New sea sponge species discovery off Canada

Desmacella hyaline. Image credit: Sally Leys

From the University of Alberta in Canada:

Scientists identify new species of sea sponge off the coast of British Columbia, Canada

Newly discovered sea sponge wields influence over reef function and ecosystem health

July 16, 2020

Summary: A research team has published a study on the discovery of a new sponge that is abundant in the region, making up nearly 20 per cent of the live sponges in the reefs off the coast of British Columbia. The new species — called Desmacella hyalina — was discovered using an underwater robot that traveled along the ocean floor, surveying reefs and collecting samples.

Deep in the inky ocean abyss off the coast of British Columbia, reefs made of glass sea sponges cover hundreds of kilometres of the ocean floor. The sponges form multi-storied habitats, their glass skeletons stacked on top of one another to create intricate reefs. And while their description may sound otherworldly, these reefs are home to creatures with whom we are very familiar, including halibut, rockfish, and shrimp.

In February 2017, Fisheries and Oceans Canada designated this region — including Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound — a marine protected area in order to preserve the delicate, glass reefs. But to effectively manage conservation efforts, scientists must develop a better understanding of the lifeforms that are already there.

“One of the most important reasons for studying the diversity of sea sponges in our oceans is for conservation management,” explained Lauren Law, who conducted this research as part of her graduate studies with Sally Leys, professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Biological Sciences. “Many studies in the protected area have focused on describing the crustaceans and fish living in the reefs, but non-reef forming sponges remain overlooked.”

Now, the UAlberta research team has published a study on the discovery of a new sponge that is abundant in the region, making up nearly 20 per cent of the live sponges in the reefs off the coast of British Columbia. The new species — called Desmacella hyalina — was discovered using an underwater robot that travelled along the ocean floor, surveying reefs and collecting samples.

“Our findings show Desmacella comprise a surprisingly large amount of live sponge cover in the reefs and can have potential major influence on reef function, recruitment, and overall ecosystem health,” said Law, who is now a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada Pacific Region. “While we have discovered a new species, we have yet to determine its relationship with glass sponges in the area.”

The researchers recommend further investigation to better understand the role of Desmacella in the ecosystem, as well as more ecological assessment of glass sponge habitat focused on surveying non-reef forming sponges.

“Properly knowing the components of an environment and the linkages between them — here this new species Desmacella hyalina and the reef sponges it lives on — is a major step forward in understanding the ecosystem services and function of the sponge reefs,” added Leys. “This is the information we need for concrete management strategies.”

Sponges are filter feeders that live on particulate matter — but they can also ingest microscopic fragments of plastics and other pollutants of anthropogenic origin. They can therefore serve as useful bioindicators of the health of marine ecosystems: here.

How salmon find the way back home

This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Chinook Salmon Spawning April 2019

This series of videos captures a pair of sea run chinook salmon spawning twice in the same Redd in a Canterbury stream bed. The spawning acts in the video are at 5:15 and 13:45.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Magnetic pulses alter salmon’s orientation, suggesting navigation via magnetite in tissue

May 4, 2020

Researchers in Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences have taken a step closer to solving one of nature’s most remarkable mysteries: How do salmon, when it’s time to spawn, find their way back from distant ocean locations to the stream where they hatched?

A new study into the life cycle of salmon, involving magnetic pulses, reinforces one hypothesis: The fish use microscopic crystals of magnetite in their tissue as both a map and compass and navigate via the Earth’s magnetic field.

Findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Researchers including David Noakes, professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU and the director of the Oregon Hatchery Research Center, subjected juvenile chinook salmon to a type of brief but strong magnetic pulse known to reverse the polarity of magnetic particles and affect magnetic orientation behavior in other animals.

Orientation behavior of pulsed salmon and un-pulsed control fish were compared in a magnetic coil system under a pair of conditions: the local magnetic field, and one in which “map-like” information from the magnetic field had been shifted.

In the local field, pulsed and un-pulsed fish oriented almost identically. But after the magnetic map was shifted, the test and control salmon behaved much differently from each other — the control fish were randomly oriented and the pulsed fish displayed a preferred heading.

The difference in behavior suggests that chains of magnetite, which would have been altered by the pulse, may play a role in the navigation system of salmon.

Magnetic pulses are known to alter magnetic orientation behavior in a range of terrestrial and aquatic animals, among them mole rats, bats, birds, sea turtles and lobsters. The study by Noakes and colleagues at Oregon State, the University of North Carolina and LGL Ecological Research Associates, Inc. is the first evidence linking a magnetic pulse to behavioral changes in fish.

Magnetite, an oxide of iron and one of the primary iron ores, is expressed chemically as Fe3O4 and is the most magnetic of the Earth’s naturally occurring minerals. Naturally magnetized magnetite is known as lodestone and was ancient people’s introduction to the concept of magnetism.

Magnetite is the basis for one of two ways salmon are thought to find their way around; the other is the theory of chemical magnetoreception, which suggests biochemical reactions influenced by the ambient magnetic field are a navigational tool.

“In the big picture, these salmon know where they are, where they’re supposed to be, how to get there and how to make corrections if needed,” said Noakes, the study’s corresponding author. “While they’re in freshwater, they’re imprinting upon the chemical nature of the water. When they hit saltwater, they switch over to geomagnetic cues and lock in that latitude and longitude, knowing they need to come back to those coordinates. And when they decide to come back, it’s months in advance because they’re halfway to Japan.”

After reaching the mouth of the river that took them to the ocean, the salmon swim upstream to spawn at the exact location where they hatched.

“In the river they seem to rely upon chemical signals,” Noakes said. “There’s ongoing research looking into that.”

The magnetic pulse could have affected the salmon’s map, compass or both, Noakes said.

“Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that magnetoreceptors are based on magnetite crystals,” he said. “But we’ll need more research to confirm or refute this hypothesis and to definitively characterize the mechanisms that underlie magnetoreception in fish. We’re trying to figure out the life cycle of the salmon from the points of highest information — when they go from freshwater to saltwater and when they turn around and come back.”

Pacific robins, four, not one species

This 2012 video from Australia says about itself:

Scarlet Robin

Found in Eastern NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Southern coastal areas of Western Australia.

From the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the USA:

One species to four: New analysis documents new bird diversity in the Pacific

March 6, 2020

Summary: New findings suggest several island bird populations in the Pacific that were previously designated as a single species actually comprise up to four distinct species. The results upend understanding of the islands’ robin populations, which have been used as a textbook example of evolution since the 1940s. The new findings have important implications for conservation, as some of the newly-designated species live only on a few isolated islands.

In the 1930s, famed biologist Ernst Mayr became the first to study Pacific Robins. Based on his observations of the robins and other birds on Australia and its outlying islands, he developed foundational concepts that continue to inform the study of evolution. He took copious notes on the birds’ physical characteristics, behaviors, and habitats. Always, he described the robin populations as a single species, albeit with significant variation from island to island.

Ernst Mayr made lasting contributions to evolutionary biology — but like most scientists, he wasn’t right about everything.

Bold new claims

Anna Kearns is a former UMBC postdoctoral fellow now at the Smithsonian Institution’s Conservation Biology Institute. With her UMBC postdoc advisor Kevin Omland and other colleagues, she has conducted new investigations into the relationships among Pacific Robins on various islands using many of the same bird specimens Mayr himself used. The difference is, “He would have mainly been just using his eyes” to compare specimens, Kearns says. She and her colleagues have had the advantage of major advances in technology since Mayr’s time.

Kearns has built on Mayr’s work by using techniques like DNA sequencing and spectrophotometry, which quantitatively compares the hue, brightness, and saturation of feathers. She has come to a more nuanced understanding of the relationships between, say, a robin on Fiji and one on the Solomon Islands.

As a result of this research, Kearns and colleagues from UMBC, the Australian National Wildlife Collection, Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History are making bold new claims about the relationships between these birds. In a 2015 paper in Conservation Genetics, Kearns demonstrated that robins living on Norfolk Island, directly east of mainland Australia, are a distinct species from the rest. A new paper in the Journal of Avian Biology published this month indicates two more unique species — one that inhabits the Solomon and Bougainville Islands, and another that lives on Fiji, Vanuatu, and Samoa.

Preserving biodiversity

The new work demonstrates just how much is still unknown about avian biodiversity. “Even in this well-studied group of birds, that’s been a textbook example since 1942, we did not really know what the units of biodiversity were,” says Omland, professor of biological sciences at UMBC, and senior author on the new paper.

Understanding those “units of biodiversity” is critical for conservation. When all the Pacific Robins and mainland Australia’s Scarlet Robin were considered a single species (a single unit of biodiversity), the loss of the birds on one or two islands would be unfortunate, but not necessarily very impactful. If those birds were actually the only remaining members of a unique species, however, the same loss becomes catastrophic.

“What Anna’s work is showing is that the bird populations on these islands have very distinctive traits,” Omland adds, “so just knowing what the biodiversity is that we want to conserve is super important.”

Unpredictable patterns

The team’s work indicates that all the Pacific Robins are descended from an ancestral Australian population where males were brightly-colored and females were dull-colored. But as small groups of robins colonized the outlying islands, the population on each island took its own evolutionary path. Today, some island groups still maintain the bright male and dull female pattern, but on other islands both sexes have evolved bright coloration. On other islands, both sexes have evolved dull coloration.

“When you look at the genetics, you find two distinct lineages” leading from the common ancestor to all the island populations that exist today, Kearns says. “So that means these patterns have evolved independently multiple times.”

Kearns and Omland think the changes have more to do with random forces than evolutionary adaptation. “If we flipped two coins, this is about what we’d expect,” Omland says.

For example, the pattern an island’s population ended up with could depend on the color of the individuals that happened to get blown onto that island initially. Also, in a very small population, the random way genes are redistributed from generation to generation can have a significant impact — as much of an effect or more than natural selection.

Detective work

Kearns and Omland are both excited to have the opportunity to suggest names for the new species they’ve identified. Kearns suggests “Mayr’s Robin” for the Fiji/Vanuatu/Samoa population, in honor of Ernst Mayr’s pioneering study of these birds.

But their contribution to ornithology is more than a name. “Because these birds are all on very small isolated islands, and Pacific birds are often on many, many, many isolated islands, collecting is very difficult. So there haven’t actually been that many comprehensive studies,” Kearns says. Revealing the complexity of the relationships among these robins adds much-needed information to the field. It also raises the prospect that other birds — especially those on islands — might have undergone similar, as-yet-unstudied, evolutionary processes.

The work is a unique blend of past and present. “You really wouldn’t be able to do this study without using these old collections,” Kearns says. At the same time, discovering the new species also wouldn’t have been possible without modern techniques.

“It’s kind of like detective work in a way,” Kearns says. “I feel like there’s just so much more we need to know about it. But we feel like we have made a big step forward.”

Mariana Trench deep sea animals, video

This 18 February 2020 video says about itself:

The Mariana Trench is the deepest point on Earth, void of light with the pressure of 48 jumbo jets. Yet life finds a way to survive. Very weird life. Like crustaceans with aluminium shields or the blind, translucent snailfish, the deadliest predator in the trench and of course the sea pig, a type of sea cucumber that crawls with its tentacles. But the most surprising thing in the deep ocean is plastic… that’s right even the deepest part of the ocean can’t escape human pollution.

2019 new Pacific ocean deep sea discoveries

This 27 December 2019 video from California in the USA says about itself:

MBARI [Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute] Top 10: A treasure trove of bizarre, interesting, and wondrous encounters in 2019

From an exceedingly rare deep-sea whalefish to an adorable panda bear sea butterfly to a sunken fishing boat, MBARI’s remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) have encountered a treasure trove of bizarre, interesting, and wondrous sights in 2019! As we continue to explore the largest and least known habitat on Earth, we promise to share our discoveries with you.

Featured in this video in order of appearance:

• Flabby whalefish (Family Cetomimidae) at 1,665 meters in Monterey Bay.
• Hydroid coiling (Family Candelabridae) at 3,976 meters offshore Big Sur.
• Redhead larvacean (Mesochordaeus erythrocephalus) at 2,965 meters in Monterey Bay.
• Octopus Garden (Muusoctopus sp.) at 3,191 meters near Davidson Seamount.
• Panda bear pteropod (Notobranchaea macdonaldi) at 1,195 meters in Monterey Bay.
Sponge garden (Heterochone calyx & Staurocalyptus sp.) at 837 meters at Sur Ridge.
• Anchovies schooling (Engraulis mordax) at 334 meters offshore Morro Bay.
• Deep-sea hydroid (Branchiocerianthus imperator) with nudibranchs at 3978 meters offshore Big Sur.
• Midwater jelly (Euphysora gigantea) at 430 meters in Monterey Bay.
• Shipwreck (F/V Linda Rose) at 418 meters offshore Morro Bay

Video editor: Kyra Schlining
Music: Drown in Me (YouTube Audio Library)
Production team: Kyra Schlining, Susan von Thun, Nancy Jacobsen Stout

Learn more about MBARI’s news-worthy discoveries here.

New fin whale subspecies discovery

This 29 January 2012 video from the USA says about itself:

Fin Whale Watching with the Aquarium of the Pacific off Long Beach, California

The Aquarium of the Pacific has seen a record number of Gray whales, endangered Fin whales, Orcas and Dolphins off the coast of Long Beach on their whale watching excursions this Winter (January 2012). The Aquarium invited MomsLA out for a chance to see what we could see and it was amazing: we saw two giant pods of Dolphins and a pod of endangered Fin Whales. Later that day the Aquarium saw a pod of Orcas and a pod of Gray whales as well.

From NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region in the USA:

Genetics reveal Pacific subspecies of fin whale

New findings highlight diversity of marine mammals

October 28, 2019

e northern Pacific Ocean as a separate subspecies, reflecting a revolution in marine mammal taxonomy as scientists unravel the genetics of enormous animals otherwise too large to fit into laboratories.

“The increasing study of cetacean genetics is revealing new diversity among the world’s whales and dolphins that has not been previously recognized,” said Eric Archer, a geneticist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) in La Jolla, California. Archer is the lead author of the identification of the new subspecies of fin whale.

“There’s definitely more diversity out there than has been on the books,” he said. “There has been a wave of progress in cetacean taxonomy.”

Fin whales are the second-largest whale on earth and the fastest whales in the ocean, which made them one of the last whale species hunted to the edge of extinction. Whalers killed about 46,000 fin whales in the North Pacific Ocean from 1947 to 1987. They are also one of the least known large whale species. They mainly roam the open ocean, farther from coastlines where they might be seen and studied more easily.

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries, Ocean Associates Inc., Cascadia Research Collective, Tethys Research Institute, and Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, identified the new subspecies. Their findings were published in an article in the Journal of Mammalogy, naming it Balaenoptera physalus velifera, which means “carrying a sail” in Latin.

“We don’t get a lot of (genetic) material from them,” Archer said. However, advancing technologies allowed Archer and his colleagues to extract the detail they needed from samples at the SWFSC. The center’s Marine Mammal and Turtle Molecular Research Sample Collection is one of the largest collections of marine mammal genetic material in the world. They obtained additional samples from museums and other collections.

Bypassing the Skulls

Traditional taxonomy — the division of biological variation into recognized species and subspecies — involves comparing telltale parts of the skeleton such as the skull. For whales, this may weigh hundreds of pounds. Few institutions can amass a large enough collection to compare different individuals from around the world.

“Fin whales measure 60 to 70 feet long and their skulls are around 15 feet long,” Archer said. “Just housing a couple takes a lot of room.”

Increasingly powerful genetic technologies now allow scientists to compare genes instead of skeletons. They extract DNA from tissue samples the size of a pencil eraser obtained from whales in the field.

“It’s the only realistic way to do this, because you cannot get enough examples to determine the difference through morphology alone,” Archer said. As they have looked more closely at the genetic patterns of whales around the world, scientists have discovered much more complex differences between them.

“Instead of digging through museum storage facilities for skulls to describe species or subspecies, genetic data unlock our ability to describe unique populations of whales across the globe,” said research biologist Barbara Taylor, leader of the SWFSC’s Marine Mammal Genetics Program. “It is a new way of looking at these animals.”

Telltale Differences in the DNA

Comparing the DNA from fin whales in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans showed the scientists that they have been separated for hundreds of thousands of years. They also could assign individual fin whale samples to their ocean of origin using the genetic data. This is further evidence that they are separate and distinct subspecies.

Genetic research by NOAA Fisheries scientists has also revealed new details of other whales, including a new species of Baird’s beaked whale. It may also help determine whether a recently documented type of killer whale off South America represents a new species.

Similar genetic details can also help tailor protections for threatened or endangered whales, because the Endangered Species Act recognizes separate subspecies. That means that managers can target ESA safeguards for those subspecies that need it even when others may have recovered. This could make conservation efforts more efficient and effective.

About 14,000 to 18,000 fin whales in the northern Pacific Ocean will be affected by the new subspecies designation. NOAA Fisheries has documented that their numbers are increasing.

“There are other new species and subspecies that we are learning about thanks to the technology that has made this possible,” Archer said. “It is changing the field.”

Dead whale feeds deep-sea animals, videos

This 16 October 2019 video says about itself:

Whale Fall Actively Devoured by Scavengers at Davidson Seamount| Nautilus Live

During the final dive of this year’s Nautilus expedition season, our team discovered a whale fall while exploring Davidson Seamount off central California’s coast with researchers from Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The skeletal remains of the whale lying on its back are estimated to be 4-5 meters long. The team is working to identify the species, but it is confirmed to be a baleen whale as indicated by baleen remaining along the whale’s jawbones.

While evidence of whale falls have been observed to remain on the seafloor for several years, this appears to be a relatively recent fall with baleen, blubber, and some internal organs remaining. The site also exhibits an interesting mid-stage of ecological succession, as both large scavengers like eelpouts are still stripping the skeleton of blubber, and bone-eating Osedax worms are starting to consume lipids (fats) from the bones. Other organisms seen onsite include crabs, grenadier, polychaetes, and deep-sea octopus.

This 17 October 2019 video is the sequel. It says about itself:

The banquet continues! Yesterday we made a surprise baleen whale fall discovery that viewers around the globe watched alongside the Nautilus team in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Get a close up look at some of the scavenging diners including eelpouts, octopus, and polychaete worms–like the bone-eating Osedax worms that carpet the whale’s bones in a red fringe.

Australian climate denialists condemn Pacific to drowning

This 8 November 2017 video says about itself:

Kiribati: a drowning paradise in the South Pacific | DW Documentary

Climate change and rising sea levels mean the island nation of Kiribati in the South Pacific is at risk of disappearing into the sea.

But the island’s inhabitants aren’t giving up. They are doing what they can to save their island from inundation. Can COP23 help make a difference?

UN estimates indicate that Kiribati could disappear in just 30 or 40 years. That’s because the average elevation is less than two meters above sea level. And some of the knock-on effects of climate change have made the situation more difficult. Kiribati can hardly be surpassed in terms of charm and natural beauty. There are 33 atolls and one reef island – spread out over an area of 3.5 million square kilometers. All have white, sandy beaches and blue lagoons. Kiribati is the world’s largest state that consists exclusively of atolls. A local resident named Kaboua points to the empty, barren land around him and says, “There used to be a large village here with 70 families.” But these days, this land is only accessible at low tide. At high tide, it’s all under water. Kaboua says that sea levels are rising all the time, and swallowing up the land. That’s why many people here build walls made of stone and driftwood, or sand or rubbish. But these barriers won’t stand up to the increasing number of storm surges. Others are trying to protect against coastal erosion by planting mangrove shrubs or small trees. But another local resident, Vasiti Tebamare, remains optimistic. She works for KiriCAN, an environmental organization.

Vasiti says: “The industrialized countries — the United States, China, and Europe — use fossil fuels for their own ends. But what about us?” Kiribati’s government has even bought land on an island in Fiji, so it can evacuate its people in an emergency. But Vasiti and most of the other residents don’t want to leave.

This 17 August 2019 video from Australia says about itself:

Labor senator Penny Wong has criticised the Government’s performance at the Pacific Islands Forum, saying it showed “no credibility” on climate.

Regional leaders, including Australia and New Zealand, last week held lengthy talks in the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu for this year’s Pacific Islands Forum, eventually reaching an agreement on a statement on climate change and a communique early this morning.

They could not reach agreement on the Tuvalu Declaration made by smaller Pacific countries, instead drafting a separate Kainaki II Declaration, with different terms on coal use and emissions reduction.

The finished communique comes with a qualification that means the leaders do not support all of the declaration from the smaller nations.

Speaking on Insiders, Ms Wong said the Prime Minister’s behaviour at the summit also hurt Australia’s relationship with Pacific nations, especially in light of disparaging comments made by Michael McCormack.

By John Braddock in New Zealand:

Tensions over climate change dominate Pacific Islands summit

20 August 2019

At a three-day summit of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) last week, small Pacific nations confronted regional imperialist powers Australia and New Zealand over their inaction on the urgent issues of climate change. The 50th annual meeting of the PIF, which brings together leaders from 18 Pacific countries, took place in Tuvalu.

The summit’s communiqué passed with a qualification that not all countries supported a call by all member states for an immediate global ban on new coal-fired power plants and coalmines, and for all countries to rapidly phase out the use of coal in the power sector.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison succeeded in expunging any specific commitments to limit temperature rises to no more than 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. References to coal were removed from the communiqué, although in a separate statement, the phrase “climate change crisis” remained.

Expressing disappointment with the outcome, forum chair Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga described the 12-hour leaders’ meeting as “a very, very tough, difficult struggle.” The talks reportedly almost collapsed twice amid “fierce” clashes over Australia’s “red lines” on climate change. Australia is the region’s largest carbon emitter and one of the world’s largest coal exporters.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not criticise the Australian government’s position. She falsely presented the final communiqué as a “compromise” between “some who wish to go further and some who would’ve wished it to have been pushed back further in the other direction.”

In fact, the dominant position of Australia and New Zealand prevailed. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama told the Guardian that Morrison had only attended “to make sure that the Australian policies were upheld by the Pacific island nations.” He slammed Morrison for “alienating” Pacific leaders and warned that this would push them closer to China, adding “the Chinese don’t insult us.”

The presence of observer delegations from China and the US underscored the intensifying geo-strategic tensions enveloping the Pacific as Washington ramps up its diplomatic, trade and strategic confrontation with Beijing. Australia and New Zealand have strengthened their alliance with the Trump administration while seeking to reassert their own regional dominance and push back against China’s presence.

This was not the first time Canberra has quashed efforts to address climate change. At the 2015 UN Paris summit, Pacific leaders failed to persuade Canberra and Wellington to support measures to keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees centigrade, instead of the current goal of 2 degrees. Pacific nations also demanded compensation for loss and damage, and recognition for climate change refugees.

At last year’s forum in Nauru, the Boe Declaration, which formally highlighted climate change as “the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific,” was watered down at Australia’s insistence.

Tuvalu exemplifies the crisis facing the Pacific states. Made up of nine atolls and with a population of just 11,000, it is one of the world’s smallest and most vulnerable countries. Its highest point is little more than four metres above sea level and the main island in places is barely 20 metres wide. Rising seas pose an existential threat. When Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu in 2015, storm surges inundated about 40 percent of Tuvalu.

A 2018 World Bank report predicted that 180,000 people in Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, Tokelau and atolls in some larger nations will be significantly affected by climate change. Low-lying coastal communities are especially exposed to sea-level rise, tidal flooding, increasingly intense storm surges and erosion. In Fiji, four coastal villages have already been forced to relocate, with another 80 identified for potential future relocation.

In the lead-up to the PIF summit, Australia and New Zealand came under fire for their climate stance. In July, Pacific leaders meeting in Fiji, with Australia and NZ absent, declared a climate crisis and demanded an end to coal mining and an enforced reduction of carbon emissions.

Sopoaga made clear that financial aid packages alone were insufficient. He criticised Australia’s use of carryover credits as a means of reducing emissions. He said: “We cannot go on talking about partnerships… while you keep pouring your coal emissions into the atmosphere that is killing my people and drowning my people into the water.”

Bainimarama said Pacific leaders should accept nothing less than concrete commitments to cut emissions. “We cannot allow climate commitments to be watered down at a meeting hosted in a nation whose very existence is threatened by the rising waters lapping at its shores,” he declared.

The Fijian leader was attending his first PIF since 2008. Australia and New Zealand have sought to strengthen relations with Bainimarama, a military strongman who led a coup in 2006, in order to prevent Fiji from moving closer to China. He has previously denounced the PIF as being dominated by the two powers, and encouraged other Pacific states to strike a more “independent” stance.

The day before his arrival in Tuvalu, Morrison touted Canberra’s supposed “family” relationship with the Pacific. He announced a $US3.4 million package—funded from existing aid programs—over five years on renewable energy, infrastructure development and health services. Morrison hypocritically said Australia recognised the climate challenges the region faces and is “doing its bit to help.”

Ardern initially distanced herself from Morrison, stating that Australia “has to answer to the Pacific [and] that’s a matter for them” which prompted indignant responses in the Australian media. This empty show of concern is aimed at promoting New Zealand’s interests among PIF members without alienating Canberra.

Ardern announced a $150 million package to support climate change “resilience” in the Pacific. However, her Labour-NZ First-Greens coalition government’s Zero Carbon Bill, which promises carbon neutrality by 2050, falls short of the immediate action necessary to limit global warming. Agriculture, the country’s biggest source of greenhouse emissions, has a 95 percent exemption under the current Emissions Trading Scheme.

NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters, however, who leads the right-wing NZ First Party and is notorious for his anti-China chauvinism, openly supported Canberra. Pacific nations seeking Chinese investment should remember it comes on the back of “coal-fired everything”, he said, adding that criticisms of Australia were a “bit of a paradox” because Pacific leaders were not openly challenging China’s emission levels.

Peters further declared that Australia was a “great neighbour” and Pacific countries “should remember who has been their long-term and short-term friends.” The shot, aimed against Beijing, was in line with his promotion of New Zealand’s “Pacific Reset” policy designed to strengthen Wellington’s neo-colonial position among Pacific Island states, as part of broader US efforts to undermine China throughout the region.

The author also recommends:

US defence secretary, NATO chief visit New Zealand to strengthen military ties
[10 August 2019]

Detrimental economic effects of global warming are likely to go beyond those being discussed in policy circles — particularly for wealthier nations, say researchers. Study suggests that 7% of global GDP will disappear by 2100 as a result of business-as-usual carbon emissions — including over 10% of incomes in both Canada and the United States: here.

High-level recriminations are continuing in the wake of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) which was riven by a bitter dispute over the Australian government’s refusal to agree to limit coal production in order to address climate change: here.

Deep-sea dragonfish video

This 10 August 2019 video says about itself:

The deep-sea dragonfish is a predator that lives deep in the Pacific Ocean. Like many other deep sea predators, it’s got an oversized jaw and a bioluminescent appendage to attract prey, but it does have one weird (and strangely useful) difference: its teeth are transparent!