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Positive ocean news: May '24 edition

5 minute read

Dive into our latest monthly round-up of good news stories for our seas.

81 marine species identified along Sussex coastline, including rare eel and shark

Scientists have identified 81 different marine species living along the Sussex coastline, including critically endangered species, the tope shark and the European eel.

Also recorded were spotted rays, cat sharks, black seabream, Atlantic mackerel, and the tub gurnard fish. The species were recorded across 28 survey sites between Shoreham-by-Sea and Selsey, including a 300-square kilometre area where a trawling ban is in place.

Cornwall Cat shark

Credit: Sam Mansfield

Following the introduction of the Nearshore Trawling by-law in March 2021, researchers have been monitoring underwater habitats and identifying the species that live along the Sussex Bay. The ban prohibits trawlers from dredging in the near inshore waters off the Sussex coast to enable the area’s kelp ecosystems and fish to recover.

Alice Clark from the University of Sussex said, “Through this analysis, we have been able to discover so many different species in our waters, and I think people will be surprised to learn just how diverse this area of the UK coastline is.”

Read more on the ITV News website

Nature recovery project restores native oysters in Wales

Natur Am Byth oyster restoration

Credit: Sue Burton

20,000 native oysters have been restored in Pembrokeshire, in an effort to recover the local population and support coastal biodiversity, reversing the decline caused by over-fishing, disease and habitat degradation.

As part of Natur am Byth!, a Wales-wide species restoration programme, Natur Am Byth! Môr deployed the first batch of native oysters in the Milford Haven Waterway, with plans to restore 120,000 over the next 4 years. These will be monitored to better understand issues impacting oysters and to build knowledge to aid wider native oyster restoration.

Although Welsh oysters were held in high esteem and occupied vast beds in the 1600s, over-fishing led to a serious state of decline by 1810. It is hoped that the efforts of Natur Am Byth! Môr will boost the population of native oysters and benefit other local species.

Healthy oyster beds can improve water quality, filtering up to 200 litres a day and removing pollution and excess nitrogen, and help to lock away blue carbon. Natur am Byth! Môr is working with local communities to raise awareness of the native oyster, their historical importance, and hopefully their improved future.

Find out more about Natur Am Byth! here

Young leatherback turtles released off shore of Phuket

Leatherback Turtle

Credit: ACEgan via Shutterstock

Marine conservationists have released 11 one-year-old leatherbacks into Thailand’s sea, with the hopes that the turtles will return to reproduce in the future.

The release follows the efforts of a conservation project to improve the survival of young leatherbacks by nursing them for the first year. It was launched following the discovery in 2018 that the species was returning to lay eggs in southern Thailand.

The progress of the recently released leatherbacks will be monitored using satellite tags which will map their travel routes. Protection measures can then be implemented in leatherback nesting areas to help conserve the endangered species.

Read the full article on the Reuters website

Antarctic blue whale population may be recovering

Blue Whale - Rudolf Kirchner - Pexels

Credit: Rudolf Kirchner

After being driven to the brink of extinction after centuries of industrial whaling, new research suggests that the Antarctic blue whale population may be recovering.

Although fewer than 2,000 Antarctic blue whales were estimated to be alive in 1998, they’ve been increasingly recorded swimming across the Southern Ocean, suggesting that their numbers are stable or on the rise.

Scientists recorded and analysed thousands of hours of audio over two decades, listening for the whales’ distinctive songs and calls. They heard the whales increasingly in the Southern Ocean from 2006 to 2021, suggesting that they may be increasing in number.

Brian Miller, a senior research scientist involved in the project, said, “We think the message is: ‘I’m a blue whale, I’m here.’ If you think about … us almost wiping them out, and extinction, then it becomes more poignant to think about them saying, ‘I’m still here, here I am.’”

Read more on the Guardian website

Local conservation programme boosts turtle numbers

A recent review of a community-led conservation project shows how the fate of the endangered Mary River turtle may be turning around.

Weighing up to 8kg, the Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus) is one of Australia’s largest freshwater turtles. It lives exclusively in the Mary River in Queensland, Australia, which enters the sea near K’gari/Fraser Island.

Turtles in river

Credit: Manuel Velasquez

The species was pushed to the brink of extinction because of intense egg harvesting, with breeding female turtle numbers falling 95% between 1970 and 2000. The population consists mainly of older adults, adding further cause for concern for the species’ future.

However, things appear to be improving for Mary River turtles thanks to the conservation programme launched by the local town of Tiaro in 2001. During nesting season, the group located erected fences around nesting sites and covered nests to protect them from predators. They also recorded the turtles’ nesting activities.

As well as publishing research articles which provide insight into the species’ population, ecological needs, and threats, the programme’s efforts have led to greater numbers of Mary River turtles and improved survival rates of hatchlings.

Read more on the Australian Geographic website

Funding boost for start-up recycling old fishing nets

Fishy Filaments has received almost £50,000 to help upscale its efforts to recycle old nylon fishing nets into parts that can be used in manufacturing.

The company, based in Newlyn, Cornwall, is hoping to tackle fishing net waste, estimating that 200,000 tonnes are discarded or burned every year globally.

Fishing net on beach

Credit: Joshua J. Cotten

Nylon nets are used by local Cornish hake fisheries but are discarded after developing ‘algal biofilm’. Fishy Filaments takes the old nets, washes and shreds them to create plastic pellets that can be used for injection moulding or to make filament for 3D printers, allowing fisheries to recycle their net waste.

The additional funding will allow the business to upscale production and tackle more fishing net waste.

Read more on the BBC News website

State of Mediterranean Sea improving, study finds

Angel shark

The study recorded angel sharks, which were thought to be extinct in the area

Credit: Scuba Diverse via Shutterstock

Various species are reappearing and pollution going down in the Mediterranean Sea, a new study has found.

The 10-month study recorded species that were thought to have become extinct in the area, such as angel sharks and blue sharks. Groupers appear to be making a comeback, and the slow progress of exotic predators such as lionfish and rabbitfish is encouraging.

The number of marine vertebrates in the Mediterranean has halved in the past 30 years, due to rising sea temperatures and acidification caused by climate change, pollution, intensive fishing and development.

The findings from the recent study, however, offer hope for the future of the region’s marine life.

There are more resources and investments into ocean health compared to 40 years ago, with improved sanitation, the creation of marine reserves, restoration projects and laws to protect the coastline. According to Pierre Boissery of the water agency, “the Mediterranean is in better shape than in the 1980s.”

Read more on the Irish Independent

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