Emaciated whale dies after washing up on California shoreline

Jami Ganz  1 day ago

A whale that washed up on a California beach Wednesday has died.

Emaciated whale dies after washing up on California shoreline (msn.com)

a body of water next to the ocean: A 25-foot gray whale died after washing up near the shore of Dockweiler State Beach south of Marina Del Rey Wednesday afternoon.© Provided by New York Daily News A 25-foot gray whale died after washing up near the shore of Dockweiler State Beach south of Marina Del Rey Wednesday afternoon.

Lifeguards found the 25-foot emaciated gray whale at Dockweiler Beach, south of Marina del Rey, around 4 p.m. local time, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Lifeguard Division said Thursday on its Facebook page.

They and personnel from Marine Animal Rescue were advised to not help the animal, who they didn’t want to risk injuring critically, according to tweet from the fire department lifeguards’ official account.

Originally, the Lifeguards, animal rescue and NOAA Fisheries — who directed them to leave the whale be — hoped the creature would manage to get back to the water during high tide, according to the Facebook post.

The whale though was declared dead around 8 p.m.

“With great sadness the stranded whale has been determined to be deceased,” the fire department lifeguards tweeted.

The whale’s removal, it said, would be coordinated by the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, with a necropsy planned for Thursday.

The Devonian Extinction: A Slow Doom That Swept Our Planet

Over millions of years, most living organisms suffocated in oxygen-deprived oceans. In the aftermath, modern vertebrates conquered the world.

By Cody CottierJanuary 23, 2021 9:00 AM

ocean underwater

(Credit: Rich Carey/Shutterstock)

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science newsSign up for the NewsletterSIGN UP

We think of mass extinctions as brief moments of havoc — profoundly devastating but over within a geologic instant. The Devonian, the second of the so-called “Big Five,” defies this notion. If the other great die-offs are short stories of death and destruction, this one is an epic akin to War and Peace. Even that paradoxical title seems fitting: The Devonian extinction ravaged Earth on and off for 25 million years, and although it ultimately killed three-quarters of all species, it also cleared the way for a new balance of animal life that endures to this day.

The extinction began roughly 380 million years ago, midway through the segment of geologic time known as the Devonian period, or the age of fish. (Vertebrates hadn’t yet made the leap onto land.) The prehistoric waters teemed not with the likes of tuna, sardines and salmon, but with their bizarre, long-dead predecessors. At the top of the food chain sat the placoderms, a race of heavily-armored and sometimes massive fish. The most famous of these mean-mugging beasts, Dunkleosteus, may have grown as long as 30 feet, probably winning it the distinction of largest animal — until the dinosaurs.

Dunkleosteus - Shutterstock

An illustration of the enormous extinct prehistoric fish Dunkleosteus swimming in search of food within a Devonian Sea. (Credit: AuntSpray/Shutterstock)about:blankabout:blank

But for all their might, Dunkleosteus and its kin wouldn’t survive the age that bears their name. “A series of crises piled up to affect life on Earth,” says Michael Coates, a biologist at the University of Chicago. Annihilation crept in, and slowly swept away the dominant Devonian species. This opened ecological niches to a new cast of organisms — no less than, in Coates’ words, “the signature of modern vertebrate life on the planet.”

Gasping for Air

In terms of its time scale, “the Devonian extinction is quite different from the others,” says University of Cincinnati geologist Thomas Algeo. Over the course of millions of years, as many as 10 distinct events raised the loss of biodiversity above the normal background rate, or baseline. Two, however, stand out: the Kellwasser and Hangenberg events, which occurred in the middle of and at the end of the Devonian period, respectively.

Clear-cut answers are rare in the realm of extinction, but researchers broadly agree that both events were accompanied by widespread ocean anoxia, or low oxygen levels. Some of the best evidence is found in the layers of black shale — which form under anoxic conditions — that date to the time. It’s likely, then, that one of the major kill mechanisms throughout the Devonian period was asphyxiation. Along with the armored fish, reef-builders like corals and sponges died en masse, as did trilobites, nautilus-like goniatites and many more creatures.

It’s more difficult to say why the oceans suddenly became unbreathable for them. Volcanic activity is a perennial suspect in extinction investigations, and scientists have duly scoured the rock record for traces of it in the Devonian extinction. “There’s been a lot of searching for a plausible candidate,” Algeo says. Nothing has been found yet to compare with the monstrous eruptions of the later Permian extinction, but some evidence does suggest that volcanism in a large igneous province called the Viluy Traps may have played a role, including, perhaps, via mercury poisoning. An asteroid also struck Earth during this period, leaving behind the 40-mile-wide Siljan crater.

One recent study concluded that the trigger for the Hangenberg event was ultraviolet radiation, penetrating the atmosphere through a break in the ozone layer. The researchers collected Devonian rock samples from mountains in Greenland and the Andes, and, after dissolving them, found malformed plant spores consistent with DNA damage from UV exposure.about:blankabout:blank

Life Turns on Itself

Algeo has his own, astounding theory: Death came not from geologic or climatic processes, but as a “natural consequence of the evolution of the whole biosphere.” In other words, the enemy of Devonian life was life itself. He believes that as vascular plants — basically everything except moss and lichen — first colonized dry ground, their deep roots broke up Earth’s surface rocks, releasing nutrients and minerals that fueled algal blooms. This left the oceans riddled with dead zones devoid of oxygen. While the plants thrived, the rest died.

Plants also absorb carbon dioxide, or CO2, the atmosphere-warming greenhouse gas. As they spread, they could have chilled the planet, bringing on an ice age that would have made life even less sustainable. (Indeed, some research suggests global cooling was involved in the Devonian extinction, disproportionately affecting tropical species.) Over the long term, though, the greatest legacy of this newfangled vegetation may lie in the extinction’s rebound.

Whether or not the vascular plants were to blame for the extinction, they were undoubtedly pervasive by the end of it, with trees and ferns forming the first modern forests. The above-water world had finally grown complex enough to support a menagerie of animal life, and sea-faring species took notice. “Everyone’s looking at that, and there’s stuff to exploit,” Coates says. “They’ve suddenly got this golden opportunity.”

New World Order

The tetrapods, our oldest terrestrial ancestors, abandoned the ocean for this new environment. Every single vertebrate that has walked the Earth since is a descendent of these primitive, four-legged landlubbers: “grotesque amphibians slumping around in swamps,” Coates calls them, half-jokingly. 

Elginerpeton BW - wikimedia commons cc by 3.0

A drawing of Elginerpeton pancheni, an early tetrapod from the Late Devonian period. (Credit: Nobu Tamura/CC by 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

After the Devonian extinction ended, around 360 million years ago, Romer’s gap began. This void in the fossil record, named for Harvard professor Alfred Sherwood Romer, puzzled scientists for decades. Most significantly, it thwarted attempts to piece together the improbable history of the first land animals whose lineage eventually leads to us. For the most part, tetrapods were bit players before the extinction: a few weird, lungfish hybrids like acanthostega, sprouting half-hearted limbs where they should have had fins. They certainly didn’t look like they were only an evolutionary hop, skip and jump from world domination. about:blankabout:blank

But after Romer’s gap, “when you pick them up again,” Coates says, “they’re diverse and doing all sorts of exciting things.” Lumbering amphibians are suddenly walking on land, and steadily improving at it. One of the most famous specimens is ichthyostegaa meter-long creature that’s a bit reminiscent of the Chinese giant salamander. In another few million years, the amphibians diverge from the shelled-egg-laying reptiles, which themselves later give rise to the dinosaurs and mammals.

The Devonian extinction ushered in not only the land-bound tetrapods, but also the animals that command the marine vertebrate world to this day: ray-finned (or bony) fish, and cartilaginous fish, like sharks, rays and chimeras. Though we see ourselves in the tetrapods, the progeny of post-Devonian fish is, in its own way, even more impressive — today’s marine vertebrates (including the bristlemouth, likely the most abundant vertebrate on Earth) far outweigh their dry-ground cousins. If a Martian biologist were to select one vertebrate at random from our planet, Coates says, “chances are it would be something like a herring.” 

It’s not clear to what extent the Devonian extinction actually altered the flow of evolution. Maybe the tetrapods, sharks and bony fish would have outcompeted their rivals anyway. According to Algeo, the extinction “probably served mostly to finish off these groups that were already not doing well.” Still, it was the extinction that finished them off, yielding the ecological floor decisively to the forms of life we see today. As Coates put it, “the modern vertebrate biota is the product of this big editing event.” In no small sense, we may have the Devonian extinction to thank for our existence.


Read more: The Ordovician Extinction: Our Planet’s First Brush With Death

RELATED CONTENTThe Ordovician Extinction: Our Planet’s 

https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/the-devonian-extinction-a-slow-doom-that-swept-our-planet

Endangered animals get entangled in plastics that riddle US oceans – study

More than 1,800 marine animals from 40 species suffering from contact with plastics over the past decade

Oliver Milman @olliemilman

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/19/endangered-animals-get-entangled-plastics-riddle-us-oceans

Thu 19 Nov 2020 03.00 ESTLast modified on Thu 19 Nov 2020 03.02 EST

Shares338

A plastic ring on a dolphin.
 A plastic ring on a dolphin. Photograph: Q. Gibson/University of North Florida

Endangered marine mammals and sea turtles are routinely being entangled in or are swallowing pieces of plastic that now riddle the oceans off US coastlines, a new report has found.

The plastic-induced toll stretches from Florida, where a manatee was found dead with a stomach filled with plastic bags and straws, to Virginia where a sei whale died after swallowing a DVD case causing stomach lacerations, to California, where a juvenile elephant seal was discovered with a packing strap wrapped around its neck. In South Carolina, a loggerhead sea turtle defecated out almost 60 pieces of plastic while being rehabilitated.

In total there is evidence of more than 1,800 marine animals from 40 species suffering from contact with plastics over the past decade, according to the first formal tally drawn from government and NGO data. Some examples of this phenomenon become well known – such as the whale that washed up with 40kg of plastic in its stomach last year – but the true toll is certainly far higher, with most entanglements unseen by humans.

Pieces of plastic can become wrapped around necks, fins or flippers, causing deep injuries or hampering movement.
 Pieces of plastic can become wrapped around necks, fins or flippers, causing deep injuries or hampering movement. Photograph: Hawaii NOAA Fisheries

“We may never know the true number but the details we do have are heartbreaking,” said Kimberly Warner, a senior scientist at Oceana, the conservation organization that collated the report. “The plastic is everywhere, even within deep-diving animals that you rarely see, and it is getting worse.”Advertisementhttps://01bca2c3102d9380c567e9ca95a2c385.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Animals can inadvertently swallow floating pieces of plastic while feeding or may even mistake the pieces for food. The Oceana report found that plastic bags, balloons, recreational fishing line, plastic sheeting and food wrappers were the most commonly ingested items, causing internal injuries or hampering the ability of the animals to feed.

Other pieces of plastic can become wrapped around necks, fins or flippers, causing deep injuries or hampering movement. In Hawaii, a monk seal was found with a plastic water bottle stuck on its snout while in California a food wrapper was discovered lodged in the esophagus of a dolphin. This blight could prove a material threat to the viability of some species, with the Oceana report finding that 88% of creatures recorded with plastic on or in them are from species listed as threatened or endangered by the US.

Around 11m tonnes of plastic flow into the oceans a year, with this amount set to nearly triple to 29m tonnes a year by 2040 – the equivalent of 50kg for each meter of coastline in the world – if current trends continue. The plastic often breaks down into tiny pieces and is now ubiquitous in our oceans, found from the deepest reaches of the marine world to even sea ice in the Arctic.

Around 11m tonnes of plastic flow into the oceans a year, with this amount set to nearly triple to 29m tonnes a year by 2040.
 Around 11m tonnes of plastic flow into the oceans a year, with this amount set to nearly triple to 29m tonnes a year by 2040. Photograph: David M Jones/David Jones

The Trump administration has blamed countries such as China and Vietnam for pumping large amounts of plastic into the seas but research has suggested the US is the planet’s third largest contributor to marine plastic pollution. United Nations talks were recently held on a new global treaty to tackle plastic pollution but without any signal of support from the US or UK, two of the largest per-capita waste producers in the world.

Some jurisdictions within the US have moved to phase out plastic straws or bags – New York is now finally enforcing a ban on plastic bags after a pandemic-related delay – but advocates are hoping to push Joe Biden’s incoming administration to more aggressive national action.

“We need to quit blaming other countries and pass laws limiting the use of single-use plastics,” said Warner. “I know Biden is very concerned about climate change and plastic is a huge supplier of greenhouse gases. I’m hoping the US will finally come to the party and do something about this.”

Major wind-driven ocean currents are shifting toward the poles

https://phys.org/news/2020-09-major-wind-driven-ocean-currents-shifting.html

Major wind-driven ocean currents are shifting toward the poles
Satellite observational sea surface temperature anomaly during the last five years (2015-2019), reference to the first five years (1982-1986). Credit: Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Gerrit Lohmann

The severe droughts in the USA and Australia are the first sign that the tropics, and their warm temperatures, are apparently expanding in the wake of climate change. But until now, scientists have been unable to conclusively explain the reasons for this, because they were mostly focusing on atmospheric processes. Now, experts at the AWI have solved the puzzle: the alarming expansion of the tropics is not caused by processes in the atmosphere, but quite simply by warming subtropical ocean.

But up to now, climate researchers have had a problem. They couldn’t conclusively explain this obvious expansion of the tropics using their . The models simply didn’t show the magnitude and the regional characteristic of the observed expansion. A team working with the physicists Hu Yang and Gerrit Lohmann at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven (AWI) has now discovered the likely cause. As the AWI experts report in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres, the reason for the expansion appears to be an altered warming of the . To date, experts assumed that processes in the atmosphere played a major role—for instance a change in the ozone concentration or the aerosols. It was also thought possible that the natural climate fluctuations that occur every few decades were responsible for the expansion of the tropics. For many years researchers had been looking in the wrong place, so to speak.

“Our simulations show that an enhanced warming over the subtropical ocean in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are the main drivers,” says Hu Yang, the study’s lead author. These subtropical warming patterns are generated by the dynamic of subtropical ocean gyres, measuring several hundreds of kilometers in diameter, which rotate slowly. These currents are especially well-known in the Pacific, because the majority of floating marine litter is concentrated in them. “Because the currents in the region bring together the surface warming water masses particularly intensely, it’s easier for the subtropical ocean surface to accumulate warmth than in other regions—and the same applies to plastic,” says Lohmann. As a result of this warming of the subtropical ocean, the tropical warm ocean regions are expanding. According to his calculations, this phenomenon is the catalyst for the tropics expanding to the north and south. “Previous researchers had been taking an overly complicated approach to the problem, and assumed it was due to complex changes in the atmosphere. In reality, it’s due to a relatively simple mechanism involving ocean currents.”

What led the experts to explore this avenue: data on ocean gyres that they happened to come across five years ago—data on ocean temperatures and satellite-based data, freely available on databases. Both sources indicated that the gyres were becoming warmer and more powerful. “That’s what led us to believe that they might be a decisive factor in the expansion of the tropics,” explains Hu Yang.

The AWI experts were right: their findings perfectly correspond to actual observations and the latest field data on tropical expansion. Just like in reality, their climate model shows that the tropics are now stretching farther to the north and south alike. In the Southern Hemisphere, the effect is even more pronounced, because the ocean takes up more of the overall area there than in the Northern Hemisphere.

Yet when it comes to the question of whether the droughts in Australia, California and the Mediterranean are due to the expansion of the tropics, Gerrit Lohmann can’t give a definitive answer. “When talking about  change, it’s always difficult to quantify the respective parameters with absolute certainty,” he says. “However, we can safely assume that the ocean currents and expansion of the tropics make droughts and hurricanes more likely to occur.”


Explore further

The tropics are expanding, and climate change is the primary culprit

Scientists Discover Massive ‘Silly String’ Creature in Deep Sea

Free The Ocean Blog

A bit earlir this year, scientists at the Schmidt Ocean Institute captured footage of a massive siphonophore in the Indian Ocean. Siphonophores are closely related to the jellyfish and this could have been the largest ever recorded. The institute shared a stunning video and images of this giant ocean creatures that created a ‘galaxy-like spiral’ floating off Western Australia.

The ‘silly string’ creature. Photo courtesy of Smith Ocean Institute

The footage was captured during an expedition of the deep sea Ningaloo Canyons. Although it’s unclear exactly how long the animal is, the pilot of a remotely operated vehicle used lasers to determine the size of the siphonophore’s outer ring and estimated it was 154 feet long (!), based on its diameter.

“We think it’s the longest animal recorded to date,” said Carlie Wiener, director of marine communications at the institute.

Siphonophores are deep-sea predators related to jellyfish and corals that catch prey including tiny crustaceans and fish, in their curtain of stinging cells. The colony in the images is made up of thousands of individual, specialized clone bodies, that work together as a team.

A different type of siphonophore, which are often called “superorganisms”.
Photo courtesy of NOAA National Marine Fisheries.

“There is so much we don’t know about the deep sea, and there are countless species never before seen,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute, in a statement. “The Ningaloo Canyons are just one of many vast underwater wonders we are about to discover that can help us better understand our planet.”

Warming oceans are trapping shellfish in hotspots they can’t escape

A new study has found marine creatures like mussels could be vulnerable to a phenomenon known as "elevator to extinction," in which increasing temperatures are driving them towards new, less secure habitats
A new study has found marine creatures like mussels could be vulnerable to a phenomenon known as “elevator to extinction,” in which increasing temperatures are driving them towards new, less secure habitats
VIEW 1 IMAGES

Many species are expected to be displaced as the world continues to warm and natural habitats are transformed, and this is true both on land and at sea. Scientists studying more than half a century of data on bottom-dwelling shellfish have uncovered evidence of a destructive feedback loop, in which generations of these marine creatures are becoming trapped in warmer areas that threaten their survival.

The research was carried out at Rutgers University and throws up some counter-intuitive revelations concerning the migration of marine species. Many creatures will respond to warming waters by traveling to cooler areas for refuge, but the scientists found a number of species that do just the opposite, a phenomenon they call “wrong-way migration.”

These include sea scallops, blue mussels, clams and quahogs, which the team notes are valuable resources for the shellfish industry, with the team drawing its conclusions from more than six decades of data on more than 50 species off the north-east coast of the US. Around 80 percent of the species studied could no longer be found in their traditional habitats, turning up in shallower, warmer waters instead.

“These deeper, colder waters of the outer shelf should provide a refuge from warming so it is puzzling that species distributions are contracting into shallower water,” says lead author of the study Heidi Fuchs.

Once there, they are already less likely to survive, but the ones that do and go on to reach adulthood become part of a destructive feedback loop, with these warmer regions again causing the earlier spawning of their larvae, and the cycle then repeats.

While this study only looks at bottom-dwelling invertebrates from one general location, the findings are consistent with trends observed in other animals whose habitat is being affected by climate change. This is sometimes called the “elevator to extinction” phenomenon, where animals like birds and butterflies are driven to higher and higher altitudes to escape increasing temperatures until they can no longer be found in areas they originally inhabited.

Earth Should Be Dry – An Unexpected Meteorite Discovery Reveals the Origin of Earth’s Vast Oceans

Earth's Oceans

Meteorite material presumed to be devoid of water because it formed in the dry inner Solar System appears to have contained sufficient hydrogen to have delivered to Earth at least three times the mass of water in its oceans, a new study shows.

While the idea that enstatite chondrite (EC) meteorites contained enough hydrogen to provide water to the growing proto-Earth has been proposed, efforts to rigorously test this scenario have been hampered by difficulties in measuring hydrogen concentrations in ECs — an obstacle this study overcame.

According to models of Solar System formation, Earth should be dry. However, our blue planet’s vast oceans, humid atmosphere and well-hydrated geology boldly defy such predictions, making it unique among the other rocky planets of the inner Solar System.

Thus, while debated, the origin of Earth’s water remains unknown.

Enstatite chondrite meteorites — space rocks forged from the nebula that formed the Solar System — are known to be representative of the rocks from which Earth was built. However, because ECs formed close to the sun, where conditions were too warm for water ice to survive, ECs have been assumed to be too dry to account for Earth’s rich reservoirs of water. As such, Earth’s water is therefore generally thought to be a late addition following the planet’s formation, delivered by more hydrated materials like carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, which originated in the outer solar system where water was more abundant.

To constrain the uncertainties surrounding the origin of Earth’s water, Laurette Piani and colleagues measured the hydrogen content and deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio in thirteen EC meteorites, finding that ECs harbor far more hydrogen than previously assumed. Following further analyses involving modeling of Earth’s formation that involved mixing of chondrite-like materials, the authors estimate that the EC-like materials that coalesced during the planet’s early formation could have delivered enough hydrogen to the growing proto-Earth to provide at least three times the amount of water in Earth’s present-day oceans.

The D/H ratio and nitrogen isotope compositions of the analyzed ECs closely align with those of the Earth’s mantle, supporting Piani et al.’s claims that the origins of Earth’s water lay within the rocks from which the planet was built. “[Piani et al.’s] work brings a crucial and elegant element to this puzzle. Earth’s water may simply come from the nebular material from which the planet accreted,” writes Anne H. Peslier in a related Perspective.

The authors note they cannot determine exactly when the material was delivered, but it must have been sufficiently late during Earth’s formation.

Read Unexpected Findings Result in New Origin Theory for Earth’s Water for more on this discovery.

Reference: “Earth’s water may have been inherited from material similar to enstatite chondrite meteorites” by Laurette Piani, Yves Marrocchi, Thomas Rigaudier, Lionel G. Vacher, Dorian Thomassin and Bernard Marty, 28 August 2020, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba1948

Ocean carbon uptake widely underestimated

https://phys.org/news/2020-09-ocean-carbon-uptake-widely-underestimated.html

ocean
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The world’s oceans soak up more carbon than most scientific models suggest, according to new research.

Previous estimates of the movement of carbon (known as “flux”) between the atmosphere and oceans have not accounted for  differences at the water’s surface and a few metres below.

The new study, led by the University of Exeter, includes this—and finds significantly higher net flux of carbon into the oceans.

It calculates CO2 fluxes from 1992 to 2018, finding up to twice as much net flux in certain times and locations, compared to uncorrected models.

“Half of the carbon dioxide we emit doesn’t stay in the atmosphere but is taken up by the oceans and land vegetation ‘sinks’,” said Professor Andrew Watson, of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute.

“Researchers have assembled a  of near-surface carbon dioxide measurements—the “Surface Ocean Carbon Atlas” (http://www.socat.info) – that can be used to calculate the flux of CO2 from the atmosphere into the .

“Previous studies that have done this have, however, ignored small temperature differences between the surface of the ocean and the depth of a few metres where the measurements are made.

“Those differences are important because carbon dioxide solubility depends very strongly on temperature.

“We used  to correct for these temperature differences, and when we do that it makes a big difference—we get a substantially larger flux going into the ocean.

“The difference in ocean uptake we calculate amounts to about 10 per cent of global fossil fuel emissions.”

Dr. Jamie Shutler, of the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, added: “Our revised estimate agrees much better than previously with an independent method of calculating how much carbon dioxide is being taken up by the ocean.

“That method makes use of a global ocean survey by research ships over decades, to calculate how the inventory of carbon in the ocean has increased.

“These two ‘big data’ estimates of the ocean sink for CO2 now agree pretty well, which gives us added confidence in them.”

The paper, published in Nature Communications, is entitled: “Revised estimates of ocean-atmosphere CO2 flux are consistent with ocean  inventory.”

Massive release of methane gas from the seafloor discovered for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere

https://phys.org/news/2020-09-massive-methane-gas-seafloor-southern.html

Massive release of methane gas from the seafloor discovered for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere
The metal tube is being deployed from the vessel to penetrate the bottom of the sea and bring sediment samples. Credit: Bruno Todeschini

Gas hydrate is an ice-like substance formed by water and methane at depths of several hundred meters at the bottom of our oceans at high pressure and low temperatures. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, roughly 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and it is estimated that methane frozen in these sediments constitute the largest organic carbon reservoir on Earth. The fact that methane gas has now started leaking out through gas hydrate dissociation is not good news for the climate.

This process is believed to have triggered and amplified climate changes in our geological past. In collaboration with Brazilian and French colleagues, the researchers at Linnaeus University have now, with the help of sediment samplers and remotely-operated submarines, discovered that this process takes place in the Southern Hemisphere. The samples with gas hydrates have been collected in the South Atlantic sediments, near the Brazilian coast.

“These findings contribute with new evidence that this is a global phenomenon,” says Marcelo Ketzer.

The researchers could also demonstrate that when methane reaches the ocean water it is dissolved and consumed to a certain extent by microorganisms, which results in the formation of . It is known that, in large quantities, this process can change the chemistry of the oceans.

“The hydrate dissociation and related methane leakage to our oceans is a long-term process that can last for several centuries, and it can lead to a significant amplification of the  effects and to changes in the oceans chemistry, for instance, in the form of further acidification,” Ketzer continues.

The data was collected during three offshore expeditions in the South Atlantic Ocean in 2011, 2013, and 2014 and have recently been processed and modeled at Linnaeus University, which resulted in the publication of an article in Nature Communications.

“We now continue working with these data and results in order to get a better understanding of how much methane there is in the studied region, and how much may be released from gas hydrate dissociation into the  water in the future,” says Marcelo Ketzer.

The same research group from Linnaeus University participated in an offshore expedition before the summer to study the accumulation of methane in the Baltic Sea as well.

“There is no gas hydrate on the Baltic Sea because it is too shallow, but we did find significant accumulations of methane in the sediments,” Ketzer concludes.

Can the world unite to combat illegal fishing?

Can the world unite to combat illegal fishing?
NEWS

A tuna transhipment operation between a Taiwanese and a Panamanian vessel on the high seas in the Indian Ocean, in April 2013.

(Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace)

A totally illegal industry that nonetheless brings in billions of dollars every year,IUU (illegal, unauthorised or unreported) fishing is the blight of the oceans. At a time when fish populations are in freefall – Pacific bluefin tuna populations have dropped by 97 per cent relative to their historical level – and the international community is trying to preserve the wealth of the oceans, illegal practices at sea continue to thrive. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), IUU fishing accounts for as much as 20 to 30 per cent of the fisheries sector, with an estimated annual turnover of between US$10 and 23 billion.

IUU fishing is a highly lucrative and organised business. “It is most often conducted by vessels that actually have fishing licences,” Pavel Klinckhamers, project leader of the pan-Asian Greenpeace campaign to end illegal fishing, tells Equal Times. “There are many boats that may well have licences but they still fish illegally for species they are not allowed to catch or in places where they are not authorised to fish,” he adds.

“IUU fishing is not just about fishing without a licence,” says Heather Stimmler, media director for Sea Shepherd Global. “The most common form of IUU is poaching, of course, but it can also take on much less spectacular forms, which are much harder to detect.” Overfishing and unreported fishing of protected fish species are examples of the abuses faced by ocean defenders.

As Peter Horn, director of the Ending Illegal Fishing Project at the Pew Trust, points out: “There are several reports suggesting that one in five fish is caught through IUU fishing. And whilst the figure is certainly lower in European waters, in areas under stress, such as the coast of West Africa, it is estimated at two in five fish. The impact of these activities is significant, and for certain vulnerable countries, it is catastrophic.”

The plight of small-scale fishers

More fragile countries are easier targets for IUU fishing because they lack the resources to monitor their coast properly. “IUU fishing is symptomatic of countries where political authority is weak,” Peter Horn tells Equal Times. And as Lindsay Jennings, IUU fishing project director for FishWise tells us, it is “a threat to marine ecosystems and food security” in vulnerable countries such as Ghana.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing can hold disastrous repercussions for these countries: overfishing empties territorial waters of their fish and createsfood insecurity for hundreds of small-scale fishers who depend on these resources to survive and to feed their families.

In Ghana, for example, IUU fishing is a threat to the 2.5 million people who depend on marine resources for survival. The country’s waters have been among the most overfished in the world since 2012, particularly by Chinese fleets, as detailed in a report by the Environmental Justice Foundation.

An estimated 37 per cent of the fish caught in Ghana each year is IUU, creating annual losses of around US$1 billion. The country is located in one of the areas worst affected by illegal fishing – West Africa, although the waters in certain parts of Asia and the coasts of Latin America are also hugely overexploited, by Chinese long-distance fleets in the main but also by some European shipowners. These excesses are part of the wider trend of ‘ocean grabbing’, with strong political powers taking advantage of weaker ones.

The worst abuses often take place with impunity in these hotspots, with IUU fishing operations taking full advantage of the sheer immensity of our seas and oceans. For developing countries, exercising control over their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), areas extending 200 nautical miles from the coast where countries have special rights to explore and use resources, is a real struggle. EEZs represent vast areas for the maritime authorities of countries already faced with substantial economic difficulties and insecurity on land.

Flags of convenience and untraceable fish

Sea pirates are all the more difficult to punish as they are free to hide in international waters, which represent more than 60 per cent of the world’s seas and oceans, and do not come under the jurisdiction of any state. “Once you are in international waters, no country has the authority to make an arrest,” says Stimmler. Because under the law of the sea, the legislation that applies to a ship in international waters is the law of the country whose flag it is flying. A simple rule…on the face of it.

But thanks to what are known as flags of convenience or open registries, pirates of all kinds are free to act with impunity on the world’s oceans. Shipowners often choose them because they are more lax in terms of safety standards or labour laws. Thirty-five countries are considered to have flags of convenience by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). The main ones are Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands. According to a 2015 report, 71 per cent of merchant fleet tonnage was registered under flags of convenience, compared with 51.3 per cent in 2005.

While not all flags of convenience imply illegal activities, the ease with which pirate ships can change their country of registration makes it more difficult to track them down.

“These flags symbolise the lack of transparency around fishing,” Horn tells Equal Times. “They allow certain shipowners to make it more difficult to identify them.” The level of regulation is, however, increasing. The number of flags of convenience has seen a slight fall since 2015, according to the Pew Trust project director.

The lack of regulation around the oceans is one of the main reasons so many abuses are committed. The flags of convenience are not the only problem: transhipment, which allows fishing vessels to stay at sea for months on end and to transfer their catches to other vessels that take them back to port, is another source of widespread criticism. “The problem with this practice is that it is not properly regulated and it opens the door to IUU fishing and all kinds of trafficking on the high seas,” Horn tells Equal Times. And as Heather Stimmler explains: “Small boats can fish illegally, as once their fish is transferred, it becomes impossible to trace the products.” It is a veritable ‘fish laundering’ tool.

In an attempt to preserve transhipment while regulating it more effectively, the FAO is currently working on a new set of rules in a bid to clarify the ethical practices to be used during this process. At-sea transhipment could be banned in favour of transhipment near ports, which would enable better goods regulation and allow more observers in charge of monitoring fishing practices to board vessels.

The example of FISH-i in Africa

The countries of the world are trying to mobilise to tackle IUU fishing. Bodies such as Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) have been set up in several parts of the world to ensure better fishing regulation and vessel monitoring. “The fight against IUU fishing is a team sport,” says Horn. Indeed, the detention of pirate vessels may require the intervention of several countries. And to facilitate management and monitoring operations, several associations are calling for the introduction of unique identification numbers for all vessels, so that they can be traced throughout their life.

“This requires real cooperation between the various countries,” says Stimmler. And the idea is beginning to take hold. The non-profit organisation Stop Illegal Fishing (SIF), based in Gaborone, Botswana, has created the FISH-i task force, a group of eight countries from the region that are all working together. The region’s governments, Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd are working in partnership to improve the chances of stopping pirate vessels. And this type of operation is bearing fruit.

“Over the past five years, more and more countries have become aware of the magnitude of the problem and the number of arrests has increased,” says Sea Shepherd’s media director.

New technologies, such as cameras and surveillance systems, are also part of the solution. there is no shortage of solutions. What are often in short supply, however, are the means. Whilst the Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), set up by states to track fishery activity around the globe, provide some hope and encouragement, their effectiveness remains limited: “I am always amazed, when I am at sea, on the coast of West Africa, to see the difference between the vessel tracking system results and what I actually see on the water,” says Klinckhamers. “There are always 50 to 100 per cent more boats in the areas monitored, so you only see the tip of the iceberg through technology.” The key perhaps lies in expanding the number of surveillance mechanisms. French researchers have, for example, developeda system to track albatrosses that follow fishing boats for food – using sensors to record the undeclared presence of boats.

Agreements and subsidies

The international community is not standing idle in the face of this issue. The Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), signed in 2010, is the first internationally binding agreement specifically dealing with illegal fishing. Its main objective is to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal fishing, preventing vessels engaged in these activities from using ports to land their catches. The agreement seeks to discourage vessels from engaging in such activities and to stop illegal fisheries products from reaching national and international markets.

Another initiative taken by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) seeks to put an end to the fisheries subsidies in place in many countries. This practice makes fish artificially cheap and encourages illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The international organisation is calling on countries to refrain from granting new ones. “The WTO is negotiating with many of the countries providing these detrimental subsidies,” Lindsay Jennings of FishWise tells Equal Times.

Such initiatives may well bear fruit in the years to come. But we need to act more quickly.

Given the scale of the IUU fishing phenomenon, ever more oceanographers are calling on the international community to take urgent action to create more marine protected areas and to reduce the world’s fishing fleet.

A first step in the right direction was taken last June when Senegal refused new fishing authorisations for China’s long-distance fishing fleet, which was requesting licences for 52 new vessels, despite the overcrowding already affecting Senegal’s waters. The decision was taken under pressure from small-scale fishers and local environmental groups. But progress is slow.

It took the international community ten years to agree on the need to establish a High Seas Treaty, on which the first negotiations began in 2018. The aim is to create a new binding international legal instrument to protect the biodiversity of the oceans and promote the sustainable use of this biodiversity on the high seas. The treaty discussed at the UN was due to be finalised in March and should establish marine protected areas to enable fish stocks to recover. Consideration of the text has, however, been postponed, as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Greenpeace calls it a “last chance treaty” for the oceans. Time is running out: marine species have declined by 39 per cent in 40 years, in a world where 3.8 billion people depend on the oceans for food.

This story has been translated from French.