Monthly Archives: February 2012

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Endangered Caribbean Corals From Overfishing

For Immediate Release, January 30, 2012

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, miyoko@biologicaldiversity.org, (415) 632-5308
Andrea Treece, Earthjustice, atreece@earthjustice.org, (415) 217-2089

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Endangered Caribbean Corals From Overfishing

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today in federal district court seeking greater protections from fishing for threatened coral reefs in the Caribbean. The lawsuit asserts that the National Marine Fisheries Service ignored science showing that parrotfish and other grazing fish play a key role in promoting the health of coral reefs; the government’s authorization of targeted fishing for parrotfish poses a risk to elkhorn and staghorn corals, protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Caribbean’s coral reefs are already in deep trouble, and reducing the parrotfish that help them stay healthy only makes matters worse,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “If we don’t take steps now to safeguard the creatures that keep these vital reefs alive, we risk losing all of it.”

According to the lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act by finding that the targeted fishing for parrotfish would not jeopardize already imperiled corals or “adversely modify,” i.e. damage, their critical habitat. Excessive algal growth threatens the health of Caribbean reefs, choking out corals and degrading the habitat that other reef creatures — such as fish, sea turtles and lobsters — depend on. Fish, especially parrotfish, that graze on algae around coral reefs play a key function in providing suitable habitat for corals to settle and build those reefs. Fish populations in the Caribbean have been overfished, including the parrotfish that are the subject of this lawsuit; managing the overfishing of parrotfish will help corals recover and become more resilient to other threats, including global warming and ocean acidification.

“Restoring healthy populations of elkhorn and staghorn coral is critical to restoring the health of Caribbean reefs as a whole,” said Andrea Treece, an attorney with Earthjustice. “These corals provide shelter, nursery grounds, and hunting grounds for an incredible array of fish, lobsters, sea turtles and other species. Without better protection, we risk losing the entire reef community.”

“Corals are competing with algae, and without a robust population of parrotfish, the algae are going to win,” said Sakashita. “But wise management of our reefs can keep algae in check and promote both healthy corals and healthy fish.”

Elkhorn and staghorn corals were once the dominant reef-building corals in the Caribbean but they are perilously close to extinction. Corals suffer from a variety of threats, including pollution, global warming and ocean acidification. A key threat to corals, however, continues to be overfishing and competition with algae. The corals have declined by more than 90 percent since the 1970s. In 2006, the two corals were protected under the Endangered Species Act in response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity.

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Countdown to Extinction Continues for World’s Rarest Dolphin

Wednesday, 1 February 2012, 12:44 pm
Press Release: NABU International – Foundation for Nature

New Zealand – Another one of the world’s last 100 Maui’s dolphins died in a fishing net in New Zealand. Its death is a another stark reminder that measures to protect the world’s most endangered marine dolphin against fisheries bycatch are inadequate to prevent their extinction.

Like their closely related cousins, the Hector’s dolphins, Maui’s dolphins are only found in New Zealand. Since nylon fishing nets came into use in the 1970s, entanglements in gill and trawl nets have decimated Maui’s dolphins by more than 90 Percent. The animals are now down to just 100 individuals.

“With no more than 25 adult females left, Maui’s dolphins are perilously close to extinction. If mortality exceeds one individual in 5 to 7 years, the species will continue to slide towards extinction, just as it has done for more than three decades”, warns Dr Barbara Maas, Head of Endangered Species Conservation with NABU International – Foundation for Nature, Germany’s oldest and largest environmental associations.

“Absolute protection against commercial and recreational gill-netting and trawling is the only way to prevent their demise,” she said.

The latest fatality occurred off the coastal region off Taranaki on New Zealand’s North Island. This sensitive area was left unprotected by successive governments due to fishing industry lobbying, despite strong warnings from scientists, including NABU International’s Barbara Maas.

The New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s (MAF) response was characteristically relaxed about the dolphin death, stating that “MAF has fishing restrictions in place to manage threats to Maui’s dolphins, which are a protected species under the Mammals Protection Act 1978”. He added that “The recent mortality occurred outside of the current known range of Maui’s dolphins, as well as outside the current restrictions”

Research by Dr. Liz Slooten and colleagues from the University of Otago showed as far back as 2005, that Maui’s dolphins frequent the area in question. In 2009, a local fisherman even captured a Maui’s dolphin on his mobile phone camera, but the New Zealand government failed to accept this evidence.

“We have been urging the New Zealand government for many years to protect this stretch of coast, as it provides a genetic bridge between the last surviving Maui’s dolphins and the more numerous, but also declining Hector’s dolphin population off the South Island. More than 4200 people from across the world have echoed our plea through our online petition (https://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-extinction-of-hectors-mauis-dolphins). This latest death is therefore not only a further milestone on the path to extinction for NZ’s only endemic dolphin and it was also entirely avoidable. “

“It seems that while many New Zealanders feel an affinity to the ocean and marine mammals, that Maui’s Dolphins are simply overlooked. There is also a lack of willingness on behalf of the media to thoroughly investigate this global conservation issue.”

“The nationwide shock and upset following the continued death of wildlife after the Rena Oil spill, the hard work put in by rescuers at last week’s stranding of 99 pilot whales, and the level of concern for the big cats at Zion Park points to a nation who cares about conservation ethics and biodiversity. The demise of Maui’s dolphins is at odds with this behaviour. “

“Despite overwhelming evidence that Maui’s dolphins are being killed faster than they can breed, there is a conspiracy of silence concerning these unique marine mammals. Unless we can break it, Maui’s dolphins simply don’t stand a chance. Their extinction is unlikely to flatter New Zealand’s international image“, says Thomas Tennhardt, Vice President and Chair of NABU International – Foundation for Nature.

Notes:
Maui’s Dolphin Facts

- Maui’s dolphins the world’s rarest and smallest marine dolphins

- Fishing is the greatest known human threat to Maui’s dolphins

- Maui’s dolphins prefer shallow waters up to 100m deep and are therefore highly vulnerable to fishing nets.

- Hector’s dolphins are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. This means that they are “facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future”.

- Females only have one calf every 2-4 years and do not reach breeding age until they are 7-9 years old. Their potential for recovery is therefore extremely slow even occasional deaths caused by human activity pose a significant threat.

- Recent, as yet unpublished government figures indicate that Maui’s dolphin numbers have dropped well below 100 individuals

- Other human threats include marine tourism, vessel traffic, mining, coastal development, pollution, sedimentation, oil spills, plastic bags, marine farming and climate change.

Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/425525340067/

Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-extinction-of-hectors-mauis-dolphins

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Fears For Future of Brazil’s Wetland Sanctuary

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