A big-hearted iron snail is the first deep-sea species to be declared endangered due to seabed mining.

[Note: this article originally appeared on the Deep-sea Mining Observer. It is republished here with permission.]

In 2001, on an expedition to hydrothermal vent fields in the Indian Ocean, researchers made a bizarre discovery. Clustered in small aggregations around the base of a black smoker was an unusual snail, seemingly clad in a suit of armor. Rather than a single, hard, calcareous structure, the snail’s operculum was covered in a series of tough plates. On recovery to the surface, those plates, as well as the snail’s heavy shell, began to rust. This was an Iron Snail.

Individuals from the three known populations of C. squamiferum: Kairei, Longqi, Solitaire (left to right). Chong Chen.
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Small Shark Tagging Day

We’re all smiles 5 minutes into the first day on the water.

I am in Saba in the Dutch Caribbean with the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and the Saba Conservation Foundation serving as a research assistant to an international team of shark scientists participating in the Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019.  Today was our first day out on the water and our objective was to catch, measure, and tag small sharks on the Saba Bank.

It’s a girl.

We caught three Caribbean reef sharks and a silky shark – the first time I’ve ever seen a silky shark (check that one off the list).  Each shark was worked up by the scientists, with data collected to serve their respective research areas.  When each shark was brought to the boat, the first observation was for sex, which we determined from the presence or absence of claspers.  And then measurements were taken for total length, fork length, caudal length, and girth.  We also took a fin clip, a muscle sample, and a blood sample.  Each shark was handled for only a few minutes, and then released back into the water.  Every shark today quickly swam away.

Guido, Jergen, Ayumi, and Walter work up a small Caribbean reef shark on the deck of the boat, with the island of Saba looming in the background.

Our island hosts Ayumi and Walter from the Saba Conservation Foundation were eseential in making today a success.  Walter drove the boat all day and Ayumi served as our expert fisher, helping us with the gear to target the species we were after.

You came for the science, but I’m showing you my fishing pictures.

We also trolled for bonito to and from the Saba Bank.  We didn’t catch any, but I handlined this barracuda, and we also caught a beautiful green mahi mahi.

Stay tuned for a few more blogs where I introduce some of the researchers and conservation practitioners participating in the expedition. You can also follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Book review: “Shark Research: Emerging Technologies and Applications for the Field and Laboratory”

Editors: Jeffrey C. Carrier, Michael R. Heithaus, Colin A. Simpfendorfer. CRC Press, available here.

I can’t imagine a more useful introductory reference guide for new or prospective graduate students starting their career in marine biology than “Shark Research: Emerging Technologies and Applications for the Field And Laboratory”. This book is designed for people who have little to no familiarity with a research discipline but are about to start working in that discipline, a large and important audience that is often ignored by books and review papers geared towards people who are already experts. So many graduate students are told to learn a new research method by reading technical literature that assumes they already know this stuff, resulting in stress and frustration.

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Research expedition: what ever happened to the world’s first certified sustainable shark fishery?

My Postdoctoral research has focused on understanding the causes and consequences of public misunderstanding about shark fisheries management. While scientists overwhelmingly support sustainable fisheries management as a solution to shark overfishing, many concerned citizens and conservation activists prefer total bans on all shark fishing and trade. Some go so far as to (wrongly) claim that sustainable shark fisheries cannot exist even in theory and do not exist in practice anywhere in the world, and that bans are the only possible solution.

There’s an important piece of data that very rarely makes it into these discussions. Amidst the ongoing discussions about whether or not sustainable shark fisheries are even possible, one right in my backyard became the first shark fishery anywhere in the world to be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

However, a few years after BC’s spiny dogfish fishery got certified, the certification was quietly withdrawn. I couldn’t find any information in the MSC reports, or in associated scientific literature or government reports, that explained what happened to this fishery, which was thriving until recently. No scientists, managers, or conservation advocates who I asked about this knew exactly what happened to BC’s spiny dogfish fishery.

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Commerce Unveils a Budget to Decimate NOAA

Late yesterday afternoon, the Department of Commerce unveiled its long awaited budget proposal. Designed in large part to free up funding for President Trump’s ill-conceived, wasteful, and wildly unpopular wall on the Southern Border, it includes cuts to NOAA programs so deep that America’s coastal communities and coastal economies will take generations to recover.

Read it here:

The Department of Commerce Budget in Brief: Fiscal Year 2020

When Secretary Wilbur Ross took office, he pledge to support science-based decision making built on the foundation of unbiased data collection, stating:

“If confirmed, I intend to see that the Department provides the public with as much factual and accurate data as we have available. It is public tax dollars that support the Department’s scientific research, and barring some national security concern, I see no valid reason to keep peer reviewed research from the public.”

“To be clear, by peer review I mean scientific review and not a political filter. In closing, if confirmed, I want to ensure the Department continues to attract Nobel-prize winning scientists and remains a global leader in all of the research it conducts. The Department’s responsibilities are many and the public deserves to see them executed at a world class level.”

Trump nominee pledges to shield NOAA climate scientists from intimidation, censorship.

He even earned accolades from ocean scientists for his early actions and appointments.

Whatever goodwill Secretary Ross may have earned has been destroyed by this new budget, which is nothing less than an attack on American Science, America’s Coastal Communities, and America’s Ocean Economy. It is a betrayal of whatever values Ross claimed to posses during his nomination. This budget is the product of mediocre men of limited vision. I can’t even be mad, I’m just disappointed.

Below are just a few of the most uninspired cuts to the NOAA budget.

Coastal Economies

Zero funding for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.

The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund finances state, tribal and local conservation initiatives to help recover threatened and endangered Pacific salmon populations. The FY 2020 Budget includes $0 funding for this program. The agency will continue its Federal commitment to advancing Pacific salmon and steelhead recovery and Tribal treaty fishing rights through other NOAA programs as resources allow.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 62)
  • Reduce funding for repair/replacement of Coastal Observing Assets.
  • Reduce funding for the Coastal Mapping Program.
  • Eliminate regional Geospatial Modeling Grants.
  • Reduce Integrated Ocean Observing System Regional Observation Grants.
  • Terminate National Centers for Coastal Ocean Service.
  • Eliminate Single-Year Grants to Joint Ocean and Coastal Mapping Center.

Reduces the additional resources provided in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, FY 2019 to increase research and monitoring of North Atlantic right whales to better understand how the species interacts with fisheries and shipping traffic and is adapting to changing ocean conditions and shifting feeding grounds.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 73)
  • Eliminate NCCOS competitive funding support for research on ecological threats.
  • Eliminate funding support for Integrated Water Prediction.
  • Eliminate Coastal Zone Management Grants.
  • Eliminate Federal Funding Support for the Title IX Fund .
  • Reduce funding for Innovative Coral Reef Restoration Initiatives.
  • Eliminate Federal Funding Support for National Estuarine Research Reserve System.

John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program provides grants or cooperative agreements to eligible marine mammal stranding network participants. Commerce’s budget eliminate this program.

  • Reduces funding previously provided by Congress for New England groundfish research.
  • Reduces Congressionally-directed funding for development and implementation of agency-independent and alternative approaches to research and stock assessments for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic
  • Reduces additional funding for the Seafood Import Monitoring Program.
  • Reduces support for implementation of new catch share programs.
  • Reduces funding for Mitchell Act hatcheries and implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
  • Reduces funding for the three Interstate Fishery Management Commissions.
  • Eliminates financial assistance program to promote state activities in the management of interjurisdictional fisheries resources.

Eliminates funding to support the Cooperative Enforcement Program (CEP). NOAA will not be able to implement Joint Enforcement Agreements (JEA) with 27 state and U.S. territory partners. These JEAs provide funds to state and U.S. territorial law enforcement agencies to perform enforcement services in support of Federal regulations.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 75)
  • Eliminates grants for on-the-ground habitat restoration projects.
  • Decrease the funding used to advance priority activities in its Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Labs.
  • Terminate Mississippi State Partnership.

Exploration

[Commerce] requests a decrease to eliminate Federal funding for Marine Sanctuaries Telepresence Grants. These Congressionally directed grants provide funding to explore and document the deep-sea oceanography, marine habitats, cultural sites, and living and non-living resources in and around national marine sanctuaries to better understand their biology, ecology, geology, and cultural resources.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 73)
  • Eliminate Research Grants for Monuments.
  • Eliminate the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) demonstration testbed.
  • Eliminate the environmental genomics program.
  • NOAA will terminate the Oceanographic Research Partnership Program.
  • End competitive acquisition of data from [uncrewed] surface vehicles (USVs).

[Commerce] will decrease its extramural ocean exploration and research efforts by reducing funding to the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology, the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, and the interagency Biodiversity Observation Network.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 77)

Climate Change

  • Eliminate funding for NOAA’s Antarctic Ecosystem Research Program.
  • NOAA will decrease the funding within the OAR Climate Laboratories.

NOAA will eliminate Arctic research within the Climate Laboratories & Cooperative Institutes PPA. NOAA will terminate some Arctic research products and improvements to operational sea ice modeling and predictions.

NOAA will eliminate Arctic research within the Regional Climate Data & Information PPA. NOAA will terminate some Arctic research products and improvements to operational sea ice modeling and predictions.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 76)
  • Eliminate Climate Competitive Research Funding.
  • Eliminate Climate Competitive Research PPA.
  • Reduce funding for the Integrated Ocean Acidification Program.
  • Reduce external grant funding that is used to leverage partnerships to develop a sustained, comprehensive, and responsive global ocean observing system.
  • Terminate support for the NOAA Water Level Observation Network.
  • Reduce the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) Platform 55-buoy array by 15 moorings.
  • Reduce the geographic scope and purchase of observations performed by aircraft and will eliminate the aircraft observations over other parts of the oceans and in other continents.

Disaster Prediction and Relief

Zero funding for Fisheries Disaster Assistance

Fisheries Disaster Assistance helps address the environmental and economic effects of a commercial fishery failure. If the Secretary determines that a fishery disaster has occurred, Congress may appropriate funds for disaster assistance, which are administered by the Secretary. The FY 2020 Budget includes $0 funding for this account.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 62)
  • [Commerce] will terminate Vortex-Southeast (VORTEX-SE), a project that seeks to improve tornado forecasts in the southeastern U.S.
  • Terminate research and development on improving the detection and understanding of severe weather with a new airborne phased array radar (APAR) and other airborne measurements
  • Eliminate the Tsunami Research and Operational Warning program.
  • Slow development of the Next Generation Global Prediction System and Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project by reducing research grants for the collaborative research activities and NOAA’s testbeds.

NOAA will decrease the funding used to advance priority activities in its Weather Labs and CIs funding line, including High Performance Computing recapitalization of the Boulder jet supercomputer, Forecasting a Continuum of Environmental Threats (FACETs), data assimilation initiatives, and other activities that support implementation of the Weather Act.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 76)
  • Terminate efforts associated with the Consumer Option for an Alternative System To Allocate Losses (COASTAL) Act of 2012 implementation within NWS, including efforts to develop the capability to produce detailed “poststorm assessments” in the aftermath of a damaging tropical cyclone that strikes the U.S. or its territories.

Terminate the Regional Climate Centers (RCCs) that provides climate services tailored to the specific needs of the region within which it is located. RCCs respond to emerging issues, such as droughts and floods and each RCC is located at six universities and research institutions that are responsible for managing the RCC resources from NOAA and non-NOAA sources alike.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 80)

Education

NOAA will terminate the National Sea Grant College Program Base and Marine Aquaculture Program. This will eliminate NOAA funding for the network of 33 Sea Grant programs located in coastal States and territories, and withdraw support for the larger cross-NOAA Aquaculture Program.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 77)
  • Terminate the Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Regional Program.

Eliminate funding for the Competitive Education Grants Program ($3,000), and the Educational Partnership Program for Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI) ($16,000) within the Office of Education and reduce fund for the Office of Education ($1,006). Remaining funds for the Office of Education of $1,039 will support a centralized office focused on
coordinating and improving the performance of NOAA’s numerous activities in STEM education.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 80)

Gutting NOAA Facilities

Reduces funding for science facilities to support NOAA’s goal of a more efficient Federal footprint. Operating costs will be reduced by divesting three owned properties combined with savings from avoidance of deferred maintenance associated with one of the facilities in the Fisheries and Ecosystem Science Programs and Services budget line. These represent initial actions to reduce NOAA’s footprint.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 63)
  • [Commerce] will close the Air Resources Laboratory and eliminate ARL’s research on air chemistry, mercury deposition, and atmospheric dispersion of harmful materials in order to fund other priority programs.
  • [Commerce] will close its program office and intramural grants dedicated to the research, development, and transition to application of new UAS observing strategies.

Privatizing Satellite Monitoring

The budget request of $10 million for the Office of Space Commerce proposes to reallocate resources of $3.6 million and 11 positions from NOAA Operations, Research and Facilities and $6.4 million in new appropriations. The office focuses on various sectors of the space commerce industry, including satellite navigation (GPS), commercial remote sensing, space transportation, and entrepreneurial activities. The office participates in government-wide discussions of space policy issues as well as internal efforts to increase the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) use of commercial space solutions.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 9)

This pulls NOAA out of satellite monitoring and forcing the agency to rely on private enterprise. The march towards privatizing space is well under way.

Call your representatives (especially if you live in NC, LA, or MD) and tell them that you expect them to oppose every aspect of this disastrous budget.

You can find your representatives’ contact information here: https://www.callmycongress.com/

Trump’s 2020 Budget will be a Disaster for America’s Coastal Economies

Yesterday the Trump Administration unveiled its proposed budget for fiscal year 2020. This budget contains steep cuts research, education, and social services in order to fund the construction of the border wall. Chief among the cuts is an unprecedented reduction in funding for NOAA, which functionally disbands several core research programs within Ocean Services. From A Budget for a Better America:

“The Budget also proposes to eliminate funding for several lower priority NOAA grant and education programs, including Sea Grant, Coastal Zone Management Grants, and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.”

A Budget for a Better America, page 21

Rumblings on the hill suggest that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross plans to unveil his own plan to drastically reduce the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and permanently hamstring NOAA in furtherance of the Administration’s goal to find funding to construct a wall on the US southern border.

These cuts include zeroing out the budget for the following agencies and programs:

  • NOAA SeaGrant
  • NOAA Coastal Zone Management Program
  • National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS)
  • Pacific Salmon Restoration Program
  • Potentially at least one fisheries laboratory

These cuts would be catastrophic America’s Coastal Communities and Economies, especially in places like North Carolina, Maryland, and Louisiana.

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A polymetallic nodule from the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone, purchased from an online dealer. 

Nodules for sale: tracking the origin of polymetallic nodules from the CCZ on the open market. 

[This article originally appeared yesterday in the Deep-sea Mining Observer. ~Ed.]

You can buy a 5-lb bag of polymetallic nodules from the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone on Amazon, right now.

Depending on your vantage point and how long you’ve participated in the deep-sea mining community, this will either come as a huge surprise or be completely unexceptional. Prior to the formation of the International Seabed Authority, there were no international rules governing the extraction of seafloor resources from the high seas. Multiple nations as well as private companies were engaged in exploration to assess the economic viability of extracting polymetallic nodules and tons of material was recovery from the seafloor for research and analysis. Some of that material almost certainly passed into private hands.

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The next generation open-source, 3D-printable Niskin bottle has arrived!

The Niskin bottle, a seemingly simple device designed to take water samples at discrete depths, is one of the most important tools of oceanography. These precision instruments allow us to bring ocean water back to the surface to study its chemical composition, quality, and biologic constituency. If you want to know how much plastic is circulating in the deep sea, you need a Niskin bottle. If you need to measure chemical-rich plumes in minute detail, you need a Niskin bottle. If you want to use environmental DNA analyses to identify the organisms living in a region of the big blue sea, you need a Niskin bottle.

Niskin bottles are neither cheap nor particularly easy to use. A commercial rosette requires a winch to launch and recover, necessitating both a vessel and a crew to deploy. For informal, unaffiliated, or unfunded researchers, as well as citizen scientists or any researcher working on a tight budget, getting high-quality, discrete water samples is an ongoing challenge.

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Cut rock samples from the Rio Grande Rise show Fe-Mn crusts (black and gray) growing on various types of iron-rich substrate rocks (pale to dark brown). Photo credit: Kira Mizell, USGS.

A lost continent, rich in cobalt crusts, could create a challenging precedent for mineral extraction in the high seas.

[This article originally appeared yesterday in the Deep-sea Mining Observer. ~Ed.]

The Rio Grande Rise is an almost completely unstudied, geologically intriguing, ecologically mysterious, potential lost continent in the deep south Atlantic. And it also hosts dense cobalt-rich crusts.

The Rio Grande Rise is a region of deep-ocean seamounts roughly the area of Iceland in the southwestern Atlantic. It lies west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge off the coast of South America and near Brazil’s island territories. As the largest oceanic feature on the South American plate, it straddles two microplates. And yet, like much of the southern Atlantic deep sea, it is relatively under sampled.

Almost nothing is known about the ecology or biodiversity of the Rio Grande Rise.

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All the slime that sticks, we print: 2018 in Hagfish Research

Hagfish. You love them. I love them. Of all the fish in all the seas, none are more magnificent than the hagfish. Across the world, children celebrate the hagfish by making slime from Elmer’s glue, their own mucous, or just, like, something. Seriously, how is is that toddler hands are always coated in some strange, unidentifiable slime?

And never, ever forget:

Your car has just been crushed by hagfish: Frequently Asked Questions.

2018 was a big year in hagfish science. Below are just a few of my favorite studies.

Biogeography

A hagfish in the high Antarctic? Hagfish have previously never been observed in the shallow waters around Antarctic, but a photograph from 1988 was determined this year to be a hagfish feeding on a large pile of clam sperm in shallow water. Neat!

Possible hagfish at 30 m in Salmon Bay in 1988. The white patch is Laternula elliptica sperm.

Incidentally, the reason the photo languished for so long is that it was originally though to be a Nemertean. Because Antarctic Nemertean worms are huge and horrifying.

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