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Executive Summary for January 12th

In our weekly news summary, we report on a global survey of how people view the state of the ocean, Belize’s rejection of offshore drilling and a researchers who recreated an marine ecosystem in an aquarium tank.

Published on Jan. 12, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Global Survey: 7 in 10 People Perceive Threats to the Ocean

Around the world, most people want to protect the sea and perceive that it is under threat, even if they have a fuzzy idea of the current state of ocean health, according to a new study.

That is the finding of a recent review published in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management. A team of international researchers analyzed previously conducted public-opinion surveys – totaling 32,000 people in 21 countries – and found that about 70 percent of people thought human activities were threatening oceans and generally supported marine protection. However, only 15 percent thought the ocean’s health was “poor or threatened.” People generally ranked pollution as the greatest ocean threat, followed by fishing, habitat degradation and climate change, although the results varied by geography. They also often overestimated the portion of the ocean that is currently protected.

Limitations of the study include leaving out large coastal regions of South America, Africa and Asia. Also, comparing results of differing surveys isn’t perfect, since questions and methodologies varied. The authors, from universities in Canada, the United States, Spain and Kenya, suggest more comprehensive follow-up work is needed.

“This study gives a sense of what we currently know about public perceptions, but it also highlights a tremendous need to understand public views on a much broader scale,” coauthor Jennifer O’Leary, with the California Sea Grant at California Polytechnic State University, said in a statement.

Belize Will End Offshore Oil Exploration and Drilling

With recently passed legislation, Belize became one of only a few countries in the world to put its waters off-limits to oil and gas activities – a feat also compelling because it is a developing country.

Belize decided to protect its valuable marine resources instead with a permanent moratorium. The ocean off Belize hosts the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, which is also in part a UNESCO World Heritage site and one reason why tourism is a major industry for its economy. Over the past decade, according to the conservation group Oceana, its government had granted offshore oil concessions near vulnerable ecosystems, but global environmental groups launched a major campaign to stop exploration activities from moving forward.

“Not only has its government listened to calls to protect the Belize Barrier Reef, which only a year ago was under threat from seismic oil exploration, it has stepped up to become a world leader in ocean protection by ending all oil activity in its waters,” Nadia Bood, a coral reef scientist at conservation group WWF, said in a statement. “This is a groundbreaking move for a country with a struggling economy.”

Living in a Warm, Weedy Tank

Want to study how climate change is affecting a complex marine food web? One team in Australia decided to simply build a tiny version of a marine ecosystem in an aquarium, and their results are grim.

In 12 large tanks, scientists from the University of Adelaide set up homes for a variety of species, including algae, shrimp, sponges, snails and fish, and then maintained the tank with seawater for six months at ocean conditions expected at the end of the century.

Although warmer and more acidic waters turned out to boost growth of cyanobacteria, a blue-green algae, that growth did not support the food web above it, largely because herbivores don’t like eating it much. A warmer “ocean” essentially reduced the flow of energy from the base of the food web to its top, although some species did well under more acidic conditions. Unfortunately, coauthor Ivan Nagelkerken told PLOS Biology, it was the more “weedy” species that thrived.

“If we are to adequately forecast the impacts of climate change on ocean food webs and fisheries productivity, we need more complex and realistic approaches that provide more reliable data for sophisticated food web models,” he said.

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