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News round-up: 2011

Marine and Coastal news round-up in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) Region

December, 2011

22 December, 2011

Tanzania: Illegal fishing killing factories

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FISH-processing factories in the country are on the verge of closing for lack of adequate fish supplies, it has been said.

Illicit fishing, which is said to have reached a crisis point around the country, has led to the depletion of fish population, triggering the current shortage that has left the factories yawning.

Dynamite fishing, where explosives are used to kill 
schools of fish for easy collection, and catching of immature fish have depleted the lakes and seas, according to Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) fisheries units in Mwanza and Kilwa Kivinje.

Kilwa-South legislator Suleman Bungara said illegal fishing is worsening along the coastal areas, mainly in Nyuni and Ukuza in Kilwa.

Illegal fishing is also rampant in other places such as Mgao, Naumbu, Msimbati in Mtwara, Nyororo, Bima, Simaya in Mafia and Boma, Monga, Tongoni in Tanga area.

“Some days ago I received information from local leaders that villagers and local security people had seized a huge haul of fish obtained through dynamite fishing at Kilwa Kivinje port.

“The fish were being loaded on a lorry at midnight ready for transportation to Dar es Salaam for processing and distribution,” said Bungara.

Mr Bakari Arobaini, Kilwa-Kivinje Ward Councillor, pointed an accusing finger at some dishonest fish-processing companies, saying they were encouraging illegal fishing syndicate, through providing illegal fishermen with fishing gears, food, money and other necessary tools.

“Illegal fishermen tend to hide themselves in camps, very far from villages… at times, they may stay in camps for months, but they get support (in terms of food, money and fishing gears) from fish-processing companies,” said the councillor.

Mr Wilhelm Mulinda, an environmental activist based in Mwanza, said illegal fishing was rampant in Lake Victoria and it was being done under watchful eyes of the authorities.

“I am saying it because a landing place like Igombe has its own Beach Management Unit and is also visited by officers from the fisheries unit regularly. Mwanza and Tarime are flooded with immature fish and nothing is done,” he said.

The Director of Tanzania Fish Processors Ltd, Mr Ganeshen Vedagiri, told members of parliament recently that the fishing industry in Tanzania was facing serious shortage of raw materials, fuelled by uncontrolled illegal fishing.

“Currently, we (Tanzania Fish Processors Ltd) process 18 to 20 tonnes of fish per day, when our production capacity is 120 tonnes per day.

Our production during the year 2006 was over 55 tonnes a day, which is declining year by year…the government must put in place measures to stop illegal fishing, otherwise the sector will die a natural death,” said Mr Vedagiri.

He also indicated that eventual closure of the processing factories would boost artisanal fishermen, who will benefit from illegal trade and export to regional markets.

Mr Vedagiri wondered as to why the authorities were not doing anything to curb illegal fishing as if they were waiting to celebrate the closure of the factories.

Source of article

Cultural shifts in Madagascar drive lemur-killing

Conservationists have often found that some cultural norms, religious beliefs, and taboos play a role in holding back traditional peoples from overusing their environment. Examples of such beliefs include days wherein one cannot hunt or fish, or certain species or regions that are off limits to exploitation. But the influence of the modern world can rapidly extinguish such beliefs, sometimes for the better, in other cases not. In many parts of Madagascar, lemurs are off the menu. These primates, found only in Madagascar, play a big role in Malagasy 'fady' or taboo-related folk stories: lemurs are protectors and, in some cases, even relatives. However, according to a new paper in PLoS ONE an influx of migrants, widespread poverty, lack domestic meat, and poor law enforcement has caused a sudden rise in eating lemurs, many of which are already near extinction due to habitat loss.

"Our observations suggest that young men have more available cash and leisure time due to the transition from subsistence farming to panning for gold, and they spend more time in local bars, eating fried meat snacks with their drinks," explains co-author of the new paper, Julie Razafimanahaka, from local conservation NGO Madagasikara Voakajy. Some of those fried meat snacks are wild lemurs.

Many of these young men are immigrants to eastern Madagascar and so bring new values with them, making it easy for them to break taboos. Christian missionaries have also brought in new ideas, eroding traditional beliefs. Once a taboo is openly broken it becomes easier and easier for others to break.

Surveying villagers in eastern Madagascar, the study found that 95 percent of 1,154 households have consumed a protected species with 45 percent having eaten over 10 protected species. Although for the most part these households eat meat rarely, about a quarter of the time, and just over 1 percent of meals in a three-day-recall included non-fish wild meat, such as lemurs. But even a small percentage could mean the difference between survival and extinction for some species.

Lemurs are slow reproducers: Lemurs are slow reproducers: females of larger species bear offspring only once every few years and young lemurs may take nine years to mature. They have also been facing decades of habitat destruction. This has caused 47 percent of lemurs evaluated by the IUCN to be threatened with extinction (including Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, and Near Threatened), while most of the remaining lemurs (44 percent) have been classified as Data Deficient since researchers simply lack enough information to make a judgement. Only 8 species of lemur are deemed "safe" by the IUCN, listed as Locally Common.

Paying locals to monitor villages, the study also counted actual trade in lemurs. Nearly 500 lemurs of nine different species were sold in the monitored villages over 2 years. Two species listed as Endangered: indri (Indri indri) and diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema) were the most common. The monitors also recorded nine black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata) killed, a species listed as Critically Endangered. Killing lemurs didn't seem widespread in the villages, but "evidence from our local monitors suggests that a large number of the indri were killed by a few individuals who own guns and kill lemurs to sell."

As a desperately poor nation, one of Madagascar's bright spots economically is wildlife tourism. However, without lemurs tourism is likely to quickly dry up.

"Madagascar's amazing wildlife, especially its world famous lemurs, are so important for the future of the country. They are worth much more to the economy alive than as meat," says co-author Julia Jones of Bangor University.

Lemurs aren't the only species being hunted, others include the lowland streaked tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus), vasa parrots, the truly bizarre cuckoo roller (Leptosomus discolor), Madagascan flying fox (Pteropus rufus), common tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus), and red-billed teal (Anas erythrorhyncha), the last three of which are listed as 'game species' (meaning they are legal to kill) even though the flying fox is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. In addition hunting for the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) has pushed this species from abundant not long ago to Critically Endangered today. Standing hunting taboos regarding these species are also shifting.

"There is evidence that in some cases traditional rules which managed harvested species (for example preventing hunting of pregnant tenrecs, or trapping of fruit bats at the roost) are breaking down over time," the authors write.


The household interviews came away with some positive news: most importantly, respondents largely prefer domestic meats to wild meat.

"[This] suggest that projects which increase the availability of domestic meat and fish may have success at reducing demand," write the authors.

The focus so far has been on chickens given that they are cheap and easy to raise. However, chicken perish quickly in the region to an unidentified disease. Currently scientists are exploring what is killing off the chickens and hope that it will prove an easy fix.

"If domestic meats could be farmed more reliably and were therefore cheaper, the pressure on wild species may be reduced. More effort is needed to improve domestic animal husbandry methods and disease control in rainforest areas," says co-author Richard Jenkins of Bangor University.

The authors also suggest that existing laws need to upheld to discourage eating protected species. Currently, killing a lemur comes with a punishment of between $5 and $200 and/or a month to two years in jail, but the law is rarely enforced, though most lemur selling is done in relative secret.

The overall situation is complicated by poverty. Most people in Madagascar live on less than a dollar per day and nearly half of the children under five years are malnourished.

"Rural Malagasy diets are very short of protein so if people who rely on bushmeat for at least part of their food are no longer able to hunt then some, already under nourished people, will suffer increased deprivation. However, efforts to reduce illegal hunting are necessary to protect the ecotourism industry upon which the livelihood of many people, including some rural poor, depends (directly or indirectly)," the authors write.

Combating poverty in the midst of saving endangered species are two issues conservationists and NGOs face everyday in Madagascar.

Education is also a problem. Conservationists often say how people in Madagascar are entirely unaware lemurs are not found worldwide. Efforts are ongoing to provide environmental education, including a public campaign that argues lemurs are "not meat."

But conservationists are racing against the clock.

"Since humans arrived in Madagascar, many of the island's largest terrestrial vertebrates have gone extinct, a loss blamed at least in part on hunting. If further extinctions are to be avoided, urgent action is needed to reduce hunting of protected species," the authors write.

Source of article

Kenya: State shifts gears on deep-sea oil exploration as interest peaks

The Government is expanding the scope of oil exploration in the country by creating extra offshore oil exploration blocks off the Lamu coast.

A senior Ministry of Energy official said the ministry would soon gazette an additional seven blocks located off the Lamu coast.

This will be in addition to the about 15 offshore blocks currently in place in the Lamu region.

"We are mapping out seven new blocks in the Indian ocean off the Lamu coast," said Hudson Andambi, senior principal superintending geologist (petroleum exploration).

"Many firms have expressed interest in offshore blocks, which is why we are moving fast to delineate and gazette the new blocks."

There has been increased focus on deep-sea activities in Kenya, even though over 60 years of oil exploratory activities have not yielded commercially viable deposits.

But Kenya is still optimistic of striking oil, driven by recent oil finds in Western Uganda and natural gas in Northern Tanzania.

"There is a high likelihood that there are viable commercial deposits in Kenya, given that the country sits on the same geological province with Tanzania and Uganda," said Andambi.

"We currently have up to 13 oil companies exploring for oil in 28 blocks, of which 27 blocks have been given to foreign firms and one to the National Oil Corporation (NOCK)."

Four basins

At the moment, there are a total of 38 blocks in the country that are situated in the four basins of Lamu, Anza, Tertiary Rift and Mandera.

Different companies have drilled 32 wells in the four basins that are located in Lamu, North Eastern and Northern Kenya areas.

Andambi said a number of wells, especially in Lamu Basin and the Anza Basin, had returned promising shows of natural gas and oil, although none had so far had commercially viable deposits.

Andambi was speaking in Nairobi at a conference by Tullow Oil.

The UK-headquartered firm discovered billions of barrels in Uganda around the Lake Albert region, and is currently preparing to begin extraction.

The firm has been licenced to explore for oil in five blocks in Kenya.

Martin Mugo general manager of Tullow’s operation in Kenya said the firm would begin drilling in the first quarter of next year, beginning with one of its blocks in the Tertiary Rift Basin in Turkana.

Start drilling

The company had planned to start drilling towards end of this year but said logistical challenges – including delay in transportation of drilling equipment to the site – had caused delay.

Oil exploration in Kenya been a disappointment for firms prospecting — the most recent being China National Offshore Oil Corporation that exited Kenya 2009 after turning little to write home about even after drilling wells that were in excess of five kilometres deep in the Anza Basin in Isiolo.

 Source of article

WIOMSA Newsbrief: Special Symposium Issue is out!

The latest issue of the WIOMSA Newsbrief (Volume 16 No 3) is out with twelve interesting articles on different events that took place during the recently held the Seventh WIOMSA Scientific Symposium.

Articles have been written by different partners who participated in the Symposium. There is also a Photo Gallery comprising of memorable photos from the event. This Special Symposium Issue comprises of the following articles

1. Overview of the 7th WIOMSA Scientific Symposium

2. A Region of Marine Science

3. Top Regional Marine Scientists Named Fellow and Honorary Members of WIOMSA

4. Student Competition Winners Announced

5. Art Fest at the 7th WIOMSA Symposium

6. KMFRI Hosts Pre-Symposium Events for the 7th WIOMSA Symposium

7. WIOMSA Hosts a "Getting into Print Workshop"

8. Ecosystem Values and Coastal Governance in a Changing Climate: A Synthesis and Gap Analysis Workshop

9. The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) Tuna Challenge

10. Dugong session at the WIOMSA Symposium

11. Book Launch: Adapting to a Changing Environment

12. Seychelles' science shines at scientific symposium

Download the Issue

 Source of article

140 New Species Described by California Academy of Sciences in 2011

In 2011, researchers at the California Academy of Sciences added 140 new relatives to our family tree. The new species include 72 arthropods, 31 sea slugs, 13 fishes, 11 plants, nine sponges, three corals, and one reptile. They were described by more than a dozen Academy scientists along with several dozen international collaborators.

Proving that there are still plenty of places to explore and things to discover on Earth, the scientists made their finds over six continents (all except Antarctica) and three oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian), climbed to the tops of mountains and descended to the bottom of the sea, looked in their owns backyards (California) and on the other side of the world (Cameroon).

Their results, published in 33 different scientific papers, add to the record of life on Earth and help advance the Academy's research into two of the most important scientific questions of our time: "How did life evolve?" and "How will it persist?"

Discovering new species, formally describing them, and determining their evolutionary relationships to other organisms provide the crucial foundation for making informed conservation decisions at a national level. For example, earlier this year, Academy scientists embarked on the largest expedition in the institution's recent history -- a 42-day journey to the Philippines to survey the shallow water, deep sea, and mountain habitats of Luzon Island. Early estimates indicate that they may have discovered as many as 500 new species. While it takes months and even years to formally describe and publish a new species in a peer-reviewed scientific journal (the reason they are not included in the 2011 total), Academy scientists had enough initial data to provide a formal recommendation to Conservation International and the Philippine government outlining the most important locations for establishing or expanding marine protected areas. Formal species descriptions in the coming years should help the scientists bolster and refine their initial recommendations.

Below are a few highlights among the 140 species described by the Academy this year. For a full list of species, including geographic information, visitwww.calacademy.org/newsroom/releases/2011/new_species_list.php.

Four New Sharks

Academy research associate David Ebert and his colleagues described four new species of deep-sea sharks this year. The African dwarf sawshark (Pristiophorus nancyae) was collected via a bottom trawl at a depth of 1,600 feet, off the coast of Mozambique. It is notable for its elongated blade-like snout, or "rostrum," which is studded with sharp teeth and used as a weapon. The sawshark will swim through a school of fish swinging its rostrum back and forth, stunning and injuring prey, and then swim back to consume the casualties. Ebert and his colleagues also described two species of lanternshark:Etmopterus joungi from a fish market in Taiwan, andEtmopterus sculptus from trawling at depths of 1,500 -- 3,000 feet off the coast of southern Africa. Like their name suggests, lanternsharks emit light on various parts of their body -- probably a strategy to camouflage themselves from upward-looking predators and also to interact with others of their own species. Finally, a new species of angel shark (Squatina caillieti) was described from a single specimen collected in 1,200 feet of water off the Philippine island of Luzon. Angel sharks have flattened bodies and large pectoral fins resembling wings.

A Bounty of Arthropods

There are more species of arthropods -- insects, spiders, crustaceans, and other joint-legged creatures -- than any other group of animals on Earth, and more are being discovered every day. So it's no surprise that over half of the new species on this year's list consists of arthropods: 43 ants, 20 goblin spiders, six barnacles, and three beetles. In addition, Academy scientists took it to the next level -- literally -- by describing six new genera ("genus" being one classification level higher than "species"). These include three new genera of goblin spiders from Africa (MalagiellaDalmasulaMolotra) and three new genera of barnacles (MinyaspisPycnaspis, and the fossilArchoxynaspis).

Gorgeous Sea Slugs

Despite the common name of "sea slug," nudibranchs are breathtaking in their beauty and diversity. Every color of the rainbow is represented among nudibranchs, in a wide variety of patterns, making them a favorite for underwater photographers. These animals use color as a warning sign -- predators learn to associate their vivid colors with their toxic or unpalatable nature, and so they avoid eating them.

More than 3,000 nudibranch species have been discovered and described to date, and scientists estimate that another 3,000 species are yet to be named. Academy Dean of Science Terry Gosliner and his colleagues did their part to increase our knowledge of nudibranch diversity by describing 31 new species this year, from places as close as Florida to faraway countries like Papua New Guinea.

A Tale of Two Tortoises

In a ZooKeys article published this year, Academy curator emeritus Alan Leviton and colleagues, collaborating with Dr. Robert Murphy of the Royal Ontario Museum, solved the identity crisis of the desert tortoise Gopherus agassizii -- a saga almost as old as the Academy itself. First, by sifting through the original species description in The Proceedings of the California Academy of Natural Sciences (as the Academy used to be called), they determined that the species was first described in 1861, not 1863 as had long been thought. Next, they deduced that one of the three original specimens used to describe the species was likely lost during the most devastating event in the Academy's history -- the 1906 earthquake and fire. (A second specimen is currently housed at the Smithsonian, while the whereabouts of the third remain unknown.) Third, they reviewed the tumultuous taxonomic history of the species, which has changed its genus name five times in the past 150 years. Finally, using DNA analysis, they concluded that G. agassizii is not one, but at least two distinct species -- one that lives to the northwest of the Colorado River in California and Nevada (G. agassizii), and one that lives to the southeast of the river in Arizona and Mexico (a new species, which they named Gopherus morafkai).

This newfound clarity has important implications for conservation, because the geographic range of G. agassizii is now only 30% of its former range. Having significantly declined in numbers over the past three decades, it may warrant a higher level of protection than its current "threatened" status. And now that G. morafkai has a distinct name and its own identity, its conservation status can be evaluated as well.

 Source of article

Comprehensive Study Makes Key Findings of Ocean pH Variations

A group of 19 scientists from five research organizations have conducted the broadest field study of ocean acidification to date using sensors developed at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. 
The study, "High-Frequency Dynamics of Ocean pH: A Multi-Ecosystem Comparison," is reported in today's issue of the journal PLoS One. It is an important step toward understanding how specific ecosystems are responding to the change in seawater chemistry that is being caused as the oceans take up extra carbon dioxide produced by human greenhouse gas emissions, said its authors.
"These data represent a critical step in understanding the consequences of ocean change: the linkage of present-day pH exposures to organismal tolerance and how this translates into ecological change in marine ecosystems," the authors wrote. "These pH time series create a compelling argument for the collection of more continuous data of this kind."
Ocean acidification research is a relatively new study topic as scientists have only appreciated the potential extent of acidification within the last decade. As greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated in the past century, the oceans have taken up about a third of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities. That excess beyond natural levels increases amounts of carbonic acid in seawater. Acidification also limits the amount of carbonate forms that are needed by marine invertebrates such as coral and shelled organisms to form their skeletons.
Though many lab simulations of this effect have been performed recently, including at a new acidification laboratory in development at Scripps, there have been few comparable field studies. Using sensors recently developed at Scripps, the researchers surveyed marine ecosystems ranging from coral reefs in the South Pacific Ocean to volcanic CO2 vent communities in the Mediterranean Sea. 

They found that in some places, such asAntarctica and the Line Islands of the south Pacific, the range of pH variance is much more limited than in areas of theCalifornia coast subject to large vertical movements of water known as upwellings. In some of their study areas, they found that the decrease in seawater pH being caused by greenhouse gas emissions is still within the bounds of natural pH fluctuation. Some areas already experience daily acidity levels that scientists had expected would only be reached at the end of the 21st Century.
"This study is important for identifying the complexity of the ocean acidification problem around the globe," said Scripps marine biologist Jennifer Smith. "Our data show such huge variability in seawater pH both within and across marine ecosystems making global predictions of the impacts of ocean acidification a big challenge. Some ecosystems such as coral reefs experience a daily range in pH that exceeds the predicted decrease in pH over the next century. While these data suggest that marine organisms may be more adapted to fluctuations in pH than previously thought much more research is needed to determine how individual species will respond over time. Importantly, these new sensors allow us continuously and autonomously monitor pH from remote parts of the world and thus provide us with important baselines from which we can monitor future changes caused by ocean acidification." 

Because many in the marine chemistry community have expressed concerns that ocean acidification could happen too rapidly for some organisms to adapt, the researchers said that this finding is an important step toward identifying the mechanisms some marine organisms have developed in order to cope. They also said that knowledge of actual pH ranges in various ecosystems should improve assumptions about future pH levels that can only rely on broad generalizations about seawater chemistry. Furthermore it could guide future lab and field studies that investigate the limits of resistance and resilience in various marine communities.
The researchers used "SeaFET" and "SeapHOx" sensors developed at Scripps by marine chemistry researcher ToddMartz. The sensors can measure pH and temperature in the top 70 meters (230 feet) of the ocean. Since 2009, Martz's team has constructed 52 sensors, which have been used by 13 different research groups to study individual ecosystems. 

"This collaboration was not planned; it just naturally formed as several of my colleagues requested replicates of a pH sensor that I built while working as a postdoc in Ken Johnson's group at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)," said Martz. "When I arrived at Scripps, we re-engineered my prototype design and since then I have not been able to keep up with all of the requests for sensors. Because every sensor used in this study was built at Scripps, I was in a unique position to assimilate a number of datasets, collected independently by researchers that otherwise would not have been in communication with each other. Each time someone deployed a sensor, they would send me the data and eventually it became clear that a synthesis should be done to cross-compare this diverse collection of measurements."
Deployed in the ocean over the course of months or years, the sensors are also able to record important data about how pH fluctuates over time. As data accumulates, the researchers suggested that the field data could identify ocean regions especially vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification or areas that provide natural protections to organisms at risk.
"Such knowledge could enable protection, management, and remediation of critical marine habitats and populations in the future," wrote the authors.
Despite surveying 15 different ocean regions, the authors noted that they only made observations on coastal surface oceans and that more study is needed in deeper ocean regions farther away from land. Martz noted that large-scale programs such as Argo, a network of more than 3,000 floats distributed throughout the oceans that measures fundamental data.
"The Honeywell DuraFET pH sensor used in the SeaFET has been a great tool for characterizing shallow sites from moorings and for use in shipboard underway systems," Martz said. "The next challenge will be observing the pH of the entire ocean from top to bottom without using ships. I am really excited about the prospect of adding these sensors to mobile autonomous platforms like profiling floats, gliders, and drifters. In fact we continue to work with Ken Johnson and MBARI to make this a reality. I think you can expect to see a pH sensor sending back data from an Argo-type profiling float at some point in 2012."

 Source of article

14 December, 2011

Madagascar tree diversity among the highest worldwide

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In terms of biodiversity, the hugely imperiled forests of Madagascar may be among the world's richest. Researchers estimate that the island off the coast of Africa is home to at least 10,000 tree and shrub species with over 90 percent of them found no-where else in the world. With little baseline data collected on Madagascar's ecosystems, a new study, the first ever of tree diversity in Madagascar lowland rainforests, hopes to begin the process. Published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, the new study surveyed tree species in eastern Madagascar's Betampona Special Reserve.

In all researchers counted 244 tree and shrub species in 49 different families over a hundred different plots spanning a total of 0.79 hectares. This is among the highest worldwide. In fact, only a similar study in Yanomamo, Peru found more species: 292 over one hectare. But Malagasy diversity bested similar studies of lowland rainforests in Malaysia, Indonesia, Columbia, Cameroon, and Papua New Guinea (see graph below).

Not only is Madagascar's rainforest highly-diverse, but it is also unique compared to the world's other rainforests.

"The eastern lowland rainforests of Madagascar have also been noted for their unique richness of palm (Arecaceae), pandan (Pandanaceae), bamboo (Graminaceae) and tree-fern species (Cyatheaceae)," the authors write. Euphorbiaceae, or the Spurge family, was the most dominant tree in the forest.

"With levels of biodiversity that are among the highest worldwide, the island is in many ways on the verge of ecological collapse," the authors write. The rainforests of Madagascar are almost entirely gone: only 10 percent of the island's primary forests still survive.

Fueled by poverty, overpopulation, poor governance, and slash-and-burn agriculture most of Madagascar's forests are either gone or highly imperiled. A recent logging crisis even lead to illegal logging across many of Madagascar's protected areas. Forest loss in the country not only threatens the island's unique species, but also worsens living conditions for the Malagasy people, who now face drastic erosion, soil degradation, overexploitation of resources, and alien species.

"Given the rapid rate at which the lowland rainforests in particular are being fragmented and consumed, it is projected that there will be no primary forest left outside of protected reserves by the year 2020," the authors write. "However, this may become a reality sooner as the anthropogenic pressure on the flora and fauna as well as on the resources that sustain them has been been on the rise due to lack of conservation enforcement since the government coup in early 2009."

Some experts have warned that Madagascar could become the next Haiti in terms of deforestation and wholesale ecological collapse, worsening the lives of the country's mostly poor resident and destroying some of the world's richest habitats.

Source of article

Seychelles: Scientists review status of tuna stocks

Some 60 scientists from most of the 32 countries of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and observer organisations are meeting in Victoria at the annual session of the scientific committee to review the status of stocks of tuna and related species.

Observer organisations include the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Sustainability Seafood Fund  (SSF).

The IOTC secretary Alejandro Anganuzzi said the reports from IOTC working groups which had gathered in Seychelles, Korea, Maldives and India will provide the basis for the advice that the scientific committee will provide, towards the end of this week, on measures IOTC member countries need to take to ensure the sustainability of tuna fisheries in the Indian Ocean.

Part of the work will also serve to evaluate the effects of the protective measures adopted two years ago - which came into effect this year - to reduce the fishing pressure on the tropical species, and to look into alternative measures that might be necessary in future.

The meeting of the scientific committee, which is also being attended by non-governmental organisations involved in nature conservation, such as BirdLife Seychelles and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), will review the progress of the scientific work of IOTC members and coordinate future national research plans.

“As the tuna stocks become fully utilised, there is increased pressure on the scientific community to monitor more closely the situation of the stock, producing better assessments and, ultimately better advice,” said Mr Anganuzzi.

He added that this year there was a major effort to obtain assessment of all major species, and there have been encouraging results on the status of the stocks.

The IOTC serves as a forum for its member countries to agree on joint management action to preserve tuna populations to sustainable levels, as well as their habitat. 
The secretariat of the IOTC has been based in Victoria since 1998.

Source of article

New UN iPhone Application Highlights Role of Ecosystems in Tackling Climate Change

How many mangroves does it take to offset a transatlantic flight? What consumer actions can we take to reduce damage to rainforests?

Answers to these questions and many more are provided by a new iPhone application launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the Eye on Earth summit in Abu Dhabi today.

The UNEP application draws attention to the critical role played by ecosystems such as salt marshes, mangroves, tropical forests and seagrasses in tackling climate change.

Users of the application can calculate their personal carbon footprint for journeys taken by air, train or road. They will then be shown the equivalent area of a particular ecosystem (such as a tropical forest) that can store this amount of carbon dioxide.

The free iPhone application, named Blue and REDD Carbon, is already available online in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

Blue and REDD Carbon

The iPhone application provides users with in-depth information on the vital role of coastal and terrestrial ecosystems in both storing and sequestering carbon.

The Blue Carbon concept aims to promote better management of coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, saltwater marshlands, which serve as vital 'carbon sinks', and can store, in the case of mangrove forests, up to 1,900 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare.

Information on other key climate initiatives, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is provided.

The UNEP application also highlights the valuable natural services provided by ecosystems, such as the protection of shorelines from storms, support for fisheries and provision of materials such as timber and medicine.

According to UNEP's Forests in a Green Economy report, released earlier this year, forest ecosystems provide more than a billion people with incomes and employment and contribute approximately US$ 468 billion to the global economy. Equatorial rainforests also contain around half of all plant and animal species known on Earth.

Yet many of these vital ecosystems are disappearing at an alarming rate, due to deforestation, pollution from agricultural run-off, water diversion and other factors.

The Blue and REDD Carbon application provides a variety of suggestions and guidelines to show how individual actions (such as buying sustainably-sourced fish) can help limit the environmental degradation of coastal and terrestrial ecosystems.

One UN Pavilion at Eye on Earth

The application was launched during the official opening of the One UN Pavillion at the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi. The four-day event, organized by the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI) and hosted by the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency in partnership with UNEP, brings together experts from the worlds of philanthropy, business, government, data engineering and technology to address issues around access to environmental data and knowledge.

The summit is set to deliver a declaration towards the United Nations Conference on Sutainable Development (Rio+20), which will be held in Brazil in June 2012.

The One UN Pavillion at Eye on Earth will display information illustrating the work of the United Nations in the area of environmental data and its application in a wide variety of settings, such as environmental assessment work, humanitarian responses and peace building. Interactive exhibits will present visitors with a wide variety of scientific data on climate change, hazardous wastes and substances, ecosystems management and other topics.

The Global Pulse, the UN Secretary-General's technology for development initiative, will also be highlighted. Global Pulse functions as an innovation laboratory, bringing together expertise from UN agencies, governments, academia, and the private sector to research, develop, test and share tools and approaches for harnessing real-time data for more effective and efficient policy action.

Note to Editors:

The iPhone application can be downloaded from the Apple Store.

For more information, please contact:

Nick Nuttall, Acting Director, UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information on Tel: +254 733 632755, +41 79 596 5737, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

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Innovative project on data sharing for fisheries management and conservation of marine living resources launched

iMarine launches an initiative to establish and operate an e-infrastructure supporting the principles of the Ecosystem Approach to fisheries management and conservation of marine living. By empowering a Community of Practice of scientists, practitioners, managers and fishers, iMarine will establish an open data infrastructure to provide the necessary support to a concrete implementation of the Ecosystem Approach to Fishery. The Ecosystem Approach relies on a set of knowledge and data sources much broader than that used in conventional and fishery management and conservation. The monitoring and assessment of target, emblematic or vulnerable species needs to be broadened to cover species assemblages, communities, habitats, and ecosystems, and to cover fisheries’ impacts on all goods and services offered by those ecosystems.

Over recent years, the marine ecosystem has been affected by many natural and socio-economic phenomena like natural disasters, human interventions (like fisheries), etc, that are making real changes to the original marine ecosystem. These events forced policy makers, environmental institutions, operators etc. to establish a dialogue to start formulating strategies aimed at the conservation and sustainability of the whole ecosystem structure and its properties. So far, this interaction has been started, but with poor results: a concrete Ecosystem Approach has not been yet adopted as is documented by the high number of existing Regional Fishery Management Organisations, Regional Seas Programmes, Ocean Biodiversity Initiatives, etc. who still adopt their own policies, terminologies, methodologies, and tools, and rarely cross over interdisciplinary boundaries, limiting the exchange of ideas and results with other communities, fragmenting understandings, reducing policy effectiveness and slowing down learning for adaptive management. Moreover to speed up the process of adoption of the Ecosystem Approach the establishment of one or more Communities of Practice is fundamental: interconnecting scientists, managers, lawyers, industry leaders, unions, fishery operators, etc. is the key to rapidly develop requirements and recommendations for new services and tools.

iMarine will bridge this gap through the development of the i-Marine Data e- infrastructure. This e-Infrastructure fosters the cohesion among different Ecosystem Approach Communities of Practise (EA-CoP) reducing costs of its multidisciplinary policy creation, scientific and social learning activities and facilitating the emergence and solidification of EA-CoP. Moreover, providing a common layer to connect existing data infrastructures via established and standardized interfaces, implementing new features and value-added tools used by practitioners in fishery management and marine living resources conservation allows the creation of a unique reference point for all EA-CoP around the world. Objectives:
The final goal of iMarine is to launch an initiative aimed at establishing and operating an einfrastructure supporting the principles of the Ecosystem Approach to fisheries management and conservation of marine living resources. To achieve this goal, iMarine has established three main detailed objectives and organizes its efforts around them.
• Policy Development: establishing an iMarine Board, formed by representatives of international organisations involved in this domain, which will define a sustainability driven data-centric e-infrastructure governance model and will formulate organizational and technological policy recommendations;
• Data e-Infrastructure Management and Operation: building the iMarine Data eInfrastructure to operate as a facilities/commodities/services provider, to support the analysis and decision processes in the entire data production-consumption life-cycle of the EA-CoP, simplifying and expediting the exchange, consumption, and analysis of cross-domain data collections and improving the quality of decision-forming data through the provisioning of user-level and application-level services;
• Service Enrichment and Deployment: the extension, adaptation and deployment of a
rich set of software components that implement these services.

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9 December, 2011

First Action Plan for World’s Blue Carbon Policy

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The first policy framework outlining activities needed to include coastal marine areas such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses into the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has been presented in a report by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and Conservation International (CI), two of the leading members of the Blue Carbon Initative.

The report, “Blue Carbon Policy Framework”, outlines the opportunities for including the conservation of coastal areas in the climate change policies and financing processes currently being negotiated in Durban. The study also highlights the need for the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the voluntary carbon market to take coastal marine ecosystems into account.

“The oceans and marine biodiversity are crucial in regulating the global climate”, says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “Oceans absorb 93.4 % of the heat produced by climate change as well as one third of human-induced carbon dioxide. Coastal areas also have an exceptional capacity to store carbon. But currently natural solutions that the marine world offers to climate change challenges are rarely taken into account in international climate change policy.”

The UNFCCC and the mechanism known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus conservation), support the conservation and restoration of terrestrial forests as a way to reduce the effects of climate change. But the importance of coastal carbon sinks, such as mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrasses, is not yet fully recognized by the Convention. 

Although coastal ecosystems cover only one to two percent of the area covered by forests globally, improving their management can supplement efforts to reduce emissions from tropical forest degradation. A square kilometer of a coastal ecosystem can store up to five times more carbon than a square kilometer of mature tropical forests. But currently these areas are being destroyed three to four times faster than forests, releasing substantial amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the ocean, and contributing to climate change.

 “We think this recognition is critical,” explains report co-author Dr. Emily Pidgeon, Conservation International’s Senior Director of Marine Strategic Initiatives and a leading Blue Carbon conservation scientist.  “The management of carbon in coastal systems can already be included in a number of UNFCCC and REDD+ components. This plan was produced to help detail what we see as key next steps in terms of a full integration of blue carbon into existing initiatives.”

“We now have scientific evidence that conserving mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrasses and other blue carbon habitats is a very precious tool in our fight against climate change,” says Pierre-Yves Cousteau, IUCN’s Goodwill Ambassador and founder of Cousteau Divers, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the marine world. “These muddy coastal areas also help us adapt to the changing climate. They protect local communities from storms and regulate the quality of coastal water. Increased recognition of their importance among the climate change community will hopefully improve the way they’re managed and conserved.”

“We need to convince the broader policy community that blue carbon has a strong scientific basis and that it should be taken into account as a valuable tool in our suite of global efforts to confront and adapt to the impacts of climate change. We also need decision makers to understand that this tool requires adequate funding to maximize the many benefits it provides to people,” adds Pidgeon.

The report can be viewed here: http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2011-058.pdf  

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Oxfam and WWF join with shipowners to urge agreement on way forward for tackling greenhouse gas emissions from ships

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa (COP 17, Nov. 28 to Dec. 9, 2011), the global shipping industry, Oxfam and WWF have joined forces to suggest to governments how the further reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping might best be regulated. 

Oxfam, WWF and the International Chamber of Shipping (which represents over 80% of the world merchant fleet) call on delegates to COP 17 to give the International Maritime Organization (IMO) clear guidance on continuing its work on reducing shipping emissions through the development of Market Based Measures (MBMs).

The organisations maintain that an effective regulatory framework for curbing emission of CO2 from international shipping must be global in nature and designed so as to reduce the possibility of ‘carbon leakage’, while taking full account of the best interests of developing countries and the UNFCCC principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ (CBDR). 

This includes the possibility of the adoption by IMO of a compensation mechanism through which a significant share of any revenues collected from international shipping could be directed to developing countries and provide a new source of finance to support their efforts to tackle climate change. Such revenues could be directed through an appropriate channel, such as the Green Climate Fund, which will be discussed by governments in Durban.

While there are some differences over the detail of such an approach, both the civil society and shipping industry organisations emphasise that the immediate priority for governments meeting at COP 17 in Durban is not to work on technical details for shipping, but to provide the signals needed to allow resolution of the key political question of how to apply CBDR in the shipping sector, and assist the speedy completion of the IMO’s work.

With respect to any carbon charges that might be proposed by governments, they agree that the recent IMO agreement on technical and operational measures to reduce shipping emissions demonstrates that the IMO is eminently capable of developing a further international agreement for shipping on MBMs. In light of the urgency required to avoid catastrophic climate change, they called on all governments to take all steps necessary to expedite such an agreement at the IMO.

Quotes from participating organisations:

Samantha Smith, Leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, said:

“We are very pleased that the shipping industry acknowledges its responsibility to play its part in further reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With around 3% of the world’s total emissions, full participation of the shipping sector will help greatly towards keeping global warming below the 2°C target agreed by governments. Putting a charge on carbon in the global shipping sector can have huge benefits in meeting our climate change objectives.”

“We agree with shipowners that the best place to work out the details of how shipping’s emissions can be tackled using Market Based Measures will be at the International Maritime Organization, and that a strong political signal by political leaders in Durban showing their determination to make progress on this will help accelerate that process.”

Tim Gore, Oxfam climate change policy advisor, said:

“We welcome the constructive engagement of the shipping industry in the search for solutions to the climate crisis. Industry and civil society actors agree that shipping emissions can be regulated in a way which is fair to developing countries and could help generate the resources they need to tackle climate change.”

“It’s vital that governments meeting this month at the UN climate talks in Durban give the signal needed to move such a deal forward in the International Maritime Organization”.

ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe, said:

“The shipping industry welcomes the recognition by these important actors from the environment and development fields that it is in the best interests of both the environment and developing nations for shipping to be regulated via our industry regulator, the International Maritime Organization, with the same rules for carbon reduction applying to all internationally trading ships, but in a manner which respects the principles of the UN climate convention.” 

“If governments decide that shipping should contribute to the UNFCCC ‘Green Climate Fund’, the industry can probably support this in principle as long as the details are agreed at the IMO, with the industry’s clear preferen

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Mozambique has new ship to patrol Exclusive Economic Zone

Mozambique now has a new ship to patrol its Exclusive Economic Zone and try to bring an end to illegal fishing, mainly of tuna and shark fins, by foreign ships, Mozambican newspaper Notícias reported.

The ship is the Antillas Reefer, which was seized in July 2008 for illegal fishing off the Mozambican coast and which has been heavily refurbished in order to carry out a number of activities, including patrolling the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) said the national director for Fishing Inspection, Manuel Casteano.

It is estimated that illegal fishing leads to losses for Mozambique of at least US$64 million each year.

Casteano said that although the Antillas Reefer was vessel that could be used for a number of activities it would, for the fishing sector, increase patrols carried out by Kuswag-1, a ship chartered in 2008 with the financial support of Norway.

The Kuswag-1 is currently sued to patrol shrimp fishing, and thus with the Antillas Reefer it will be possible to cover other species such as tuna and shark.

Casteano also said that the Antillas Reefer was able to remain at sea continuously for four months, thus making it possible to cover Mozambique’s ZEE in a more comprehensive way. 

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1 December, 2011

The acid truth about our oceans: experts urge action to limit ocean acidification

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Ocean acidification can no longer remain on the periphery of the international debates on climate change and the environment and should be addressed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and other global environmental conventions, urges IUCN and the International Ocean Acidification Reference User Group (RUG) at the climate change summit in Durban.

In the run up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro in June next year (Rio+20), world experts from RUG call for decision makers to urgently address the critical issue of ocean acidification.

“The increasing amounts of carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere every day are changing our oceans, steadily increasing their acidity, and dramatically affecting marine life,” says Professor Dan Laffoley Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and Chair of RUG. “This may also have severe impacts on human life in the future. Only by reducing our CO2 emissions and enhancing the protection of oceans to strengthen their ability to recover, can we effectively address this issue. Policy makers in Durban, and in Rio in June next year, need to recognize this and take appropriate actions.”

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, particularly CO2, which is the main driver of climate change and the main cause of ocean acidification, is one of the goals of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But the latest RUG publication calls for a broader strategy to reduce ocean acidification, alongside those tackling other threats to the marine environment such as overfishing and pollution.

According to the experts, although both climate change and ocean acidification are caused by excessive amounts of CO2 emissions, and so should be tackled together, not all approaches used to address the former will be effective in the fight against the latter.

"For example, ‘geoengineering' solutions, such as reflecting solar radiation, which are often suggested to deal with climate change, will not address the progressive acidification of the ocean," says Dr John Baxter of the Scottish Natural Heritage and Deputy Chair of the RUG. "Both climate change and acidification need to be taken into account when designing solutions to these challenges."

Each year, the ocean absorbs approximately 25% of all the CO2 we emit. Its acidity has increased by 30% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and acidification will continue at an unprecedented rate in the coming decades. This can have a negative impact on marine organisms, especially the 'calcifying’ ones such as shellfish, molluscs, coral reefs and various types of zooplankton and phytoplankton. Increasing ocean acidity requires them to use more energy to build their shells, which has potentially severe ecological consequences. If the current acidification rate continues, it could lead to extinctions of some species and impact others that feed on them.

“Through its ability to absorb large amounts of CO2, the ocean plays a crucial role in moderating the rate and severity of climate change”, says Dr Carol Turley from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Knowledge Exchange Coordinator for the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme, one of the partners of the Reference User Group. “But in many ways our ocean is also a victim of its own success, as this capacity jeopardizes its future health, its biodiversity and its ability to continue to provide us with food and sustainable economic development. Ocean acidification requires urgent and effective action now, before it’s too late. The obvious action is to reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere."

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Fisheries inspectors hone skills to better deal with Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing

Fisheries inspectors from Mozambique and Seychelles are meeting here for a week-long training workshop to hone their skills in conducting inspections aimed at fighting illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

Ten inspectors from Mozambique, led by their country’s director of fisheries surveillance Manuel Castiano, are meeting their Seychellois counterparts this week at the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) training room.

The training workshop being held under the auspices of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) is being conducted by fisheries experts from Seychelles and the IOTC.

The week-long training was officially launched Monday morning by the Investment, Natural Resources and Industry Minister Peter Sinon in the presence of other high officials from the same ministry and the IOTC executive secretary Alejandro Anganuzzi, among other guests.

Addressing those present, Mr Sinon said IUU fishing has been and remains a great concern not only for countries with available resources but consumers worldwide are now becoming more aware of the threat to fish sustainability and they want to know where the fish on their plate comes from.

He said it is the duty and responsibility of Seychelles, which has the major transshipping port in the region, to be able to answer questions pertaining to the traceability of fish going through our port.

The workshop follows the adoption last year of an IOTC resolution based on the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) legally binding Port State measures to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing. It calls on member states to reinforce their capacity in the fight against IUU fishing and to take actions against vessels involved and those supporting such activities.

“It is for this reason that Mozambique and Seychelles through the SFA have agreed to host this training workshop for their inspectors,” said Mr Sinon.

The minister noted that Seychelles being the hub for purse seiners, our inspectors have vast knowledge of conducting inspections on those vessels while our Mozambican counterparts are more use to inspecting industrial long-liners. Through this collaborative joint-workshop the inspectors will share their experience and lessons learnt, Mr Sinon pointed out.

Mr Castiano said Mozambique joined the IOTC last year and is doing its utmost to fulfill its obligations as a member state and this joint capacity building initiative further shows its commitment to fight IUU fishing.

Mr Anganuzzi said the IOTC encourages such initiatives and will continue to support and promote them.

During the week-long training programme, the inspectors will learn more about the various tuna species, the management framework, the structure, functions, conservation and management measures of the IOTC.

Visits to the industrial fishing port to watch landing/transshipment operations in progress have also been planned, among other activities.  

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Madagascar: Underwater explorers embark on voyage to chart marine diversity of threatened Indian Ocean coral archipelago

In late November a team of marine scientists and environmental reporters will embark on a pioneering research expedition along the remote west coast of Madagascar. Based aboard a traditional Malagasy wooden sailing dhow, the international team will survey the health and biodiversity of the Barren Isles, a 100km long chain of coral islands off the west coast of the Madagascar; working above and below the water to support the conservation of one of the Mozambique Channel's remotest and least known coral reef archipelagos.

The expedition, led by conservation organisation Blue Ventures, will be at sea for three weeks, sailing from the town of Morondava. During the voyage marine biologists will collect important scientific data, documenting local conservation issues, and raising awareness of the conservation value of marine resources. Throughout the voyage the expedition will report its findings online, producing films and news reports documenting threats to the region's spectacular marine life, and investigating the impacts of climate change on the archipelago's fragile marine environment.

The eight-person team will include international marine biologists, photographers, film-makers and journalists all helping to increase environmental awareness by sharing stories about marine conservation issues through radio and film.

"This cruise will be the first of its kind in Madagascar, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to share our incredible marine heritage with the public and to engage people in communicating ocean conservation messages" said Mialy Andriamahefazafy, Environmental Policy Officer with Blue Ventures in Antananarivo. "By focusing on the environmental challenges being experienced by local communities along the west coast, and with film-makers working alongside reef scientists, the expedition will also raise national awareness and support for marine conservation in this unexplored region."

Communicating climate change

Underwater films produced by the team will explore the extraordinary diversity and fragility of the region's coral reefs, many of which remain completely unexplored. The Barren Isles ecosystem comprises an enormous diversity of habitats, from deep oceanic waters to diverse coral reefs, extensive mangrove forests, estuarine marshes, wetlands and coastal dunes, and dense semi-humid tropical forest.

The expedition will document the work of the crew as they visit the islands, encountering traditional migrant fishermen living on the sand cays, and witnessing at first hand the impacts of climate change, overfishing and dwindling marine resources on the livelihoods of these communities. The scientists will also report on success stories from conservation initiatives being developed in the region by local fishing communities.

Towards conservation

Owing to their remoteness and offshore isolation, the reefs of the Barren Isles have experienced comparatively low levels of human exploitation to date, and are consequently among the healthiest in the entire western Indian Ocean region, supporting very high abundance of fish.

"Our reconnaissance surveys of the Barren Isles found that these coral reefs are thriving ecosystems, sheltering a rich variety of marine fauna" said Tanguy Nicolas, coordinator of Blue Ventures' conservation efforts in the coastal city of Maintirano, western Madagascar. "However, with ever increasing numbers of fishermen migrating to these islands each year there are indications that the isles' exceptional biodiversity is facing immediate threats from unmanaged exploitation."

The information collected during the expedition will allow scientists to determine the health of the reefs, and to understand how they are being affected by human pressures, including climate change. This information will support management plans for conservation of the Barren Isles, which have been highlighted as a priority area for marine conservation in Madagascar.

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Smart Gear 2011: Seabirds off the Hook!

WWF announced three new fishing devices to save lives of seabirds, fish, turtles, and other marine life, as the winners of the2011 International Smart Gear competition today in Seattle, Washington. 

The biennial Smart Gear competition seeks innovative, environmentally-friendly ways to reduce the amount of fisheries bycatch – a problem that causes the death of millions of tonnes of untargeted marine life, such as non-commercial or juvenile fish, marine mammals, turtles and seabirds that are caught in fishing gear and then thrown back to sea. This unintentional or unused catch is estimated to account for at least 40% of what is taken from our oceans each year and contributes heavily to overfishing. 

One grand prize and two runner-up awards were granted during the ceremony today. This year’s US$30,000 grand prize was awarded to Kazuhiro Yamazaki, a captain on a Japanese tuna vessel who also received another tuna prize of US$7,500, granted by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), for the idea that would reduce the amount of bycatch specifically occurring in tuna fisheries – one of WWF’s top global fisheries conservation priorities. US$10,000 of the prize money will go to fund activities, such as testing and marketing that will help to make the winning idea widely available.

Mr. Yamazaki’s winning design – a double-weight branch line – sinks long line hooks beyond the range of seabirds, such as albatrosses and petrels. It also reduces injuries and fatalities to crews caused by rapidly recoiling weights and hooks. In 2010, over 95,000 branch lines with the double weight system were hauled with no injuries, reducing seabird bycatch by 89% as compared to un-weighted branch lines, with no effect on fish catch rates. 

Practical, effective, everyday solutions to the problem of bycatch

“Smart Gear represents a unique collaboration among conservationists, fishermen, and scientists to develop innovative devices that enable fishermen to fish more sustainably. The creative inventions designed by the winners of the Smart Gear competition promise practical, effective, everyday solutions to the problem of bycatch, which threatens the health of our oceans,” said Bill Fox, WWF-US Vice President for Fisheries. 

“The dedication and determination of innovators like Mr. Yamazaki is crucial to our ability to maintain both ocean health and prosperity. The Yamazaki Double Weight Branchline 
is simple but practical for solving the sustainability challenges we face, and shows that one person’s idea can have the potential to make a difference globally if we continue to work smart and work together,” said Susan Jackson, ISSF President.

“Bycatch harms endangered and threatened species, contributes to overfishing, damages ecosystems, and is a problem everyone wants to solve,” said John Stein, 
PhD, Acting Science Director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NOAA). “NOAA is an enthusiastic partner in this competition, which values the expertise of fishermen, who test fishing gear more than anyone and know firsthand how bycatch threatens the sustainability of marine resources and of their own industry.”

Runner up

The competition also offered two US$10,000 runner-up prizes to the second and third winners. 

The first runner-up prize winner was a device called the SeaQualizer, which was submitted by a team from Florida. The SeaQualizer is a simple device that increases the survival rate of fish that experience barotrauma symptoms. When pulled to the surface, many fish undergo an expansion of their air bladder, and cannot return safely to the ocean depths. The SeaQualizer represents a breakthrough in bycatch release technology that could have a major impact on fish mortality in the recreational angling sector. Studies have suggested that survival rates greater than 50% are possible, depending on the species and the depth from which they are raised. If widely accepted by the recreational fishing community, the SeaQualizer could result in significant improvements in management and stock levels for red snapper and rockfish in particular. 

The second runner-up was awarded to a team from Ocean Discovery Institute in San Diego and University of Hawaii for a device called Turtle Lights for Gillnets, which is designed to reduce the bycatch of sea turtles in gill nets. Turtle Lights for Gillnets uses widely available fishing lights to illuminate gillnets. Trials reduced green turtle interactions by 60% without affecting target catch rates or catch value. The award-winning team hypothesizes that the illumination creates enough of a visual cue to alert sea turtles to the presence of a net so that they can avoid it. 

The International Smart Gear Competition was created by WWF and a diverse range of partners in May 2004 to bring together fishermen, fisheries, policy and science to find solutions to reduce the unnecessary decline of vulnerable species due to bycatch.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Fondation Segré, ISSF, Sea World and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund sponsored this year’s Smart Gear Competition.

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