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Monday, August 29, 2011

Building a case for marine protected areas

Back in January, David Shiffman of the ever insightful Southern Fried Science came out with an interesting post which begged the age-old question 'Can marine protected areas save the ocean?' Actually, the question was more like 'Can no-take areas save fish stocks?' The conclusion he reached was that yes, maybe, in some cases, if everything is done right, it would probably help. Of course, he put it much more eloquently than that and also used this wonderful cartoon, which I have shamelessly reposted (courtesy of NOAA):

Fast forward to the present (well, let's say two weeks ago), and the publication of a paper in PLoS ONE: Large Recovery of Fish Biomass in a No-Take Marine Reserve. 'A paper', you say, 'What gives?' True, I lured you in with the hot fudge sundae of marine humour only to serve you the cold goulash of peer-reviewed literature. But not to worry, I will summarize.

The study took place in Cabo Pulmo National Park, marine reserve on the south-east tip of the Baja California Sur in Mexico. The reserve includes a large 'no-take' area (or 35 % of the total area) that was closed to fishing. The park was surveyed in 1999, four years after it was established, but no significant difference was found between the biomass (the total living mass) of the fish there and and surrounding areas where fishing was permitted. However, the reserve was surveyed again ten years later and this time there was a large difference.

How large, you ask? Over those 10 years the fish biomass in the park had increased 463 %, while there was no significant change in surrounding areas. Not only that, but the biomass of top predators, such as sharks, had increased by an astounding 11 times. In fact it was the largest recovery recorded for any marine reserve in the world!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Video: Gwaii Haanas - Journey from mountain top to sea floor

Just over a month ago my manager, Kim Wright, shared some pictures of her recent trip to Gwaii Haanas. Today, I thought I'd share a video with you a video that Parks Canada put together on the marine portion of the park - Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA).

When Gwaii Haanas NMCA was established in July of last year, the area became the first area in Canada to receive some degree of protection from mountaintop to sea floor. While the park is an important step towards protecting the marine environment and wildlife of the area, covers a relatively small area of the waters on Canada's Pacific coast.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Farewell to Jack

After bucking the current through the “Blowhole” –a narrow pass at the west end of Hanson Island that leads to Blackfish Sound - and rounding Spout Islet last weekend my wife and I dropped anchor in a little nameless nook that overlooks Queen Charlotte Strait. Little fish dappled the water all around our boat, jumping high for some reason unknown to me. The sea was calm, the sky was almost clear.

After I shut off our engine and radios I could still hear the drone of a float plane overhead, the distant whines of sport fishing boats and the low rumbling of a passing cruise ship. Soon, all that white noise faded as the sun began to set and the sporties headed in to count their catches and tell stories about the ones that got away. Still, there wasn’t silence. The plops from the little fish and the faint calls of diving ducks was all that remained until the peace was punctured by a whale taking a breath. First just one whale, then more whales breathing together. It was definitely a pod nearby, maybe just around the point over by Dong Chong Bay where Springer reunited with her pod in 2002. We never did see them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Way I Sea It" Contest: Preparing for the Journey

Next week, I have the great privilege to sail through the magical Broughton Archipelago. Your votes for my blog post about how my life veered off the highway to Whangamata and led to a career in ocean conservation helped me win the Way I Sea It contest and for that I am so grateful.

Where is the Broughton Archipelago?

The Broughton Archipelago is a group of islands and islets off the north east coast of Vancouver Island. It’s part of Great Bear Rainforest and is home to an abundant diversity of wildlife on the land, coast and sea. My trip will leave from Port McNeill on the north east coast of Vancouver Island and meander through the ocean area rich in orcas, dolphins, fish, seabirds and colourful intertidal critters.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Video - How Humpbacks hunt with Bubbles

Earlier this week, I posted a video about a remarkable human being hunting under water while holding his breath. Now here's a video (courtesy of Science Friday) that shows how humpback whales hunt by doing the exact opposite: blowing nets of bubbles to concentrate their prey (also called bubble-netting).

You may recall that I mentioned this research by NOAA's David Wiley and the paper he published in a previous post, but it's always better on video. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Threats to the ocean come from surprising places

If I were forced to name the Four Horsemen that are most likely to ride at the front of an Ocean Apocalypse - the four that have the most potential to cause disruption or destruction across a range of species and ecosystems - I would probably identify them as: Ocean Acidification, Overfishing, Climate Change, and Dead Zones. 

This is an actual photo of one of the Four Horsemen. Who knew?

One of the obvious yet striking things about that short list is that three of the four are primarily caused by our activities on land. It's for this reason that we must expand what we think about when we seek to live an ocean-friendly life.

For proof, look no further than your dinner plate. As we first discussed on this blog many months ago, a convincing case may be made that eating some kinds of meat and dairy products may, in many ways, be worse for the oceans than eating seafood. This is because the chemical inputs and emissions associated with terrestrial livestock production are substantial drivers of climate change and ocean dead zones, and likely are not-insignificant contributors to ocean acidification as well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Video - Sea Bed Hunting on One Breath

What do you need to catch a fish at a depth of 20 meters? A boat, a rod, some tackle, maybe a beer or two? Or, if you're more adventurous, a full scuba setup and a trusty spear-gun perhaps? How about trying the spear-gun without the underwater breathing apparatus. Oh, and you can't use any weights and you must stay down (for up to five minutes) until you catch your fish.

That's crazy talk, right!?!

Well, maybe not so much. I recently watched a remarkable BBC series called the Human Planet, all of which I would highly recommend. The episode on oceans was particularly interesting to my though, particularly the segment which featured a Bajau fisherman named Sulbin who was able to accomplish the feat I just described.

Unlike the (literally) breathtaking free-diving clip that John shared with you a few months back, this is the real thing from start to finish. Enjoy, and remember: dont try this at home!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Canada Safeway takes Leadership in Ocean Advocacy

When shopping at the seafood counter of your local grocery store, it may appear that the old cliché 'plenty more fish in the sea' seems true. Reality is, two-thirds of the world's marine stocks are fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted. Healthy oceans are vital to our life on Earth. The good news is that more than likely, your local Canadian grocery store is paying attention! The currents are shifting in corporate social responsibility, with most retailers in Canada committing to a sustainable seafood policy of some type.

(Photo credit: Safeway Inc.)

The latest was last month: Canada Safeway, Western Canada's largest grocery chain, announced their Sustainable Seafood Policy, created in partnership with SeaChoice, Canada's national sustainable seafood program. At the core of Safeway's sustainable seafood policy is their commitment that by 2015, all fresh and frozen seafood will be sourced from sustainable and traceable sources, or be in a credible improvement project. Read the press release here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Natters about Matters


We spend a lot of time around here thinking about PNCIMA (pronounced pen-SEA-ma).You might be wondering what it is. I can tell you that it’s not a food group or a dance move, although 'pensema' in Esperanto means 'pensive' or 'thoughtful'. This is fitting, because the PNCIMA area gives us a lot to think about…

Think about a place…

Think about Canada's left coast. Ancient, wild, mystical...and big. Everything here is big, and PNCIMA is no exception. PNCIMA is the big ocean that stretches from northern Vancouver Island around Haida Gwaii and on to B.C.'s northern border, while washing up against the Great Bear Rainforest along the way.

Think about wildlife…

All those spirit bears in the Great Bear Rainforest? What do you think they like to eat? Salmon, that’s what. And they come from PNCIMA's waters. They're not alone, of course. Many of the Pacific's most iconic and ecologically important animals call PNCIMA home.