Grace, Braveheart, Wilbur, Salt & Pepper, Pokemon, Julius… they are my friends, and they are the last of their kin. The Goliath Groupers are the gentle giants of Florida. They have gone extinct in most of the Atlantic Ocean. We almost lost them all due to overfishing. Today, Florida is the only place in the world where we can see Goliaths in mangroves (as babies) in the reefs ( as adults) and in spawning aggregations (getting together to breed). This is a direct result of a 1990 federal and state moratorium on harvest.
Photo Credits: Grace by M. Eakin, Braveheart by A.C. Egan, Wilbur by A.C. Egan, Salt & Pepper by P. Barroso, Pokemon by S. Frias-Torres, Julius by P. Barroso
On April 26, 2018, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will vote on a proposal to kill the critically endangered Goliath Grouper. The proposal is labelled as…
Here’s something to think about. Who will still be here once even we humans have gone the way of the Dodo? Well, there’s a solid chance that it may be the mighty little Tardigrade, or Water Bear.
Tardigrades thrive most everywhere on earth, and even in outer space. Although over 1,000 Tardigrade species waddle around our planet, you’d never know it because most of them are only around 1 mm in length. Thriving most everywhere on earth – from Antarctica to the Amazon, and from the top of Mount Everest to the Challenger Deep, Tardigrades can withstand up to 6,000 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level, or about 6 times more pressure than the squeeze at the deepest point in the ocean.
These little guys can survive temps from -475 degrees F to well over the boiling point of water. They can lie dormant for up to 100 years, and be revived by only one drop of water.
Direct exposure to ionizing radiation won’t phase them either. Tardigrades can survive as high as 500,000 rads of ionizing radiation. FYI, a dose of 1,000 – 2,000 rads is fatal to humans, and we suffer significant damage with much lower exposures.
In 2007, the European Space Agency launched a spacecraft full of science experiments. During the mission, the Water Bear astronauts prevailed over sub-zero temperatures, unrelenting solar winds, cosmic radiation and an oxygen-deprived space vacuum. And although humans have about 90 seconds in those conditions before we’re toast, the Water Bears didn’t mind, they just went about their business and laid eggs!
Peak Season for Sightings of California’s Official Marine Reptile Along the Coast
The leatherbacks are here! The state of California’s first official Pacific Leatherback Conservation Day on October 15 comes at the peak of the season for leatherbacks feeding on jellyfish along the state’s coastline. As many as 300 endangered leatherbacks swim the coastline every year in search of jellyfish. While many threats to the survival of the critically endangered sea turtle remain, California’s coast is today a safe haven for this ancient marine species.
So far this year 16 sightings of the elusive leatherback sea turtles along the Central California coast were reported by whale watchers, fishers and researchers to the Leatherback Watch Program, a citizen science program organized by Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.org) in Olema, CA.
The Pacific leatherback sea turtle swims 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean to feed on jellyfish that are abundant along the California coast during summer and fall months. Sea turtle biologists using satellite-tracking tags discovered only in the past decade that these leatherbacks migrate to our coast from distant nesting beaches in remote Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and island nations in the Western Pacific. These trans-ocean travelers are most abundant in the summer and fall but have been sighted offshore of California year-round.
On Sunday, October 13th, the Leatherback Watch Program is going out once again to search for leatherbacks on an educational expedition from San Francisco Bay to the Farallon Islands. Anyone can join the day-long cruise in the heart of leatherback habitat. Get the details here: (http://www.seaturtles.org/plcd).
The Pacific leatherback sea turtle was designated California’s official marine reptile last year. The passage of the California Marine Reptile Bill in 2012 (AB 1776-Fong sponsored by SeaTurtles.org) designated Pacific Leatherback Conservation Day on October 15 every year and prioritized conservation of this critically endangered sea turtle species. The new state law also calls for increased education and outreach to schools and all Californians about the importance of leatherback sea turtles along our coast.
To help spread the word about leatherbacks and how to protect them, we recently launched the Leatherback Conservation Pledge, urging Californians to make a promise to take steps to help protect leatherbacks by swearing off seafood with high turtle bycatch, reducing use of plastics and educating others about the leatherbacks that swim the California coast. A new Leatherback Conservation Activity Guide, Facebook page and other free educational materials are now available for free at http://www.seaturtles.org/plcd.
To promote hands-on conservation and collaboration, we are also thrilled to be bringing together sea turtle scientists, advocates and policy makers from both sides of the Pacific for the first Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Summit in Monterey next week. The goal is to create a new conservation partnership across the ocean to ensure that leatherback sea turtle populations survive and thrive both on nesting beaches and in the ocean waters where they spend most of their lives. The summit will engage over a dozen Indonesian delegates from the state Papua Barat, Indonesia, with California state officials from the Department of Natural Resources and elected officials including Assemblyman Paul Fong.
Top leatherback researcher Scott Benson from Moss Landing will share his vision and experiences tagging sea turtles. Click here to view his landmark study published in 2011 in Ecosphere. Indonesian researcher Ricardo Tapilatu will bring his knowledge from the nesting beaches. Download his 2013 study about the decline of nesting leatherbacks here.
Pacific leatherback sea turtles are “living dinosaurs,” having survived 100 million years virtually unchanged. The leatherback is the largest, deepest diving, and fastest swimming of all the seven species of sea turtles in the world. The largest adult leatherback ever recorded grew to nine feet long and weighed over 2,000 lbs.! It is the only sea turtle species with leathery skin and ridges on its back instead of a hard shell. Today, this ancient ocean dweller is critically endangered and at risk of extinction.
Pacific leatherback sea turtles are among the most imperiled of any sea turtle population in any ocean basin on Earth. Their population has declined by approximately 95 percent in the last 25 years. This drastic population decline has resulted primarily from human activities such as capture in fisheries, poaching of eggs and adults, habitat loss, marine plastic pollution and climate change. The leatherback sea turtle was listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1970. Increased awareness, education, and conservation policy enforcement is needed to ensure the continued survival of the Pacific leatherback.
In a significant conservation victory, nearly 42,000 square miles of ocean waters along the U.S. West Coast were designated as protected critical habitat under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, including 16,910 square miles of California’s coastal waters. The Pacific leatherback critical habitat is an area where leatherbacks feed on jellyfish. Jellyfish are the main food source for all leatherbacks. They eat several hundred pounds of jellies each day when feeding in their critical habitat. Without a safe haven to feed, they could not survive their migration back across the Pacific. This Pacific leatherback critical habitat is the largest protected area for sea turtles in U.S. conservation history.
Pacific leatherbacks have been protected from the California drift gillnet fishery since 2001 with the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area. The Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area prohibits drift gillnet fishing between August 15 and November 15 along the California and Oregon coasts from Point Sur to Lincoln City, Oregon, out to the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The PLCA has reduced the number of leatherback entanglements in the fishery from 112 between 1990 and 2001; to two between 2001 and 2012.
What a shame that proposals at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting in Bremerhaven for the two largest ocean sanctuaries in the world in the Antarctic Ocean were blocked by the Russian delegation. Instead of losing hope, let’s redouble our efforts and fortify the belief that we can protect these pristine waters for future generations. Our next big opportunity to apply positive pressure to the fate of the Antarctic will be in Hobart this October. Let’s pounce on the opportunity.
We at Mission Blue were blown away by the energy and dedication of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) in their campaign to influence CCAMLR to create this important Marine Protected Area — Hope Spot — to build a healthy Antarctic Ocean for the future. They called the Russian delegation’s blocking of the proposal “the loss of an extraordinary opportunity to protect the global marine environment for future generations.” So true. Yet, with this lost opportunity, we must keep a sharp eye on the future to find a new one.
According to sources on the ground, the delegations grew frustrated by Russia’s actions, including those from China and Korea. Russia wasted precious time and diverted significant attention away from discussions of these enormous potential Hope Spots.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “We’ll soon get another bite at the apple and a formulation for protecting the Ross Sea can and will be found, period,” he said. ”Yes, the road has been harder than we hoped. But I am pleased that so many countries were willing to work together towards this crucial objective.”
That’s the spirit! And, we stand with the AOA when they say: “Game over. For now. Until Hobart – when we win.” If we keep the hope alive, we can together protect these Hope Spots, seeds of tomorrow’s healthy ocean.
This month, CCAMLR, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, will meet in Bremerhaven, Germany to again debate whether or not to establish a large marine protected area in one of Mission Blue’s Hope Spots, the Ross Sea. The 25 participating nations will ultimately decide the fate of what has been called the most pristine ocean wilderness on earth. And it’s by no means a done-deal.
It’s critical that our voices continue to be heard loud and clear – all the way to Bremerhaven. One of the things you can do is to sign the petition from the Antarctic Ocean Alliance on this page, and also ask to receive their newsletter for updates so that you can continue to support each stage of the campaign.
New Zealand filmmaker, Peter Young is bringing attention to the campaign by touring the US with his documentary, The Last Ocean, which explores the race to save the Ross Sea. As pressure mounts on nations to protect the Ross Sea from commercial fishing, Young is positioning his film center stage for maximum impact.
The Last Ocean has been selling out in theaters. It is being promoted in 24 countries in seven languages and has been released online in a video-on-demand format, available here and also on iTunes.
What surprises Young is that the crisis in the Ross Sea is such a revelation to viewers. He’s heartened that Whole Foods, and now Safeway have chosen not to sell Chilean sea bass from the Ross Sea. “It’s a major step. They are two of the biggest supermarket brands in the US.”
At a screening of the film in March, US Secretary of State John Kerry signaled support for a New Zealand-US proposal for the Ross Sea.
The proposal involves a 876,450 square mile protected area involving a tag-and-release program on the continental shelf of the Ross Sea, where the highest concentration of ‘Chilean Sea Bass’ is found.
“If it goes through, it will be a good first step, but there’s still a really long way to go to what should be really happening in the Ross Sea,” Young said.
The success of the talks in Germany may rest heavily on fishing nations Russia, China and Ukraine, whose votes prevented a consensus among the CCAMLR Nations last year.