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News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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Lessons From the Mediterranean About Ocean Acidification

Posted On August 26, 2015 by

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.

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Take Action to Help Save Whale Sharks

Posted On July 10, 2015 by

The largest fish in the ocean is one of the most majestic, too: the whale shark. These gentle giants are also in danger.

Right now, there’s a very simple way to protect them, and you can help. Off the coast of Mexico, thousands of whale sharks gather to feed and mate every year. Unfortunately, there are two cruise ship companies whose cruises currently travel through this important area where whale sharks congregate in large numbers and swim slowly at the surface of the water.

The beauty of this area is bringing more and more visitors each year, and unfortunately, they are having some negative effects on the whale sharks. There is an easy step to be taken in protecting whale sharks in this region, and we hope you’ll take just a moment to let Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises know how important it is to you that they adjust their course by 7 miles to protect these magnificent animals.

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They’re Back! The Return of the Big Predators to Coastal Waters

Posted On July 9, 2015 by

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.

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So You Like Shark Week? Time to Spread the Love.

Posted On July 8, 2015 by

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).

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Become a Citizen Scientist with SharkBase

Posted On July 7, 2015 by

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.

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Best to Be Aware, Rather than Beware, of Sharks

Posted On July 6, 2015 by

As the summer season kicks into full gear, beachgoers across the country are packing their sunscreen and heading to the coast. And though millions of people each year enjoy the ocean without consequence, a couple of unfortunate shark attacks have made the news recently.

Experts are analyzing temperature, current patterns and other ocean conditions to determine what, if any, unique combination of factors could have spurred this above average number of bites. Most likely though, it is merely a consequence of more people being in the water. As populations along the coast grow and more people spend time in the ocean, the probability of interactions between sharks and people increases.

However, it is important to keep these events in perspective. The actual likelihood of being bit by a shark is extremely low. There are a number of probability comparisons to pull from, but one of my favorites is that your likelihood of being bitten by another person in New York City is about 100 times greater than finding yourself on the wrong end of a shark.

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