Endangered Species & Ecosystems

The pro-whaling nation want to end work on conservation of small cetaceans such as dolphins and porpoises, and introduce secret ballots.
Conservation groups and anti-whaling countries reacted cautiously.
Japan said it would consider leaving the IWC unless it moved towards a resumption of commercial whaling.
To many delegates here the results came as a surprise, as Japan appeared to command the balance of power.
Allowing sustainable use of abundant species while protecting the depleted... we don't see the problem with that
Joji Morishita Japanese spokesman

This would have enabled it to change or remove many of the IWC's programmes, though not overturn the 20-year moratorium on commercial whaling, which would require a three-quarters majority.
But delegations from a few of Japan's anticipated allies including Guatemala, Senegal and Togo did not arrive, while Belize departed from its traditional pro-whaling stance; the first motion fell by 32 votes to 30, the second by 33 to 30.
"On both of those key issues we've had magnificent victories, contributed to by great teamwork between the UK and Australia and New Zealand and the US," said Australian environment minister Ian Campbell.
"It's early days, we've got a long way to go, but these are significant and historic victories for whales," he said.
'Dodging the harpoon'
The IWC does not regulate the hunting of small cetaceans, but conducts research and gives advice on conservation, which Japan believes is not within the IWC's remit.
Dolphin caught in fish net.  Image: BBC
Tangling in fishing nets kills thousands of dolphins each year

Environment groups believe that removing this research and advice function would have major implications for many species, such as the Yangtze river dolphin and the gulf porpoise of North America, both of which are Critically Endangered according to the internationally-recognised Red List of Threatened Species.
Not surprisingly these organisations welcomed the motion's defeat, though warning that other votes later in the meeting could yet go in a different direction. Delegates from two nations which traditionally support Japan, Cameroon and Togo, arrived later on the opening day.
"We are relieved but not relaxed about the early voting here," said Joth Singh, director of wildlife and habitat protection with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).
"So far we have managed to dodge the harpoon, but let's see how things go for the rest of the week."
The weekend will see further key votes on Japanese motions. It wants to introduce limited whaling for "the revitalisation of impoverished coastal fishing and/or whaling communities".
It is hard to believe that in this day and age, any nation could get away with proposing such a preposterous, undemocratic proposal
Ian Campbell

It will also be presenting a paper on "normalisation" of the IWC, by which it means reviving its original purpose of regulating commercial whaling.
"The Convention language is very clear; its purpose is sustainable use and protection of depleted and endangered species," he said.
"Allowing sustainable use of abundant species while protecting the depleted... we don't see the problem with that, but it's not happening in this organisation."
Mr Morishita said that if there are no moves towards "normalisation" within the next few years, it might leave the IWC entirely.
Swinging the vote
A question doing the rounds here is "what swung the vote?"
It appears that the self-styled "pro-conservation" group of countries, informally headed by Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, the UK and US, exerted a certain amount of pressure on some of the smaller developing nations - something which environment groups have been urging for years.
Ian Campbell said attempts to persuade those countries into the pro-conservation fold will continue.
"What we have to do is say [to nations which support Japan] 'this is what you're supporting; you're coming to an international body, under the auspices of the United Nations, and firstly saying that we should no longer care about dolphins and whales, and secondly saying we should conduct votes in secret'.
"It is hard to believe that in this day and age, any nation, let alone leading first world nations like Norway and Japan, could with a straight face get away with proposing such a preposterous, undemocratic proposal."
Japan urged secret ballots because it says developing country delegates have been intimidated and harassed at previous meetings.
A tactic which environment groups have pursued this year is to canvass opinion in pro-whaling countries.
On the eve of the meeting, WWF released a poll showing a majority against whaling in nine out of 10 IWC member states in the Caribbean and Pacific regions which usually line up, or were expected to line up, with Japan.
Greenpeace followed this with a poll in Japan itself, which found that 77% of respondents did not support whaling on the high seas.
The IWC meeting in St Kitts and Nevis runs until Tuesday.

Minke whale
1150370567 Minke are the world's most-hunted whales. There are at least two species of minke. Recently, Japan has issued a scientific permit for some 850 Antarctic minke annually and up to 220 common minke whales in the North Pacific. In the North Atlantic, Norway kills some 640 common minke per year for commercial purposes, while Iceland takes 39 under a scientific permit and Greenland up to 175 for subsistence purposes.

There are no agreed current estimates of the population size of Antarctic minke whales, although it is believed to be considerably fewer than the 1980s estimate of 760,000. There are more than 100,000 common minke whales in the North Atlantic.

Humpback whale
1150375349 One of the best known whales because of their distinctive flippers and tail flukes, their acrobatic 'breaching' and for the singing males on the breeding grounds.

Once heavily exploited, the humpback is increasing in many parts of the world. There are probably now more than 30,000 in the southern hemisphere and 12,000-15,000 in the North Atlantic. Four whales per year can be taken by aboriginal subsistence whalers in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Bryde's whale
1150374898 Bryde's whales are found mainly in tropical or subtropical seas. They were long confused with Sei whales. There are no agreed estimates, although there are thought to be about around 25,000 in the western North Pacific.

They were only commercially exploited in any numbers between the 1970s and 1986. Japan has issued a scientific permit to take up to 50 Bryde's whales in the western North Pacific.

Sei whale
1150372205 The fast-swimming sei whale was heavily caught in the Antarctic in the 1960s, after the blue, fin and humpback stocks had been overexploited. Japan has issued a permit to take up to 100 sei whales in the North Pacific.

There are no agreed estimates of current numbers in the Antarctic. In 1989, the North Atlantic population was estimated at 10,500, and claims have been made for numbers ranging from 9,000-28,000 in the western North Pacific.

Sperm whale1150375567 Made famous in Moby Dick, sperm whales are the only 'great whale' to have teeth. They have been hunted since the 17th Century. Sperm whale oil once lit the lamps of the major cities of the US and Europe. After World War II, catches reached up to 30,000 per year. Japan has issued a scientific permit to take up to 10 sperm whales in the western North Pacific.

There are no agreed current estimates of numbers, although some authors believe that the historical population worldwide may have been 1 - 2 million, and that there may now be 360,000 - 1 million.

Fin whale
1150375679 The Fin whale is the second largest whale species after the Blue whale, to which it is genetically close. Fin-blue whale hybrids are known.

Fin whales were heavily exploited by modern whaling, especially in the Antarctic and North Pacific. There are no agreed estimates of current population, although there are some signs of recovery in parts of the southern hemisphere. There are about 40-50,000 in the North Atlantic, and up to 19 can be taken by Greenlandic aboriginal hunters per year. Japan has issued a scientific permit to take up to 10 fin whales in the Antarctic.
Blue whale
1150375936 Blue whales are the largest mammals, and possibly the largest animal of any kind to have lived on Earth. A 33-metre long, 190-tonne whale has been seen, but most examples are much smaller. There are three subspecies divided between the northern and southern hemispheres.

Blue whales were hunted to the brink of extinction during the 20th Century. The most recent abundance estimate for the southern hemisphere is 1,700 and there is evidence they are increasing annually by about 7%. There are no good estimates for numbers in other areas.
A mangrove is more than just a tree ...
it's a whole forest community which lives between the sea and the land.

For many people, mangroves look like muddy, swampy places filled with mosquitoes, snakes and spiders. But take a closer look....
Walking through a mangrove can be like going on a giant treasure hunt. Hidden within the twisted vines and branches are amazing reptiles, wild looking insects and plenty of crabs and other animals which call the mangroves their home.
Besides being a wonderful place to explore, mangroves are also important from an ecological standpoint. The Australian Institute of Marine Science has a number of fascinating research projects under way in an effort to better understand mangroves, for example:
Biologists estimate 75% of the commercially caught fish and prawns in Queensland spend at least some part of their life cycle living in the mangroves. For many species of fish, like the sea mullet and barramundi, the muddy waters of the mangroves are the nurseries where they raise their young. Because fish are so dependent on mangroves, protecting these forest communities is another way of protecting our fish populations. AIMS biologist Janet Ley is working to better understand what it is about mangroves that makes them so important to fish populations. She is studying what happens to fish populations when mangroves are altered by humans and natural actions.

Mangrove forest

Mangrove forest 
exposed at low tide.

If you were to scoop up just one teaspoon of mud from a North Queensland mangrove forest and look at it under a very strong microscope, you would find that it contains more than 10 billion bacteria - that's amongst the highest found in marine mud anywhere in the world. 
Bacteria helps break down leaf litter and other bits of natural material and so lots of bacteria tells biologists that these forests are producing lots of leaves and other sources of nutrition for plants and animals, making mangroves an immensely important coastal habitat.

AIMS biologist Dan Alongi has been tracking the cycle of nutrients in the mangroves in northeastern Australia and comparing them with mangroves in Malaysia and Vietnam. He hopes to find how different climates and conditions effect how mangroves grow.
Mangrove forests also provide safe nesting and feeding sites for herons, egrets and other birds. Biologists have recorded more than 230 species of birds flitting through Australian mangroves, and while only eight or nine species are restricted to mangroves in the Wet Tropics, the many other species visit and depend upon the mangroves for food, nesting or shelter.
Mangroves are also home to lots of snakes and spiders, flying foxes and a favourite spot for salt water crocodiles to tuck into for a rest and to look for food. All in all, biologists have found that mangrove forests are one of the most important habitats in the world.
Unfortunately, for a long time people didn't realise the important role mangroves played in the world and so they tore them up, filled them in and dug them under to create room for more houses, buildings and parking lots.
Today all mangrove forests and any part of a mangrove, including stumps, seeds and leaves, are protected in Queensland under the Queensland Fisheries Act, and any activity involving mangroves requires a permit from the Queensland Department of Primary Industry.
At the Australian Institute of Marine Science, biologist Barry Clough has been recording the changes in mangrove growth for the last ten years and the information he has gathered will help people better protect and manage important mangrove forests.
surface you can see where tiny salt crystals have formed. Some plants cope with salt by concentrating it all in the bark or in older leaves w
Awash in saltwater and up to their knees in mud, the plants in a mangrove forest have clever ways of coping with their environment.
Most plants have a very low tolerance for salt, but in the mangroves, twice a day, the high tide rushes in and covers many of the plants in saltwater. The trees, shrubs, palms, ferns, climbers, grasses and epiphytes which live in the mangrove forest must all be able to cope with salt. While these plants don't have to have salt to survive, studies have shown that mangroves do grow best in water that is 50% freshwater and 50% seawater. So how do mangrove plants defend themselves against the daily onslaught of salt?
Stopping the salt by filtering it out at the roots is the first line of defence for many of the plants. Some species of plants can exclude more than 90% of the salt in sea water this way. Once the salt has entered the plant's system, an other trick is to quickly excrete it through special salt glands in the leaves. Try licking a leaf, you should be able to taste the salt which the plant has excreted, or if you look closely at the leaf's hich take the salt with them when they drop.

Conserving water is also important in the mangroves, and many of the plants have thick, waxy skins or dense hairs on their leaves to reduce the amount of water they lose. In addition, the leaves are often fat and succulent and store water in their fleshy internal tissue. Adjusting to life in the mangroves also means adapting to living in mud rather than soil.
Roots, for most land plants, provide stability and support to the plant as well pulling nutrients and oxygen out of the soil. In the mangroves, the unstable mud makes an extensive root system essential for holding the plant upright. This root system can be divided into three different types of roots with three different functions:
  • Radiating cable roots with their tangle of anchor roots provide support.
  • Little nutritive roots grow up out from the main cable root more mud gets deposited in the mangroves or eroded away is part of the work of AIMto feed on the rich soil just below the mud's surface.
  • The third type of root collects oxygen for the plant.
  • Unlike soil, mud has very few air spaces for roots to gather oxygen for the plant, so many of the plants in the mangroves have developed some amazing methods of obtaining the oxygen they need to grow. The grey mangrove (Avicennia marina) grows a series of snorkels or pencil roots which poke out of the mud to get oxygen, while the orange mangrove (Bruguieragymnorrhiza) has developed knee roots. These are cable roots which have grown-above the surface and then back down into the mud again, looking like small knees buried in mud. The red, stilt or spider mangrove (Rhizophora stylosa) has solved the problem of both stability and the need for oxygen by lifting itself out of the mud on root stilts.
    The tangled growth of roots spread far and wide, providing anchors as well as a large surface area to absorb oxygen. Understanding what happens to mangrove forests when sea levels or the climate changes, as well as what happens when S biologist Joanna Ellison.

    Humans can have an enormous influence on how well mangroves survive, and while mangrove plants are adapted to surviving in muddy, salty conditions, oil spills can spell disaster for them. Oil spills suffocate the trees' important oxygen obtaining pneumatophore roots, making it impossible for the plants to gain much needed oxygen. In addition, the effects of chemicals used to help clean up oil spills are still poorly understood. AIMS biologist Norm Duke is studying what happens to oil when it gets into a mangrove as well as helping to formulate some of the best methods for cleaning up a spill.
    The research carried out by the scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science not only helps people better understand mangroves and the animals which are dependent on the mangroves during different phases of their life, but it also helps people around the world understand ways of protecting and managing mangroves for the benefit of all.
    picture of mangrove landscape with inset of red mangrove
    Four species of tropical mangroves can be found around the Gulf of Mexico. Their extensive root systems protect the coast from erosion and storm damage. The mangrove here (inset) is a red mangrove.
    Mangrove swamps are coastal wetlands found in tropical and subtropical regions. They are characterized by halophytic (salt loving) trees, shrubs and other plants growing in brackish to saline tidal waters. These wetlands are often found in estuaries, where fresh water meets salt water and are infamous for their impenetrable maze of woody vegetation. In North America, they are found from the southern tip of Florida along the Gulf Coast to Texas. Florida's southwest coast supports one of the largest mangrove swamps in the world.

    black mangrove
    Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) is the most common mangrove in the United States outside of the everglades. The straw-like spikes surrounding this plant are pneumatophores.

    Mangrove trees dominate this wetland ecosystem due to their ability to survive in both salt and fresh water. In the continental United States, only three species of mangrove grow: red, black, and white mangroves. Red mangrove (Rhizophera mangle) is easily recognized by its distinctive arching roots. Black mangrove (AvicenniaLaguncularia racemosa) often grow even farther inland with no outstanding root structures. sp.), which often grows more inland, has root projections called pneumatophores, which help to supply the plant with air in submerged soils. White mangroves (
    A wide diversity of animals is found in mangrove swamps. Since these estuarine swamps are constantly replenished with nutrients transported by fresh water runoff from the land and flushed by the ebb and flow of the tides, they support a bursting population of bacteria and other decomposers and filter feeders. These ecosystems sustain billions of worms,
    physical stability helps to prevent shoreline erosion, shielding inland areas from severe damagprotozoa, barnacles (Balanus spp.), oysters (Crassostrea spp.), and other invertebrates. These organisms in turn feed fish and shrimp, which support wading birds, pelicans, and the much endangered crocodile.

    snowy egret
    The snowy egret (Egretta thula), now common, was hunted almost to extinction in the early 20th century for its fine feathers which were used to adorn hats.
    Functions & Values
    The importance of mangrove swamps has been well established. They function as nurseries for shrimp and recreational fisheries, exporters of organic matter to adjacent coastal food chains, and enormous sources of valuable nutrients. Their
    e during hurricanes and tidal waves.

    As these wetlands are increasingly threatened by the damming of upstream sources, significant decline in their integrity and productivity has been observed. Mangrove swamps have experienced loss of 3.2 percent since the 1950s. However, efforts are underway to enhance the protection of these valuable ecosystems.

    insects, crocodiles and snakes. In other words, they are thought to be no great loss when there are local pressures to build shrimp far
    Mangrove forest, Adamaqua
    Urgent action needs to be taken to preserve mangroves
    Dr Peter Mumby
    The world's threatened mangrove forests provide important nurseries for coral-reef fish, according to a new study conducted around Belize and Mexico.

    These partially submerged trees act to protect juvenile fish from predation, says UK marine biologist Peter Mumby.
    His team tracked more than 100,000 fish from 64 species in coral reefs with and without adjoining mangrove habitats.
    They told the scientific journal Nature that fish species were more abundant on the reefs that had attached mangroves.
    It has long been suspected that the dense forests on the tidal wetlands in the tropics acted as fish nurseries but this study is said to be the first to show the extent and importance of the link.

    Rainbow parrotfish, C Dahlgren
    The rainbow parrotfish is officially classed as vulnerable (Image: C Dahlgren)
    "Mangroves are trees that live in shallow water and provide a fascinating environment," said Dr Mumby, from Exeter University's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.
    "However, these swamps have their fair share of biting ms, new houses or tourist resorts.
    "Everyone sees the point in preserving coral reefs and the creatures that live on them because they are beautiful. Until now, the conservation of mangroves has received much less support."
    Urgent action
    Mumby's team tells Nature that mangrove forests are an important staging post for the fish as they journey from seagrass beds to their eventual adult habitat.
    The fish spend much of their early life seeking food and shelter among the roots of mangroves. Only when the fish are big enough to survive in open water do they swim out to spend their days in and around the coral.

    Mangrove forest, Peter Mumby
    The trees and shrubs grow on tidal wetlands in the tropics
    The plants are highly adapted to their salty environment
    They help protect the shoreline, seagrass beds and coral reefs
    The forests give food and sanctuary to marine lifeforms
    But the new study shows that without the mangroves, the fish will often migrate to reefs before they are fully grown, making them more vulnerable to predation.
    The Exeter-led team found coral reefs teemed with nearly twice as many snappers (Lutjanus apodus) and grunts (Haemulon sciurus) where healthy mangrove forests were found nearby.
    Significantly, the destruction of mangroves may have caused local extinction of one of the largest herbivorous fish in the Atlantic - the rainbow parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia).
    "The snapper is the fish you are most likely to eat on your Caribbean holiday - it's the 'cod of the Caribbean'. But it will cease to be common if we continue to destroy its habitat.
    "Urgent action needs to be taken to preserve mangroves if Caribbean fisheries and coral reefs are to be preserved."


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