Wednesday, 21 June 2017

No, the Black Sea isn't black, but it's not normally this turquoise either

The Black Sea has turned a striking shade of turquoise.

A natural phenomenon called a "phytoplankton bloom'' has turned the normally dark waters of the Bosporus and the Golden Horn near Istanbul into an opaque tone of light blue.

It's caused by microscopic organisms that have inundated the Black Sea just north of Turkey's largest city.

The Black Sea's turned turquoise in a show that can be seen from space.
It's so bright, it can be seen from space.

The aquatic artwork appears every summer, but this year's bloom is one of the brightest since 2012, The New York Times reported citing Norman Kuring, a NASA scientist.
 
Microscopic organisms have inundated the Black Sea just north of Turkey's largest city.

Berat Haznedaroglu, an environmental engineer, says it's a normal annual event.

"This year we got a lot of rain events that carried nutrients from the Saharan desert to the Black Sea, which created an optimal environment for this phytoplankton to bloom,'' said Haznedaroglu, who works at the Institute of Environmental Sciences at Istanbul's public Bogazici University.

In a statement published with a satellite image of the Black Sea, NASA said the milky coloration is "likely due to the growth of a particular phytoplankton called a coccolithophore.''

 http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/europe/93851205/no-the-black-sea-isnt-black-but-its-not-normally-this-turquoise-either

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Trev and Shirl are just a couple of lovebirds on the run


Trev and Shirl are two lovers on the run from scientists who want study their DNA. 

The pair are making their bid for freedom in the thick bush of the Purangi Kiwi sanctuary in eastern Taranaki

The two kiwis have so far evaded three human attempts to capture them and for now they are safe from further efforts to bring them in.  

Searchers are trying to get to Shirl, right, through her transmitting lover Trev.
"At the moment its Shirl 3, and humans nil," said  Purangi Kiwi chair Karen Schumacher.
 
The fear is if they make an attempt to find the pair again in the next couple of weeks the radio-transmitter wearing Trev will get fed up and "divorce" Shirl, thereby making Shirl all but impossible to find. 

Only male kiwis wear transmitters because they are the ones that sit on the eggs and so they are usually the ones that need to be found.

The trouble for the pair began during an annual health check when a photo was taken of Trev and the lightly coloured Shirl and sent to the Department of Conservation for assessment. 

The loved-up kiwis were then let go into the bush again.

The problem was DOC then put out an urgent call to get Shirl back because the bird might have the rare DNA of the little spotted kiwi that has been extinct from the mainland for close to 40 years. 

About 1600 little spotted kiwi exist, mostly in island sanctuaries around the country. 

"Shirl's genetics are very important for all of New Zealand." Schumacher said.

There was even a possibility Shirl could also be a new species.

"Unfortunately, Trev's done a runner, and while the searchers managed to get within 20 metres of him he then vanished." Schumacher said. 

Kiwi are highly territorial and it is likely Trev and Shirl are hanging around their burrow, Schumacher said. 

However steep cliffs and bluffs in the area mean if the pair don't want to be found, it's nearly impossible to get close. 

Schumacher said the hunt for Shirl, through Trev, would continue at a later date.

Shirl was a rare discovery, she said, and the team would not give up on her.
"We are hoping that if we can track him in a burrow, she will be there. Hopefully.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/oddstuff/93692519/trev-and-shirl-are-just-a-couple-of-lovebirds-on-the-run

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Remote, uninhabituth Pacific island becomes a plastic wasteland

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When researchers travelled to a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the beaches.

Almost all of the garbage they found on Henderson Island was made from plastic. There were toy soldiers, dominos, toothbrushes and hundreds of hardhats of every shape, size and colour.\


The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island's extreme remoteness. The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at Australia's University of Tasmania, was lead author of the report, which was published on Tuesday in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
Lavers said Henderson Island is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents known as the South Pacific gyre, which tends to capture and hold floating trash.

"The quantity of plastic there is truly alarming," Lavers told The Associated Press. "It's both beautiful and terrifying."

She said she sometimes found herself getting mesmerised by the variety and colours of the plastic that litters the island before the tragedy of it would sink in again.

Lavers and six others stayed on the island for 3 1/2 months in 2015 while conducting the study. They found the trash weighed an estimated 17.6 tonnes and that more than two-thirds of it was buried in shallow sediment on the beaches.

Lavers said she noticed green toy soldiers that looked identical to those her brother played with as a child in the early 1980s, as well as red motels from the Monopoly board game.

She said the most common items they found were cigarette lighters and toothbrushes. One of the strangest was a baby pacifier.

She said they found a sea turtle that had died after getting caught in an abandoned fishing net and a crab that was living in a cosmetics container.

By clearing a part of a beach of trash and then watching new pieces accumulate, Lavers said they were able to estimate that more than 13,000 pieces of trash wash up every day on the island, which is about 10 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide.


Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn Islands group, a British dependency. It is so remote that Lavers said she missed her own wedding after the boat coming to collect the group was delayed.
Luckily, she said, the guests were still in Tahiti, in French Polynesia, when she showed up three days late, and she still got married.

Lavers said she is so appalled by the amount of plastic in the oceans that she has taken to using a bamboo iPhone case and toothbrush.

"We need to drastically rethink our relationship with plastic," she said. "It's something that's designed to last forever, but is often only used for a few fleeting moments and then tossed away."

Melissa Bowen, an oceanographer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who was not involved in the study, said that winds and currents in the gyre cause the buildup of plastic items on places like Henderson Island.

"As we get more and more of these types of studies, it is bringing home the reality of plastic in the oceans," Bowen said.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/south-pacific/92663471/remote-uninhabited-south-pacific-island-becomes-a-plastic-wasteland

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Scientists to eavesdrop on Maui dolphins while seeking answers on their habits


Scientists are set to eavesdrop on the critically endangered Maui dolphin, as part of a year-long, Niwa-led project.

Latest estimates put the Maui dolphin population between 57 and 65 so scientists want to find out more about them in an effort to improve their chances of survival.

Maui dolphins are only found on the west coast of the North Island, with the greatest concentration between Manukau Harbour and Port Waikato.

While they are known to congregate close to shore in water less than 20 metres deep, it is uncertain how far offshore they travel and what risks they might face in doing so.
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As part of a collaborative project between the Department of Conservation, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the University of Auckland, Niwa marine ecologists Dr Kim Goetz and Dr Krista Hupman are this month deploying a line of up to nine offshore acoustic moorings stretching from the shoreline to 12m offshore just south of Manukau Harbour.

Each mooring will carry two acoustic devices.

A cetacean and porpoise detector (CPOD) will record detections of the high frequency "clicks" the dolphins produce to hunt prey and navigate.
 
The second device, a soundtrap, will record a subset of both clicks and whistles.

Goetz said the first step was to establish how far offshore they can be detected.

"Acoustic monitoring provides a reliable way to detect the presence of marine mammals over a long time period," she said.

"In terms of Maui dolphins, we really know very little about their seasonal movements, offshore distribution, and ultimately why they appear to be confined to this area.

"They are an endangered animal so anything we can contribute to increasing our knowledge will be very useful."

A photographic survey of Maui dolphins takes place annually, where distinguishing marks and scars are correlated with known animals.

In addition, mark-recapture biopsy surveys to estimate the number of dolphins is conducted across two years, every five years.

The last one was completed in 2016 so the next one will begin in 2020.

While this provided a valuable snapshot at a given time, Goetz said the acoustic survey would add to this data by providing information collected over an entire year.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11871344

Monday, 5 June 2017

Man-made chemicals are destroying marine life of Great Barrier Reef


Chemicals from human cosmetics and drugs have been found in the blood of turtles living in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Green turtles were found to have hundreds of thousands of different chemicals in their blood stream, which had caused the animals to suffer from liver dysfunction.

Scientists said the discovery highlighted the devastating impact of man-made matter on marine life.
Medications for the heart (milrinone) and gout (allopurinol), as well as cosmetic and industrial chemicals, were among substances detected in the reptiles' bloodstream as part of an ongoing conservation project, reports Daily Mail.

Green turtles are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

Scientists said exposure to the substances had caused side effects in the turtles, with indications of inflammation and liver dysfunction.

"Humans are putting a lot of chemicals into the environment and we don't always know what they are and what effect they are having," said Amy Heffernan of the University of Queensland.

"What you put down your sink, spray on your farms, or release from industries ends up in the marine environment and in turtles in the Great Barrier Reef."

Researchers tested turtles at Cleveland Bay and Upstart Bay along the Queensland coast, as well as the more remote Howicks islands in the reef's north as part of the 'Rivers to Reef to Turtles' project led by WWF-Australia.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11869032

Saturday, 3 June 2017

A natural born killer


The weasel is the smallest member of the mustelids (ferrets, stoats, otters) and the world's smallest carnivore. It was introduced into New Zealand in 1885, to help reduce rabbit numbers, along with ferrets and stoats, but, although released in greater numbers, did not thrive.

The government changed its release policy in 1903 but it was too late. It was not until 1936 that legal protection was removed.

Weasels are found worldwide except for Antarctica and Australia. They inhabit a wide range of environments, from pastoral land and scrub to exotic forest and bush margins. They are great predators of mice but also prey on native birds, eggs, lizards, insects and frogs. They are efficient hunters, and will kill even when their belly is full.

Their slender shape and short legs allow them, uniquely, to enter the burrows of prey where they corner their victim, wrap themselves around the prey to immobilise it and then bite the back of the neck to kill. They then take over the burrow, lining it with fur and leaves to make it a den.

They hunt both day and night, mainly on the ground, but can climb. Hunts can cover 2.5km at speeds of up to 25km/h. Prey can include animals much larger than themselves, and surplus can be carried back to the den and cached for later use. Their body shape, size and metabolism mean they have a very high energy demand and need to eat one-third of their body weight in food each day.

They are known to 'hypnotise' their prey by dancing, but it is now thought this behaviour may be due to the discomfort of internal parasites.

Weasels have a deep brown-light brown body and a short brown tail. The belly is white with an irregular line where it meets the brown. Males are larger than females (150gm vs 80gm), and are 20-35cm long.

Territory size depends on food availability but can be 4-8ha. Females tend to stay within their own territory but males will roam further, especially during the breeding season. Being related to the skunk, they use scent marking, and will squirt anal sac secretions when scared.

Females have 4-6 kits per litter and can have two litters a year. Gestation is five weeks, with the kits weaned at 4-5 weeks. They are good hunters by eight weeks. Adults are solitary except at mating. Wild weasels can live up to three years but males rarely do, as their roaming makes them more susceptible to predation.

Control of weasels is generally by trapping. DoC 200 stoat traps baited with rabbit work well, and the newer Good Nature traps can be baited for mustelids too.

The collective nouns for weasels include boogle, gang, pack and confusion.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Great Barrier Reef is damaged beyond repair and can no longer be saved, say scientists


Scientists have concluded that the Great Barrier Reef can no longer be saved because it is so damaged.

The plight of the reef is partly due to the "extraordinary rapidity" of climate change, according to experts.

The reef has been severely damaged by the warming of the oceans, and around 95 per cent of it suffers from bleaching, according to scientists who surveyed it in 2016.

Experts have said the ecological function of the reef should be maintained as much as possible in coming years, but that the reef itself will not be saved in its current form.

A committee of experts set up by the Australian government said the lesser target of "protecting the ecological function" of the reef is more realistic than salvaging it.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority explained what this would mean: "The concept of 'maintaining ecological function' refers to the balance of ecological processes necessary for the reef ecosystem as a whole to persist, but perhaps in a different form, noting the composition and structure may differ from what is currently seen today".

They said they were "united in their concern about the seriousness of the impacts facing the Reef and concluded that coral bleaching since early 2016 has changed the Reef fundamentally".

"Members agreed that, in our lifetime and on our watch, substantial areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding ecosystems are experiencing major long-term damage which may be irreversible unless action is taken now.

"The planet has changed in a way that science informs us is unprecedented in human history. While that in itself may be cause for action, the extraordinary rapidity of the change we now observe makes action even more urgent."

"There is great concern about the future of the Reef, and the communities and businesses that depend on it, but hope still remains for maintaining ecological function over the coming decades," their statement continued.

Because it is believed the coral bleaching is due to global warming, reducing carbon emissions is integral to the plans to maintain the ecological function of the reef.

They also said: "This needs to be coupled with increased efforts to improve the resilience of the coral and other ecosystems that form the Great Barrier Reef. The focus of efforts should be on managing the Reef to maintain the benefits that the Reef provides".

 http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11866044