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Marine Resources

2015:  JAN | FEB

February 2015 Issue

Climate Change Leading to Extinction of Marine Species
A consortium of scientists, including University of California, Santa Barbara’s Douglas McCauley, has found that the same patterns that led to the collapse of wildlife populations on land are now occurring in the sea. The study, published in Science, compares the Industrial Revolution to current patterns of human use of the world’s oceans.

During the 1800s, vast tracts of farmland and factories overtook forests and sucked up resources from the ground, driving many terrestrial species to extinction.

Among the most serious threats to ocean wildlife is climate change. Combined with increased fishing, aquaculture and ocean mining, “all signs indicate that we may be initiating a marine industrial revolution,” McCauley said.

The study suggests setting aside more and larger areas of the ocean that are safe from industrial development and fishing, and creating effective policy to manage wildlife in the vast spaces between marine protected areas.

Research Funds for River Herring Conservation
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and NOAA Fisheries are awarding approximately a quarter of a million dollars to two research projects to support the development of a coastwide river herring (i.e., alewife and blueback herring) conservation plan.

River herring are an important prey species for a variety of animals. When they migrate from marine to freshwater, river herring release important nutrients, which helps promote healthy aquatic ecosystems.

One research project selected involves the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the University of California, Santa Cruz in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

They will receive $166,659 to collect biological samples and conduct genetic analysis on river herring caught in Atlantic herring and mackerel fisheries.

Barnegat Bay Partnership and Rutgers University will receive $78,000 to conduct surveys and collect data to help improve understanding of historic and current distribution of alewife and blueback herring spawning habitat in Barnegat Bay and Raritan River in New Jersey, as well as ongoing genetic studies.

VIMS Celebrates 75 Years of Marine Science
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science has begun a yearlong celebration of its 75th anniversary.

VIMS began in 1940 as the Virginia Fisheries Laboratory in Yorktown, the brainchild of William & Mary biology professor Donald W. Davis.

A full listing of anniversary events is at http://75th.vims.edu.

The events include the monthly After Hours lecture series. The first anniversary-themed lecture took a look at Chesapeake Bay health, restoration efforts, and the challenges that face the bay and its marine life in the coming decades. Other lecture topics include blue crabs, oysters, impacts of climate change in Antarctica, and the possibility of discovering life on Jupiter’s ice-crusted moon Europa.

Lower pH in Ocean Leads to Bioerosion
The lowering of the ocean’s pH is making it harder for corals to grow their skeletons and easier for bioeroding organisms to tear them down. Erosion rates increase tenfold in areas where corals are also exposed to high levels of nutrients, according to a study published in Geology. As sea level rises, these reefs may have a harder time growing toward the ocean surface, where they get sunlight to survive.

The study, led by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), highlights the multiple threats to coral reef ecosystems, which provide critical buffers to shoreline erosion, sustain fisheries that feed hundreds of millions of people, and harbor 25 percent of all marine species.

As corals build their skeletons up toward the sea surface, other organisms—mollusks, worms, and sponges—bore into and erode the skeletons to create shelters. This bioerosion reduces skeletons to rubble.

The new study shows that additional nutrients provide a dramatic boost for bioeroders that, combined with lower pH conditions, will tip this balance in favor of erosion. The bioeroders are filter feeders, sifting particles of food out of seawater. Nutrients spur the growth of plankton, supplying food for large populations of bioeroders that burrow into coral skeletons.

To conduct the study, the research team investigated coral reefs spanning the Pacific Ocean, from the west coast of Panama to Palau. The researchers found that relatively acidic reefs were more heavily bioeroded than their higher-pH counterparts.

A key management strategy that could slow reef decline is to reduce nutrient pollution into the coastal ocean from human activity, such as runoff from sewers, septic tanks, roads and fertilizers.

Rise of Solar Panels Over Bodies of Water
Bodies of water are becoming experimental hot spots for clean energy companies looking to set up floating solar panels for energy, National Geographic reported. The largest of these structures will be ready in March 2016 on top of the Yamakura Dam in Japan. It will have 50,000 solar panels, stretch over 180,000 square meters, and should be able to power about 5,000 homes.

The carbon offset will be almost 8,000 tons per year.

“Overall, this is a very interesting idea. If successful, it will bring a huge impact,” says Yang Yang, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles. “However, I do have concerns of its safety against storms and other natural disasters, not to mention corrosion.” Algae could also be a problem.

Japan lacks usable land, but it has many reservoirs, and it is looking for alternative sources of energy after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

Placing floating solar panels in the ocean is a future possibility, requiring different considerations, such as the impact of waves, cost-effectiveness, and distance from the locale where electricity will be used.

2015:  JAN | FEB

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