#NOAAFisheries; #Oceanography; #LeibnizInstituteofFreshwaterEcology; #InlandFisheries
New York/Canadian-Media: Management of many of the largest fisheries in the world assumes incorrectly that many small fish reproduce as well as fewer large ones with similar total masses, a new analysis has found, NOAA Fisheries news reports said.
Blackspotted rockfish off the West Coast. The greater reproductive capacity of older, larger females among West Coast rockfishes has been well documented, relative to smaller fish of the same weight. Photo credit: Southwest Fisheries Science Center.
That can lead to overharvesting the largest, most prolific fish that can contribute the most to the population.
Better protection of larger, mature females could improve the productivity of major fisheries. This is crucial at a time when fisheries are increasingly important in providing food resources around the world. The results were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.
“It is a fundamental question in fisheries management—how much reproduction can you count on?” said Dustin Marshall of Monash University in Australia, lead author of the research. “When you are expecting smaller females to produce the same number of eggs per body mass as larger, older females, you’re not going to have an accurate picture.”
Building on Earlier Research
The new research applies previous findings that questioned longtime assumptions of fisheries management. Traditional thinking held that reproduction is a function of biomass. That means that fish representing a certain mass would produce similar numbers of offspring regardless of their age or maturity. However, syntheses of previous research by some of the same authors demonstrated that larger, older, and more mature fish produce more offspring. Also, previous work suggests that offspring of these older, larger mothers may survive at higher rates.
Management measures, such as establishing Marine Protected Areas that provide refuge for fish to grow larger, can help boost the yields of fisheries and replenish depressed species. They can in effect provide a reservoir of more mature fish with greater reproductive capacity.
“We need to ask, ‘How can we make the most of these fish that reproduce more efficiently—both to sustain the species and to support sustainable fisheries?" said E.J. Dick, a fisheries research biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center and senior author of the paper.
By contrast, when fishing removes the more prolific larger fish, the traditional assumptions tend to overestimate the production of eggs and the population’s capacity to replenish itself. That can lead to overharvesting which for many of the largest fisheries could remove around twice as many fish as intended, the scientists found.
"In this paper, we connect the dots between early findings that large, old Pacific rockfish produced more eggs per body mass than smaller ones did, and Professor Marshall's more recent work showing that many other species do, too," said Marc Mangel, professor emeritus of mathematical biology at UC Santa Cruz and a coauthor. "Without recognizing this, fisheries scientists and managers may overestimate the number of spawning fish needed to produce a certain level of recruitment, and set mortality levels from fishing too high."
Recognizing Greater Capacity
In their new analysis, the scientists examined whether the largest fisheries in the world take the findings into account. In many cases, they found, fisheries do not.
“This systematic error could help to explain why some stocks have collapsed despite active management,” the scientists wrote. They recommended that managers recalibrate future species stock assessments to recognize the greater reproductive capacity of larger fish. This could reduce overharvesting and may even boost the yields of fisheries.
“Such reductions could have negative repercussions in the short-term, for both food security and the economy, but will yield positive benefits in the long-term,” the scientists wrote. They said that better recognizing the capacity of larger fish could help boost the catches of Atlantic cod fisheries in the longer term, for example.
“Our work suggests that modern management could respond to this challenge by better leveraging the reproductive potential of larger, older fish in exploited stocks more so than is presently the case, using relatively simple policy innovations,” they said.
The research was conducted by scientists from:
#NOAAFisheries; #HabitatMonth; #ClimateChange; #CoastalResilience
New York/Canadian-Media: July has been declared as the Habitat Month at NOAA Fisheries celebrates the importance of healthy habitat with this year's focus on Connecting Habitat, Climate, and Communities.
NOAA Fisheries. Image credit: www.fisheries.noaa.gov
With a long-standing history of conserving habitat to support healthy fish populations, NOAA Fisheries works to restore habitat to help recover endangered species, and supporting resilient coastal ecosystems, protecting and restoring coastal wetlands, mangroves, coral and oyster reefs, and river habitats are beneficial to fisheries as well as to strengthen coastal resilience to climate change.
$8.3 million in funding for 23 ongoing habitat restoration projects has been recommended for Coastal and Marine Habitat Restoration Projects to support productive and sustainable fisheries, healthy ecosystems to bolster environmental education projects.
With a primary role in recovering endangered and threatened species, NOAA Fisheries aims to set goals for each species’ recovery comeback through the development of recovery plan by working with other federal agencies, states, tribes, and other stakeholders to recover listed species.
#FisheriesAndOceans; #DeadWhales; #BangladeshCoastline; #PlasticPollution
Toronto/Canadian-Media: Two dead whales have washed up on the same stretch of Bangladesh coastline in two days, officials said Saturday, raising suggestions that they were killed by sea pollution.
Officials said the whales could have died after consuming sea pollutants.
Image credit: https://phys.org/news
Two dead whales have washed up on the same stretch of Bangladesh coastline in two days, officials said Saturday, raising suggestions that they were killed by sea pollution.
Officials said the second, much longer whale washed up on Himchhari Beach, outside the resort city of Cox's Bazar, at around 8:30 am (0230 GMT) Saturday, just a day after the carcass of another Bryde's whale was found two kilometres (1.25 miles) from the spot.
"The carcass of the whale found today is at least 50 feet (16 metres) long and 10 feet wide. It weighs three-four tonnes," Jahirul Islam, executive director of the Cox's Bazar-based Marine Life Alliance, told AFP.
Islam said the whales could have been killed in a collision with a ship plying the Bay of Bengal, or have died after eating plastics which litter the sea.
"Primarily we think the two have died from consuming plastic and polluted objects. There is an injury mark on the back of the second whale. We suspect it could have been hit by a high-speed vessel," Islam said.
Mohammad Shahidul Alam, a professor at the Institute of Marine Science and Fisheries, said parts of the Bay of Bengal are seriously polluted, and that could have led to the animals' demise.
A spokesman for Bangladesh's environment and forestry department said its researchers had collected samples from the carcasses for post mortem examinations.
Two similar whales also washed up on Cox's Bazar beaches in 1996 and 2006.
#OceanHealth; #UNEP; #UN; #UNEPFI; #Investment
Nairobi/Canadian-Media: New, pivotal guidance published today by the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) provides a market-first, practical toolkit for financial institutions to take immediate action on their lending, investment and underwriting activities which negatively impact ocean health.
Ocean Health. Image credit: FAO website
The ocean covers 70% of the earth’s surface, holding 97% of all water and 80% of all life forms. Major ocean sectors such as tourism, shipping, fishing, aquaculture and marine renewable energy collectively contribute to a ‘blue’ economy, estimated at a global gross value added of USD 1.5trn in 2010. This is projected to double in size to USD 3trn by 2030, with some ocean industries set to grow faster than the global economy (OECD, 2016).
However, ocean health is under existential threat. Faced with the triple crises of pollution, nature loss and climate change, two-thirds of our oceans have been negatively altered by human activity; leaving industries, businesses and livelihoods exposed. With existing financing still largely directed towards unsustainable sectors and activities, it is critical that all sectors of the blue economy are rapidly transitioned towards sustainable pathways.
Banks, insurers and investors have a major role to play in financing this transition to a sustainable blue economy, helping to rebuild ocean prosperity and restore biodiversity to the ocean. Through their activities, and client relationships, financial institutions have a major impact on ocean health and hold the power to accelerate and mainstream the sustainable transformation of ocean-linked industries. They thereby play essential roles in wider ocean governance, engaging in public-private partnerships, and propelling local-to-global actions for sustainability.
“Momentum is building as more banks, insurers and investors wake up to the realization that their financial activities can have a sizeable impact on ocean health, creating a negative feedback loop for key ocean industries such as shipping, fishing, tourism and marine renewables” said Eric Usher, Head of UN Environment Program Finance Initiative (UNEP FI).
“A new sustainable pathway for the blue economy is thus both an environmental and economic necessity. This critical new guidance provides a practical toolkit for financial institutions to understand their impact and discover how a new sustainable finance approach can help them identify key risks and opportunities in ocean-linked sectors” he added.
Leveraging best practice based on input from more than 50 pioneering institutions and experts, this guidance sets out pathways to sustainable growth across five key ocean sectors, chosen for their established connection to private finance. It presents a detailed breakdown of which activities to seek out as best practice, which activities to challenge, and which activities to avoid financing completely due to their damaging nature.
“Decades of unsustainable consumption and production is leading to environmental risks and losses in natural capital, eroding the ocean’s resource base. Without engagement by financial institutions, we will not be able to change the course to sustain a healthy ocean and unlock its enormous potential. 1$ of sustainable ocean investments can yield 5x higher global benefits” said Leticia Carvalho, Head of the Marine and Freshwater Branch, UN Environment Program.
“This new guidance can help financial institutions invest in good ocean governance at local, regional and global levels. In a nutshell, making sustainable blue economy opportunities too hard to resist” she added.
This guidance provides decision-makers across banking, insurance and investment with a science-based and actionable toolkit, giving easy-to-follow recommendations on how to approach financial activity related to:
Seafood, including both fisheries and aquaculture as well as their supply chains; Ports; Maritime transportation; Marine renewable energy, notably offshore wind; andCoastal and marine tourism, including cruising.
It builds on the foundation of the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles - a keystone for financing activities in the blue economy, supported by a community of over 50 institutions worldwide with a collective total asset size of over USD 6trn.
#Whales; #UnderWaterNoise; #WorldWildLifeFund; #OceanNoiseStrategy
Canada/Canadian-Media: Far from being the “silent world” of Jacques Cousteau’s famed documentary, the ocean actually abounds with natural sound. From the acoustic carapace vibrations of American lobster and small grunts from Atlantic cod to the high-frequency echolocation clicks of orca and deep vocalizations of enormous blue whales, the ocean sounds like a veritable symphony.
Whales. Image credit: Worldwide Organization
Travelling five times faster in water than air, sound is the most effective means for marine life to communicate across the ocean’s vast expanse. But their musical notes are slowly sinking below a thickening layer of human-caused noise.
With the increasing industrialization of the ocean over the past several decades — port expansions, shipping intensification, oil and gas exploration and development — human caused noise is starting to overwhelm the natural ocean soundscape. And the impacts are now being documented across marine ecosystems, from whales down to plankton.
Underwater noise pollution has been linked to disrupting normal behaviors, masking communication, impairing feeding, and increasing stress levels; even causing permanent injury or death. Compounding existing stressors like overexploitation, chemical pollution and changing ocean conditions, in contributes to species decline and ecosystem degradation. Such losses are most immediately felt by Indigenous and other coastal communities who depend on marine resources for their wellbeing and livelihood.
How to quiet oceans for marine life
Bordering three oceans, Canada has a global responsibility to be a bold leader in underwater noise pollution prevention and to drive technological innovations that create environmental, economic, and social benefits. Recognizing this need, the federal government has started to develop an Ocean Noise Strategy that will guide and coordinate efforts at managing underwater noise over the next decade.
But to effectively reduce underwater noise pollution, a combination of management efforts with defined targets is required. Here are some of the priorities we’ve identified in our submission to the Canadian government as they build out their strategy.
Set thresholds based on biological limits and informed by Indigenous and local knowledge.
If we try to minimize noise without considering both types of knowledge, we will not necessarily achieve what nature and people need.
Incentivize quieter technologies.
Industry has a critical role to play in spurring the development and adoption of quieter technologies, and we can help nudge them along.
Develop vessel-based and area-based noise targets.
While we must limit noise emissions from ships, different areas also need different approaches, such as quieting heavily trafficked habitats with endangered southern resident killer whales and beluga or preserving natural soundscapes in the rapidly developing Arctic.
Ensure strategies are implemented.
Marine protection legislation very rarely includes shipping restrictions and never includes noise restrictions. Unless Canada’s Ocean Noise Strategy becomes legally binding via regulations or ministerial authority, we’re unlikely to see important biological areas actually free from noise pollution.
WWF-Canada will continue participating in the Ocean Noise Strategy process to ensure Canada creates the quiet spaces that allow the ocean’s natural rhythm to return.
#PacificOcean; #WarmingOceans; #SnakeRiverSalmonSurvival; #Research
The Pacific salmon life cycle is a struggle for survival. It is likely to grow even more so for Snake River salmon populations if the ocean warms, as other previous research indicates that it will in coming decades. Even the largest Chinook populations in the Snake River Basin face a high risk of extinction by the 2060s, according to the research study titled “Climate Change Threatens Chinook Salmon Throughout Their Life Cycle” published this week in Communications Biology.
NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center is using life-cycle modeling to better understand threatened Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon. The model projects that the species will experience starkly lower survival rates during their years in the ocean in the future compared to now. Recent years may provide a preview. Unusually warm temperatures—including a 2014-2015 marine heatwave—depressed salmon returns to many West Coast rivers, including the Snake and Columbia.
That is particularly troubling since those are the remaining spring Chinook salmon strongholds. They have access to relatively pristine freshwater habitat that provides a reservoir of resilience for the species.
Even large populations may face a high risk of extinction by the 2060s.
Only dramatic increases in the number or survival of juvenile salmon could buffer the likely impacts of climate change, the scientists concluded. While the findings are unsettling, they can help focus conservation efforts to improve the odds for the Columbia Basin’s 13 salmon and steelhead stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act.
“This does not mean it is game over for salmon,” said Lisa Crozier, a research biologist and lead author of the research. “It means that we need to look very closely at the options we have to conserve them, so they make it into the future.”
Habitat Offers Hope
The options include restoring lost and damaged habitat throughout the Columbia River Basin. Modeling has found existing habitat cannot support as many juvenile salmon as it once did. Improving the habitat could increase productivity by supporting more juvenile fish as they feed and grow in streams before migrating to the ocean.
Larger and stronger fish better survive the ocean, so habitat restoration that improves growth can improve their odds. The scientists emphasized the need to understand better the role of competitors, predators, and prey in marine salmon survival and whether management options could help improve salmon prospects. There may also be linkages between estuary restoration and initial growth rates in the ocean that could improve survival.
“The urgency is greater than ever to identify successful solutions at a large scale and implement known methods for improving survival,” the scientists wrote. “Throughout salmon watersheds, improving and expanding access to rearing habitat should increase smolt abundance and body condition, resulting in improved population viability.”
The scientists said, “Management actions that open new quality salmon habitat, improve productivity within the existing habitat, or reduce mortality through direct or indirect effects in the ocean are desperately needed.”
They recognized that actions to benefit salmon could also hold hope for the region’s culture and economy. “We can find new ways to improve salmon habitats while maintaining other benefits for people, like reconnecting floodplains with rivers and natural marshes to recharge aquifers and mitigate flooding, storm surge, and channel erosion,” the report said.
Drawing on Years of DataScientists based the life-cycle models on years of tracking salmon and steelhead through hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. They also tracked their years in the ocean, adult returns, and fry to smolt survival, among other factors. The models provided information for the development of a biological opinion examining the impacts of the dams on fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“This is telling us that it’s going to become increasingly difficult for these species to make it back to the rivers,” said Richard Zabel, director of the center’s Fish Ecology Division and a co-author of the new research. “While salmon have proven themselves to be adaptable over time, we don’t know how they may respond to this relatively rapid change.”
The findings add to earlier research on Pacific salmon’s outlook regarding climate change, including a Climate Vulnerability Assessment published last year. The results assume that the eastern Pacific Ocean will warm in response to rising greenhouse gases, as projected in all 26 global climate models used in the IPCC 5th Assessment. NOAA’s Climate Change portal visualizes these projections. The results could change if ecosystems shift into an unpredictable new state that turns out to be more favorable than expected for salmon.
Researchers have long recognized the great influence of the ocean on salmon population dynamics and the number of salmon that survive to return to rivers as adults to spawn. The new findings underscore that point, with the ocean’s rising heat content pushing up sea surface temperatures closely correlated with increased salmon mortality.
#WhaleWeek; #WorldWhaleDay; #ProtectingOceanGiants
New York/Canadian-Media: Whale Week around the world is being observed from February 16–20, 2021, leading up to World Whale Day on February 21, 2021.
All Images credit: www.fisheries.noaa.gov
World Whale Day is observed every year on the third Sunday in February to inspire the universe with the majesty and beauty of the largest creatures in our oceans as well as reminding us that they need our help to overcome the challenges they face around the globe.
New Online Course for Spotting and Reporting Entangled Whales in Alaska Waters is being offered. NOAA Fisheries has teamed up with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to develop a new online training course to help them report entanglements.
#WMO; #OceanMonitoringSatelite; #CopernicusSentine6
WMO/Canadian-Media: The World Meteorological Organization has welcomed the successful launch of the Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich ocean-monitoring satellite. Its high-precision measurements of Earth’s oceans from space will provide crucial information about sea level rise and critical inputs for weather forecasting.
Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich ocean-monitoring satellite. Image credit: WMO
The fundamental contribution from the new satellite will be ensuring continuity in the long-term climate data record on sea-level, supporting policy decisions on mitigation. adaptation and climate impacts - underpinned by science. Sea level rise is a key indicator of climate change and its monitoring is essential to for the protection of lives and property, which lies at the core of WMO’s mandate.
Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force base in California, in the United States on 21 November. The partners in the mission are the European Commission, European Space Agency (ESA), European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), and the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with support from the French Space Agency (CNES).
“Sentinel 6 Michael Freilich data will expand the unique record of mean sea level, whilst improving it further with measurements of unprecedented accuracy and closer to coastlines. The data will improve forecasts of high-impact weather and climate features that are strongly influenced by the ocean, like heat waves, tropical cyclones and unusually warm or cold summers and winters,” said EUMETSAT Director-General Alain Ratier.
Dr Steve Volz, Assistant Administrator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Satellite and Information Service, added: "NOAA will use Sentinel-6 data in many ways, including using sea levels to estimate the heat stored in the upper layer of the ocean, which will help improve hurricane intensity forecasts."
The satellite is named after the late Dr Michael Freilich, who was Director of NASA’s Earth Science Division and a champion of science and international cooperation.
ESA’s Space Operations Centre handed over flight operations of the Copernicus ocean-monitoring satellite to EUMETSAT on 24 November. With Sentinel-3A and Sentinel-3B, this is the third Copernicus ocean-monitoring satellite operated by the organisation on behalf of the European Union.
EUMETSAT will work with ESA, NASA, NOAA, CNES and scientists from Europe and the United States to calibrate the products and validate the end-to-end Sentinel-6 system.
This will be achieved in June 2021, with release to all users of near-real-time products equivalent to those of those of Jason-3. Another six months will be necessary to validate and release the highest accuracy sea level products used for climate monitoring. Then, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will replace Jason-3 as the reference high-precision ocean altimetry mission.
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich plays an important role as a radar altimetry reference mission and continuing the long-term record of ocean topography and waves measurements started in 1992 by the French-US Topex Poseidon followed by the Jason satellites.
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will make a a vital contribution to the space-based component of the WMO integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS). It will enhance climate research and science and observations of phenomenon such as the El Niño/Southern Oscillation. It will also support WMO efforts to improve early warnings of tropical cyclones and hazards like coastal inundation.
With NASA's Eyes on the Earth web-based app, you can tag along with the U.S.-European satellite as it orbits the globe, gathering critical measurements of our changing planet
#Canada; #IUU; #FisheriesAndOceans; #MarineHabitat; RADARSATSatelliteImagery
Ottawa, June 6 (Canadian-Media): Today we mark The International Day for the Fight Against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing is being observed June 6 all over the world, media reports said.
Fisheries and Oceans. Image credit: linkedIn
Globally, IUU fishing is a major contributor to declining fish stocks and marine habitat destruction. It is estimated that IUU fishing accounts for about 30 per cent of all fishing activity worldwide, representing up to 26 million tonnes of fish caught annually at a cost to the global economy of more than $23 billion a year.
Illegal fishing occurs both on the high seas and within the 200 mile limits of coastal states, which has an especially negative impact on coastal rural populations in vulnerable areas.
That is why Canada has been working with our international partners, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and governments around the world to help combat IUU fishing. This year, we’ve aimed our sights even higher: outer space.
With support from the Canadian Space Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is using Canadian RADARSAT satellite imagery to help small island nations and developing coastal states in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, South America and Western Africa to identify and track “dark” vessels.
These vessels represent a significant threat to global fish stocks and marine habitat, as the vessels operate without monitoring equipment—in the form of a GPS tracker—and do not wish to be tracked. Vessels without monitoring equipment pose a challenge for authorities to ensure compliance with fisheries regulations. Canada’s support allows recipient states to scan vast areas of ocean for potential threats, allowing limited patrol resources to be focused efficiently.
NGO partners—including OceanMind, The Nature Conservancy and WildAid Marine—provide additional support by conducting vessel data analysis, allowing recipient states to respond. This analytical support helps these governments track and identify “dark” vessels on satellite imagery, and better understand potential threats to their marine ecosystems.
Recently, Canada has partnered in The Bahamas with the Marine Action Partnership, providing additional support to the Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF) in their efforts against IUU fishing. We have also partnered with the Costa Rican government and OceanMind on work which has already led to significant fines to five foreign vess
This year has also been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with effects that continue to ripple around the world. As we navigate through this period of uncertainty, Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to maintain all essential operations, and has increased efforts with its international partners to fight illegal fishing. The safety and security of our staff is paramount, and we are finding new ways maintain and improve our operations so we can continue honouring our international commitments.
"Now more than ever in these uncertain times, we are being forced to find new and innovative ways to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on the high seas. With this important work, done in partnership with the Canadian Space Agency, NGOs and the small island states who depend on the seas for their food security, we are putting those who engage in the reckless plundering of our oceans on notice: we see you, even when you don’t want to be seen," said Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
The RBDF has been receiving satellite support since March 2020 and it has been providing tremendous support with maritime domain awareness. This support has allowed for decision making in the efficient management of assets in areas known for foreign fishing vessels engaging in IUU Fishing. Additionally, the RADARSAT support has assisted in the prosecution of a search and rescue case involving two missing Bahamian fishermen, by identifying vessels in the area.
#Germany; #newSpeiciesOfTurtle, #Discovery
Frankfurt (Germany), Apr 27 (Canadian-Media): Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientist Uwe Fritz described a new species of mata mata turtle based on genetic analyses, phys.org/news reports said.
Based on genetic analyses, a second species of mata mata turtle was discovered. Credit: Rune Midtgaard
Until now, it had been assumed that the genus Chelus only contained a single species. The new description also necessitates a reassessment of the conservation status of these species, which are frequently sold in the illegal animal trade. The study was recently published in the scientific journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.
There is a good reason for the bizarre appearance of the mata mata turtle: hidden in the mud under water, the up to 53-centimeter-long animals look like algae-covered rocks. But when a prey animal approaches, the turtle sucks it in by suddenly opening its large mouth and swallows it whole.
"Although these turtles are widely known due to their bizarre looks and their unusual feeding behavior, surprisingly little is known about their variability and genetics," explains Professor Dr. Uwe Fritz of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden, and he continues, "Until now, we assumed that there is only one species of this armored reptile that ranges widely across South America."
But such supposedly widespread species, which are not considered endangered, can be full of surprises—based on genetic analyses, they are often split into two or more independent species. "Several studies have pointed out individual mata mata turtles look differently in the Orinoco River compared to the Amazon Basin. Based on this observation, we decided to take a closer look at these animals' genetic makeup," adds the scientist from Dresden.
The newly described species Chelus orinocensis is found in the Orinoco and Río Negro basins. Credit: Mónica A. Morales-BetancourtUsing 75 DNA samples, the researchers were able to show that, contrary to previous assumptions, there are two genetically and morphologically well-differentiated species of mata mata turtles. The newly described species Chelus orinocensis inhabits the Orinoco and Río Negro basins, while the species known as Chelus fimbriata is restricted exclusively to the Amazon basin.
According to the study, the two species split during the late Miocene, around 13 million years ago. During this period, the former Amazon-Orinoco Basin began separating into the two river basins known today. Numerous aquatic animal species were thus spatially separated and began to diverge genetically.
The description of the new species also necessitates a reassessment of the mata mata's conservation status. "To date, this species was not considered endangered, based on its widespread distribution. However, our results show that, due to the split into two species, the population size of each species is smaller than previously assumed. In addition, every year, thousands of these bizarre-looking animals end up in the illegal animal trade and are confiscated by the authorities. We must protect these fascinating animals before it is too late," adds the study's lead author, Professor Mario Vargas-Ramírez, a former researcher of Senckenberg who now works at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá.