Using Sea Turtles to Map Seagrass Meadows

The Bertarelli Foundation has, for some time, supported a number of projects in the Indian Ocean which use tagging technology to further our knowledge of animals such as sharks, tuna, manta rays and sea turtles.  By following their migrations, sometimes over great distances, scientists can begin to understand more about their behaviour and their ecology.

A scientific paper by Prof. Graeme Hays of Deakin University and Nicole Esteban of Swansea University recently published in Frontiers in Marine Science, suggests that tagging data might actually be used by scientists for another purpose – to map seagrass habitats.  Not only are seagrass meadows a valuable habitat for many marine species but they also provide ecosystem services worth trillions of dollars (USD) each year.  Seagrass meadows have a role in mitigating climate change, they protect coastal areas from erosion, and they improve the health of neighbouring coral colonies.  Mapping seagrass meadows – and any changes in seagrass distribution – is therefore of vital importance to us all.

As part of the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science the researchers have attached satellite tags to a number of species of sea turtle, including green turtles, in the British Indian Ocean Territory.  This has provided valuable insights about how they range across thousands of kilometers, and even suggested how they might locate tiny islands in the vastness of the Indian Ocean.

Now the scientists have also shown that it is possible to use this tracking data to identify where seagrass meadows might be located and which areas warrant further investigation and survey.

doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00009

 

New chapter opens for Easter Island Marine Protection. Bertarelli Foundation calls for other countries to protect the ocean.

The final step to protect the unique waters around Easter Island through the establishment of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) was completed today, February 27th, 2018, when Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed the decree.

The new Rapa Nui MPA covers 720,000 km2, an area of ocean about the size of France, and guards against industrial fishing and extractive activities, while protecting the traditional fishing practices of the Rapa Nui. It was achieved through the hard work and leadership of Rapa Nui groups, including a coalition of business leaders, fishers, and more than 20 local organizations, along with support from the Bertarelli Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Co-chair of the Bertarelli Foundation, Dona Bertarelli said:

“This is an incredible moment in the history of Easter Island. The Bertarelli Foundation is very proud to have accompanied the Rapa Nui for the past six years, as they campaigned to protect their waters and their heritage.”

The area around Easter Island is one of the most unique marine environments in the world and home to at least 142 endemic species, including 27 that are threatened or endangered. The Rapa Nui MPA contributes a huge stretch of ocean to the global push for 30% of the ocean in protection by 2030, the target recommended by scientists and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but there is still a very long way to go.

Dona Bertarelli stated:

“Chile has shown its leadership to conserve the global ocean, and looking forward, there is a lot more work to be done by countries everywhere if we are to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030.”

Large scale MPAs are acknowledged as essential to building resilience of the ocean in a changing climate, helping to protect marine life and conserve complex ecosystems. But they will only work if the MPAs are robust and offer genuine protection.

The 30% target can be achieved through both the creation of MPAs in territorial waters and the protection of large areas of the high seas, which are beyond any one country’s national jurisdiction. Negotiations towards a new UN Treaty to protect the biodiversity of the high seas start later in the year and the Bertarelli Foundation is keen to see a strong outcome so that more of the ocean can be protected.

The first UN Intergovernmental Conference to negotiate a treaty to protect biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction will be held in September 2018.

More than Half the World’s Ocean is Industrially Fished

Research, supported by the Bertarelli Foundation and recently published by Prof. Barbara Block, Dr. Francesco Ferretti and Timothy White of Stanford University, has shed light on how the impact of industrial fishing is felt around the world.  Using innovative satellite tracking data from over 70,000 fishing vessels, the researchers were able to map fishing activity on a scale which was impossible until now.

Dr. Francesco Ferretti said:

“This is a game-changing platform that can generate validated local and global maps of industrial fishing at unprecedented resolution.”

Dr. Ferretti and his collaborators found that:

  • Whilst most countries fished mainly within their own exclusive economic zones, five countries (China, Spain, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea) accounted for more than 85 per cent. of the observed fishing effort on the high seas
  • More than 55 per cent. of the ocean was fished in 2016. This is more than four times the area of all Earth used for agriculture
  • Christmas and weekends had the greatest effect on fishing patterns in most of the world, while Chinese New Year and summertime fishing bans had the biggest impact on the movements of Chinese fleets
  • While some fleets did display seasonal movements, the work week, holidays and political closures were much more influential than ocean conditions or fish-migrations in determining fishing activity

Prof. Barbara Block said:

“This highlights the impact of industrial fishing with an unprecedented level of detail and transparency.  It could help shape more sustainable practices that ensure a future for tunas, billfish and sharks.”

DOI: 10.1126/science.aao5646

Tracking seabirds in the Indian Ocean

At the start of the new year, Peter Carr and Hannah Wood from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in collaboration with Exeter University and supported by the Bertarelli Foundation, arrived in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) to assess the importance of BIOT, and its MPA, for seabirds. An integral part of the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science, this research will build on work started in 2016 and provide vital information about populations of Red-footed Boobies and other breeding seabirds in this Key Biodiversity Area.

Currently, the researchers are attaching tracking devices to breeding adult Boobies which will, once retrieved, provide information about foraging and breeding behaviours of this iconic species. By unravelling where the birds go, but also why, the scientists will reveal important information about activity ‘hot-spots’ and the health of the ocean upon which they rely.

Malcolm Nicoll, Principal Investigator from the Institute of Zoology at ZSL commented:

It is widely recognised that seabirds are an indicator of ocean health and an important link between the marine and terrestrial environments. Protecting healthy seabird populations is a priority as they bring essential nutrients to islands and their surrounding waters, which can play a positive role in the health of near-shore coral-reefs. As such, research like this which improves our understanding of how large MPAs can benefit seabird populations, will prove vital as we face the growing challenges of global warming and ocean acidification.

The Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science brings together talented scientists from around the world to carry out important research in one of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas. This large, remote, near pristine, no-take marine reserve presents a unique opportunity to undertake an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the role of these complex ecosystems for mobile species such as tunas, sharks, turtles, and seabirds. As BIOT has been negatively impacted by recent global coral bleaching events, the reserve also provides an important study site to understand the resilience large marine reserves offer in the absence of fishing and other man-made pressures.

The Revillagigedo Archipelago is a biodiversity hotspot

Last month’s decision by the Mexican government to declare a fully protected marine reserve around the Revillagigedo Archipelago was truly historic.  Teeming with life found nowhere else on the planet, this biodiversity hotspot is now completely protected from fishing and other extractive activities.

Here are just a selection of some of the incredible animals that can be found there.

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) swim together in ‘pods’ in the waters around the Revillagigedo Archipelago off the coast of Mexico (c) Pelagic Life

 

Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) gather each spring to mate off Roca Partida in the Revillagigedo Archipelago (c) Pelagic Life

 

A group of sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) approaches a bait ball near the Revillagigedo Archipelago (c) Pelagic Life

 

A Manta Ray in the waters of the Revillagigedo Islands off the coast of Mexico (c) Pelagic Life

 

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) off the coast of Revillagigedo Islands near Mexico (c) Pelagic Life

 

Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis), gather in big schools around Roca Partida Island as part of their mating rituals around the Revillagigedo Archipelago (c) Pelagic Life

 

 

 

North America’s largest MPA is created off the coast of Mexico

The Bertarelli Foundation congratulates the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto who today designated an area 148,087 km2 around the Revillagigedo Archipelago as a fully protected Marine Protected Area (MPA).  This historic decision will safeguard a chain of four volcanic islands in the Pacific and their surrounding marine habitats, some 800 kilometers west of Manzanillo and almost 400 kilometers south of Cabo San Lucas.

The islands—Socorro, Clarión, San Benedicto, and Roca Partida—are located where the cold waters of the California current converge with the warm waters of the North Equatorial current, creating upwellings that bring nutrients from the bottom of the ocean to the surface. These nutrients help feed 366 species of fish—26 of which are endemic, meaning they are not found anywhere else in the world—as well as 37 species of sharks and rays. And they make the region a critical waypoint for whales, dolphins, sharks, tunas, sea turtles, and other migratory species, as well as providing a winter home to humpback whales.

Dona Bertarelli, trustee of the Bertarelli Foundation, said:

“It’s clear to me that now more than ever, we need countries all around the world to follow Mexico’s lead. By protecting the waters around the Revillagigedo Archipelago, and all the incredible marine life that lives there, Mexico is joining a global movement to fully protect 30 per cent. of our ocean – as recommended by scientists and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It’s an amazing achievement and will ensure a healthy and sustainable ocean for generations to come.”

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project joined local partners Beta Diversidad and the Coalition for the Defense of the Seas of Mexico (CODEMAR) to provide technical and scientific support for the establishment of the reserve, and to raise awareness of the benefits of preserving this archipelago.

Lausanne chosen to host the World Conference of Science Journalists in 2019

On October 28th, 2017 in San Francisco, Lausanne was chosen to host the 11th World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ), which will take place from in July 2019 at the SwissTech Convention Center on the campus of the EPFL / UNIL. This meeting, which takes place every two years, attracts more than a thousand journalists and science communicators from more than 60 countries. The Bertarelli Foundation was proud to officially back the successful bid.

In winning over the Board of Directors of the World Federation of Science Journalists, which oversees the event, the winning bid will see the WCSJ return to Europe after events in the US (San Francisco, 2017) and South Korea (Seoul, 2015). The Swiss – or Alpine bid – was launched by the Swiss Association for Science Journalism (ASJS), soon joined by its sister organisations in France (AJSPI) and Italy (SWIM). The theme and motto for the 2019 meeting will be “Reaching new heights in science journalism” and the conference will use the mountains as a symbol and common thread.

Following the news of the win, the Bertarelli Foundation is pleased to confirm that it will be the main sponsor of the 2019 meeting. Ernesto Bertarelli says:

“Congratulations to the Alpine team on their success! This is another demonstration of the Lake Geneva region’s global standing in science, technology and engineering. I am proud through the Bertarelli Foundation to support this showcase of Swiss innovation, which will also share global knowledge and experience in science with our partners from all over the world.”

We are very honored that Lausanne has been chosen to host this important event. We presented the project of a conference organized by and for science journalists, to defend, present and promote quality independent journalism in the media worldwide. An aspect that has helped us to win,”

said  Olivier Dessibourg, president of the ASJS.

The Lausanne candidacy was able to benefit, from the beginning, from the support of four major academic partners: EPFL, CERN, and the Universities of Lausanne and Geneva. In addition to scientific and academic support, the Lausanne candidacy has also been able to rely on important levers in Swiss political, media and economic circles (State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation, Presence Switzerland, City of Lausanne, Canton of Vaud), but also within the whole of Europe, notably through the European Commission, or institutions such as the Euronews channel, the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) or the European Union. radio-telecommunications (EBU).

The Bertarelli Foundation would like to send their many congratulations to everyone involved in the Alpine team in putting together such an impressive bid.

President Bachelet of Chile creates an MPA around Easter Island

President Bachelet of Chile today fulfilled a 2015 commitment to conserve the waters around  Easter Island. The MPA, one of the largest in the world, will protect an area about 740,000km2, roughly the size of Chile’s land area. Announced at the close of the Fourth International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC4) in Chile, the MPA will protect Easter Island from industrial commercial fishing, mining and other extractive activities within the Chilean exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that surrounds the island.

 

The entire Exclusive Economic Zone of Easter Island is now protected from commercial fishing and other extractive activities such as mining and oil exploration.

 

The preservation of the Rapa Nui’s artisanal fishing practices—fishing from small open boats using hand lines and rocks as weights – will be a key component of the management plans for the MPA and will help preserve the islanders’ way of life. Residents of Easter Island endorsed the designation by a wide margin in a referendum just before the start of IMPAC4; 73 percent supported an MPA that includes artisanal Rapa Nui fishing practices. An island-wide consultation, and the subsequent referendum,  were a direct result of the proposal their leaders presented to the Chilean government in 2015.

Dona Bertarelli commented:

“We are delighted that President Bachelet has designated the Rapa Nui Rahui MPA, which protects one of the last true ocean wildernesses on the planet.  The Rapa Nui have a heritage that is inextricably tied to the sea and we are proud to have supported them on this journey to conserve their ocean habitat for future generations.”

Marcelo Mena, Chile’s minister of the environment commented:

“Chile is proud to have worked in consultation with the Rapa Nui to create a legacy of protection for Easter Island.  This decision was made after an extensive public consultation with the Rapa Nui and the MPA will be the first in Chile to have been supported by a community vote. We are grateful for the tremendous support provided by The Bertarelli Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts to help the Rapa Nui protect their ocean.”

Overwhelming support from the Rapa Nui to create an MPA around Easter Island

On the first day of IMPAC4 in La Serena, Chile’s Ministers for the Environment, Marcelo Mena, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heraldo Muñoz, announced the results of a referendum held Sunday, 3rd September 2017 on Easter Island for the creation of a marine protected area. The vote, which had the largest turnout for a consultation ever held on the island, resulted in 73% approval for the creation of an MPA that would protect the island’s exclusive economic zone from industrial commercial fishing, mining and other extractive activities while grandfathering in Rapa Nui artisanal fishing.

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project issued the following statement in response to the vote.

Dona Bertarelli, co-chair of the Bertarelli Foundation said:

“I am delighted that the referendum has given such strong endorsement for the creation of an MPA around Easter Island. This demonstrates the value of working with local communities to achieve the best outcome to protect both their livelihoods and the oceans for generations to come.”

Matt Rand, director of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project said:

“This is a historic moment for the conservation of the world’s ocean, and the protection of the Rapa Nui environment and culture. We are thrilled that, after working with the community for over five years, the Rapa Nui have voted in support of a marine protected area. We are hopeful that President Bachelet will codify the Rapa Nui proposal.

There has been an extensive vetting process with the Rapa Nui and the final decision by the community is to support a marine protected area. This is the important step to hopefully realize the community’s vision to protect their ocean and culture. We have been privileged to have worked so closely with the Rapa Nui on this endeavor over the last five years. The power of this partnership between committed indigenous local people and our outside expertise has been remarkable.

The Rapa Nui have chosen conservation of the environment, their culture and their traditions over commercial exploitation. This should be commended. It’s not often that communities choose conservation over exploitation. Hopefully this sets the course for the rest of our world.”

More incredible data is collected from the Chagos Archipelago

In late April and early May, Dr David Jacoby of the Zoological Society of London and Dr Taylor Chapple of Stanford University spent a week at sea attempting to retrieve data from deep-sea receivers scattered across the marine reserve in the British Indian Ocean Territory. The receivers pick up signals from pelagic animals that the team tagged on previous trips including sharks, rays and tuna – the big predators that are hard to study but absolutely key to a healthy ecosystem.  These 16 receivers were deployed in 2016 in a variety of deep-water habitats such as sea mounts and undersea canyons, places too deep for divers and until now virtually unstudied by scientists.

In just six days, with the help of the crew of the British Patrol Vessel Grampian Frontier, the team traversed the Chagos Archipelago from end to end travelling over 500 miles. They managed to retrieve 12 of the 16 receivers by using an automated acoustic release system which ‘calls’ the receiver from the surface causing it to break free of its mooring and float up to be collected by the team.

Early analysis of the data from the receivers has revealed an incredible wealth of information; over 500,000 individual detections were downloaded – each one an individual pass of a tagged animal past one of the receivers. Receivers located at the Schwartz and Sandes seamounts in the south of the archipelago made detections of 159 unique individuals and are starting to reveal some of the connectivity between these deep habitats.

Dr David Jacoby and Dr Taylor Chapple service and replace the battery in a VR4 acoustic receiver, just south of Peros Banhos in the Chagos Archipelago, so that it will continue transmitting live data for another year.

Additionally, an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler, retrieved from ‘Manta Alley’ at Egmont Island has collected information about the current profiles of this newly discovered manta highway and will provide vital environmental data for assessing why this area if so important for this iconic species.

Though short, this trip was very successful and will reveal more of the habitats and movements of these amazing species around this huge marine protected area. The acoustic receiver array, funded by the Bertarelli Foundation, is contributing to a long-term data set that is unparalleled in its size and geographic coverage and continues to grow by the day. All the data are now on their way back to the lab at Stanford University for in-depth analysis.

Expedition to survey corals in the British Indian Ocean Territory

The Bertarelli Foundation recently supported an expedition to British Indian Ocean Territory, one objective of which was to survey damage to the coral reef from previous bleaching events, and to see the extent of any damage this year.  Dominic Andradi-Brown of the University of Oxford provided this update.

I’ve just returned from two weeks of coral reef surveys in the Chagos Archipelago. While logistically and scientifically the expedition was a great success, the coral reef health surveys we conducted suggested there has been widespread coral death here over the past couple of years.

Last year, during the April expedition, we recorded a coral die off in the shallows, particularly with the large plating and branching Acropora corals dying off that previously dominated these reefs.

The reefs were characterised in the shallows by many large upturned plates, with the few Acropora colonies still alive but looking heavily diseased.

Many of the other branching corals, such as Pocillopora, were still alive but showing signs of bleaching.

Bleaching, which is caused by high sea temperatures combined with sunlight exposure for a prolonged period of time, doesn’t necessarily kill corals. There are plenty of examples of corals recovering following bleaching events, and in fact these corals that do recover are the focus of research as they may hold the key to coral reef survival through climate change.

The positives from our 2016 trip were there were lots of healthy young corals, called recruits, that had settled onto the reef, offering hope that the reefs of the archipelago could recover.

We left the 2016 expedition slightly apprehensive about what would happen to the reefs next. Would the dead Acropora plates erode down destroying many of the coral recruits? Would the Pocillopora recover following the bleaching?

So it was with much trepidation we returned this year to see what further changes there had been. At first glance the shallow reefs looked fairly similar, after all, the plating Acropora that had previously died off had been the dominant coral at many sites.

Dead Acropora corals being surveyed after this year’s bleaching event

However, as we got further into surveys we began to notice that the many other branching corals, such as the Pocillopora, that were bleaching as we left last year had now died as well.

In several places we encountered large rubble patches, most likely caused from the erosion and breakdown of the branching corals that had died over the previous two years.

Unfortunately for the reefs of the Chagos Archipelago it seems they have had two years of back-to-back change.

Rubble patch from broken down branching corals

Despite this there are a few glimmers of hope.

Generally the deeper reefs below 20 m depth appeared reasonably healthy, with high coral cover. In the shallows, the remaining living corals (mostly Porites species) seem in good condition and there was no sign of further bleaching in progress while we were there.

Healthy Porites corals in shallower waters

Many of the coral recruits we observed last year have survived and grown. As part of our survey work this year we were interested in tracking reef recovery. So we have identified individual young Acropora colonies, measured their surface area and 3D structure to be able to track their growth over the next few years.

Young Acropora corals will be measured over the next few years to record their growth and recovery

There is hope that the reefs of the Chagos Archipelago can recover, as a similar coral die-off happened back in 1998 from which the reefs recovered.

However, the key question is the frequency with which bleaching occurs, and whether there will be time for recovery before the next big bleaching event.

Thanks to the Bertarelli Foundation for funding the expedition. For updates from when we were in the field, please search for the hashtag #BIOTExp17 on twitter.

 

New Conservation Posts on Turneffe Atoll help enforce the marine reserve

On the 1st March 2017, the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA) opened two new buildings on the atoll to increase the effectiveness of their enforcement and education activities.

The Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, which is co-managed by TASA along with the Government of Belize, was established by law in 2012 and is both the largest marine reserve in Belize, and the largest atoll in the northern-hemisphere. The area is of crucial importance for local and commercial fishing, as well as lobster and conch diving.

TASA’s main station, which houses five permanent rangers is housed on Calabash Caye, while its secondary outpost which houses four rangers is on Mauger Caye to the north of the atoll.

Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade, and Jose Alpuche, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, the Environment, Sustainable Development, and Immigration did the official ribbon cutting  and were joined by many others with a keen interest in seeing the marine reserve succeed.

The new buildings were  funded by the Bertarelli Foundation, as part of our ongoing commitment to help Turneffe Atoll recover from decades of misuse and over-fishing.

Valdemar Andradi, TASA’s Executive Director, explained why the new conservation posts will help their work:

Our role is to monitor Turneffe Atoll to ensure that those using the area comply with fisheries regulations and sustainable management of the area’s resources.

Our new presence on two sites will allow for more daily patrols when rangers will be able to monitor for illegal fishing, unlicensed development, as well as to ensure compliance with development permits.

Mauger Caye rangers will patrol from the north to the central atoll, and Calabash Caye rangers will patrol from central to south.