Ascension Island Special Issue

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Abundance and diversity

Abundance and Diversity

 

This month the Journal of Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (Volume 97, Issue 4 (Ascension Island) June 2017), has released a special Issue focussing on Ascension Island’s marine biodiversity . Twenty papers reported on the results of 202 sampling events comprising a mixture of quantitative SCUBA surveys involving belt transects for fish and mobile fauna and quadrat photography for sessile fauna. Intertidal surveys and collections and subtidal collections were also carried out. The Issue also reports on the results and findings of the RSS James Clark Ross where the seabed was mapped from 100 – 1000 m revealing a complex, diverse and variable deep-water environment.

Highlights included one new species of alga and 2 new species of Heterobranch sea slugs, many new geographical records for fish and invertebrates therefore providing a much improved baseline knowledge of the coastal marine environment and a better understanding of topical Atlantic biogeography.

A checklist of the marine benthic macroalgal flora of Ascension Island (tropical South Atlantic Ocean), based on both new collections and previous literature was produced. 82 marine macroalgae were identified, including 18 green algae, 15 brown algae and 49 red algae. Species and infraspecific taxa are reported for the first time from Ascension Island, including seven green, three brown and 28 red macroalgae, raising the total number of seaweeds recorded in Ascension so far to 112 taxa in species and infraspecific level.

 

Underwater Work

Underwater Work

 

Age and growth of tropical oysters inhabiting rocky outcrops of the tidal zone revealed that they lived longer (up to 26 years) but had slower growth in Ascension Island comparing to those of the same species that inhabit tropical regions of Southwest Asia. That was probably due to comparatively low productivity observed in the central part of the equatorial tropical Atlantic.

OystersOyster_section

Oysters and Oyster Growth

 

‘This is an incredible achievement and an exciting new step for Science in the South Atlantic, and in particular for scientific knowledge of marine species and habitats around Ascension Island. We are very proud that our collaboration, driven from the Falklands, working with scientists based on all of the South Atlantic Islands, has spear-headed this JMBA special issue. Science and research is about excellence and partnerships and in the South Atlantic I would like to think that we have both. It has been amazing to be able to work with this wonderful consortium of local, regional and international experts on this special issue’ remarked Dr Paul Brickle, SAERI Director.

Dr Paul Brewin, Director of the Shallow Marine Surveys Group based in the Falkland islands added ‘This series of expeditions has fulfilled a long-time ambition of SMSG.  Supported through our local Falkland and overseas volunteer team, we worked along-side our Ascension Island partners for the first time, in helping them address an identified urgent need for baseline, high-quality scientific marine understanding. Through this work we’ve built both strong collaborations and lasting friendships with all the team.’ 

Dr Alexander Arkhipkin of the Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department pointed out that ‘it was an exciting opportunity to participate in joint surveys of tropical shellfish and fish faunas on Ascension Island and be able to apply our experience in marine and fisheries studies in waters much warmer than those around the Falkland Islands’. 

Director of Conservation & Fisheries for Ascension Island Government, Dr Judith Brown commented ‘The research which is detailed in this special issue, carried out with such a knowledgeable and enthusiastic group of collaborators, established marine conservation research on Ascension and has provided much needed baseline data. Marine research on Ascension is going from strength to strength, with the partnerships that were made here and continued through further funding from the UK Government, Blue Marine Foundation, the Darwin Initiative, and EU Best. These projects will provide the information needed to allow the informed designation of a large MPA in 2019 based on the scientific evidence collected.”   

Cleaner shrimp with Apollo damselfish

Cleaner shrimp with Apollo damselfish

 

Notes for editors

Funding for this work came from a grant to the Shallow Marine Surveys Group (SMSG) from the Darwin Initiative (EIDCF012). The two expeditions were organized by SMSG and the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI). We would like to thank the volunteer members of SMSG for excellent work in the field, and the continued support of the Falkland Island Government Fisheries Department. We would also like to thank the Ascension Island Government, the staff at the Conservation Centre particularly Nic and Sam Weber, and the Ascension Island Dive Club for their logistical support, cooperation, accommodation and hospitality. We are very grateful to British Forces South Atlantic Islands for their logistical support. Furthermore, we would like to thank the Blue Marine Foundation in association with a Darwin Initiative Grant (DPLUS021), the National Environment Research Council (NERC), BAS for enabling the very successful deep water survey around Ascension in October 2015.

Finally we are extremely grateful for the following people who participated in the coastal fieldwork for the Darwin Challenge Award: Sam Weber (Ascension Island Government), Nicola Weber (Ascension Island Government), Martin Collins (SMSG), Stephen Cartwright (SMSG), Wetjens Dimmlich (SMSG), Steve Brown (SMSG), Dion Poncet (SMSG), Juliet Hennequin (SMSG), Vladimir Laptikhovsky (SMSG), Lt Col. Simon Browning (British Forces South Atlantic Islands/SMSG), Sarah Browning (SMSG), Jerry Pierce (SMSG), Simon Morley (British Antarctic Survey), Alexander Arkhikpin (Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department), Zhanna Shcherbich (Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department), Peter Wirtz (Universidade do Algarve), Konstantinos Tsiamis (Hellenic Centre for Marine Research), Pieter van West (University of Aberdeen), Caz Young (Ascension Island Dive Club), and Jimmy Young (George Town, Ascension Island).

New Deputy Director appointed for SAERI

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The Peterborough based Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), based in the Falkland Islands, have agreed to the appointment of Tara Pelembe into the new role of SAERI Deputy Director. Tara Pelembe is currently employed by JNCC and is to be seconded into the SAERI role for a period of up to two years. The secondment will build on existing working links established between the two organisations, and will allow close collaboration in the study of the natural environment of the UK’s South Atlantic Territories, the sharing of technical expertise and the promotion of effective nature conservation in the region.

Marcus Yeo, JNCC Chief Executive,  comments ‘ This secondment represents a first class example of collaboration between JNCC and a key partner to pursue joint research objectives, and is particularly important at a time when we all need to ensure the effective and cost efficient use of our resources to support, in this case, the UK’s Overseas Territories.’

Paul Brickle, SAERI Director said ‘I am absolutely delighted with this appointment  - it will enable SAERI and the JNCC to fulfil shared missions in the UK OTs and indeed help build capacity for Environmental Science’.

Member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly, Michael Poole,  commented ‘The agreement of an MoU between SAERI and the JNCC is a very positive step and will see them develop an even closer working relationship. This will only be reinforced by the secondment of Mrs Pelembe to the Islands as Deputy Director of SAERI. Building such partnerships and drawing in such expertise was a role envisaged for the Institute and this is another step along that road.’

The SAERI is an academic organisation conducting research in the South Atlantic from the tropics down to the ice in Antarctica. SAERI's remit includes the natural and physical sciences. It aims to conduct world class research, teach students, and build capacity within and between the South Atlantic Overseas Territories (http://south-atlantic-research.org/).

JNCC is the public body that advises the UK Government and devolved administrations on UK-wide and international nature conservation. Originally established under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, JNCC was reconstituted by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 (http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/).

New study shows discarded plastic carrier bags can smother benthic marine life

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Dr David Blockley of SAERI has been collaborating with scientists in Ireland and the UK on new research that shows that plastic litter can smother marine life, dramatically reducing the numbers of organisms – and compromising the ecosystem services they provide – in coastal marshes.

That is the key message to emerge from this collaborative study led by Dr Dannielle Green, a Research Fellow in the Biogeochemistry Research Group at Trinity College Dublin. Dr Green is the lead author on a paper just published in Environmental Science and Technology, which describes the worrying ecological effects of discarded plastic carrier bags.

The experiment showed that in just nine weeks plastic bags smothered the surface of coastal sediment, preventing oxygen and nutrient flow, and blocking light, This caused a substantial reduction in the amount of ‘microalgae’ beneath the bags. These tiny algae form the base of the food webs in these habitats, which means their proliferation is important for animals higher up the food chain, including worms and bivalves, which, in turn, are food for commercially important fish which feed within the marsh when the tide is in.

Because some of the animals affected during this study are known to be hardy and resilient to other types of pollution, other, more sensitive groups of animals like those living in coral reefs could be more strongly affected from smothering by plastic waste.

Dr Green said: “The same effects were there regardless of whether the plastic in question was biodegradable or not. While biodegradable plastics are produced because they are thought to be better for the environment because their persistence is shorter, our study suggests that the rate at which they break down may not be fast enough to have any meaningful advantage over conventional bags in marine habitats.”

Professor Richard Thompson, Plymouth University, is co-author on the paper and has been working on the effects of marine litter for over 20 years. He said: “It is widely recognised that plastic litter can be harmful to individual organisms; but a key new finding of our current paper is that even within a matter of weeks this litter can affect communities of organisms and the services and food they provide to others.”

He added: “Plastics bring many societal benefits, but it is also clear that accumulation of end-of-life plastics represents a waste management problem. Experimental evidence on the effects of plastic debris – in this case single-use plastic bags – in the natural environment is very important to help inform appropriate legislation.”

Globally the production of plastic has increased from 1.5 million tonnes in the 1950s to around 300 million tonnes in 2013. Of this, single-use packaging items account for almost 40% and a not-insignificant portion could end up in the marine environment as litter, transported via wastewater flows, inland waterways, wind or tides. Worryingly, plastic litter currently accounts for up to 80% of all litter found in marine habitats.

Dr Green added: “Even if plastics degrade and seem to ‘disappear’, they persist as micro-plastics and could cause harm to marine organisms that ingest them.”

“The potential for rapid effects coupled with the persistence of plastic debris, including plastics described as 'biodegradable', emphasises the need to focus on reducing and re-using plastic and subsequently recycling, rather than designing materials with enhanced degradation. These could lead to inappropriate disposal and further accumulation in marine environments as well as compromising recycling streams.”

According to Dr David Blockley “Even though this research was carried out in the Northern Hemisphere, far from the South Atlantic Territories, it does have implications for us. Single use plastic packaging is a fact of life for the territories where so much is shipped in and contained in plastic and where we do not have the facilities to recycle it. More worrying is the potential for long range transport of plastic across the oceans to our shores, something we have no control of.”

This research has directly led to a new proposed research programme involving collaboration between SAERI and Trinity College Dublin. Dr Green is planning to visit Ascension Island and the Falkland Islands later this year to work with Dr Blockley looking at macro- and microplastics distribution in the waters around the islands. This research will not only give valuable information on potential ecological risks to these sensitive marine habitats, but will also provide an insight to potential long range transport of discarded plastic to remote island habitats.

For more information

http://cen.acs.org/articles/93/web/2015/04/Plastic-Bags-Cut-Wildlife-Populations.html

http://www.thejournal.ie/plastic-bag-marine-life-2060845-Apr2015/

The Falkland Islands Science Symposium

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During January this year, the SAERI hosted a group of Pan-American scientists for the first Falkland Islands Science Symposium. Delegates came from Universities throughout the Americas, including from the US, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. During a week of workshops and field trips, we showcased the fantastic opportunities for environmental research not only within the Falkland Islands, but the wider region encompassing the South Atlantic Overseas Territories. Presentations from local scientists provided a great background to the scientific work being conducted in the region and reciprocal presentations from our visiting international scientists provided us with an insight of what could be done given further facilities, resources and collaboration. One of the greatest achievements was that all of the delegates, local and overseas, made strong connections, friendships and potential research partners.

The proceedings of the Symposium, detailing the work that was presented, the discussions had and some of the exciting opportunities have now been completed and are available for download here.