Microdocumentaries, Steve Palumbi and ocean acidification

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Professor Steve Palumbi of Stanford University is pioneering the use of small ‘to the point’ videos (‘microdocs’) to illustrate important issues that face the ocean.  In this one, he outlines (with superb clarity) the issue of ocean acidification and illustrates why it is such a serious threat to marine ecosystems like coral reefs.  While Steve is using stronger acid than ultimately will be seen in the world’s oceans as they acidify (essentially speeding up the process), he illustrates the key nature of the threat in a way that anyone could understand. Well done – check out Steve’s page for more microdocs on a whole range of environmental topics, including coral bleaching, crown of thorns, marine parks and why it really sucks to be a tuna.

Killer squid attacks divers

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Best headline ever: “Attack of the giant squids: Terror as hundreds of 5ft long creatures of the deep invade Californian coastline” (thanks to the Daily Mail). Turns out the backstory behind this one is even more interesting: the squid at hand (the humboldt squid) have envaded the San Diego coastline en masse due to unknown reasons (apparently global warming, shortage of food, predator avoidance and even underwater earthquakes have been cited as possible explanations). These squid are huge – up to 2m in length an weighing ~50kg, and school in numbers upto 1200.

Sounds relatively harmeless, right? Here’s how Scott Cassell, a commercial diver out of La Jolla described his experience diving with the Humboldt squid:

The monstrous squid remains motionless just ten feet away. Emotions gave way to cognitive thought and I trained my camcorder on him and begin to record. Almost on cue, he begins his approach. Then, with blinding acceleration, he lurches onto me with a powerful “thud crackle”. He slams into my chest. The impact was incredibly powerful, knocking the wind out of me. His huge arms envelope my complete upper body and camera and I can feel my chest plate move as his beak grinds against it. The crackle and scratching of thousands of chitenous ring teeth against my fiberglass/kevlar chest plate is unmistakable. (Read more)

The rest of Cassell’s article is fascinating:

The beak of a Dosidicus gigas is large and very powerful. The edges are assharp as trauma shears and are capable of gouging out an orange-sized chunk of flesh, regardless of tissue make up. I have seen a five-foot Dosidicus gigas bite through the thick bone of a tuna head, skull and all, with minimal effort removing fist-sized portions with each bite.

To hold their prey item firmly, this squid has about 2,000 suction disks; each lined with chitenous ring teeth. Chitin is a material similar to that of fingernails and that of beetle exoskeletons (A polysaccharide). These chitenous ring teeth are needle sharp and very effective. Every suction disk has up to 36 of these teeth. That means a Humboldt squid employs as many as 72,000 teeth upon its hapless victims. Prey has little chance of escaping a Humboldt squid’s deadly embrace.

Thousands of ring teeth cut into the flesh of their prey so deeply, you can hear it. When they drag their victim away with pulses from their massive jet funnel, the sounds of their hapless victim being ripped apart fills the water. It sounds a bit like heavy duty Velcro being pulled apart underwater. Then the beak can be heard, that huge knife-edged beak. The gouging of bone and tissue sound like the shredding of cabbage combined with that of hacking apart coconuts with a machete.

(Read More)

But to cut to the chase – skip to around 1.40 onwards in the video below for the footage (2.22 is also pretty freaky).

Al Gore, Ove and Ian Dunlop at the Safe Climate Australia Launch

Click below for the video seminars from Al Gore, Ove and Ian Dunlop from the SCA launch last monday.  Safe Climate Australia aims to mobilise Australia’s extensive technological, economic and political expertise and resources in planning the transition of the Australian economy to zero net carbon, the sequestering of dangerous levels of existing carbon from the atmosphere, and in assisting the building of a global consensus for restoring a safe climate.

Al Gore:
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg:
and Ian Dunlop

Management effectiveness of the world’s marine fisheries

UPDATE: Camilo Mora, the lead author of the study, posted a comment about the test of expert opinions.   “I would like to clarify that one of the tests we did in this paper was to compare the expert’s opinions with actual empirical data collected by one of us (i.t. Tony Pitcher). We found that experts’ opinions match very well the reality of the management of each country and if anything the people inquired actually tended to be more positive about the situation (figure 1c in the paper).  The test you refer to that compared the responses of different experts was intended to assess the precision of the data while the comparison of experts’ answers with empirical data was intended to assess their accuracy. – Camilo”

I wanted his clarification to come up in the main blog post.  Ill look at this issue tonight and will comment/reply if appropriate ASAP.  – “Bruno”

journal.pbio.1000131.g004A new paper (Mora et al. 2009) published in the high profile, open access journal PLoS Biology, documents the management effectiveness of the world’s marine fisheries.  The international team based the analysis on questioners filled out by 1,188 fisheries experts.  The experts were asked to assess the current effectiveness of fisheries management around the world.  The study also calculated “probable sustainability of reported catches to determine how management affects fisheries sustainability”.

One neat aspect of the study is that it asked the experts to evaluate a variety of aspects of management effectiveness including capacity to implement regulations.  However, the weakness, in my opinion, is that the study relied on expert opinion, rather than data. The authors argued that the fact that the experts largely agreed with each other was evidence of the correctness of their opinions: “Experts were mostly fisheries managers, university professors, and governmental and nongovernmental researchers. Despite these diverse backgrounds, responses were highly consistent within each country (i.e., where multiple responses were given, 67% of experts chose the same answer to any given question and 27% chose the next closest response”.  To me, this assertion seems dubious at best.   (There are a number of beliefs held by most my coral reef colleagues that are demonstrably false or only weakly supported by empirical science.)

Our survey shows that 7% of all coastal states undergo rigorous scientific assessment for the generation of management policies, 1.4% also have a participatory and transparent processes to convert scientific recommendations into policy, and 0.95% also provide for robust mechanisms to ensure the compliance with regulations; none is also free of the effects of excess fishing capacity, subsidies, or access to foreign fishing. A comparison of fisheries management attributes with the sustainability of reported fisheries catches indicated that the conversion of scientific advice into policy, through a participatory and transparent process, is at the core of achieving fisheries sustainability, regardless of other attributes of the fisheries. Our results illustrate the great vulnerability of the world’s fisheries and the urgent need to meet well-identified guidelines for sustainable management; they also provide a baseline against which future changes can be quantified.


Authors Summary: Global fisheries are in crisis: marine fisheries provide 15% of the animal protein consumed by humans, yet 80% of the world’s fish stocks are either fully exploited, overexploited or have collapsed. Several international initiatives have sought to improve the management of marine fisheries, hoping to reduce the deleterious ecological and socioeconomic consequence of the crisis. Unfortunately, the extent to which countries are improving their management and whether such intervention ensures the sustainability of the fisheries remain unknown. Here, we surveyed 1,188 fisheries experts from every coastal country in the world for information about the effectiveness with which fisheries are being managed, and related those results to an index of the probable sustainability of reported catches. We show that the management of fisheries worldwide is lagging far behind international guidelines recommended to minimize the effects of overexploitation. Only a handful of countries have a robust scientific basis for management recommendations, and transparent and participatory processes to convert those recommendations into policy while also ensuring compliance with regulations. Our study also shows that the conversion of scientific advice into policy, through a participatory and transparent process, is at the core of achieving fisheries sustainability, regardless of other attributes of the fisheries. These results illustrate the benefits of participatory, transparent, and science-based management while highlighting the great vulnerability of the world’s fisheries services.


From the concluding remarks:  “Current projections suggest that total demand for fisheries products is likely to increase by approximately 35 million metric tonnes by 2030… This contrasts sharply with the 20% to 50% reduction in current fishing effort suggested for achieving sustainability, and implies that regulators may face increasing pressures towards unsustainable catch quotas. Given that the demand for fish lies outside the control of conventional fisheries management, other national and international institutions will have to be involved to deal with poverty alleviation and stabilization of the world’s human population (to soften fisheries demand), if pressures on management are to be prevented and sustainability achieved.”

Citation: Mora C. et al. (2009) Management Effectiveness of the World’s Marine Fisheries. PLoS Biol 7(6): e1000131. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000131

Sylvie Earle – living legend and hero for the planet


TED, a nonprofit devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ hosts an annual conference bringing together ‘world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives’. I’ve watched quite a few incredible talks (Al Gore, Tierney Thys, & Jane Poynter to name but a few), but the one that stood out for me was the incredible Sylvia Earle, who is due to host a seminar on marine ecology and conservation in Brisbane in August (link). See below for her bio from the TED website:

Why you should listen to her:

Sylvia Earle, called “Her Deepness” by the New Yorker and the New York Times, “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress and “Hero for the Planet” by Time, is an oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer with a deep commitment to research through personal exploration.

Earle’s work has been at the frontier of deep ocean exploration for four decades. Earle has led more than 50 expeditions worldwide involving more than 6,000 hours underwater. As captain of the first all-female team to live underwater, she and her fellow scientists received a ticker-tape parade and White House reception upon their return to the surface. In 1979, Sylvia Earle walked untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any other woman before or since. In the 1980s she started the companies Deep Ocean Engineering and Deep Ocean Technologies with engineer Graham Hawkes to design and build undersea vehicles that allow scientists to work at previously inaccessible depths. In the early 1990s, Dr. Earle served as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. At present she is explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society.

Sylvia Earle is a dedicated advocate for the world’s oceans and the creatures that live in them. Her voice speaks with wonder and amazement at the glory of the oceans and with urgency to awaken the public from its ignorance about the role the oceans plays in all of our lives and the importance of maintaining their health.

“We’ve got to somehow stabilize our connection to nature so that in 50 years from now, 500 years, 5,000 years from now there will still be a wild system and respect for what it takes to sustain us.” – Sylvia Earle

The other CO2 problem – animated adventures into ocean acidification

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55D8TGRsl4k&hl=en&fs=1&w=425&h=344]

Take a look at this light-hearted video on a serious subject. This animation on ocean acidification was made by students from the Ridgeway School (Plymouth, UK) and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory – an excellent production!

Ridgeway students have made a short animated film which is being used internationally to highlight the acidification of the world’s seas. Called ‘The Other CO2 Problem’, the film was commissioned by Dr Carol Turley from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, a leading authority on ocean acidification who had seen a previous film (which won a Europe wide film making competition held by Euroceans) made by the students which highlighted the problem of pollution in the seas.

Sixteen students drew up the storyline, designed and made the starring characters from plasticine then filmed the stop frame animation. Seventy other students composed and played the accompanying music

The Coral Reef Ecosystem: educational outreach

Coinciding with the end of the International Year of the Reef, Gerd Haegele, a biologist and film maker from Germany has released an educational DVD entitled “The Coral Reef Ecosystem”. In Gerd’s own words:

We are convinced that while it is important to raise awareness for these issues in industrialized countries, it is evenly important to support environmental education in developing countries where coral reefs can be found. We think a DVD can be a very effective and powerful tool in this effort. It could be produced comparable cheap (based on existing material) in many different languages, in a high number of copies and with the possibility to reach a maximum of people – and with the extra benefit of reaching even those who can’t read.

Gerd is currently seeking distributors for the movie, and aims to provide versions in local languages of developing countries for distributions by governments and NGO groups. I think this has a tremendous capacity to reach out to people and get the message across. Take a look at the youtube the trailer below, and check out Gert’s page for more information on ordering the DVD.


(disclosure: Along with Christian Wild and Paul Marshall, I was a scientific advisor on this project)