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May 2015 Issue

UNC Chapel Hill to Lead Coastal Resilience COE
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has selected the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill as the lead institution for a new DHS Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (COE). S&T will provide it with an initial $3 million grant for its first operating year.

The DHS Coastal Resilience COE will bring together university students and professors, DHS and other federal agencies, private sector partners, the first responder community, and other COEs to collaboratively address the unique challenges facing communities across the U.S. that are vulnerable to coastal hazards, including hurricanes and flooding.

This expands existing DHS COE efforts by the Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence, co-led by Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, and UNC Chapel Hill. The work done at the Coastal Hazards COE has informed the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on operation decisions during natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy, by developing a storm surge and flood model that helped indicate precisely where to stage resources ahead of the storm. The DHS COE program assembles leading faculty and graduate students to dedicate their intellect to homeland security challenges such as border security, explosive threats and natural disaster resilience.

Rehabilitated Monk Seals Return to Marine Monument
Two critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals (Neomonachus schauinslandi) were successfully returned to Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument after being rehabilitated at The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital in Kona, Hawaii. The seals were rescued last year in an emaciated state, one on Kure Atoll and another on Laysan Island, during NOAA Fisheries Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program’s field camp season.

Staff and volunteers at the center spent five months nursing the animals from their malnourished state to the healthy seals they are now. In their current state, these females have a better chance of surviving their first two years of life and will hopefully grow to have their own pups.

The Hawaiian monk seal is critically endangered, with fewer than 1,100 individuals in the wild, including about 900 in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Fewer than one in five Hawaiian monk seal pups in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands survive their first year due to threats such as starvation, entanglement in marine debris, and male aggression due to abnormally small population size.

Striped Marlin Tracking Reveals Preferred Habitat
In the largest study to track striped marlin in the Pacific Ocean, published in Fisheries Research, marine ecologists report the preferred habitat of this valuable commercial and recreational fish by using direct observations collected by satellite tags.

Using the largest tagging data set to date, the study shows that across the Pacific Ocean the vertical habitat of striped marlin is defined by the light-penetrated, uppermost part of the ocean known as the epipelagic layer, within 8°C of sea surface temperature.

Overfishing is occurring for striped marlin in parts of the Pacific Ocean, the authors point out. The findings should help to avoid or reduce undesired catch of this species by removing hooks shallower than about 390 feet, for example. It is important to characterize the marlins’ water column activity because if striped marlin occupy a vertical habitat different from more commercially important species like tuna, fishers can exploit this separation to target higher-value species and avoid catching striped marlin.

For this work, the researchers deployed about 250 popup satellite archival tags over five years across eight field locations, from Australia to Hawaii and Ecuador to Southern California, providing one of the largest data sets for any species in the open ocean.

Tags returned depth, temperature and light-based positional data for up to eight months. Striped marlin demonstrated “pronounced use” of the mixed layer, with fish spending 54 to 84 percent of their time at the top 40 feet of the ocean surface across all regions. The mixed-layer is between the surface and a depth of roughly 80 to 656 feet, where salt and temperature levels are about the same as at the surface. Individuals remained near the surface in nighttime and were located near the bottom of the mixed layer during the day.

This study enables researchers to identify common patterns of striped marlin behavior throughout the Pacific Ocean. Direct field observations and common habitat patterns provide necessary information to formulate clear management measures to rebuild striped marlin stocks.

New Protections for Pacific Forage Fish Species
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council approved new protections for forage fish species, a move that signals a shift towards a more ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. The rule must now go before the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval.

One of eight regional fishery management councils established by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the Pacific Council is responsible for managing fish stocks in federal waters (3 to 300 miles) off Washington, Oregon and California. The council has been working to develop protective measures for unregulated forage species during the past three years.

Before approval, new fisheries must demonstrate that harvest will not harm the ecosystem. Although some well-known forage species such as anchovy and sardine are managed through existing fishery management plans, many other species, including sand lance, smelt and pelagic squid, are not.

Among the seabirds that will benefit in Washington state are the Tufted Puffin, which is currently being considered for listing as a state endangered species; the Marbled Murrelet, a state endangered seabird which feed its young with sand lance and smelt; and various auklet and storm petrel species, which feed on a wide variety of forage species. Dozens of other visiting and resident species also rely on forage species.

2015:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY

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