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World’s oceans at most acidic level in 26,000 years, climate report warns

World’s oceans at most acidic level in 26,000 years, climate report warns

The world’s oceans grew to their warmest and most acidic levels on record last year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday, as United Nations officials warned that war in Ukraine threatened global climate commitments.

Oceans saw the most striking extremes as the WMO detailed a range of turmoil wrought by climate change in its annual “State of the Global Climate” report. It said melting ice sheets had helped push sea levels to new heights in 2021.

“Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement.

The report follows the latest U.N. climate assessment, which warned that humanity must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions or face increasingly catastrophic changes to the world’s climate. read more

Taalas told reporters there was scant airtime for climate challenges as other crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine, grabbed headlines.

Selwin Hart, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on climate action, criticised countries reneging on climate commitments due to the conflict, which has pushed up energy prices and prompted European nations to seek to replace Russia as an energy supplier.

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“We are … seeing many choices being made by many major economies which, quite frankly, have the potential to lock in a high-carbon, high-polluting future and will place our climate goals at risk,” Hart told reporters.

On Tuesday, global equity index giant MSCI warned that the world faces a dangerous increase in greenhouse gases if Russian gas is replaced with coal. read more

The WMO report said levels of climate-warming carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere in 2021 surpassed previous records.

Globally, the average temperature last year was 1.11 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average – as the world edges closer to the 1.5C threshold beyond which the effects of warming are expected to become drastic. read more

“It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record,” Taalas said.

Oceans bear much of the brunt of the warming and emissions. The bodies of water absorb around 90% of the Earth’s accumulated heat and 23% of the carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

The ocean has warmed markedly faster in the last 20 years, hitting a new high in 2021, and is expected to become even warmer, the report said. That change would likely take centuries or millennia to reverse, it noted.

The ocean is also now its most acidic in at least 26,000 years as it absorbs and reacts with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Sea level has risen 4.5 cm (1.8 inches) in the last decade, with the annual increase from 2013 to 2021 more than double what it was from 1993 to 2002.

The WMO also listed individual extreme heatwaves, wildfires, floods and other climate-linked disasters around the world, noting reports of more than $100 billion in damages.


Jake Spring at Reuters

More Than 90% of Great Barrier Reef Impacted by Sixth Mass Bleaching Event

More Than 90% of Great Barrier Reef Impacted by Sixth Mass Bleaching Event

More than 90 percent of the Great Barrier Reef was impacted by coral bleaching during the Australian summer of 2021-2022. 

This is the conclusion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which released the results Tuesday of aerial surveys taken of 719 reefs between Torres Strait and the Capricorn Bunker Group.

“The surveys confirm a mass bleaching event, with coral bleaching observed at multiple reefs in all regions,” the authority wrote. “This is the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016 and the sixth to occur on the Great Barrier Reef since 1998.”

The surveys revealed that 654 reefs, or 91 percent of those surveyed, had experienced some bleaching. The bleaching is especially notable this year because it is the first time it has happened under La Niña conditions, which usually result in cooler ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, as AP News pointed out.

“This is heartbreaking. This is deeply troubling,” Climate Council researcher Simon Bradshaw told AP News. “It shows that our Barrier Reef really is in very serious trouble indeed.”

Coral bleaching occurs when warmer than normal ocean temperatures turn the chemicals that coral-dwelling algae produce into poisons, prompting the coral to expel the algae. Because the algae provide the coral with both nutrients and color, the remaining coral turns white. 

This summer, the waters around the Great Barrier Reef began to heat up in December of 2021, the authority said. Ocean temperatures exceeded historical summer maximums that typically don’t occur until later in the summer. Between December and early April, the area experienced three distinct marine heat waves. The surveys were conducted after the last heat wave, which lasted from March 12 to 23. 

The bleaching recorded in the report does not necessarily mean that the impacted corals will die. 

“It is important to note that bleached coral is stressed but still alive,” the authority wrote. “As water temperatures cool, bleached corals may regain their colour and survive this stress event, as happened in 2020 when there was very low coral mortality associated with a mass bleaching event.”

During back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, however, the reef experienced higher death tolls, according to AP News. Scientists predict that this year will be more like 2020.

“The early indications are that the mortality won’t be very high,” the authority’s chief scientist David Wachenfeld said, as AP News reported. 

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However, the reef remains in hot water as long as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. The authority has said that the climate crisis is the single biggest threat to the reef, and a 2020 study found that the reef had already lost more than half its corals in the past 25 years because of human-induced global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that allowing temperatures to rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will kill 99 percent of all tropical reefs, while limiting warming to 1.5 degrees could save 30 to 10 percent of them.

The report comes as Australia prepares for federal elections later this month, AP News noted. Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party has promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, while the Labor Party has promised steeper cuts of 43 percent by 2030. 

Australian Marine Conservation Society campaign manager Lissa Schindler told The Guardian that reducing emissions should be a priority for the next government. 

“This was a La Niña year, normally characterised by more cloud cover and rain,” she said. “It should have been a welcome reprieve for our reef to help it recover and yet the snapshot shows more than 90% of the reefs surveyed exhibited some bleaching. Although bleaching is becoming more and more frequent, this is not normal and we should not accept that this is the way things are. We need to break the norms that are breaking our reef.”


Olivia Rosane at EcoWatch

UN says ‘imminent’ Yemen oil spill would cost $20 bn to clean up

UN says ‘imminent’ Yemen oil spill would cost $20 bn to clean up

The United Nations warned Monday that it would cost $20 billion to clean up an oil spill in the event of the “imminent” break-up of an oil tanker abandoned off Yemen.

“Our recent visit to (the FSO Safer) with technical experts indicates that the vessel is imminently going to break up,” the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, David Gressly, said ahead of a conference, hosted by the UN and The Netherlands, to raise funds for an emergency operation to prevent an oil spill.

The 45-year-old FSO Safer, long used as a floating oil storage platform with 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, has been moored off the rebel-held Yemeni port of Hodeida since 2015, without being serviced.

“The impact of a spill will be catastrophic,” Gressly continued at a briefing in Amman. “The effect on the environment would be tremendous… our estimate is that $20 billion would be spent just to clean the oil spill.”

The UN official had earlier announced on Twitter that the Netherlands would host on Wednesday a pledging conference for the international body’s plan to avert the crisis.

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Last month, the UN said it was seeking nearly $80 million for its operation. It warned of “a humanitarian and ecological catastrophe centred on a country already decimated by more than seven years of war”.

It said that the emergency part of a two-stage operation would see the toxic cargo pumped from the storage platform to a temporary replacement vessel at a cost of $79.6 million.

Gressly estimated that a total of $144 million would be needed for the full operation, reiterating that $80 million was needed “to secure the oil safely in the initial phase”.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed directly or indirectly in Yemen’s seven-year war, while millions have been displaced in what the UN calls the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.


AFP via France24

Flood impact won’t affect annual sardine run

Flood impact won’t affect annual sardine run

The impact of the recent devastating floods on the ocean will not affect this year’s sardine run in KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Ryan Daly of the Oceanographic Research Institute in Durban and the SA Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity said conditions were set for the arrival of millions of sardines.

“What we know about the sardines so far is that there appears to be a lot in the Western Cape with sightings in the Plettenberg Bay area. We know they’re in the Cape. The question is, will they come here? Though the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal caused a surge in water and debris into the Indian Ocean, the impact on the ocean has largely passed, and it shouldn’t impact the sardine run expected to arrive around May.

“Temperature is the main thing that dictates the timing and extent of the movement up the coast. It has been an unusual few years in that they’ve been very wet. However, 2020 and 2021 were relatively good sardine runs, both of which were similarly wet being La Niña years. It’s holding the same pattern so I think we are going to get another good one. We’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

Every winter‚ most often in June or July‚ millions of sardines leave the cold waters off Cape Point and make their way up the coast to KwaZulu-Natal.

Each year holiday-makers flock to the province to catch a glimpse of the spectacle, which is dubbed the Greatest Shoal on Earth, and includes sharks‚ birds and dolphins in a feeding frenzy as they prey on the sardines.

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KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board operations manager Greg Thompson said monitoring would start in the second week of May.

“Our first few flights are normally through to East London to try to gauge how far north the sardines have moved. This is to ensure our shark safety gear is removed well before the first pockets reach KwaZulu-Natal waters.

“It’s fairly easy to monitor large quantities of sardines with associated predators in pursuit, but the small pilot shoals that pop up out of nowhere can be a challenge. Therefore we also rely on the information and sightings we receive from residents, fisherman and dive charters in the Eastern Cape,” he said.

Ugu South Coast Tourism CEO Phelisa Mangcu said the sardine run was a highlight on the south coast’s tourism calendar.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors who can experience this natural display after two years in lockdown and the devastating recent floods. Whether from the land, sea or sky, we have the best viewpoints for our many visitors who are looking for a unique family-friendly holiday.”


Nivashni Nair at Sowetan Live

For marine biologist, Haitian gangs make work dangerous

For marine biologist, Haitian gangs make work dangerous

A man walks past abandoned boats along the shore of Cap-Haitien, Haiti, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. In several reports released in October, the U.S. signaled that climate change would occupy a central role in security strategy, a shift in strategy that underscores how climatic changes are exacerbating long-standing problems. One of the studies identified Haiti as one of 11 countries that were of “greatest concern.” (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

In a blue bay that spans the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, fishermen from both countries recently aired grievances in a rare face-to-face meeting thanks to the efforts of marine biologist Jean Wiener.

The meeting, overseen by Dominican naval officers with rifles, was no small feat for Wiener, who has been forced to work on conserving this biologically sensitive region from afar — his house in Bethesda, Maryland — because of rampant violence in Haiti, his homeland. Now the prize-winning biologist stood in the Caribbean heat at the mouth of a spot called the Massacre River, trying to bring together the two sides and find a solution that will not only save their livelihoods but also vital marine resources in a region under extreme pressures from climate change.

“The constant fishing, or overfishing, in these areas has decimated an entire ecosystem,” said Rodolfo Jimenez, director of an agricultural border project in the Dominican Republic.

The Haitian fishermen, standing across from Jimenez on the beach, agreed. But they also said they were not to blame for the damage in the Monte Cristi National Park in northwestern Dominican Republic.

For marine biologist, Haitian gangs make work dangerous

Image 1 of 23

A fisherman pulls his net back onto his boat in the waters surrounding Cap-Haitien, Haiti, Friday, March 11, 2022. A prize winning marine biologist is working to bring together fishermen from Haiti and the Dominican Republic and find a solution that will not only save their livelihoods but also vital marine resources in a region under extreme pressures from climate change. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Wiener’s work has grown in significance over the years in large part because of charcoal vendors in Haiti who hack down trees for cooking fuel and, more recently, wade into the country’s mangroves, the tropical vegetation that is a natural barrier against the Caribbean’s destructive hurricanes.

It was the first trip for Wiener, leader of Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity, since November 2021, his absence largely attributed to the violent gangs that have engulfed the Haitian capital in recent years. Nominally present already and undermined further with the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, the government has done little to wrest control from the gangs.

For years, Wiener used to visit Haiti every month or so, but now restricts his trips to only a few times a year while being compelled to work remotely and delegate more responsibility to staff members dispersed throughout the country. Haiti is just too dangerous otherwise. So when he does come, as he did for three weeks in March, he hopscotches the country via puddle-jumper plane; travel by road is too perilous.

In a blue bay that spans the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, fishermen from both countries recently aired grievances in a rare face-to-face meeting thanks to the efforts of conservationists. The meeting, overseen by Dominican naval officers with rifles, was no small feat because of rampant violence in Haiti

It’s a conundrum that bedevils Jean and others like him around the world. As climate change plays a greater role in contributing to conflicts, that in turns makes it more difficult to carry out scientific research and work on environmental projects that seek to offset the effects of climate change. The environmental group Global Witness released a report last year noting that 2020 saw a record number of environmental activists killed around the world; the death toll of 227 was the highest number recorded for a second consecutive year, with Colombia having the highest number of recorded attacks, with 65, and Mexico second, with 30.

“The extent to which failed states make it difficult for scientists and the international scientific community to work on these issues simply means it will be more difficult to solve these problems,” said Peter Gleick, president emeritus and a senior fellow with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based research group that focuses on water issues.

In several reports released in October, the U.S. signaled that climate change would occupy a central role in security strategy, a policy shift that underscores how climatic changes are exacerbating long-standing problems. One of the studies identified 11 countries that were of “greatest concern,” because they were especially vulnerable to climate change and unable to deal with the attendant problems. Haiti was among them.

The Caribbean nation has the highest travel advisory from the U.S. State Department due to kidnapping, crime and civil unrest. Kidnapping, the State Department says, “is widespread and victims regularly include U.S. citizens.”

The kidnappings have persisted for years, rising significantly after the 2017 departure of a U.N. peacekeeping mission. In October, a group of missionaries was abducted by a powerful gang and held for ransom.

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Fisherman Walter de la Cruz sits on the shore of the oil-stained Cavero Beach, unable to fish after a spill in the Ventanilla district of Callao, Peru, Jan. 21, 2022. De la Cruz, 60, is one of more than 2,500 fishermen whose livelihoods have been cast into doubt as a result of a large crude-oil spill by the Spanish-owned Repsol oil refinery on Jan. 15. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, File)


Peru has characterized the spill of 11,900 barrels in front of a Repsol refinery as its “worst ecological disaster.” A report by United Nations experts estimates it involved about 2,100 tons of crude.

Collecting the catch from traditional fishers at Joal-Fadiouth, a hub of artisanal Senegalese fishing. The country is a centre of west Africa’s fishmeal and fish oil industry. Photograph: Reuters


Campaigners say the sector leads to overexploitation of stocks while pushing up prices and aggravating local unemployment.

The March meeting took place at the mouth of a river with a name that harkens back to a bloody episode on the island of Hispaniola: The Massacre River, also the Dajabón River. Though named for an earlier massacre, it’s mostly known for when Dominican soldiers in 1937 executed thousands of Haitian families and Dominicans of Haitian descent.

The antipathy toward Haitians persists today, not least with Dominican President Luis Abinader’s newly launched plan to build a multimillion-dollar, 118-mile (190-kilometer) wall along the border.

In the end, the March trip to Haiti proved fortuitously uneventful—though danger wasn’t far away.

When Wiener visited the southwestern part of the country, his driver got wind of protesters’ plans to storm the local airport. The attack didn’t happen until after Wiener flew out, a few days later: People ran onto the tarmac and torched a small plane.

One day during his recent visit to northern Haiti, Wiener gave a snorkeling lesson. While wading in the surf, a pufferfish floated toward the group.

Wiener gently picked up the prickly fish with both hands, walked a few steps out and sent the pufferfish into the ocean.

“We really know that there’s a part, you know, where you can be in a classroom,” Wiener said later from the hotel, where a few security guards patrolled the grounds. “But it is critically important that people actually get out and touch and see and feel the environment.”


Trenton Daniel via Associated Press

Will Hawaii’s Spinner Dolphins Finally Get A Rest From The Crowds?

Will Hawaii’s Spinner Dolphins Finally Get A Rest From The Crowds?

NOAA officials said they hope to finally issue a new rule this summer that bars anyone from approaching within 50 yards of the dolphins.

For several decades, boat tours, retreat groups and beachgoers have enjoyed swimming near Hawaii’s spinner dolphins. The animals reliably return each morning to the same shallow, sandy bays near shore to rest after spending their nights foraging for food in a dolphin ritual that’s unique to the islands, researchers say.

That up-close access might soon end, however, amid community outcry that the crowds in the water have grown too big in recent years and have overwhelmed the spinner pods, chronically disrupting their rest cycles and jeopardizing the population’s long-term survival.

The situation has gotten especially out of hand near Waianae, on Oahu’s Leeward Coast, and on Hawaii island’s Kona Coast, local residents say. The spinners in those areas encounter more tourism activities, including swimmers who get too close, than any other dolphin group in the world, according to researchers.

“Right now it’s a total circus, man. It’s Disneyland down there,” said Micah Doane, co-founder of the Leeward Coast nonprofit Protectors of Paradise, which promotes stewardship in that area.

A new rule could soon limit access to swim with Hawaii’s spinner dolphins amid concerns they’ve been overwhelmed by tourists and other disruptions. 

On Sunday mornings, Farrington Highway near Makua Beach is a “madhouse,” Doane said. Roadsides are packed with tour guides and hundreds of swimmers scanning the bays for spinner pods coming to rest.

Often, federal marine officials and community groups say, tour operators practice what’s called “leapfrogging,” in which they maneuver their boats ahead of the dolphins and force the animals into close contact with swimming customers.

Federal law prohibits harassing dolphins or disrupting their behavior patterns, but Doane and others also say local enforcement is insufficient to protect the animals even when “the violations are clear as day.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said they’re poised to finally create a new rule that would make it easier for authorities to crack down on dolphin harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Specifically, the rule would prohibit anyone from approaching within 50 yards of spinner dolphins by boat, kayak, swimming or any other means. It’s been about 16 years in the making, and NOAA said it could start this summer.

The federal agency’s officers on the Big Island already have stepped up enforcement by issuing citations for violations in popular dolphin spots such as Kealakekua, Honaunau and Makako Bay.

A 2013 study found that the local dolphin tours industry generates more than $100 million annually.

A Religious Right?

There’s already been some pushback against NOAA’s proposed rule, not only from operators but also from local residents who regularly swim with Hawaii spinners.

Some of those Big Island swimmers argue that barring up-close dolphin encounters violates their religious rights under the U.S. Constitution because they consider their swims to be spiritual experiences.

“There’s spiritual issues at stake here,” said Lanny Sinkin, an attorney based near Hilo who said he’s been in contact with multiple swimmers who consider their regular dolphin swims a “high spiritual calling.”

Any changes to regulations need to be done in a way that doesn’t violate First Amendment rights for spiritual practice, he said. Local retreat centers sometimes offer dolphin swims to go with their workshops, or at least free time to swim with the animals.

Sinkin, who said he has swum with dolphins the past 20 years, said he may eventually represent some of the other individual swimmers in court if the community can’t reach a consensus.

But efforts to use religious grounds to justify swims that have been shown to harm spinners have incensed many Hawaiian families and community conservation groups. Recently, they came together to write to NOAA and stress that Hawaiian culture has never included any practice that involves touching, swimming or pursuing the naia, or dolphins.

“The only occasion where direct interaction may be appropriate is when a recognized cultural practitioner, working with federal and state agency partners, assists with a stranding or responds to a potential injury or death of a protected marine species, following strict cultural protocols,” the group, Kai Kuleana Network, wrote in a letter to NOAA enforcement officer David Aku Carruthers.

The coalition of 15 community groups along the Kona Coast added that its members have witnessed thousands of MPAA violations over the years — most involving dolphins — by tour groups and individual swimmers.

In Hawaiian culture “we leave them alone,” Mahealani Pai, who’s in his mid-60s and whose family hails from North Kona, said of the spinner dolphins. “We don’t bother, because they have a purpose. We always respect them.”

Pai and others said they appreciate NOAA’s recent uptick in enforcement on the Big Island under Carruthers.

“I think that (for) a lot of communities that signed the letter it’s always been an ongoing struggle and they’ve tried to do their best” to report dolphin swim violations, said Malia Kipapa, a Kai Kuleana member. Until recently, “nothing’s been done about it.”

Sinkin, however, said the enforcement has gone too far, punishing swimmers who actually aim to respect the spinners’ boundaries. He said that while there may be some bad actors, many of the operators do observe the rules for dolphin encounters.

‘Mayhem’ On The Water

Even some operators, however, acknowledge that the industry has gotten “out of control” on Oahu and the Big Island, to the detriment of the spinners’ well-being.

“The dolphins are doing everything they can to get away and they can’t. It’s just sad,” said Doug Ewalt, president of the local tour company Hawaii Nautical.

It’s one of just six local operators certified under NOAA’s “Dolphin SMART” program, which promotes responsible dolphin tourism.

A 2014 estimate from the National Marine Fisheries Service, meanwhile, found as many as 70 tour operators offering dolphin swims and encounters in Hawaii, plus 100 commercial boat and kayak tour operations that “may opportunistically view these animals.”

Ewalt and the five other operators agreed to the Dolphin SMART pledge to voluntarily maintain a distance of 50 yards from the dolphins and to not put their customers in the water up close to swim with the animals.

The “swim-with” tours are profitable, Ewalt said, so in recent years he’s seen more boats dropping more visitors in the water. Meanwhile, he sees fewer spinners than in previous years.

“I used to see schools of 400 (dolphins). I don’t see schools of 400 anymore,” Ewalt said, adding that “it’s mayhem” in the water when multiple tours converge on the same spot.

Near Waianae, it seems that competition is driving tour operators to put customers ever closer to dolphins, Doane said.

Hawaii Nautical loses business to the “swim-with” operators, but it still manages to make a profit keeping its customers at a safe distance from the animals, Ewalt said, adding that the company’s business model could succeed for others.

Possible Decline In Numbers

Researchers have expressed concerns about the long-term impacts of up-close swims on the species, which received its name because the dolphins are often seen leaping and spinning out of the water.

They’ve found that spinners off the Kona Coast are exposed to human tourism activities 82% of the time during daylight hours, precisely when they’re supposed to be resting.

The near-constant exposure stresses and strains the animals, researchers say, similar to a chronically sleep-deprived person. Some researchers suspect that’s causing local spinner population to decline, although it hasn’t been proven conclusively.

What has been proven, however, is that dolphins in other parts of the world have had their numbers decline when overexposed to humans, according to Lars Bejder, director of the University of Hawaii’s Marine Mammal Research Program.

Hawaii’s spinners are more vulnerable to human interaction because their pattern of foraging in one place and resting in shallow, safe habitats along the coast is unique among dolphins, Bejder said.

Different population estimates recorded over the decades also hint at possible declines in numbers among local spinner groups. Researchers estimated in 2010 and 2011 that about 631 spinners were off the Kona Coast, while past estimates showed as many as 2,334 in previous decades.

Earlier estimates were done using different, less-robust research methods, however, so Bejder cautioned against comparing them directly to the latest population estimates. More research needs to be done.

Bejder added that dolphin tours can have educational value — if they’re done responsibly.

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Exceptions For Passive Swimmers

The new NOAA rule could be issued as early as this summer, said Ann Garrett, a Hawaii-based NOAA assistant regional administrator for protected resources. Officially, the rule process started in 2016, but the effort to get the proposed restrictions actually started about 15 years ago, she said.

It would address the boats’ aggressive leapfrogging maneuvers while including exceptions for vessels and swimmers who aren’t trying to chase the spinners, or may even be trying to avoid them, Garrett added.

Sinkin said the dolphins occasionally approach and interact with swimmers. One of the swimmers cited by authorities recently claimed that the dolphin approached her and wanted to play — not the other way around, he said.

NOAA officials hope the exceptions would address that issue. The agency has said some dolphins may appear to want to interact with people but those are for the most part “possibly just curious juveniles while the rest of the pod tries to avoid human interaction.”

Hawaii County Councilwoman Maile Medeiros David said she’s drafting a resolution to support NOAA’s proposed rule.

“I think this is such a huge issue, an island-wise, state-wide issue,” David said.

“I hear urgency, I hear frustration” from the community, she added. “We need to put a little nudge on NOAA.”


Marcel Honore at Civil Beat

Global warming accelerates the water cycle, with relevant climatic consequences

Global warming accelerates the water cycle, with relevant climatic consequences

Researchers at the Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC) in Barcelona have found that global warming is accelerating the water cycle, which could have significant consequences on the global climate system, according to an article published recently in the journal Scientific Reports.

This acceleration of the water cycle is caused by an increase in the evaporation of water from the seas and oceans resulting from the rise in temperature. As a result, more water is circulating in the atmosphere in its vapor form, 90% of which will eventually precipitate back into the sea, while the remaining 10% will precipitate over the continent.

“The acceleration of the water cycle has implications both at the ocean and on the continent, where storms could become increasingly intense. This higher amount of water circulating in the atmosphere could also explain the increase in rainfall that is being detected in some polar areas, where the fact that it is raining instead of snowing is speeding up the melting,” explains Estrella Olmedo, the leading author of the study.

The work also shows that the decrease in the wind in some areas of the ocean, which favors stratification of the water column, i.e. water not mixing in the vertical direction, could also be contributing to the acceleration of the water cycle.

“Where the wind is no longer so strong, the surface water warms up, but does not exchange heat with the water below, allowing the surface to become more saline than the lower layers and enabling the effect of evaporation to be observed with satellite measurements,” points out Antonio Turiel, also an author of the study. In this sense, Turiel adds that “this tells us that the atmosphere and the ocean interact in a stronger way than we imagined, with important consequences for the continental and polar areas.”

Satellites are key for oceanographic studies

To carry out the study, researchers analyzed ocean surface salinity data—which is measured by satellites. Unlike subsurface salinity data—obtained with in situ instruments—the satellite data allowed them to detect this acceleration of the water cycle and, for the first time, the effect of stratification over very large regions in the ocean. According to them, this is due to the ability of satellites to measure data continuously, regardless of environmental conditions and the accessibility of different areas of the ocean.

“We have been able to see that surface salinity is showing an intensification of the water cycle that subsurface salinity does not. Specifically, in the Pacific we have seen that surface salinity decreases more slowly than subsurface salinity and, in this same region, we have observed an increase in sea surface temperature and a decrease in the intensity of winds and the depth of the mixing layer,” details Olmedo.

These findings are the result of the use of algorithms and other data analysis products that the Barcelona Expert Center (BEC), attached to the ICM-CSIC, has been generating in the recent years from the SMOS space mission of the European Space Agency (ESA), designed to acquire observations of ocean salinity, which is essential for understanding ocean circulation, one of the key factors in understanding global climate.

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Fog on the western slope of the Andes mountains in Ecuador. Climate change has intensified the water cycle – the movement of water on Earth – by about twice as much as models had predicted, research shows. Photograph: Rosanne Tackaberry/Alamy


Rising temperatures pushing much more freshwater towards poles than climate models previously estimated.

This satellite image provided by NASA, Aqua MODIS 12 on March 2022 shows the main piece of C-37 close to Bowman Island. Scientists are concerned because an ice shelf the size of New York City collapsed in East Antarctica, an area that had long been thought to be stable. The collapse last week was the first time scientists have ever seen an ice shelf collapse in this cold area of Antarctica. (NASA via AP)


An ice shelf the size of New York City has collapsed in East Antarctica, an area long thought to be stable and not hit much by climate change.

This circulation basically depends on the water density, which is determined by its temperature and salinity. Therefore, changes in these two parameters, however small they may be, can end up having important consequences on the global climate, which makes it key to monitor them closely.

For this, Turiel concludes that “ocean models must standardize the assimilation of satellite salinity data, since the information they provide complements in situ data, and this is crucial, especially at the current time of climate crisis, where changes are occurring much faster than before.”


Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC) via phys.org

Recycled shrimp nets used to remove marine debris

Recycled shrimp nets used to remove marine debris

University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has devised a creative way to clean up the Georgia coast and provide financial support to local commercial shrimpers whose income was limited during the pandemic.

Through Trawl to Trash, funded by the National Sea Grant College Program, commercial shrimpers are recruited to sew bags made of recycled shrimp net material that can be used to collect marine debris.

Two fishermen work to create a bag for Trawl to Trash. (Photo by Shannah Montgomery)

“It’s exciting to find a new purpose for these trawl nets and who better to make the bags than the shrimpers who have spent countless hours mending their nets ahead of shrimping season?” said Dodie Sanders, marine educator at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and lead on the Trawl to Trash project.

The shrimpers earn $20 for each bag they sew.

One fisherman, Jonathan Bennett, used the money he earned from the nets to pay the people working for him.

“It was extra money, it helped us out,” said Bennett, a fifth-generation commercial shrimper from Brunswick, who now captains his own boat, the Flying Cloud. Bennett has been shrimping since he was 4. His grandfather taught him how to repair the shrimp nets.

“For years I was the only man on the boat who knew how to sew so I got pretty good at it,” he said. He and his grandfather, who is still a shrimper, joined the Trawl to Trash project during the off season when their boat was being repaired.

(Photo by Shannah Montgomery)

In an effort to produce more bags for outreach efforts, Sanders teamed up with the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium to recruit additional shrimpers into the program. As of January 2022, 15 shrimpers in both Georgia and South Carolina have earned a total of $30,700 for 1,535 bags.

“This opportunity came along at a great time, in that shrimpers are making the bags in between the peak of the brown shrimp season and white shrimp season, when landings and income are lower than the rest of the year,” said Graham Gaines, living marine resources program specialist at the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium and partner on the project.

With more than a thousand bags in hand, Sanders and other educators at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island have been working to distribute them to the public through education programs and community science efforts.

“We’re educating and engaging ecotour guides, students, recreational boaters beach goers and others who can make a difference by alleviating the impacts of marine debris,” Sanders said.

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The Ocean Cleanup has deployed its first full-scale system designed to clean-up ocean plastics to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Scientists have found what could be a 'secret weapon' in the battle against climate change


The single-celled microbe, which is capable of photosynthesis as well as hunting and eating prey, could be “a secret weapon in battle against climate change”.

As part of their outreach effort, the team launched a Marine Debris Community Science Program, which engages volunteers in removing marine debris from barrier islands and salt marshes along the Georgia coast while tracking what they collect using the Marine Debris Tracker App.

Since April 2021, community scientists involved in the program have conducted more than 25 marine debris cleanups across three sites on the Georgia coast and collected thousands of items.

They are also working with ecotour guides who have been certified through Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Coastal Awareness and Responsible Ecotourism program. The guides are providing bags to their customers and encouraging them to collect debris while exploring Georgia’s beaches and barrier islands.

This summer, educators will deliver hands-on after-school programs to Boys and Girls Clubs in Chatham and Glynn counties, educating the next generation about marine debris and encouraging them to make a difference by using the Trawl to Trash bags to clean up their communities.

“These efforts illustrate and reinforce the importance of building community capacity and encouraging behavior change as a way of supporting the long-term prevention of marine debris,” Sanders said.


Emily Kenworthy at UGA Today

Scientists breed threatened Florida coral species in step toward reef restoration

Scientists breed threatened Florida coral species in step toward reef restoration

Scientists have successfully bred a threatened species of coral as part of a project that hopes to restore damaged reefs off the coast of Florida that are under threat by a relatively new disease, a coral rescue organization said on Thursday.

Reefs in Florida and the Caribbean are facing growing threat of destruction by the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease that strips coral of its color and ultimately its life altogether.

The Florida Coral Rescue Center has in recent weeks bred hundreds of new coral of a species called rough cactus coral at a 2,000-square-foot (185.80-square-meter) facility that houses a total of 18 Florida coral species that are threatened by the disease.

“There is potential to propagate these corals… on a level, that you could return some of these corals to the wild,” said Justin Zimmerman, Florida Coral Rescue Center supervisor, in an interview. “And there’s a potential that you could save the species by doing that.”

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease was first observed near Miami in 2014 and by 2017 had spread to Florida’s northernmost reef tract and later past Key West to the south.

Species that fall victim to it have a mortality rate of 66-100 percent, making it deadlier than the better-known coral bleaching phenomenon that is typically caused by higher water temperatures associated with climate change.

The Florida Coral Rescue Center is managed by SeaWorld (SEAS.N) , a marine animal theme park company, and funded in part by the Disney Conservation Fund.

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The coral reefs of Aqaba have a resilience to warming waters seen nowhere else in the world


Corals in the Gulf of Aqaba have a unique evolutionary history that could help them survive the climate crisis. Scientists even hope to breed their resilience into other reefs.


Corals are the foundation species of tropical reefs worldwide, but stresses ranging from overfishing to pollution to warming oceans are killing corals and degrading the critical ecosystem services they provide.

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease represents another threat to the world’s coral reefs, which already face an existential threat due to climate change.

“Large numbers of offspring produced by rescued corals will be essential for restoration of Florida’s Coral Reef,” said Gil McRae of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), a U.N.-supported global data network, in October said that 14% of the world’s coral on reefs was already lost between 2009 and 2018. read more

Damage to coral reefs is among the myriad of issues that activists are seeking to raise awareness of during this year’s observance of Earth Day on Friday April 22.


Brian Ellsworth and Julio-cesar Chavez via Reuters

The hidden world of octopus cities and culture shows why it’s wrong to farm them

The hidden world of octopus cities and culture shows why it’s wrong to farm them

A recently proposed aquaculture octopus farm in the Canary Islands would raise 3,000 tons of octopus a year, which means almost 275,000 individual octopuses will be killed annually.

My research examines animal minds and ethics, and to me, the phrase “octopus culture” brings to mind Octopolis and Octlantis, two communities of wild octopuses in Jarvis Bay, Australia.

In Octopolis, numerous octopuses share—and fight over—a few square meters of seabed. In these watery towns, octopuses form dominance hierarchies, and they’ve started developing new behaviors: male octopuses fight over territory and, perhaps, females by throwing debris at one another and boxing.

Octopus community-building

The discovery of octopus communities came as a surprise to biologists who have long described octopuses as solitary animals that interact with others in three specific contexts: hunting, avoiding being hunted and mating.

What Octopolis suggests can happen in the wild is what has also been observed in captive octopuses: when living in an overly dense captive environment, octopuses will form dominance hierarchies.

In their fights for power, male octopuses perform an array of antagonistic behaviors, including throwing scallop shells to defend their den, and the “mantle up” display which makes an octopus look like a menacing vampire. Submissive octopuses signal their compliance with light colors and flattened body postures. For their efforts, the dominants appear to gain better access to high-quality dens and to females.

Animal culture

What is going on in Octopolis and Octlantis is properly called octopus culture. The idea of animal culture emerged after scientists noticed that in some groups, animals perform actions that aren’t seen in other groups of the same species.

One of the earliest proponents of animal cultures was the Japanese primatologist Kinji Imanishi who in the 1950s observed that a group of Japanese macaques on Koshima Island would wash sweet potatoes in the water before eating them.

This was a new behavior, not seen in other macaque groups, and observers were lucky enough to observe its origins. A monkey named Imo was the first to wash a potato in the salty water and others soon copied her, leading to a community-wide behavior pattern.

The idea of animal culture drove much subsequent Japanese primatology, but in Europe and North America culture didn’t get much attention until 1999, when an article about culture in chimpanzees was published. Since then, evidence of culture—group-typical behaviors that are socially learned—has been found all across the animal kingdom, including among fish, birds and insects.

A look into the social life of octopus by Australian philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith.

A new kind of octopus

The proposal to start an octopus farm is a proposal to create a new octopus culture, because when cultural animals are brought together, they can’t help but create society. It’s also a proposal to create a new kind of octopus: the cultural behaviors coupled with the captive environment will be a novel environmental niche that shapes subsequent evolution.

Our familiar farmed animals—like Angus cows and Chocktaw hogs—have been domesticated and are entirely different from the animals they evolved from.

Many of our domesticated animals cannot survive without human care. Examples include domestic rabbits, that have evolved without the instincts and coloring wild rabbits have to protect them from predators, sheep whose wool grows too thick without regular trimming and chickens bred for meat that can’t walk as adults because their breasts are too heavy.

Starting an octopus farm is a commitment to creating a new kind of animal that relies on humans for their existence. It isn’t an idea to be taken up lightly, or a project that can responsibly be attempted and then discarded when it turns out to be too difficult or not profitable.

Managing octopus populations

There are many reasons to worry that an octopus farm will not be easy to manage. Unlike other farmed animals, octopuses need their space. Octopolis is already a battleground of boxing octopuses; one can only wonder what that will look like on a scale of thousands.

Octopuses are sentient—they are emotional animals that feel pain. A recent report commissioned by the department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs in the United Kingdom reviewed the scientific evidence for pain experience in cephalopod mollusks (octopuses, squid and cuttlefish).

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Spurred on by soaring demand for seafood, a Spanish company plans to open the first commercial octopus farm next year but as scientists discover more about the enigmatic animals some warn it could be an ethical and environmental disaster.


Human waste has become so ubiquitous in the ocean, it’s becoming easier for octopuses to shelter in our trash than in seashells or coral.

Sentient animals used for food are protected under welfare laws and killed in ways that should minimize their pain. Current methods of slaughtering octopuses include clubbing, slicing open the brain or suffocating them. The report’s authors conclude that none of these methods of slaughter are humane and recommends against octopus farming.

Octopuses are escape artists. The kind of housing needed to shelter them will be difficult to achieve, especially while also providing enrichment, since an enriched environment will be one full of possible getaway routes.

If an octopus farm is started, and then abandoned, the thousands of domesticated cultural octopuses cannot be released into the sea and be expected to flourish. We learned from the many expensive attempts to release Keiko, the killer whale that starred in the “Free Willy” franchise, that successful reintroduction of captive cultural animals into the wild is not easy. Even after spending US$20 million dollars, Keiko died in captivity.

The proposal to bring thousands of animals together into an octopus megacity would scale octopus culture far beyond anything found in nature or in captivity. It would create hundreds of thousands of Keikos, aquatic cultural animals captured from the wild and brought into captivity. And it would force them to live together and create a new culture in what is sure to be a violent octopus slum.

Just now, we are learning that octopuses feel emotions and have culture, and we are starting to rethink current practices of intensive animal farming.


Kristin Andrews at The Conversation