Ocean Currents » Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 31 Aug 2015 22:39:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Lessons From the Mediterranean About Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/26/lessons-from-the-mediterranean-about-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/26/lessons-from-the-mediterranean-about-ocean-acidification/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 12:36:58 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10677

Today’s guest blog comes from Jason Hall-Spencer — a Professor of Marine Biology at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom. His research spans seamount ecology, fisheries , ocean acidification, aquaculture and conservation. He’s also working on marine protected area design using satellite vessel monitoring for fisheries management. He does his fieldwork all over the world, at volcanic CO2 vents in the Mediterranean, coral reefs in the Arctic, the NE Atlantic, and off Papua New Guinea. Follow him on Twitter at @jhallspencer.

In 2006, when I first heard about ocean acidification, I started running expeditions near underwater volcanoes in the Mediterranean where CO2 bubbles up through the sea floor, acidifying large areas for centuries. We have found similar ecosystem shifts at all the seeps, so I am now convinced that ocean acidification will bring change.  In a recent article I attempt to put this topic into context, focusing on two major causes of change – the corrosive effects of CO2, and the way the extra carbon is used as a resource.

Here’s what we’ve noticed about the sea life around those natural CO2 seeps in the Mediterranean: algae seems to thrive, whereas animals with calcium carbonate shells—like plankton—dissolve away. We see a lot of brown seaweeds on the seafloor, and they often overwhelm slower-growing competitors like corals. Although life is abundant at CO2 seeps, there is far less diversity than we see elsewhere.

Reefs formed by corals or mollusks are severely weakened as CO2 levels rise, which is clearly a concern since ocean waters around the world are becoming increasingly acidified. As reefs weaken, we will see ripple effects onshore and in the water. In the tropics, weakened reefs will likely worsen coastal erosion, which is already a problem due to rising sea levels, increased storminess and the loss of protective habitats such as mangrove swamps.

Some plants and animals, typically the ones without shells, can adapt to the effects of long-term acidification. Jellyfish, anemones and soft corals do especially well, but when we transplant hard corals into areas with an average pH of 7.8, they dissolve away. So acidified oceans could end up dominated by much fewer species living among crumbling reefs and competing with soft-bodied jellyfish and seaweed.

What does all this mean for temperate coastal habitats and fisheries? I’m not sure. These highly productive waters may provide oysters, mussels and corals with enough food to cope well with these conditions, which make forming their shells more difficult.

Next year I hope to begin studying natural analogues for future ocean conditions in the north Atlantic, as this will reveal which organisms have more chance of coping. Perhaps algae will counteract acidification by absorbing CO2 – this could help those who earn their living through shellfish aquaculture, or who depend on reefs for coastal protection and tourism.

The past five years’ work shows ocean acidification is a serious issue with real financial costs, and that marine life is already being affected. This evidence is helping galvanize change as governments get serious about cutting emissions. Investing in research is absolutely worth it – ‘forewarned is forearmed.’ We now know that systems that are under less stress are more resilient  – I hope this new body of knowledge helps improve coastal management and strengthen marine regeneration efforts.

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A Lobsterman’s Thoughts on the Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm Project http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/25/a-lobstermans-thoughts-on-the-deepwater-wind-block-island-wind-farm-project/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/25/a-lobstermans-thoughts-on-the-deepwater-wind-block-island-wind-farm-project/#comments Sat, 25 Jul 2015 13:30:36 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10545

Offshore wind energy. Credit: Shutterstock user Dennis van de Water

Next week, the country’s first offshore wind farm will begin construction in Rhode Island. Deepwater Wind is a five turbine, 30-megawatt renewable energy development off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. This project has moved forward in record time, thanks to an ocean planning process that took into consideration the views of many ocean users including fishermen to ensure the best possible outcome for Rhode Island, its residents, and businesses.

Below is a Q&A with Bill McElroy, a lobsterman and the Chairman of the Fisheries Advisory Board for Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council, which is the entity that initiated the Ocean SAMP.

What is the SAMP?

BILL: The SAMP is a Special Area Management Plan for Rhode Island’s waters that tries to bring all the various stakeholders together at the same time so we can all put forward our mutual interests and disagreements in a forum.

Were you initially nervous about Deepwater Wind’s project off of Block Island? Traditionally, fishermen and wind developers have had their disagreements.

BILL: Initially we were scared to death at the idea of a wind project because we were afraid what might happen. We were scared a developer would come in and pick a site in essentially a vacuum and turn around and say here you go- like it or leave it. It was the fear of the unknown; we didn’t know what to expect, and of course, we’ve been as an industry beaten up pretty well in the press over the last decade or so. So we saw this as just another possibility of bad news for the industry, but then when Deepwater Wind assured that they would do everything they could to avoid taking over prime fishing grounds and work with us- it allayed those fears. When they followed through and negotiated with us, how can you go wrong with that?

The Ocean SAMP provided a vehicle and made it possible for us to discuss our concerns. And you have to give the SAMP and Deepwater credit. That doesn’t mean that any side wins, but at least it provides an opportunity to have a seat at the table and have our issues brought forward and it’s worked out great.

How has the project progressed from those initial meetings?

BILL: Deepwater chose a site at Block Island to install a certain number of windmills. They came to the industry at the Ocean SAMP, and we pointed out that if they moved a couple of the turbines one way or the other, it would be much less intrusive to the fishing industry. Deepwater was more than willing to do that, once they checked with their engineers and found out it wasn’t going to triple the price of the project or anything like that. The SAMP allowed for those kinds of things to happen.

So here’s an example where Deepwater said okay we won’t put them here, we’re going to move them over a little bit. And it worked great. So as soon as we saw things like that, it made us realize that we might not get everything we want, but we are getting most of it, and we are getting a seat at the table and have the opportunity to give them our opinion.

So are you happy with this project and how the partnership has progressed?

BILL: Well there’s been things we haven’t agreed on- even to this day. But they’ve been relatively minor and we made progress on almost all the major issues. I have to say its number one operation—

Deepwater Wind — has been a good corporate citizen, the Coastal Resources Management Council of Rhode Island did a fine job of putting together an Ocean SAMP, and I think the fishing industry has done a responsible job in responding and trying to make realistic requests and demands, instead of outlandish ones.

What else is Deepwater Wind doing to support fishermen?

BILL: Well, there is data being collected at the expense to them [Deepwater Wind] in a fashion that makes it identical to the techniques that are used for the data gathering for the fisheries managers up and down the coast, so all of this information that is being generated is in a format that they can plug into their system and make heads or tails of it, because it conforms with the type of system that they’re using and Deepwater didn’t have to do that. All they had to do was study what was given and answer as to whether or not there was a harmful effect or no effect to having the windmills there, but they went beyond that and created it in such a fashion that RI’s Department of Environmental Management now has lobster data and some fin-fish data that’s coming in independent of their studies, but that’s done the same way. That’s enormously valuable, so that’s good for the state of Rhode Island, that’s good for the fisherman, it’s good for Deepwater Wind — it’s a win-win all around.

What would you say is the number one benefit of the ocean planning process?

BILL: Number one- we’ve gotten a seat at the table, which we wouldn’t have had and it would have created a lot of antagonism. This trust we’ve built that we’ve built up would have been very hard to achieve otherwise, so that’s been enormous. So number one — a seat at the table.

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They’re Back! The Return of the Big Predators to Coastal Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/09/theyre-back-the-return-of-the-big-predators-to-coastal-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/09/theyre-back-the-return-of-the-big-predators-to-coastal-waters/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 12:00:25 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10412

This guest blog comes from Dr. Chris Lowe, a professor of marine biology and the director of the CSULB Shark Lab

Despite the potential Discovery Channel royalties, it’s not easy being at the top of the food chain. Apex predators like sharks, that occupy the top of a food chain, are typically few in number because of certain characteristics (e.g. slow growth, low reproduction, delayed maturity and high longevity). And they are greatly dependent on animals lower on the food chain, thus dependent on the environmental conditions that support these food sources.

Humans, the Earth’s reigning “apex predator,” are clearly an exception to this rule. The human population has grown exponentially, particularly along coastal communities, bringing with it a litany of impacts on our coastal ocean, including habitat loss, pollution and overfishing. Rapid coastal development in California back in 1940s-1970s, resulted in some of the worst coastal water and air quality that existed anywhere in the country.

But since the 1970’s California has significantly improved water and air quality due to strict environmental regulations on discharge and emissions.  In fact, California now has some of the most conservative environmental regulations in the country when it comes to water and air quality.  As a result of strict regulations on waste water discharge, the state has cleaner water now than it did in the 1970s even with three times more people living along the coast.

Yet, despite all of this legislation and regulation, we’re constantly bombarded with “doom & gloom” messages about the state of our ocean. Have any of those state and federal legislative and regulatory acts resulted in any net benefits over the last four decades?  If I were to tell you things may be getting better, and the evidence for this is seen in the recovery of our marine predator populations — would you believe it?

While it’s taken decades, many marine predator populations are increasing due to better water and air quality, improved fisheries management and a restoration of ecosystem function — all of which occurred regardless of an ever growing human coastal population.

Over the last nine years, my students and I have studied juvenile white sharks off the coast of southern California as part of a collaborative effort with Monterey Bay Aquarium. Because newborn white sharks can be found in coastal waters off southern California, scientists hypothesize that this area is a nursery for white sharks in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean.

Because of their protection through state (1994) and federal laws (2005), juvenile white sharks that get accidentally caught in gillnets are no longer being sold to fish markets and restaurants and many are instead being safely released back into the ocean. This steady increase in the number of young sharks being caught in the fishery since 1994 is likely attributed to population growth, which also suggests that conservation measures put in place to protect white sharks is working even with existing fishery interactions.

Figure 1.  Number of white sharks reported captured in gillnet fisheries each year (left axis – bars).  Number of gillnets set per year (right axis – lines and symbols).  Blue bars represent white sharks less than 1 year old (< 6’ long), red indicate juvenile white sharks between 1 and 7-12 years old (6.5-12’ long), yellow indicates subadult and adult white sharks (over 7-12 years old, > 12’ long), and green indicates sharks of unknown size.

Harbor seals, northern elephant seals, fur seals, dolphins, grey whales and blue whales have also shown similar dramatic come-backs resulting from protection. These population recoveries over the last 20 years have no doubt provided the adult portion of the white shark population with substantial food resources in coastal waters and have certainly enhanced the population’s ability to grow.

The recovery of white sharks off California may be the best example of a conservation success story that we have to offer. It shows we can fix things, once we identify the problem, even with a growing human population. While there’s still a lot to be done for our ocean on a global scale, this is a testament to our collective desire and sacrifice for a cleaner, healthier ocean.

About Dr. Chris Lowe

Dr. Chris Lowe is a professor of marine biology and the director of the CSULB Shark Lab.  He and his students use various forms of new technology to study the behavior and physiology of sharks, rays and economically important fishes. For more information about the CSULB Shark Lab check out their website (www.csulb.edu/explore/shark-lab), Facebook: CSULB Sharklab, and Twitter: @CSULBsharklab

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So You Like Shark Week? Time to Spread the Love. http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/08/so-you-like-shark-week-time-to-spread-the-love/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/08/so-you-like-shark-week-time-to-spread-the-love/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 12:26:03 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10391

This guest blog comes from Sonja Fordham, she directed Ocean Conservancy’s shark conservation work from 1991 to 2009. She’s now based just up the block from Ocean Conservancy’s DC headquarters, running Shark Advocates International, a non-profit project of The Ocean Foundation. Learn more about Sonja’s work from the Shark Advocates Facebook page and website: www.sharkadvocates.org. Sonja is live-tweeting Shark Week programming; follow @SharkAdvocates for conservation policy tidbits and ideas for helping sharks of all shapes and sizes.

Shark Week has been around a bit longer than I’ve been working in shark conservation. The record-breaking cable television event has changed a lot since the early days, as has shark conservation policy and my focus for advancing it.

When Shark Week debuted in 1988, sharks – despite their inherent vulnerability to overfishing – were essentially unprotected worldwide, and “the only good shark is a dead shark” was a popular maxim. When I was hired by Ocean Conservancy (then known as the Center for Marine Conservation) in 1991, there were no federal limits on shark catches in the U.S., even though a surge in recreational shark fishing (sparked by the movie “Jaws”) followed by development of targeted commercial shark fisheries (due largely to a hike in Asian demand for shark fins) had seriously depleted several Atlantic coastal species. Even finning – the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s fin and discarding the body at sea – was legal.

We’ve come along way since then. By 1993, we had a U.S. finning ban and fishing limits for 39 species of Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico sharks. In 1997, take of several of those species – including great whites – was completely prohibited, following similar protections for white sharks off California that were secured in 1994. By 1999, the world had taken notice of the sharks’ plight and adopted an International Plan of Action to help guide conservation efforts on a global scale. In 2000, U.S. east coast landings of spiny dogfish sharks, which had reached nearly 60 million pounds in 1996, were cut dramatically to science-based levels. In 2002, basking and whale sharks became the first shark species to be listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

By 2003, closely related rays (aka “flat sharks”) were finally getting well-deserved attention: substantial fisheries for Northeast U.S. skates came under management, and critically endangered smalltooth sawfish became the first U.S. marine fish to be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), thanks to an Ocean Conservancy petition. In 2004, the U.S. secured the first international ban on finning. The U.S. was also a leader in the 2010 adoption of a special agreement for migratory sharks under the Convention on Migratory Species, and the groundbreaking listing of five commercially valuable shark species and both manta rays under CITES in 2013.

These are just a few of the steps in what has been steady progress in shark conservation since the early 1990s. Resulting recovery has been documented in species like Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks, Northeast U.S. spiny dogfish, and great whites off both U.S. coasts. There is, of course, still much work to be done. The Shark Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated last year that a quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened, with rays being generally more depleted and less protected than sharks. We must not only accelerate the pace of beneficial change for big sharks, but also expand safeguards to at-risk smaller and flatter species.

We celebrated just days ago as manta and devil rays received new protections from Eastern Pacific fisheries. Recognition that these species usually have just one baby after a long pregnancy is helping to spark safeguards around the world, and yet closely related and similarly vulnerable cownose rays spending their summers in the Chesapeake Bay remain completely unprotected in the face of wasteful bow-hunting tournaments and targeted seafood marketing campaigns.

Scientists are encouraged by signs that Florida’s sawfish population may be rebuilding, yet education programs critical to safe release are woefully underfunded, due to declining ESA appropriations from Congress. Lack of public concern for New England’s skates means ending overfishing and ensuring rebuilding are not high priorities for the region’s fishery managers. Similarly, smoothhound sharks (aka smooth dogfish) remain subject to targeted, unregulated fisheries and one of the world’s weakest finning bans, due to insufficient outrage.

Mockumentary on Megalodon notwithstanding, Shark Week programming appears to be changing for the better with greater focus on real scientists and lesser known species.  While we’re likely several years away from specials dedicated to thorny skates or dusky smoothhounds, we’re pleased for the associated opportunities to spread the love and fascination for big, bad sharks to the scores of related species that also need public admiration and attention.  Indeed, continued evolution toward broader and increasingly positive public perceptions of sharks is key to the survival and sustainability of this entire group of fascinating fish.


Sonja Fordham has two decades of shark conservation experience. She directed shark policy projects at Ocean Conservancy from 1991-2009, played a lead role in the EU Shark Alliance from 2006-2012, and founded Shark Advocates International as a project of The Ocean Foundation in 2010. Her work focuses on publicizing the plight of sharks and advocating science-based remedies before fishery management and wildlife protection bodies. She has been a leading proponent of many landmark shark conservation actions, including U.S. and European safeguards, various finning bans, the United Nations International Plan of Action for Sharks, multiple measures by international fishery organizations, listings under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and agreements under the Convention on Migratory Species.  Sonja is Deputy Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Conservation Committee Co-Chair for the American Elasmobranch Society. She has co-authored numerous publications on shark fisheries management and serves on most of the U.S. federal and state government advisory panels relevant to sharks and rays.  Sonja has received the U.S. Department of Commerce Environmental Hero Award, a Mid-Atlantic Council Fishery Achievement Award, the Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award, and the IUCN Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership.

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Become a Citizen Scientist with SharkBase http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/07/become-a-citizen-scientist-with-sharkbase/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/07/become-a-citizen-scientist-with-sharkbase/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 12:48:12 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10382

Our guest blog comes from Dr. Ryan Kempster, a shark biologist in the Neuroecology Group at the University of Western Australia, and founder of the shark conservation group Support Our Sharks (SOS).  Ryan founded SOS to inform the world about the plight of the most vulnerable shark species. His research focuses on the sensory biology and conservation of sharks and rays.  Sharks have always been his passion, and protecting them his goal.  To do this, Ryan has embarked on a career in research to better understand sharks. He takes every opportunity to communicate his findings to the general public in the hope that he can inspire others to follow in his passion for protecting these amazing animals.

It’s Shark Week! While sharks are getting all the attention this week, I want to take the opportunity to introduce you to an exciting global shark database: SharkBase. This is your chance to get involved and become a Citizen Shark Scientist! In order to protect sharks, we need to learn more about them. Effective management of sharks starts with an understanding of their population status, which can then tell us about their future conservation and how we can help protect them.

Unfortunately, many shark species (and their close relatives the rays, skates and chimaeras) are at significant risk of unrecoverable decline, with some species having declined to near extinction in recent years. I believe that Citizen Science could hold the key to improving our understanding and management of shark* populations, whilst also advancing community education. This is why my team and I have developed SharkBase, a global shark* encounter database helping to map the distribution and population structure of sharks* worldwide.

Through SharkBase, we are building a global network of Citizen Scientists collecting vital information about these important animals. Using the data gathered by SharkBase, we will not only be able to map the distribution of sharks globally, but, as sharks play a vital role in marine environments, we can also use this information to infer patterns of marine ecosystem health. All data is freely available to download from the SharkBase website, and is used by researchers around the world to assist in the management of shark* populations.

YOU can help – whether you have personally encountered a shark* or not, you can contribute to SharkBase and help researchers better understand these important animals. Simply sign up at www.shark-base.org and get started.

Here are just a couple of the ways that you can get involved:

  1. Log your past, present and future shark* encounters with SharkBase. If you have photos of sharks* on your computer, you can log these as long as you know the date and location they were taken. You don’t even need to know the species, as our scientists can identify them for you. Alternatively, if you don’t have a photo, but you have a sighting recorded in your dive log or trip diary, then you can submit this sighting (as long as you know the species, date, and location of the encounter).
  2. Log other people’s shark* encounters with SharkBase. Everyday, thousands of photos and videos of shark* encounters are uploaded to the internet. You can log these sightings as long as you know the date and location. Simply type the web address of the source material (ie: YouTube link or Google image, etc.) into the sighting record so that our scientists can verify the sighting and remove duplicates.

For more information on how you can get involved, visit the SharkBase ‘Get Started’ page (http://www.shark-base.org/get_started). We look forward to welcoming you on board as a SharkBase Citizen Scientist.

* includes sharks, rays and chimaeras.

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Make Your Holiday Greener http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/make-your-holiday-greener/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/make-your-holiday-greener/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 12:04:15 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10347

The Travel Foundation is a non-profit organization that works with the travel industry to integrate sustainable tourism into their business — to protect the environment and create opportunities for local people in tourism destinations. Their annual Make Your Holidays Greener Month, during July, celebrates the locations around the world we love to visit and encourages visitors and the travel industry alike to take part in a cleanup — the Big Holiday Beach Clean.

Earlier this year, a report from the World Wildlife Fund valued the world’s ocean at $24trillion – a figure largely calculated from the value of fishing, shipping and tourism.  Whilst many already view the ocean as priceless, the attempt to put a monetary value on it highlights to businesses around the world the importance of taking action to protect marine ecosystems.

For tourism, the ocean and sea are vastly important.  Many of the holidays we take have beaches and coastlines at their center and these environments are an inherent part of the product marketed by tourism companies to their customers.  As a result, this industry is well placed to mobilize action, particularly on the growing and pervasive threat of marine litter.

The Make Holidays Greener campaign is focusing its efforts on engaging travel companies and their customers in celebrating cleaner, greener beaches.  The campaign is organized by sustainable tourism charity, the Travel Foundation, in partnership with Travelife a sustainability certification system for hotels and accommodations.  The organizations are urging hotels, tour operators and other tourism companies to support the campaign by organizing a beach clean this July and by reducing plastic waste.

Beach cleans are a great way to engage customers, staff and local communities in a positive and memorable action, with publicity generated by the campaign helping to spread the message more widely. The Make Holidays Greener infographic about plastic waste, which has already been shared widely, highlights that everyone can make a difference by taking simple actions – such as disposing of litter and cigarette butts properly, taking a reusable bag and bottle to the beach and not using straws.

Plus, every bag of rubbish taken out of the environment makes a difference to birds, turtles, fish, dolphins and other marine life, and the more people who participate, the greater the impact. Last year the campaign gathered great momentum with over 100 companies taking part, cleaning 97 beaches in 22 countries.  It is hoped that these efforts will also feed into the Ocean Conservancy’s database and support further efforts to minimize waste going into our seas.

The campaign website makeholidaysgreener.org.uk features a range of free resources, including how to organize a beach clean, support for hotels to reduce plastic waste, and top tips for holidaymakers.  Follow us on Twitter, @TravelTF, and join the conversation using #greenerhols.

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Across the Gulf; Saving Sea Turtles in Tecolutla, Mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/26/across-the-gulf-saving-sea-turtles-in-tecolutla-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/26/across-the-gulf-saving-sea-turtles-in-tecolutla-mexico/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 19:35:11 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10258

Hello! My name is Jessica Miller. I am an undergraduate at the University of South Carolina, where I just completed my sophomore year. I am majoring in biology and I intend to eventually pursue a career in research. Growing up in a small town in South Carolina, I developed a deep interest in science and knew I wanted to do something with animals. This summer I am traveling to Mexico to participate in an amazing study abroad program that will help with the conservation of endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, as well as provide valuable information on the degree of marine debris found in the area.

On May 8th, I traveled to Mexico for the first time in my life. While many people travel to the country to explore the sites and relax on the beaches, my intentions are slightly different. I have an awesome opportunity to conduct research with several other students in my study abroad program. What exactly is it that we will be researching? Sea turtles, of course! More specifically, the primary focus of my voyage is the conservation of the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. These turtles are endangered and quite unique as well.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are relatively small by sea turtle standards. They usually only grow to be about 3 feet long with a shell that is about 2 feet long. They are also one of the few sea turtles to nest during the day. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles also have a limited nesting habitat. They only nest along the Gulf of Mexico, which highlights one of the many reasons the Gulf is so important; and why the condition of its beaches is so important as home to a variety of marine organisms that do not exist anywhere else. More information on the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, along with other work being done in Tecolutla, can be found at the Tecolutla Turtle Preservation Project.

A variety of anthropogenic factors impact Kemp’s – including major issues such as egg poaching oil spills, and incidental capture in fishing equipment. Egg poaching is very serious, because when extensive enough, it can wipe out generations because it is so easy for people to find turtle nests and take the unguarded eggs. Accidental capture by fishing boats is often caused by boats, particularly shrimping boats, drag large nets along the ocean floor. Sea turtles can unintentionally get caught and drown if they can’t escape.  Fortunately, modern regulations require U.S. shrimpers to use what are known as Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which have significantly reduced turtle mortality in American waters.  However, regulations, implementation and enforcement are sometimes not as strong in other countries where turtles may feed or migrate through.

Our research is attempting to assess a variety of aspects of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that will hopefully aid in the management and eventual recovery of the species.  One of the projects involves trying to tag every turtle that comes ashore to nest in a 10km stretch of beach in the southern Gulf of Mexico.  We hope to be able to use these tags to eventually answer questions about turtle nesting biology, number of turtles and nesting site fidelity at this beach.  When we tag a turtle we also take a small tissue sample that will be used, along with samples from other areas, to genetically analyze the population structure – do Kemp’s exist as one large mixed population or are there more than one smaller separate populations.  This information is obviously critical to properly conserving the species.

I also have my own project, with the help of the Ocean Conservancy.  As part of their International Coastal Cleanup we are initiating a project to try to quantify the amount of marine debris present on the beach. Most people are already aware that marine debris is a global issue that can be detrimental to ecosystems. However, it is easy to forget that the coastline and its beaches and estuaries are part of the marine environment, too – and just as heavily affected by drifting debris as the open ocean. The impact of all of this debris, most of which I have seen has been plastic, on various organisms is less clear.  There are a variety of ways one could use to try to quantify the debris on the beach but I have been using dune to water-line transects divided into one meter square sections.  We have set up these transects in several places and are in the process of trying to determine just how much debris there is.  The data I collect will be used to get a better indication of the condition of the beach in Tecolutla. Hopefully it will be used to identify major concerns to the beach’s well-being and provide information that can then be used to create solutions to those problems.

While I have been trying to get a feel for the amount of pollution, our Mexican colleagues, Vida Milenaria, work tirelessly to try to educate the public about the hazards of marine debris for sea turtles.  Everyday they give free talks to tourists about sea turtles in general, including their interactions with marine pollution. In addition to their work to educate they are the ones responsible for relocating and protecting nests throughout the nesting season. They have been protecting this beach for 40 years and are a valuable source of information for our work.

Before leaving, we are also going to conduct a beach cleanup. It is only a small and temporary fix to the issue of marine debris, but every little bit helps.

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