Tag Archives: marine reserve

Strange marine animals found around the Canary Islands

Marine conservation group Oceana have found an amazing array of marine life in their expedition around the Canary Islands.

Oceana - Siphonophora
Siphonophora, photo © Oceana

Using ROVs (remotely operated underwater vehicles) down to 1000 m as well as scuba divers to shallow depths, they documented large colonies of deep-sea white coral, crystal aggregations of sponges, dense forests of black corals, oceanic puffers, giant foraminifera, carnivorous sponges and sharks, as well as many other biological communities and species in the south of the El Hierro Island.

Oceanic Puffers
Aggregation of Oceanic puffers (Lagocephalus lagocephalus lagocephalus) with reproductive purposes. El Desierto, El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain. photo © Oceana

“Although there are some habitats that are specific to certain depths, in all dives and environments we have documented many different species, demonstrating the richness in biodiversity of southern El Hierro”, says Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director at Oceana in Europe. “With information gathered from this expedition, we intend to promote the creation of a marine national park in the southern part of El Hierro island; the first one in Europe.”

Nemichthys sp
Nemichthys sp, photo © Oceana

El Hierro boasts highly diverse and valuable marine habitats and species, which led Oceana to propose the protection of its waters in 2011. Earlier this year El Hierro became the first island in the world to use 100 percent renewable energies, making the island unique from an environmental point of view.

Carnivorous sponge
Carnivorous sponge photo © Oceana

As well as documenting the sea life around El Hierro, the expedition is exploring for the first time seamounts in the Eastern Atlantic. These have hardly ever been filmed before.

Brown-snout spookfish (Dolichopteryx longipes)
Brown-snout spookfish (Dolichopteryx longipes), photo © Oceana

The Canary Islands and their adjacent seamounts hold the most diverse elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) community of the whole European Union, with up to 79 species identified.

Bigeye thresher shark (Alopias superciliosus)
Bigeye thresher shark (Alopias superciliosus) photo © Oceana

Oceana was founded in 2001 and is the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation, protecting marine ecosystems and endangered species.

Vampire Squid
Vampire Squid, photo © Oceana
Sea urchin (Phormosoma placenta)
Sea urchin (Phormosoma placenta), photo © Oceana
Tripod Fish (Bathypterois dubius)
Tripod Fish (Bathypterois dubius), photo © Oceana
Sea Cucumber Elasipodida
Sea Cucumber Elasipodida, photo © Oceana

All photos copyright Oceana

Further Reading:
Oceana – Canary Islands Expedition 2014

Silent divers count more fish

SCUBA divers underestimate the amount of life in heavily-fished areas, a study suggests.

Scientists from Australia compared fish counts by SCUBA divers—who produce noisy bubbles—and divers using silent rebreathers. They found little difference in counts between the two in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where the fish weren’t frightened of the divers. In more heavily fished areas though, the bubble-free divers recorded 48% more species and up to 260% greater fish abundance than the SCUBA divers.


Visual assessment by SCUBA divers is a commonly used method to gauge reef fish communities. However, the report in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution casts doubt upon its accuracy in some areas, saying that as fishing pressure increases so does the bias of the count.

The divers wearing rebreathers were able to get closer to the larger, most heavily-fished species which were very shy of divers in the non-protected areas. The researchers—Steven J. Lindfield, Euan S. Harvey, Jennifer L. McIlwain and Andrew R. Halford—recommend the use of this bubble-free diving system for surveys assessing reef fish populations, especially in areas where fish are heavily targeted by spearfishing. If fish behaviour isn’t taken into account, surveys using SCUBA could result in in the wrong conclusions when comparing fished and protected areas.

The surveys were carried out in Guam.

Further Reading:
Lindfield, S. J., Harvey, E. S., McIlwain, J. L., Halford, A. R. (2014), Silent fish surveys: bubble-free diving highlights inaccuracies associated with SCUBA-based surveys in heavily fished areas. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12262

Photo credit: Tim Nicholson

Scientists unveil first maps of deep sea corals

deep sea coralsScientists have unveiled the first-ever set of maps detailing where vulnerable deep-sea habitats, including cold water coral reefs and sponge fields, are likely to be found in the North East Atlantic.

The Bristish team used complex modelling techniques to chart a surface area more than three times the size of the UK’s terrestrial boundaries. Importantly, the maps let researchers determine the proportion of coral reefs and sponge beds that would be covered by the proposed network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The maps show that if all of the current proposed Marine Protected Areas are put in place, 30% of the UK’s deep sea coral reefs will be protected – but just 3% of the sponge fields.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 world leaders committed themselves to creating representative networks of MPAs by 2012.

Dr Kerry Howell, project lead and member of the Plymouth University Marine Institute, says the maps are important evidence with which to present to present to policy-makers. She said: “Many people think of the deep-sea as the last great wilderness on earth, but we are increasingly relying on it for food from fishing, energy from oil and gas, and now we are even mining it for precious metals like gold, copper and zinc.

Dr Howell continued: “We have better maps of the surface of Mars than some parts of our deep-sea – but this marks the dawning of a new era in deep-sea mapping, and our first steps into understanding the deep-sea realm as never before.”

Cold-water coral reefs, like their shallow water relatives, provide a source of food and shelter to many species – but unlike them, do not require light in order to grow. The UK has extensive cold-water coral reefs in its waters, and all but one are found in the deep-sea, below 200m in depth.

Deep-sea sponge fields are similarly important in the role they play in the ecosystem. They live on soft, sandy or muddy sediments at a depth of around 1,300m, in total darkness, extreme cold and under crushing pressures. Individual sponges are about the size of a tennis ball, but they live at such densities that they form a unique habitat.

Rebecca Ross, a researcher at Plymouth University who produced the maps, said “Although the mathematical process is complicated, the principle of the technique is quite straightforward: we know the conditions that we find a reef under, so we can use mathematical models to find other places that have the right combinations of conditions for reefs to grow.

“The use of predictive modelling is an important step forward in deep-sea exploration because the deep-sea is so vast and so expensive to visit that we cannot possibly hope to survey it all.”

The study is published in the scientific journal Diversity and Distributions.

What are Marine Protected Areas?

Marine protected areas describes a wide range of marine areas which have some level of restriction to protect living, non-living, cultural, and/or historic resources. The UK has signed up to international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the OSPAR Convention, that aim to establish an ‘ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)’ by 2012.

Further Reading

Ross, R. E. and Howell, K. L. (2012), Use of predictive habitat modelling to assess the distribution and extent of the current protection of ‘listed’ deep-sea habitats. Diversity and Distributions. doi: 10.1111/ddi.12010
So what is a representative network of MPAs?, WWF
University of Plymouth

Environmentalists condemn Danish dredging in marine protected areas

Oceana says it is deeply disappointed in the Danish Government’s recent approval of blue mussel fisheries inside two Natura 2000 sites in the Limfjord, Denmark. The organisation says that this decision puts both areas, which have been protected to conserve ecologically important reef habitats, in jeopardy. Oceana recommends that Denmark and other EU countries prohibit destructive fishing methods, such as dredging and bottom trawling, inside all marine protected areas.

“We are greatly concerned that the Danish Government is continuing along the same dangerous track they started in March 2012, when they permitted mussel fisheries inside another Natura 2000 site”, said Hanna Paulomäki, Oceana Baltic Sea Project Manager. “What kind of precedent are we setting, by creating marine protected areas and then approving the very activities they need protection from?”

Blue mussels (Mytilus sp.) are typically attached to hard bottoms and create living spaces and feeding areas for a number of other species. While blue mussels are not protected by the EU Habitats Directive, they grow on reefs which are and in other cases create their own reefs. Oceana assert that destroying these reefs conflicts with conservation objectives and certainly badly impacts the environment. In addition to damaging the seafloor, mussel dredging can also reduce the distribution of macro algae, which adhere to hard substrates (such as shells). It can take years for benthic communities to recover from mussel dredging.

According to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), The Limfjord is the most important waters for mussel fishing in Denmark. The mussel fishery here can be dated back to the start of the last century when mussels were primarily fished for use as bait in long-line fisheries. Today Denmark is one of the most important producers of processed mussels in Europe with 90% of the landings exported as single frozen mussels or canned commodities.

The MSC aims to help you choose seafood from sustainable fisheries, and has certified blue mussel fishing in Denmark as such. However, Professor Callum Roberts in his book Ocean of Life says that an increasing number of fisheries are being certified that cannnot possibly be regarded as doing little harm to the environment. As long as an area is well managed for the target species, then the certifiers are turning a blind eye to the wider environmental destruction.

Fishing methods like dredging, which is used in the Danish mussel fishing, kill or maim almost everything in the dredge’s path leaving a dead ocean bottom resembling a ploughed field. It is inconceivable how something can be labelled as a marine reserve whilst allowing bottom dredging. The sooner the IUCN Guidelines on marine protected areas are followed the better.

Oceana is the largest international organisation focused solely on ocean conservation, protecting marine ecosystems and endangered species.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

IUCN Issue Marine Reserve Guidelines: When is a Marine Reserve not a Marine Reserve?

Our sea creatures are in trouble. What with warming temperatures, pollution, plastic debris and over-fishing, the oceans need protecting more than ever before. And governments are becoming more committed to creating marine reserves. But are they just paying lip service to the problem or really addressing it? Too often a marine reserve allows commercial fishing and other exploitation. A marine reserve which isn’t really a marine reserve at all.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has therefore issued guidelines to be clear what are the most significant and of highest priority in marine protected areas (MPAs). The new guidelines will define marine protected areas, preventing industry-affiliated bodies from claiming an MPA even though they are exploiting the ocean by fishing, drilling or laying pipelines. The guidelines will provide a reference against which to check how countries are progressing with conservation actions for the marine environment.

“As we edge closer towards conditions that seem to signal a major ocean extinction event what we need are proper, meaningful conservation actions that move towards restoring the ocean, its resilience and its health,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “In recent years pressure to deliver success stories has resulted in false claims of vast areas of the ocean being properly protected. It is time to be realistic about our definition of MPAs.”

IUCN defines a protected area as: A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

“It is time to stop pretending more of the ocean is protected than it actually is. Understanding what is protected in the ocean and how it is protected is of paramount importance in driving global conservation efforts forward,” says Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice-Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. “The guidance we are issuing aims to make clear the most important aspects of marine protected areas and will help countries more accurately detail their successes. Without this information it is difficult to hold the process of determining marine protected areas accountable.”

Further Reading: IUCN

Maldives to Become World’s Largest Marine Reserve

Just days after Australia proclaimed the creation of the world’s largest marine park, the President of the Maldives announced that the whole of the Maldives would become a marine reserve by 2017.

The commitment would see the Maldives become the first country in the world to become a marine reserve.

Baa Atoll, one of the 20 atolls that make up the Maldives and which comprises 75 islands, is already a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. These are sites established by countries and recognised under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science.

President Waheed, who made the commitment while addressing the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, said, “I take this opportunity to announce my Government’s commitment to make the entire Maldives, by 2017, the first country in the world to become, as a nation as a whole, a marine reserve.”

The President went on to say, “This commitment reflects our respect for our unique natural environment. We have taken these measures to protect our coral reefs, lagoons, coral islands and coral sand beaches. The Maldives will take any action necessary to ensure our future.”

The Maldives economy is built primarily on tourism and fisheries. The marine reserve will allow only sustainable and eco-friendly fishing. It will exclude destructive techniques. Trade in sharks, turtles and many species of fish in the Indian Ocean is already illegal in the Maldives.

Australia Creates World’s Largest Marine Park

Australia today announced the creation of the world’s largest marine reserve, covering the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea. Oil and gas exploration will banned but commercial fishing will be allowed in many areas.

Australia’s marine reserves will increase from 27 to 60, covering one third of the nation’s seas.

The announcement of the reserves was made a week before more than 130 countries congregate for the United Nations’ sustainable development conference in an attempt to limit climate change, one of the biggest conferences in U.N. history.

Environmental groups welcomed the news, with WWF-Australian CEO Dermot O’Gorman saying “Australia has the third largest ocean territory in the world that stretches from the tropics to the sub-Antarctic and is home to incredible creatures such as whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks as well as spectacular corals and other ecosystems”. However they called for places like Rowley Shoals and Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia to also be protected.

IFAW (Interational Fund for Animal Welfare) commented “The IFAW is pleased to see important parts of the humpback whale nursery in the Kimberley and some southern right whale calving grounds off the south west coast included in the network, but critically important feeding grounds for blue whales…remain insufficiently protected. While northern parts of the Perth Canyons have been protected from oil and gas exploration, the remainder is still open to exploration and the damaging effects that can have on whales. This means that to some extent all three of the recognised blue whale feeding grounds in Australian waters are still open to negative impact from offshore petroleum exploration and production. The Environment Department has had its hands tied throughout the whole process in any attempts to address the threats to marine life from the oil and gas industry. The network, for the most part, addresses areas only where the industry doesn’t operate or isn’t looking to operate in the future.”

Australia Environment Minister, Tony Burke, said “We have an incredible opportunity to turn the tide on protection of the oceans and Australia can lead the world in marine protection”.

Two weeks ago a U.N. report said the Great Barrier Reef was under imminent threat from industrial development and may be considered for listing as a world heritage site “in danger” in February next year.

Related News:
Will Marine Reserve Protect Coral Sea Sharks?

Isle of Man Finally gets a Marine Nature Reserve

Squat Lobster in Isle of ManRamsey Bay has been designated as the Isle of Man‘s first Marine Nature Reserve.

The area will be protected from damaging activities, fisheries will be safeguarded and it is hoped it will become a centre for diving and research.

The designation of Ramsey Bay by the Manx Government has been the result of consulations since 2008. It is a prime example of what can be achieved in protecting marine environments. It is the first step towards the goal of a well managed ecologically coherent network covering all UK and Manx waters by 2012. Minister John Shimmin said the news was “an exciting step forward for the Isle of Man”.

Marine developments within the area will now require approval from the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA) and an Environmental Impact Assessment.

John Edwards, head of Living Seas for the Wildlife Trusts, said, “The Ramsey Bay designation is an encouraging sign. It’s now important that Government appoints further Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). ”

In August scientists carried out surveys of Ramsey Bay using special seabed mapping equipment and a camera on an underwater sledge.

The surveys revealed a diverse and complex underwater landscape with lush eelgrass meadows and bright pink maerl beds.

Further Reading:
The Wildlife Trusts

World’s Most Robust Marine Reserve is at Baja California

A thriving undersea wildlife park tucked away near the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula has proven to be the most robust marine reserve in the world, according to a new study led by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Results of a 10-year analysis of Cabo Pulmo National Park (CPNP), published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE journal, revealed that the total amount of fish in the reserve ecosystem (the “biomass”) boomed more than 460 percent from 1999 to 2009. People living around Cabo Pulmo, previously depleted by fishing, established the park in 1995 and have strictly enforced its “no take” restrictions.

“The study’s results are surprising in several ways,” said Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher, World Wildlife Fund Kathryn Fuller fellow and lead author of the study. “A biomass increase of 463 percent in a reserve as large as Cabo Pulmo (71 square kilometers) represents tons of new fish produced every year. No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery.”

The paper notes that factors such as the protection of spawning areas for large predators have been key to the reserve’s robustness. Most importantly, local enforcement, led by the determined action of a few families, has been a major factor in the park’s success. Boat captains, dive masters and other locals work to enforce the park’s regulations and share surveillance, fauna protection and ocean cleanliness efforts.

Strictly enforced marine reserves have been proven to help reduce local poverty and increase economic benefits, the researchers say. Cabo Pulmo’s marine life recovery has spawned eco-tourism businesses, including coral reef diving and kayaking, making it a model for areas depleted by fishing in the Gulf of California and elsewhere.

“The reefs are full of hard corals and sea fans, creating an amazing habitat for lobsters, octopuses, rays and small fish,” said Brad Erisman, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the article. “During some seasons thousands of mobula rays congregate inside the park and swim above the reef in a magnificent way.”

The scientists have been combining efforts to monitor the Gulf of California’s rocky reefs every year for more than a decade, sampling more than 30 islands and peninsula locations along Baja California, stretching from Puerto Refugio on the northern tip of Angel de la Guarda to Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Pulmo south of the Bahia de La Paz.

In the ten years studied, the researchers found that Cabo Pulmo’s fish species richness blossomed into a biodiversity “hot spot.” Animals such as tiger sharks, bull sharks and black tip reef sharks increased significantly. Scientists continue to find evidence that such top predators keep coral reefs healthy. Other large fish at Cabo Pulmo include gulf groupers, dog snappers and leopard groupers.