Thursday, July 30, 2009

Very Important Study to Be Published in Science Tomorrow

Photo: Boris Worm (Credit: Danny Abriel, Dalhousie University)

Thu Jul 30 12:40:45 2009 Pacific Time

Scientists Document Prospects for Recovery of Fisheries, Call for More Global Action

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., July 30 (AScribe Newswire) -- Scientists have joined forces in a groundbreaking assessment on the status of marine fisheries and ecosystems. The two-year study, based at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and led by Boris Worm of Dalhousie University and Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington, included an international team of 19 co-authors. It shows that steps taken to curb overfishing are beginning to succeed in five of the 10 large marine ecosystems that they examined. The paper, which appears in the July 31 issue of the journal Science, provides new hope for rebuilding troubled fisheries.

The study had two goals: to examine current trends in fish abundance and exploitation rates (the proportion of fish taken out of the sea) and to identify which tools managers have applied in their efforts to rebuild depleted fish stocks. The work is a significant leap forward because it reveals that the rate of fishing has been reduced in several regions around the world, resulting in some stock recovery. Moreover, it bolsters the case that sound management can contribute to the rebuilding of fisheries elsewhere.

Click here to read the full article.

Finding Coral | CBC News:The National

Check out this very well done piece on the Finding Coral Expedition, shown on CBC's The National this past Monday.

Finding Coral | CBC News:The National

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Coastal Voices E Newsletter

Click here to read our Summer 2009 edition of Coastal Voices!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Name This Spot!

I thought I might try something new for this blog; a contest!
I want to know if any of our blog fans can name this spot.

The only clues I can give you is that it is in the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area and north of Cape Caution.

You don't know about PNCIMA?
You can find out more here and here.

You can send in your answer to;

In my next posting I will post another "Name This Spot," as well as the answer to this one and send the winner one of our coveted PNCIMA "Floats My Boat" ball cap!

Good luck!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fumbling Towards Becoming a Scientific Diver Superhero

Sunset at Bamfield Marine Science Center

Note: Below are the field notes and pictures from Sarah Klain, a Masters student at the University of British Columbia who took part in some field research at Tofino and Bamfield this summer. While Sarah's story takes place away from the North Island, I thought that I would post anyway - I am sure there are North Islanders who can relate to her diving experiences. Thanks for sharing Sarah!
Story and photos: credit Sarah Klain.

Sea otters, a native species on the west coast of Vancouver Island, will likely re-colonize Barkley Sound in the next decade. I’m part of a UBC research team to study how kelp forest ecosystems will likely be transformed when otters, with their voracious appetites for urchins and shellfish, expand their range. Our study will also include how fisheries, recreation on the water and cultural values may change as sea otters become more abundant. Enticed by the adventure of diving in BC, I plunged into joining this team.

During the frenzy of field work, sleeping in meant rolling out of bed at 7:01 am, squeezing into four layers of long-underwear bottoms and five layers of fleece tops, downing rocket fuel coffee, scarfing cereal, and walk-skidding down the steep gravely hill to the Bamfield Marine Science Center dock by 7:29.

Fearless Leader Rebecca Martone

I slacked that morning relative to others on the dive team. The project leader Becca had been up for two hours preparing. Stefan, a fervent fishermen,had jigged for rockfish for his master’s research since before dawn and the never-complaining always-working field assistants Sarah and Jocelyn had already loaded half the tanks onto the dive boat. With quasi-bulging and too quickly tiring biceps, I lamely attempted to make up for my late arrival by carrying air tanks to the boat two at a time. After tanks, we loaded dive gear. Each of us had our personal pile of equipment necessary to dive and ward off hypothermia when immersed in the chilly waters of West Vancouver Island. Forgetting a single item-- hood, mask, BC, regulator, dry suit, dry gloves, booties, nearly 40 pounds of weights or fins --would forfeit the dive. Becca’s caffeinated brain checked items off as she counted and double-checked equipment, printed data sheets, lugged gear, and completed the myriad tasks necessary to get a team of five divers, including herself, into the water for kelp forest and rocky reef surveys.

Equipment for Surveys

The muffled drone of the motor en route to the Barkley Sound study site provided needed respite from the bustle of preparing the boat. When we reached the dive site, it was constantly apparent that I had only recently completed my scientific dive course. Fumbling with everything, I had trouble dressing myself. I needed help zipping my dry suit. I pressed my self-inflate button on my drysuit only to realize I had forgotten to fasten the essential dry suit hose. I relied on others to fix my mask under my hood and help me pull on my tight dry gloves over the rigid plastic collars around my wrists. Feeling like a toddler, I swallowed any pride in trying to be self-sufficient and relied on the team to make sure I would be able to breathe underwater and stay mostly dry (water trickled down my neck when looking around too eagerly). With our broad shouldered black drysuits, we were a team of undersea ninjas. Laden with the gear that engulfed our bodies, we resembled futuristic astronaut superheroes, perhaps sketched in a comic book predating space travel.

Superhero Dive Ninjas?

My awkwardness was relieved when I descended at the edge of my known universe since this was my first dive in a kelp forest full of species I had only recently studied in books. Drifting downwards while hearing only the sound of my bubbly breath relieved the weight of self-consciousness about my morning tardiness, newness to scientific diving, worries about forgetting gear and anxiety over learning over 40 species too slowly. While underwater, my tension mostly dissolved as I recorded and measured species while reveling in the colorful riot of life that surrounded and at times entangled me. Bull kelp and giant kelp wrapped around my legs, arms, and hoses while I swam through the undersea forests. Just like a Chinese finger trap, the more I struggled, the more ensnared I became. Sometimes I resorted to cutting myself free with the dive knife that contributed to the superhero look. Usually extraction only required calmness as the surge often gently disentangled the fronds if I stopped fighting the kelp and focused on my survey.

Red Urchin

Our surveys of kelp forests and rocky reefs will answer questions about the cast of undersea characters (biodiversity) and the roles they play (food web structure). The lead characters in the motley crew of Barkley Sound include kelp and spiny red urchins that actually range in color from deep purples to pink. Sculpins, fish that resemble curmudgeony old men, made eyes at us. Striped and textured sea stars, kelp, algae, elegantly feathered and multi-colored sea slugs called nudibranchs, crabs, abalone, rockfish and more filled thequadrats (squares) and transects (lines) that we surveyed. Our research involved identifying, counting and measuring plants as well as animals, particularly commercially harvested species, to compare sites with and without sea otters.

Sea star collection cooler

After completing the dive surveys, I progressed from feeling like a toddler to a young child. I could understand the foreign sounding Latin names of species and stutter a handful of them myself. I advanced from my what-have-I-forgotten fretting over personal gear to helping with group equipment. Perhaps, after a few thousand more dive surveys, I’ll advance to superhero scientific diver status.

Collecting specimens from kelp forests

This integrative project, spearheaded by Kai Chan and Russell Markel, involves several investigators including Chris Harley, Jon Shurin, Evgeny Pakhomov, Rebecca Martone and Anne Salomon.

Vermilion sea star

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Phytoplankton Bloom off Vancouver Island

An explanation of the July 14 NASA MODIS Image of the Day, taken from

Shown in this image, captured by the MODIS on the Aqua satellite on July 3, 2009, is the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and British Columbia, Canada.

In the upper left corner of the image is Vancouver Island.

Further south is (across from the left) Washington State, and south of Washington, part of Oregon. The bright green patches (one of which is right up against the southwestern shore of Vancouver Island

) are caused by millions of tiny ocean plants called phytoplankton. The coastal waters of the Eastern Pacific are productive because wind and ocean currents allow nutrient-rich water from deep in the ocean to rise to the surface. The cold, rising water carries phosphates and nitrates, which act as fertilizer to the phytoplankton that grow in the sunlit waters at the ocean's surface. Since phytoplankton are the base of the food chain, areas that support large phytoplankton blooms tend to have large fish populations. Off the coast of Vancouver Island and Washington State, phytoplankton blooms tend to happen when winds blow down the coast from the north. The winds push the ocean's surface water west, out to sea. Deep water rises up to replace the wind-blown surface water, and it carries the nutrients needed to support phytoplankton blooms.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas

It has been a while since I’ve posted to our Coastal Voices Blog.

Lately I’ve been interviewing people around the north island area to find out what they value in their marine environment, what they observe, what they have seen changing over time. As part of the interview process I always seek comments about the issues that Living Oceans Society is involved in. I’ve noticed that when the subject of marine protected areas comes up it is often seen as a conflict between conservation and fishing.

Personally, I can get behind MPAs when they are, as Living Oceans Society advocates, designed and managed for the common good, according to science-based policies that consider entire ecosystems.

So while researching the subject of MPAs I discovered that at a time when the world’s oceans are facing unprecedented pressures from human impacts in the marine environment, a new decision-making tool is being launched to provide the most current and relevant information about marine and coastal biodiversity and its protection status.

This marine protected areas tool (, created by the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is part of the recently redeveloped World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) – the authoritative and most globally comprehensive list of marine and terrestrial protected areas.

Check out the WDPA website and you will see a photograph of Echo Bay, the world's smallest marine protected area at less than half a hectare.

The Brilliant Colors of Deep Sea Corals

We have been thinking about deep sea corals a lot in the LOS offices lately. The pictures and videos of the coral observed during the Finding Coral Expedition are so beautiful and inspiring. It makes one wonder, however, why do deep sea corals have such brilliant colors even though they live where there is no light?

We asked Dr. Tom Shirley (pictured in the sub) this question, and here is his very illuminating response:

The absence of light at depth means that any color works equally well. Hence, that color which requires the least energy to produce (or not produce) works well. The predominant colors at very deep depths appear to be red or white, but silver and black and other colors also occur. Red is a part of the spectrum lost early in the water column, hence red appears black in low light situations.

Keep in mind, however, that many species have extensive depth ranges: hence, many of the colors observed in sea stars (as an example) may have positive survival benefits for members of their species in shallower water, or for their offspring if the larvae settle in shallower water. Also, many of the fish and
invertebrates have daily, seasonal or ontogenetic (changes with life history) migrations – hence a particular color or pattern may offer an advantage at some time in their life. Many of the abyssal fishes spend their early life history in shallow waters where there is more food. And, all species carry genetic baggage: structures (such as an appendix) or traits that may have been useful at times in their past. This may explain why many deep sea organisms (especially fish, squid and octopus, and crustaceans) have color vision, even though they live in total darkness.

Also, keep in mind that the visual sensitivity of many species exceeds ours by orders of magnitude. Crustaceans can see in light levels that we perceive as total darkness. We cannot see any light below 200 m, but some (tiny) portions of sunlight remain at depths to 1000 m. A common myth (even among scientists) is that most animals can’t see in red light. That works well for most terrestrial mammals (who are color-blind), but has no bearing for most
invertebrates such as crustaceans, which see equally well in red.

Bioluminescence complicates things somewhat, as many animals can produce light – some for signaling, attraction, or distraction, but apparently some to find prey – as we might use a flashlight.

So, the answer is complex. It varies with what group of animals you are discussing, and what depth you are referring to.

Sorry, but life is messy; very few true or false answers.

Dr. Tom Shirley is the Endowed Chair of Biodiversity and Conservation Science, Harte Research Institute, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi

Tom Shirley and Cup Coral Photos Credit: Living Oceans Society