18 September 2013

Connectivity of sea otters and crabs

 Photo by Ron Eby

Sea otters live in shallow waters and often in areas with kelp beds where they feed on invertebrates, i.e., sea urchins, crabs, etc. [1]. In the Aleutian archipelago down to California, it has been observed that the feeding habit of otters control herbivore populations in these areas, increasing the size and coverage of kelp and seagrass beds [1,2]. 

Seagrass recovery in the Elkhourn Slough, California, in spite of the degradation caused by excessive nutrients dumping, amazed University of California Santa Cruz researchers. A recent study from this group of researchers showed that interactions between sea otters and their prey is crucial in the recovery of its habitat. Sea otters feed on crabs, which feed on slugs and other invertebrates found on seagrass leaf blades. Predation by sea otters on crabs controls the latter’s effect on the population of slugs, which are important in maintaining the health of the seagrass population [2].

To know more about sea otters, visit SeaLifeBase.

[1] Estes, J.A.; Palmisano, J.F. (1974) Sea otters: their role in structuring nearshore communities. Science 185(4156):1058-1060.
[2] Stephens, T. (2013) Sea otters promote recovery of seagrass beds. http://news.ucsc.edu/2013/08/sea-otters-seagrass.html [Accessed 05/09/2013].

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11 September 2013

A culture of turtle meat. Really?

Photo from earthfirstnews

The IUCN [1] currently lists sea turtles as vulnerable (Lepidochelys olivacea), endangered (Caretta caretta, Chelonia mydas), and critically endangered (Eretmochelys imbricata, Dermochelys coriacea) wildlife, worldwide. But, in the 1700s, these animals were abundant and  commonly used as a source of food for crewmen on trans-Atlantic ships [2]. Centuries of harvest led to a rapid decline in the natural sea turtle population. In the 1960s, a turtle farm was established  in the Cayman Islands [2], which bred turtles in captivity to provide a sustainable supply of turtle meat to cultures with a palate for it. One of the advantages, as argued by the farm owners is that this will eventually discourage poachers from harvesting turtles in the wild. The Cayman Turtle Farm has been operating for more than 40 years now, and has in the meantime also evolved to a flourishing cruise ship tourist attraction.
Emily in Marine Life presents a description of the Cayman Turtle Farm.

Photo by Linda Garrison

Apparently, tourists all over the world who come to this place are introduced to the biology of sea turtles, including a description of their natural habitat. However, the pools shown to tourists are overcrowded and swimming in  murky water, polluted with food pellets floating on the surface. [3]. But, the farm’s treatment of sea turtles contradicts much of their “natural habitat”, which is the vast open ocean. Exposing children to a picture of an overcrowded stagnant pool, which may even harbour diseases such as Salmonella, viruses, fungi and parasites that can be passed on from turtle to humans [4],  is not a desirable educational experience, is it? It might be time for the Cayman Turtle Farm to review its sea turtle manual and provide the sea turtles it breeds with a habitat that reflects more of its natural habitat.

To know more about sea turtles and their natural habitat, visit SeaLifeBase.

[1] IUCN (2013) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. http://www.iucnredlist.org/ [Accessed 6/9/2013].
[2] Morriss, A. (2006) Survival of the sea turtle: Cayman turtle farm starts over. Property and Environment Research Center Report 24(3). http://perc.org/articles/survival-sea-turtle [Accessed 6/9/2013].
[3] Cayman Turtle Farm Island Wildlife Encounter (2013) Turtle encounters. http://www.turtle.ky/turtle-encounters [Accessed 6/9/2013].
[4] Tripp, E. (2013) Sea Turtle Farming: Conservation or Cruelty? Marine Science Today, http://marinesciencetoday.com/2013/01/29/sea-turtle-farming-conservation-or-cruelty/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+MarineScienceToday+%28Marine+Science+Today%29 [Accessed 6/9/2013].

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09 September 2013

FishBase, SeaLifeBase and Mundus Maris: Science and art combined!

The FishBase (FB) and SeaLifeBase (SLB) databases, under the FishBase and Information Research Group, Inc. (FIN) collaborated with Mundus Maris as a science-base, through information exchange. The cooperation serves to provide opportunities to increase awareness of the public about marine biodiversity and the unsustainable practices of many fisheries today.

Mundus maris is a non-profit organization whose mission is "to provide scientific and relevant indigenous knowledge and encourage artistic expression about the sea in order to promote its restoration, conservation and sustainable use, to further the study, understanding and respect of aquatic ecosystems and associated biological and cultural diversity". It is particularly active in supporting young people and their teachers so as to stimulate curiosity about the sea and engagement to protect it. Practicing international cooperation is the most promising way to develop solutions to the current fisheries and climate crises.

As part of the development and field testing of teaching aids for schools in Gambia and Senegal, Mundus maris used its collaboration with FishBase, FAO and local scientists to design fish rulers with minimum size of the major commercial species. 
The use of these fish rulers and related teaching aids led to concerns about the extent of fishing juveniles, thus the sustainability of the major fisheries in these countries. The negative effects were already felt through erosion of social conditions of many people in the fishing communities, among others. For the young people it raised the stakes of getting enough education and alternative opportunities to earn a living as adults, something that is easier said than done.

In May 2012 therefore, Mundus maris launched an invitation to schools and youth groups to find names for the baby fish, which had been designed by Filipino artist, Mike Yap, a passionate diver and associate of FishBase and SeaLifeBase. The babyfish were also used in posters, colouring sheets, and bookmarks disseminating the motto “Let the baby fish grow”. Five language versions carried the message to many countries as part of the on-going awareness campaign of Mundus maris. By inviting youth to give names to the babyfish and tell their story, it was intended that they become the Mundus maris mascots. Hundreds of children from different countries responded and proposed names and stories about the baby fish. An international jury determined the winner and all participating groups won certificates and prizes.

The winners are children from the Mundus maris club of the secondary school (CEM) in Kayar, Senegal. The mascots are now named Samba (babyfish boy) and Kumba (babyfish girl). To honour the effort of the winners, Mundus maris asked the same artist to animate their story. This video was just released by Mundus maris. Hope you watch and enjoy this!

Let us continue to support these organizations for the welfare of our oceans, our children and future generations. To donate, please proceed to their respective sites.

Written by:
Patricia Yap and Cornelia Nauen