Category Archives: Ocean

“Escaping Extinction: Whale Sharks of the Maldives”

“Escaping Extinction: Whale Sharks of the Maldives” produced by Ashley Kelly, will premiere at the 2017 WCFF this October in New York, NY.

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For over 60 million years, the mysterious Whale Shark has traversed the open sea, but very little is known about the world’s largest fish, this docile shark. Maldivian communities are proud to celebrate the Whale /Sharks and their marine biodiversity.

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These days, Whale Sharks in the Maldives are safe from their number one predator, man…. but this has not always been the case.

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Join us for the 7th year anniversary of the WCFF. October 19-29 in New York. Ten days of film screenings, panel discussions, receptions, field trips, conference and weekend retreat with film producers and scientists. WCFF is the only film festival on the planet whose mission is to inform, engage and inspire wildlife conservation and the protection of global biodiversity.

“Oceanic Aliens”: Otherworldly Creatures of the Deep

“Oceanic Aliens”, produced by Mike Johnson, will be a World Premiere at the 2017 WCFF in New York, NY this October.

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More is known about outer space than our very own oceans. This short documentary illustrates just one example of little known class of marine species and their amazing attributes.

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“Oceanic Aliens” is a short documentary compiled from two Pelagic Black Water dives in Kona, Hawaii. Johnson was able to research and identify many of the creatures that appeared in such startling beauty in the film.

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Join us for the 7th year anniversary of the WCFF. October 19-29 in New York. Ten days of film screenings, panel discussions, receptions, field trips, conference and weekend retreat with film producers and scientists. WCFF is the only film festival on the planet whose mission is to inform, engage and inspire wildlife conservation and the protection of global biodiversity.

The Epic Battle Against Invasive Lionfish

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First reported near Florida in the 1980s, lionfish have since spread throughout southeastern U.S. waters, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea, taking over coasts from New York to Brazil. These brightly-striped ornamental fish, native to the Indo-Pacific, were believed to have been let loose in U.S. waters by the aquarium trade.The problem: with insatiable appetites (they’ve been found to eat over 70 fish/invertebrate species) these invasive creatures have since wreaked havoc on coral reefs and fisheries, eating both other species’ prey and grazers that clean algae from reefs. Plus, no predators have stepped in to gobble up the strange species, allowing the fish to reproduce relatively unchecked.

Still, scientists and environmentally-minded entrepreneurs alike have been taking action against ballooning lionfish populations, creating and testing everything from underwater robots to fish traps loaded with special recognition software, all designed to drastically lower the lionfish headcount. “It’s the inverse of every fisheries management plan you’ve ever heard of,” says marine biologist Corey Eddy, who focuses on lionfish near Bermuda. “Usually we’re trying to minimize the pressure on fish populations so they can rebound. Now we’re saying, let’s start wiping them out.”

Though strategies like hosting spearfishing tournaments and giving out special lionfish culling permits can help individuals nab hundreds of lionfish in a day, this is nothing compared with the two million eggs a female lionfish could spawn every year. Add that to the fact that they can lurk below 130 feet, too deep for average divers, and scientists have speculated that robots may be better than humans at controlling lionfish populations.

Colin Angle, cofounder of iRobot, had this same thought while diving in Bermuda, only natural since his company has created robots from the Roomba to radioactive nuclear waste cleaners. Inspired by the idea to employ robots in lionsih control, Angle and his wife, biochemist Erika Ebbel, began nonprofit Robots in Service of the Environment (RISE), with the goal of creating an affordable autonomous underwater robot that lethally shocks lionfish by early next year. RISE members feel that lionfish could ultimately become the next popular delicacy, a demand that would vastly help limit lionfish populations. “Ultimately the way this becomes a success is by creating a market and the interest of consumers in eating lionfish,” says John Rizzi, executive director of RISE. “The best way to challenge the sustainability of a species is for humans to eat it. Whether that’s good or bad, in this case that will benefit the environment.”

Similarly, recreational divers Bryan and Anna Clark were inspired to start a nonprofit environmental group called Coast Watch Alliance, which works to simultaneously protect reefs and battle lionfish. Bryan Clark is working on a prototype to suck up the fish with a vacuum-like gulp. He’s also developing a “hunting ROV” (remote-operated vehicle) with a camera to seek out the fish before diving down. He feels that both technology and financial motives will help decimate the lionfish. “Some people are going to harvest lionfish because it’s great for the environment, others will do it because it’s fun to do while they’re diving. But a lot of people are going to do it because they’re going to make some money taking lionfish to the market,” he says.

It just so happens that lionfish have already unwittingly stepped into the spiny lobster fishery commercial market, as 20 percent of lobster traps end up catching lionfish as well. “lf the lionfish are showing up in those traps, uninvited and unintended, then why not get them to show up intentionally?” notes diver Bob Hickerson, who’s putting his contractor skills to good use by designing a better lionfish trap. The “Frapper Trap” (from the French word meaning “to strike down”) will implement a pattern recognition program to seize lionfish, and let other species free. Along with his wife, Maria, his father-in-law, and volunteers from Team Frapper, he hopes to have a trap ready to test in the next six months. “We can’t stand back and watch our reefs being taken over by lionfish,” he says.

Nevertheless, even with such a broad range of arsenals being developed, experts believe that total destruction of lionfish is impossible, though creating a strong commercial market for selling the species to diners could prevent them from devastating entire ecosystems.

“I think commercial incentive will be a big part of the solution, supplemented by spearfishing in shallow water and some of these other things,” says Stephen Gittings, science coordinator at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “Some of these might sound like crazy ideas, but you never know until you try.”

Source: Gaworecki, Mike. “The lionfish invasion: a call to arms?” Mongabay. 14 December 2016.

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Obama announces Atlantic Ocean’s first national monument

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Water in the designated region is projected to warm three times faster than the global average, according to National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research, changes which will threaten species like salmon, lobster, and scallops. Recreational fishermen will still be permitted in the region, but red crab and lobster fisheries will have to end fishing in the monument area within seven years, and commercial fishermen will have two months to make the switch.

“We’re helping make oceans more resilient to climate change,” President Obama said. “And this will help fishermen better understand the changes that are taking place that will affect their livelihood, and we’re doing it in a way that respects the fishing industry’s unique role in New England’s economy and history.”

Nevertheless, New England fishermen claim the protected region will harm the fishing industry, and they feel Obama was wrong to implement the creation of protected areas under the Antiquities Act.  In August, Obama used the authorities given by this act to create the world’s largest marine national monument off the coast of Hawaii.

Said National Coalition for Fishing Communities spokesman Bob Vanasse, “We don’t normally create laws in this country by the stroke of an imperial pen. We anticipate the offshore lobster industry will be affected to the tune of about $10 million per year. On top of that, one of the most affected industries is going to be the Atlantic red crab industry. It is going to be very significantly impacted.”

However, the White House noted that NOAA will work with Congress to help New England fishermen, using programs that provide low-interest loans for ship rehabilitation, new ship acquisitions, aquaculture, shoreside fisheries, and fishing gear repair and upgrades.

Said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council: “We need sustainable fisheries and economically sustainable communities. This monument can help bring both forward.”

Source: Dasgupta, Shreya. “Obama creates Atlantic Ocean’s first marine national monument.” Mongabay. 19 September 19 2016.

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Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
Biodiversity & Wildlife Crime Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
Founder & CEO
Christopher@WCFF.org
www.WCFF.org

Facebook.com/WCFForg
Twitter: @WCFF_org
Twitter: @CJGERVAIS
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How Humpback Whales Were Brought Back from the Brink

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Humpback whales have been hunted almost to the edge of extinction for hundreds of years. However, major efforts to protect them in the past forty years have finally paid off in significant and measurable ways, as shown in an NOAA Fisheries announcement this week reporting that 9 of 14 known humpback populations worldwide have now recovered enough to be removed from the US List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, most of which are in the southern hemisphere. “The data behind the humpback delisting is solid,” says NOAA marine ecologist Robert Pitman, a NatGeo Society grant recipient studying these amazing creatures. “Those of us that have been on the water working with whales for the past thirty to forty years have been amazed at the recovery that we have seen.”

Marta Nammack, NOAA Fisheries’ national Endangered Species Act listing coordinator, notes that while five humpback populations are still struggling and will remain on the list, it makes sense to remove the groups that have been successful at recovering. Each of the fourteen populations that make up the estimated 100,000 total humpbacks are recognized as being genetically distinct, suggesting that the populations’ statuses and threats to their survival should be studied and assessed separately. For example, she says, lethal entanglement in fishing nets is a much greater extinction threat for the 82 humpbacks remaining in the Arabian Sea, as compared with the 10,000 whales in the Hawaiian humpback population. “We may not be able to delist the entire species,” says Nammack, “but by dividing them up the way we did, we can see substantial progress for their recovery across a good portion of the species.”

Prior to the humpbacks, distinct gray whale populations were delisted separately from one another depending on various extinction threats they faced. After a successful recovery, the Eastern North Pacific population of gray whales was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994, but the Western North Pacific population remains an endangered group.

The delisting of several humpback populations will not mean that they will become instantly vulnerable to hunting and other manmade threats that would cause their numbers to plunge. In fact, every humpback population will remain protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which bans harassing, feeding, hunting, capturing, collecting, or killing any marine mammal in US waters. In addition, the International Whaling Commission has banned hunting humpbacks since 1982.

NOAA Fisheries reported filing two regulations that mandate whale watching and other boats keep a 100-yard distance from all humpbacks. “The decision [to delist] shows the power of the Endangered Species Act. But the job isn’t done,” says Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Kristen Monsell. She describes the threats that climate change, ocean noise, and ship strikes will continue to pose to humpbacks, making maintenance of existing protections necessary. “We’re lucky to share our oceans with these amazing animals, and we should be doing everything we can to protect them,” she says.

Nammack and Pitman point out that the delisting is exciting news not only for humpbacks, but also for the laws and programs that helped them along the way to recovery. Concludes Pitman, “This is a win for humpbacks and the listing process. Delisting is ultimately what we are all after.”

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Source: Bittel, Jason. “The Plan to Save the Humpback Whales—and How It Succeeded.” National Geographic. 9 Sept 2016.

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Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
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60% of Adélie Penguins Could Disappear This Century

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New research shows that climate change may vastly devastate Adélie penguin colonies by 2099. Nearly two-thirds of the penguins, which live only in Antarctica, could be gone within this century due to warming sea surfaces not conducive for penguin chicks. In a Scientific Reports study, researchers warned that the excessive warmth linked with climate change is extremely harmful to the species. “It is only in recent decades that we know Adélie penguins population declines are associated with warming, which suggests that many regions of Antarctica have warmed too much and that further warming is no longer positive for the species,” lead author Dr. Megan Cimino said.

Adélie penguin colonies are centralized across the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP), among the fastest-warming places on Earth, and populations have already shown declines in response. More than any other region, WAP has faced warmer than normal sea surface temperature in recent years, a condition known as “novel climate”. According to Cimino, penguin numbers have decreased by around 80% since significantly higher temperatures were noted. “These two things seem to be happening in the WAP at a higher rate than in other areas during the same time period,” Cimino noted.

Climate projections reveal that this region will continue to experience increasingly frequent years of novel climate this century, presenting a threat that could ravage already-fragile penguin populations. Researchers examined a wide range of global climate models and satellite data, as penguin colonies can now be seen and studied from space. Based on their findings, 30% of current Adélie penguins could disappear by 2060, and 60% could be gone by 2099.

Intriguingly, researchers found that in areas where climate change is slow, Adélie numbers are “steady or increasing”, further strengthening the link between climate change and Adélie decline. Scientists hope that these slow-to-warm spots will become refugia, or places for once widespread but now isolated animal populations to survive, even if that survival remains tenuous. East Antarctic peninsula Cape Adare, is one such spot where climate changes have been less extreme. Said Cimino, “The Cape Adare region of the Ross Sea is home to the earliest known penguin occupation and has the largest known Adélie penguin rookery in the world. Though the climate there is expected to warm a bit, it looks like it could be a refugium in the future, and if you look back over geologic time it was likely one in the past.”

Extrapolating on current climate change patterns, these scientists predicted surviving Antarctic penguins will concentrate in southern Antarctica over the next century.

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Source: Worley, Will. “Climate change ‘to devastate penguin populations in Antarctica by up to 60 per cent by the end of the century’.” Independent. 29 June 2016

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
Biodiversity & Wildlife Crime Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
Founder & CEO
Christopher@WCFF.org
www.WCFF.org

Facebook.com/WCFForg
Twitter: @WCFF_org
Twitter: @CJGERVAIS
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First Marine Protected Area in Cambodia Announced

schooling-fish-801x600M’Pai Bai jetty with school of fish. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries recently declared a 156-square mile region of the Koh Rong Archipelago the nation’s first marine protected area. The Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA), located by the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, houses diverse species of sea turtles and seahorses and protects their fragile nursery and breeding sites.

In addition to preserving wildlife, the plan still allows for human activities in the area: “The MFMA will help to drive sustainable fishing activities of the community, protect biodiversity and promote ecotourism, all of which contribute to achieving the goal of the fisheries sector,” said Ouk Vibol, director of Cambodia’s Department of Fisheries Conservation, who pushed for creation of the protected area. “This is a good management model, as many stakeholders — including development partners, the private sector, local authorities and the local community — are working together to manage the fisheries resource for sustainable use.”

Blue-spotted-rays-902x600Blue-spotted ray. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.

For the past five years, local groups such as the Song Saa Foundation and Save Cambodian Marine Life have worked alongside non-profit Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration to help the MFMA come to fruition. FFI’s Coastal and Marine Project Manager Kate West said that between 60 and 80% of local communities around the archipelago rely on fishing and tourism, making it critical that the new MFMA ensured “that the waters around Koh Rong can continue to support not only marine life but also local livelihoods long into the future.”

The Song Saa Foundation has further pushed the initiative forward by providing baseline research on the health of local coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses. “The establishment of this MFMA is a major step towards protecting biodiversity of key marine fauna and habitats in the archipelago, as well as the communities that rely upon them for their well being,” noted Ben Thorne, a Song Saa Foundation project director. “We are hugely proud of our collaborative efforts over the past five years to establish this protected area, ensuring successful conservation of fisheries resources, whilst supporting local communities, for many years to come.”

Source: Gaworecki, Mike. “Cambodia declares first-ever marine protected area.” Mongabay. 24 June 2016.

Flabellina-nudibranchFlabellina nudibranch, a colorful sea slug. Photo by Paul Colley / Fauna & Flora International.

 

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
Biodiversity & Wildlife Crime Conference
Christopher J. Gervais, F.R.G.S.
Founder & CEO
Christopher@WCFF.org
http://www.WCFF.org

Facebook.com/WCFForg
Twitter: @WCFF_org
Twitter: @CJGERVAIS
Instagram: @wcff_org
Vimeo.com/wcff
dailymotion.com/WCFF1
LinkedIn: Wildlife Conservation Film Festival