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Executive Summary for October 13th

In our weekly roundup, we report on a final attempt to save a critically endangered porpoise, research finding that coral bleaching also harms anemones and clownfish and a study that says offshore wind power could supply world electricity demand.

Published on Oct. 13, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Last Chance to Save ‘Panda of the Sea’

An international group of conservationists this week launched what may be the final attempt to save from extinction the vaquita, a small porpoise that is the world’s most endangered marine mammal.

Fewer than 30 vaquitas are thought to survive in the upper Gulf of California in Mexico. Their numbers have been devastated in recent years by the illegal fishing of another endangered species, the totoaba, whose swim bladders, or maws, are prized in China. Fetching prices on the black market up to $20,000 per kilogram, they have been dubbed “aquatic cocaine.” Gillnets used to catch the totoaba also ensnare the porpoises, and as demand for the fish has grown the vaquita’s population has crashed.

The latest rescue effort, VaquitaCPR, is organized by the National Marine Mammal Foundation and other groups. It will set out to capture the remaining vaquitas and relocate the animals to sea pens off the coast of San Felipe, Mexico, where their health can be monitored.

“Rescuing these animals and placing them in a temporary sanctuary is necessary to protect them until their natural habitat can be made safe,” said Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, lead vaquita expert and chair of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita. “We realize that capturing even a few vaquitas will be very difficult, but if we don’t try the vaquita will disappear from the planet forever.”

The plan echoes an effort to save the California condor. In 1987, biologists captured the last surviving 22 condors in the wild and brought them to a captive breeding facility. There are now more than 400 of the birds, half living in the wild.

The effort to save the vaquita is backed by the Mexican government, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, among others.

Bleaching Harms Anemones, Clownfish

Like corals, anemones depend on microscopic algae to supply nutrition and their vivid colors. A new study finds that when water temperatures rise, anemones expel their algae, depriving them of food and colors.

Bleaching also hurts the brightly colored clownfish that depend on anemones for shelter and as nurseries for their eggs. Researchers monitored 13 pairs of clownfish and their host anemones on coral reefs off Moorea Island in French Polynesia before, during and after the 2016 global bleaching event.

The scientists found that the number of viable clownfish eggs laid at bleached anemones fell by 73 percent compared with eggs at the unbleached ones. Blood samples taken from clownfish affected by bleaching showed higher levels of stress.

According to the study, 12 percent of the fish in coastal French Polynesia depend on anemones and corals for food or shelter from predators.

Offshore Wind Could Power the Planet, Says Study

Researchers have found that open ocean wind farms could produce three times as much power as onshore facilities, theoretically generating enough electricity to supply global energy demand.

“Focusing on the North Atlantic region, we provide evidence that there is potential for greater downward transport of kinetic energy in the overlying atmosphere,” the scientists wrote in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “As a result, wind power generation over some ocean areas can exceed power generation on land by a factor of three or more.”

Nevertheless, there are huge technical challenges to tapping deep offshore wind on a global scale, not the least of which is transferring the electricity to land.

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