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Executive Summary for May 11th

In this week’s roundup, we report on progress toward protecting the Gulf of Mexico’s corals, a new insight into what is killing great white sharks and a study that shows how warm oceans fuel intense Atlantic hurricanes.

Published on May 11, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

New Protections for Gulf of Mexico’s Corals?

An advisory council for the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Texas, voted this week to recommend an expansion of the sanctuary’s boundaries to protect more of the region’s unique and relatively healthy deep coral reefs.

The proposal, which would roughly quadruple the size of the reserve, will be sent to the Trump administration for approval, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Still, at least a few scientists and conservationists on the council, which includes stakeholders from the Gulf’s fishing and oil and gas industries, thought the expansion option didn’t go far enough and abstained from voting. Sanctuary managers have recommended protecting a larger area.

The fate of the idea is uncertain. An executive order from President Trump in 2017 barred the United States Commerce Department from expanding any marine sanctuaries without accounting for effects on offshore energy resources, Houston Public Media noted. The debate comes as the Gulf’s regional fisheries management council is also considering banning certain kinds of fishing gear in 23 hotspots for deep corals and sponges. That decision will come at a meeting this summer.

Controversial Fishing Nets Are Greatest Great White Shark Killers

A new study showing how deadly fishing is to great white sharks off the coast of Southern California and Mexico offers extra urgency to legislation recently introduced in Congress that would ban the most harmful gear.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology and reported by National Geographic, monitored 37 tagged juvenile sharks over a period of years. By interpreting data from the tags, they found that two likely died by natural causes, whereas six died as “bycatch” when caught by fishers unintentionally. Three others had interacted with fishing nets but survived. The researchers estimated the overall annual survival rate at 63 percent.

Most of the deaths were due to drift gillnets, large nets that sweep up catch and also entangle sharks. There is momentum, however, to end their use. In the United States, the West Coast fishery for swordfish is the only one that still allows their use because they kill so much bycatch, according to the conservation group Oceana. However, in April, a bipartisan group of three senators introduced legislation to the U.S. Congress that would fully phase out their use in federal waters. Mexico, where fishing nets were the bigger risk, also banned gillnets in some areas last year to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise.

Warm Oceans Driving More Rapid Atlantic Hurricane Intensification

In the last 30 years, Atlantic Ocean storms have gotten stronger more quickly, according to a new study. The process is fueled by warming ocean waters.

Last year’s devastating hurricanes – Irma, Jose and Maria – all rapidly intensified, which means their wind speed increased by at least 47kmh (29mph) in less than a day. All major hurricanes undergo this process, but the study found that the average boost to wind speed is now 21 kmh (13mph) stronger than it was three decades ago.

The reasons why are complex, but a major factor has to do with more heat available from the ocean’s surface to fuel storms, according to the research, published by scientists at the United States Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The areas of rapid intensification were mostly closely tied to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) – a climate phenomenon that warms waters in the North Atlantic on a 20-year cycle, followed by a cooling phase. Study author Karthik Balaguru said in a statement that separating the effects of the AMO with the effects of global warming on hurricane intensification patterns is an important area for research, but was beyond the scope of the study.

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