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Executive Summary for April 20th

In this week’s summary, we report on several large marine species moving north as waters warm, a new discovery that could help recycle more plastic and a surprising analysis that shows not all ocean news coverage is ‘doom and gloom.’

Published on April 20, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Dolphins, Sharks Heading North

Scientists confirmed recently the first sightings of bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales ever recorded in British Columbia waters – a group of 200 and 70 of them, respectively.

The event marks the northernmost sighting of both species in the eastern North Pacific region. They are usually warm-water species, but this area of ocean has been hit by a warming trend for the last several years, the study noted.

On the other side of the continent, scientists discovered a new bull shark nursery off the coast of North Carolina – far north of the animals’ previous range limit off the east coast of Florida. Bull sharks, which reach 3.4m (11ft) long, are top predators that also eat other sharks and so the presence of the nursery could reshape the local ecosystem.

In a blog post, one of the study’s authors, Charles Bangley of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, said the sharks are likely in North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound to stay.

“The presence of juvenile bull sharks in the estuary is likely to be the new normal going forward,” he wrote. “And this change is likely associated with the fact that the sound is getting warmer and saltier.”

New Enzyme Could Help Recycle Plastic and Reduce Pollution

A discovery reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers new hope for tackling the crisis in marine plastic pollution.

PET, the plastic material used to make soda bottles, only came into broad use in the 1970s, but in 2016 scientists in Japan discovered a bacteria at a waste dump that had already evolved the rare ability to biodegrade it. A team of researchers has since analyzed the enzyme produced by the bacteria – and accidentally, when tinkering with the enzyme’s structure, made it even more efficient.

The fact that they could so easily improve on its plastic-eating ability was surprising and offered “an exciting platform” for harnessing its power to improve PET recycling.

“What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic,” John McGeehan of the University of Portsmouth told the Guardian.

Ocean News Is More Optimistic Than You Might Think

It may seem that all news coverage of the oceans is doom and gloom, but a new study suggests that’s not the case.

Researchers from New York University and the University of Miami analyzed ocean science coverage in 169 articles from 2001 to 2015 in four major United States newspapers: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. The study found that “doom and gloom” language was only present in one in 10 articles, whereas one in four articles had what they coded as “optimistic” language.

As an example of what they mean by doom and gloom, they cited examples such as: “At this point, without human intervention, the species could go extinct within our lifetimes.” (That was from a 2012 piece in the Los Angeles Times on white abalone disappearing in California.) That this kind of language is often warranted isn’t addressed by the study. But more than five years since the piece, the abalone of the state are still in dire trouble.

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