Fallowing is good for Chile's salmon aquaculture

Fallowing is good for Chile's salmon aquaculture

In Chilean salmonid farmers’ worst nightmares, Piscirickettsia salmonis must be a regular feature. This bacterium causes Salmon Rickettsial Septicaemia (SRS), a highly infectious disease whose symptoms include haemorrhaging, lesions, ulcers, anorexia, and many cases death. SRS is an epidemic in Chile, costing the salmon aquaculture industry over US $300 million each year. Vaccines have been largely ineffective and antibiotics have given mixed results. Mandatory three-month fallowing, on the other hand, seems to routinely reduce the chance of reinfection...

Coral Bleaching & The Great Barrier Reef

Coral Bleaching & The Great Barrier Reef

In April 2016 I submitted an article to The Marine Professional - a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST) focusing on the mass bleaching event that had hit the Great Barrier Reef at the time.  In their September 2016 issue, The Marine Professional featured a comment from a reader, in which he stated that he shared the article with Dr. Russell Reichelt - chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.  The reader alleged that  Dr Reichlet told him that the article "contains some accurate things mixed with half truths and alarmism". A number of  coral reef, marine biology, and climate scientists have been in touch to express their concern about Dr Reichelt's alleged comments on my article.  After liaising with Dr Reichelt's office*, I am pleased to be able to set the record straight on what he did - or rather did not say.

Just keep swimming

Just keep swimming

This little critter is a limpet.  From the photo they may not look like the most exciting of creatures.  If you've ever been down to the coast and taken a look at them yourself… your opinion may not have changed.  They don't seem to move around a lot, or do a lot.  Of course looks can be deceiving.  Under that shell is the limpet's squishy body - and their big, muscular foot which, alongside a pretty amazing adhesive secretion, they use to cling onto rocks and other hard surfaces.  Anyone who has ever had a go at trying to get a limpet off a rock knows how good a grip they can have.  

Movement, dispersal, & my PhD

Movement, dispersal, & my PhD

In my last post I mentioned that I am starting a PhD.  I promised to tell you a little more about what my research will be looking at, so here we go!

On being MIA...

On being MIA...

Hello my fellow readers You may have noticed that I have been away for some time.  Some of you have even gotten in contact with me to find out why, and encourage me back - thank you!  Your words of kindness and encouragement were very much appreciated.  I honestly did not mean to disappear for so long, but I did get incredibly busy.  I thought I'd share with you all some of the questions I've been asked during my time away - and my responses!

This week on twitter: all things science communication

This week on twitter: all things science communication

This week I've been asked to take over a rolling curator account on Twitter focusing on science communication (I am Sci Comm - @iamscicomm) Here I'll be talking about all things science communication (with a good dose of the ocean of course!) .  Come join in the conversation!

If you want to follow me on my permanent Twitter account - head over to @HoboSci

#scicomm   #oceanliteracy

How special is a ‘Special Area of Conservation?

How special is a ‘Special Area of Conservation?

 This week it has been brought to my attention that there is a proposal to dredge for scallops inside a ‘Special Area of Conservation’ located in Cardigan Bay, Wales.  This proposal has divided opinions.  On Twitter this week Professor Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York (UK) lamented that there was ”No hope for UK marine conservation if this mad proposal to scallop dredge in a protected area goes ahead” .  Dr Magnus Johnson, a Crustacean Fisheries and Ecologist researcher at the University of Hull (UK) quickly countered “It is worth reading the science by first!”, following with a couple of hashtags “#eatmorefish #eatmoreshellfish”.  Two scientists, with two opposing views… what is going on?

Oh Canada – what about your ocean?

Oh Canada – what about your ocean?

This is a big post.  It’s about big things.  Important things too.  It deals with Canada - a big country.  Actually by area, it is the second largest country in the world.  It also has a lot of ocean under its jurisdiction.  Take a look at the website of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a Federal government body, and you will see statements like this: “The Government of Canada is working to ensure the future health of Canada's oceans and ocean resources by increasing understanding and protection of our oceans; supporting sustainable economic opportunities; and demonstrating international leadership in oceans management”

Sounds good doesn’t it?

Protecting Kenya’s dolphin habitat

Protecting Kenya’s dolphin habitat

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are pretty nifty tools for marine conservation. You take an area, you give it a designations and (hopefully… but the reality can be quite different) you attach some regulations/legislation to remove harmful activities to whatever it is you are trying to protect inside the MPA and make efforts to rebuild and conserve this spot. The situation of picking an area to designate can become trickier when dealing with ocean wanderers – species that move around a lot, and over great distances. It is safe to say that it is politically unfeasible to designate one area big enough to encompass, for example the movement of sea turtles. Instead, sea turtles may find critical habitat – feeding areas or nesting beaches for instance, covered by an MPA. We can’t protect them everywhere, but we can build a case to protect them where we know they hang out in large numbers.

How deep is too deep for commercial fishing?

How deep is too deep for commercial fishing?

Our ever-improving technology has allowed us to fish longer, catch more, and move further from land.  It has also allowed us to fish deeper.  EU statistics indicate that between 1950 and 2006 fishing depths increased from an average depth of 407 metres, to 535 metres. Life in the deep is slow-paced.  Food is scarcer than in the sunlit surface waters.  Species grow slower and live longer.  Some deep-sea corals, like the one in the image, are thought to be over 4,000 years old. Traits like these are why organisations like Marine Conservation Institute that ” The deep-sea is the world’s worst place to catch fish” .  It’s not just the sustainability of targeted species that is causing concern, but of those caught as bycatch, as well as damage to the seabed and the flora and fauna living in and on it – like the coral in the photo.  So can deep-sea fishing ever be managed sustainably?    A recently published study from Joanne Clarke, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, and colleagues suggests that there might be a way to make the practice less damaging.

What 415 million year old fossil plankton tells us about heavy metal pollution and extinction

What 415 million year old fossil plankton tells us about heavy metal pollution and extinction

 They are also fossils – approximately 415 million old, from a period known as the late Silurian.  That’s pretty cool in itself (at least I think so), but what makes this really interesting is that the individual on the left is malformed, whilst the one on the right is ‘normal’.  What is even more interesting than that, is that these malformations coincide with the initial stages of extinction events. Led by Thijs Vandenbroucke (researcher at the French CNRS and invited professor at Universiteit Gent | Ghent University) and Poul Emsbo (US Geological Survey), an international team of researchers have taken a look at these malformed (known as ‘teratological’) fossil plankton.  They wanted to find out what was causing these malformations

The unique ecology of human predators

The unique ecology of human predators

The human predator shares many similarities with other animal predators on this planet.  They are intelligent, they can work either independently or in groups.  They can be strategic, cunning, and postulate on possible future outcomes of actions and events.  Despite such similarities, the human predator is very different from any other currently living on Earth.  At a population of over 7.3 billion, humans can be found across the whole planet.  They have harnessed the power of other animals to help their survival.  A highly adaptable animal and a generalist feeder, they exploit a range of different prey.  They have gone beyond simple tool use, creating technology capable of killing thousands of animals in one go (and technology that can potentially wipe out a significant number of humans too).  They have developed fuel to allow them to travel vast distances, and societal systems to maximise the efficiency of exploitation.  We are not just predators, we are “super predators”.

Reducing bycatch of skates and rays – stop tickling them!

Reducing bycatch of skates and rays – stop tickling them!

Bottom-trawl fisheries may supply us with much of the tasty fish we like to enjoy, but it does come with its problems.  Also known as ‘dragging’, bottom trawling essentially involves dragging a large net, held open either with a beam (beam trawling) or large metal/wooden ‘doors’ (otter trawling) along the sea bed, or just above it.  It is used to catch a range of commercial species like cod, shrimp, flounder, and halibut.  One of the problems of trawling is that it is not a very selective form of fishing.  Other species are caught in the process, and this bycatch can include at risk species such as skates, rays and sharks.  As well as ecological implications, bycatch can be bad for fishers, who often end up throwing away bycatch either because it isn’t worth anything, or because they are not allowed to land it.  Bycatch reduction is a win-win for fishers and for the marine life caught. Reducing bycatch of sharks, rays, and skates (collectively known as elasmobranchs) in bottom trawls is one of the many fishery-related issues on the mind of scientists at Marine Scotland Science.  As this piece of research from the Marine Scotland Science team shows, one possible solution (though not perfect) may not be all that tricky to implement.

A brighter future for the shy albatross

A  brighter future for the shy albatross

Predicting the future is a tricky business.  As then United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld famously said “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know” .  Then there is the interactions between all the variables that determine the outcome of a particular event.  However, few things work in isolation and species decline often results from the accumulation of different stressors.  If we want to put in place conservation management measures that are effective in the long term, then we need to be able to put our known (and measurable) stressors together and figure out what, cumulatively they mean for our potentially at risk species.

The travelling life of the tiger shark

The travelling life of the tiger shark

At 9 foot long, not including the tail, tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) Harry Lindo is not exactly on the small side.  It’s not Harry’s size that is exciting scientists and shark enthusiasts, nor a photograph taken in 2009 by Ian Card showing a shark – suspected to be Harry, trying to eat a 150 lb juvenile tiger shark off the coast of Bermuda.  Between 2009 and 2012 researchers tagged 24 tiger sharks with satellite transmitters in the Challenger Bank, which lies just off Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean.  In study lead by James Lea (The Guy Harvey Research Institute, Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center) and team of international collaborators, those shark movements have been compiled and analysed.  Harry, it turns out, is one heck of an ocean wanderer.  In just over 3 years Harry swam over 44,000 kilometres – that’s more than the circumference of the Earth (just over 40,000 kilometres).  Harry’s track is the longest recorded for a tiger shark, and probably the longest ever published for any shark species.

Algae for the People

Algae for the People

The human relationship with algae has been a long running affair.  Historically, we have benefited from the oxygen they have produced, their fossils contributing to offshore petroleum reserves, and their vital role throughout the food web, directly and indirectly giving rise to species with commercial, recreational, and subsistence importance.  In Asia, seaweeds have formed a staple dietary item for coastal communities for centuries.  On the island of Jersey, ‘vraic’ has been collected from the shore to be used as fertilizers for growing crops.  Today, seaweeds are still consumed throughout Asia, and is still used as fertilizer in Jersey (albeit in declining amounts), but its value as a resource has grown substantially.  The Food and Agriculture Organisation statistics reveal that algal aquaculture (algaculture) has been steadily increasing.  In 2012, over 23.8 million tonnes of algae was produced, with an estimated value of U$6.4 billion.  Whilst much for this is for food production (Nori, which is entirely produced in Asia, is worth U$2 billion alone), algae – both micro and macro, has been shown to have many other uses.

Canada’s marine protected areas protect…. not very much

Canada’s marine protected areas protect…. not very much

Current levels of protection inside Canada’s MPAs [marine protected areas] are inadequate to provide the long-term conservation of marine biodiversity. For the most part, there is little difference between what is allowed inside our MPAs and what occurs outside their boundaries”. Little difference… that’s a pretty damning statement from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), an NGO established in 1963. After all, what is the point of a MPA that offers little to no protection? There are 740 MPAs covering just 1% of Canada's ocean, far below internationally agreed Aichi targets of 10% (which in itself is far below the minimum recommended by scientists).

GM in Aquaculture

GM in Aquaculture

Humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years with selective breeding.  Since the 1970s, we have been able to modify DNA, creating cisgenic (adding recombinant DNA from the same or similar species) and transgenic (adding recombinant DNA from a another species with which the organism can’t naturally breed with) species.  In the public domain genetically modified organisms for use in the food industry is a highly controversial topic.  On one side, there are concerns surrounding their potential impacts to both human and environmental health.  On the other, there are those who argue that the use of GMOs in aquaculture isn’t just of benefit to the industry, but for food security and even reducing our impacts on the oceans...

This article was written for (and appears in full) on The Fish Site - – please continue reading here.

‘Integrated Action’ (Ocean Management)

‘Integrated Action’ (Ocean Management)

As human population grows, more and more demands are being placed on the coastal and ocean environment.  Over half of the World’s human population currently lives at the coast, a figure that is projected to rise to 70% by 2020.  Historically human use of the ocean was largely in the realm of fisheries or transport but today one can find other industries operating in the ocean such as oil and aggregate extraction as well as recreational use.  In an increasingly crowded ocean and coastal environment, conflict between users becomes more common place.  What is more, our understanding of how seemingly separate activities inland can have an impact on ocean and coastal environments.  The traditional single-sector management approach is no longer sufficient.  Today local communities, nongovernmental organizations, private industry, and all levels of government play a role in managing human use of the oceans and the coast.  The need for integrated forms of management is widely recognised and can be seen in international law and agreements, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the Convention for Biological Diversity.  

No fishing zones for conservation look good on paper, but the reality can be very different

No fishing zones for conservation look good on paper, but the reality can be very different

The global implementation of no-take zones, areas in which fishing (both commercial and recreational) is banned, has been a slow process despite scientific recommendations that they are a valuable tool for conservation – and even support fisheries.  The thinking behind no-take zones is simple.  Prevent extraction from a population and that population will increase over time.  There is plenty of evidence showing that no-take zones have higher fish abundance, biomass, and species richness than comparable fished areas, and that the fish inside no-take zones are larger too.  But there is a catch… designating an area ‘no-take’ is, in itself, not enough to ensure protection.  There are all sorts of factors that can influence the ‘success’ of no-take zones, such as placing the area where it they most needed, reducing pollution from external sources, and the level of compliance and/or enforcement.  After all, if people keep fishing inside the no-take zone, it doesn’t really meet the criteria of being no-take.  Inevitably a fished zone will fail to meet expected successes of a no-take.