On February 8, Oceana and National Geographic launched an expedition to explore the waters off of the remote Desventuradas Islands more than 500 miles off the coast of Chile. By documenting marine life and habitat the team hopes to persuade the Chilean government to protect more than 60,000 miles surroundinig this archipelago. Below is an expedition journal entry from Oceana South America Vice President Alex Munoz. Photos © Oceana
After more than a week of expedition, this place continues to surprise us. Yosy discovered a coordinate on the map very close to San Félix that corresponds to a seamount whose peak is only 10 meters deep. This means it is the perfect place to go to with our divers and submarine DeepSee.
We leave early in Argo to look for the seamount. After a few hours, the echo sounder detects 10 meters! Yosy had been right! The group of scientists and cameramen quickly get into the water.
Enric, Avi and I are the fortunate ones that will go in the DeepSee to a completely unknown place. As we start to descend, Avi, our pilot, says, “This is the exact definition of exploration!” And wow, was he right. As my colleagues and I are very excited, before we know it, we have reached 130 meters. Thousands of fish, from brecas to Jack mackerel, sharks to vidriolas surround us.
As you enjoy those last holiday cookies before the New Year comes with its resolutions, we’d love to share one final present for you to enjoy: we are thrilled to announce that last week, the country of Chile became the first in the world to protect all of its seamounts from the devastating effects of bottom trawling! Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless and actor and Oceana board member Ted Danson collaborated in an article published by the Huffington Post to share this excellent news with the world.
Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges that are home to an unbelievable array of sea creatures fed by the nutrient-rich water from the deep upwells. The destructive practice of bottom trawling, where large, heavy nets weighing as much as several tons each effectively clear-cut everything living on the seafloor, causes more direct and avoidable damage to the ocean floor and its creatures than any other human activity in the world. Although some of Chile’s seamounts have already been damaged or destroyed by the country’s fishing fleet, the December 20 decision closes any further trawling to Chile’s 118 seamounts until scientists have assessed these and other underwater ecosystems off the coast of Chile.
No, it’s not the annual full moon spawning event, but corals in the Pacific and Caribbean have something just as exciting to wave their tentacles at: possible protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
After many years facing changing ocean temperatures, acidification, and increased disease, corals have significantly declined in overall health and abundance. Scientists and conservationists have long studied and understood the plight of corals, but recently their efforts have prompted renewed action.
Three years after scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received petitions from the Center for Biological Diversity to list 83 species of coral under the protection of the ESA, NOAA has responded with a proposal to protect 66 coral species through the ESA.
Protecting coral reefs which provide homes to countless colorful reef fish, ambling sea turtles, sharks, and an endless host of other vital marine creatures, is paramount to our own enjoyment and success as fellow inhabitants of this finite blue planet. Corals are estimated to provide the U.S. economy with an annual net benefit of over one billion dollars from tourism, recreation, and commercial and recreational fisheries. They provide shore breaks from storms, new pharmaceuticals to treat diseases, and act as biological reserves due to the unparalleled level of genetic diversity contained within the ecosystems they support.
Editor's note: This is part 3 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
Ayoke Island may be the most idyllic place I’ve ever seen. It’s a small island in the northern part of Lanuza Bay covered with a riot of coconut and palm trees.
The town is a small cluster of bamboo and thatch homes. I was lucky enough to get to snorkel in the aqua waters of the Ayoke Island MPA with Lito, a Rare staffer, while fishers held a community meeting in the guardhouse. Unlike the waters of Cortes, which contain mostly an undulating seagrass meadow, Ayoke is home to a stunning reef with ten-foot table corals and seemingly endless clusters of branch corals.
But even in this paradise, there are signs of trouble. We saw very few fish, although I did spot one fat sea cucumber resting on a table coral. I didn’t see any giant clams, although Lito said he saw a dead one. Broken patches of branch corals littering the ground were evidence of dynamite fishing.
Even so, Ayoke Island’s MPA was named one of the Philippines’ top 10 marine protected areas, no small feat in a country with 1,600 MPAs, the most in the world. But as recently as December the community faced a real test when the MPA was dynamited during the town’s fiesta, when no one was volunteering at the guardhouse. No one knew about the bombing until a family that was new to town showed up at the market with several boxes of fish that everyone immediately recognized as the result of dynamite fishing. As fishers told Cherry Ravelo, Rare’s conservation fellow for Ayoke and nearby General Island, they felt like they had been robbed.
When you think of ocean animals, snakes are not usually the first thing to come to mind, but they live as comfortably underwater as they do on the ground. Today’s Marine Monday features one of these swimming snakes, the olive sea snake.
Olive sea snakes live in corals in the waters above Australia. Divers should be cautious around these olive-brown snakes, as they will swim right up to anything that catches their curiosity, and they will bite if they feel threatened. An olive sea snake bite is venomous and can be fatal.
But don't worry, beachgoers have little to fear from this snake. Olive sea snakes live and hunt within their own small territories in coral reefs and rarely enter open water.
One cool thing about olive sea snakes is that they have a nine-month gestation period and give birth to live young, just like us! But their babies come in litters of five and are the size of a human finger, plus they grow up to be venomous sea snakes, so the similarities end there.
Want to learn more about cool marine creatures? Check out Oceana’s marine encyclopedia.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their final day in Oregon, the crew ventures into uncharted territory and finds a variety of corals and fish.
Oregon Leg, Day 5
Friday was our last day aboard the R/V Miss Linda and it could not have been a better day for working on the ocean. We left the Charleston Marina at 7 AM bound for the nearshore reef south of Cape Arago and west of Seven Devils State Park.
As we were working in and out of Charleston today, we invited guests to join our expedition including Dr. Craig Young, the director of the University of Oregon’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and Dr. Jan Hodder from the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.
The University of Oregon has been operating marine studies in the Charleston area since 1924 with year-round research programs beginning in 1966. Dr. Young and his graduate students have made hundreds of deep dives in submersibles and sailed on oceanographic ships in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Yet surprisingly, nobody has ever been to the areas we went Friday with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and underwater camera.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: rockfish, basket stars and hydroids.
Oregon Leg, Day 1
Last night our six Oceana crew slept aboard the R/V Miss Linda, tied to the dock at the Charleston Marina. The captain and his two crew members arrived at dawn, started up the engines and walked our tired souls through an important safety briefing. The Miss Linda is a 76-foot research charter vessel that formerly worked these Pacific Ocean waters as a commercial fishing boat. The captain is experienced, confident and will certainly lead us safely through our five-day expedition.
Our objective today was to get situated working aboard the Miss Linda with our Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) while exploring a large area of rocky reef just south of Cape Arago. Over the next four days we will use the ROV to capture high definition video footage of some of the most remote and rugged areas off the southern Oregon coast.
By our third dive this afternoon, five miles offshore and over 150 feet down, the Miss Linda crew and Oceana crew were in sync. With each drop of the ROV we saw schools of rockfish hovering over a rich tapestry of seafloor life.
A week from today marks the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill, and the effects of the spill on the gulf’s ecosystems and wildlife are beginning to come into view, though the full effects won’t be understood for years.
This week the New York Times published an overview of the latest findings. The good news is that although miles of marsh are still oiled and tar balls continue to wash up on beaches, the Gulf of Mexico can thank its oil-eating bacteria for digesting some of the crude oil and the methane gas.
Not all the news is so good, however. Here are some of the latest findings about Gulf wildlife:
Last week, in a culmination of several years of work, our European colleagues presented a proposal to protect 15% of the marine area around Spain’s Canary Islands. If the proposal is accepted, it would multiply the current protected area by 100.
Here’s the back story: In 2009 the Oceana Ranger, our research catamaran, sailed to the Canaries, which are off the coast of Morocco. Over the course of two months, the crew documented the seamounts and seabeds of the archipelago, and found a dozen species never before seen in the area, and filmed many rare species, including three-foot-tall glass sponges, Venus fly-trap anemones and lollipop sponges. (For more on the Canaries see this piece from our magazine last winter.)
Yesterday you heard about the Latitude’s foray into the Alabama Alps. Today, photos!
Here are some of the cool creatures our deep-sea ROV captured on camera. Which one's your favorite?
Special thanks to Nautica, whose support made our use of the deep sea ROV possible!