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Executive Summary for September 15th

In our weekly roundup, we report on the United Nations appointing a special envoy for the ocean, research finding small-scale fishing can have a big impact on the ecosystem and scientists discovering that some octopuses are quite social creatures.

Published on Sep. 15, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

An Envoy for the Ocean

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has appointed Peter Thomson, Fiji’s permanent representative to the U.N., as the first Special Envoy for the Ocean.

Thomson spearheaded the U.N.’s first Ocean Conference in June during his tenure as president of the 71st session of the U.N. General Assembly. The conference brought together more than 4,000 national leaders, diplomats, scientists and policymakers to build support for the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, which calls for the sustainable use and protection of the ocean.

“Mr. Thomson will lead U.N.’s advocacy and public outreach efforts inside and outside the U.N. system, ensuring that the many positive outcomes of the Ocean Conference, including the close to 1,400 voluntary commitments, are fully analyzed and implemented,” the secretary-general’s office said. “He will also work with civil society, the scientific community, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders to coalesce and encourage their activities in support of the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14.”

Thomson’s appointment comes as the U.N. takes steps toward negotiating an international treaty to protect the biodiversity of the high seas – the 60 percent of the ocean that is beyond national jurisdiction.

The U.N.-chartered International Seabed Authority, meanwhile, is moving to permit the mining of the ocean floor for valuable minerals amid disputes over the environmental impact of such operations on largely unexplored habitats. Thomson served as president of the seabed authority’s assembly during its 2011-12 session and president of the organization’s council in 2015-16.

Small Fisheries Have Big Environmental Impact

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have found that small-scale fishing in the Philippines has had a significant impact on coastal ocean ecosystems.

Between 1960 and 2010, fishing activity increased by 2,000 percent and the area fished expanded by 50 percent in the Danajon Bank in the central Philippines, according to a study published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science.

The Danajon Bank is considered a marine biodiversity hot spot and is a rare double barrier reef – one of only six in the world. It runs for nearly 100 miles (160km) around the islands of Bohol, Cebu and Leyte.

“Targeting new places in the ocean can artificially keep catches high, but this expansion also doubled the area that was impacted by fishing,” said the study’s lead author, Jennifer Selgrath, who conducted the research while she was a PhD student at the university. “We also noted that as the fishing effort expanded, people started shifting from relatively benign fishing gears to intensive, damaging fishing gears.”

Such gear included dynamite and crowbars used to pry open coral reefs to catch invertebrates.

“These trends are not unique to the Philippines and are apparent in other areas with small-scale fisheries around the globe,” Selgrath said. “Fostering sustainability in small-scale fisheries is an important global goal because these fisheries form the economic backbone of many poor and marginalized coastal communities.”

Not-so-Lonely Octopuses

Octopuses have long been considered solitary creatures. Not so, according to new research that found a colony of so-called gloomy octopuses living together off Australia’s east coast.

It is the second site where octopus tetricus have been observed hanging out together and interacting.

Scientists found 10 to 15 of the cephalopods at the newly discovered spot.

“We recorded frequent interactions – signaling, mating, mate defense, eviction of octopuses from dens and attempts to exclude individuals from the site,” the researchers wrote in a study published in the journal Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology.

It also turns out that the octopuses are natural engineers, using the shells of clams, scallops and other animals they have eaten to create dens.

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