April 27, 2016 Edition
A biweekly round-up of news and trends important to the AltaSea community.
Unnatural Selection (The New Yorker)
Ruth Gates, Director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, recently received a four million dollar grant to research a “super coral” that can withstand the devastating effects of humans, including warming water and ocean acidification. To do this corals will be raised in the conditions marine creatures will likely confront later this century; the ones that survive will be bred with each other to see if the offspring can do even better. This selective breeding is something done regularly in the animal and food world, but it’s uncommon in conservation, perhaps because it feels less than natural. Even if a super coral is developed, the time it would take to grow and the mechanism needed to spread it across the world still pose a challenge. To all the naysayers out there Gates says, “There are many, many unknowns… I feel that we’re at this point where we need to throw caution to the wind and just try.”
As Kera Mathes, an education specialist at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, was spending six hours each day on a boat as part of the aquarium’s whale-watching program she realized that she was in a position to contribute greatly to research on cetaceans (whales and dolphins). She started an internship program that brings interns on every trip to photograph and catalog the species, time, weather conditions and the boat’s GPS coordinates for each cetacean sighted. The data is then shared with the Cascadia Research Collective. But Mathes needed more help. San Diego State University and NOAA were interested in bottlenose dolphin data, but the dolphins needed to be identified by their photos. Enter the citizen scientist! After training, these volunteers contribute four hours per week for a minimum of three months identifying the dolphins. Without their efforts much of the data collected would likely go to waste.
The Great Barrier Reef has already been threatened by climate change and El Niño, and now research says the warm waters may have an additional downside: damaging the biological mechanism that helps coral prepare for extreme temperatures. Reefs that lose their thermal protection in the future will degrade faster and stay in a degraded state for a longer period. In addition to providing a habitat for fish, coral reefs store carbon dioxide and act as a barrier protecting coastlines from flooding. Though nearly 200 countries agreed last year to work to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C, it may be too little, too late for the coral.
In the UK there is a great debate over what the National Environment Research Council should name its new $286 million research vessel. The Council asked the public to vote on a name, and the public overwhelming voted for the name Boaty McBoatface. But Jo Johnson, the science minister, may activate the government’s get-out clause. He feels that the new ship deserves a more serious name that reflects the nature of the work it will be doing. Communications and PR experts are in disagreement over what name should be used, though most recommend keeping the name chosen by the public.
SUSTAINABLE AND INNOVATIVE BUSINESS
Eat an Invasive Species for Dinner (The Atlantic)
Lionfish, a popular resident of many aquariums, was introduced to the Florida ecosystem in the 1980s. Since then, and especially in the last 15 years, the fish have been wreaking environmental havoc. Now vendors, chefs and diners are starting to realize the best way to deal with the problem might just be to eat them. A rating of “best choice” from Seafood Watch and increased demand from chefs are leading to greater supply as fisherman see increasing value and demand. Lionfish are now at the cusp of going mainstream and will soon be sold at Whole Foods.
Camp SEA Lab Turns Kids Into Junior Marine Scientists (Monterey County Weekly)
Learning and inspiration are often spurred by experience, and that is just what Camp SEA Lab is counting on. The summer camp, run by California State University Monterey Bay, hosts residential and day camps with different themes like tidal zones, plankton and sharks. Children get the opportunity to learn through activities like sand crab surveys, tidepooling and whale watching; but they also get to go surfing and snorkeling − activities that help connect them to the ocean. Campers also get to see what a career in marine science is like, including the chance to go out on the research boat and observe college students in action. Amity Wood, the camp’s director, said that the camp isn’t just aimed at inspiring future marine scientists; it’s about making every kid, no matter what they want to do in life, a future ocean steward.
Here’s Why the Coastal Commission Director’s Ouster Didn’t Upset Jerry Brown (Los Angeles Times)
In February, Coastal Commission Director Charles Lester was fired by the coastal commissioners who serve at the pleasure of Governor Brown, a story we shared in a previous issue of AltaSea: Trending. After Lester’s ousting and amid concerns that he was fired because he wasn’t very open to coastal development, supporters began to demand an explanation from the Governor. A spokesperson for Governor Brown says that he played no role in the commission’s decision. However, when Lester was appointed, then-commission Chairwoman Mary Shallenberger recalls that Governor Brown’s office made it very clear they were angry about the selection process and the fact that they were not consulted before he was hired.
‘Revolving Door’: Influx of More Than 100 Stranded Sea Lions (NBC Los Angeles)
The Laguna Beach Pacific Marine Mammal Center has a problem: way too many sea lions are in need of care. Not only are more sea lions washing up sick on shores, many are older and take longer to recover. The reason for the influx: a disappearing cold water food source. As the waters warm, sea lions must dive deeper to get to the food, which sinks with the colder water, weeding out many sea lions that can’t dive deeply (particularly the pups!). As the waters continue to warm into the summer months, the outlook is bleak for the sea lions.