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Executive Summary for March 30th

In this week’s roundup, we report on a lawsuit challenging a marine monument created by President Obama, a new out-there idea to save parts of the Great Barrier Reef, and a study that looks at how commercially important fish could shrink in size as waters warm.

Published on March 30, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Challenge to Obama’s Marine Monument Proceeds

A lawsuit challenging the first United States marine national monument on the Atlantic coast is moving forward in court, according to the Associated Press, and will require the Trump administration to respond by April.

In 2016, President Barack Obama designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, an area about the size of Connecticut located 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It contains unique ecosystems that host sensitive wildlife, including deep sea corals, seabirds, sea turtles and whales.

A coalition of New England fishing organizations sued in 2017, but the legal action was put on hold during the Trump administration’s recent review of all national monuments. At the conclusion of that review, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended allowing commercial fishing within the borders of the monument, though no action has yet been taken.

Now, the lawsuit is also proceeding. The plaintiffs, who say the protections for the new monument will hurt fisheries in the region, are arguing President Obama overstepped the mandate of the Antiquities Act in designating the area.

However, the Natural Resources Defense Council said that the area is in some of the least fished waters on the Atlantic coast. Their analysis found that the monument could help boost fish numbers outside of the protected zone.

A Thin Skin to Shield the Great Barrier Reef?

The latest out-there scheme to save some of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals made headlines this week.

The idea, only tested at a very small scale so far, would involve an ultra-thin biodegradable film that would sit on the surface of the water and shield the reef from some heat and light. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation and a researcher at the University of Melbourne worked with the Australian Institute of Marine Science to test the concept at its National Sea Simulator on different species of corals. They found the film reduced light by up to 30 percent and reduced the level of bleaching. Similar technologies are already used to minimize water evaporation from dams, the Foundation noted in a press release.

The Foundation said this particular idea, while still not ready for larger-scale testing, would only ever be intended to protect particularly sensitive areas of the reef.

More Evidence Fish Size Will Shrink as Oceans Warm

It won’t be easy being the biggest fish in the sea as the ocean gets warmer and acidifies. According to a new study, it’ll be harder being a fisher or a fisheries manager, too.

As climate change progresses, scientists at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the U.K. reported that the proportion of large fish in the North Sea may drop by as much as 60 percent in some areas. Fish size is a common metric for fisheries managers tracking the overall health of populations and the marine ecosystem, and so the researchers say today’s fishery targets “may be unachievable under future climate change.” Their modeling specifically found this to be likely for the Large Fish Indicator, used for managing fisheries for cod, haddock, whiting and other bottom-dwelling North Sea fish.

In other areas of the world, researchers have come to similar conclusions. An October study found that Atlantic menhaden have shrunk by 15 percent in the last 65 years in concert with rising air temperatures. Another study, based on modeling, concluded that the body size of fish decreases up to 30 percent for every 1C increase in water temperature. One reason, its authors propose, is because fish metabolism speeds up in warmer water, but large fish, whose gills don’t grow as quickly, struggle to bring in enough oxygen.

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