an investigator at the University of British Columbia’s Pacific salmon ecology and conservation lab and a co-author of a study on the salmon that was published in the journal Science, testified before the panel last month. He told it that the virus could be the biggest factor that’s driving the collapse.
The study raises “a big red flag,” providing scientists with a possible new explanation, said Brian Riddle, the president and chief executive officer of the Pacific Salmon Foundation in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“The critical thing is that for years, people have wondered about the rate of decline and how it can be pretty consistent across most populations in the Fraser,” he said. “This provides a viable reason now. We’re discovering something new. There’s still a lot unknown. We don’t understand the origin of the virus. We don’t understand how it functions.”
He said much more study was needed.
“If this really is a virus and it’s something we don’t understand, then we don’t know how to treat it or control for it,” Riddle said. “So this is something that could linger with us for a long time, and possibly until the animal learns how to deal with it. That will only happen through natural selection-type processes.”
As part of Hinch’s study, salmon were caught, tagged and implanted with radio transmitters and their blood, gill, muscle and fin tissues were biopsied. Scientists then tracked them and discovered that many were stressed and sick before they reached their spawning grounds.
According to the study, ocean-tagged salmon that had the gene signature associated with the viral infection were 13.5 times more likely to die before spawning.
Hinch said the scientists thought that the salmon became infected at sea, before making their runs upriver. He likened it to “dead fish swimming.”
If researchers can confirm the findings that a virus related to leukemia is responsible, “it would be quite novel,” said Hinch.
While there’s no similar research taking place in the United States, Schindler of the University of Washington said there was no reason not to assume that salmon in the nearby Columbia River in Washington state would be suffering, as well.
Glen Spain, the Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said other issues were at play and that “a cascade of interrelated factors,” not just a virus, could be causing the salmon deaths.
“There are fundamental habitat issues that weaken the salmon when they have too little water in the river or when the water is poor quality, when the population is truncated because of dams and there’s less biological diversity,” he said. “All of those are risk factors for any number of diseases. … It’s sort of like the blind man and the elephant. Everybody thinks that what they’ve got in front of them is the elephant. The reality is that it’s a whole ecosystem.”
He added: “If this is a virus, it’s an endemic virus and it’s been out there for thousands of years. The question is, if it’s attacking fish now, why now?”
Newswise — It has been one year since a massive explosion on board BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster claimed 11 lives and became the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Damage was catastrophic along the Gulf Coast states. Oil and tar balls washed ashore, fouling beaches and estuaries. Marine organisms, seen and unseen below the surface, were sickened and killed in droves.
But on this infamous anniversary, some positive news can still be reported. The oil spill caused BP to provide millions of dollars to fund scientific research to gather basic information and determine the long-term impact of the spill. In doing so, scientists throughout Florida are unlocking the mysteries of the deep. Advancing oceanographic research will ultimately be the positive legacy of the spill among the negative ones.
BP provided a $10 million block grant to the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) to fund researchers across the state to conduct projects that analyze the spill’s impact and address baseline parameters relating to the spill. All told, 27 projects were chosen. These projects ranged from measuring the chemical composition and breakdown of oil hydrocarbons and dispersants, to the behavior of the fish, plankton, and various deepwater invertebrates possibly exposed to oil.
Nova Southeastern University researchers are using BP money to collaborate with their colleagues at Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University to study sponge species near the spill site to examine possible clues about how marine invertebrates and microbes cope with chemical pollutants. Sponges are an ancient ancestor of most living animals, having fossils that are over 500 million years old. Modern molecular genetics methods are being applied to reveal the hidden biology of marine sponges and develop them as potential sentinels (bio-indicators) to detect massive or subtle environmental changes. This study will apply sophisticated DNA sequencing and microbial analyses to better understand these marine organisms’ biology.
A better understanding of marine processes and resilience to events like oil spills will be gained through unbiased scientific research. Other benefits will be developing safer ways to drill and develop natural resources, new protocols to study and protect the biological diversity of marine life living near the top and bottom of the ocean, and a greater realization for what we still do not know about the vast oceans. Moreover, there may be a greater appreciation for the bountiful products, nutrition and employment that the oceans provide society in general. All of these are positive results from the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.
The FIO research projects should be seen as one way to decrease marine mysteries, illuminating the depths of our ignorance by gaining knowledge of dark marine habitats and shy marine organisms that live in our oceans. More research into the planet’s largest natural habitat, the ocean, is needed. Unfortunately, funding limitations and a deep economic recession have adversely affected NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) ability to fund researchers and academic institutions like NSU that conduct oceanographic research.
As tragic as the oil spill was, it did present us more funding opportunities from private enterprise. Private funding can fill in for decreased public support. The BP oil spill caused monumental environmental damage, but indirectly helped advance marine research. The more knowledge we gain about the oceans, the more we can help to protect them for future generations to enjoy.
Jose Lopez, Ph.D., is an associate professor at NSU’s Oceanographic Center, who is using a BP block grant to measure the oil spill’s impact on marine sponge and symbiotic microbial communities.
Corals that inhabit warm ocean areas are spreading northward in Japan’s coastal waters, apparently due to global warming, researchers have announced.
According to a research team from the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Ibaraki Prefecture and the Kushimoto Marine Park Center in Wakayama Prefecture, the northern limits of the habitats of several species of coral lying mostly near the Nansei Islands south of Kyushu have been moving northward at a “unprecedented speed” of up to 14 kilometers per year.
The unusual phenomenon is thought to have been caused by rising sea temperatures associated with global warming. As corals serve as the home for various marine plants and animals, researchers fear a possible change in the regional ecosystem.
In the sea around Japan, average water temperatures in winter have risen by 1.1 to 1.6 degrees Celsius over the past century. Out of nine species of corals that the research team analyzed, four that live in tropical waters have so far spread northward. One of the four species was observed inhabiting the area near Kagoshima Prefecture’s Tanegashima island in 1988, but was found to have spread 280 kilometers northward to Nagasaki Prefecture’s Goto Islands 20 years later.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With the New Year comes new challenges to fish in our world’s oceans and one of the major concerns is the expansion of hypoxic zones. That’s the scientific name but more recreational anglers are becoming aware of them as “dead zones.”
They are areas in the oceans with low or non-existent oxygen levels which, according to a recently released research study by scientists and fish management experts, are increasing in size while decreasing the habitats of billfish and tuna. In scientific circles this phenomena is called “habitat compression.”
Ellen Peel, president of The Billfish Foundation (TBF) said scientists outfitted 79 sailfish and blue marlin in two strategic areas of the Atlantic with pop-off archival satellite tags which monitored their horizontal and vertical movement patterns.
“Billfish favor abundant habitats of oxygen-rich waters closer to the surface while avoiding waters low in oxygen,” Peel said. The study, composed of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and TBF, found a massive expanding low oxygen zone in the Atlantic Ocean is encroaching upon the fish forcing them into shallower waters where they are more likely to be caught. The research waters included areas off south Florida and the Caribbean (western North Atlantic); and off the coast of West Africa (the eastern tropical Atlantic).
Hypoxic zones occur naturally in areas of the world’s tropical and equatorial seas because of ongoing weather patterns, oceanographic and biological processes. In the current cycle of climate change and accelerated global warming, hypoxic areas are expanding and shoaling closer to the sea surface, and may continue to expand as sea temperatures rise.
“The zone off West Africa,” said Dr. Eric D. Prince, NOAA Fisheries Service research biologist, “encompasses virtually all the equatorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean, is roughly the size of the continental United States and is growing. With the current cycle of climate change and accelerated global warming we expect the size of this zone to increase, further reducing the available habitat for these fishes.”
Oil platform could put critically endangered whales at risk
Sakhalin Energy Investment Company already has two platforms in the area and have previously said that their drilling technology meant that they would not need a third. An official Sakhalin Energy document also acknowledges that having two rather than three platforms “significantly reduces the potential for environmental impact”.
The company plans to conduct a seismic survey which involves shooting loud pulses of noise into the ocean floor later this year to determine where to begin platform construction.
Three seismic surveys conducted around the whale feeding habitat last summer caused severe pressure on the animals as the noise from the surveys can be devastating for species that rely on sound to navigate, communicate and find their food.
Grey whales occur on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. However IUCN classes the critically endangered Western population as separate from the Eastern population, as genetic studies indicate that the two populations probably do not mix.
Only around 130 whales of the critically endangered Western population exist today.
The construction and operation of an additional off-shore platform could have a number of negative effects on the whales, including disrupting feeding behaviours and increasing the chance of fatal ship strikes.
Aleksey Knizhnikov, Oil Gas Environmental Policy Officer for WWF-Russia says on the WWF website: “Just around 30 female western Grey whales of breeding age remain the population is already on the brink of disappearing forever. The loss of even a few breeding females could mean the end for the population.”
During the feeding season the whales must eat enough to maintain themselves for the migration to their breeding grounds. Their primary feeding area, near the proposed platform, is also one of the only places where mother whales can teach their calves to feed on the sea bed.
“We are astonished by the announcement from Sakhalin Energy that it intends to build a third platform,” said Wendy Elliott, Species Programme Manager, WWF-International.
Doug Norlen, Policy Director at Pacific Environment reiterates:”We still do not know how badly the whales were affected by major seismic activity last summer and will not know until the whales return to their feeding grounds again this year and scientists can determine if any are malnourished. It is totally inappropriate for Sakhalin Energy to plan another seismic survey in 2011 before we have the opportunity to examine the health of the animals.”
Article source: http://www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk/content.php?sid=3561
Oceana, an international ocean conservation group, yesterday released a new report that identifies vital habitats in need of protection, if key endangered species are to have a chance to survive climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 20 to 30 percent of the world’s species will be at increased risk of extinction if global temperature increases exceed 1.5 to 2.5 C (3 to 5 F) above pre-industrial levels. The climate threats to species include increased disease, diminished reproduction, habitat loss, and declining food supply.
For species that are already struggling on the brink of extinction, global climate change threatens to push them over the edge, said Huta. We certainly need to reduce global warming pollution, but we also need to act now to prioritize and protect some of the most important ecosystems for imperiled wildlife. Endangered species don’t have the luxury of waiting for political leaders to act to slow the pace of climate change.
List of top 10 ecosystems to save for endangered species featured in the report:
1. Arctic sea ice, home to the polar bear, Pacific walrus and at least six species of seal
2. Shallow water coral reefs, home to the critically endangered elkhorn and staghorn corals
3. The Hawaiian Islands, home to more than a dozen imperiled birds, and 319 threatened and endangered plants
4. Southwest deserts, home to numerous imperiled plants, fish and mammals
5. The San Francisco Bay-Delta, home to the imperiled Pacific salmon, Swainsons hawk, tiger salamander and Delta smelt
6. California Sierra Mountains, home to 30 native amphibian species, including the Yellow-legged frog
7. The Snake River Basin, home to four imperiled runs of salmon and steelhead
8. Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, home to the imperiled Whitebark pine, an important food source for the threatened Grizzly bear and other animals
9. The Gulf Coasts flatlands and wetlands, home to the Piping and Snowy plovers, Mississippi sandhill crane, and numerous species of sea turtles
10. The Greater Everglades, home to 67 threatened and endangered species, including the manatee and the red cockcaded woodpecker
Climate change is no longer a distant threat on the horizon, said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. It has arrived and is threatening ecosystems that we all depend upon, and our endangered species are particularly vulnerable.
Seven additional ecosystems were nominated but did not make the Top 10. They nonetheless contain important habitat for imperiled species. These ecosystems include Glacier National Park, the Jemez Mountains, Sagebrush Steppe, U.S. West Coast, the Maine Woods, the Grasslands of the Great Plains and the Southern Rocky Mountains.
Scientists ranked Arctic sea ice and shallow water corals as two of the highest priority ecosystems threatened by climate change in an Endangered Species Coalition report demonstrating the urgency of saving habitat for endangered species. The report, entitled Its Getting Hot Out There: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World was released January 5th, and examines how the changing climate is increasing extinction risk for imperiled fish, plants and wildlife.
Have your say: Is the reality of climate change still in question?
Large-scale cultivation of sea lettuce can help reduce acidification of the oceans. And help solve the global food supply problem to boot.
This idea, presented by Wageningen biologist Ronald Osinga, came as a surprise to delegates at the international coral symposium held in Wageningen last week. The symposium was an initiative by the International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS) and focused on the effects of climate change on coral reefs. Acidification of the oceans is one of the problems, and corals are highly sensitive to it. They become bleached and the calcium they contain dissolves.
But this does not have to happen, says marine biologist Osinga. On the closing day of the symposium he proposed a solution: sea lettuce (ulva lactuca). As it grows, this marine plant lowers the acidity of water. What is more, it is edible. Osinga and his colleagues have calculated that a ‘marine garden’ of 180,000 square kilometres could provide enough protein for the entire world population. A sea lettuce bed of such gigantic proportions would raise the pH (acidity level) of the Mediterranean Sea by one tenth. That may not seem much, but according to Osinga, it would be enough to compensate for the rise in acidity that started with the industrial revolution.
Linking the cultivation of sea lettuce with fish farming would create a closed food cycle, says Osinga. The waste products of the fish would nourish the sea lettuce. Osinga: ‘Offshore fish-farming is a massive polluter. It’s much better if you can recycle these nutrients. There is a lot of interest nowadays in this sort of integrated concept.’
Osinga and his University of Amsterdam colleague Jaap Kaandorp brought the symposium to Wageningen in order to draw attention to Dutch coral research. Wageningen UR plays a modest role in this research, but that may be about to change through the accession of the ‘BES’ islands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba) in the Caribbean to the Netherlands. But that is a separate issue, says Osinga, and not the reason for the symposium. ‘It’s a coincidence. But a useful one, with all the attention to the coral reefs around the BES islands.’ Three hundred scientists from all over the world took part in the symposium. / Roelof Kleis
The above article was written by the editorial staff of Resource, the bi-weekly newspaper for Wageningen University and Research centre. For more information, contact the press and science information officer of Wageningen UR, e-mail: email@example.com or the editorial staff of Resource, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. See the archived articles at resource.wur.nl
I havent seen this film yet, but theLos Angeles Times has called Deep Green a template for getting off fossil fuels and the Oregonian praises the film for offering hope instead of despair. Sounds good.
Heres more on the film, a direct copy of an email I received from Lyla Foggia (looks like exactly what is needed at this moment in time):
In a film filled with light-bulb moments, none seems to burn brighter than the realization that the race to stop global warming is well underway yet the U.S.has barely left the starting gate. Hard as it is to believe, China long regarded as the Darth Vader of global carbon emissionsis spending 600% more annually than the U.S. on green initiatives, even with a GNP only one-third the size.
What gives? Barbara Finamore, Director of the Natural Resource Defense Councils China Program, points out in DEEP GREEN: Solutions to Stop Global Warming Now: China did its own study and discovered that climate change is going to affect all of the areas where they are most vulnerable: their water supply, flooding, droughts, disease, and agriculture.
Explains Deep Green filmmaker Matt Briggs:For too long, China has been used as an excuse for inaction on the climate crisis.It doesnt matter what we do in the United States, because so many Chinese are wasting energy and killing the planet anyway. But our research showed that this was changing, and we decided to go to China to see for ourselves.We caught the beginning of what is now an accelerating greening of China. Europe has led the way on most efforts to stop global warming, so we searched for the best diverse global warming solutions in seven countries.Plus, we found many areas of strength and brilliant solutions in the United States.
Directed by Briggs and photographed by Beijing-based cinematographer Andrew Clark (National Geographic Channel, BBC, and CNN), among others,Deep Greenfeatures compelling examples of breakthrough technology, practical ingenuity andbrilliant ideas, while searching out the best minds and applications leading to the creation of living buildings, electric transportation, sustainable farming, clean energy, and reforestation. Blended with the enthusiasm and passion with which other countries and cultures are embracing the challenge, Deep Green provides an inspiring perspective, along with specific suggestions on what one person can do to lower their carbon footprint and restore the natural world.
Over three years in the making, Deep Green is the culmination of a quest that began in the 1990s for Briggs, when he started noticing the effects of global warming on our national forests.Concerned, he attended scores of conferences, including the first of ten Bioneers in 1999.Prior to shooting a single frame, Briggs also spent four years pouring over the latest research through scientific journals and more than 400 books.Notably, when Deep Green began principal photography in July 2007, many of the solutionssuch as the first solar thermal plants, hybrid electric cars, and living buildings had not advanced beyond the concept stage, or were just being built while we were shooting the movie.The science and the literature caught up.This became a seven year project and the science got stronger and the solutions got better.Now we know that over 75% or most of global warming is man-caused, and we know how to fix it, says Briggs.
Among the widely-respected authorities featured in the film are Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, bestselling author Michael Pollan, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, Dr. David Suzuki, former CIA Director James Woolsey, electric transportation guru Edward Kjaer, and Finamore.
From the beginning, Briggs imagined a way of inspiring a new generation of green achievers through the universal appeal of animationso he commissioned 11 world class short films from the award-winning Bent Image Lab in Portland, Oregon.Included are eight humorous vignettes featuring the distinctive line-drawing style ofFrench-born artist Pascal Campion and the free-standing environmental shorts:The Krill is Gone about the devastating impact of CO2 on the worlds oceans, and Trees on how cutting down our forests creates even more CO2.Both feature the voice of SpongeBob legend Tom Kenny, along with a commanding performance by his wife, Jill Talley, as the ditzy krill.
Deep Green, The Krill is Gone, and Trees have been featured in film festivals around the world.Among them, the Artivist Film Festival in Los Angeles and New York selected Deep Green and The Krill is Gone as its 2010 winners of the Best Environmental Preservation Award for Feature Film and Short Subject respectively.Krill was also named the recent winner of the Blue Ocean Film Festival Award for Childrens Programming.
TheLos Angeles Times has called Deep Green a template for getting off fossil fuels.TheOregonian has also praised the film for offering hope instead of despair.ThePortland Tribune noted:Deep Green doesnt have super heroes, flying monsters, 3-D, big stars, love interests or comedy of questionable taste. What it does have is energy, passion, imagination.Among the others, theExaminer.com reported: Deep Green is an eye-opening film that utilizes science, technology, reality and compassion to highlight not only the responsibility each individual has for reducing mankinds carbon footprint on the planet to solve the global warming crisis.Deep Green does a great job of explaining why energy conservation is critical to the survival of living things on the planet
DVDs of Deep Green are available through Amazon.com for $15.99.To purchase multiple copies at discount or a license to exhibit the film publicly, call 503-635-4469 or email email@example.com.For more information about the film, visit www.DeepGreenMovie.com.
At the end of a long process called momentous, unprecedented and tortuous, a state commission Wednesday narrowly approved the creation of ocean habitat reserves where fishing will be limited, including nearly 20 square miles off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
The Fish and Game Commission voted 3-2 to approve 36 marine protected areas in coastal waters along a region that stretches from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the Mexico border.
The closures are expected to go into effect the middle of next year.
“This is truly a historic day for California,” said Mark Gold, president of the Santa Monica-based advocacy group Heal the Bay.
The commission vote, which came after five hours of public comment and debate at a Santa Barbara meeting attended by hundreds, finalized a plan that has been called a compromise between fishing and environmental interests.
“The best negotiation is where neither party comes away happy, and that is the proposal you have before you today,” Stefanie Sekich of the Surfrider Foundation told the commission.
The plan - labeled the “integrated preferred alternative” because it combined elements of three plans drafted over dozens of meetings - limits or halts fishing in about 16.5 percent of the so-called South Coast region.
The vote brings to a conclusion a process that began in summer of 2008 to implement the 11-year-old Marine Life Protection Act, or MLPA, which calls for the creation of a
science-based, statewide network of ocean preserves. The goal is to protect marine ecosystems and sustain and rebuild fish stocks.
Meetings with more than 60 stakeholders sometimes pitted environmentalists who wanted strong protections for the best habitat against fisherman who often wanted to maintain access to those same productive waters. The stakeholders drew and re-drew the boundaries of the proposed reserves, sometimes arguing over just a few hundred feet of beachfront.
California is the third of five regions along the state’s 1,100-mile coastline that have undergone the process. Still awaiting completion are the North Coast and San Francisco Bay regions.
The most densely populated and heavily used of the five regions, Southern California has proved especially contentious for state officials overseeing the MLPA initiative, which was funded largely by private foundations.
Locally, the plan protects about 15 square miles of ocean southwest of Point Vicente, where fishing will be completely prohibited.
In an adjacent conservation area of about 5 square miles at Abalone Cove, “take” of marine life will be allowed by only some fishing methods. The Abalone Cove conservation area would replace a much smaller, existing state marine park.
The vote leaves open to fishing some of the most pristine and bounteous waters in Southern California - the Rocky Point area of the northern Palos Verdes Peninsula, which was the subject of a passionate tug-of-war won between local fishermen and environmental groups.
Featuring cold, deep canyons, kelp forests and a productive fish nursery, Rocky Point is popular with sportfishing boats coming from the Redondo Beach harbor and with local recreational fishermen.
The plan before the commission omitted Rocky Point after the Blue Ribbon Task Force - the initial gatekeeper for this process - instead chose to give greater protection to Point Dume in Malibu. The trade-off was made because of concern about the economic impact on local fishing businesses.
Multiple reserves and conservation areas on Catalina Island were also approved, as were fishing closures in Santa Barbara County, Laguna Beach and the San Diego area.
Overall, many fishermen remained staunchly opposed to the initiative, which they said was flawed from the start. Some were critical both of the science that was used to craft the protected-area boundaries and of peer-reviewed studies that have shown the efficacy of closures in improving fish stocks.
“Proponents of the MLPA will have you believe that California marine resources are in dire straits. … This is simply untrue,” said George Osborn, who was representing the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, a fishing group formed to respond to the process. “There is not one marine fish stock experiencing overfishing in California’s waters.”
Osborn and attorneys representing the fishing group said the process had not been transparent or public enough. They referred to documents - obtained through a public records lawsuit - that they said showed members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force had held private meetings.
Commissioner Richard Rogers responded later to the skepticism about the science by saying that the debate should have long since moved on. As for the possibility of a legal challenge, he was similarly defiant.
“In my world, you hear something like that and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘bring it,’” Rogers said.
Rogers was joined by Commissioners Michael Sutton and Jack Baylis, a former Heal the Bay board member, in supporting the marine protected areas. The majority vote was to approve an environmental review of the plan, as well as new regulatory language that state wardens will enforce.
Sutton, a staunch supporter of the MLPA, compared the new marine reserves to existing terrestrial parks that hunters have supported.
“You don’t have to be a wildlife biologist to see that if we protect essential habitat, wildlife populations tend to do pretty well,” Sutton said.
Commissioners Jim Kellogg and Dan Richards opposed the plan. Both cited the financial impacts to fishing businesses, particularly during troubled economic times, as well as the lack of state funds to implement marine protected areas.
Find out more
Two state marine conservation areas have been approved for local waters. A complete map of the closures is at dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/scmpas121510.pdf
In the 15.1-square-mile Point Vicente area, no fishing will be permitted.
In the neighboring 4.8-square-mile Abalone Cove area, some fishing will be allowed: recreational take of pelagic finfish, white seabass by spearfishing only, and market squid by hand-held dip net; and commercial take of coastal pelagic species and Pacific bonito by round haul net, and swordfish by harpoon.
Article source: http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_16865954