Top 8 eco stories you need to know about from 2016

Plans unveiled for SeaWorld in Abu Dhabi

In December 2016, plans for a new and more eco-friendly SeaWorld were unveiled, the first park not to feature orca whales.

Set to open in 2022, the park will be located on Yas Island and will have a marine life research, rescue, rehabilitation and return centre that will open ahead of the theme park, which will focus on ocean conservation education.

The project sees a partnership between SeaWorld and Miral, together offering visitors up-close animal experiences, a world-class aquarium and mega attractions yet to be announced.

“Abu Dhabi is becoming a first choice destination for regional and global travellers by combining culture, heritage and unique leisure experiences into one compelling proposition," said His Excellency Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of Miral. "SeaWorld Abu Dhabi further strengthens Yas Island’s position as the global tourism destination.”

Though details of the park's size and design haven't been released, it will reportedly use 3D mapping and virtual reality technology to immerse guests in virtual subsea expeditions and diving adventures.

The move comes just months after SeaWorld announced that it would be ending its orca-breeding program due to high pressure from animal rights activists.

"This project presents an opportunity for collaboration and greater understanding of how species have adapted to the region’s unique marine environment, and to inspire the next generation of visitors, conservationists and animal care experts,” said Joel Manby, president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld.

Yas Island is currently home to the Ferrari World theme park and Emirate's Formula 1 track and SeaWorld Abu Dhabi will be an interesting addition. The centre will be the first of it's kind in the country, providing a state-of-the-art environment for conservationists, researchers and scientists to study the local marine life alongside visitors.

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock.com / Philip Lang

Coral continues to die on the Great Barrier Reef after bleaching

Coral in parts of the Great Barrier Reef is continuing to die due to coral predators and disease more than six months after rising water temperatures caused extreme bleaching earlier this year.

Scientists from the Coral Reef Studies in Australia have found that the proportion of live coral has fallen in some areas from 40% in March to a mere 5%.

The mass bleaching during the start of the year was the third occurrence of it's kind in the last 18 years, with previous events taking place in 2002 and 1998.

Bleaching is caused by abnormal environmental conditions, such as a rise in sea temperatures, which leads to coral expelling living algae causing it to calcify. In March this year it was revealed that parts of the reef had suffered the worst bleaching on record and experts from James Cook University have expanded on the devastating aftermath.

“Millions of corals in the north of the Great Barrier Reef died quickly from heat stress in March and since then, many more have died more slowly,” said Dr. Greg Torda, whose team recently returned from re-surveying reefs near Lizard Island.

Last year UNESCO voted not to put the Great Barrier Reef on the world danger list but there is now serious concern about its future.

“In March, we measured a lot of heavily bleached branching corals that were still alive," said Dr Andrew Hoey, who is currently working from the Lizard Island research station. He added that after further monitoring in October, there were even fewer surviving corals.

With the Great Barrier Reef under such significant threat, don't miss our guide to the most incredible places to see before they disappear.

Picture courtesy of Krofoto /Shutterstock.com

eco stories you need to know about from 2016

In September 2016 President Barack Obama announced the creation of the first U.S. marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean.

Located just off the coast of New England, the area will cover 12,724 kilometres of underwater canyons (some as deep as the Grand Canyon), mountains and wildlife.

Speaking at the Our Ocean conference in Washington, D.C., Obama said: "The notion that the ocean I grew up with is not something that I can pass on to my kids and my grandkids is unacceptable, it's unimaginable."

The previous month he expanded a vast marine reserve off the coast of Hawaii called Papahānaumokuākea in a continuing attempt to preserve beaches, canyons and marine ecosystems.

Objections came from many, who said it would negatively impact the area's fishing industry due to the permanent closure of more than a million square kilometres of ocean to commercial fishing.

The new reserve is to be named the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, and during the announcement, Obama added:

"The investment that all of us together make here today is vital for our economy, it's vital for our foreign policy, it's vital for our security, but it's also vital for our spirit. It's vital to who we are."

Florida brewery creates edible six-pack rings

Tired of seeing marine and bird life snarled up in plastic beer rings, the Saltwater Brewery team designed, tested and prototyped packaging for their beers that doubled up as food for wildlife.

Announced in May 2016, the rings are made from by-products of the beer-making process and are both biodegradable and compostable.

Though they are more expensive to produce, if more breweries invested in the technology the production price could compete with the current and harmful plastic rings, ideally pushing them out of the market.

In 2015 the Ocean Conservancy found that plastic was one of the most common waste materials ingested by sea turtles, while volunteers found 440 fish, 57 marine mammals and 22 sharks and rays caught in plastic.

According to UNESCO, plastic debris causes the death of more than one million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals each year.

The Saltwater Brewery is based in Florida and was the first local production microbrewery in Delray Beach. In 2016 they also collaborated with the South Florida Science Centre and Aquarium on educational events called 'Science on Tap' to discuss the new technology.

Picture courtesy of Facebook.com / Saltwater Brewery

Young fish hooked on eating plastic

Young fish prefer to eat microplastic particles rather than their actual food according to research released by Swedish scientists in June.

A study published in the journal Science found that baby perch in the Baltic Sea will actively choose to eat plastic particles over plankton. This exposure to plastic results in the young perch being smaller, slower and more susceptible to predators.

“Larvae exposed to microplastic particles during development displayed changed behaviours and were much less active than fish that had been reared in water that contained no microplastic particles,” explained lead author Oona Lönnstedt.

“Furthermore, fish exposed to microplastic particles ignored the smell of predators which usually evoke innate anti-predator behaviours in naïve fish."

There has been growing concern about the detrimental impact that plastic rubbish has on marine life after reports earlier this year warned that there will be more plastic rubbish than fish in the ocean by 2050. The young fishes preference for plastic has been compared to some teenagers preference for unhealthy junk food.

“This is the first time an animal has been found to preferentially feed on plastic particles and is cause for concern," added Professor Peter Eklöv, co-author of the study.

Scientists hope that the study will serve to further highlight the danger of plastic waste — considered to be one of the biggest threats to the world’s oceans.

“The findings highlight ecologically important and previously under appreciated effects of microplastic particles that enter marine ecosystems, and emphasises the need for new management strategies or alternative biodegradable products that lowers the release of microplastic waste products,” a statement from the scientists added.

NASA steps in to help save the world’s coral reefs

In February it emerged that NASA was taking a brave new step into the world of coral protection by organising a three-year field expedition to survey the amount of damage being caused to the world’s reef.

NASA will be using new, sophisticated technology and will use footage from airborne craft and underwater measurements to create the most detailed picture of underwater reefs to date.

The Coral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL) will initially focus on reefs in Florida, Hawaii, Palau, the Mariana Islands and Australia.

"Right now, the state of the art for collecting coral reef data is scuba diving with a tape measure," said Eric Hochberg, CORAL principal investigator and scientist at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science. "It's analogous to looking at a few trees and then trying to say what the forest is doing."

NASA’s involvement in this project is just one cool way that scientists are trying to save the world’s coral reefs.

Picture courtesy of Jag Cz/Shutterstock.com

Bondi Beach announces trial of ‘virtual shark net’ to prevent attacks

In February Australian officials announced that Bondi Beach in Australia was set to trial new “Clever Buoy” technology which uses a facial recognition system to warn lifeguards when sharks are in the water. It is hoped that the new technology will be able to create a “virtual shark net” to protect swimmers.

The system works via an app and is based on the same technology used for security screening in airports. A series of sonar emitters will be fitted to the ocean floor and then attached to buoys in a row offshore running parallel to the beach.

The sonar will then recognise any object that is self-propelled and more than two metres in length and will send a warning signal to lifeguards via the app. Lifeguards would then be able to warn all swimmers to evacuate the water.

Craig Anderson, the founder of the Shark Mitigation Services who created the system, claims the device has a 90% success rate.

“It uses new-age sonar technology, coupled with some software that we've written, to develop what is, for all intents and purposes, a virtual shark net," he said.

There were 13 shark attacks, including one fatal attack, on beaches in NSW last year. The region has also tried using drones to patrol the coast to prevent attacks. Last year incredible footage of champion surfer Mick Fanning escaping a shark attack went viral and sparked a world wide interest in shark prevention technologies.

Picture courtesy of Wiiin/Shutterstock.com

Paul Allen’s Tatoosh damages coral reef in the Cayman Islands

In January news emerged that Paul Allen’s 94 metre superyacht Tatoosh had damaged a section of coral reef in the Cayman Islands. The damage was discovered by a local dive company who immediately informed the crew on board Tatoosh. Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc has always maintained that Tatoosh had been directed to anchor by the local port authority.

The initial investigation by the Department of Environment (DoE) for the Cayman Islands found that 1,200 square metres had been damaged and that more than 80% of the coral within this area had been destroyed.

After the incident, there was a disagreement between Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc and the DoE as to the best way to help to restore the coral, but a compensation agreement was reached in late October after a joint restoration project began in March.

“The DoE and Paul Allen are deeply committed to ocean health and conservation,” Vulcan Inc said. “Both the DoE and Vulcan have worked hard to ensure that this agreement reflects the best international standards for restoration of coral habitats.”

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