June 14, 2012
Australia will establish the world’s largest network of marine reserves, the country’s environment minister, Tony Burke, announced yesterday evening. The reserves will cover nearly 1.2 million square miles—a third of the nation’s waters—of reef and marine life around the country’s borders.
The plan, which introduces a series of 60 reserves, will protect the Coral Sea, as well as pygmy blue whale habitats off the southern coast of Western Australia. It will curb commercial and recreational fishing. The Coral Sea reserve, which includes 25 reef systems, will become the second largest “no-take”—or fully protected—marine sanctuary after the Chagos Island Marine Reserve in the Indian Ocean. This part of Australia’s proposed marine reserve system will span 194,000 square miles as a part of a larger marine protected area in the Coral Sea that covers 386,100 square miles, according to the Pew Environment Group’s press release.
Jay Nelson, Director of Global Ocean Legacy, a project of the Pew Environment Group that focuses on conservation of the Coral Sea and other areas, says that Australia’s government has gone beyond what any other in the world has done.
“This is the first country that has taken a comprehensive look at their marine zone and made an attempt to do so in a comprehensive way,” Nelson says. “They struck a balance of various uses—areas have been set aside for research and education but there are also areas that have been set aside largely for fishing. Every government has to do that.”
The reserves are mapped out in zones, offering different levels of protection, some of which will allow mining in “multiple use zones” and certain types of commercial fishing. Shared resources, particularly five reefs in the sea that lie beyond the Great Barrier Reef, will now have full national park-level protection, including the Osprey Reef.
The difference between a “no take” and “take” area is dramatic, Nelson says. Fishing and other activities such as oil drilling, which will still be allowed in some designated areas, cause significant alterations to the ecosystem.
“There are very few places in the world—less than the number of fingers on your hand—where the protection is so expansive that you could basically save the entire ecosystem,” Nelson says. “The ocean is fluid—what occurs in one place also occurs in other places nearby. Unless you get a very large area protected, there are many parts of the ecosystem that don’t really receive much benefit. In [the Coral Sea] we have a lot of wide-ranging species like tuna, turtles sharks, and others that will now have an area that they will spend most of their lives in.”
Next week Burke will take his plans to the Rio+20 summit, the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, which will focus on two areas: a green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development and an institutional framework for sustainable development. Australia has made it clear that ocean conservation and management are crucial to the world’s economic environmental prosperity.
March 28, 2012
Planetary scientists using Cassini’s spectrometers found that more than 90 jets near the moon’s south pole are spurting water vapor, organic material, salt and icy particles through fissures. Essentially, it is snowing on Enceladus, and the snow’s composition is microbe-friendly, making this moon a prime candidate for gathering samples in the search for life.
“We can fly through the plume and sample it. Or we can land on the surface, look up and stick our tongues out. And voilà…we have what we came for,” Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist and leader of the Imaging Science team for the Cassini spacecraft, said in the NASA report.
More critical reading and viewing to understand what we’ve learned about Saturn’s moons:
- An image of four distinct plums plumes at the south pole of Enceladus, from Cassini’s mission news earlier this week.
- Astrobiology.com’s explanation with an image of the “tiger stripes,” or fissures where water and ice sprays near the south pole of Enceladus.
- Scientific American‘s coverage last year of the discovery of water beneath Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus.
- Smithsonian’s story on Saturn’s two types of moons: those like Enceladus are similar to moons around other giant planets, such as Jupiter; the others are tiny, icy moonlets that reside on the outer edges of Saturn’s rings. They weren’t discovered until about 8 years ago when the Cassini spacecraft began imaging the Saturn system, and they were an unexpected find.
- A study published in Nature in 2010 found that Saturn’s moons formed from the accretion of material in the planet’s rings. When ring material moves beyond a certain distance from the planet—called the Roche limit—it becomes gravitationally unstable and clumps up to form the tiny moons.
What else have you read that’s great about Saturn’s moons? Let us know in the comments.
March 23, 2012
At first glance, the sawfish looks like nature’s awkward version of a double-sided garden rake. This highly endangered species is a kind of ray. Previous observations of sawfish predatory behavior pinned them as slow-moving bottom-dwellers.
But a study this month in Current Biology shows that the freshwater sawfish is no rake-nosed dope. In fact, the sawfish uses its toothed rostrum (the saw) not only to detect its next meal, but also to attack and impale its prey, sometimes slashing at schooling fish or even cutting tissue out of whales. Their strikes can be strong enough to cut a fish in half.
The study shows that the saw is used both to detect prey and to attack it. Other fish in the shovel-nose family can’t do both—and previously, researchers thought the sawfish followed suit. Unlike other jawed fish whose snouts are used for one or the other purpose, the sawfish has thousands of electroreceptors that enable them to detect the electromagnetic field produced by other animals, and they have tiny canals on their skin that register water movement in their three-dimensional hunting environment.
This new reputation may lead to changes in fishing practices allowed in sawfish territory—their saws often become entangled in fishing gear, contributing to their swift decline.