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Executive Summary for June 29th

In our weekly roundup, we report on a conservation win for Belize’s coral reef system, the effects of warming in the Arctic and two new studies that revisit the ecological consequences of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Published on June 29, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

U.N. Praises Belize for Coral Protection Measures

Good news for coral reefs is rare these days, but the United Nations agency UNESCO delivered some this week in removing one of the world’s most significant coral reef systems from a list of World Heritage sites “in danger.”

The action followed strong conservation measures by the government of Belize in collaboration with international partners. The World Heritage Committee had put the reef on the list in 2009 after major concerns about private development near the reef, mangrove destruction and offshore oil drilling. But in the last three years, Belize passed laws including a permanent offshore oil drilling moratorium and new regulations to protect mangroves and regulate development. It also developed a management plan for the reef that UNESCO called, in a news statement, “visionary.”

Of course, all good news concerning corals comes with a caveat – the mortal danger they face if climate change continues unabated.

The Arctic Ocean Is the New Atlantic

A study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change found that one of the most rapidly warming parts of the Arctic – the Barents Sea, north of Russia and Europe – is losing sea ice rapidly and is looking increasingly like the Atlantic Ocean.

The presence of sea ice defines Arctic marine ecosystems and water-mixing patterns. A loss of sea ice, especially moving into the Barents Sea from higher latitudes, has led to a “sharp increase” in ocean temperature and salinity since the mid-2000s, the study said.

“Thus, the northern Barents Sea may soon complete the transition from a cold and stratified Arctic to a warm and well-mixed Atlantic-dominated climate regime. Such a shift would have unknown consequences for the Barents Sea ecosystem, including ice-associated marine mammals and commercial fish stocks,” the Norway-based scientists wrote.

Fish, Microbes Decline After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Two studies published this week show the lingering, long-term effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on both big and very small life in the Gulf of Mexico.

A seven-year study looked at the distribution and numbers of fish throughout the Gulf over 12 research expeditions. Biologists caught 15,000 fish in 343 locations to gauge populations and establish baselines. Since the disaster, the biggest declines have been in red snapper and southern hake in the northern Gulf, where the spill occurred, the researchers said. While oil contamination of fish in the area has decreased, no areas are oil-free.

A second study examined the microbiomes of seven shipwrecks at the bottom of the Gulf, which is also where some of the oil spill settled. They found that two wrecks exposed to deposited oil – the German U-boat U-166 and the wooden-hulled sailing vessel known as the Mardi Gras Wreck – had reduced microbial diversity compared to oil-free shipwrecks.

“This is a cold, dark environment and anything you put down there will be longer-lasting than oil on a beach in Florida. It’s premature to imagine that all the effects of the spill are over and remediated,” Leila Hamdan, a study author at the University of Southern Mississippi, told the Guardian.

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