25 March 2013

Awesome Non-fish in Trouble # 4: The vulnerable dugong

Photo by Barry Ingham

The dugong (Dugong dugon), also known as sea cow, is a marine herbivore found in 37 countries of tropical and subtropical coastal waters from East Africa to Vanuatu. [1] Colonialists and aboriginals were exploiting dugong populations as an important source of meat and oil in the 19th century. This fishery collapsed in the 20th century and led to the extirpation of the species in a third of its range. [2] Heavy fishing and a decline in seagrass beds, habitat of dugongs (seagrass being its primary diet) and sea turtles, due to dredging, aquaculture, siltation, coastal constructions, and natural causes like increased storms and cyclones contributed to this near extinction of dugongs.[3]

On a global scale it is considered as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of threatened species, but in the Philippines it is now Critically Endangered. [4] 

To know more about dugongs, visit SeaLifeBase


[1] Marsh, H. (2002) Dugong : status report and action plans for countries and territories. Nairobi, Kenya : United Nations Environment Programme, viii, 162 p.

[2] Jackson, J.B.C., et al., (2001) Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293(5530):629-637.

[3] Duarte, C.M. (2002) The future of seagrass meadows. Environmental Conservation 29:192-206.

[4] Alava, M.N.R., Dolar, M.L.L., Sabater, E.R., Aquino, M.T.R., Santos, M.D. (2012) Red List Status of Marine Mammals in the Philippines. DENR-NFRDI, 196 p., in press.

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14 March 2013

Third Southeast Asian Marine Mammal Symposium (SEAMAM III)

The SeaLifeBase Project participated in the Third Southeast Asian Marine Mammal Symposium (SEAMAM III), hosted by MareCet. Participants were composed of 50+ researchers and specialists on whales, dolphins and dugongs from all over Southeast Asia, Australia, China, USA, Bangladesh, Japan, Canada, Germany. This became a venue for discussions on the current status of marine mammals, threats, issues, concerns and solutions pertaining to the research and conservation of marine mammals in this region. Workshops were also conducted to increase the capacity of people in this field for application in topics like education, fisheries, marine protected areas, strandings, by-catch and acoustics. The symposium was also graced by the presence of Dr. Randall Reeves, Chair of the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group.

The event ended with a wider network of people collaborating and working in this field, increased knowledge on marine mammals in the Southeast Asian region, and focused research priorities for every country in preparation for the next SEAMAM (tentatively in 2016).
This symposium was held in Fave Hotel, Langkawi Island, Malaysia, 4-10 March 2013.

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13 March 2013

Cones and worms bacteria: keys to modern medication

In the pursuit of understanding and knowing more about sea life and their benefits to human living, recent researches have identified two mollusk groups as sources of bacteria that can potentially be used in developing modern medications:

  • Cone snails

Conus textile, in situ
Photo by  G. Rusconi

With over 800 species, the family Conidae is widely distributed with higher diversity and concentration along the tropical regions. These carnivorous animals use toxic venom not only for feeding, but also for defense. Previous studies have already established the pharmacological potentials of cone snail venom peptides, aptly called conopeptides. However, since it was assumed that thick shelled mollusks have enough defense already, few studies have been made on their symbiotic bacteria. This new study shows that this symbiotic bacteria also produces a neuroactive chemical, which could be useful in pain management.

  • Shipworms

Upper: bivalve shell located at the anterior end
Lower: the calcareous tube that lines the excavated burrow

Don't be fooled by the name, they are not worms. Shipworms are actually bivalves, with the main shell located at the anterior end while the body is slender and cylindrical. They got their name way back when ships are made of wood, where they affix themselves and feed on the hull. This ability of the shipworms to convert wood - despite its lack of proteins and nitrogen- into a suitable food source by using bacteria was found to be very interesting and was the focus of recent studies. Research shows that one form of bacteria used by the shipworms secretes a powerful antibiotic, which would be valuable in improving the current class of antibiotics to fight human diseases that have become resistant to medication.

Awesome, right? Guess we'll be knowing more about cone snails and shipworms in the future!

11 March 2013

More sharks and manta rays in the CITES Appendices, please!

From the name itself, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) aims to ensure that the international trade of wild animals and plants will not cause their extinction. Only a handful out of the thousands of listed species in the CITES Appendices are marine species, and despite all efforts to include more, most proposals were rejected.

According to the Review of the State of World Marine Fisheries Resources published in 2005 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), more than 50% of marine fish stocks are fully exploited, 17% are overexploited and 7% are already depleted. The statistics are highly alarming and require immediate action.

As of this writing, the Sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16) is happening in Bangkok, Thailand. Today they will vote on the addition of five shark species and all manta rays to Appendix II. This newly published paper* from the Fish and Fisheries was written primarily to help the CoP in their discussions by providing information that can help address their concerns.

Hoping that they vote in favor of the sharks and manta rays!

* Executive summary can be found here (also available in French and Spanish).

 UPDATE (as of 15 March 2013): All proposals were approved! More details here.

06 March 2013

The secret of giving bad presentations

Communication is a basic and vital part of interpersonal relations. Yet while we do it every minute every single day, not everyone can be effective in getting their thoughts across. In settings such as seminars and conferences, the ultimate goal of a speaker is to successfully convey his ideas clearly to the audience. It is particularly challenging when a topic is technical, but thanks to technology, a visual presentation is now possible and is actually an essential tool for the modern speaker. Now the question is: how can you make your presentation effective?

The two C's to keep in mind are: clarity and conciseness. Graphs, for one, are easiest to use to show the relationships between at least two variables. But with so many chart types, which one should you use? With so much formatting options available, how would you best present your graph?

Graphs and other presentation essentials: what is the best representation?

Get a few tips on making your presentation visually engaging from UBC Fisheries Centre Professor and SeaLifeBase Project Principal Investigator Daniel Pauly as he talks about "Bad Grafs: an essential part of bad presentations".

Happy learning!

04 March 2013

Awesome Non-fish in Trouble # 3: Loggerhead sea turtle, a survivor

Natural predation is the common cause of mortality of Caretta caretta, commonly called loggerhead sea turtle, as any other species. An example of which is the case of Yu Chan. She was caught in a Japanese fisherman's net and was brought in Suma Aqualife Park near Kobe, Japan in 2008. Her front flippers were torn off because of a shark attack, based on the teeth marks across her body. Fortunately, after many trials, she now has artificial limbs which she cannot take off easily and that she can swim with [1].

Disabled loggerhead turtle Yu Chan fitted with prosthetic flippers, photo by Toshifumi Kitamura, AFP.

Other major factors that resulted in their dramatic decline in number were incidental fishery catches, egg harvest and tourism developments [2]. Thus, they have been marked by the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) as threatened in 1978 and endangered since 1996 [3].

To know more about loggerhead sea turtles, visit SeaLifeBase.


[1] Potter, N. Loggerhead sea turtle gets artificial flippers after shark attack. ABC News. Published online February 12, 2013.

[2] de Quevedo, I.A., L. Cardona, A. De Haro, E. Pubill, and A. Aguilar. 2010. Sources of bycatch of loggerhead sea turtles in the western Mediterranean other than drifting longlines. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 67(4):677-685.

[3] IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012.

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