EDFish

Are plastic eating bacteria the solution to ocean pollution? Science shows it’s not that simple

Recent reporting on the discovery and enhancement of plastic-dissolving enzymes in bacteria made me stop and think about what this might mean for the plastic pollution problem that is plaguing the oceans, including the world’s coral reefs.

While this development is interesting, and draws necessary focus to the immense problem of plastic pollution in the ocean, it is premature to guess whether these kinds of enzymes might provide an effective “silver bullet” for treating plastics floating in the five great gyres of the sea.

There is so much more we need to understand about the complex relationships between plastics and marine ecosystems before we can take draconian action. In other words, it’s too soon to start spraying the ocean with so-called plastic-eating bacteria. Read More »

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How getting fishing right can help protect threatened ocean wildlife

It’s safe to say that a wide range of people are passionate about protecting the wild and wonderful creatures of the sea.  My most moving underwater experience – during twenty years and more than 1,200 scuba dives – was a prolonged close encounter off St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, with a juvenile humpback whale, which kept coming back to interact intimately with our small group, again and again.  I will never forget that gift from the sea, and have dedicated my career as a marine scientist to protecting ocean ecosystems and the people who depend on them. Read More »

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New research quantifies growing threat plastics pose to coral reefs

Alamy Richard Whitcombe

Plastic waste in the ocean poses a wholly unexpected and serious threat to coral reefs.  The results from new research published in Science are sobering, but there is hope if we act now to mitigate the most significant threats facing corals and the vulnerable communities who depend on healthy coastal ecosystems for food and livelihoods.

As one of the co-authors, I was greatly surprised at the elevated risk of disease to corals caused by plastic: from 4% in corals without plastic, to 89% in corals with plastic.  Given that the study estimated that there are already more than 11 billion plastic items on reefs across the Asia-Pacific region, and that plastic loads in the ocean are expected to grow radically, this is bad news indeed. Read More »

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Empowered fishermen play an important role in reducing seafood waste

Seafood for sale at the Pike's Place Market in Seattle, WA. Photo: Kate Culzoni

Seafood for sale at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, WA. Photo: Kate Culzoni

Squandering ocean fish—an essential living resource—unnecessarily harms not only wild creatures, but also the billions of people around the world dependent upon fish for their food and livelihoods.

A recent report by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future finds that between 2009 and 2013, billions of pounds of seafood is wasted every year in the United States—that’s as much as 47% of all edible seafood going to waste. The waste occurs throughout the seafood supply chain, but also in wild fish discarded at sea, sometimes called “bycatch” or “discards.” Fortunately, there are good answers to the bycatch part of this challenge.

Proven solutions exist to reduce wasted fish in the form of bycatch and discards. When fishermen are empowered with sustainable management, they are able to focus on gear and harvesting innovations that target only the fish they want to catch.

In fact, catch shares, a proven tool that aligns environmental and economic incentives for fishermen, save enough fish from being discarded to feed 17 million Americans their seafood for an entire year. Read More »

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New study concludes that catch shares are working for fishermen in the U.S.

iStock_000014104307MediumThe good news keeps rolling in about the performance of fisheries managed with secure fishing rights – called “catch shares” in the United States.

An important, detailed analysis of all 20 US catch-share fisheries, authored by scientists and economists of NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology and six regional fisheries science centers, was just issued in the journal, Marine Policy.

The bottom line is that the 13 well-studied catch shares show strong performance, with important increases in an index that adds together a wide array of economic productivity elements and that takes into account changes in relative fish abundance.  Even in just the first three years, that index gains an average of 22% versus baseline years (see Table 7).  For the six longest-established catch shares, the index is an average of 77% higher after the third year, with no increase lower than 14% (see Table 8). Read More »

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The future of Galveston Bay: Implications of the oil spill

Fishing boat coming in from Galveston Bay. Photo Credit: Roy_Luck

Fishing boat coming in from Galveston Bay.
Photo Credit: Roy.Luck

Galveston Bay is a busy body of water. It carries the traffic of the Houston Ship Channel. It is a popular recreation destination for fishermen and others. It not only serves as a home to birds and large marine animals, but also as a nursery ground for many important seafood species. It is the nation’s seventh largest estuary and among them the second most important seafood producer, behind only the Chesapeake Bay.

The immediate effects of the oil spill on March 22, 2014, are visible in the oil sheens and tar balls floating in the water and the “oiled” birds and animals that crews are trying to help. But, we can’t see how this heavy marine fuel, containing toxic chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is harming shrimp, crabs, oysters, red drum and other fish that call the waters of Galveston Bay home. This contamination can hang around for a long time. Studies from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill show that even in low concentrations PAHs can disrupt the development of fish and invertebrate larvae; and in high concentrations can be lethal. Recent reports of tunas susceptible to deformities from the 2010 spill attest to the potential risks long after the spill itself is gone.

The timing of this spill is bad for several key species especially important to the seafood industry and consumers. Brown shrimp have already spawned offshore, and March is the month when the young ride tides coming back inshore to settle in seagrass beds and marshes, habitats that are their nurseries – and where the water is now contaminated with oil pollution. The young are especially vulnerable from now until about May or June. Young blue crabs that settled during the winter in Galveston Bay are also in danger, as are baby fish; including Gulf menhaden, a large harvest in the region’s fishing industry and a fish that is a vital food for larger fish and other animals. Marine life in the way of the oil is dying; and those not killed are exposed to toxic chemicals that could impair their reproductive potential, and some fish that feed on worms in bottom sediments may acquire and carry toxics in their tissues. The seafood “crops” in the area could well be reduced.

Anyone who has been to Galveston Bay has seen the many dolphins are other large marine life that frequent the area and eat these other fish. As these contaminants enter Bay food chains our concern turns not only to how these animals are affected by the spill in the short term, but also to their longer-term health, and even to whether or not seafood species that live there could constitute a human health risk that must be guarded against into the future. Read More »

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