Does Weeping Help? Recent Conservation News

Recently, news streams, scientific journals, and the web are exploding with conservation news.  Below is few highlights from the past few weeks.

  • I’ll take my fish in oil please. PLoS One published an article by Fodrie and Heck concluding that immediate catastrophic loss of fish was avoided in the Gulf oil spill. They also found change in the species present from before and after.  Although this is tentatively good news that coastal fish populations are unscathed for now, I remain skeptical.  As the authors are quick to note, we know little of “the potential long-term impacts facing fishes as a result of chronic exposure and delayed, indirect effects.”
  • How sharks make you money. Slate publishes a great article by Juliet Eilperin discussing how shark conservation also makes economic sense.  “A recent Australian study found that, over the course of its lifetime, a reef shark off Palau brings in $1.9 million to the nation’s economy, and shark tourism brings Palau $18 million annually.”
  • I sure do miss those worms.  In 1978, an experimental dredging for polymetalic nodules occurred in the deep-sea floor of the tropical Eastern Pacific.  Milijutin and colleagues sampled this area twenty six years later. After nearly three decades of recovery time, the number and diversity of nematodes has still not recovered.
  • No really geo-sequestration is great idea. A new study again in my favorite journal, PLoS One, demonstrates that the cockamamie geo-sequestration scheme of fertilizing the oceans with iron is bad for the deep sea. Iron enrichment near the Southern Indian Ocean lead to changes in the types of species that lived on the deep-sea floor.  Interestingly, the living communities began to take on one of the key characteristics of  polluted marine communities, a few species became really abundant and every other species became rare. The message from this and the last study seems to be leave metals where they are.
  • Holy shit. Of course nothing has stirred deep-sea scientists recently like the paper by Kato et al. The group found that rare-earth elements and the metal yttrium used in electronics and green technologies are found in abundance on the deep Pacific seafloor.  From the paper, “We estimate that an area of just one square kilometre, surrounding one of the sampling sites, could provide one-fifth of the current annual world consumption of these elements.” Given China’s monopoly on rare-earth elements and the pressure to supplant this, you can see this presents a considerable conservation risk the deep sea.  Of course some think this is a pipe dream taking decades and billions of dollar to develop.  But given the economic and political pressure and the ingenuity of the Japanese, I would rather opt on the conservative side and have conservation in place.  Word on the wire is that the International Seabed Authority is promptly acting and the deep-sea scientific community moving to issue a statement.
  • Double holy shit.  A new study calls for seven commercially valuable species to be placed on the IUCN Redlist. These include White and Blue Marlin, Spanish and Australian Spotted Mackrel, and Bigeye, Atlantic Bluefin, and Southern Bluefin Tuna.  The IUCN is expected to update their list in near future.  This will greatly bolster conservation efforts in EEZ’s but conservation in international waters will still remain a challenge.
  • Crying myself to sleep again tonight.  A great new study that still makes me want to cry by my friend, Derek Tittensor with Boris Worm demonstrates that 9 of 13 species of tuna and billfish occupy less ocean now than they used to.  Atlantic Bluefin Tunn have seen almost a 50% reduction in their ocean range since 1960.
  • Not getting my hopes up again. Taiwan is poised to ban fishermen from killing sharks for fins.  As Parasight says on Twitter “Believe it when i see it enforced”
  • I’m really never getting out of bed again. Drilling is now approved off world heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. “The approval to explore for gas allows Shell Australia to drill an exploration well 50km west of the boundary of the marine park.” What could go wrong? Thanks CK for bringing that to my attention.
  • Thinking about a vacation.  Go ahead! Ecotourism may be our last hope.
Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.