Great Barrier Reef Rescue Plan
A giant starfish-eating snail could be unleashed to help save the Great Barrier Reef, officials said on Monday, with a trial underway to breed thousands of the rare species.
Predatory crown-of-thorns starfish, which munch coral, are naturally-occurring, but have proliferated due to pollution and agricultural run-off at the struggling World Heritage-listed ecosystem. Their impact has been profound with a major study of the 2 300km long reef’s health in 2012 showing coral cover halved over the past 27 years, with 42% of the damage attributed to the pest.
Now Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) research has shown they avoid areas where the Pacific triton sea snail – also known as the giant triton – is present. The snails – which can grow to half a metre – have a well developed sense of smell and can hunt their prey by scent alone. Research showed they were particularly fond of crown-of-thorns, but only eat a few each week, and with the snail almost hunted to extinction for their shells, there are not many left.
This led the Australian government to on Monday announce funding to research breeding them, the ultimate aim to deploy them to control the crown-of-thorns pest.
A massive, glowing, Slinky-like “creature” photographed by a scuba diver off the coast of Australia has spurred intense speculation about what the mystery beast could be. The translucent, glowing tube is made up of strings of squid eggs from a little-known species, a diamond squid. The diamond-shaped squid is a large and mysterious creature that can be about 3 feet (1 meter) long and weigh up to 66 lbs. (30 kilograms). The species looks a bit like a kite affixed to a handful of tentacles, and the animals live in male-female pairs for their life span (about one year). The huge sea creatures lay large egg cases up to 6 feet (1.8 m) long. Each egg case can carry between 24,100 and 43,800 eggs.
Beaches on England’s picturesque Cornwall coast were forced to close as an unprecedented number of Portuguese men o’war washed ashore.
The floating colonies of tiny organisms working together have tentacles that reach up to 165 feet in length and can deliver an extremely painful sting.
The Cornwall Wildlife Trust says the foreign invaders were blown in by strong southwesterly winds. The warm-water creatures typically live far out to sea.
Monarchs in Peril
While declining monarch butterfly populations from Mexico to eastern Canada have received the most attention in recent years, scientists at Washington State University Vancouver say western populations are now at greater risk of extinction.
“In the 1980s, 10 million monarchs spent the winter in coastal California. Today there are barely 300,000,” said biologist Cheryl Schultz.
The exact causes of the decline are unknown, but Schultz fears habitat destruction and pesticide use across the West, where the monarchs breed, are the likely culprits.
Elephants Adapt to Poaching
Elephants in eastern Africa have learned to travel at night and hide during the day to avoid poachers who are hunting tuskers into extinction, researchers reported Wednesday.
Normally elephants forage for food and migrate in daylight, resting under cover of darkness. But a sharp increase in illegal hunting driven by the global trade in ivory has forced the massive mammals to upend their usual habits.
In an upcoming study, Ihwagi details his findings, based on data gathered from 60 elephants in northern Kenya tracked with GPS devices for up to three years during the period 2002 to 2012.
The nighttime movements of the elephants increased significantly in sync with poaching levels, especially for females. In high-danger zones, females reduced daytime activity by about 50 percent on average compared to low-danger zones.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the number of African elephants has fallen by around 111,000 to 415,000 over the past decade.
The killing shows no sign of abating, with around 30,000 elephants slaughtered for their ivory every year, mainly to satisfy demand in Asia for products coveted as a traditional medicine or as status symbols.
Irma Strands Manatees
As Hurricane Irma pounded Florida over the weekend, it brought drenching rainfall and historic flooding across the state, particularly along the shoreline.
But in Sarasota Bay in Manatee County, a pair of massive manatees were temporarily left high and dry.
A unique combination of storm conditions allowed Irma to siphon water away from the shore toward the storm’s center. This stranded a pair of manatees on the sand where they wallowed helplessly until a group of people came to their rescue
A string of powerful solar storms interacting with Earth’s geomagnetic field may have been the cause of 29 beachings of sperm whales around the North Sea last year, scientists say.
Researchers from Germany’s University of Kiel found that the solar storms distorted the planet’s magnetic field by hundreds of miles, interfering with the whales’ sense of orientation.
Klaus Heinrich Vanselow and colleagues conclude that the whales would have been confused by the magnetic shifts because they grew up in the eastern Atlantic where such solar disruptions are typically much weaker.
Animal rights groups expressed outrage at the Romanian government’s move to kill or relocate 140 bears and 97 wolves following a number of attacks on humans.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) strongly denounced the measure and blamed the attacks on deforestation. “The authorities should first address the problems that have prompted bears to get closer and closer to human settlements in the search for food,” Cristian Papp, the head of WWF’s Romanian branch, told Agence France-Presse.
About 6,000 brown bears roam in and around the country’s Carpathian Mountains.
Pacific corals in ‘worrying’ state
An in-depth probe along a 50,000-kilometre (31,000-mile) stretch of the Pacific found that up to 90 percent of some coral colonies around the Samoan islands had been bleached.
Around the Tuamotu archipelago, up to half of colonies are bleached, according to researchers on board the French research schooner Tara.
Around the islands of Tuvalu and Kiribati, sections of reef were dead by the time the team got there.
Even in more temperate waters to the north, reefs did not escape bleaching, said the team, with up to 70 percent of corals damaged around Okinawa, Japan.
Corals make up less than one percent of Earth’s marine environment, but are home to an estimated 25 percent of marine life. They act as nurseries for many species of fish.
Corals are tiny, invertebrate marine creatures that live in colonies and require algae to survive. The algae live on the corals, providing them with food and the bold colours that reefs are known for.
Corals “bleach” when they are stressed by environmental changes — due to ocean warming or pollution. They expel the algae and turn bone-white.
If the harm is not too severe, reefs can recover from a bleaching event, although this can take many years.
USA Investigates Right Whale Deaths
Fearing an existential threat to one of the largest mammals in the sea, the United States government has launched an investigation into a string of deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales.
At least 13 of the whales have been found dead this year off Atlantic Canada and New England, an unprecedented number experts say threatens the survival of the species.
“The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most critically endangered populations of large whales in the world,” David Gouveia with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries branch said Friday. “The population numbers are very low and recovery is very slow. It’s a significant die off.”
In response to the troubling raft of deaths, NOAA Fisheries has declared “an unusual mortality event.”
The designation triggers a sweeping investigation into the cause of the deaths, including environmental and habitat conditions, threats from commercial fishing and shipping and other risk factors.
The U.S. Coast Guards find a young right whale in Cape Cod Bay.
First Nations Affected by British Columbia Wildfires
A First Nation in British Columbia’s Cariboo region is calling for a moratorium on hunting until officials can confirm sufficient numbers of wildlife have survived the wildfire season. The Nazko First Nation is concerned that wildfires in his traditional lands in the Cariboo Chilcotin region may have dramatically reduced the number of moose and deer.
The Nazko have survived as traditional hunters on their ancestral land for thousands of years with moose, deer and salmon as staple proteins.
Most of the community has been evacuated to Quesnel for weeks, while some remain on the First Nation’s main reserve, west of Quesnel.
The Cariboo Chilcotin has had 11 fires of note since early July which have caused a number of evacuations, a temporary ban on backcountry travel and burned 783,699 hectares of land.
A herd of wild horses was recently reported burned to death by the neighbouring Tsilhqot’in First Nation.
On top of the anxiety surrounding the annual hunting season, this year’s salmon returns have been dismal. Salmon are susceptible to liquid fertilizers found in fire retardant and ammonia compounds found in retardant can kill aquatic life if not diluted.
Rapidly retreating Arctic sea ice has driven several hundred Pacific walrus to an Alaskan barrier island weeks earlier than ever observed.
The marine mammals have historically conducted their “haulout” on sea ice, where they rest and feed.
But they began showing up instead on Point Lay along the Chukchi Sea coast in 2007 as global warming melted their icy habitat.
This year, they arrived two weeks before the previous earliest date in 2011.
Up to 40,000 of the marine mammals have crowded onto the narrow island in recent years, putting them at risk of deadly stampedes.
The number of baby lobsters in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank regions has dropped to the lowest levels since about the beginning of this century.
Despite the dwindling population of juvenile lobsters, the industry has for years brought in record catches of adults.
Atlantic waters off Maine and Canada have been warming more rapidly in recent years than in most other areas of the world.
The head of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association says that once-plentiful starfish, sea urchins, sea sculpins and rock crabs are no longer being found in traps.
The widespread use of artificial light at night is joining climate change, pesticide use and invasive alien species as the latest threat to pollinating insects.
New research published in the journal Nature found that nighttime illumination reduces visits of nocturnal pollinators to flowers by 62 percent.
The moths, beetles and bugs that are the leading pollinators after dark are easily distracted from their duties by the allure of bright lights, according to lead researcher Eva Knop of the University of Bern. She and colleagues made the discovery by comparing insect-plant interactions in naturally dark meadows with those in areas that are illuminated.
Sea Fleas Dine on Aussie Teen’s Legs
Tiny marine creatures — each measuring a fraction of an inch in length — gnawed a teenager’s legs bloody during a seaside dip in Melbourne, Australia, and experts identified a type of scavenging crustacean as the culprit.
On Saturday (Aug. 5), a 16-year-old teen emerged from the water at Melbourne’s Brighton Beach to find blood pouring down his shins and ankles from what appeared to be hundreds of needle-like punctures.
The boy’s father later returned to the beach to capture some of the tiny animals that had bitten his son for identification purposes. Genefor Walker-Smith, a marine biologist with the Museums Victoria in Melbourne, examined the creatures and identified the mystery chewers as amphipods — a type of minuscule shrimp-like crustacean — in the Lysianssidae family.
Amphipods in this group are mostly scavengers, playing an important part in marine food webs by eating dead and decaying plants and animals. However, some amphipods are active predators, and though tiny, they would certainly be capable of piercing human flesh with their mandibles. In this case they may have mistaken the boy’s legs as fish and had a meal.
Increasing blooms of jellyfish around the world may be triggered by the construction of offshore structures such as gas and oil platforms and wind farms.
The structures appear to provide jellyfish polyps with something to attach to, increasing chances of survival.
Researchers found that the more-frequent moon jellyfish blooms in the Adriatic corresponded to a rise in its number of gas platforms.
A construction boom in waters off China could be responsible for the massive increase in Nemopilema nomurai — one of the world’s largest jellyfish and a growing nuisance to fishermen.
New Species Of Sunfish
A new species of sunfish has been discovered for the first time in 130 years after washing up on a New Zealand beach. The two-tonne creature has been named Hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) because of its elusiveness.
Iconic ocean sunfishes are the heaviest and most distinctive of all bony fishes, with some species weighing in excess of two tonnes and growing to three metres in length. The newly discovered species, named the Hoodwinker Sunfish, is thought to approach a similar size, researchers said. Marianne Nyegaard from Murdoch University in Australia uncovered the new species while researching the population genetics of ocean sunfish in the Indo-pacific region.
About 735,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean have been declared one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries as the Cook Islands moves to help protect its territorial waters for future generations.
The island nation has a population of only about 10,000, living on 15 islands. But its position between New Zealand and Hawaii with no nearby neighbors means it controls a huge maritime territory.
The move to establish the marine reserve, known as Marae Moana, was approved by the country’s traditional leaders.