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April 25, 2003

Pilot Whales Stranded in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

A group of 28 pilot whales stranded themselves April 18 in shallow waters north of Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Sanctuary law enforcement officers and biologists aided marine mammal specialists from NOAA Fisheries and the Florida Keys Marine Mammal Stranding Network in response to the crisis. Four resource management boats were mobilized to help with rescue efforts, which continued through the weekend. Seven of the whales were moved to a nearby holding facility for evaluation, rehabilitation and possible release back into the ocean. Despite the continued support and rescue efforts by specialists and volunteers, the sanctuary reports that six animals died on scene and six were euthanized. But nine were successfully returned to deeper waters and presumed healthy. For more information, read the Naples News article, or contact June Cradick of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary at (305) 743-2437.

Protection of Hawaiian Reef Fishes Strengthened

Areas designated as “no-take” zones off the west coast of Hawaii appear to be instrumental in bolstering the populations of reef fish species targeted by the aquarium industry, according to a project funded by NOS’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. The West Hawaii Aquarium Project, which is part of the Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative, has been monitoring the effectiveness of these newly established protected areas where fish species that are popular among aquarium owners live. In late April, the project’s findings will be presented to the Hawaii Department of Aquatic Resources in support of state rules that created a network of fish replenishment areas in West Hawaii. These rules were enacted to reduce the impact of aquarium collecting along the West Hawaiian coast. For more information, contact Felix Martinez at (301) 713-3338 x153, or Mike Dowgiallo at (301) 713-3338 x161.

NOS Publishes Updated Tidal Reference Levels

NOS’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services this week adjusted the nation’s tidal datums to reflect changes in average sea level along the coast. A tidal datum refers to a vertical reference point based on a specific stage of tide that serves as baseline elevation to which sounding depths or topographic heights are determined. The new datums provide updated information for a new National Tidal Datum Epoch (NTDE), which is a specific 19-year period over which tide observations are taken to determine average sea level and other water level information. The NTDE has been adopted to ensure that tidal datums determined through the U.S. are based on one specific common reference period.

The new NTDE will allow for more accurate tidal information and will help determine water level measurements over long periods of time, which in turn may help to track global sea level change and the effects of local land movements. For more information, click here or contact Steve Gill at (301) 713-2981 x139.

April 18, 2003

Study Shows Gulf Coast Sinking at Significant Rate

Areas around coastal Louisiana and Mississippi may sink up to 1 foot over the next decade, according to a recent study conducted by the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), part of NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS), and scientists from Louisiana State University (LSU). The study, which was announced April 16 at the National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans, suggests that the people who live in these vulnerable areas may face increased threats from storm surges and flooding. NGS will be collaborating with NOAA’s National Weather Service and state and local agencies to track the possible changes and address the problem over the long term. One strategy involves implementing drastic coastal reclamation operations to halt the coastal subsidence.

At the current rate of subsidence, scientists estimate that 15,000 square miles of land along southern Louisiana will be at or below sea level within 70 years. In fact, some cities have already experienced subsidence, including New Orleans. On average, “subsidence or loss of elevation ranges from one-third to 1.5 inches per year across south Louisiana as well as coastal Mississippi,” according to Dr. Roy Dokka, executive director of the LSU Center for Geoinformatics.

Also at the conference, NGS Director Charlie Challstrom presented an analysis of the impact of subsidence on coastal Louisiana and Mississippi. The presentation is available here. For more information, read the NOAA news story, the press release (pdf, 36 Kb) or contact NGS's Nancy Doyle.

Coastal Services Magazine Wins Award

Coastal Services, the trade journal for coastal resource managers published by NOAA’s Coastal Services Center, recently won a Mercury Award for Issues Management from the South Carolina Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. More than 130 nominations were received for awards recognizing public relations programs, campaigns, outstanding publications, print materials, and individual achievements in communications. For more information, contact Hanna Goss.

Hydrographic Survey Vessel Hosts Visitors at Baltimore Festival

The NOAA Bay Hydrographer, a hydrographic survey vessel, will participate in Baltimore’s Waterfront Festival, which takes place April 24 to 27. Representatives from NOS’s Office of Coast Survey will be on hand to answer visitor questions about how sonar is used to measure water depth and locate obstructions to navigation. They also will demonstrate the process of charting various types of data, including hydrographic survey data. The festival also includes maritime exhibits, sailing races, boat tours and Chesapeake Bay exhibits. For more information, contact Holly Dehart at (410) 960-1723.

April 11, 2003

New Channel Islands Restricted Marine Reserves Take Effect

On April 9, rules that established a network of 12 marine reserves in the National Ocean Service’s (NOS’s) Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary went into effect. These reserves, also known as marine protected areas, surround the five islands that form the sanctuary off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif.,—Anacapa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Santa Rose and Santa Barbara Islands. In 10 of the 12 marine reserve areas, all fishing and harvesting activities are prohibited. Two of the reserves are designated as “conservation areas” in which limited recreational fishing and commercial lobster trapping are allowed. In all of the areas, diving, swimming, boating and anchoring are still allowed as long as the no-take restrictions are observed.

The sanctuary continues to work with the California Department of Fish and Game, California Sea Grant, and the Channel Islands National Park to spread the word about the new regulations. The network of reserves was first proposed in 1998, and more than 9,000 comments were received about the reserve proposal, most of which were supportive. For more information, visit the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Marine Reserves Overview Web site or contact Sean Hastings at (805) 96-7107.

Monterey Bay Citizens Find Toxins in Stormwater That Reaches Bay

The stormwater that discharged into Monterey Bay after last fall’s first major rain showed high concentrations of pollutants, according to NOS’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network. The sanctuary and citizen’s group recently released the First Flush 2002 report, which showed that oils, chemicals and litter flushed from streets and other impermeable surfaces traveled with rain water directly into Monterey Bay Sanctuary. Water quality samples were taken by volunteers at 19 sites in Monterey, Pacific Grove, Capitola and Santa Cruz on Nov. 7, 2002. They found levels of copper, lead, zinc, bacteria and suspended solids, all of which have increased every year for the last three years at the majority of the test sites.

Untreated stormwater runoff in coastal urban areas can contribute to significant toxicity in aquatic organisms. “These results have occurred over three years, and are not a one-time, single phenomenon," said Sanctuary Superintendent William. J. Douros. The sanctuary is working with local agencies and cities to determine future monitoring and track sources in an effort to reduce the amount of pollutants entering sanctuary waters. For more information, read the press release or contact Network Coordinator Bridget Hoover at (831) 883-9303.

High Levels of Metal Contaminants in Sediments Found in South Florida Estuary

Scientists from NOS’s Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment have collected data that indicate high levels of copper and mercury in the sediments of the South Florida St. Lucie Estuary. In addition, they have noted increasing copper concentrations in bivalves that live in the Indian River Lagoon, which is where the St. Lucie River and the St. Lucie Inlet meet.

Copper is widely applied to grapefruit and orange trees in the area to control the fungal infection known as melanose. Scientists also are finding increased copper concentrations in nearly all the rivers, tributaries and canals that discharge into the estuarine environment. Moreover, evidence suggests that copper may be leaching from antifouling paint on boats that travel through the estuaries. Future research efforts will aim to determine the biological effects of copper and develop a model that traces the sources, transport and likely effects of copper on the estuarine environment. For more information, contact Dr. Jawed Hameedi at (301) 713-3028 ext. 170.

April 4, 2003

Invasive Lionfish Population Increasing Along the U.S. East Coast

The invasive lionfish population appears to be increasing along the East Coast from Florida to Cape Hatteras, N.C., according to a researcher from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, which is part of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. The lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific regions, is a predator and is best known for its venomous spines. It has few, if any, predators. Scientists think it was introduced into the Atlantic regions from aquarium releases along the Florida coast. The researcher, who presented updated distribution information of the species at the recent American Academy of Underwater Sciences meeting in Greenville, N.C., noted that in August 2000, only two lionfish were sited in two locations. By October 2002, however, 49 lionfish were reported in 16 different locations. The jump in distribution over such a short time period strongly indicates that the predator is reproducing. The effects of the lionfish on the native communities in the Atlantic are not yet known. For more information, contact Paula Whitfield at (252) 728-8714.

NOAA Co-sponsors International Oil Spill Conference in Vancouver, Canada

NOAA will be integrally involved in the upcoming 2003 International Oil Spill Conference in Vancouver, Canada. The conference, which takes place the week of April 7, is co-sponsored by NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard, The American Petroleum Institute, Canadian Coast Guard, the International Maritime Organization, the U.S. Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hundreds of participants from U.S. federal, state, and local agencies, and international organizations and industry will be attending. NOAA will participate in many panels, paper and posters presentations, and short educational courses, including a course on developing natural resource assessment claims, and a course on responding to oil spills in tropical environments. Oil spill experts from NOAA’s National Ocean Service also will be assisting with courses on selecting oil spill technologies and planning best practices, and coordinating oil spill responses under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Endangered Species Act. The conference will convene with an address from keynote speaker Admiral James Watkins, USN (ret) of the Ocean Commission. For more information, contact Bob Pavia at (206) 526-6317.

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