Dead dolphins wash up in Mauritius, mining for cobalt on the bottom of the sea, and Norwegian whaling – What’s up with the Ocean this week?

The disaster continues in Mauritius. With the cleanup and salvage well underway, Mauritius has begun assessing the broader impacts of the disastrous bulk carrier wreck. Fishermen have reported seeing 30 to 30 dead dolphins floating in a lagoon near the wreckage including mothers and calfs. Dead whales, as well as sick and injured whales, are also being recovered close to the site of the spill.

Deep-sea mining cracks the crust. The world’s first experimental deep-sea mining operation for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts has successfully recovered ore from the seafloor. For a deeper looking into the development of the deep-sea mining industry, subscribe to the DSM Observer.

The mining machine on the seabed. Photo courtesy JOGMEC.

Whaling in Norway. Commercial whaling in Norway has reach a four-year-high. As of last week, Norwegian whaling vessels had killed 481 minke whales this season. The Norwegian whaling season is not over.

Upwelling.

I don’t have a huge soapbox to stand on this week, but there have been several good balanced articles about deep-sea mining that are worth a read, including this from Scientific American – Deep-Sea Mining: How to Balance Need for Metals with Ecological Impacts – and this by the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, which oversees seabed mineral rights in areas beyond national jurisdiction – How to Mine the Oceans Sustainably.

Hurricanes, Sharks, Mining the Deep Sea, and the Great American Outdoors – What’s up with the Ocean this week?

August 5, 2020

Holy Mola we are back! Bass my flounder for I have finned. It has been Half A Year since I last posted anything on Southern Fried Science. Granted, that year is 2020, so I think we can all give each other all the slack we need. I have missed this place, my weekly ocean news round ups, and my less frequent deep dives into ocean science, conservation, and exploration. So let’s get back to it: What the heck is up with the ocean this week?

Hurricane Isaias. Hurricane Isaias ripped across the eastern seaboard, striking the Bahamas as a category 1 hurricane before slowing as it approached the United States. It briefly ramped back up to a category 1 storm as it strafed the North Carolina coastline. Isaias spun off hundreds of tornadoes as far north as Delaware as it crawled towards Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. It is the ninth named storm of 2020, the earliest ninth storm to form on record, and the second consecutive hurricane of the season. 2020 is projected to be an exceptionally intense year for Atlantic hurricanes, because of course it is.  

An osprey braces itself against the wind as Isaias passes over the Maryland Eastern Shore. Photo by Andrew Thaler.

Woman killed by Great White Shark. A woman was killed by a Great White Shark last week in Maine’s first recorded lethal shark encounter. Though Great Whites are uncommon, they are not unheard of in northern waters and the recovery of shark populations in the north Atlantic is in general regarded as a success story. With rebounding populations, interactions between humans and wildlife will increase, although such tragic outcomes are still rare. In a strange twist, the victim in this case was an acquaintance of our own resident shark specialist

We still don’t know how to assess the impacts of deep-sea mining. In Deep-Sea Misconceptions Cause Underestimation of Seabed-Mining Impacts, Smith and friends outline the numerous potential misconceptions that may dramatically affect our estimations of the impact of deep-sea mining. These misconceptions include the scale of the operation, the rate of recovery, and the compounding impacts of other human-induced insults to the seafloor. 

Upwelling (the part where Andrew gets on his soapbox)

Yesterday, the President signed the Great American Outdoors Act, a largely bipartisan effort to dramatically increase funding for land conservation across the US; an act that was necessary following decades of Republican leadership gutting funding for the National Parks Service and deferring essential repairs. The $9 billion in funding for deferred maintenance will go towards offsetting over $12 billion in critical repairs that have accumulated since the 1980s, the last decade in which the Park Service budget was significantly increased. It also guarantees almost $1 billion per year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is predominantly funded though royalty payments from offshore oil and gas. 

It’s a great law made necessary by decades of leadership failure. 

Saltiness aside, it comes at a time when access to the outdoors could not be more essential. With the country in the midst of an historic pandemic and travel significantly curtailed, access to green space is at a premium. And, unsurprisingly, nature deficit disproportionately affects historically marginalized communities, particularly those within urban areas where vast green spaces come in the form of literal walled gardens. 

Even with the Great American Outdoors Act, this administration has done more to destroy the environment than any modern presidency, and we can only hope that this will help lay the groundwork for the next president’s Green (and Blue) Awakening.

Ballard’s hunt for Earhart’s wrecked plane, sink or swim for deep-sea mining, prints of whales, and more! Monday Morning Salvage, August 19, 2019.

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

BEN (Bathymetric Explorer and Navigator) was made for the University of New Hampshire by marine autonomy tech company ASV Global(Credit: University of New Hampshire)
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A brutal slog through some of the worst ocean and climate news of the summer. Also, fish cannons. [Tuesday] Morning Salvage: August 13, 2019.

Foghorn (A Call to Action!)

  • Trump Administration Guts Endangered Species Act, setting back conservation efforts by decades, dooming thousands of charismatic species to extinction, and sealing his legacy as the racist president that is unambiguously worse than Nixon. Look, at this point, if you aren’t calling your representatives on the regular to demand impeachment, I don’t know what to tell you.

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Image: Pierre Markuse (Flickr)
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A global assessment of biodiversity and research effort at active Seafloor Massive Sulphides: Transcript from my talk at the International Seabed Authority.

[The following is a transcript from a talk I gave at a side event during Part II of the 25th Session of the International Seabed Authority in July, 2019. It has been lightly edited for clarity.]

I want to change gears this afternoon and talk about a very different kind of mining. For the last two years, Diva and I have been engaged in a data mining project to discover what we can learn and what we still need to learn about biodiversity at hydrothermal vents from the 40-year history of ocean exploration in the deep sea.

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What we’ve missed in the Abyss: Mining 40 years of cruise reports for biodiversity and research effort data from deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

“When the RV Knorr set sail for the Galapagos Rift in 1977, the geologists aboard eagerly anticipated observing a deep-sea hydrothermal vent field for the first time. What they did not expect to find was life—abundant and unlike anything ever seen before. A series of dives aboard the HOV Alvin during that expedition revealed not only deep-sea hydrothermal vents but fields of clams and the towering, bright red tubeworms that would become icons of the deep sea. So unexpected was the discovery of these vibrant ecosystems that the ship carried no biological preservatives. The first specimens from the vent field that would soon be named “Garden of Eden” were fixed in vodka from the scientists’ private reserves.”

Thaler and Amon 2019

In the forty years since that first discovery, hundreds of research expedition ventured into the deep oceans to study and understand the ecology of deep-sea hydrothermal vents. In doing so, they discovered thousands of new species, unraveled the secrets of chemosynthesis, and fundamentally altered our understanding of what it means to be alive on this planet. Now, as deep-sea mining crawls slowly towards production, we must transform those discoveries into conservation and management principles to safeguard the diversity and resilience of life in the deep sea.

Biodiversity of hydrothermal vents from around the world. Top: Indian Ocean, Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Bottom: East Pacific Rise, Southwest Pacific, Southern Ocean. Photo credits (top left to bottom right): University of Southampton; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Ocean Networks Canada; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Nautilus Minerals; University of Southampton.
Biodiversity of hydrothermal vents from around the world. Top: Indian Ocean, Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Bottom: East Pacific Rise, Southwest Pacific, Southern Ocean. Photo credits (top left to bottom right): University of Southampton; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Ocean Networks Canada; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Nautilus Minerals; University of Southampton.

Though research at hydrothermal vents looms large in the disciplines of deep-sea science, relative to almost any terrestrial system, they are practically unexplored. Over the last 2 years, Drs. Andrew Thaler and Diva Amon have poured through every available cruise report that made a biological observation at the deep-sea hydrothermal vent to assess how disproportionate research effort shapes or perception of hydrothermal vent ecosystems and impacts how we make management decisions in the wake of a new form of anthropogenic disturbance.

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