Happy Headlines December 2023

Monthly Marine News – December 2023

Welcome to our newest feature, Monthly Marine Happy Headlines! Each month, we spotlight several marvellous marine discoveries, spreading ocean joy around the globe. From conservation success stories to empowering community action, the discovery of new species, and ground-breaking research articles, join us for some ocean joy!

Headline 1 – Conservation success for humpback whale populations found along the California coast

December marked the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, a law that works to protect  animals and plants threatened with extinction, and to preserve their habitats. 

Established in 1975, and the world’s largest marine mammal hospital, The Marine Mammal Center works extensively with threatened and endangered marine mammals and aims to advance global ocean conservation through rescue and rehabilitation, scientific research, and education. One of their many projects is the monitoring of threatened humpback whale populations found along the California coast, and taking action to protect them. In December the centre was pleased to report that 9 of the 14 populations were successfully removed from the endangered species list after decades of conservation efforts. 

Headline 2 – UNEP launches global targets and funding for coral reef conservation

Announced early December 2023 is the positive news that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) will launch a new initiative, the ‘2030 Coral Reef Breakthrough’. The Coral Reef Breakthrough will include the world’s first targets for action and financial commitments from both private and public leaders with regards to coral reef conservation. 

Whilst coral reefs cover <1% of the ocean floor, they support around 25% of all marine life, and around 500 billion people worldwide rely on them. From storm protection to food and livelihoods, coral reefs are an integral ecosystem. However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 14% of our coral reefs have been lost since 2009. If global warming reaches 2ºC, it is estimated that 99% of our coral reefs will die. 

Consequently, this initiative has been welcomed by conservationists worldwide. It aims to secure the future of at least 125,000 km² of shallow-water tropical coral reefs with a minimum investment of US$12 billion to support the resilience of more than 500 million people around the world by 2030.

The advances were developed in collaboration with the United Nations High-Level Climate Change Champions (HLCC), the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR), with support from the government of Sweden and the principality of Monaco.

Headline 3 – Zebra sharks return to Indonesian waters thanks to ‘rewilding’ project

Once abundant in the clear waters around Indonesia’s Raja Ampat islands, zebra shark populations began to drastically decline in the 1990s due to unregulated fishing. Classified worldwide as endangered, and nearly (locally) extinct in certain areas, like Raja Ampat, a new collaborative effort, involving 19 countries and led by the ReShark organisation, is implementing a ‘shark rewilding’ project in Raja Ampat’s waters.

Rewilding is the process of returning an area of land to its natural uncultivated state (used especially with reference to the reintroduction of species of wild animal that have been driven out or exterminated) and whilst it is not a new practice, this is the first time that it has ever been attempted with a shark species! The breeding project involves two male zebra sharks named Leo and Gohan, and two females named Zimba and Kaya. After mating, the female sharks lay their brown, leathery eggs, and the aquarium carefully monitors their development. Once movement is spotted, the eggs are carefully transported to Raja Ampat and placed in purpose-built hatcheries, overwater huts equipped to facilitate their acclimatization to Indonesian waters.

Headline 4 – Unlimited fines introduced for companies that pollute the UK environment

The UK Environment Agency has decided to scrap the £250,000 cap on fines for organisations that pollute Britain’s waterways and natural habitats. This includes sewage, and agricultural waste and will affect all companies with environmental permits, including water and waste companies, and the agricultural sector. 

This move is welcomed by many campaigners who have asked for large companies, such as water companies, to be held to account. 

Headline 5 – Electric eels can alter the genes of tiny fish larvae with their electric shock

The electric eel is the biggest power-making creature on Earth – it can release up to 860 volts, which is enough to run a machine. In a recent study, a research group from Nagoya University in Japan found electric eels can release enough electricity to genetically modify small fish larvae. The researchers’ findings add to what we know about electroporation, a method in which genes can be transported using electricity.

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