Voracious and Invasive Lionfish Is Taking Over the Atlantic. Here’s Why.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF LIVE SCIENCE)

 

The Voracious and Invasive Lionfish Is Taking Over the Atlantic. Here’s Why.

Lionfish are voracious eaters and can expand their stomachs 30 times their original volume to accommodate that appetite.

Lionfish are voracious eaters and can expand their stomachs 30 times their original volume to accommodate that appetite.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

One of the most notorious invasive species around, the lionfish, is known for its voracious appetite and can literally eat its competitors out of an ecosystem. And that’s what the striking fish is doing, feasting its way through waters that stretch from the Gulf of Mexico to the Eastern Seaboard.

Now, scientists and startups are crafting methods for capturing and killing the hungry invaders. But while these new ideas show promise, tried-and-true spearfishing seems to be the most effective way to eradicate lionfish, scientists told Live Science.

“It’s actually hard to describe how a lionfish eats because they do it in a split second,” said Kristen Dahl, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida. Lionfish use a complex series of tactics that no other fish in the world is known to employ. In the blink of an eye, a lionfish goes from silently hovering above its prey to flaring its fins, firing a disorienting jet of water from its mouth, unhinging its jaw and swallowing its meal whole, scientists reported in a study published in 2012 in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. The attacks happen so quickly that nearby fish don’t seem to notice.

“It’s actually nice when I’m looking at gut contents,” Dahl said, “because if something has been freshly eaten, it’s in immaculate condition.”

Related: See Photos of Lionfish & Other Weird-Looking Fish

Lionfish ambush their prey and sometimes use their lengthy pectoral fins to “corner” them, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lionfish ambush their prey and sometimes use their lengthy pectoral fins to “corner” them, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

(Image credit: Rich Carey/Shutterstock)

New fish on the block

Lionfish (Pterois volitans) are one of the most notorious invasive species in the United States. Their bold colors and frilly fins make lionfish popular in the aquarium trade; over the past 25 years or so, it seems aquarium fish owners have sometimes dumped unwanted lionfish — which are native to the Indo-Pacific region — into the Atlantic Ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Their popularity in the aquarium trade has also spurred several breeding programs.

Lionfish are fast and powerful, but their biggest advantage is novelty. Atlantic prey fish simply don’t know what’s going on. Biologists call this phenomenon prey naivete, and they believe it is largely responsible for the lionfish’s dramatic success as an invader.

Since the first breeding populations were spotted off the coast of North Carolina in 2000, lionfish have rapidly overtaken coastal environments in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

“Sightings increased rapidly in 2004 along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States,” according to Pam Schofield, research fishery biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Lionfish sightings quickly spread throughout the Caribbean and then the Gulf of Mexico,” Schofield, who tracks non-native marine fish in U.S. waters, told Live Science. There are now breeding populations in the coastal waters of Venezuela, throughout the coastal Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. On the Eastern Seaboard, breeding populations extend into North Carolina, and stray individuals are seen as far north as Massachusetts, Schofield said. Reports of lionfish sightings have tapered off since their peak in 2010, but that’s probably not because their populations have decreased — lionfish are so pervasive that spotting one is no longer noteworthy.

Managing an invasion

A spear fisherman catches invasive lionfish in the Caribbean.

A spear fisherman catches invasive lionfish in the Caribbean.

(Image credit: Shane Gross/Shutterstock)

Lionfish aren’t easily caught when traditional fishing techniques are used, so a number of research groups and startup companies are developing novel tools for managing the invasion. These include specially designed traps that lure in lionfish while sparing native species, remotely operated vehicles that allow a human pilot to remotely spear lionfish and autonomous hunting vehicles that use artificial intelligence to find the fish themselves. While some progress has been made in new technologies, spear guns used by scuba divers still seem to be the tool that’s most effective tool at killing them, Dahl said.

Related: Alien Invaders: Photos of Destructive Invasive Species

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a leader in lionfish management, has a number of incentive programs to entice recreational and commercial scuba divers to harvest lionfish, according to the FWC. The lionfish derby is one of the most successful management tools being used today. At a derby, spearfishing divers spend a day working together to remove as many lionfish as they can. At the larger derbies, organizers award prizes to the teams or individuals who catch the biggest, smallest or most lionfish. “The derbies are a good opportunity to educate people about the lionfish and about the danger of releasing aquarium fish into the wild,” Dahl said. She’s worked and volunteered at dozens of derbies. “If enough people learn about this invasion, maybe there won’t be another ‘lionfish.'”

Culling lionfish one by one will never eliminate the species from the Atlantic, but it can help mitigate their effects. While a single lionfish can eat a lot of native fauna, lionfish wreak havoc on a reef only after their populations reach a certain density, researchers reported in 2014 in the journal Ecological Applications. And the incentives seem to be working. At a handful of popular dive sites in the Florida Keys, recreational divers are so diligent in culling invasive lionfish that it is unusual to see a single one, according to several dive tour operators.

Scientists knew from the start that population growth would eventually taper off as lionfish populations reach the point at which there’s no more food or habitat to support additional individuals. But the number of lionfish in parts of the Gulf of Mexico where Dahl and her colleagues have tracked their populations for several years have actually declined. It’s too early to say what’s behind the change, but Dahl points to a poorly understood parasitic skin lesion that “has put a dent in their population.”

Now, less than two decades since the invasion began, ecologists are still trying to learn enough about lionfish to manage the new invasion.

“We’re not sure if [the population decline] is going to last or if it’s a boom-bust population cycle,” Dahl said. “It could be a little bit of both. We aren’t really sure.”

Originally published on Live Science.

Strong chance of a new El Niño forming by early 2019

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Strong chance of a new El Niño forming by early 2019

El NiñoImage copyright NOAA/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image caption An image showing the 2015 El Niño with rising temperatures in the Pacific

The World Meteorological Organization says there’s a 75-80% chance of a weak El Niño forming within three months.

The naturally occurring event causes changes in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean and has a major influence on weather patterns around the world.

It is linked to floods in South America and droughts in Africa and Asia.

El Niño events often lead to record temperatures as heat rises from the Pacific.

According to the WMO update, sea surface temperatures in the east-central tropical Pacific have been at weak El Niño levels since October. However the atmosphere has not yet responded to the extra warmth that’s produced by the upwelling seas.

Scientists have been predicting the likelihood of a new event since May this year, with confidence increasing.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology are now estimating that an El Niño event will start in December. US forecasters are saying there’s a 90% chance of the event starting in January.

El NiñoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionDroughts in some places and floods in many others are linked to El Niño

The WMO models are say that a fully fledged El Niño is estimated to be 75-80% likely between December and February 2019.

At this point, the WMO says its predictions for the event range from just a warm-neutral condition through to a moderate strength event with sea surface temperatures peaking between 0.8C to 1.2C above average.

The chance of a strong event are currently low.

“The forecast El Niño is not expected to be as powerful as the event in 2015-2016, which was linked with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world,” said Maxx Dilley, director of WMO’s Climate Prediction and Adaptation branch.

“Even so, it can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns in many regions, with important consequences to agricultural and food security sectors, and for management of water resources and public health, and it may combine with long-term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures,” he said.

In terms of food security, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have issued a report detailing the countries that could suffer food shortages as a result of the event.

Related Topics

Science & Environment

Northern Mariana Islands: The History Of This Island Nation And It’s People

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Northern Mariana Islands

Introduction Under US administration as part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific, the people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence but instead to forge closer links with the US. Negotiations for territorial status began in 1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the US was approved in 1975, and came into force on 24 March 1976. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978.
History European Explorers

The first European exploration of the area was that led by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, who landed on nearby Guam and claimed the islands for Spain. After being met offshore and accepting the refreshments offered to them by the native Chamorros, the latter then helped themselves to a small boat belonging to Magellan’s fleet. This led to a cultural clash because in the old Chamorro culture there was little if any private property and to take something that one needed, such as a boat for fishing, was not considered thievery.

Due to that cultural misunderstanding, around half a dozen locals were killed and a village of 40 homes burned before the boat was retrieved. The archipelago thus acquired the ignominious name Islas de los Ladrones (“Islands of the Thieves”).

Three days after he had arrived, Magellan fled the archipelago under attack–a portentous beginning to its relationship with the Spanish. The islands were then considered by Spain to be annexed, and therefore under their governance, from the Philippines, as part of the Spanish East Indies. The Spanish built a Royal Palace in Guam for the Governor of the Islands. Its remains could still be seen in 2006.

Guam was an important stop-over from Mexico for galleons carrying gold and other cargo between the Philippines and Spain. There are several lost sunken Spanish galleons off Guam.

In 1668 the islands were renamed by Padre Diego Luis de Sanvitores as Las Marianas after Mariana of Austria, widow of Spain’s Philip IV.

Most of the islands’ native population (90%-95%)[5] died out or intermarried with non-Chamorro settlers under Spanish rule, but new settlers, primarily from the Philippines and the Caroline Islands, were brought in to repopulate the islands. Despite this, the Chamorro population did gradually resurge, and Chamorro, Filipino and Carolinian language and ethnic differences remain basically distinct in the Marianas.

To facilitate cultural and religious assimilation, Spanish colonists forced the Chamorros to be concentrated on Guam for a period of time. By the time Chamorros were allowed to return to the present-day Northern Marianas, Carolinians (from present-day eastern Yap State and western Chuuk State) had settled in the Marianas. Hence Carolinians and Chamorros are both considered as indigenous to the Northern Marianas and both languages are official in the commonwealth (but not on Guam).

German and Japanese possession

After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the United States and sold the rest of the Marianas (along with the Caroline and Marshall Islands) to Germany.

Japan declared war on Germany during World War I and invaded the Northern Marianas. In 1919, the League of Nations, pre-cursor of the United Nations, awarded the islands to Japan by mandate. During Japan’s occupation, sugar cane became the main industry of the islands, and labor was imported from Japan and associated colonies (especially Okinawa and Korea).

Hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese forces from the Marianas launched an invasion of Guam on December 8, 1941. Chamorros from the Northern Marianas, then under Japanese rule for more than two decades, were brought to Guam to assist the Japanese administration. This combined with the harsh treatment of Guamanian Chamorros during the brief 31-month occupation created a rift between the two populations that would become the main reason Guamanians rejected reunification referendum approved by the Northern Marianas in the 1960s.

American acquisition

Near the end of World War II, the United States military invaded the Mariana Islands on June 15, 1944, beginning with the Battle of Saipan, which ended on July 9 with the Japanese commander committing seppuku (a traditional Japanese form of ritual suicide). U.S. forces then recaptured Guam beginning July 21 and invaded Tinian (see Battle of Tinian) on July 24, which provided the take off point for the Enola Gay, the plane dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima a year later. Rota was left untouched (and isolated) until the Japanese surrender in August 1945, due to its military insignificance.

The war did not end for everyone with the signing of the armistice. The last group of Japanese soldiers surrendered on Saipan on December 1, 1945. On Guam, Japanese soldier Shoichi Yokoi hid out in the village of Talofofo until 1972.

Between the end of the invasion and the Japanese surrender, the Saipan and Tinian populations were kept in concentration camps. Japanese nationals were eventually repatriated, and the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinians returned to the land.

The Commonwealth

After Japan’s defeat, the islands were administered by the United States as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands; thus, defense and foreign affairs are the responsibility of the United States. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence, but instead to forge closer links with the United States. Negotiations for territorial status began in 1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the U.S. was approved in 1975. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978. The islands are not represented in the U.S. Congress.

Geography Location: Oceania, islands in the North Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines
Geographic coordinates: 15 12 N, 145 45 E
Map references: Oceania
Area: total: 477 sq km
land: 477 sq km
water: 0 sq km
note: includes 14 islands including Saipan, Rota, and Tinian
Area – comparative: 2.5 times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 1,482 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Climate: tropical marine; moderated by northeast trade winds, little seasonal temperature variation; dry season December to June, rainy season July to October
Terrain: southern islands are limestone with level terraces and fringing coral reefs; northern islands are volcanic
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location on Agrihan 965 m
Natural resources: arable land, fish
Land use: arable land: 13.04%
permanent crops: 4.35%
other: 82.61% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Natural hazards: active volcanoes on Pagan and Agrihan; typhoons (especially August to November)
Environment – current issues: contamination of groundwater on Saipan may contribute to disease; clean-up of landfill; protection of endangered species conflicts with development
Geography – note: strategic location in the North Pacific Ocean
Politics The Northern Mariana Islands have a presidential representative democratic system, in which the Governor is head of government, with a multi-party system. The Northern Mariana Islands are a commonwealth in political union with the United States. Federal funds to the Commonwealth are administered by the Office of Insular Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Repeating the separation of powers in other U.S. territories and state governments, executive power is exercised by the Governor of the Northern Mariana Islands. Legislative power is vested in the bicameral Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Legislature. Senate President Joseph Mendiola is a founding member of the Outlying Areas Senate Presidents Caucus. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislative branches.

However, politics in the Northern Mariana Islands is often “more a function of family relationships and personal loyalties” where the size of one’s extended family is more important than a candidate’s personal qualifications. Some critics, including the author of Saipan Sucks, charge that this is nepotism carried out within the trappings of democracy. [2] Archive copy at the Internet Archive

The Northern Mariana Islands have also come into the news recently due to their connection to the scandals involving Jack Abramoff and allegedly former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay [3]. As a direct result of lobbying by Abramoff and associates, the Northern Mariana Islands received special federal subsidies. [4] As well, Congressman Bob Ney allegedly received free trips to the Northern Mariana Islands from Abramoff, in violation of federal law. [5]

The Northern Marianas Islands are also the site of another controversy, one involving Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), Jack Abramoff, and Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) and the alleged links to the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association and the Northern Mariana Islands role in stopping legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops and sex shops on the islands in 2001.

The Northern Marianas Islands allegedly have the most abusive labor practices of anywhere in the United States. According to the progressive think tank American Progress Action Fund, “Human ‘brokers’ bring thousands there to work as sex slaves and in cramped sweatshop garment factories where clothes (complete with ‘Made in U.S.A.’ tag) have been produced for all the major brands.”

People Population: 86,616 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 18.4% (male 8,342/female 7,594)
15-64 years: 79.9% (male 27,996/female 41,245)
65 years and over: 1.7% (male 740/female 699) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 29.9 years
male: 32 years
female: 28.9 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.377% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 19.04 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 2.31 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: 7.04 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.1 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.68 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 1.06 male(s)/female
total population: 0.75 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 6.72 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 6.68 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 6.76 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 76.5 years
male: 73.89 years
female: 79.26 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.18 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: NA
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS – deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: NA (US citizens)
adjective: NA
Ethnic groups: Asian 56.3%, Pacific islander 36.3%, Caucasian 1.8%, other 0.8%, mixed 4.8% (2000 census)
Religions: Christian (Roman Catholic majority, although traditional beliefs and taboos may still be found)
Languages: Philippine languages 24.4%, Chinese 23.4%, Chamorro 22.4%, English 10.8%, other Pacific island languages 9.5%, other 9.6% (2000 census)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 97%
male: 97%
female: 96% (1980 est.)

Argentine navy says it’s lost contact with submarine

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Argentine navy says it’s lost contact with submarine

The ARA San Juan submarine, pictured in May 2014, is delivered to the Argentine navy after repairs.

Story highlights

  • ARA San Juan submarine was last spotted Wednesday in the San Jorge Gulf
  • At least 44 crew members were on board, state-run news agency says

(CNN)The Argentine navy is looking for one of its submarines after it lost contact with the vessel off the country’s Atlantic coast, the military service said Friday.

The ARA San Juan submarine was last spotted Wednesday in the San Jorge Gulf roughly 432 kilometers (268 miles) off the east coast, the navy said.
At least 44 crew members were on board, state-run news agency Telam reported Friday.
Crews are searching for the vessel by air and sea near its last known location, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters.
“We have ordered all terrestrial communication stations along the Argentine coast to carry out a preliminary and extended search of communications and to listen in to all the possible frequencies of the submarine,” the navy said in a statement Friday.
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The vessel had been traveling from far southern Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago to its home base in Mar del Plata, a coastal city hundreds of miles to the northeast.
“The submarine knows that if it does not have communication with land for this long, it has to surface,” Balbi said.