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The Blue Belt Programme

The Blue Belt Programme is a four year programme (2016 to 2020), delivered by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) with the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

This programme will help to provide long term protection of over four million square kilometres of marine environment across the UK Overseas Territories, helping to protect our rich and unique biodiversity and sustainable fisheries.

Funded through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) the programme will support the UKOTs develop, implement and enforce marine protection strategies.

The MV Pharos SG leaving South Georgia

Delivering the Blue Belt Programme on SGSSI

My name is Rui Pedro Vieira, a Fisheries Scientist based at Cefas. As part of the Blue Belt Programme, I was on board the MV Pharos SG participating in a research survey in South Georgia Maritime Zone during April 2018.

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is a sub-Antarctic archipelago hosting numerous species of marine mammals and seabirds. The SGSSI Maritime Zone was designated as a Sustainable Use Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2012, with additional measures added in 2013. The MPA includes a prohibition on bottom trawling, and a range of spatial and temporal closures. Sustainably managed fisheries for toothfish, icefish, and krill operate in the MPA.

Our survey began in the Falkland Islands and we spent 18 days at sea, including 9 days collecting baseline data on the benthic ecosystems of the SGSSI waters. Before departure from the Falklands, Cefas scientists worked with the Government of South Georgia fisheries and environment managers to further develop plans to progress the Blue Belt Programme in SGSSI.

The MV Pharos SG in King Edward Point

Working with our partners to deliver the Blue Belt

The South Georgia survey was carried out in a collaboration between Cefas and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists on board the MV Pharos SG.

Together with our partners we aim to improve our ability to understand the biodiversity of the SGSSI marine environment and to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the potential impact of longline fishing gears on marine habitats and fauna. These aims are important for improving and developing effective management decisions, monitoring, and enforcement strategies that are adequate to face the threats to marine ecosystems around SGSSI.

Deep-water camera work

The deep-sea is the largest biome on the planet and it covers most of the seafloor. The vast majority of the deep ocean floor of SGSSI is poorly mapped and there is a lack of information on benthic diversity.

Collecting data on the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning is important to increase our knowledge of the functioning of deep-sea ecosystems, and to provide scientific-based information towards conservation and sustainable exploitation of marine resources.

The main purpose of this research was to obtain high-resolution imagery of the benthos around South Georgia,  particularly within the South Georgia Benthic Closed Areas (BCA).

A trial in the sheltered Cumberland Bay was conducted as a test deployment to familiarise the crew and scientific team with working together and using the camera system to achieve the optimum picture and video quality. The vessel then sailed to commence the deep-water camera operations survey at 15 sites within two of the Benthic Closed Areas (BCAs), at depths ranging from 400m to 1270m. The BCAs are areas that are closed to commercial fishing to protect benthic species.

After collecting passengers from KEP on the morning of the 21/4, MV Pharos SG sailed to Stromness Bay where two survey stations were deployed, one in the bay and one on a moraine ridge at the entrance to the bay. We then left South Georgia for the return transit to Stanley, Falkland Islands.

Collecting high-resolution imagery from South Georgia benthic closed areas

Future Blue Belt work in SGSSI

The Cefas and BAS team were very grateful for the support from the MV Pharos SG crew, without whom the survey would not have been as successful. All staff enjoyed the atmosphere and welcome on board the ship.

We are looking forward to continuing work with the Government of SGSSI. We will be analysing the images we obtained, which will be used to support the next research survey, give insights on the biodiversity in deep benthic regions, and to assess any impacts of fishing around SGSSI. These findings will help inform decisions which will protect biodiversity and sustainable fishing practices.

Example of benthic fauna observed in South Georgia deep waters

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The Cefas Paper of the Year awards are a highlight on the Cefas calendar, offering a chance to celebrate the excellent contributions of Cefas scientists to the world of marine and freshwater science, and demonstrate the breadth and depth of that science which resonates and has lasting impact in the world.

The 11th edition was hosted in mid March by Andrew Watkinson (Cefas Emeritus Fellow) alongside our CEO Tom Karsten and Chief Scientist Stuart Rogers.

Paying tribute to the high quality of marine science research being carried out by Cefas, he said:

Many of the papers draw upon the wealth of knowledge we have in Cefas and how we are able to use big data...  I have been extremely impressed with the very high quality of all the papers presented and I have learnt a lot.  I commend everyone for their hard work.

Student Paper of the Year

Awarded to a student working across Cefas and one of our partner institutions.

Winner

Philip Lamb: “Jelly fish on the menu” (MtDNA assay reveals scyphozoan predation in the Irish Sea Royal Society Open Science 4 art. no. 171421)

Commended  

Tamar Schwarz: “Mussels for muscles” (Rapid uptake, biotransformation, esterification and lack of depuration of testosterone and its metabolites by the common mussel, Mytilus spp.  Early view. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology)

Philip Hollyman: “Aging Whelks”  Statoliths of the whelk Buccinum undatum: a novel age determination tool.  Marine Ecology Progress Series (Advance View)

Early Career Scientist of the Year

Awarded to a scientist in the early stage of their career.

Winner

Elisa Capuzzo: A decline in primary production in the North Sea over twenty-five years, associated with reductions in zooplankton abundance and fish stock recruitment.  Global Change Biology (Early View)

Commended

Briony Silburn: Benthic pH gradients across a range of shelf sea sediment types linked to sediment characteristics and seasonal variability.  Biogeochemistry (Early View)

David Walker: A highly specific Escherichia coli qPCR and its comparison with existing methods for environmental waters.  Water Research 126 101-110

Science Paper of the Year

Awarded to a paper demonstrating excellent Cefas science.

Winner

Craig Baker-Austen – Genomic Variation and Evolution of Vibrio parahaemolyticus ST36 over the Course of a Transcontinental Epidemic Expansion.  mBio 8:e01425-17

Commended

Chris Lynam - Interaction between top-down and bottom-up control in marine food webs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (Early View)

Keith Cooper – A big data approach to macrofaunal baseline assessment, monitoring and sustainable exploitation of the seabed.  Scientific Reports 7 art. no. 12431

Kieran Hyder – Recreational sea fishing in Europe in a global context-Participation rates, fishing effort, expenditure, and implications for monitoring and assessment.  Fish and Fisheries (Early View)

Science Communicator of the Year

Awarded for reaching audiences outside of the science community, such as government ministers, schools, local communities and industry leaders, using a variety of media.

Winner

Thomas Maes - For his work on marine litter.

Commended

Fiona Vogt - For her proactive approach to all aspects of communications, including  Strong STEM outreach.

Silvana Birchenough - For a consistently proactive and well-planned approach to ocean acidification science projects, and international work in Belize.

ICES Working Group Chair presentations

Awards given in recognition of staff contribution to annual ICES Working Groups and the Advisory process, to:

  • Carl O’Brien
  • Joanne Smith
  • Alan Walker

Congratulations to all of our scientists who won, were nominated or published in 2017!

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Go to any stretch of shoreline and you are likely to see people fishing, but have you ever wondered about how many people fish, how much they spend, or if they have any impact on the environment? Some people might assume that it is just a few people sitting out there for much of the day and not really catching much. But is there a catch, and how can we find out what is really happening in marine recreational fishing (MRF) across Europe?

For those not in the know, it may be surprising to find out that the potential impact of MRF is recognised in European fisheries legislation, and so is managed in accordance with the Common Fisheries Policy. As a result, annual catches of certain species (e.g. cod, sea bass, sharks, tuna, eel, salmon, & pollack) are monitored across Europe under the Data Collection Framework. These are not easy surveys to do as a wide variety of fishing methods are used (e.g. line, pots, nets, spears) over wide areas, and often no list of fishers or sea fishing licence exists. Despite these challenges countries across Europe have been collecting data on MRF (including the UK), but no attempt had been made to generate estimates at a European level.

People fish all over England and Wales on the coast and out at sea

Enter the ICES Working Group on Recreational Fisheries Surveys (WGRFS) – this is the forum where scientists from across Europe come together to share MRF data and methods – where someone suggested using the data collected since 2001 to understand the situation across Europe. This may sound easy, but it was not, as the data were collected in different ways depending on the country, and were in a variety of languages. Move forward two years, and a landmark synthesis has just been published in the journal Fish & Fisheries. The work reveals that there were 8.7 million European recreational sea fishers (corresponding to a participation rate of 1.6%) and expenditure was €5.9 billion. Annually 77.6 million days were fished, with MRF representing 27% of the total removals of Western Baltic cod and European sea bass. The impact is likely to be higher as fishing tourism was not included in this analysis and can be large in some countries (e.g. Norway).

At the same time, the European Parliament Committee on Fisheries commissioned a study about marine recreational and semi-subsistence fisheries across Europe. The report, published in July 2017, showed the total economic impact of MRF was €10.5 billion and supported almost 100,000 jobs, but the impact varies between fish stocks, representing between 2-72% of total catch by both commercial and recreational fisheries. MRF may also have other impacts on the marine environment, particularly in coastal habitats. However, more information and research is needed to determine MRF-induced impacts and separate them from other anthropogenic impacts.

So is there a catch?

MRF does have impacts, but there are also many benefits – it is a high participation sport enjoyed by millions, with significant expenditure that supports thousands of jobs, which can have significant impacts on fish stocks and the marine environment. Some countries have exploited this through managing fish stocks for both recreational and commercial fisheries to maximise the economic benefit to society (e.g. USA, Australia, and New Zealand). The evidence of the importance of MRF to Europe is now clear.

For more information on the publications and data referred to in the text, please visit http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1467-2979 and http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2017/601996/IPOL_STU(2017)601996_EN.pdf.

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Cefas scientists have published a study which proposes a new methodology to manage the impact of underwater noise on marine life.

The work, titled “Marine Noise Budgets in Practice” and published in the journal Conservation Letters, allows policy makers to measure how much noise pollution a particular marine species or protected area is exposed to, and to set targets to manage pollution levels.

A harbour porpoise, taken by Solvin Zankl

What makes underwater noise, what does it mean for marine animals?

Underwater noise pollution can disturb or injure many marine animals, from the largest whales down to microscopic zooplankton. The study will assist ongoing efforts in the UK to better manage underwater noise. Noise can be produced by activities such as shipping, sonar, explosions, pile driving (e.g. to construct offshore wind farms) and geophysical surveys (e.g. to look for oil and gas beneath the seabed).

Marine noise budgets: the new approach

The new method considers the population density of marine animals and their exposure to noise pressure across a managed area of ocean to map the risk it poses. In doing so, policy-makers can better target efforts to manage this noise.

Mapping risk and calculating exposure indicators - the new approach demonstrated using North Sea harbour porpoise density

The article uses data from the 2017 OSPAR Intermediate Assessment, which carried out the first international assessment of impulsive noise activity (underwater noise made by pile driving, geophysical surveys, explosions, and some sonar activity), and was coordinated by the UK.

Dr Nathan Merchant, Principal Scientist at Cefas said, “There is growing scientific evidence that the noise pollution we release into the oceans is having a range of negative effects on marine organisms which use sound. Studies like this one provide environmental managers and policymakers with the tools they need to understand how the risk of impact from this emerging threat can be reduced.”

The open-access research has been published in Conservation Letters and is available here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12420/abstract.

Image: Harbour porpoise, copyright Solvin Zankl

Funding for this work was provided by the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

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In 2006, a partnership of UK scientists, government, agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) established the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP); a group formed to bring together the UK’s expertise across marine and climate science. A decade later, MCCIP has just published its eighth marine climate change impacts report card.

I have been working on the MCCIP programme since its inception, and am very proud that we are marking our ten-year anniversary with the release of the 2017 report card - our most ambitious report yet. As a partnership, we decided to use our latest card to reflect on how our understanding of marine climate change science has evolved over the past decade, and the lessons we have learnt about effective communication with policy makers and wider stakeholders.

The latest card builds upon contributions from 400 scientists to MCCIP report cards over the past decade, and Sir David Attenborough has said of the 10-year endeavour:

Concern about the state of our seas has caused them to be studied more intensively – and extensively – than ever before. Here is a summary of the findings. They have never been more important.

Indeed, the extensive findings from this report card (and associated Science Reviews) range across the full spectrum of marine and climate change science, including (amongst others) impacts on fisheries, temperatures, oceanographic processes, pH balances, and seabirds.

In the 2017 report card, the MCCIP partnership finds that:

  • Despite year-to-year fluctuations in temperature over the past decade, a long-term underlying warming trend is still clear. Some of this variability can be accounted for through short-term changes in the strength of Atlantic Ocean circulation, which has been linked to recent severe winters in the UK.
  • Climate change is clearly affecting marine species and habitats, but not necessarily in the ways anticipated 10 years ago. Some warm-water marine species such as squid and anchovies targeted by fishers have become more common place in UK waters , with clear links to climate change, whilst for non-native species, other factors (e.g. ballast water, ship hulls) have been more important for their establishment.
  • Seabirds in the UK face an uncertain future due to climate change, with the productivity of some species such as fulmars, Atlantic puffins, little and Arctic terns and black legged kittiwakes being impacted by temperature rise, whilst severe storms are affecting breeding success of razorbills.
  • Ocean acidification has become established as a major issue for marine ecosystems, and may be taking place at a faster rate in UK seas than in the wider north Atlantic. Overall the impacts are expected to be negative, most notably for shellfish growth and harvest in future decades.
  • Extreme high-water events are becoming more frequent at the coast due to sea-level rise. However, this has not led to a corresponding increase in coastal flooding to date due to continued improvements in flood defences, emergency planning, forecasting and warning.

I have witnessed the key role that Cefas has played is success of the partnership since its inception. We provide the secretariat for the partnership and 32 of our scientists have contributed widely to all report cards. Working closely with our colleagues and peers across partner organisations and the scientific community, we established a clear shared vision, and MCCIP quickly became established as a trusted, authoritative, voice on the impacts of climate change at the coast. I am very pleased to note the interest our model and collaborative ethos has received, even being adopted elsewhere in the UK and internationally.

All of those involved in MCCIP have played a valuable role in highlighting marine climate change issues, from large scale impacts on ocean circulation (and the effects this has on the climate we ‘enjoy’ in the UK) to the harmful effects microscopic algae and pathogens might have on our health. These issues present significant challenges to how we manage marine resources and conserve species and habitats, some of which we are only starting to understand. In ten years’ time, the MCCIP hope to continue to play a key role in communicating marine climate science; helping to inform the important decisions we need to make to ensure clean, safe, healthy and productive seas in the face of climate change.

Paul Buckley is a Marine Climate Change Scientist at Cefas. He has contributed to MCCIP for over 10 years and sits on the MCCIP Secretariat.

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