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WATER WORLD
Japanese seaweed is welcome invader on US coasts: study
by Staff Writers
Miami (AFP) July 17, 2017


World's northernmost coral reef in Japan bleached
Tokyo (AFP) July 18, 2017 - Bleaching has damaged the world's northernmost coral reef in Japan, a researcher said Tuesday, the latest example of a global phenomenon scientists have attributed to high ocean temperatures.

Healthy coral reefs protect shores from storms and offer habitats for fish and other marine life, including ecologically and economically important species.

After coral dies, reefs quickly degrade and the structures that coral build erode. While coral can recover from mild bleaching, severe or long-term episodes are often lethal, experts say.

About 30 percent of the coral reef off the coast of Tsushima island in Japan, which lies in the temperate zone some 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) southwest of Tokyo, suffered bleaching when Hiroya Yamano's research team observed the area last December.

There was large-scale coral bleaching in Japan's subtropical Okinawan chain of islands last summer, said Yamano, director of the Center for Environmental Biology and Ecosystem Studies at Japan's National Institute for Environmental Studies.

"Recently coral in Okinawa were taking refuge in waters with lower temperatures, expanding their habitat range to (waters off) Kyushu, Shikoku and Honshu," he said, referring to three of Japan's four main islands.

"But now coral in refuges are threatened... the situation is serious," he told AFP.

Since 2015, all tropical coral reefs have seen above-normal temperatures, and more than 70 percent experienced prolonged high temperatures that can cause bleaching.

Early in 2017, the rise in water temperature caused significant bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia for the second consecutive year and also in American Samoa, which was severely affected in 2015.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last month that coral reef bleaching may be easing after the three years of high ocean temperatures, the longest such period since the 1980s.

Its experts said satellite data and other analysis showed widespread bleaching was no longer occurring in all three ocean basins -- Atlantic, Pacific and Indian -- "indicating a likely end to the global bleaching event".

A kind of Japanese seaweed that is considered an invasive species in the United States is actually serving an important role in restoring barren and vulnerable coastlines, US researchers said Monday.

In many lagoons and estuaries of the North Atlantic, native seagrasses and oyster beds have been "severely reduced," due to global warming, pollution, disease and overharvesting, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In North Carolina, where the study took place, some 97 percent of seagrasses, 90 percent of oyster reefs and 12 percent of salt marshes have been lost relative to their historical extent.

In these mudflats, invasive Gracilaria vermiculophylla has been spreading, so researchers decided to analyze how it was affecting the ecosystem.

The Japanese seaweed is believed to have made it into North Carolina via the export of a kind of oyster -- known as the Pacific Oyster (Crassostrea gigas) -- from Japan.

Over a 10-month span, 48 large plots with different densities of Gracilaria were studied for changes in vital services to the environment, including soil stabilization and erosion control, storm surge and flood protection, biodiversity, food production, and habitat for economically important seafood species.

They found the invasive plants helped biodiversity in many ways, particularly by boosting habitat for young shrimp, crab and fish.

"We did not find a significant relationship between Gracilaria cover and sediment stabilization, a process that underpins erosion control," said the report.

Overall, the picture was positive, and suggests invasive underwater weeds may help, not harm native species and ecosystems, said co-author Brian Silliman, associate professor of Marine Conservation Biology at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.

"Our experimental study shows for the first time that this can be the case," he said.

Still, millions of dollars are spent annually to eradicate or contain a host of invasive species all over the world in the name of conservation.

"Conservation and restoration practitioners must now begin the hard conversation about changing their black-and-white picture of invasive species impacts," Silliman said.

The problem is not unique to North Carolina, but extends globally.

Recent studies have found that as many as 20 percent of coral reefs, 30 percent of seagrasses, 45 percent of salt marshes and 90 percent of oyster reefs have been lost worldwide, according to background information in the article.

"With the progressive decline of coastal habitats worldwide, our findings suggest it's better to have a non-native habitat than no habitat at all," said lead author Aaron Ramus, a post-doctoral student at University of North Caroline, Wilmington.

"There's a good chance that many invaders don't have the negative effects that we often think they do."

WATER WORLD
Report: High seas in high danger as ecological tipping point nears
Washington (UPI) Jul 14, 2017
As delegates convene at the United Nations to work out an international treaty to preserve the biodiversity of the high seas, a new report underscores the need to protect the remote ocean. Scientists at Oxford University in the United Kingdom reviewed 271 research papers published between 2012 and 2017 and synthesized the latest data on the impact of climate change, fishing and pollutio ... read more

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