Knee-Deep in Essex Bay with W2O Members

By | Action today, Member Only Events, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

Sandy Nash says that she was “exploding with facts” after a recent trip to Essex Massachusetts for her first W2O members’ event. “I grew up on a farm and the deep sea is beyond my comfort zone but this event felt tangible; it made the work feel real and we could see what steps are being taken to make a difference,” she said when describing digging holes in the ocean floor to stake dozens of eelgrass plants.

W2O members Jen Godfrey and Sandy Nash in Essex MA

Coastal ecologist Dr. Alyssa Novak, from Boston University, led W2O members knee-deep into Essex Bay for a hands-on workshop to become familiar with the seascape that the eelgrass harbors and protects. Sandy experienced a heartfelt intimacy during this process observing and working alongside scientists and the W2O community. “It was a small enough group so that we could all ask questions. We were sorting through marine materials and learning about everything coming out of the water,” she said. “It’s one thing to hear about it but an entirely different experience being there doing it.”

Eelgrass or seagrass, a habitat for migratory birds and marine animals, protects the shore from coastal storms, sea level rise, and erosion. Along with collaborating partners, Dr. Novak is hoping to restore eelgrass to Essex Bay while studying how it might play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change. Her team of scientists analyzes data including the shoot’s length and density, and the plant’s genetic variation in hopes of finding the variety of seagrass that will be resilient to the transplant process.

Learn more about eelgrass here. Learn more about Dr. Alyssa Novak’s work on eelgrass here.

Join W2O to participate in our educational and inspiring member-only events.

Celebrating Hopeful Signs for More Marine Protected Areas

By | Featured Post, In the News, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

What a relief to finally hear some promising, hopeful and, quite frankly, exciting news about protection for our oceans. September’s headlines about President Obama designating Papahānaumokuākea off of Hawaii and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic as National Monuments could not have come at a better time. Every day there is a broadcast, article, or radio commentary about climate change and the devastation taking its toll on our blue planet. Ten years ago information regarding ocean risk was something you searched for in an environmental magazine or maybe the science section of a newspaper. It is telling that the coverage of climate science related to our oceans is now every publication’s front page news.  This hopeful sign signals that conservation groups are no longer “preaching to the choir” and that generations are learning and becoming keenly aware of the importance of protecting our oceans for our future. With his announcement at the Our Ocean Conference, President Obama declared that “The health of our planet’s oceans determine, in large part, the health of our bodies and the health of our economies.”  Thank you President Obama, for putting the health of our oceans on the world stage and for giving us hope that this might be the first wave of more protection of vulnerable marine areas.

#MahaloObama from a Grateful Ocean

By | Action today, Events, Featured Post, In the News, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

Photo of Blue Trevally: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Mahalo” (thank you in Hawaiian) to President Obama and many others for Monument designation expansion of the pristine area of Papahānaumokuākea off the coast of Hawaii. It is now the largest protected area (land or sea) in the world! This is big world news this week and hopefully sends a message to everyone of the importance of protecting vital habitat everywhere in our oceans. Protected areas are the basis of climate refuge and, according to Douglas McCauley from UC Santa Barbara in this NPR interview, the area of Papahānaumokuākea is one of the most spectacular places on earth. “You put on a mask, and the mask essentially becomes a time machine. You put your head under water, and you’re looking at what the ocean looked like on reefs thousands of years ago. It’s what Hawaii-the reefs that we see when we go on vacation out there-looked like before we impacted and disturbed this ecosystem,” says McCauley.

Photo: Lee Gillenwater
The Pew Charitable Trust

Marine protected areas have proved to be a hotspot for the study of climate change and have demonstrated that when left alone, without fishing, tourism or reef disturbance, protected areas are able to rebound from damaging human activity. W2O co-founder and Chair of Trustees of the New England Aquarium Donna Hazard is so grateful for the news from Hawaii but also knows that she wants to see more areas protected.  She is particularly concerned about the Atlantic where it might be more difficult to imagine the abundance of diversity under the dark blue cold waters. “It’s so important to protect those biologically diverse habitats.  It would be great if I could just know that during my lifetime I could help secure more marine protected areas for the next generation. We can’t afford to let this opportunity pass by without trying to protect the most worthy scientifically significant marine areas,” Hazard passionately remarked when speaking about the possibility of a monument in the Atlantic.  “I am hopeful that the wonderful press and excitement about the Monument expansion of Papahānaumokuākea will help propel the movement for more marine protected areas,” Hazard added.

 

An Unexpected Encounter With a Beaked Whale

By | Action today, In the News, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

Guest blogger Nigella Hillgarth is President and CEO of the New England Aquarium and a W2O board member

Several hundred years ago there was said to be a strange and fierce sea creature that attacked ships.  The Water-Owl or Ziphius had the body of a fish and a head of an owl with huge eyes and a beak-like a sword. Today we think the animal behind these stories is Cuvier’s beaked whale or Goose-beaked whale. This deep water whale is the most widely distributed beaked whale species.

In early February I was on a sailing ship in the Caribbean passing through the channel between St Lucia and Martinique.  It is deep in that area –  several thousand feet and suitable for beaked whales. I was not thinking about whales at the time because I was busy photographing the brown boobies that were following the ship. Suddenly a robust, chocolate brown animal appeared next to the ship below me. I took as many photographs as I could before it disappeared into the deep. I was pretty certain I had seen a beaked whale but I had no idea what species.  It was not large – about 10 to 12 feet long but had the typical curved dorsal fin towards the back of the body and a strange elongated and slightly bulbous head. When I returned one of our marine mammal scientists at the New England Aquarium identified it as a young Cuvier’s beaked whale. I feel so lucky to have seen one of these elusive animals.

Cuvier’s beaked whales can dive deeper than any other marine mammal. A recent study shows that at least one individual went down as far as 9,816 feet!  Not much is known about these elusive and extreme divers, but there is concern that noise in the ocean from sonar and seismic testing may cause these whales to strand.  There is evidence to suggest that some of these stranded animals have surfaced too quickly and developed damage similar to that of the bends in humans.

Noise in the ocean is a serious threat to marine mammals and other marine life.  Commercial shipping noise, sonar testing and seismic surveys can clearly have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on marine mammal and fish populations. Normally, when we think about pollution in the seas we don’t think about noise. We think about plastics and chemicals and ghost fishing nets.  Noise in its various forms is just as big a problem for life in the ocean.  If we care about the future of strange and elusive mammals such as the ‘Water-owl’ we need to understand and mitigate noise impacts in the ocean far more than at present.

Photo: Nigella Hillgarth

Learn more about seismic testing and how you can help stop ocean noise HERE

 

Can You Hear Me Now? 6 Amazing Things About Sound and Marine Life

By | Events, Featured Post, In the News, Uncategorized

Sink a hydrophone in the ocean and discover a marine jungle of animal noises from the tiniest shrimp to the largest blue whale. Marine life depends on this soundscape for mating, finding food, navigation and avoiding predation.

This ocean cacophony was all natural until the advent of the industrial revolution when human-made sounds from blasting, drilling, military, and shipping began drowning out these important biological cues. Imagine, if you will, not Rachel Carson’s famous silent spring, but the opposite. Imagine if there was so much human-made noise in the spring that it drowned out all of the birds’ calls. What would happen to those birds? For marine life, the intrusion of these sounds in the mix is the equivalent of being asked to wear a blindfold.

Photo courtesy of Ocean Matters

Photo courtesy of Ocean Matters

So what’s at stake for our world’s oceans and for us? Here are six amazing things about sound and marine life:

  1. About half of all fish species are estimated to emit sounds. These sounds help fish find spawning grounds and function like the call of a bird does, as specie specific signatures. By understanding and tracking these sounds, scientists can also identify important spawning grounds in the oceans, track numbers of individuals in a species, and by doing so more strategically protect these important spawning areas.
  1. Scientists have discovered that each whale population has its own “language,” which is understood only by individuals of the same population. For a population that migrates hundreds of miles of ocean basin from feeding to mating grounds, most whales depend on hearing these songs to find other individuals to accurately navigate.

Impeding this important whale communication by drowning in human-made sound has implications for fisheries. Recent science has found (perhaps counter-intuitively) that increasing the population of large whales might help to increase the number fish in the ocean.

  1. As the largest creature on Earth, blue whales can also boast of being the loudest. At 188 decibels, their loudest vocalizations can be heard a thousand miles away and is louder than a jet, which peaks at only 140 decibels. Humans can’t hear most of the blue whale’s song, however—it’s too low. They sing at frequencies between 10 and 40 Hz (the unit measurement of sound frequency) and infrasound under 20 Hz cannot be heard by humans. While other large whales are rebounding, blue whales do not appear to be. Blue whales number in only 1% of their historic population. Scientists speculate their lack of comeback is due to the wide scale disruption of the marine ecosystem in the Southern Hemisphere by the blue whales population’s decimation. Without blue whales, there had been a cascade of other marine life losses that has made for a severely altered environment, one that continues to be difficult for other marine life to survive and rebound
  1. Dolphins are thought to have an individual signature whistle, invented as a calf and kept throughout its life. They use these whistles to call to one another and seem to be able to remember the calls of other individuals for decades. No other species other than humans and dolphins has been shown to have this capacity.
  1. Noise has always been a driver of evolution and adaptation in the sea, providing “acoustical niches” inhabited by different species. Scientists speculate that the ocean was actually noisier in pre-whaling 1800, before the addition of human generated noise. This speaks volumes about the biomass of a “healthy” ocean pre-1800 as compared to now.
  1. There is no place to escape from the intrusion of human-made sounds in the ocean. Sounds from shipping were recently recorded at the very deepest part of the ocean: the Mariana Trench, at 10,000 meters under the sea.

Join us at Beeps, Rumbles, and Blasts: How Human-Generated Noise Threatens Marine Life on April 7th featuring Dr. Christopher Clark of Cornell University and Dr. Scott Kraus from the New England Aquarium. For a sneak preview hear Dr. Clark speak briefly about the importance of this topic in this beautiful and short NPR production

 

“[If] I’m a blue whale my heart beats once a minute. My ‘metronome’ is completely different from yours. And yet I, as human observer, am expecting their communication to be somehow synchronized with mine? Whales have their own listening culture. It will take a long time to begin to understand it.” – Dr. Christopher Clark

 

Blog contributor Laura Parker Roerden is Executive Director of Ocean Matters and is on the board of Women Working for Oceans.

 

Sharks Matter-More Than You Think!

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It doesn’t matter where you live, who you are, or what your economic or social circumstances are, a world without sharks would be devastating. Think desperate, barren, foul, depleted, or apocalyptic. It is estimated that 100 million sharks- majestic apex predators of the ocean-are killed each year. Fishing, accidental “by catch” and the demand for shark fins and other parts for sale are the major contributors to the shark’s decline.  The concept of protecting sharks to some might seem counterintuitive. Don’t they eat everything and contribute to the decline of other species in the ocean? We imagine them as voracious eaters because our perception of sharks has been colored by images that depict them as dangerous man-eaters. In truth, without a healthy shark population, we would be in real danger of losing the living ocean that we rely on for food, our economy and livelihood. The fact is, sharks matter more than you think.

Photo: Brian Skerry

Photo: Brian Skerry

The loss of sharks would set off a chain reaction in our oceans. According to Oceana, “The loss of sharks as top predators in the ecosystem allows the number of grouper, which eat other fish species, to increase. The groupers in turn reduce the number of herbivores, such as parrotfish, blennies and gobies, in the echo system. Without these herbivores to eat algae off the coral, algae will take over the reef system.” In Oceana’s report Predators as Prey: Why Healthy Oceans Need Sharks, even shark’s proximity to some animals will cause them to behave when choosing feeding sites in ways that are healthier for oceans.

Learn more about the importance of sharks at W2O’s October event Sharks Matter: Busting the Jaws Myth with a New Script on this Majestic, Misunderstood Creature. Wendy Benchley, co founder of the Peter Benchley (author of Jaws) Ocean Awards and shark advocate will present along with John Mandelman, scientist and director of research at the New England Aquarium.

So move over and make way-sharks ultimately will keep us healthy if we protect them.

Speaking of Sharks! Wendy Benchley Busts the Jaws Myth

By | Events, Featured Post, In the News, Uncategorized, W2O Blog | No Comments

W2O, in partnership with the New England Aquarium, will host shark protector and advocate, Wendy Benchley along with scientist John Mandelman on October 22nd for an evening lecture, cocktail party and celebration of the ocean’s apex predator: the majestic shark. Wendy is actively engaged in the marine policy community  and supports many of the world’s leading ocean and environmental philanthropies. She is a member of the International Board of WildAid, a widely respected global non profit solely focused on reducing the demand for illegal wildlife products, including ivory, rhino horn and shark fin.  With her late husband, Peter Benchley, and after the release of his movie phenomenon Jaws, the Benchleys helped transform fear of “Great” white sharks into a message of conservation and protection inspiring a new generation to become advocates for protecting this hauntingly beautiful species referred to by biologists by its real name: the white shark. Senior Scientist and Director of Research at the New England Aquarium, John Mandelman, has spent the last fifteen years studying the effect of human disturbances on sharks. His research focuses on decreasing stress and injury to sharks while increasing their overall survival in the face of fishing pressure. “By understanding how sharks respond to human-induced disturbances, we can establish more effective strategies to protect them. Sharks are critical to the health and balance of just about every marine environment around the globe, and therefore essential to our well-being” Mandelman says. Come celebrate, learn and share the awe of sharks with us. Here for ticketsW2O_2014 Benchley Fall_Lecture_Invitation_600px

 

 

W2O’s Underwater Intern Elise Green

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W2O’s summer intern Elise Green gives us a lesson about Marine Protected Areas and why they are important to all marine life, especially sharks.Elise Green USC intern

As part of my work as a biology student at University of Southern California, last month I visited Palau, a group of islands that are part of Micronesia, in the Pacific ocean. Apart from hosting some of the pristine white beaches featured on the television show, “Survivor,” Palau is best known for its untouched coral reefs that feature an incredibly high rate of marine biodiversity and its popular “Jellyfish Lake” in which tourists can swim with millions of sting-less jellyfish. It is also home to the world’s first shark sanctuary, the Palau Shark Sanctuary. As W2O is preparing to host a shark-centered event in October, you might be interested in understanding exactly what a “shark sanctuary” is. According to the BBC, each year, about 100 million sharks are captured by fishermen and contribute to the 39 percent of shark species that are classified as “threatened” or “near threatened” for risk of extinction*. Shark sanctuaries strive to address this problem and hope to replenish shark populations worldwide by forbidding the fishing of sharks and preserving shark habitats.

The main goal of the Palau Shark Sanctuary is to end shark-finning in the waters around Palau. Shark fins are sought after for use in popular soups and for medicinal purposes in some countries. Shark-finning has led to a large decline in shark populations and refers to the act of catching sharks, cutting off their fins, and releasing the sharks back into the water. Without their fins, sharks struggle to swim and often die soon after their fins are severed.

Elise Green & Amanda Semler diving in Palau Photo: Tom Carr

Elise Green & Amanda Semler diving in Palau
Photo: Tom Carr

Because I was scuba diving in Marine Protected Areas to collect data as a part of a University of Southern California project focused on reef regeneration, Palauan rangers accompanied my group to our various dive sites. The rangers informed us that, while shark-finning was a major problem in Palau in the past, since the establishment of Palau as a Shark Sanctuary in 2001 and since the addition of more rangers to help enforce regulation, shark-finning incidents have noticeably declined.

Not only did I feel extremely lucky to have the chance to dive amongst beautiful animals such as Napoleon Wrasse and Eagle Rays, but, thanks to Palau’s waters being mostly free from shark poachers, I also had the opportunity to admire sharks such as the Gray Reef and White Tip shark. These sharks can grow up to eight feet long and enjoy warm, shallow waters near corals or atolls. Because these sharks, like most, feed mostly on fish and crustaceans, I had no fear of diving close to them and greatly appreciated their extreme grace as they maneuvered the waters with subtle yet strong thrusts of their fins. Hopefully general awareness about shark conservation around the world will increase, and these marvelous animals will prosper for generations to come.

Grey Reef Shark photo: marinebio.org

Grey Reef Shark
photo: marinebio.org

 

The Island Blue Pages. A “Phonebook” for Conservation

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DSCN4570Like most beach communities, Martha’s Vineyards population swells in the summer. Renters descend and take advantage of MV’s beautiful setting.  “Seasonal residents and tourists flock to the Island to bask and hike on its beaches, swim in its waters, catch and eat local fish and shellfish, and go boating on its sparkling bays”, reads The Island Blue Pages, a “phonebook” published by concerned locals wanting to education everyone on the Island about this vulnerable treasure. The Island Blue Pages is only a phonebook in such that every household on the Island received one free, with hopes that it would remain a guide for year round residents and everyone visiting the Island. Yes, there is a list of phone numbers in its reference material, but mostly the book is a wonderful guide to the islands watersheds, sound water usage, and waste management. It even includes a “12 Step” program for “Dream Lawn Addicts” that guides homeowners and business to make smart pesticide free, water conscience lawn care choices.

The idea for The Island Blue Pages ruminated in biologist and director of Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group Inc. Rick Karney’s mind for years. Each time he visited a hatchery or community near water, he picked up packets of information regarding best practices for the community around water usage and sustainable living. It was the Puget Sound Blue Pages that stood out as the most comprehensive and user friendly of any of the publications that he had seen. With funding through an EPA grant awarded to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and keen editing by Amandine Surier from Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, The Island Blue Pages relied on local full time residence of the Vineyard to author each chapter making this a true community conservation effort.

Amandine Surier and Rick Karney

Amandine Surier and Rick Karney

The unique layout of The Island Blue Pages appeals to all ages.  The graphic are simple enough to engage a child but not “kid-ish” enough to turn off a teen. The layout is easy to navigate and engaging with enough science to satisfy the well versed hobby conservationist.  The Island Blue Pages is tailored to Martha’s Vineyard specifically by including local stories and maps, but any community could adapt a version to represent its own environmental concerns.Graphic from The Island Blue Pages

This wonderful reference book with tips on gardening, septic tanks, and boating includes a section about marine animals called “Vineyard Neighbor.” It should be poured over, updated regularly and passed from generation to generation.

Graphic from Island Blue Pages