We learned that economic growth and environmental protection can and should go hand in hand. Christopher Dodd
13th Annual Summer Internship Graduation Reception and Dinner: July 31, 2014
A favorite of new and old Marshall Foundation fans, the annual Summer Internship Graduation celebration gives you a chance
to meet our incredible team of six college students preparing for environmental science and engineering careers.
The 13th internship class has become a seamless, simpatico team that will offer you a fascinating snapshot of
their summer experiences in the Everglades and of their joint research project on sea level rise.
Enjoy a casual reception and light-hearted supper with the interns, their families, and Marshall Foundation friends.
You’ll love the water views from E.R. Bradley’s Beach Club at the Lake Worth Municipal Golf Course.
The event is free of charge for all of our 2014 Everglades Heroes.
For more information and to pre-register, please click here.
Annual Cypress Seed Harvest and Photo Project
Date: October 25, 2014
Location: Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatachee Wildlife Refuge
River of Grass Gala
Date: December 6, 2014
Location: Lady Windridge Yacht, launching from Palm Beach
For more information about any of these events call the Foundation at 561-233-9004 or email email@example.com.
Save the date for 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days
Mark your calendars for this year’s “Ding” Darling Days birding and eco-festival at
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, the week of Oct. 19-25, 2014.
Family Fun Day kicks off the week with free activities on Sunday, Oct. 19.
It features all-free refuge tours, live wildlife presentations, archery clinics, hot dogs, a touch tank and butterfly house, and kids’ nature crafts.
Muppeteer Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather Henson, with Ibex Puppetry,
will return with performances featuring life-size endangered animal puppets.
Conservation Art Day winds up the celebration on Saturday, Oct. 25, with visits from Federal Duck Stamp and Junior Duck Stamp winners and nature art workshops.
Free and discounted birding, biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, sea life boating, and interpretive presentations will fill the week between the two events.
The 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days celebrates the birthday of the refuge’s namesake, father of the Federal Duck Stamp program and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Jay N. “Ding” Darling.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS),
and Tarpon Bay Explorers cosponsor “Ding” Darling Days with generous support from the local community and businesses.
for updates on events, information on sponsoring “Ding” Days, or to sign up for e-mail update bulletins.
Contact Wendy Schnapp at 239-470-1877 or EcoErler@aol.com to become a sponsor.
Audubon Assembly 2014
Make It a BIG YEAR for Florida’s Land, Water, and Wildlife
By Florida Audubon (other events)
Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina
555 NE Ocean Blvd, Stuart, FL 34996
Fri, Oct 17 201412:00 PM— Sat, Oct 18 2014 3:00 PM
Audubon is proud to announce that Leslie Kemp Poole, author of Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the 20th Century will be this year’s keynote speaker!
Through nature-inspired walking workshops, inspiring speakers and thought-provoking learning sessions, this year’s Audubon Assembly
is designed to join together people of all ages and backgrounds in our common interest of protecting Florida’s remarkable natural resources.
Engage in informative learning sessions featuring leading guest speakers
Journey to local special places on field trips with those who know the area best
Learn cutting-edge conservation techniques for your home and community
Network with other Florida conservation leaders
Attend the evening banquet with our keynote speaker, Leslie Kemp Poole
And much, much more…!
This year’s Assembly is going to be the can’t miss conservation event of the year.
Do not delay – click here to register online to reserve the special early-bird rate.
Only a limited amount of these tickets are available.
Click here to get tickets
Of Interest to All
2 teens arrested for torturing a gopher tortoise
Officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) arrested two Clay County teenagers Friday morning on charges of torturing a gopher tortoise.
Danielle Susan Dionne, 15, and Jennifer Emoke Greene, 18, have been arrested on charges of felony cruelty to animals, a third-degree felony, and taking, harassing, harming or killing a gopher tortoise, a second-degree misdemeanor.
On July 15, the FWC received a tip about the torture and death of a gopher tortoise. FWC and Clay County Sheriff’s Office investigators immediately followed up on the information.
“We take these issues very seriously,” said Col. Calvin Adams, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “We appreciated the help from the public and our partners in working to protect our valuable natural resources.”
The FWC worked with the State Attorney’s Office of the Fourth Judicial Circuit to decide the appropriate charges related to the crime.
“We will not tolerate this behavior in the Fourth Judicial Circuit. We are committed to fully prosecuting those responsible for the torture and death of this vulnerable and threatened species,” said State Attorney Angela Corey.
If convicted, Greene faces up to five years in prison on the animal cruelty charge. The misdemeanor charge carries a penalty of up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
Dionne’s case will be prosecuted in the juvenile system. Due to this fact, there will be no further comment on her case.
FWC|July 25, 2014
Gov. Scott had stake in pipeline firm whose $3 billion venture he and his appointees backed
Upon his election in 2010, Gov. Rick Scott’s transition team included a Florida Power & Light executive who pitched his company’s plan to build a major natural gas pipeline in North Florida to fuel a new generation of gas-fired power plants in places like Port Everglades.
“The proposed project will need state regulatory and governmental agencies to understand and support this project,” said the proposal submitted by FPL vice president Sam Forrest.
Scott understood. In May and June 2013, he signed into law two bills designed to speed up permitting for what came to be known as the Sabal Trail Transmission — a controversial, 474-mile natural gas pipeline that’s to run from Alabama and Georgia to a hub in Central Florida, south of Orlando.
Five months later, the Florida Public Service Commission, whose five members were appointed by Scott, unanimously approved construction of Sabal Trail as the state’s third major natural gas pipeline. More approvals are needed from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which the governor oversees.
What wasn’t publicly known in 2013, however, was that the governor owned a stake in Spectra Energy, the Houston company chosen by Florida Power & Light that July to build and operate the $3 billion pipeline. Sabal Trail Transmission LLC is a joint venture of Spectra Energy and FPL’s parent, NextEra Energy.
BrowardBulldog.org’s review of financial records made public last month by Scott show that as of Dec. 31, his portfolio included several million dollars invested in the securities of more than two dozen entities that produce and/or transport natural gas — including some, like Spectra, with substantial Florida operations.
His stake in Spectra Energy was reported as being worth $53,000 that day.
Florida’s ethics laws generally prohibit public officials like the governor from owning stock in businesses subject to their regulation, or that do business with state agencies. A similar prohibition exists on owning shares in companies that would “create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict” between an official’s private interests and the “full and faithful discharge” of his public duties.
NEW CONCERNS ABOUT BLIND TRUST LAW
Scott’s investments in companies that do business in Florida raise fresh concerns about the operation of Florida’s so-called “qualified blind trust” statute — a law that allows public officials to veil their investment activity while affording them immunity from prohibited conflicts of interest.
Scott acquired his Spectra shares via his blind trust. Exactly when that occurred is not known, and Greg Blair, a spokesman for the governor’s re-election campaign, said in an email that Scott has “no knowledge of the investment because his decision to invest was made by a trustee of the blind trust.”
Blind trusts are supposed to eliminate conflicts of interest by “blinding” public officials and the public to the nature of their holdings. The law’s requirement that officials hand over control of an investment portfolio to a disinterested manager was intended to accomplish that.
But as BrowardBulldog.org reported in March, the governor’s blind trust was ineffective in keeping the governor’s assets secret. And Alan Bazaar, a trusted former employee of the governor’s private investment firm Richard L. Scott Investments, managed the blind trust.
“The Legislature makes it easy for officials to get away with conflicts of interest through loopholes in the ethics code,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, the nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog group. “Corruption has been institutionalized in Florida with flawed policies like blind trusts and political appointees issuing advisory opinions on what’s ethical.”
The governor, the Senate president and the House speaker appoint the members of Florida’s Commission on Ethics.
The governor’s financial interest in Sabal Trail’s builder, Spectra, is also fueling criticism from opponents of the controversial natural gas pipeline project.
“That’s very interesting,” said Susan Glickman, Florida Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It’s totally inappropriate that we have policymakers making important decisions where they have a financial stake in the outcome.”
“OUTRAGED AND DISHEARTENED”
Beth Gordon is a lawyer and former South Florida resident who now lives with her family on a 32-acre horse farm in Levy County, where Spectra wants to route Sabal Trail. She helped found Spectrabusters, a citizens’ group that’s fighting Sabal Trail.
“I’m outraged and disheartened by this news. I feel blindsided,” said Gordon, who like Scott is a Republican. “The governor’s interest is in getting these companies the permits they need and he’s not interested in the environment.”
The governor’s financial disclosure form, essentially a snapshot of his extensive holdings as of Dec. 31, shows that Scott also owns a $55,000 stake in another Spectra asset, DCP Midstream Partners. DCM is a natural gas limited partnership 50 percent owned by Spectra Energy.
Scott disclosed his portfolio last month after he closed his original blind trust, then immediately opened a new one and placed all of his assets back into it.
He did it “to ensure that there would not be the possibility of any conflict of interest,” spokesman Greg Blair said via email. “As a result, Gov. Scott has no knowledge of the current contents of the blind trust.”
The trustee of the new blind trust, however, continues to be New York’s Hollow Brook Wealth Management and its chief executive and longtime Scott friend Alan Baazar.
Neither the governor nor anyone on his staff agreed to be interviewed about his investments. Last month’s disclosure form marks the first time the governor has made public a list of his securities investments since he formed the blind trust in April 2011.
The maneuver served to insulate Scott from criticism about financial transparency amid his re-election campaign against former Gov. Charlie Crist. But it also revealed Scott’s large personal bet on natural gas and firms like Spectra and Energy Transfer Equity LP.
SCOTT’S STAKES IN OTHER FLORIDA PIPELINES
Energy Transfer is a publicly traded master limited partnership whose subsidiaries include a joint venture that owns Florida Gas Transmission. FGT is the state’s largest natural gas pipeline, transporting it from Texas through the Florida peninsula south to Miami-Dade.
Florida Gas Transmission is also a major state vendor. According to Transparency Florida, the state website where government spending information is posted, FGT was paid $28.4 million by the Department of Transportation for various construction services in 2013-2014.
Scott valued his stake in Energy Transfer as being worth $311,000 as of the end of last year. He likewise reported additional investments in a pair of entities owned by Energy Transfer, Regency Energy Partners LP and PVR Partners LP, totaling $400,000.
Scott’s investments in Spectra and Williams, an energy infrastructure company, also gave him a financial interest in Florida’s other major natural gas pipeline, Gulfstream, which runs from Alabama to Tampa Bay beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Those companies and their limited partnerships jointly own and operate Palmetto-based Gulfstream Natural Gas System LLC.
Scott’s disclosure form reported that in addition to his Spectra holdings he owned Williams shares worth $104,000, and a $71,000 ownership interest in a master limited partnership owned by Williams, called Access Midstream Partners.
In addition to the bills Scott signed to streamline permitting for natural gas pipelines, he likewise benefited the industry last year by approving another law that provides $30 million over five years to fund rebates to commercial fleet operators who buy, convert or lease vehicles that run on natural gas. The program, administered by Agriculture and Consumer Services boss Adam Putnam, offers applicants a maximum annual rebate of $250,000.
The Public Service Commission later approved several individual natural gas vehicle programs. PSC Commission Chairman Ronald A. Brise said the moves helped make “natural gas pricing more competitive with conventional motor fuels.”
The law also exempts natural gas fuel from state fuel, sales and use taxes for five years.
“They’re doing everything they can to build the market,” said Glickman.
Florida’s natural gas market is huge and growing. Nearly 68 percent of Florida’s electric generation, and more than 72 percent of FPL’s total energy, was fueled by natural gas in 2012, according to the Public Service Commission. Pipelines bring virtually all of that gas to Florida.
SABAL TRAIL TO POWER FPL PLANTS
The Sabal Trail underground pipeline is to run through 13 Florida counties. Documents state that it is intended to provide Florida Power & Light with a dedicated supply of natural gas for power generation needs and other purposes starting in May 2017.
Much of that new supply is to come from natural gas fracked from shale. It would flow to Florida from Sabal Trail’s connection to Williams’ Transco pipeline in Alabama.
Sabal Trail is to terminate at a new central Florida hub where it would connect to the state’s two other main natural gas pipelines, Florida Gas Transmission and Gulfstream. Another part of the new pipeline project that does not involve Spectra is the construction of a 126-mile, $550 million pipeline to run from Sabal Trail’s termination point in Osceola County to an FPL plant in Indiantown in Martin County.
“The primary factors driving this increased need are the three modernization projects currently in progress at FPL’s Cape Canaveral, Riviera Beach and Port Everglades natural gas plants to upgrade older, 1960’s-era steam combustion turbine generating units to modern, and more efficient combined cycle technology,” said the Public Service Commission’s October 2013 memorandum endorsing the pipeline projects.
Sabal Trail, however, has drawn significant opposition from both environmentalists who fear pollution and residents who consider the 36-inch steel pipeline a hazard and don’t want it anywhere near them.
In April, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a 17-page letter to FERC that questioned the need for Sabal Trail and suggested alternatives, like improved energy conservation measures, that would allow FPL to otherwise meet the power needs of its customers.
“U.S. electricity sales appear to have peaked in 2007,” the letter says.
FPL isn’t the only utility looking to generate electricity using natural gas imported via Sabal Trail.
Later this year, the Public Service Commission will consider plans by Duke Energy Florida to build a new, combined-cycle natural gas plant near Crystal River in Citrus County that would be a major customer of the new pipeline.
According to a Duke Energy press release, the project also requires certification under Florida’s Power Plant Siting Act. Certifications are issued by Florida’s siting board, which consists of the governor and Cabinet.
Wal-Mart and Chik-Fil-A Want to Build on Endangered Florida Forest Lands
The South Florida Rocklands are home to the only true tropical forest on the U.S. mainland. One of the world’s rarest forests, it’s home to at least 137 species of trees and shrubs. As a result of population growth and land clearing in Miami and the Florida Keys, only two percent of the original habitat remains. Now a section of that land is being used for development of a Wal-Mart and a Chik-Fil-A.
Earlier this month, about 88 acres of this pine rockland was sold by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer, and it’s not just a Wal-Mart and Chik-Fil-A that will call it home. The 158,000-square-foot Walmart will be joined by an LA Fitness center, a Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments.
There are more than 4,200 Walmart stores in the United States, and new ones continue to pop up regularly, adding to the list of more than 11,000 stores worldwide. The average size of a Wal-Mart Supercenter is 181,000 square feet , a little bigger than the new Walmart planned on the rocklands.
While the developer and the University of Miami have agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve, environmentalists and biologists are concerned.
“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, told the Miami Herald. Olle has written to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent demanding an investigation.
Since there is so little of this rockland left, that makes it all the more essential to save what is left for the flora and fauna that call it home.
“Our listed plants are very rare, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that so little habitat remains. So we certainly place a great value on these species’ conservation,” Craig W. Aubrey, South Florida field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Miami Herald. “The butterflies that we’re evaluating are very rare, so any kind of loss to their population would certainly be concerning,” said Aubrey. The rockland provides habitat to several endangered species, including two rare butterflies that are expected to be protected this summer.
The development will only further exacerbate the fragmentation of the rockland. The largest section of Florida’s rockland exists in the Everglades, and is therefore protected, but most of the listed endangered species are found out of the park. Rockland that was previously connected has now been splintered into parcel, which makes each parcel a haven for native species. “That piece in particular is connected to one of the historically largest tracts remaining,” Sarah Martin, a biologist with the Institute for Regional Conservation, told ThinkProgress in reference to the 88 acres sold by the University of Miami. “So for them to start chipping away at it is kind of awful.”
Florida’s flora and fauna aren’t fairing well. As the Miami Herald reports, “according to a 2002 study by the Institute for Regional Conservation… only 23 percent of native plants are now considered safe. About 40 species grow only in the pine rocklands, which before developers arrived ran from Homestead north to the Miami River.”
If the development continues, those numbers are going to decrease even more. “Something needs to be done; otherwise, we have to accept that number is going to keep going down,” said Martin.
Anna Brones|July 21, 2014
DEP Invites Residents, Visitors to “Discover Florida Wild”
Florida is home to a variety of diverse outdoor activities and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is excited to announce the launch of “Discover Florida Wild,” a web portal allowing residents and visitors to explore a variety of outdoor activities offered by the state all in one place.
“This is a great way to encourage more Florida residents to enjoy the natural resources we work so hard to protect here in the state of Florida,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Many state agencies offer unique recreational opportunities and partnering to create a website that helps connect the dots to make enjoying them easier for residents just makes sense.”
From hunting and fishing, to picnicking and beachgoing, the “Discover Florida Wild” gateway makes finding outdoor adventures easier than ever. Viewers can plan an adventure into the Everglades, explore the notion of camping at a state park or learn more about visiting one of three National Estuarine Research Reserves. The portal allows visitors to link to state agencies managing more than 700 natural springs, 825 miles of beaches and 10,000 miles of hiking, paddling, equestrian and biking trails.
“This new web portal provides a great starting place for people to plan their outdoor adventures on Florida’s public lands and waters,” said FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley. “Florida has a wide range of wild places just waiting for you and your family to explore and enjoy.”
Recreation managers represented on the site include the department’s Florida State Parks, Florida Coastal Office and five Florida Water Management Districts, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Forest Service, a Division of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“Florida’s state forests provide one million acres of recreation, from hiking and horseback riding to boating and geocaching,” said State Forester Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service. “We are proud to be a part of this partnership that allows everyone in Florida to find an activity just right for them all on one great website.”
VISIT Florida, which markets the state for tourism, partnered with the agencies to design and host the portal on its site.
To plan your next adventure and enjoy more of Florida’s natural resources, check out www.discoverfloridawild.com
mburgerdep|July 16, 2014
Coal terminals, dredging putting Great Barrier Reef at risk, Senate inquiry told
The fast-tracking of coal terminals and dredging along Queensland’s coast was endangering the health of vital marine ecosystems, a conservation group has told a Senate inquiry.
The inquiry is examining state and federal government management of the Great Barrier Reef, holding hearings in Brisbane, Mackay and Townsville.
“We are very alarmed at the massive port expansion agenda for the Great Barrier Reef,” Australian Marine Conservation Society spokeswoman Felicity Wishart told a hearing in Brisbane today.
“There’s plans is for 100 million tons of dredging in the reef’s waters, which will cause long-term damage.”
Ms. Wishart said the Federal Government needed to beef up environmental protection laws.
“The Queensland Government has been focused on allowing expanded mineral exploitation near the reef, and we’re really concerned that they’re putting the mining sector over the fishing industry and the
tourism industry, so we want to see protection for the reef,” she said.
“It’s very important that the Federal Government tightens up its regulations.”
She said maintaining the reef was crucial to the state’s $6 billion tourism industry.
Resources Council says shipping critical to economy
The Queensland Resources Council came to the defence of the State Government, saying it had gone to great measures to protect the reef.
Speaking outside the inquiry, council CEO Michael Roche said emotive campaigns exaggerated any issued associated with industry.
“We have a very good system for protecting the reef, for regulating activities in the reef; just take the Abbot Point Port project and the dredging – that’s attracted 142 conditions from ministers and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority,” he said.
“We never hear about the fact that these projects are highly regulated, regularly monitored, and it’s simply not that case that activities such as ports and shipping are the big threats to the reef – far from it.
“The concerns are around water quality, the damage done by cyclones, the damage done by crown of thorns starfish, so let’s get some recommendations from this committee that focus on the real problems for the reef.”
Mr. Roche said dredging was vital to the state’s economic growth.
“Shipping channels are as important a part of the economic infrastructure of Queensland as our railways and our roads, so we simply need to have functioning ports,” he said.
“We are a trading nation, we are a trading state, we have $40 billion worth of exports flying out of our ports adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef.
“We make no apologies that our ports and our shipping channels are an essential part of the economic infrastructure of this state.”
Abbott Government treating reef like highway: Greens
Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said current reef management was not addressing the core issues facing the Great Barrier Reef.
“What I’d like to achieve is for the senators from all the other parties to realize the peril the reef is under and change policy direction,” she said.
“Right now, the Abbott Government is treating the reef like a highway for coal ships and gas ships and like a rubbish tip for gas spoil, and of course they’ve just destroyed climate action last week in the parliament, so we need to turn around those policy pathways or we will lose the reef.”
Alyse Edwards|22 Jul 2014
TEPCO using secondhand tanks to store radioactively contaminated water
Roughly 20 or more of the water tanks holding radioactively contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant are secondhand, it has been learned — a fact that plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) had not previously disclosed.
In August 2013, highly radioactive water was found leaking from one of the plant’s tanks. A TEPCO representative refused to comment on whether that tank was one of the used ones.
The secondhand tanks and the tank that leaked are all types assembled by bolting steel pieces together, known as “flange” models. TEPCO has said flange tanks can be used for five years. When questioned by Mainichi Shimbun, a representative for the utility commented, “We do not believe that used tanks have a shorter usable lifespan.”
However, an inside source with a Tokyo company that supplied TEPCO with the tanks told the Mainichi, “We don’t guarantee the tanks for five years as a company, and they are not made to be completely leak-proof in the first place.”
According to the source, TEPCO ordered tanks from the company in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake to store contaminated water, but since it would take too much time to make new ones, in around May 2011, the manufacturer supplied TEPCO with 20 to 30 used flange tanks — mud-storage tanks that it had been renting out to businesses such as construction firms.
Multiple private investigation firms have said that the tank supplier reported high profits for June 2011 as the nuclear disaster created heavy demand for its water tanks and enabled it to sell off “depreciated” tanks. The reference to the tanks as “depreciated” is believed to indicate that a considerable amount of time had passed since their manufacturing date. The flange tanks provided by the company after this point are thought to have been new ones.
In the August 2013 incident at the Fukushima plant, around 300 tons of contaminated water was found to have leaked from a flange tank. Criticism grew over the fact that this tank had been taken apart, reassembled and moved on the plant grounds before the leak occurred. At a news conference around this time TEPCO said that this tank and two others had been relocated, but it made no mention of secondhand tanks.
Since October 2012, the company has been creating and supplying TEPCO with welded tanks that are more resistant to leaks, but most of the flange tanks, including the secondhand ones, are still being used at the Fukushima plant.
It has also been learned from an inside source at the manufacturer that even after TEPCO started to use welded storage tanks, it continued to build new flange tanks for around a year. The source suggests that this was to save money, as it was not until September 2013 that the government decided to apply public funds to the tanks’ purchase. According to the source, welded tanks cost anywhere from two to three times as much as flange tanks.
TEPCO reports that as of April 22 this year there were 332 flange tanks and 552 welded tanks at the Fukushima plant. The utility plans to start replacing the flange tanks with welded tanks this coming September to prevent more leaks.
Mainichi Japan|July 23, 2014
Historic Vote Against Tar Sands Oil
Earlier this week, the South Portland, Maine City Council took an historic step forward to protect wildlife and communities from dirty tar sands oil.
In an exciting vote Monday evening, the Council overwhelmingly passed an ordinance that would prohibit toxic tar sands oil from being loaded onto tankers in this coastal port.
Over the past few years, the oil industry has been quietly advancing plans to ship Canadian tar sands from South Portland, which would include large industrial combustion towers that will spew toxic chemicals into the air, threatening the health of people and wildlife along South Portland’s scenic coast.
Last fall, when this issue was on the ballot, big oil spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat the will of the South Portland people—a town of about 25,000 people—but the voices for wildlife stood strong.
This week’s victory shows that the persistent efforts of tens of thousands of wildlife advocates like you who are saying NO to tar sands are paying off!
We congratulate South Portland in protecting their community and its wildlife from the impacts of dirty tar sands projects.
Andy Buchsbaum|Interim Executive Director||NWF Action Fund
State may expand punishment for wildlife feeders
State wildlife officials may increase punishments for people who feed wildlife after a Lake Mary lady was dragged from her garage during a black bear attack in April.
Last week the state attorney’s office charged Eugene Cifers, 63, Corey Zeak, 28, and Lori Clem, 29, for violating the state’s wildlife feeding rules, allegedly feeding the bears that attacked the woman. Zeak and Clem pleaded no contest. Cifers pleaded not guilty and will go before a judge in July.
Unlike transportation laws that allow prosecutors to punish people who commit crimes like vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving, the penalties for feeding wildlife are restricted to the act of feeding, not the aftermath. That may change, though.
“The person who pleaded not guilty (Cifers) lives next door to the woman who was attacked,” said Dave Telesco, with FWC’s bear division. “Our current feeding rule defaults to a secondary misdemeanor. Is it appropriate to attach something to it where an actual violation that leads to an attack could be pursued?”
Telesco and others at FWC are hosting a black bear information gathering meeting today in Naples to take public input on bear management strategies at a time when local reports of bears are skyrocketing. A similar meeting will take place in Lehigh Acres on Tuesday.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission killed the bears after DNA samples taken from one of the bears matched the samples from the clothing of the woman who was attacked. Zeak and Clem were sentenced to six months probation, a $200 fine and 25 hours of community service.
Black bears, the wilderness and you
Black bears numbered about 300 in the 1970s but have since grown to about 3,000 because of management practices and wildlife protection laws. Reports of bears in Florida have exploded in the past 15 years, from 404 in 1999 to 6,667 in 2013.
Black bears can inflict serious injury or death and should be avoided if possible. Wildlife officials say bear spray is the best defense.
Living with bears is nothing new for people like Franklin Adams, a Golden Gate resident and member of the Florida Wildlife Federation. As a hunter and native of South Florida, Adams has seen dozens if not hundreds of bears.
“They’re definitely has been a substantial increase” said Adams, who plans to attend the Naples meeting. “Saturday night we had one come through our place. Recently, three bears in a group came through the place at night. And the big, bad bear has to show his authority by knocking over a few chairs and breaking branches.”
Franklin said over the years he’s learned to adjust to bear habits, like their tendency to knock over bird feeders. Big males, he said, have broken outdoor furniture and torn down mahogany and cypress tress in his backyard. He’s moved the bird feeder to 9 feet off the ground and hung it with a steel cable to keep the bears away.
He said he’s never felt threatened by a bear, and that people who feed wildlife misunderstand the relationship between wildlife and human activities.
“So many people don’t realize there are bears, panthers or even deer,” Franklin said. “It’s kind of the Disney frame of mind. They don’t realize they’re wild creatures and that once you feed them, they become garbage bears.”
Black bear numbers
Reports called in to FWC by the public:
• 2004: 1,595
• 2005: 1,918
• 2006: 2,154
• 2007: 2,795
• 2008: 2,745
• 2009: 3,340
• 2010: 4,196
• 2011: 4,069
• 2012: 6,213
• 2013: 6,667
South Miami votes to block county over mosquito spraying in its city
South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard doesn’t care much for mosquitos, but he doesn’t want the spraying of them to kill butterflies and a rare Florida bat.
He and his fellow city commissioners agreed Tuesday to redefine the city’s designation as a “wildlife sanctuary.” By doing this, the commission puts the Miami-Dade County mosquito control division on notice — that it cannot spray broad-spectrum insecticides or biocides within the territorial limits of South Miami, just south of Coral Gables.
Commissioners also voted Tuesday on a related resolution calling for the city and the county’s mosquito control district to negotiate a mutually agreeable plan for controlling mosquitos here.
The commissioners took their second vote Tuesday night. The measure now becomes law in South Miami.
“We’ve got ourselves a scientist here,” Commissioner Bob Welsh said as the measure passed unanimously. “We better listen to him.”
Stoddard, a biology professor at Florida International University, said the city’s action is important to keep insecticides from destroying the food supply of the state’s rare mammals and insects, including the Florida bonneted bat. According to Stoddard, Miami-Dade County’s mosquito control division is spraying to kill adult-female salt marsh mosquitos; the toxins in the spray destroy the food supply for young bats.
“This ordinance provides us a tool to negotiate with mosquito control,” he said.
“In June, that’s when the young fledge [develop their wings to fly],” Stoddard said. “They are dependent on a large population of moths flying around. That’s the time of year we get salt marsh mosquitos and the mosquito control division of Miami Dade County comes out and sprays for mosquitos and kills them off.”
“[The spray] is somewhere between 400 to 4,000 times more toxic to butterflies than it is mosquitos.”
Research conducted at FIU has shown the insecticides, when used at the concentrations applied for by mosquito control, are deadly to insects such as the Florida atala butterfly, the Monarch butterfly, the Schaus swallowtail butterfly, and other arthropods and pollinators that reside in South Florida.
According to its public works website, Miami Dade County uses the insecticide Naled (Dibrom Concentrate) solely for aerial application. It is “effective in controlling adult salt marsh mosquitos” and is “somewhat irritating if droplets get onto the skin or in the eye,” according to the site.
Friday was the first aerial application of the Naled this year, said Chalmers Vasquez, the mosquito control operations manager for Miami-Dade.
Vasquez said that no aerial application was used last year. By contrast, in 2004, the county sprayed Naled more than 20 times.
“Dibrom hydrolyzes very quickly,” Vasquez said. “Between 24 to 48 hours there is no residue left.”
Spraying is necessary to control mosquitos, Vasquez added.
“We have a number of calls in the area, including South Miami, where the residents are screaming for mosquito control because they are being attacked by mosquitos.’’
There are fewer than 1,000 Florida bonneted bats in existence. U.S. wildlife managers added the bats to the endangered species list in November, after citing habitat loss and mosquito spraying as deadly threats.
Miami-Dade County uses Beechcraft-type airplanes that carry a 100-gallon tank of insecticide. The planes spray every 1,000 feet at 300 feet altitude, according to Vasquez.
Stoddard inquired about stopping the spraying, but was met with opposition.
“They wouldn’t stop spraying,” Stoddard said. “They said that under the Florida statute, they aren’t allowed to stop. I looked up the statute and found a provision in which you can negotiate a more nuanced mosquito control policy.
“It doesn’t make sense to be spraying on a large scale for adult mosquitos,” Stoddard added. “If you’ve got an outbreak of dengue fever in one block, does it make sense to spray around the block at that location and just try to knock it down? Yes it does. If you can nip an epidemic in the bud like that, go ahead and blast it. But to cover half a city, all you are doing is building a resistance.”
Vasquez says that he has not seen any signs of mosquitos building a resistance to the insecticides.
Stoddard cited older methods such as water control and less dangerous chemical approaches as alternatives. One chemical that could be used is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which Stoddard says is not poisonous to most insects.
Vasquez contends the county needs to spray because of the volume of mosquitos blanketing the area.
“We have a high count of mosquitos,” Vasquez said. “We had 5, 10, 15 mosquitos per minute in our trap. That, coupled with the number of complaint calls, triggers the application of pesticide in the area.”
“We don’t apply the pesticides because they’re fun. We wait for the reason to do it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 40,000 people in the United States have contracted the West Nile virus disease since 1999.
The first cases of Chikungunya fever acquired in the United States were reported on July 17 in Miami Dade and Palm Beach counties, according to the CDC. The virus rarely kills those infected but typically causes fever and severe joint pain.
“Having those number of mosquitos, like right now, people are scared,” Vasquez said. “We have cases of disease and we need to protect the people.”
Countered Stoddard: “The problem is that these are not selected for mosquitos, by any means, so they wipe out everything,” Stoddard said. “The insecticides typically knock out the mosquitos leaving the larvae to hatch out and make more. You have really used a big hammer on a small problem.”
ALEX BUTLER|The Miami Herald|07.23.14
Armed Bandits Demand ‘Water Tax’ From Drought-Plagued Indian Villagers
Water has become the central focus of an armed hostage situation as bandits demand a “water tax” from villagers in a drought-plagued region of northern India.
The bandits “are threatening to kill hundreds of villagers unless they deliver 35 buckets of water each day to the outlaws in their rural hideouts,” the Associated Press reported. The area where the conflict is underway is sometimes referred to as “bandit country.”
The demand “issued by bandit chieftains on cellphones a month ago is being extended to more villages,” the Hindustan Times reported this week. “The gang, active in Banda and Chitrakoot, is believed to have two dozen members armed with latest arms and ammunition.”
Nearly 30 villages have complied with the demands.
They alternate the burden of delivering the so-called “water tax” to the bandits, the AP reported, citing police. “Petrified by the circumstances, the villagers are “hauling water into the forests and mountain areas” in order to meet the demand, the International Business Times reported, citing a local charity worker.” Villages have pooled in their resources and [people] to fetch the water and supply it to the gang,” said Himanshu Gupta Atmiya, who works locally on drought relief, per the Hindustan Times.
Dry conditions in the region mean that compliance is a huge burden.
“Since most water bodies have dried up due to the severe heat and rain deficiency, the poor villagers – mainly women – have to trudge several kilometers to get the [bandits] their daily supply of water,” DNA India reported. Police officer Suresh Kumar Singh told the AP: “Water itself is very scarce in this region. Villagers can hardly meet their demand,” he said.
The bandits are trying to remain hidden from police.
“The gang does not stay anywhere for more than two nights. They keep moving to avoid being detected by the police teams combing the area,” a senior police official told DNA. Many villagers have been too terrified to speak up to authorities, according to DNA.
Sara Jerome|July 21, 2014
Calls to Action
Support the Clean Water Rule – here
Snowmobile rule threatens wildlands – here
Prevent development on rare endangered forest lands in South Florida – here
Give Kenai Brown Bears a True Refuge – here
Help protect the world’s most beautiful and diverse places – Adopt a Coral Reef – here
Florida Manatees Need Their Space – here
Do Your Part For Pets & Wildlife – here
Protect America’s Rainforest From Old-Growth Logging – here
Urge the Vikings and the MSFA to reverse course immediately and use safer glass – here
STOP THE NAVY’S ASSAULT ON WHALES – here
Demand EPA Set Stricter Limits on Use of Roundup Herbicide – here
Don’t let Exxon kill whales or otters – here
Restore the equilibrium of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem – here
Birds and Butterflies
5 Amazing Facts that Will Make You Love Moths
When was the last time you sat down and appreciated the humble moth? I know moths, at least where I live, tend to be a little drab, but they’re actually fascinating creatures. Luckily, it’s National Moth Week, so you have an excuse to get outside and investigate moths in all their glory!
1. Moths get bigger than you might think. And also smaller.
When I think of moths, I usually think of relatively small, winged insects. Maybe an inch long. But actually moths vary in size greatly. The Atlas moth is considered to be the largest moth, with a wingspan of about 10 inches. Lay your hands down side-by-side on a table so your thumbs are touching. The Atlas moth’s wingspan is a little bigger than that. It also has a surface area of 62 square inches. That is one enormous moth.
If moths can be super big, they can also be super small. Very super small. A yet to be described moth from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was discovered in 2012. It’s only 1 mm long with a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 mm. The length of this tiny moth is comparable to a typed period. We’re talking very, very small.
2. Moths helped show that natural selection actually happens.
Evolution is a scientific fact, and it just so happens that the humble moth helped illustrate the mechanism of evolution, by which I mean natural selection.
Peppered moths live all over the world and they come in light and dark varieties. In England in the 1950s, coal dust was getting all over everything, including trees. The trees in question naturally had white-ish bark. Thanks to a good coal-dusting, the bark was now black. The light peppered moths were then easier for birds to spot and therefore catch and eat. The population of light moths decreased while the population of black moths increased because their dark color was better camouflage. As Britain made air quality better, the trees went from black to white again, and black peppered moths became rarer and light peppered moths became common. It’s hard to find a more stark example of how natural selection works than that.
3. Moths are masters of disguise.
No, I’m not just talking about how some people can’t tell the difference between butterflies and moths. There are some types of moths that are actually really good at disguising themselves as their scarier insect brethren. For example, both moths from genus Cosmosoma and from the family Sesiidae mimic wasps. These two types of moths have lost the scales on their wings so they look clear and have yellow stripes on their bodies. The Scarlet-bodied wasp moth, pictured above, is another example.They don’t look like the moths we’ve come to know and love. Moths don’t always mimic stingy insects to avoid predators, though. The Buff-tip moth looks suspiciously like a broken branch when it’s sitting still.
4. Some moths have no mouths and don’t eat.
It sounds weird but it’s totally true. While some moths do suck nectar and are important pollinators, others don’t have a mouth at all. For example, the Atlas moth mentioned earlier has no mouth, neither does the luna moth. As such, these gorgeous (and big) moths only live for a bout a week. Their sole function in this phase of their lives is reproduction.
5. There are nine times more species of moths than butterflies.
Even though butterflies get a lot more press, there are far fewer species than their similar cousins. There are about 17,500 known species of butterfly and, while that’s a lot, there are 160,000 known species of moth.
As you can see, moths are everywhere, and in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors, so make sure to take some time this National Moth Week to appreciate them!
Mindy Townsend|July 20, 2014
Popular Pesticides Linked to Drops in Bird Populations
This is the latest in a string of studies suggesting that some pesticides impact birds as well as pollinators
Let me tell you about the birds and the bees: A family of pesticides called neonicotinoids has been linked with pollinator declines. While their involvement in bee colony collapse is hotly debated, ecologists are wondering: could neonicotinoids impact something further up the food chain?
A study published yesterday in Nature suggests that birds and bees may share a common enemy. Dutch researchers have found a correlation between bird population declines in the Netherlands and higher concentrations of the common neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid in surface water.
“There is an alarming trend between declines of local bird populations and imidacloprid in the environment, which needs serious attention to see what we want to do with this pesticide in the future,” says Hans de Kroon, a co-author and plant ecologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands. The researchers posit that the pesticide affects these birds by killing off their bug food supply.
Concerns have been raised about neonicotinoids’ affect on bees since the chemical first emerged on the pesticide scene in the 1990s. What makes them popular is the fact that they’re supposed to only harm insect pests keen to munch on plant leaves. In insects, the pesticide binds to specific receptors in the nervous system, ultimately killing the insect.
Because the chemical has a lower binding affinity to the same type of receptor in mammals, birds, and other larger animals, it’s also supposed to be less toxic and thus less dangerous to those species.
However, neonicotinoids’ harmless reputation is beginning to erode, as studies point to the pesticides having unintended consequences on pollinators, other insects and even some wildlife. For example, a 2013 study associated higher concentrations of neonicotinoids in polluted water to overall insect population drops in the Netherlands—not just drops in those that munch on or pollinate crops. While crops absorb some of the pesticide, the rest can seep into water and soil, where it can linger for almost three years before degrading. It’s here that unintended targets can pick up the pesticide, causing a wider population of insects die.
Given that overall populations of bugs show declines and farmland birds have been disappearing across Europe, de Kroon and his colleagues began to think more broadly. “Many species depend on insects during the breeding season for raising their offspring and for their own wellbeing,” says Caspar Hallmann, another co-author and plant ecologist at Radboud University. “So, if insects fall away from an environment then what about our birds?”
Across the Netherlands, the researchers selected common 15 farmland bird species, including the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) and the common starling (Sturnus vulgaris), all of which rely on insects as either their sole or primary food source. Thanks to an extensive data set kept by the Dutch Common Breeding Bird Monitoring Scheme, they were able to track the rise and fall of populations across the Netherlands from 2003 to 2010. Surface water quality measurements gave the researchers concentration data for imidacloprid from 2003 to 2009 in canals and waterways across the country. Mapping one data set against the other, they looked for patterns.
In areas with imidacloprid concentrations higher than 19.43 nanograms per liter, bird populations were in decline. The average rate of decline was 3.5 percent annually—that makes for more than a 30 percent decline over 10 years, notes de Kroon. The higher the imidacloprid concentration the more severely the bird populations dropped.
As concentrations of imidacropids rose, local bird populations fell. (Graphic: Radboud University)
Pesticide use is hardly the only factor that could influence bird population health—habitat loss, bulb agriculture, greenhouses and other land use trends could all impact insect communities. So, the authors compared trends in those factors, too, but none matched up with population patterns as well as variation in pesticide concentration. “Locally some populations increase, some decline,” says Hallmann. “Imidacloprid [concentration] is by far the best explanatory variable for these trends.”
Just how, then, does the pesticide affect birds? The researchers hypothesize that the mechanism of this effect is through the food chain. Previous studies have shown that a significant blow to birds’ prey can send a population spiraling. “Food levels determine population size of insectivores but also their body condition, breeding success, etc.,” says Brigitte Poulin, an ecologist at Tour de Valat Research Center in France unaffiliated with this study. So rather than killing the birds directly, the toxin can work indirectly to malnourish birds.
But birds also might encounter neonicotinoids directly—catching an accidental spraying, eating a pesticide-covered seed, or even accumulating the toxin by eating pesticide laced insects (there’s no field evidence to support this, though). Some insect-eating birds also supplement their diets with seeds outside of breeding season, and a handful of studies have shown that eating seeds doused in neonicotinoids proved lethal to some birds after only a few days. Seeds treated with imidicloprid and other neonicotinoids are commonly used—not just in agriculture and but also in backyard gardening. And birds that drink nectar, such as hummingbirds, may face even different sets of risks and unknowns.
Though this study is the first to link bird population trends to neonicotinoid concentrations, it’s not the first to look beyond bees to birds. Last month, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, an international team of scientists convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, published a report citing growing evidence of neonicotinoid’s harmful effects on birds, as well as other vertebrates such as fish and lizards.
This might all sound a bit familiar: a promising, popular pesticide kills insects with reverberations through local food webs that ultimately lead to the decline of birds. In the 1960s, ecologists noticed that though dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was a great mosquito-killer, it had cascading effects on bald eagles and even humans. “We now have a new insecticide that we thought was doing everything right and it appears that it’s not—and that is a little bit of repeated history,” de Kroon reflects.
So, are neonicotinoids the new DDT? Yes and no. DDT impacted species through bioaccumulation and by mimicking estrogen, causing cancer. At the moment, there’s no evidence to suggest that either is at play with neonicotinoids.
Nevertheless, it’s a comparison ecologists favor, and neonicotinoids clearly have much more widespread affects on ecosystems than expected, as Dave Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Sussex points out in an editorial in Nature this week. Silent Spring author Rachel Carson “would undoubtedly think that we seem to have learnt little from our past mistakes,” Goulson writes.
Ecologists hope that the mounting evidence against neonicotinoids can spur regulatory action. To better assess environmental impacts, the EU has already instituted a two-year ban on the pesticides, which went into effect in December. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reexamining neonicotinoids’ environmental impact at the moment and faces exceeding pressure from environmental groups to take them off the market.
Nevertheless, Bayer CropScience, the primarily manufacturer of imidacloprid, was quick to release a statement yesterday pointing out that the research shows a only correlation, rather than proving a “causal link,” between pesticide use and bird population declines. “Neonicotinoids have gone through an extensive risk assessment which has shown that they are safe to the environment when used responsibly according to the label instructions,” the company maintains.
The evidence may be circumstantial, but the Dutch team’s next step will be to pin down exactly how pesticides could be driving these bird trends to get some solid leads in this environmental whodunit.
Helen Thompson|smithsonian.com|July 10, 2014
All About Birdhouses (And Other Nesting Structures)
Maybe you have always wanted to put up a birdhouse but weren’t sure which species you could attract in your area. Or perhaps you have several already and are looking to branch out and help more birds in need. Either way, we have a new tool for you to help you become the ultimate nest box landlord.
Our new All About Birdhouses is your go-to source for updated, expanded, and beautifully designed information about birdhouses (also called “nest boxes”).
Use the Right Bird, Right House nest box selector to find out which birds you can target in your region and habitat. With 54 birds featured, from deserts to mountaintops, you are sure to find a bird that is looking for a home in your neighborhood. Discover species that you may not know, or find a plan for a home to attract your favorite raptor, songbird, or waterfowl. It’s easy, and we even show you which species are declining in your area. Think outside the box, too, and consider adding a nesting shelf, basket, or platform to your existing nest boxes. Download one or several free plans, and get information about how to successfully attract the species of interest.
Whether you plan to build your own or buy, don’t miss our Features of a Good Birdhouse infographic. This new graphic makes it easier to see the most important features of a safe nest box, and also introduces new advances in the state of the art. All this and more can be found in the new All About Birdhouses section, where you can find what you need to welcome more birds to your yard, no matter where you live.
Nestwatch|The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Read Audubon Center for Birds of Prey’s “Florida Raptor News” here
Native Milkweed Research Update
Every year as fall approaches, millions of monarch butterflies throughout eastern North America make their long-distance journey south to the mountains of central Mexico to overwinter. In Florida, we also have small resident populations that breed year-round in southern portions of the state. Many butterfly enthusiasts and gardeners plant milkweed in their landscapes to help provide needed food for monarch larvae.
Unfortunately, not all milkweeds are the same. Non-native Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias currasivica), by far the most common commercially available species and sometimes misidentified in the marketplace as native, has escaped from cultivation in many areas and can cause some problems for Monarchs. Because Tropical Milkweed grows throughout the year (weather permitting), it can enable monarchs to continue breeding well into the fall or winter, disrupting their normal migratory cycle. Prolonged breeding can also foster higher than normal infection rates by a lethal protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, or OE for short. In fact, recent research indicates that such year-round resources could prolong exposure to parasites, elevate infection prevalence, and even favor more virulent parasite genotypes.
The simple answer to this potential problem is “go native.” An abundant and diverse supply of native milkweed species will contribute to an abundant healthy population of monarch butterflies. The challenge is finding one of our many native milkweed species in nursery production. [FANN growers offer Scarlet or Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Aquatic or White Milkweed (A. perennis) and Butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) in small quantities - usually, hundreds or less.]
The Florida Museum of Natural History and the Butterfly Conservation Initiative are trying to help by growing several milkweeds including Asclepias perennis, A. incarnata, A. humistrata and A. lanceolata for eventual retail sale as well as developing appropriate nursery propagation protocols. This effort complements the excellent work of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to increase the availability of Florida native milkweed seed for monarch butterfly habitat restoration efforts. Finally, our three organizations are developing an informational brochure that emphasizes the importance of using native milkweed, features several Florida milkweed species and provides color photos of common butterfly larvae and their native Florida host plants. We hope to raise awareness and interest in using native plants in the landscape and help stimulate more native milkweed production. see: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/wildflower/books.asp
Deadly fungus spreads in Everglades, killing trees
MIAMI — A fungus carried by an invasive beetle from southeast Asia is felling trees across the Everglades, and experts have not found a way to stop the blight from spreading.
Then there’s a bigger problem — the damage may be leaving Florida’s fragile wetlands open to even more of an incursion from exotic plants threatening to choke the unique Everglades and undermine billions of dollars’ worth of restoration projects.
Since first detected on the edge of Miami’s western suburbs in 2011, laurel wilt has killed swamp bay trees scattered across 330,000 acres of the Everglades, a roughly 2 million-acre system that includes Everglades National Park. The fungus is spread by the tiny redbay ambrosia beetle, which likely arrived in this country in a shipment of wood packing material.
The same fungus also plagues commercial avocado trees and redbay trees elsewhere in Florida and the Southeast. While the state has been working with the avocado industry to mitigate the damage, there’s been no way to contain it in swamp bay or redbay trees. Experts say the best defense would be stopping invasive pests from crossing U.S. borders in the first place.
Hundreds of millions of redbay trees have succumbed across six states since 2002, said Jason Smith, an expert in forest pathology at the University of Florida.
“It’s amazing how much of an impact this one little tiny beetle that’s no bigger than Lincoln’s nose on a penny has done,” Smith said in a recent interview. “And it continues to spread.”
This summer, Smith will survey the national park for living swamp bay trees to collect samples in the hopes of propagating new trees resistant to the pathogen from their cuttings or seeds. The South Florida Water Management District, the state agency that oversees Everglades restoration, also plans to ramp up its monitoring and maintenance of the tree islands where swamp bays are found.
The damage is easily spotted from the air and from the highway that cuts across the Everglades. Gray skeletons of swamp bays that died in the pathogen’s first wave and newly dead trees that have turned dry and brown mar the dark green tree islands that dot the vast expanse of pale sawgrass.
Each tree island is losing up to half its tree canopy, said LeRoy Rodgers, the water management district’s lead invasive species biologist.
That’s worrisome because invasive plants may work their way into those open spaces — like weeds in a garden, but worse.
Old world climbing fern, melaleuca, Australian pine and Brazilian pepper are the invaders that particularly worry state and federal caretakers of the Everglades. Like the invasive Burmese pythons that are blamed for dramatic drops in the populations of native mammals in the wetlands, the plants have established a home in South Florida’s sunny and wet climate.
The exotic plants can transform sawgrass prairies into impenetrable thickets, and they fuel explosive fires that kill native plants adapted for less intense burns. They’re not a food source for native wildlife, and in coastal areas, their roots can disrupt the nests of endangered sea turtles. They’re so tenacious and difficult to remove that even if Smith finds a way to propagate swamp bays to replace the ones lost, the invasive plants could prevent them from taking root.
“We already have these problems with invasives that are almost too daunting. When you add laurel wilt to the mix, it’s only going to get worse,” said Tylan Dean, chief of biology at Everglades National Park.
Nonnative plants currently comprise 16 percent of the flora in the Everglades, according to a congressionally mandated restoration progress report published last month by the National Research Council.
Billions of dollars have been pledged for Everglades restoration projects that span decades, but those funds are mostly focused on restoring a more natural flow of freshwater through the wetlands south to the Florida Keys.
In spite of the disturbances they cause, invasive species haven’t been factored into Everglades restoration planning beyond treating invasive plants that spread during construction, and there’s little funding or manpower available to fight them back, according to the report.
“In Everglades restoration, we have a mantra: we want to get the water right,” Rodgers said. “But if we cannot deal with the invasive species, we can get the water right but not get the Everglades we thought we were getting.”
Jennifer Kay|Associated Press|July 25, 2014
Bad news for the Birds & Bees
The culprit: a class of pesticides manufactured by Bayer and others called neonicotinoids (or neonics).
A terrifying new study has found that the exact same pesticides causing the massive global bee die-off are now killing birds as well.
The global bee die-off has been happening so fast that scientists are still scrambling to detect all the impacts. And now, this new study also finds that neonic pesticides are killing warblers, swallows, starlings and thrushes nearly as fast as the bees — at current rates, 35 percent of the bird population will disappear in just 10 years in the areas studied.
We need to get these toxic pesticides off the market before they cause a new “silent spring” — and our efforts are gaining momentum.
In Europe, there’s a moratorium on bee and bird-killing neonics. Ontario, Canada’s biggest province, is close to becoming the first major territory in North America to ban them as well.
But Bayer — one of the biggest producers of these toxic pesticides — has an army of lawyers suing to overturn Europe’s ban, and their million-dollar lobbyists are fighting to kill Ontario’s bee protection bill.
Neonics aren’t supposed to harm birds in the amounts being used, but it turns out that they’re building up in the environment to levels that are poisonous for birds — and potentially mammals as well.
That’s why we’re fighting to ban neonics once and for all. With support from SumOfUs members around the world, our lawyers are helping defend Europe’s neonics ban from a Bayer lawsuit. Our activist beekeepers and campaigners have spoken out at Bayer’s annual shareholder meetings to pressure the company directly, as well as some of the largest garden retailers in the world. A new report from Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs has already pushed more stores to move towards banning neonics. And if we can win in Ontario, that will be the very first neonics ban in North America.
But no one can be sure how long the bees and birds can survive the onslaught of toxic pesticides, so we have to do more while we still can.
Third wolf hunt petition approved, headed to Michigan Legislature
LANSING — A third wolf petition was unanimously approved by the state Board of Canvassers today and is headed to the state Legislature.
Supporters of the wolf hunt needed to collect 258,088 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management turned in 375,475 signatures and the Secretary of State found that 297,051 of those signatures were valid.
The Legislature has 40 days to either pass the initiative — which was spearheaded by a group supportive of the hunting of gray wolves in the Upper Peninsula — come up with a competing proposal, reject it, or do nothing.
If the Legislature passes the initiative, and they’ve already voted twice in the last two years to support a hunt, it automatically becomes law. If they reject it or do nothing, the initiative will appear on the November ballot along with two other anti-wolf hunting proposals which have already been approved for the ballot.
The Legislature is back in session on Aug. 13 and could bring the issue up then.
Activists opposed to the wolf hunt have turned in two petitions. After the first petition was turned in — which would repeal the first law passed by the Legislature in 2012 allowing for a wolf hunt — the Legislature passed another law which circumvented that petition.
The anti-wolf hunt forces turned in a second petition to repeal the second wolf hunt law passed by the Legislature. The third wolf hunt ballot question, which supports the hunt, is meant to preempt the second anti-wolf hunt petition.
The pro-wolf hunt initiative would give hunting-related decisions to the Natural Resources Commission, which has already approved and set a wolf hunt for three areas in the Upper Peninsula. The first wolf hunt was held in November and December and had a goal of killing 43 of the Upper Peninsula’s population of more than 650 wolves. The hunt resulted in 23 wolves being killed by hunters.
The anti-wolf hunt forces haven’t ruled out filing a lawsuit on the third petition.
Kathleen Gray|Gannett Michigan|Jul. 24, 2014
4 States Just Got a Little Bit Safer for Bees
Environmentalists have been warning about the problems associated with a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids (neonics) on pollinators and other wildlife, but now there’s some good news that comes with a decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to phase out these toxic chemicals on wildlife refuges in the Northwest and Hawaii.
Neonics can be used in sprays, but are often applied as a coating on agricultural seeds and when it is, it spreads throughout the plant as it grows making the whole thing poisonous to a variety of insects. Studies have shown that they can be lethal to honey bees, bumble bees and other species at high doses, but even a little bit can cause problems by making them more vulnerable to other stressors. They’ve also been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder and have recently been found to be harmful to aquatic invertebrates and birds.
That’s not just bad news for pollinators, it’s bad news for us and the wild animals who depend on them to help pollinate crops and other wild plants we all depend on for food.
Earlier this year environmental organizations petitioned the agency to ban both genetically engineered crops and neonics throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System over concerns about the dangers they pose to wildlife and protected species and because their use is inappropriate on land that’s supposed to be designated to protect wildlife and conserve habitats.
In a memorandum published by the Center for Food Safety earlier this month, the FWS acknowledged that neonics could have adverse effects on a “broad-spectrum of non-target species” and agreed that their use does not meet the intent of policies that are supposed to cause the least harm to wildlife and their habitats. The agency also noted that they’re not only potentially being used on agricultural crops that are grown on wildlife refuges, but that they may be getting introduced through plants used in restoration projects.
Kim Trust, the deputy regional director of the FWS, told the AP that the agency made the decision because it is concerned about the global decline in all pollinators.
As of now, refuge managers will be required to take other steps to avoid their use on close to 9,000 acres of land in Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Washington and should have neonics completely phased out by January 2016.
“We commend the Service for taking its first step to ban neonicotinoids in the Pacific region, and now we call on the agency to permanently institute this policy on wildlife refuges nationwide,” said Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety. “Federal wildlife refuges were established to protect natural diversity. Allowing chemical companies to profit by poisoning these important ecosystems violates their fundamental purpose and mission.”
Alicia Graef|July 24, 2014
First the Bees, Then the Birds, and Now the Fish Are at Risk From a Particularly Toxic Pesticide
A new government study finds extensive contamination of rivers with neonicotinoids linked to bee die-off.
The United States Geological Survey has found widespread contamination of Midwestern streams and rivers with neonicotinoids, putting fish at risk from a class of insecticide implicated in the mass die-off of honeybees, which pollinate a third of the world’s food supply.
Neonicotinoids, also called neonics, account for 40 percent of the global pesticide market and are used extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe. Most corn and soybean crops grown in the American Midwest are treated with neonics. Scientific studies have documented that neonics can harm bees, birds, and other wildlife.
The new research adds to a growing body of scientific evidence that neonics are one of the most persistent, prevalent, and potentially toxic pesticides since DDT, which was banned in the U.S. in 1972.
Neonics are a so-called systemic pesticide that is absorbed into a plant’s roots, stems, leaves, flowers, pollen, and nectar. Farmers can spray plants with neonics, but seeds are now routinely treated with the nerve poison, meaning that as the plant grows the pesticide remains part of the flora.
Bees and other pollinators are at particular risk as they eat neonic-contaminated pollen and nectar. Several scientific studies have found that even nonlethal doses of neonics can weaken bees’ immune systems, making them vulnerable to disease and parasites.
USGS scientists collected 79 water samples from nine waterways, including the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, during the 2013 growing season. They focused on Iowa, a major grower of corn and soybean, and targeted three types of neonics: clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid.
In 2013, farmers applied 474,000 pounds of clothianidin, 156,000 pounds of thiamethoxam, and 110,000 pounds of imidacloprid to crops. Inevitably, irrigation water and rain storms washed the pesticides into nearby streams and rivers. Neonics dissolve quickly in water and can be carried far, according to the report. They also persist in the environment for years.
The researchers detected clothianidin in 75 percent of the waterways sampled, while thiamethoxam was present in 47 percent, and imidacloprid in 23 percent.
“This was the first broad-scale investigation of multiple neonicotinoid insecticides in waterways in the Midwestern U.S. and is one of the first conducted within the entire United States,” Kathryn Kuivila, the leader of the USGS research team, said in an email. “So one of the next steps is for toxicologists and ecologists to assess the consequences of these levels for the observed periods of time.”
So are fish in danger?
That depends on whose data you accept.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, clothianidin has chronic toxic effects on fish at concentrations of 1,100 nanograms per liter of water. The threshold for imidacloprid is 1,050 ng/l. (The EPA has not set a baseline for thiamethoxam.)
However, another study determined that imidacloprid becomes chronically toxic for fish at a far lower concentration—just 20 ng/l.
In Iowa, the USGS found maximum imidacloprid concentrations twice that—42.7 ng/l. Maximum clothianidin concentrations were 257 ng/l.
“We are planning future studies to look at the fate and potential effects of neonics in the environment,” said Kuivila.
But Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group that has sued the federal government and the state of California over approval of neonics, said the time has come for action.
“As the body of evidence against neonicotinoids continues to grow, our government has fewer and fewer excuses for their inaction,” he said.” If meaningful action is not taken, we may be headed toward a second Silent Spring.”
Todd Woody|July 25, 2014
How Scientists Are Trying to Save New England’s Rare Rabbits
Even though rabbits have a solid reputation for being prolific breeders, New England cottontails have been slowly disappearing from the landscape for decades. Now they’re in danger of disappearing entirely from some of the last places they can be found in Maine and New Hampshire.
They’re currently listed as endangered species in both states, while they’re waiting as candidates for needed protection under the Endangered Species Act.
In a study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, scientists with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station (NHAES) have found that over the last decade their populations have become even more isolated while their range has contracted by 50 percent.
The greatest cause for their decline has been habitat loss and fragmentation, which has been caused by maturing forests, development or naturally unsuitable habitat. These rabbits are known as habitat specialists, who rely on thicketed habitats made of shrubs and small trees that offer cover and protection from predators. Researchers believe restoring these types of habitats is the key to keeping these rare rabbits from going extinct.
“The New England cottontail is a species of great conservation concern in the Northeast. This is our only native rabbit and is an integral component of the native New England wildlife. Maintaining biodiversity gives resilience to our landscape and ecosystems,” said NHAES researcher Adrienne Kovach, research associate professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire.
To find out where these rabbits are, where they’re traveling to and how their genes are being spread, researchers studied DNA samples that were collected from the droppings of 157 rabbits in southern Maine and along the coast of New Hampshire between 2007 and 2009.
While they discovered their habitat is shrinking, and their populations are separated by distance and blocked by major highways and rivers, they also found that certain man-made landscapes, including the edges of railroads and roads, along with powerline rights-of-way, have provided a preferred habitat for these rabbits and have created important corridors for them to travel along. These corridors are critical for their dispersal, which helps keep them from competing for resources and suffering from the effects of inbreeding. They also concluded that underpasses and culverts, could be effective in helping these rabbits move across major highways.
The researchers now hope that getting wildlife managers and conservation efforts focused on protecting and restoring these landscapes will help New England cottontails recover, in addition to helping dozens of other species from birds and small mammals to reptiles who also rely on thicketed habitats.
“If we can restore more of this habitat in our landscape and work on creating a landscape that has a mosaic of different habitats, including mature forests and young forests, we know that it is going to help a lot of species,” said Kovach.
For more info about efforts to help New England cottontails, visit NewEnglandCottontail.org.
Alicia Graef|July 25, 2014
The Quest to Save the World’s Second Rarest Cat
With fewer than 100 Asiatic cheetahs in Iran’s wilderness, the time is now to save this ecological and cultural wonder.
Iran‘s Asiatic cheetah’s alarming low numbers are pushing them closer to extinction. The Asiatic cheetah is one of the last two remaining critically endangered large cats in the country. The country has already lost the Asiatic lion and Caspian tiger to extinction.
The Three P‘s That are Killing Iran‘s Asiatic Cheetah
Cousin to the African cat, the Asiatic cheetah’s territory used to spread from the Red Sea to India. As reported in the Associated Press, in Iran, their numbers have dropped from an estimated 400 in the 1990s to 50-70 cheetahs today.
According to Panthera, an organization dedicated to wild cat conservation, there are three major threats to Iran’s Asiatic cheetahs:
1) Poaching: Even though this cheetah is a lot tamer than other carnivores, some shepherds believe that the cats are competition or are out to eat their livestock. Some of the cheetahs lose their lives to sheep dogs. Ironically, shepherds are given permission to graze their animal flocks in natural cheetah habitat, and the cats die.
Poaching has also fueled the exotic pet trade where cubs are taken and sold. As reported in The Guardian, the illegal pet trade is devastating cheetah populations across the globe. While traditional medicine used to account for most of the cheetah smuggling, today, exotic pets like cheetahs are feeding desires of power, status and wealth.
2) Prey: The Iranian Revolution of the late 1970s created a time of unregulated hunting of many of the Asiatic cheetah’s natural prey. While regulations were eventually set, the illegal overhunting of cheetah prey hasn’t stopped.
3) Place: The cats are losing their natural habitats to human development, grazing land for livestock and farmland. Natural occurrences like droughts are also hurting their numbers.
The cheetahs also have first-world problems. Like the endangered ocelots in the United States, Asiatic cheetahs are frequent victims of passing cars.
The UN Steps in
Iran can’t afford to lose another wild cat, and the United Nations has stepped in to help. The two-phase Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP) was born out of this partnership.
Phase I: According to National Geographic, CACP appointed five areas that would act as cheetah safe-havens. From 2001 to 2008, the areas would also include cheetah guards with new materials to better defend the cats, e.g. vehicles and motorbikes.
CACP also promoted the cultural significance of the wild cat to the masses through educational initiatives. Before CACP, most Iranians weren’t aware that there were cheetahs in their country or that they were the wild cats’ main custodians.
Phase II: Phase II was launched in the summer of 2010 and it is expected to end in December 2016. The second wave of CACP is working towards creating better management of the protected areas by creating financial sustainability and filling in those financial gaps. Another goal is to get the local private sector involved in promoting conservation and creating environmentally-friendly opportunities for locals in protected areas to reduce poverty and sustain their livelihoods.
CACP seems to be on the right track. A few of the successes include: implementing better grazing laws, obtaining land and water rights in cheetah protected areas, increasing cheetah research and promoting the cats to the public, e.g. Cheetah Day.
Reasons to Save the Asiatic Cheetah
With numbers so low, it’s really a no-brainer as to why Iran and the world should step in to save the Asiatic cheetah.
Besides being the right thing to do, the Asiatic cheetah can also fuel ecotourism and create an additional revenue stream in the country. As Nature World News reports, the endangered status of the cats could lure more tourists eager to catch a glimpse of the rare cat.
Saving the Asiatic cheetah is also an internal matter of cultural solidarity. The Asiatic cheetah used to be reserved for Iranian royalty. Emperors and kings used them to hunt gazelles. Today, sport royalty recalls the spirit of the endangered wild cat when Iranian soccer players sported the cheetah on their 2014 World Cup jerseys.
The Asiatic cheetah shouldn’t be reserved for a select few. Iran and the world should get to enjoy the wild cats for a long time. Let’s hope that conservation efforts pay off.
Jessica Ramos|July 23, 2014
Wild & Weird
Moose Drool Detoxifies Fungus
Saliva contains important substances that help us digest food. It also plays a part in keeping our mouths clean and healthy. Another newly discovered use? Making toxic plants less toxic. Not for us of course, but according to new research, moose and reindeer saliva can help can slow the growth of a toxic grass fungus, and subsequently make it less toxic for them, allowing the animals to graze on the grass without negative effects.
“Plants have evolved defense mechanisms to protect themselves, such as thorns, bitter-tasting berries, and in the case of certain types of grass, by harboring toxic fungus deep within them that can be dangerous or even fatal for grazing animals,” says York U Biology Professor Dawn Bazely, who worked with University of Cambridge researcher Andrew Tanentzap and York U researcher Mark Vicari on the project. These adaptations improve plants survival and reproduction.
In the case of red fescue grass, the plant hosts a toxic fungus called epichloë festucae. So when an earlier study showed that moose grazing and saliva distribution can have a positive effect on plant growth, researchers conducted a study to see if in fact moose saliva was “detoxifying” the grass before it was eaten.
Working in partnership with the Toronto Zoo, the team collected saliva samples from moose and reindeer. The saliva was distributed onto samples of red fescue grass carrying the toxic fungus, simulating the effect of grazing. They found that the application of saliva produced rapid results, inhibiting fungus growth within 12-36 hours.
“We found that the saliva worked very quickly in slowing the growth of the fungus, and the fungus colonies,” says Bazely. “In addition, by applying multiple applications of saliva to the grass over the course of two months, we found we could lower the concentration of ergovaline [the toxin produced by the fungus] between 41 and 70 per cent.”
Bazely says that because moose tend to graze within a defined home range, it’s possible that certain groups of plants are receiving repeated exposure to the moose saliva, which over time has resulted in fewer toxins within their preferred area.
“We know that animals can remember if certain plants have made them feel ill, and they may avoid these plants in future,” says Bazely. “This study the first evidence, to our knowledge, of herbivore saliva being shown to ‘fight back’ and slow down the growth of the fungus.”
The study is published in this month’s Biology Letters.
Read more at York University.
Why Seals Might Love Having More Wind Farms
New research reveals that off-shore wind farms are particularly useful for seals as they appear to act like artificial reefs, drawing in large groups of fish.
The study, carried out by researchers at St Andrews University in Scotland and published this month in the journal Current Biology, saw scientists track a group of seals in the North Sea using GPS devices. The purpose of the study was to look at whether man-made changes to the structural ocean environment are affecting marine predator behavior.
To explain that, the scientists highlight that whenever we make changes to the landscape for the purposes of building or reshaping a particular location, those changes can affect local wildlife. For instance, and for a not particularly green example, by creating a landfill, we may attract a variety of animals that can utilize the rubbish we have thrown out. Quite often, the concentrations of these foraging animals can affect change in predator animals, too. They will be drawn to these areas in order to hunt for those animals further down the food chain who are using the area for their own food and habitat needs.
This kind of change as a result of our reshaping the environment is well documented on-land, but until now the effect has not been tracked in marine environments.
Looking at the tracking data from two groups of harbor and grey seals, which are good candidates for this kind of research because they are apex predators, which have no known predators above them affecting their behavior, the scientists found that a number of seals from each group regularly visited off-shore wind farms, the Alpha Ventus farm off the German coast, and the Sheringham Shoal farm close to southeast England.
When looking at the tracking data, the researchers noticed that rather than just swimming through the wind farms, the seals appeared to be hunting. They could tell this by the fact that a number of the seals adopted grid-like movements around particular turbines, methodically searching for fish in patterns that have previously been observed as classic hunting behavior. This wasn’t a one-off either, with a number of seals repeatedly returning to the wind farms and displaying the same behavior. The seals were also shown to do the same around sub-sea pipelines, with the seals following along the line of the area up to ten times a day.
Steve Williams| Care2,|July 24, 2014
Continue reading at ENN affiliate Care 2.
Water Quality Issues
California Couple Tries to Conserve Water, Ends Up Facing $500 Fine for Brown Lawn
As California’s severe drought deepens and officials look to reduce water consumption in every possible way, the state appears to be sending mixed signals as to which water-related activity is the most egregious.
The entirety of California is currently experiencing drought conditions and more than 80 percent of the state is classified as an extreme drought. Laura Whitney and her husband, Michael Korte, have been trying to conserve water in their Glendale, California home by cutting back on lawn watering, taking shorter showers, and doing larger loads of laundry. Now, they are facing a fine of up to $500 for not keeping their lawn green.
Survey results from the State Water Resources Control Board found that instead of achieving the 20 percent water reduction sought by Gov. Jerry Brown, water use actually jumped one percent this May, compared to the same period in previous years. As a result, the board voted unanimously this week to impose the first mandatory water restrictions on California residents. The regulations seek to curb water use among urban residents by banning wasteful outdoor watering, such as over-watering lawns, hosing down sidewalks or driveways, and washing cars without a shut-off nozzle on the hose. Violators could face a fine of up to $500.
“Our goal here is to light a fire under those who aren’t yet taking the drought seriously,” water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus told the Associated Press after the vote.
On the same day the state approved the mandatory water restrictions, Whitney and Korte received a letter from the city threatening a fine for not sufficiently watering their brown lawn.
“Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green,” the letter reads. The couple were given 60 days to restore the lawn or be slapped with a fine ranging from $100 to $500, Reuters reported.
“My friends in Los Angeles got these letters warning they could be fined if they water, and I got a letter warning that I could be fined for not watering,” Whitney told the Associated Press. “I felt like I was in an alternate universe.”
According to the Contra Costa Water Board, lawn care is typically the single biggest water user for the average property and a 500-square-foot lawn can use more than 18,000 gallons of water per year. Among their tips for maintaining a lawn while in the midst of drought conditions: “Be willing to accept a less than lush lawn during the drought.”
Similarly, state water board Chairwoman Marcus told residents this week that “a brown lawn should be a badge of honor because it shows you care about your community.” However, Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers told Reuters that Whitney and Korte’s lawn had deteriorated so severely, the city was receiving reports of a possible abandoned property.
Gov. Brown signed an executive order in April stating homeowners associations could not punish residents for scaling back on landscaping but the Associated Press notes that neither the order nor recent legislation awaiting the governor’s signature address fines imposed by city governments.
As California endures its third straight year of drought conditions, some in the state see a slow shift away from the water-guzzling traditional lawns that were once a symbol of wealth. “We’re on the cusp of change. It’s definitely here,” Kevin Carson, Northern California president for The New Home Co., told the Sacramento Bee earlier this year. Cities like Davis are insisting on drought-tolerant landscaping for new developments and others, like Sacramento and Roseville, instituted programs that pay residents to switch from grass to plants that use less water.
And according to Lisa Brown, Roseville’s water conservation manager, the program was a big hit with residents: “We had a line outside the door the morning we started.”
Kiley Kroh|ThinkProgress|July 21, 2014
DEP Adopts Plans to Improve Water Quality for Upper Ocklawaha River
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has adopted the second phase of a long-term restoration plan for the Upper Ocklawaha River. The restoration plan, known as a basin management action plan or BMAP, identifies strategies and projects that will be implemented over the next five years in order to improve the water quality of the Upper Ocklawaha River. Nutrient pollution, specifically excessive nitrogen and phosphorous, is the primary source of the water quality imbalance in the Upper Ocklawaha River and tributaries.
“It is encouraging to see improvements in the Upper Ocklawaha basin, and we can be proud of the improvements that have been made in the last few years,” said Tom Frick, director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “There is more work to be done. DEP is committed to working with local stakeholders to achieve water quality restoration.”
The original restoration plan was adopted in 2007 and covered 10 different waterbodies in the Upper Ocklawaha River basin. The plan focused initially on pollutant load reduction by the restoration of former agricultural lands by the St. John’s River Water Management District, completion of the Nutrient Removal Facility that removes excess pollution from Lake Apopka by the Lake County Water Authority and construction of local government stormwater improvement projects.
Seven of the original 10 water bodies covered by the 2007 restoration plan have shown nutrient pollution reductions, achieving up to a 48-percent reduction in total phosphorous for Lake Beauclair and a 41-percent reduction for Lake Dora. Additionally, nine of the 10 waterbodies covered under the restoration plan have shown reductions in chlorophyll-a. Chlorophyll-a is used as an indicator of the amount of algae in a given water body. Excessive algal growth is frequently caused by nutrient pollution. This second phase of the restoration plan continues the department’s efforts to reduce nutrient pollution by focusing where further nutrient reductions are needed.
There are other factors in addition to pollution that are causing water quality imbalances within the five focus area waterbodies, such as lack of aquatic plant life and habitat for fish. One of the strategies over the next five years is to identify these factors and their role and influence on water quality and, as feasible, implement projects to remediate the issue.
mburgerdep|July 18, 2014
For more information about the Upper Ocklawaha River restoration plans click here.
Suwannee River Bounces Back from Prolonged Drought
Thanks to above-average rainfall earlier this year and ongoing conservation efforts by the Department of Environmental Protection, springs on Florida’s historic Suwannee River are bouncing back from prolonged droughts that impacted flow from 2006-2012.
In fact, one 50-mile portion of the river is now receiving more than three times as much groundwater from springs as was recorded during the height of the 2012 drought when record-low groundwater levels and river flows were recorded after back-to-back droughts starting in 2006.
Those are the findings recently reported by the Suwannee River Water Management District, which charts water flow and water levels on the Suwannee as well as many of the springs that feed the river.
“Seeing springs on the Suwannee River flowing at near-record levels is inspiring,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “We appreciate the great scientific work by Dr. Ann Shortelle and her team at the Suwannee River Management District to identify the most effective solutions to preserve and protect our precious water resources for years to come. I also want to thank local government, environmental stakeholders and the great staff at DEP for their terrific efforts.”
The district reports that a 50-mile stretch from the Suwannee River State Park to the city of Branford is now seeing a contribution of 1,500 million more gallons per day from groundwater flowing into the river via springs compared to 2012. That groundwater comes from many of the nearly 300 springs that feed the river daily.
“The flow of the Suwannee is doubling between Suwannee River State Park and Branford,” said Megan Wetherington, a senior professional engineer with the Suwannee River Water Management District. “That’s from all the springs along the river. We’ve been busy measuring flow at most of the popular ones, and it’s been great seeing all the people enjoying these beautiful resources.”
Wetherington said above-average rainfall the past two years has contributed to the increased water flow.
The Suwannee River Water Management District has been recording groundwater levels near the Suwannee for the past 30 years. The latest hydroconditions report shows overall groundwater levels rank near the 90th-percentile since the monthly measurements began.
In other words, only 10 percent of the measurements in the past 30 years have been higher than this latest report.
“The monitoring tells us that the springs’ conditions are at least back to where we were in 2005 – after two hurricanes in 2004 followed by a wet winter,” Wetherington said.
mburgerdep|July 18, 2014
To learn more about Florida’s springs, click HERE.
DEP Adopts Plan to Improve Water Quality for Orange Creek Basin
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has adopted a long-term restoration plan for Orange Creek basin. The restoration plan, known as a basin management action plan or BMAP, identifies strategies and projects that will be implemented by the department in conjunction with local governments over the next five years to improve the water quality of the Orange Creek basin. The BMAP covers eight waterbodies in the Orange Creek basin, which are impaired due to either excess nutrient pollution or high levels of fecal coliform bacteria.
“During the first phase of this restoration plan we have seen improvements in the health of these waterbodies,” said Tom Frick, director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “The second phase of this BMAP will supplement the initial restoration strategies with the implementation of new projects developed with knowledge obtained during the past few years.”
The original restoration plan was adopted in 2008 and thanks to the efforts of local governments, St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Transportation (DOT) and Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), substantial progress has been made. Sources of bacteria have been identified and remediated, and the amount of bacteria has declined in all impaired streams. Reductions have also been observed in chlorophyll-a, an indicator of the amount of algae in the water, which typically increases from excess nutrient pollution.
The new, second phase BMAP adds an additional 57 water quality improvement projects, including conservation land purchases and enhancements in stormwater runoff management. The new restoration plan also incorporates a new waterbody, Lochloosa Lake, which has the potential to positively impact the water quality in downstream Orange Lake.
One of the more significant projects identified in the second phase restoration plan is the approximately $2.5 million Sweetwater Branch/Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Restoration Project, a cooperative effort between local governments, the city of Gainesville Public Works, GRU, DEP, DOT, SJRWMD and others. The project will rehydrate wetlands by returning water flow to Paynes Prairie. The wetland treatment system created will remove nutrients from water in Sweetwater Branch, which discharges into Alachua Sink.
The Orange Creek Basin covers 425 square miles, mostly in Alachua County. The newly adopted BMAP strategizes restoration for Hogtown Creek, Tumblin Creek, Sweetwater Branch, Alachua Sink, Newnans Lake, Lake Wauberg, Orange Lake and Lochloosa Lake. Orange Lake and Loochloosa Lake are designated as Outstanding Florida Waters by the state of Florida, meaning these water bodies are worthy of special protection due to their natural attributes.
mburgerdep|July 17, 2014
For more information about the Orange Creek basin restoration plans click here.
Aging Water System in the U.S. is a Catastrophe Waiting to Happen
Water has been a major topic in the news for the past two months. California is in the midst of a severe drought that could easily see the state running out of water within 12-18 months and Detroit residents are left without water due to being unable to pay the high water bills. These situations have been created by a combination of problems including Mother Nature and politics. However, little attention has been given to one major cause: our nation’s aging infrastructure.
The oldest iron water pipes in the nation date back to the 1800s. They were designed to last at most 120 years. For many cities around the nation, their water system was installed in the 1920s with pipes expected to last about 100 years. For those with systems installed during WWII, the expected lifespan is around 75 years. While many newer constructions have updated systems, city water grids across the nation are flowing on borrowed time.
The system is already showing the strain.
The EPA notes that there are nearly a quarter of a million water main breaks each year. This averages out to about one break every two minutes. These breaks have led to mudslides in California and sinkholes in Florida. The breaks, as well as leaky pipes, waste millions of gallons of treated drinking water. For drought risk areas in the southwest, this puts a greater strain on water resources already exacerbated by the environment.
While the Federal government has provided some funding to repair the water system, most of the cost has fallen on state and local governments. This cost is eventually passed on to customers. In recent years, water rates have increased higher than the rate of inflation, just as household income has fallen. In a note of irony, as more customers participate in conservation efforts, either by force as in the case of drought stricken California or by choice to lower the expense, water companies are getting less revenue to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure.
This confluence of factors is highlighted best in the crisis facing Detroit.
The recent shutoffs to thousands of poor Detroit residents have caused an international outcry, including pleas to the United Nations to step in. The city has been in a steady state of decline for a decade, which has resulted in a mass exodus of the city’s population. Thousands of homes have been abandoned, demolishing the tax base. The city’s water infrastructure, built in the 1920s, is pressured by age, extreme winters and pipes that remain unused in empty homes. As a result, the water company has increased rates nearly 120 percent in the last decade to cover costs. Now thousands of poor customers and small businesses are forced to bear the brunt of the expense.
The current political climate runs on crisis. From the budget to infrastructure, the current Congress has been incredibly shortsighted in its dealings with the nation’s problems. Early next week, the Senate is expected to vote on a House bill to extend the Highway Trust Fund until May. It’s a temporary fix to a problem that is tied up in a myriad of political complications that essentially boil down to no one willing to take unpopular but necessary action to fix our aging infrastructure. If passed, the bill will keep funding flowing for current projects and, most importantly, keep the fund from going bankrupt prior to the midterm elections.
The bill does not address the nearly $1 trillion needed to repair and upgrade our nation’s water infrastructure, including the nation’s inland waterways and ports.
With millions of miles of pipes already long past their expected lifespan, and more reaching their expiration date in the coming decade, this is a catastrophe in waiting. It is also one that is entirely preventable. However, it will take the political will to take unpopular but necessary action.
Like with everything else, it will have to wait until after the next election…or perhaps the next one after that.
Crystal Shepeard|July 25, 2014
Water Saving Tips for Environmentally-Responsible Gardening
Whether you live in an area with abundant fresh water or drought conditions, every drop of fresh water is precious, and should never be squandered. By following these water conservation tips, you can water responsibly and maintain a healthy lawn and garden.
Start by collecting rainwater. Placing a rain barrel underneath your downspout is a great way to save water for drier periods. A fine mesh screen will keep mosquitoes from laying eggs in the barrel. Another alternative is to attach a hose connection to your downspout to disperse rainfall as it happens.
This works especially well for watering plants close to the house that may not be getting the benefit of the rainfall.
Sweep, Don’t Spray
Don’t hose down your walks or driveway. Ever. If they need to be cleaned, sweep them with a stiff brush and let nature take care of the rest.
Add compost or coir (coconut dust) to soil to improve its ability to retain moisture. Coir holds moisture well, wets easily, drains well, and decomposes more slowly than peat moss. Even better, coir is a renewable resource, while peat moss takes hundreds of years to form.
Regardless of climate, a layer of mulch will help to keep your garden moist, with the added benefit of providing a barrier to weeds. There are many mulch materials available, with shredded bark currently being the most popular. Ensure your layer is at least 2 inches deep to retain water at the soil level.
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When watering your lawn or garden, be sure to water early in the day, when the sun is lower and temperatures are cooler in order to minimize evaporation. Try not to water in the evenings, as damp foliage increases the chance of fungal disease in the plant. Be sure to provide more water for plants that are young or newly-planted. Older trees and shrubs with larger root systems are better able to withstand drier conditions. Lawns require about an inch of water a week.
Use a Rain Gauge
A rain gauge will give you a good idea of when to water. Be sure to water close to the ground. Drip or soaker hoses enable more water to reach the soil and less water to evaporate than sprinklers do. Don’t overwater your lawn or garden, as overwatering can cause a number of problems for your plants, including fungal diseases.
Upgrade Your Hose
If watering with a hose, ensure there are no leaky connections. You’d be amazed at how much water is wasted from a worn out hose washer. Not only will a new washer prevent leaks, but it will help to increase water pressure.
Select Your Plants
Choose drought-tolerant plants, which will thrive in dry soil, or, better yet, choose native plants, which are ideally suited to your soil and weather conditions. Naturescaping (also known as GreenScaping or Beneficial Landscaping) reduces water, energy, and chemical usage in the garden while attracting native species of birds and insects.
With any – or all – of the conservation methods provided, your garden should thrive without causing you any guilt.
Julia Girouard and Colin Dunn|July 20, 2014
Great Lakes & Inland Waters
Rupture of Aging Tar Sands Pipeline Beneath Great Lakes Would Devastate People, Planet and Economy
Because the strong currents in the Straits of Mackinac reverse direction every few days, a rupture of the oil pipeline beneath the channel would quickly contaminate shorelines miles away in both lakes Michigan and Huron, according to a new University of Michigan (U-M) study commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.
The Mackinac Bridge spans the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower peninsulas of the state of Michigan. Photo credit: University of Michigan
In one scenario examined in the study and accompanying animations, oil from a hypothetical pipeline break reached Mackinac Island and Round Island after 12 hours and Bois Blanc Island after two days. All three islands are in westernmost Lake Huron, just east of the straits.
Within 20 days of a spill in the Straits of Mackinac—which separates Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and connects lakes Michigan and Huron—oil would spread as far west as Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, a distance of roughly 35 miles, and as far southeast as Rogers City in Lake Huron, a distance of about 50 miles, according to the computer-simulation study released today and conducted by hydrodynamics expert David Schwab of the U-M Water Center.
The area around the five-mile-wide straits is considered ecologically sensitive and is a major tourist draw.
“If you were to pick the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, this would be it,” Schwab said. “The currents are powerful and change direction frequently. In the event of an oil spill, these factors would lead to a big mess that would be very difficult to contain.”
Just west of the Mackinac Bridge, two 20-inch underwater pipes carry 23 million gallons of crude oil daily through the straits. The 61-year-old pipeline is operated by Enbridge Inc.
Current speeds in the straits can reach one meter per second, transporting volumes of up to 80,000 cubic meters of water per second—more than 10 times greater than the flow over Niagara Falls.
Great Lakes researchers have known since the 1990s that currents in the straits tend to reverse direction every few days. In a 2013 paper in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, Schwab and colleague Eric Anderson of the federal Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor presented the first three-dimensional, high-resolution hydrodynamic model able to accurately predict those oscillating currents and their effect on lakes Michigan and Huron. They showed that currents in the straits affect flows more than 40 miles away in both lakes.
In his study for the National Wildlife Federation, Schwab used the combined-lake model to simulate the release of contaminants at various locations and depths within the straits. The simulations track the oil for 20 days following a 12-hour release.
The simulated releases occurred in August and September, months when temperature differences between upper and lower water layers would help disperse the oil. In the August release scenario, the average currents in the straits were initially eastward but changed direction every day or two.
In the September release scenario, average currents were initially westward but changed direction periodically throughout the tracking period. The westward flow carried oil into Lake Michigan during the first 24 hours. After 48 hours, oil released near the southern end of the straits was in Lake Huron and was impinging on the Michigan shoreline from Mackinac City halfway to Cheboygan.
“Any material released into the straits will go into both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, which would complicate containment efforts,” Schwab said. “Hopefully, these simulations and animations will be useful in understanding and preparing for potential impacts.”
The National Wildlife Federation said an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would devastate the local tourism industry as well as the area’s fish and wildlife. The best way to remedy the threat, according to the organization, is to replace the pipeline under the straits.
“An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would have devastating consequences for people, fish and wildlife, and the economy. It would be an unparalleled disaster for the Great Lakes,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “This old pipeline needs to be replaced so that we can protect the Great Lakes from future spills.”
The U-M Water Center is a center of the Graham Sustainability Institute, which fosters sustainability through translational knowledge, transformative learning and institutional leadership.
Established in October 2012 with funds from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, the Water Center engages researchers, practitioners, policymakers and nonprofit groups to support, integrate and improve current and future freshwater restoration and protection efforts.
University of Michigan|July 11, 2014
EPA Solicits Great Lakes Shoreline Cities Grant Proposals
(Chicago – July 21, 2014) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a solicitation for a second round of Great Lakes Shoreline Cities Grants. EPA will award grants totaling up to $4.5 million to eligible shoreline cities to fund green infrastructure projects that will improve Great Lakes water quality.
This year, shoreline cities with a population greater than 25,000 and less than 50,000 will be eligible to apply for green infrastructure grants of up to $250,000. Last year, EPA awarded Shoreline Cities Grants totaling just under $7 million to 16 cities with populations greater than 50,000.
“This is an opportunity for more Great Lakes shoreline cities to obtain funding for green infrastructure projects,” said Region 5 Administrator/Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman. “These GLRI grants will be used for green infrastructure projects that reduce urban runoff and sewer overflows that foul beaches and impair Great Lakes water quality.”
Cities can use the grants to cover up to 50 percent of the cost of rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, porous pavement, greenways, constructed wetlands, stormwater tree trenches and other green infrastructure measures installed on public property. Detailed eligibility requirements are available at www.epa.gov/grtlakes/fund/shoreline/.
More information about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is available at www.glri.us.
Ohio pushes to end sediment dumping into Lake Erie
Ohio’s push to end dumping of mud, sand into Lake Erie could help more than just the water
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — There’s enough sand, soil and mud scooped out of Toledo’s and Cleveland’s harbors each year to fill the Indians’ ballpark to the top of its upper deck.
All the silt dredged to keep open the shipping channel in Toledo is dumped into Lake Erie while the sediment from Cleveland goes into disposal facilities that are filling up fast.
Ohio’s environmental regulators have wanted to stop the dumping since the 1980s. They’re now working with local and federal agencies to find new uses for the silt so that it no longer ends up in the lake.
Solving the question of what to do with it won’t be easy for a number of reasons. Those looking for solutions say some of their ideas could benefit farm fields, blighted neighborhoods, abandoned industrial land and the health of Lake Erie.
Dredging both harbors is necessary to keep shipments of grain, iron ore and other cargo flowing, supporting some 25,000 jobs. But Toledo’s long, shallow port requires more dredging than any of the other Great Lakes.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been piling the silt from Toledo in the waters offshore since the 1980s over objections from environmental groups and state regulators.
The federal agency maintained that it was safe for the lake and the cheapest option, but algae outbreaks fouling the water in recent years led to renewed calls to stop the dumping. There’s no clear evidence that it’s contributing to the algae, but environmental groups suspect there’s some connection.
Then this year there was uproar when the Army Corps proposed disposing sediment from Cleveland’s harbor offshore, too. Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency pushed back and the Army Corps dropped the idea. At the same time, state lawmakers approved spending $10 million to research alternative uses for the silt.
Several ports along the Great Lakes in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois have been using the silt for road construction projects, golf courses and topsoil.
Now that research money in Ohio is available, both Toledo and Cleveland are looking at what could work there.
State Sen. Randy Gardner, a Republican from northwestern Ohio who sought the research money, said it’s the first time Ohio has committed to finding a solution to open lake dumping.
Some of the research money is going toward a project in Toledo that will test whether the dredged material can be used to grow crops or raise the level of low-lying fields that are difficult to farm. It also will look at turning it into compost for gardens or landscaping.
Cleveland is seeking part of the $10 million to find out if it can capture some of the silt before it plugs the shipping channel and use it to fill the basements of abandoned homes after they’re torn down.
The project, which could begin this fall, has the potential to be self-sustaining and save dredging costs, said Jim White of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority. The agency also is looking at using the silt to redevelop old industrial sites, something it already did a few years ago.
First, there’s the huge amount of silt dredged each year — enough to fill 70,000 dump trucks in Toledo.
That’s why there needs to be a combination of uses, said John Hull, head of Hull & Associates Inc., an environmental engineering firm in Toledo that has researched potential solutions.
The best long-term answer, he said, might be to put the material back on the farmland where it came from because it can handle the large volume dredged every year. Another is creating wetlands along the lake’s shoreline.
Another major obstacle is the cost of moving the sand, soil and mud from the harbors to the farm and industrial land where it could be used. Those studying the issue believe transport costs will mean the silt needs to be used close to the dredging areas.
The cost of turning the material into something usable and finding a market for it also are obvious questions.
Finally, the soil composition of the silt varies in each harbor, meaning what works in Cleveland might not work in Toledo, where the silt has less sand and isn’t as versatile as a commercial product, Hull said.
Despite the obstacles, Ohio’s political leaders believe that turning what’s now a waste product into something that can be sold is worth exploring.
“Why didn’t we do this before?” asked Gov. John Kasich this past week while in Toledo promoting the idea. “It’s a matter of priorities, and the lake is a priority for Ohio.”
John Seewer|Associated Press|July 20, 2014
Suwannee River Bounces Back from Prolonged Drought
Thanks to above-average rainfall earlier this year and ongoing conservation efforts by the Department of Environmental Protection, springs on Florida’s historic Suwannee River are bouncing back from prolonged droughts that impacted flow from 2006-2012.
In fact, one 50-mile portion of the river is now receiving more than three times as much groundwater from springs as was recorded during the height of the 2012 drought when record-low groundwater levels and river flows were recorded after back-to-back droughts starting in 2006.
Those are the findings recently reported by the Suwannee River Water Management District, which charts water flow and water levels on the Suwannee as well as many of the springs that feed the river.
“Seeing springs on the Suwannee River flowing at near-record levels is inspiring,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “We appreciate the great scientific work by Dr. Ann Shortelle and her team at the Suwannee River Management District to identify the most effective solutions to preserve and protect our precious water resources for years to come. I also want to thank local government, environmental stakeholders and the great staff at DEP for their terrific efforts.”
The district reports that a 50-mile stretch from the Suwannee River State Park to the city of Branford is now seeing a contribution of 1,500 million more gallons per day from groundwater flowing into the river via springs compared to 2012. That groundwater comes from many of the nearly 300 springs that feed the river daily.
“The flow of the Suwannee is doubling between Suwannee River State Park and Branford,” said Megan Wetherington, a senior professional engineer with the Suwannee River Water Management District. “That’s from all the springs along the river. We’ve been busy measuring flow at most of the popular ones, and it’s been great seeing all the people enjoying these beautiful resources.”
Wetherington said above-average rainfall the past two years has contributed to the increased water flow.
The Suwannee River Water Management District has been recording groundwater levels near the Suwannee for the past 30 years. The latest hydroconditions report shows overall groundwater levels rank near the 90th-percentile since the monthly measurements began.
In other words, only 10 percent of the measurements in the past 30 years have been higher than this latest report.
“The monitoring tells us that the springs’ conditions are at least back to where we were in 2005 – after two hurricanes in 2004 followed by a wet winter,” Wetherington said.
To learn more about Florida’s springs, click HERE.
Offshore & Ocean
Pacific Bluefin Tuna Population at Brink of Collapse
The mighty Pacific bluefin tuna is in a world of trouble, caught up in a trans-Pacific political battle over who’s to blame for driving the population to the brink of collapse and who’s responsible for bringing it back. The fish, loved by the Japanese for its deep red fatty meat and sought after by sport fishers from Baja California to New Zealand, has been decimated by decades of overfishing and an absence of responsible management. Today, the Pacific bluefin population had dropped to just four percent of its unfished size, with a steady decline over the last 15 years. And the most recent assessment shows even deeper signs of trouble.
Data collected by scientists with the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) show that more than 90 percent of a fisherman’s bluefin tuna catch today is made up of the smallest fish: juveniles that haven’t had a chance to reproduce. And that’s not the worst of it. A recent scientific analysis found that the few adult bluefin remaining in the ocean are nearing the end of their lives, meaning they won’t be reproducing much longer. With few new fish entering the population, and fishermen catching those juveniles almost exclusively, this species is at a tipping point.
Pacific bluefin is fished predominantly by Japan in the west and Mexico in the east. South Korea and Taiwan also fish for bluefin, with U.S. commercial and recreational fishers catching a small amount as well. Commercially caught bluefin regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars each, sometimes much more.
Watch a video
Amanda Nickson|The Pew Charitable Trusts|July 11, 2014
First-of-its-Kind Map Details Extent of Plastic in Five Ocean Gyres
When a research team set sail on a nine-month, worldwide expedition in 2010 to study the impact of global warming on Earth’s oceans, one of their projects was to locate the accumulations of plastic.
They found plenty. They explored the five huge gyres, which collectively contain tens of thousands of tons of plastic. The result was the creation of a compelling, first-of-its-kind map of this debris.
These maps show the tens of thousands of tons of plastic garbage floating on the surface of the waters in the world’s oceans.
Map credit: National Geographic staff Jamie Hawk Source: Andrés Cozar, University of Cádiz, Spain
But in the process, they realized that the plastic in the gyres didn’t begin to account for the enormous amount of plastic that’s been manufactured since the mass production of plastic began in the mid 1940s.
In a National Geographic report, marine biologist Andres Cozar Cabañas, who was part of the Malaspina expedition led by the Spanish National Research Council, said:
“Our observations show that large loads of plastic fragments, with sizes from microns to some millimeters, are unaccounted for in the surface loads. But we don’t know what this plastic is doing. The plastic is somewhere—in the ocean life, in the depths or broken down into fine particles undetectable by nets.”
While there’s been considerable alarm raised about these gyres of floating plastic, the missing plastic could be having negative impacts we don’t yet know about. As National Geographic reports, the study of marine plastic debris is new, dating back only to 2004, when British marine biologist Richard Thompson concluded that most ocean debris is, in fact, plastic.
The discovery of the missing plastic raises a host of questions. Oceanographer Kara Lavender Law of the Cape Cod-based Sea Education Association, part of a team currently researching issues surrounding marine debris, told National Geographic:
“We are at the very early stages of understanding the accounting. If we think ten or a hundred times more plastic is entering the ocean than we can account for, then where is it? We still haven’t answered that question. And if we don’t know where it is or how it is impacting organisms, we can’t tell the person on the street how big the problem is.”
Among the possibilities: it’s being consumed by small fish that are eaten by larger fish caught for human consumption, such as tuna and swordfish, and ending up in the human food system. Or it could be finding its way into the ecosystem of the world’s least explored region, the deep ocean.
“Sadly, the accumulation of plastic in the deep ocean would be modifying this enigmatic ecosystem before we can really know it,” said Cozar.
Anastasia Pantsios|July 16, 2014
Florida officials oppose reopening of offshore oil exploration
ST. PETERSBURG — Elected officials and environmentalists in Florida reacted swiftly to the federal government’s decision Friday to reopen the Eastern Seaboard to offshore oil exploration using sonic cannons to find deepwater energy reserves.
The approval by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will allow oil companies to troll the continental shelf from Delaware to Florida blasting sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine into the depths every 10 seconds.
The process can be harmful to whales, dolphins, turtles and other marine life, the bureau acknowledged, but members of Florida’s congressional delegation also are concerned about opening the door to offshore oil rigs in a state that depends on clean water for its multibillion-dollar tourism industry.
“I have significant concerns about this decision and this methodology and it simply reinforces my strong opposition to expanded exploration in the eastern gulf, including any future use of this technology in our waters,” U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, said in a statement Friday.
Several elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, have signed a letter to President Barack Obama opposing the agency’s decision.
“Expanding unnecessary drilling offshore simply puts too much at risk. Florida has more coastline than any other state in the continental United States and its beaches and marine resources support the local economy across the state,” the letter states.
Energy companies are preparing to apply for drilling leases in 2018, when current congressional limits are set to expire.
A federal moratorium on oil leases along the eastern Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast will remain in effect until 2022, and Tampa Bay area tourism leaders and environmental groups plan to push for it to be extended, said Phil Compton, of the Sierra Club’s St. Petersburg field office.
“We know the oil companies have no limits to their desire to extract oil in every location no matter what the cost to the local economy,” he said.
Compton’s group has more immediate concerns about seismic cannon blasting injuring or killing thousands of marine mammals according to the federal government’s own estimates. Arguing that endangered species could be harmed was the best hope environmental groups had for extending a decades-old ban against drilling off the U.S. Atlantic coast.
“The bureau’s decision reflects a carefully analyzed and balanced approach that will allow us to increase our understanding of potential offshore resources while protecting the human, marine, and coastal environments,” Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Ocean Energy Management Bureau, said in a statement.
These sonic cannons already are in use in the western Gulf of Mexico, off Alaska and other offshore oil operations around the world. They are towed behind boats, sending strong sound pulses into the ocean every 10 seconds or so. The pulses reverberate beneath the sea floor and bounce back to the surface, where they are measured by hydrophones. Computers translate the data into high-resolution, three-dimensional images.
“It’s like a sonogram of the Earth,” said Andy Radford, a petroleum engineer at the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas trade association in Washington, D.C. “You can’t see the oil and gas, but you can see the structures in the earth that might hold oil and gas.”
The surveys can have other benefits, including mapping habitats for marine life, identifying solid undersea flooring for wind energy turbines, and locating spots where sand can be collected for beach restoration. But fossil fuel mostly funds this research, which produces data held as energy company secrets and disclosed only to the government.
The bureau estimates that 4.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 37.5 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas lies beneath federal waters from Florida to Maine. Oil lobbyists say drilling for it could generate $195 billion in investment and spending between 2017 and 2035, creating thousands of jobs and contributing $23.5 billion per year to the economy.
The North Atlantic zone remains off-limits for now, apparently for political reasons. While some states have passed drilling bans, Virginia and the Carolinas requested the seismic surveys to grow their economies, bureau officials said Friday.
In any case, the area to be mapped is in federal waters, beyond the reach of state law.
The sonic cannons often are fired continually for weeks or months, and multiple mapping projects may operate simultaneously. To get permits, companies will need to have whale-spotting observers onboard and do undersea acoustic tests to avoid nearby species. Certain habitats will be closed during birthing or feeding seasons.
Still, underwater microphones have picked up blasts from these sonic cannons over thousands of miles, and the constant banging poses unavoidable dangers for marine life, scientists say. Whales and dolphins depend on being able to hear their own much less powerful echolocation to feed, communicate and keep in touch with their family groups across hundreds of miles. Even fish and crabs navigate and communicate by sound, said Grant Gilmore, an expert on fish ecology in Vero Beach.
“We don’t know what the physiological effects are. It could be permanent hearing damage in many of these creatures just by one encounter with a high-energy signal,” Gilmore said.
More than 16 communities from Florida to New Jersey passed resolutions opposing or raising concerns about the seismic testing and offshore drilling, including St. Augustine, where the local economy relies on beach tourism and fishing.
“Florida has already felt the devastating effects of an uncontrolled oil release with the Deepwater Horizon event of which cleanup efforts are still ongoing,” said John Morris, a county commissioner from St. Augustine. “Any oil spill, large or small, off the coast of St. Johns County would greatly affect the county’s economy.”
JOSH BOATWRIGHT|Tribune staff|July 19, 2014
Florida – UM-led research team contributes to the management of South Florida coastal environments
A Florida-based marine research team has developed a unique formal process and modeling framework to help manage South Florida’s economically important coastal marine environments. The MARES project (Marine and Estuarine Goal Setting), led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) based at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, successfully integrated both ecosystem science and societal benefits into a marine ecosystem support tool to help improve decision-making by natural resource managers.
The research team published their findings in 15 research papers in a special issue of the journal of Ecological Indicators – Volume 44, entitled: “Tools to support ecosystem based management of South Florida’s coastal resources.” The results have been incorporated into the revised Guidance Document for the National Marine Sanctuaries’ Condition Reports and are being used by the Our Florida Reefs community working groups, the National Parks Service, NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment efforts, and in undergraduate courses at Florida universities and colleges.
“One of the important aspects of this new suite of tools, which includes conceptual info-graphics, integrated ecosystem models and both human and ecological indicators, is that it’s exportable technology,” said Peter Ortner, UM Rosenstiel Research Professor and Director of CIMAS. “It can be applied directly to the management of other coastal ecosystems.”
A MARES program for coastal North Carolina is under consideration and a full-day workshop on MARES will be held at next December’s “Linking Science, Practice and Decision Making” conference in Washington, DC. The NOAA/Climate Program Office has recently announced an award to CIMAS applying the MARES framework entitled “Developing decision support tools for understanding, communicating, and adapting to the impacts of climate on the sustainability of coastal ecosystem services.”
South Florida has one of the most diverse ocean and coastal ecosystems in the United States, and is economically important to the local and state economy for tourism, commercial and recreational fishing, SCUBA diving, and other ocean-related jobs. The South Florida marine environment has degraded over the last century due to upstream and local human activity and coastal development. Sea-level rise and climate change are additional stressors that will put the long-term health of South Florida’s valuable coastal resources at further risk over the coming century.
The study team, which included over 50 researchers from academia, state and federal government, was comprised of ecological scientists as well as “human dimension” scientists, such as economists, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists to evaluate the societal aspects of ecosystem management and protection. The coastal region studied included the waters from Martin County south to the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas, the Southwest marine environment in the Gulf of Mexico from Lee County south to Florida Bay.
“Our large, collaborative team developed a conceptual modeling framework that explicitly focuses on the benefits humans receive from the ecosystem,” said Ortner. “The framework includes ecological indicators as well as human dimensions indicators to assess the level of services human society is receiving and wishes to continue to receive from the ecosystem, such as recreational opportunity and economic gain.”
The new conceptual framework allows natural resource managers to track how the ecological and human requirements are being satisfied and provides a flexible highly adaptive approach that allows for pubic involvement in the decision-making process. The MARES process is designed to reach a science-based consensus on the defining characteristics and fundamental regulatory processes of a coastal marine ecosystem that are both sustainable and capable of providing the diverse ecosystem services upon which our society depends. MARES was funded by the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
Press Release|19 July 2014
Nearly 85 percent of the pink shrimp harvested in the United States comes from the west coast of Florida
Pink shrimp typically have a dark colored spot on each side between their third and fourth abdominal segments.
Pink shrimp is one of the three species of penaeid shrimp harvested in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Fisheries for brown, pink, and white shrimp are some of the most valuable fisheries in the southeastern United States. Nearly 85 percent of the pink shrimp harvested in the United States comes from the west coast of Florida. Prized for their sweet, tender meat, pink shrimp are caught fresh year-round, but are more abundant during winter months.
Shrimp are essentially an “annual crop” – most shrimp do not survive longer than 2 years. Although scientists monitor shrimp abundance to ensure the stock is healthy, abundance is not an important consideration for fishery managers as with other seafood species. Instead, managers consider historic harvest amounts and fishing rates in developing a management strategy for the fishery. They also look at the amount of surviving parents and environmental conditions, such as weather and water temperatures. As long as environmental conditions are favorable, shrimp are very productive and can rebound from low abundance one year to high abundance the next.
Although shrimp populations are fairly resilient to fishing pressure, commercial shrimp fisheries can impact the abundance of other species, including finfish and sea turtles. To reduce bycatch of finfish, shrimp trawlers must have bycatch reduction devices (BRDs), which are designed to retain shrimp but allow fish to exit the net. They must also comply with federal sea turtle conservation requirements, including using Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). A TED is a grid of bars with an opening at either the top or bottom of the trawl net. The grid is fitted into the neck of a shrimp trawl. Small animals such as shrimp can pass through the grid, but it stops large animals such as sea turtles and they can escape through the opening, relatively unharmed.
Strengths: A new stock assessment, deemed to provide more precise estimates, was recently developed to assess the gulf shrimps. Once an overcapitalized fishery, shrimp fishing effort in the US Gulf of Mexico has considerably declined since the early 2000s. Current fishing mortality estimates are far below the overfishing limit; spawning biomass is at high levels and much above the limit that defines an overfished condition. Recent measures to reduce the bycatch of juvenile red snapper led to the mandated use of better performing bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) in federal waters. NOAA has issued new turtle excluder device (TED) performance standards that limits the otter trawl fleet to an overall 12% capture rate, which is monitored through bi-annual reviews of inspection records.
Weaknesses: The current observer coverage in the fishery is not sufficient to adequately quantify and characterize bycatch across the entire fishery. Even with better performing bycatch reduction devices in place, there are 2.5 pounds discards for every 1 pound of harvested shrimp. During 2010 and 2011 turtle excluder device compliance was lower than expected and may have led to excessive take of threatened and endangered sea turtles in the shrimp fishery. In 2012, compliance improved but the frequency of monitoring and enforcement is low. Despite the fact that most of the fishing takes place over resilient muddy and sandy bottoms, there is still limited data on the benthic impacts of shrimp trawling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Florida Bay, the 10,000 Islands and Caloosahatchee/Charlotte Harbor are important nursery habitats for the pink shrimp that will be enhanced with completion of CERP projects – Picayune Strand, C43 West Basin Reservoir, and CEPP to flow more clean water to Florida Bay. Some 4 million pounds of pink shrimp are landed at Ft. Myers in a “good” year.
Sustainable Fisheries Partnership| World Wide Web Electronic Publication
Devil Rays are deep divers!
Thought to dwell mostly near the ocean’s surface, Chilean devil rays (Mobula tarapacana) are most often seen gliding through shallow, warm waters. But a new study by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and international colleagues reveals that these large and majestic creatures are actually among the deepest-diving ocean animals.
“So little is known about these rays,” said Simon Thorrold, a biologist at WHOI and one of the authors of the paper, published July 1, 2014, in the journal Nature Communications. “We thought they probably travelled long distances horizontally, but we had no idea that they were diving so deep. That was truly a surprise.”
Researchers utilized pop-up satellite archival transmitting tags to record the movement patterns of 15 Chilean devil rays in the central North Atlantic Ocean during 2011 and 2012. The tags, which stay on the animals for up to 9 months, also measure water temperature, depth, and light levels of the waters. Once the tags pop off, they float to the surface and beam data via the ARGO satellite system back to computers on shore.
“Data from the tags gives us a three-dimensional view of the movements of these animals, and a window into how they’re living in their ocean habitat—where they go, when, and why,” Thorrold added.
Devil rays, which can grow as large as four meters (13 feet) across, are ocean nomads travelling large areas of the ocean. Dive data from the tags showed individuals also routinely descended at speeds up to 6 meters per second (13.4 miles per hour) to depths of almost 2,000 meters (1.24 miles) in water temperatures less than 4 degrees Celsius (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit).
The deep dives generally followed two distinct patterns. The most common involved descent to the maximum depth followed by a slower, stepwise return to the surface with a total dive time of 60 to 90 minutes. The tagged rays generally only made one such dive during a 24-hour period. In the second dive pattern, individuals descended and then remained at depths of up to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) for as long as 11 hours.
Chilean devil rays (Mobula tarapacana) are actually among the deepest-diving ocean animals.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution|July 21, 2014
Read more at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
This Floating Platform Could Filter the Plastic from our Polluted Oceans
“Plastic is an extremely durable material, taking 500 years to biodegrade, yet it’s designed to be used for an average of 5 minutes, and so it’s thrown away. Few know where this mass of junk will end up … in the oceans, killing and silently destroying everything, even us.”
Cristian Ehrmantraut has developed a prototype for a floating platform that filters the ocean and absorbs plastic. Located 4 km from the coast of Easter Island, close to the center of the mega-vortex of plastic located in the South Pacific, the tetrahedral platform performs a kind of dialysis, allowing the natural environment to be recovered as well as energy and food to be produced.
The idea for the project comes from a reality that, although few realize it, affects us all: the disposable culture and its principal actor — plastic
Since the 1960s, plastic has become a part of our daily lives, allowing us, among other things, to extend our lifespan. However, behind this remarkable reality lies an uncomfortable fact: plastic is an extremely durable material, taking 500 years to biodegrade, yet it’s designed to be used for an average of 5 minutes, and so it’s thrown away. Few know where this mass of junk will end up … in the oceans, killing and silently destroying everything, even us.
Today there are six mega-vortexes of floating plastic: five between the continents and a sixth close to the Arctic, which is similar in size to Brazil (8.5 million square kilometers) and is 10 meters thick. It is in this environment that Halobates – a wild insect that feeds on zooplankton – thrives. The insect has experienced such exponential growth, in fact, that it’s endangering the zooplankton, essentially eliminating the base of the oceanic food chain.
In the center of the mega-vortex of the South Pacific is Easter Island. Tons of micro-plastic trash arrive with every wave (Special Report making it a strategic place to start cleaning the global oceans. Easter Island, which hosts over 50,000 tourists annually from all over the world, could well become the world’s referent for a new ecology, which, whether we like it or not, will be focused on cleaning up this disastrous mess for the next 1000 years. This effort will enlist architecture, which will not only have to sustainably produce energy without polluting, but also actively clean the environment.
Thus, the project, which would be located 4 km off the coast of Easter island, is a prototype for a floating platform that filters the ocean, absorbs plastic, and protects the island from this ceaseless attack.
The design of the sub-structure is based on the application of the M.E.F. logic, which is similar to the Sierpinski fractal, but in three dimensions in order to achieve the overall coordination of the small, prefabricated elements. Its tetrahedral shape is simple, clean, stable, and static.
At the conceptual level, interesting things also occur, such as the verticality of the space in its natural state; just by being submerged, it’s possible to see the sky from below sea level. Aspects of emergence at a non-invasive, horizontal level were also considered, which results in a volume no bigger than a freighter, with the habitable zone on the surface and the recycling zone underwater. Ocean water is directed toward the recycling zone via gravity filters that separate the water from the plastic, which is later processed into plastic bricks, tiles, or anything that could be used to improve the quality of life of those in need. The habitable zone also has gardens to produce food for its 65 workers, without having to resort to supplies from the Island. The roof is made from photovoltaic cells.
To capture the plastic and lure it to the platform, we developed a modular system of rolling barriers that use the waves to separate the living from the inert, all while producing energy and preserving the free passage of fish, boats, etc. Due to the the huge magnitude of ocean currents, a platform would be needed every several kilometers.
The ocean is dynamic, so it’s not necessary that the platforms move; eventually, all the water will pass through the same zone. A range of platforms operating systematically will cover hundreds of kilometers – a good start to fixing the disaster we’ve all collectively caused.
So let’s get to work.
Vanessa Quirk|Arch Daily|16 Jul2014
Save the Bluefin Tuna
The National Marine Fisheries Service opened a public process today to determine whether to prohibit fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna, which have suffered a 96 percent decline since large-scale fishing began. The action followed the Center for Biological Diversity’s rulemaking petition sent in April.
The Pacific bluefin population’s historic low triggered a requirement for new regulations to better manage overfishing by April 8, 2014, but regulators thus far have declined to take any steps to help the fish. Today’s request for comments is the federal government’s first step to spur action from the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
“This initiation of this important process provides a glimmer of hope in a sea of bleak news for Pacific bluefin tuna,” said Center Attorney Catherine Kilduff. “Saving Pacific bluefin tuna from the world’s insatiable appetite for sushi requires action at all levels, starting with protection in U.S. waters.”
In today’s notice the Fisheries Service considers adding Pacific bluefin tuna to a list of imperiled species that must be released immediately if caught. That list includes great white sharks and other species vulnerable to steep declines from fishing. U.S. sport-fishery landings now dominate American catches of Pacific bluefin tuna, eclipsing the once-vibrant U.S. commercial fishery.
Last week Mexico prohibited commercial and recreational fishing for bluefin tuna for the remainder of 2014 after countries’ collective catch reached the international 5,000-metric-ton limit for bluefin tuna. Fishing continues in U.S. waters because of exemptions negotiated by the U.S. delegation to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. This month’s meeting of the commission failed to set future catch limits after the United States, Mexico, Japan, Korea and Chinese-Taipei could not agree on reductions.
Center for Biological Diversity|July 24, 2014
Read more at Center for Biological Diversity.
Whale washes ashore and dies during Navy war games in Hawaii
Today a pilot whale washed up on the beach in Hanalei, Kauai, and soon died. Meanwhile, massive naval war games continue off the shore of the Hawaiian Islands.
In the words of marine biologists at the scene of the stranding, endangered sea turtles are showing up with their legs blown off, dead or simply disappearing…. 2,000 year old coral reefs are disintegrating into piles of rubble on the sea floor. And then, this morning, a dead whale. For every whale that washes up on the beach, it is thought that many more simply die at sea.
The US Navy and 22 foreign navies from around the world are continuing their war games in these beautiful waters. They are sinking ships (likely releasing toxic PCBs and asbestos into the ecosystem), detonating bombs, and deploying high-intensity sonar which seriously disrupts marine mammal behaviors, permanently damages their hearing, and can drive them onto beaches to die.
NOAA says it will investigate this death… but if they follow previous patterns, they will not release the results until months, years or a decade down the road — most likely on a holiday weekend, when most people will have forgotten about it. This is a tragic outcome for whales & dolphins who deserve our protection.
We need your assistance now to bring this travesty to the public’s attention. We need to demand that the Navy use more simulation software for sonar trainings and deploy safer technologies that won’t destroy our natural world.
To learn the truth about how Navy sonar is killing whales, please check out Joshua Horwitz’s new book, WAR OF THE WHALES.
Big Thanks to Marine Biologist Terry Lilley for sharing this information and being a stellar protector of the Islands. To see his report from the scene of the stranding click here.
Meet the Town That’s Using the Ocean to Provide Heat to Low-Income Residents
DUINDORP, THE NETHERLANDS — When most people think of harnessing renewable energy from the ocean, the gigantic spinning blades of offshore wind farms are probably the first thing that come to mind. Or maybe it’s gracefully bobbing buoys capturing wave energy or dams that skim power off rushing tides. Very few people, however, think of the oceans as a vast source of renewable heat that can be used to keep homes warm and showers steaming. But that’s exactly what a growing number of seaside towns in northern Europe are doing, despite having some particularly chilly ocean water.
It should perhaps come as no surprise that the ocean can be used to climate control our homes. After all, the Earth’s oceans essentially climate control the entire planet. The more than 70 percent of the Earth that is covered by water serves as a kind of global thermostat. Oceans take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helps to moderate temperatures, and they also emit heat from the sunlight they absorb. Clouds, too, which perform a variety of cooling and insulating functions to help regulate temperature on Earth, form from water evaporating off the ocean.
Harnessing just a tiny fraction of the heat stored in the world’s oceans has theoretically been possible for many years, but has only recently been put into practice. One of the first places in the world to draw on the ocean for residents’ heating needs is Duindorp, a small harbor town near the Hague in the Netherlands.
Being dependent on the ocean is nothing new for Duindorp — for decades, the small fishing village relied almost entirely on the water for its economic lifeblood. Fishing in the harbor has since declined, but now a new era of reliance on the ocean for energy has begun.
The project began nearly a decade ago, as 1,200 cramped fishermen houses dating back to 1915 were taken down in town to make room for 800 new homes that met modern standards for affordable housing in the Netherlands.
“Residents wanted their homes to be heated using renewable energy,” said Paul Stoelinga, senior consultant at Dutch environmental engineering firm Deerns International, which designed Duindorp’s current heating system. “But how to offer that for low-income residents was a problem. Technologies like solar panels were just too expensive and wouldn’t produce enough energy in this region.”
District heating using seawater turned out to be the most affordable solution, insuring no resident would have to pay more than the national average of €70 (about $94) a month for heat and hot water.
While deeply connected to the sea, Duindorp seems like an unlikely place to take advantage of heat in the oceans. The birds skimming over the choppy harbor are mostly cormorants, familiar cold-weather birds that proclaim the fact that the water here is hardly warm. For most of the winter, the temperature in the harbor is right around 35 to 40° Fahrenheit, although in summer it can climb to near 70° Fahrenheit.
The system is based on a district heating plan, which is quite common in Europe, but only recently starting to catch on in the U.S. District heating systems warm water at a central location and then distribute it through a system of underground pipes. None of the water in the pipes is used directly in homes, but the heat from the water is skimmed off and used to warm showers and floors.
The process is similar to the circulatory system in a person’s body. Blood gets oxygen from the heart and then delivers it through the body, returning de-oxygenated blood to the heart to start the process all over again. Likewise, the water in the pipes that services the neighborhood is heated at the central facility and then runs through town distributing heat and eventually loops back to the power plant to be heated up once again.
In the summer, creating warm water to flow through the district heating network of pipes is relatively straightforward. Intake pipes at the harbor draw in about 25,000 to 50,000 gallons of warm seawater every hour. An extensive series of filters throughout the intake system ensures that no sea life is sucked into the plant. That seawater is then used in a heat exchanger to heat freshwater for the pipes to around 54° Fahrenheit. The warmed freshwater is then sent out along a five mile network of insulated pipes that services the 800 homes in the new affordable housing neighborhood. At every house connected to the system, a 5 kWh-capacity heat pump raises the temperature of the water to between 110-150° Fahrenheit, to then be used for heating and warm water.
In the winter, the system is more complex.
“Just at the moment when you really want a hot shower and need heating in your home, that’s when the ocean is at its coldest,” said Stoelinga. “Sometimes just 2° Celsius. It’s a tricky contradiction, when you need the heat, its not there.”
During these chilly months, a heat pump is used to transfer heat from the seawater to the district heating system. Every home in the U.S. uses similar technology in refrigerators and air conditioners. Heat pumps don’t create heat, they merely transfer it from one medium to another. Heat pumps require a source of energy as they push heat against its natural gradient — heat naturally wants to flow from hot to cold until an equilibrium is reached. In a refrigerator, they push heat from a cold area, the inside of the fridge, to a warmer area, the kitchen. Unlike a typical fridge, the heat pump in Duindorp uses ammonia as the refrigerant. It’s extremely efficient, but also quite toxic, and not something any homeowner would want in their kitchen.
Much more water is needed in the winter, compared to the summer, to keep the system running. About 190,000 gallons of water is taken in every hour when the ocean is at its coldest and only a few degrees of heat can be transferred.
“You can’t get much heat out of water which is just a few degrees above freezing” explained Stoelinga, “so you need much more flow.”
Originally, Deerns planned to make the system 100 percent renewable by building two 1.5 MW wind turbines in the harbor to supply all of the energy needed to run the heat pump during the winter. Unfortunately, local zoning codes didn’t allow wind turbines to be built in the area, so the electricity needed to run the heat pumps, about 3 MW, is taken off the grid. The system is still extremely efficient, however, generating 15 kilowatt-hours of heat for every 1 kWh of electricity pumped into the system. This reduces carbon emissions by 50 percent when compared to conventional heating using natural gas.
Stoelinga explained that while district heating systems and heat pumps certainly aren’t new ideas, making the system run smoothly with an affordable price tag was a massive undertaking.
“I would say that about 80 percent of the engineering work we did at this site was dedicated entirely to battling the problem of corrosive seawater,” said Stoelinga. “We are dealing with huge volumes of very salty water in our mechanical systems every day and finding ways to cut down on how often we had to replace corroded components was by far the biggest challenge. ”
Now that solutions to that problem have been designed, Stoelinga says that seawater district heating is a promising alternative for any community near the shore. The system will be most cost effective in areas where new development is taking place. Since district heating depends on an underground network of pipes, retrofitting a community to run on a district heating system would add considerably to the price tag.
“This design would work especially well and cost even less if the community was near a large body of freshwater,” said Stoelinga. “If you don’t have to worry about saltwater ruining equipment, it’s much simpler.”
In the U.S., any town or city on the coasts, along the Great Lakes, or even near large rivers like the Mississippi could benefit from a similar system.
For Stoelinga, the next project is a seawater cooling system based on the similar principles for resorts in Aruba. In order to cool the resort, intake pipes will be built to collect the cold water deep in the ocean. That cold water can then be used in a heat exchanger to provide cold water in taps and air conditioning throughout the hotel.
Joanna M. Foster|ThinkProgress|July 25, 2014 This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress.
Gulf’s Dead Zone to hold steady – NOAA
Scientists today predicted that the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone” will stick to its average size this year, while the Chesapeake Bay will suffer from one slightly larger than usual.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released the predictions, which came out of two projects funded through the agency. In a statement, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan pointed to such models as a handy tool as the agency works with nonprofits to shrink such oxygen-free zones.
“These ecological forecasts are good examples of the critical environmental intelligence products and tools that NOAA provides to interagency management bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay Program and Gulf Hypoxia Task Force,” Sullivan said. “With this information, we can work collectively on ways to reduce pollution and protect our marine environments for future generations.”
“Dead zones” — called hypoxic because of their lack of oxygen — threaten fisheries and wildlife diversity. They emerge thanks to agricultural and wastewater runoff, which feeds nutrients to explosive algae blooms that suck up oxygen and snuff out marine life.
Researchers will measure the zones on a trip in the next few weeks. But today’s predictions come from models that show the influence of various factors — such as weather and oceanographic conditions — on the size of the oxygen-depleted areas.
The Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone is expected to cover an area as large as 5,708 miles, or the size of Connecticut, according to NOAA. That’s in line with the past 10 years. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 101,000 metric tons of nitrate dumped into the Gulf from the Mississippi River last month — a decrease of about 80,000 metric tons when compared to May 2013, which was above average likely due to a wet spring season last year.
The Chesapeake Bay could see a low-oxygen zone of 1.97 cubic miles in midsummer and an oxygen-free zone as large as 0.51 cubic mile in early summer, according to NOAA. Scientists used cubic miles as a measurement because of the bay’s shallow waters.
The bay saw an uptick in nitrogen, receiving 44,000 metric tons — up from 36,600 — from the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers between January and May, according to NOAA.
Emily Yehle|E&E reporter|June 24, 2014
The Plan to Prevent the Slaughter of Thousands of Whales
Public awareness of the awful atrocities committed against whales and dolphins has increased greatly in recent years, thanks in no small part to the ongoing work of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the release of the 2009 documentary The Cove.
People were disgusted and appalled to discover that tens of thousands of dolphins and whales were being mutilated and slaughtered in one tiny fishing village in Japan every single year.
What is less well known, however, is that this is not an isolated incident, and atrocities just like Taiji are happening in other parts of the world as well.
The Taiji of the North
In the Faroe Islands, thousands of long-finned whales, dolphins and other small cetaceans are slaughtered every year. Many have termed the mass slaughter of these beautiful sea creatures as being the ‘Taiji of the North,” and this year Sea Shepherd has launched its biggest Faroe Island campaign to date. More than 500 Sea Shepherd conservationists have been directly involved in a campaign which not only seeks to directly prevent any animals from being murdered at sea, but also raises worldwide awareness of this disgraceful mass killing.
Each year, for hundreds of years, Faroes have taken part in a traditional activity known by locals as ‘the grind.’ Fishermen drive long-finned pilot whales towards the shore until they are close enough to be speared, pulled onto the beach, and have their spinal cords cut with a knife. In a single season more than 1,000 long finned pilot whales can be killed, in a massacre which leaves the waters blood red and the beaches scattered with dead bodies.
Operation Grindstop at Work
Operation Grindstop is combating the grinds with a multi-leveled plan, involving land and sea teams working in cooperation with each other. The 500 Sea Shepherd volunteers are covering 23 different landing bays, keeping watch to ensure that no whaling is taking place throughout the peak season from June to September. The onshore team are poised ready to take direct action to intervene should whales be driven towards the shore, and the offshore team are actively patrolling the coastline trying to deter whales from coming too close to danger.
As with all animal rights campaigns, direct action and intervention is only a part of the solution, and the Sea Shepherd volunteers working on Operation Grindstop are involved in global awareness campaigns, local education schemes and investigative work in an attempt to changes hearts and minds. Each day that goes by without a single killed whale is a victory for the team, and so far the operation has been a huge success in 2014.
Why Does the Killing Occur?
There are many cruel traditions around the world, and as a collective animal rights community, it is our job to raise awareness and put them to an end. This doesn’t mean vilifying those responsible for continuing age old practices, but instead showcasing the events and putting pressure on people not to support these actions.
An inside look into the issue in the Faroe Islands reveals that the situation is complex and contradictory. Many locals say it is an important part of Island tradition and culture, others claim it is essential for food, while others are opposed to it all together saying it is unnecessary in modern times.
Whatever the reason the islanders give for the continuation of this annual event, there can never be a justification for the annual slaughter of thousands of sentient beings. The animals can be thankful that the Sea Shepherd volunteers are watching out for them, and have so far prevented many deaths on the beaches of the Faroe Islands this year.
Abigail Geer|July 23, 2014
Wildlife and Habitat
Save 22 acres of Pine Rockland & Hammocks in Palmetto Bay
The Village of Palmetto Bay is proposing to change the land use and zoning for 22-acres of forest that include hardwood hammocks and imperiled pine rocklands, home to a variety of endangered and threatened species in South Florida, and critical habitat for migratory songbirds.
The proposed land use and zoning change would eliminate the legally binding zoning promise made to the area residents back in the 1980’s, when the original Burger King headquarters building was built on. Moreover, the 22 acres in question received a Parks and Recreation zoning designation in 2005 when Palmetto Bay first adopted a Comprehensive Master Plan. Why would “The Village of Parks” roll back protection of this forest and allow for its development?
Pine Rocklands are one of South Florida’s most productive and precious ecosystems. Found only in South Florida, and parts of the Caribbean, this unique and rapidly vanishing ecosystem provides critical habitat for a variety of endangered species, including but not limited to, the bald eagle, indigo snake, Florida bonneted bat, and two rare butterflies expected to earn protection this summer (Bartram’s Hairstreak butterfly and Florida Leafwing butterfly).
The issue: University of Miami recently sold 88 acres of imperiled Pine Rockland to RAM Realty Services for the construction of a massive shopping and residential complex. (Read more about this development here.) As part of the negotiation, of the 88 acres sold, 40 would be potentially set aside for conservation. The 88-acre parcel is one of the largest remaining Pine Rockland preserves left outside of Everglades National Park (see map below). To develop its current plan RAM still needs to acquire adjacent Pine Rocklands. It is hoping to buy 35 more acres under UM ownership.
With 2% of this habitat remaining in Miami-Dade County, it is deeply troubling that UM would be party to destroying it. Losing this globally imperiled habitat to build a Wal-Mart is tragic. We should be preserving, not developing, what little is left of our Pine Rocklands!
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) sent a letter to the developer asking it to stop any construction at this time (read the letter FWS sent to RAM here). We have a chance to preserve Pine Rocklands right now: Please sign our petition urging Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature to halt and/or prevent development on rare endangered forest lands in South Florida. Please sign #3 in “Calls to Action” above
Equally urgent, contact UM President Donna Shalala today! Ask UM to honor our Pine Rockland heritage. It is questionable for UM to sell endangered land for profit that it received as a gift from Miami-Dade County tax payers. Tell Shalala to preserve and protect UM’s remaining Pine Rocklands!
Phone, mail or email Donna Shalala:
(305) 284-5155 firstname.lastname@example.org
230J Ashe Administration Building
1252 Memorial Drive, Coral Gables, FL 33146
Protect Wildlife: Keep cats indoors
According to the American Bird Conservancy, the domestic house cat is one of the world’s most effective predators.
It is estimated that there are over 80 million feral cats in the United States, and each year, these cats kill hundreds of millions of birds and millions more other small animals.
Even well-fed cats continue to kill birds. The number of pet cats in the U.S. has increased threefold in the last 40 years and approximately 65% of these are roaming for some portion of the day.
These free roaming cats, added to the number of feral cats, total an estimated 140 million cats, which kill on average at least 1.4 million birds per day.
In some areas, cat predation has decimated local bird populations, and has led to the disappearance of some species.
While the Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) approach seeks to solve the overpopulation of feral cats, it does not address the loss of wildlife. A better approach would be to trap, neuter and relocate feral cats to enclosed sanctuaries or into a forever home. Cats released back into the street after being neutered have a much shorter life expectancy than healthy, indoor cats.
Please click here to read more about how you can become a responsible pet owner and help us protect wildlife.
Learn more about feral colonies and their impacts on birds, see the video
EPA blocks huge Alaska mine project with environmental restrictions
• Pebble mine decision protects state’s largest salmon fishery
• Copper and gold mine stood to affect Manhattan-sized area
The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a set of restrictions that will in effect prevent the development of a controversial copper and gold mine in Alaska which many said would have been disastrous for the state’s largest salmon fishery.
Pebble Mine, located in south-west Alaska near Bristol Bay, would have been one of the largest opencast mines in the world — more than a mile deep, the depth of the Grand Canyon. And the total impact of the mine – from the project itself to the huge waste ponds and piles it would have required – could take up an area the size of Manhattan, according to the EPA. That, the EPA’s regional administrator, Dennis McLerran, said on Friday, was unacceptable for the environment, for those who rely on the salmon in Bristol Bay for work, and for the Native community who have argued that the area is integral to their way of life.
“Bristol Bay is an extraordinary ecosystem that supports an ancient fishing culture and economic powerhouse,” McLerran said in a statement. “The science is clear that mining the Pebble deposit would cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s last intact salmon ecosystems.”
Pebble Partnership, the company set up by the two mining corporations that sought to develop the mine, along with the state of Alaska, sued the EPA in May claiming the agency was overstepping its legal authority by weighing in on the development.
The EPA’s decision on Friday could theoretically be affected by that lawsuit, but many consider the suit a long shot.
Supporters of the mine, who say the EPA is killing the potential for an economic boom in the state, saw Friday’s announcement as an all-out attack on states’ rights.
“The EPA is setting a precedent that strips Alaska and all Alaskans of the ability to make decisions on how to develop a healthy economy on their lands,” Senator Lisa Murkowski said. “This [decision] is a blueprint that will be used across the country to stop economic development.”
The agency’s decision does not rule out future development of the mine, but it sets environmental restrictions so burdensome that moving forward with the project would probably be financially untenable. While more action from Pebble Partnership and other supporters of the project is likely, those against the mine viewed the EPA’s announcement as a decisive win.
“This has been looming over us for a decade,” said Alannah Hurley, program manager for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, which represents different tribal groups in the area. “For the tribal community, everything that makes us who we are was at stake. For the EPA to recognise that Bristol Bay is worth protecting is huge.”
Peter Moskowitz|theguardian.com|18 July 2014
Mexico Welcomes First Mexican Gray Wolf Pups Born in the Wild in Decades
Wolf advocates are celebrating the confirmation of the first documented litter of Mexican gray wolves born in the wild in Mexico since they disappeared nearly three decades ago.
Without giving their exact location, Mexico’s National Commission for Natural Protected Areas confirmed the wolves were sighted in the western Sierra Madre mountains by a team of researchers and that the pups were doing well, according to the AP.
Mexican wolves, also known as lobos, once roamed vast portions of the Southwest and Mexico but were eradicated by the 1900s in the U.S. over conflicts with humans and livestock, while populations in Mexico dropped off. In 1976, they were listed as an endangered species and bi-national recovery efforts began the next year.
Mexico began releasing wolves in 2011, and released the parents last December in the hope they would breed.
“This first litter represents an important step in the recovery program, because these will be individuals that have never had contact with human beings, as wolves bred in captivity inevitably do,” the commission said in a statement.
In the U.S., the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) approved the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan in 1982, which recommended a captive breeding program and supported a goal of maintaining at least 100 wolves in their historic range, but progress since then has been slow and the agency’s lack of action has been criticized by those who want to see a successful recovery for this species.
The first 11 wolves were released in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona in 1998, but as of this January there were still only 83 in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. Unfortunately, the few who are out there continue to face threats that range from a lack of genetic diversity, diseases, conflicts with livestock, being killed by humans and hostility from those who don’t want to see them return to their rightful place in the wild.
The FWS has recently proposed changes to its management plan that include both steps that would benefit them, but also changes that will make things worse.
Advocates for the lobo are urging the agency to immediately release more into the wild, allow them to expand their territory and stop capturing and returning those who wander outside current boundaries and to finish its long overdue recovery plan before it makes any official changes.
They’re also asking the agency to remove the “nonessential” designation from the population in the wild. The FWS claims that even if all the ones in the wild disappeared, it wouldn’t hinder recovery efforts because there are still many in the breeding program, but critics of that statement argue that the survival of those who have experience in the wild is critical to their future survival.
This August, the agency will release its draft Environmental Impact Statement and hold a public comment period, in addition to holding public hearings in both Arizona and New Mexico.
To find out more about the proposal and how you can help support Mexican gray wolf recovery, visit mexicanwolves.org.
Alicia Graef|July 22, 2014
Scientists blast Australian government’s moves to dismantle environmental protections
On Tuesday a prominent group of conservation scientists condemned the Australian government’s recent moves to eliminate protections for native ecosystems, cut research funding, backtrack on commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and step up persecution of individuals and organizations that speak out on environmental matters.
Convening in Cairns, Australia at its annual meeting, The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) issued a resolution in support of stronger laws for climate change mitigation and environmental protection in Australia.
“Australia has recently weakened or overturned decades of legislation designed to protect its sensitive natural ecosystems and species, as well as altered demonstrably effective climate-change mitigation strategies such as elimination of the carbon-pricing scheme,” stated the resolution. “The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation urges the Commonwealth Government to reconsider its stance on a financial penalty system to limit its greenhouse gas emissions, and that it implement a mandatory emissions-trading scheme.”
Noting that Australia has the world’s highest extinction rate among native mammals, ATBC said the Australian government was failing to take adequate measures to protect endangered wildlife, cutting funds for environmental law enforcement and allowing local governments and organizations to sidestep regulations designed to limit clearing of native vegetation.
The Government should not allow individual Australian states to weaken or overturn national legislation such as the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 given the recent trends for state governments to relax laws for vegetation clearing and to allow industrial activities such as logging, grazing, fishing and mining in ‘national’ parks and other protected areas,” said ATBC.
The group also urged the government to enforce a 2013 law that criminalized the import of illegally logged timber. The regulation, similar to the Lacey Act in the United States and FLEG-T in the E.U., has been hailed by scientists and environmentalists as a critical tool for cracking down on timber smuggling and illicit logging.
ATBC further asked the government to stop targeting environmentalists who criticize damaging industrial activities.
“[ATBC] implores the Commonwealth Government to abandon its attempt to remove the tax-deductible status of environmental groups and non-government organizations that work to protect Australia’s unique and threatened ecosystems and natural capital.”
TBC’s resolution was echoed by Senator Christine Milne, leader of Australia’s Green Party, who spoke at the meeting Tuesday morning.
“Australia is a rich country, yet we are behaving appallingly,” she said, noting several recent developments that undermine protection for the environment, including last week’s repeal of Australia’s carbon tax, a plan to dump dredge sludge in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the abolishment of the country’s $1 billion biodiversity fund, approval of mining projects in protected areas, and a failed attempt to remove 74,000 hectares of high conservation value forest from a World Heritage area in Tasmania for industrial logging.
“This would have set an appalling precedent for World Heritage properties around the world,” she said.
Milne called on scientists at the meeting to step up to fight for Australia’s embattled ecosystems.
“Now is the time to abandon reticence,” she said. “Now is the time to have courage and speak out.”
mongabay.com|July 22, 2014
First Nation Tribe Discovers Grizzly Bear “Highway” in Its Backyard
A new study reveals that more grizzlies live among Canada’s Heiltsuk people than they suspected.
Grizzly bears and aboriginal tribes in Canada have lived with each other for thousands of years. But one First Nation tribe, the Heiltsuk of British Columbia, was surprised to discover just how many bears a new study turned up in its backyard.
The Heiltsuk live near the Koeye watershed—69 square miles (179 square kilometers) of temperate forest on the central British Columbia coast—and they thought about a dozen grizzlies lived in their midst. But a scientific study, led by the Heiltsuk and published in late June in the journal Ecology and Society, found that the Koeye actually hosts at least 57. That’s not your average bear density.
By comparison, Yellowstone National Park is about 3,472 square miles (8,992 square kilometers) and hosts only about 150 grizzly bears.
“It was a bit of a shock to me,” says William Housty, lead author of the study and director of Coastwatch, the research arm of the Heiltsuk First Nation.
Not that it’s surprising that grizzly bears are drawn to the area. The river that drains Koeye Lake has pink, chum, sockeye, and Coho salmon, all tasty prey for bears. But neither Housty nor his colleagues expected to find nearly 60 grizzlies. (See: “Grizzly Bears Moving Into Canada’s Polar Bear Capital.”)
Living With Bears
For the study, the team collected hair samples from Koeye grizzlies by using wire snares baited with enticing scents, though no food. When a grizzly came to investigate and rubbed against the wire, it left behind a tuft of hair.
The study authors collected the hair samples between 2006 and 2009, and sequenced the DNA to get a handle on how many individual bears they had and to determine their gender. (Watch a video of a grizzly mom teaching her cubs.)
They were also able to track some of those bears as they wandered out of the Koeye watershed. Some of the grizzlies ranged for hundreds of miles, crossing into the traditional territory of other First Nations.
Being able to obtain scientific data to back up Heiltsuk traditional knowledge about grizzly bears has been important, says Housty. The Heiltsuk have been trying to get more say in the management of their resources, including grizzly bears and salmon, and they’ve realized that science is one way to do that.
“Even though we’re on the ground living with [grizzly bears and salmon],” explains Housty, “sometimes the final decision on their management comes from the government.”
He adds, “We wanted to show that we’re committed to dovetailing traditional knowledge and science to move toward managing our resources ourselves.”
What’s even more exciting about this study, says study co-author Chris Filardi, an ecologist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, is that scientists and the Heiltsuk were able to carry out their survey in accordance with the laws of the Heiltsuk First Nation. One of the most important of those mandates was to not handle the bears or subject them to invasive procedures.
“You Can’t Ignore the People”
The scientific data have also been a boon to the Heiltsuk resource management department, Filardi says. “If they see their policies don’t make sense, it changes right away.”
And advances in extracting and analyzing DNA from animals are extremely important to conservation efforts.They help researchers figure out, for instance, how many animals are in a population, says Michael Sawaya, a carnivore ecologist with Sinopah Wildlife Research Associates in Missoula, Montana.
He also says that noninvasive methods like the hair sampling in the new study allow scientific studies to better align with cultural beliefs and practices of the local community.
“Oftentimes wildlife research focuses on the wildlife, which it should,” says Sawaya, who was not involved in the new research. “But you can’t ignore the people, especially in areas that are under threats or [are] on indigenous lands.”
Jane J. Lee|National Geographic|July 22, 2014
The important role of community forests
Expanding and strengthening the community forest rights of indigenous groups and rural residents can make a major contribution to sequestering carbon and reducing CO2 emissions from deforestation, according to a new report. The World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Rights and Resources Initiative said that indigenous people and rural inhabitants in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have government-recognized rights to forests containing nearly 38 billion tons of carbon, equal to 29 times the annual emissions of all the world’s passenger vehicles. By enforcing community rights to those forests, the study said, governments can play a major role in tackling climate change. In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, deforestation rates are 11 times lower in community forests than in forests outside those areas. In areas where community forest rights are ignored, deforestation rates often soar. The report made five major recommendations, from better enforcement of community forest zones to compensating communities for the climate and other benefits their forests provide.
WRI and the Rights and Resources Initiative studied 14 forest-rich countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nepal, Niger, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia.
In the Brazilian Amazon, deforestation rates are 11 times lower in community forests than in other forested areas.
other local communities currently have legal or official rights to 513 million hectares of forest, or about one-eighth of the world’s forest cover. But the report said those rights are frequently ignored by national or local governments, leading to severe deforestation. The report cited the example of three indigenous forest lands in the Amazon region of northwestern Peru. Despite supposed recognition of those rights, the Peruvian government allocated indigenous lands to mining and oil and gas drilling, leading to deforestation rates of 24 to 51 percent in those three community forest areas from 2000 to 2010.
In Papua New Guinea, the report said, all forests are owned by communities, but the Papuan government has given leases to private companies — often for oil palm plantations — on about 4 million hectares, an area the size of Switzerland. Indonesia, which has one of the world’s worst deforestation records, legally recognizes only 1 million of the 42 million hectares of forest reputedly controlled by local communities.
By contrast, Brazil, which has half of the world’s remaining tropical forests, is more rigorous about recognizing and protecting community forests, the report said. Roughly 300 indigenous territories have been legally recognized in Brazil, and protection of these areas, while not perfect, is far better than in some other countries, according to the report. That protection is crucial: The report noted that from 2000 to 2012, forest loss was 0.6 percent inside indigenous territories, compared to 7 percent outside.
Yale Environment360|July 25, 2014
Read more at Yale Environment360.
Rebuilding Kissama: war-torn Angola’s only national park affected by deforestation, but refaunation gives hope
Conservation organizations, government reintroducing wildlife from other countries
The story of Kissama National Park is one of perseverance, vision and disaster in waiting. The only functional national park in Angola, a country wracked by war for decades, Kissama (also called Quiçama) lost much of its wildlife, with that which is left still impacted by poaching and deforestation. However, a project is attempting to bring the park back to life.
Most of the lush forested areas of Kissama National Park occurs in its eastern portion, comprising about 200,000 hectares. Of this forest cover, nearly seven percent disappeared from 2001-2013, according to data from Global Forest Watch.
A 2010 report written by Roland Goetz, Director of the Kissama National Park at Kissama Foundation, raised concern about poaching and illegal harvesting of trees for building material and charcoal production. It underlines the urgent need for mitigation.
In the report, Goetz said Quiçama National Park is at a crossroads.
“Continuing as we have been is certain death for the park,” he said. “With decisive action to save the park in the next year, the Ministry of Environment can show the international conservation community that Angola in a leader in protecting the biodiversity of the planet.”
Illegal development is also a major threat to the park, including a housing development called Cabo Ledo and several roads.
Angola is one of Africa’s most biologically diverse countries, boasting a long Atlantic coastline, dense equatorial forests, rivers thick with mangroves, vast desert expanses, rolling savannah grasslands and high-altitude rocky outcrops.
Forests still cover 35 percent of Angola, but clearing along coastal regions is massive and has led to desertification as trees no longer exist to hold moisture in the soil. One of the primary drivers behind Angola’s deforestation is the wide use of wood as fuel as 80 percent of Angolans cook food over fire. In addition, timber is often sold and exported illegally.
Bringing wildlife back to Kissama
Forty years ago, Kissama was inhabited by an abundance of animals, including elephants (Loxodonta Africana) and the critically endangered giant sable (Hippotragus niger variani). Because of its plethora of wildlife, Kissama began as a hunting reserve, but was proclaimed a national park in 1975. That same year, the Angolan Civil War began, decimating most of its wildlife.
The war ended in 2002, but left lasting scars. Two-thirds of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed during the war, 15 percent of the population was killed, and 4.5 million people fled the country.
Angola used to have six national parks. However, during the civil war, most — including Kissama — were abandoned. Without adequate administration and management, the parks lapsed into degradation.
Kissama National Park was the only park to be reopened after the end of the war, and is now in the midst of restoration. In addition to improving the modest infrastructure of the park, it is also involved in a project called Noah’s Ark, in which wildlife is being reintroduced to the park from other areas of Africa.
Operation Noah’s Ark is run partnership between the Kissama Foundation and the Angolan government, and seeks to rehabilitate the park by importing elephants and other animals from game reserves in South Africa and Botswana.
Noah’s Ark began in earnest in 2000, when 16 elephants were flown in from South Africa to a 10,000-hectare, fenced, “soft release” area in the north of Kissama by collaborative team of conservation organizations and wildlife managers. One year later, more elephants, 12 zebras, 12 ostriches, 14 wildebeests and four giraffes were brought in.
While still a far cry from the estimated 4,000 elephants and 5,000 forest buffalo that used to roam Kissama, the Angolan government and conservation organizations involved in the reintroduction project believe these animals will help to re-build a prospering wildlife community in the park.
According to Tatiana Lukoki, an ecologist based at the Agostinho Neto University (Universidade Agostinho Neto), valuable forest is disappearing at an accelerating rate, despite attempts by park management and government to control deforestation and poaching. She said it’s hard to imagine a drive along the winding roads of the park without thinking of the disappearance of its iconic canopy.
“This is our country’s most accessible and well-stocked wildlife park.” Lukoki said. “It has a huge swathe of coastal savannah punctuated by gnarly baobab trees. It is also home to elephants, water buffalo, indigenous palanca antelopes and a precarious population of nesting sea turtles.”
The reserve is faced by excessive human pressure on its natural resources.
“Most of the population here lives below the poverty line and depends on the natural resources for their livelihoods,” Lukoki explained. “Firewood, charcoal, wood production, uncontrolled bush fires and illegal hunting are all contributing to the loss of biodiversity and degradation.”
While charcoal production is known to be causing some of the deforestation in Kissama, other drivers remain unclear. Conservationists highlight the need for more research on the status of the park.
According to the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAP) 2007 report, the greatest threat to Kissama National Park and its wildlife continues to be poor institutional capacity. It states that although environmental control over the park has improved over the last decade, there is still a lack of trained field rangers to police it.
The construction of two national roads through the park has resulted in habitat fragmentation and development of shrimp farms, human encroachment, cultivation of palm oil plantations, livestock grazing and charcoal production, have all posed additional threats to the environmental integrity of Kassima National Park.
“What I see is that most nature reserves are becoming isolated or insularized because of a variety of disturbances beyond their boundaries,” Lukoki said. “The big question now is how many more trees can we expect to disappear and what is the time period.” She said that as the human populations of nearby areas and cities like Luanda have grown, the park has changed to “a piece of natural habitat that has become isolated in a sea of manmade habitat.”
Some environmentalists are proposing more careful management of lands adjacent to the park, as well as more involvement of local communities in its day-to-day management.
According to Goetz, community support is vital to the park in the long term.
“There is need to develop a plan to ensure communities within and near the park benefit from the park’s success,” he said. “There must be an integrated management system to reconcile biodiversity, tourism, and local community interests.”
Fidelis Zvomuya|mongabay.com correspondent|July 24, 2014
Global Warming and Climate Change
Obama allocates funds to help communities build climate adaptation
More extreme droughts, floods and wildfires — these are just some of the impacts of climate change that won’t just occur in the distant future to our great-great grandchildren, but are happening now. To address the changing climate’s current effects on communities in the U.S., President Barack Obama announced a plan to strengthen national infrastructure and help cities, states and tribal communities better prepare for and recover from natural disasters.
“Climate change poses a direct threat to the infrastructure of America that we need to stay competitive in this 21st-century economy,” Obama said last week at a meeting of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. “That means that we should see this as an opportunity to do what we should be doing anyway, and that’s modernizing our infrastructure, modernizing our roads, modernizing our bridges, power grids, our transit systems, and making sure that they’re more resilient. That’s going to be good for commerce, and it’s obviously going to be good for communities.”
Obama unveiled over $260 million in federal funds to help communities build their climate adaptation and resilience. The U.S. Geological Survey and other federal agencies are dedicating $13 million to develop an advanced 3-D mapping tool of the country that communities can use to identify which areas and infrastructure are at risk from changing climatic conditions, the White House said in a statement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will also be spending $236 million to improve rural electric infrastructure in eight states — an investment that will not only allow the deployment of smart grid technologies, but can also attract businesses and residents to these communities, according to the White House.
The USDA is also setting aside additional funding to safeguard drinking water in rural communities during droughts, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will dedicate $10 million to provide climate adaptation trainings to tribes.
Alexis Petru|Triple Pundit|July 21, 2014
Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Triple Pundit.
What Climate Change Could Mean for the Future of Hockey
The National Hockey League on Monday released a comprehensive report on the league’s environmental impact and how it plans to reduce it, saying that action on environmental issues is imperative for the league’s future growth. The report, which draws attention to the impact of climate change and other environmental factors on the growth and long-term outlook of the sport, is the first of its kind from any major sports league, the NHL said.
The NHL more than any other league depends on cold weather and clean water, not just in and around its arenas and outdoor events but also because many youth hockey players — the future talent for the league — learn to play the game on frozen outdoor ponds.
“Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey is impacted by environmental issues, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity,” the report states. “The ability to skate and play hockey outdoors is a critical component of the League’s history and culture. Many of the NHL’s players, both past and present, learned to skate outside on frozen lakes, ponds and backyard rinks. The game of hockey is adversely affected if this opportunity becomes unavailable to future generations.”
“We believe that this effort is not only the right thing to do for the environment, but is also a core strategy for the long-term success of our League,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wrote. “We have a vested interest in this cause. As a business, we rely on freshwater to make our ice, on energy to fuel our operations and on healthy communities for our athletes, employees and fans to live, work and play. Moreover, to continue to stage world class outdoor hockey events like the NHL Winter Classic, NHL Heritage Classic or NHL Stadium Series, we need winter weather.”
The NHL has previously highlighted its dependence on the environment and the potential threat of climate change in letters to members of Congress and at a press conference on Capitol Hill last year that was part of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) bicameral task force on climate change.
Notably, the report discloses the NHL’s carbon footprint, which it calculates as nearly 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. The vast majority of the league’s footprint comes from electricity to power its arenas and from team travel between games. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions calculator, that is the equivalent of the yearly output of approximately 111,579 cars or 48,358 homes. The NHL says in its release that its emissions still pale in comparison to coal-fired power plants, the largest of which emits 23 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually.
The report details the efforts the NHL is taking to reduce that footprint. The league launched the NHL Green initiative in 2010 in partnership with environmental groups like the National Resources Defense Council, and it has since undertaken initiatives aimed at water and environmental restoration, like its Gallons for Goals and Hattricks for Trees programs that put money back into the environment based on goals scored in games. The report also highlights future plans to increase energy efficiency and carbon offsets while reducing waste and sets specific benchmarks for those efforts in the future.
Hockey fans, the report states, are already 11 times more likely to recycle than the average American adult, and 20 times more likely to pay for environmentally-friendly products and services. But the NHL hopes its Green initiatives and the Sustainability Report will inspire its fans and other people who see the league to do even more.
“At the NHL, we recognize that we have great responsibility for the way we conduct our business. As our revenues, TV viewership and attendance continue to rise, we are acutely aware of our influence on culture and society, especially with today’s youth. We have the power to promote, develop and support positive change,” Bettman wrote in the report.
“As a League, we are uniquely positioned to promote the environmental message. One of our great assets is our visibility. Millions visit NHL.com, NHL Network, and the many other high profile digital and social platforms each year throughout the League,” he continued. “In conjunction with our players and Clubs, who have enormous and passionate followings of their own, we can impress upon millions of fans just how important these environmental issues are.”
Travis Waldron|ThinkProgress|July 22, 2014 This post originally appeared on Think Progress.
Should we try to fight rising sea levels — or abandon the coasts?
The world’s sea levels are expected to rise 1 to 3 feet — or more — as the planet heats up in the coming century. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the bigger the rise, but we’ve already locked in at least some sea-level increase no matter what.
So what should the millions of people living in low-lying coastal areas do?
Broadly speaking, there are three ways to deal with sea-level rise. First, large coastal cities like New York or Boston or Tokyo will likely spend billions to erect dikes and other defenses to fend off the rising oceans. Second, some coastal infrastructure will have to be elevated.
But there’s a third option that rarely gets as much attention — retreat. In many areas, it may make more sense for residents and communities to flee inland rather than fight the rising seas.
In a recent paper in Climatic Change, Carolyn Kousky argues that there are inevitably going to be parts of the United States where dikes and artificial defenses against sea-level rise probably shouldn’t be built. Often, the barriers just won’t be worth the cost. In other regions, seawalls might create more problems than they solve — by, for instance, increasing coastal erosion or by destroying crucial wetlands.
For these areas, Kousky argues, “managed retreat” is probably the best option. But coastal communities will need to start planning ahead of time. In some places, that may mean restricting development in high-risk areas or not subsidizing reconstruction after hurricanes and other disasters. But there aren’t any easy policy options here — and in many places, the process could get messy and controversial.
The case for retreat
Obviously not every coastal city can retreat in the face of rising sea levels. We can’t just pack up and move New York City or Boston.
One study found that retreat was likely to be more cost-effective in about one-third of coastal sites
So highly populated areas will have to build defenses. That includes dikes, levees and bulkheads to protect against storm surges and flooding. In some areas, it will mean pumping sand to replenish beaches that are receding. In other areas, roads and buildings will need to be elevated. That’s all expected to cost billions of dollars per year.
For some less-populated coastal areas, however, hardening the shoreline won’t be worth it. One 1999 study surveyed 30 coastal areas around the United States and estimated that for one-third of them, retreat or partial retreat was a more cost-effective response to sea-level rise. (That said, no one’s yet done a rigorous analysis of what towns are worth defending and what not.)
What’s more, building seawalls can frequently do a fair bit of damage to coastal ecosystems — for one, they can destroy crucial wetlands by preventing them from migrating inland.
These wetlands are often invaluable: they help protect coasts from storms, shield freshwater supplies from the encroaching oceans, and underpin the food chain for nearly two-thirds of US commercial fisheries in the Atlantic. Studies have found that some wetlands will be able to survive by migrating inland if sea levels rise relatively slowly (at a rate of 7 millimeters per year or less) — but only if those wetlands have some place to go.
Hence the case for managed retreat. “For many coastal areas,” Kousky notes, “retreat will be either preferred or required.”
Why managing retreat isn’t easy
Kousky’s paper lists a variety of ways that communities could retreat from the coasts — though most of them are likely to be difficult and controversial:
1) Restricting development in high-risk areas: This is one obvious option — why build in areas that are soon likely to find themselves underwater? One 2009 study noted that, based on current plants, 60 percent of Atlantic coastal regions that sit less than 3 feet above sea level is set to be developed eventually (see map). Does that make sense?
Land use and likelihood of shore protection along the Maryland coast. This map shows lands within 5 m above spring high water. (Titus et al, 2009)
The drawback, of course, is that restricting development is costly and controversial — and it can be difficult to calculate when it’s worth doing.
What’s more, many coastal states haven’t yet started to think this through. New York’s Sea Level Rise task force has recommended drawing up maps to identify the parts of New York most at risk from sea-level rise. By contrast, North Carolina’s legislature has banned state agencies from taking climate projections for sea-level rise into account.
2) Better information: It would also help if individuals and homeowners had better information about how the rising oceans will actually affect different areas. It’s often tough to visualize how a foot or two of sea-level rise might influence things like storm surges or flooding. Right now, detailed maps like these aren’t widely available (though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working on one — and Climate Central has some handy maps here).
3) Moving public infrastructure: Meanwhile, a great deal of public infrastructure will have to move inland — though this isn’t cheap. Kousky notes that San Francisco is currently moving a highway and parking lot inland, along with various conservation measures — but at a cost of some $350 million. (The argument in favor is that inaction would be even pricier.) Likewise, NASA is planning to move some of its coastal facilities and launch pads inland.
4) Dealing with private property rights: The trickiest part is how to deal with existing private houses. One possibility would be to leave their fates up to the market — as sea levels rise, property values will plummet and people will naturally move inland.
Congress tried to pare back flood insurance subsidies in 2012 but backed down after an outcry
There are two problems with that. For one, the United States doesn’t currently leave these sorts of development decisions entirely to “the market.” Governments at all levels play a hand in promoting coastal development — by, for instance, funding projects to harden the shoreline or by subsidizing federal flood insurance. (Congress tried to pare back those flood insurance subsidies in 2012 but then reversed the move after a widespread outcry.)
And even if these subsidies vanished tomorrow, it may not always be ideal to let people dot the coast with private seawalls at will — since that can increase coastal erosion or damage wetlands that offer broad public benefits.
One proposed idea here are “rolling easements” — a conservation policy in which private property is transferred to the public as sea levels rise, allowing wetlands to migrate inland. Kousky notes that Texas has experimented with policies like this but they’re controversial — and have been challenged in courts.
5) Using natural disasters to relocate inland: Kousky notes that local communities could think a lot more broadly about how and when to rebuild after hurricanes, floods, and other coastal disasters. After Hurricane Sandy, for instance, New Jersey offered to buy out some 1,300 flood-damaged homes in high-risk areas (at a cost of up to $300 million). The downside? This tends to be risky, and not everyone wants to leave.
In the end, the paper is pretty clear that none of these options will be simple. Kousky notes that sea-level rise is a “wicked problem” that’s not easily amenable to policy solutions. But right now, relatively few states are even thinking seriously about the problem — which means that simply broaching the topic is a good first step.
Brad Plumer|May 22, 2014
Preparing for a Changing Climate – Resiliency and Brownfield Reuses
Shuttered strip malls, boarded main streets, abandoned gas stations and a host of other potentially contaminated sites – many of these are the focus of communities assessing and cleaning brownfields with the help of EPA’s Brownfields Grant funds. This year, communities selected to receive revolving loan fund, cleanup grants and area-wide planning grants are being asked to consider climate as part of their analysis, cleanup, and revitalization planning.
The National Climate Assessment released by President Obama this May confirmed what scientists have been telling us for years – the climate has already changed. Take a look, because the Assessment lets you examine vulnerabilities in your home region.
Brownfields grantees are asked to look at proposed site vulnerabilities. Is the historic school, railroad spur, mill, foundry, mine, or other type of brownfield close to areas where wildfire or flooding risks are likely to increase? What contaminants have been found? What reuses are proposed? Armed with the answers to these questions and information that is available on www.climate.gov, brownfields communities are embarking on important steps to make their communities more resilient. EPA has developed a checklist to help communities consider climate change and factor it into brownfields cleanup activities and revitalization planning.
But we can’t stop there. Our experiences have shown that the most vulnerable – children, elderly, those that are disabled and poor with few resources – are likely to be hardest hit and experience the most difficulties in evacuating from threatened areas. Our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) developed a Social Vulnerability Index for public health agencies and emergency responders to help identify and map vulnerable populations for public health and emergency responders to consider in planning.
Brownfields grantees, in the course of their area-wide planning, assessment, and cleanup may want to consider vulnerable communities nearby and additional planning steps that can make these communities better prepared or more resilient, more energy and water efficient, and therefore less dependent on other operations. This is particularly important where evacuation or other systems may be vulnerable.
Communities have used brownfields grants to clean sites now serving as fire departments, police stations and health clinics, veterinarian offices, food banks, and warehouses for food storage. Once brownfields are cleared, communities could focus on dual reuse functions, contributing to the redundant systems needed in emergencies that help meet daily needs for food and water, shelter, jobs, and social contact.
Hardened shelters in less vulnerable areas that allow people to bring service animals or pets may ensure evacuation orders are heeded. If located near health clinics or veterinary services, everyone at the shelter may get to see the doctor.
A former brownfield that will eventually serve as emergency headquarters or marshal restoration in underserved areas could house transitional uses and serve as a location for food trucks or mobile health services. Other short- or long-term reuses may include warehouses with solar panels for backup power, or broadband and wireless ‘hotspot’ access to support communications, or a space for small businesses often hardest hit by emergencies.
Finally, revitalized brownfields can serve as mixed-use redevelopment areas that offer resilient, livable locations that ease congestion, allowing residents to work near home while meeting essential living needs with amenities and security.
- EPA Climate Change webpage
- EPA Renewable Energy and RePower Mapping tool
- The Hazard and Vulnerability Research Institute website maps look at demographic factors that contribute to vulnerability
It’s Official: USA is #1 at Climate Change Denial
Kevin Mathews|July 25, 2014
Why You’re Feeling So Hot And Miserable
It’s Not The Humidity, It’s The Dew Point That’s Making It Stifling
LABELLE, FL. — You’ve been able to take the summer heat all through June and the beginning July, but this week you’re feeling miserable outside of an air-conditioned building. Why is that? The temperature, the humidity?
Most people think high humidity is why they feel miserable. Well, that’s not exactly they truth of the matter.
It’s not just the humidity that making you feel stressed. Relative humidity numbers actually are the highest early in the morning when the air is more saturated with moisture, as the sun obviously hasn’t been able to burn off that moisture. But mornings are often very pleasant feeling. So what’s going on here?
It’s really the dew point that’s causing the discomfort our body feels, the the abnormally high “heat index” numbers we see on weather reports.
The body is normally at about 98.6 degrees, so if the temperature of the air is well below that, it’s able to use the skin and perspiration and any breeze blowing across the skin to keep one feeling cool. But, as the temperature rises, the “dew point” of the air also rises significantly, (that being the temperature at which if would rain or fog if the temperature fell to that point.)
A temperature of 90 degrees, and a dew point of 55 to 60 would feel comfortable, but when the dew point reaches 70 to 75, a typical situation in South Florida, you’re feeling pretty bad! The higher the dew point the more humid it is, and your body is not able to cool itself down to meet the increased air temperature without more cooling breezes or evaporating moisture from the skin to keep the body comfortable
Summer Dew Points And How You Feel (courtesy of Washington Post)
Below 55 Dry (Pleasant)
55-60 Hint of humidity (Still comfortable)
60-65 Moist (Tolerable)
65-70 Sticky (Becoming unpleasant)
70-75 Muggy (Gross)
Above 75 Sultry (Oppressive and unbearable)
Some of the consistently highest dew points in the U.S. are found along the Gulf Coast and in Florida. When dew point reaches the 70s that’s when your body has a rough time keeping cool, and feels more uncomfortable as the dew point climbs.
The solution to staying comfortable (if you’re not able to lower the dew point by going inside an air-conditioned space) is to find a way to cool the skin even when the dew point has risen. Start with fans blowing on yourself if inside a not air-conditioned space.
When outside go to a shady place with a breeze blowing on your skin. Patting bit of water on your skin, allows cooling evaporation to take place, lowering your body’s unpleasant feeling considerably.
When to shut or open the windows in a space that’s not air conditioned? A personal guideline for open vs. closed windows is to close them when the temperature is above 78 degrees or the dew point is above 57.
To find your current Heat Index, or how hot your body feels go to your favorite online weather service or try the National Weather Service’s weather prediction service to calculate your own.
Florida Heat Index Map – Where It Feels Really Hot
To Calculate The Heat Index – “How Hot Your Body Feels” from the National Weather Service.
Don Browne|July 20, 2014
Genetically Modified Organisms
Monsanto’s Stinging defeat
Two months ago today, voters in Jackson County, Oregon – led by local farmers – voted overwhelmingly to ban genetically engineered crops because they can contaminate other farmers’ crops.
This landslide victory in Jackson County was a huge rebuke for the corporations that spent BIG to defeat the measure.
The big chemical companies like Monsanto that profit from selling genetically engineered food don’t want to be embarrassed again — which is why they’re doubling down to fight GMO labeling efforts in Oregon. If Oregon farmers voted to ban genetically engineered crops, then we should at least be able to label the food products that contain them.
Jackson County is proof that when grassroots activists come together, nothing can beat us. Monsanto and other Big Food corporations spent nearly $1 million to protect genetically engineered crops in a single county, but their war chest was no a match for grassroots power.
The momentum from Jackson County is what makes me sure that we’ll be able to stand up to Big Agribusiness this November. Today is a reminder that the only way we’ll be able to win this is to come together now.
Andy Darkins|Campaign Manager,|Oregon GMO Right to Know
Monsanto Visits Local School for 47 Minute Propaganda Presentation
As if the mis-education of our youth wasn’t already a huge issue, guess what your tax dollars are now paying for? Monsanto is visiting local schools to tell twelve year olds all about the ‘good’ they are doing in the world as an ‘agricultural leader.’ As NaturalBlaze puts it, we’re not mentioning this to ‘attack’ schools for allowing Monsanto to ‘infiltrate’, but rather to let you know that Monsanto could very well be coming to a school near you.
One parent filmed his son when he returned from school recently to report that Monsanto had taken over his gym class, showed a power point presentation and passed out a deck of playing cards to students with the Monsanto logo emblazoned on it. Each card had a contrived fact on it, one stated, “the US produces 30% of the world’s soybeans.” Obviously there were no cards that told the truth about what Monsanto does – namely illegally profiting by taking over seed production all over the world and sewing genetically altered crops that require ever-increasing amounts of cancer-causing glyphosate to grow.
The father asked his son if the Monsanto representative had said anything about the chemicals that they were spraying on our food. The son said, “nope.” The father then asked if the representative told them about how Monsanto does business throughout the world. Again the child responded with, “nope.” Monsanto told children at his school that they created jobs for people and that they helped to feed the world.<
Monsanto also told a fable to children about how one farmer tried to get rid of Monsanto seed and the stuff they spray on their crops and that it caused him great trouble. Additionally, the company warned against saving heirloom, organic seed, though this particular term wasn’t used.
When this child’s parent tried to contact the school about the uncanny way in which the Monsanto Corporation was trying to brainwash his child, he was referred to his child’s handbook. It turns out that the school’s principal was actually the one who set up permission for Monsanto to speak to the children:
“The intro to my seventh grade school handbook/homework planner alerted us expressly that we were Human Resources for that state and that during school hours we belonged to the state and school.”
While the principal was apologetic about allowing Monsanto to speak to the children since the company is a ‘vilified entity’ he could not assure the parent that more propagandizing would not continue.
Similarly, the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI) has launched the “Biotechnology Basics Activity Book” for kids. With the intent to be used by ‘agriculture and science teachers’, the activity book spreads absurd lies about GMO crops — even going as far as to say that they ‘improve our health’ and ‘help the environment’.
Christina Sarich|Natural Society|July 21st, 2014
Could This Genetically Modified Insect Save 600,000 Human Lives a Year?
A Call to Fight Malaria One Mosquito at a Time by Altering DNA
Every year, malaria-carrying mosquitoes kill more than 600,000 people, most of them children. Over the centuries, people have battled those mosquitoes in numerous ways, like draining swamps, spraying insecticides and distributing millions of bed nets. And yet malaria remains a menace across much of the world.
In papers published Thursday in the journals Science and eLife, scientists and policy experts propose fighting malaria in a new way: by genetically engineering the mosquitoes themselves.
A new technology for editing DNA may allow scientists to render the insects resistant to the malaria parasite, the authors contend. Or it might be possible to engineer infertility into mosquito DNA, driving their populations into oblivion.
The new technology could potentially be used against a wide range of other species that are deemed a threat, like invasive predators, herbicide-resistant weeds and bat-killing fungi.
Although research on this procedure, known as Crispr, is in its infancy, the authors of the new papers say it warrants a public discussion right now. Using the approach to genetically engineer wild species could be a boon to humanity on some fronts, but it could also lead to a broad spectrum of unplanned ecological harm.
“Rather than just running off and immediately let this thing loose, we should start having conversations about this,” said George Church, a Harvard geneticist and a co-author of the new papers.
Crispr is a system of molecules that allows scientists to alter DNA with exquisite precision. Researchers design the molecules so they attach to DNA at a specific location. They then slice out the DNA there — whether an entire gene or a snippet of one — and then prompt a cell to replace it with a new segment designed by the scientists.
Although the technology is just a couple of years old, researchers are already using it to alter the DNA of cells and lab animals. Some experiments also hint that doctors may someday be able to use it to treat genetic disorders. They could replace faulty genes with working versions.
But recently, Dr. Church and other Crispr experts began to wonder if the technology had another possible use: as a weapon against our natural enemies.
Here’s how it might work against malaria. In a lab, scientists would insert a package of genes into mosquitoes. The package would include a gene for a protein that makes the mosquitoes resistant to malaria parasites. The package would also contain genes for Crispr molecules.
The scientists would release these engineered mosquitoes into the wild, where they would mate with their normal counterparts. Each parent would pass down its DNA to its offspring. The Crispr genes would produce their molecules inside the mosquito’s cells. They would then alter the cells from within.
The Crispr molecules would target a gene in the other parent’s DNA passed down to the offspring, which they would replace with the resistance gene. Now the new mosquitoes would carry two copies of the malaria-resistance genes instead of one.
When those mosquitoes mated, they would pass those engineered genes to their own offspring in turn. From one generation to the next, Crispr could spread the resistance genes with remarkable speed.
In theory, it might take just a few years for a whole population of mosquitoes to become resistant. The malaria parasite would be unable to survive in enough mosquitoes to last.
There’s precedent for this approach. Some genes have naturally evolved the ability to spread quickly by making extra copies of themselves. In 2003, Austin Burt of Imperial College London proposed mimicking this biology to fight insect-borne diseases. Since then, several research groups have started testing engineered mosquitoes.
Crispr may drastically accelerate this research. Scientists can quickly synthesize packages of genes, and Crispr ensures they make copies accurately and efficiently.
And unlike previous methods, Crispr can potentially work in just about any species of animal, plant or fungus.
In their eLife paper, Dr. Church and his colleagues explore how they might harness Crispr’s versatility. As farmers use herbicides to kill weeds, for example, some weeds inevitably evolve ways to resist the chemicals. It might be possible to use Crispr to rewrite the weed genes, returning them to their vulnerable state.
Dr. Church and his colleagues have started experiments in his lab with yeast, nematodes, and mosquitoes, to see if Crispr can indeed spread genes through a population.
“In a year or two, we could be doing field trials if there was a general consensus this was a good idea,” he said.
Jennifer A. Doudna, a Crispr expert at the University of California at Berkeley who was not involved in the papers, said she thought Dr. Church might be painting too rosy a picture. “Realistically, it’s not going to go as easily as they make it sound,” she said.
If scientists tried to engineer a species, she said, mutations might remove the stretch of DNA that the Crispr molecules used as their target. They would be unable to make extra copies of their gene.
Alison A. Snow, an ecologist at Ohio State University, also had doubts about how effective some of the methods could be. She said that the idea of making resistant weeds vulnerable “seems naïve to me.”
Dr. Snow said that more than 25 species of weeds are resistant to a single herbicide, known as glyphosate. Even if scientists could introduce Crispr genes into all those species, the weeds might evolve new ways to resist glyphosate. Or they might be replaced with other species that quickly evolve resistance.
But Dr. Doudna said that with enough time, scientists could make the technique work, at least in some species. “On longer time scales, the potential is very real,” she said.
In their Science paper, Dr. Church and his colleagues called for a conversation about how to judge the risks of the technique and what regulations should be put in place.
Dr. Snow agreed, saying, “We need to discuss this now, because it’s right on the horizon.”
Dr. Snow says she worries that engineering wildlife with Crispr could lead to ecological havoc. If scientists attacked an invasive species in a country where it’s causing trouble, the species might deliver the genes to its original habitat. Back home, the species may have an important role in its ecosystem.
Another danger arises from the ability of closely related species to interbreed. A harmful species might pass on Crispr genes to a harmless one, taking it down as well.
“It’s an emerging technology that’s extremely risky,” Dr. Snow said.
Dr. Church and his colleagues don’t deny that Crispr could pose risks to wildlife, but they have come up with ideas about how to defend against those risks. Scientists might be able to reverse a Crispr campaign by releasing a second package of genes. The second package would replace the original one, removing the harmful gene.
In their Science paper, Dr. Church and his colleagues argue that risks can be reduced by coming up with regulations for the technology. They sketch out a series of steps that should be taken before approving each Crispr campaign, like preparing reversal genes and monitoring wild populations for any unplanned spread of the genes.
While Dr. Church is hopeful about the uses of Crispr, he doesn’t see regulations as getting in the way of progress. “The thing that really slows things down,” he said, “is making a big mistake.”
Carl Zimmer|JULY 17, 2014
[Sometimes genetic modifications can be beneficial. A number of insects have been modified either to self-eradicate or to attack an invasive species, which, to paraphrase Martha Stewart, I think is a “good thing”. Some foodstuffs have been modified to produce improvements in the produce such as the ‘'”Chico” tomato which was designed to grow to a uniform size, to ripen at the same time and toughened up enough to withstand mechanical picking; sweet corn, has also been modified to produce sweeter corn that has a longer shelf life, both of which happened some few years ago and have engendered no ill effects and, again, meet my personal approval.]
GMO labeling law lands allies
MONTPELIER — Two advocacy groups are looking to help defend the state against an industry group lawsuit against Vermont’s GMO labeling law.
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety say they have filed papers to formally move for party status in the lawsuit against Act 120, which was signed into law in May by Gov. Peter Shumlin. It requires the labeling of food with genetically engineered ingredients.
The two groups want to intervene on behalf of the state to assist in defending the law. Both groups are being represented jointly by lawyers from CFS and the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the largest group of food manufacturers in the country, as well as the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers, filed suit against the law about a month after it was signed. The state’s response to the suit is due Aug. 8.
The food industry has poured tens of millions of dollars into anti-labeling campaigns in other states, according to the groups.
“Corporations don’t get a veto in the state of Vermont,” said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney for CFS who will serve as the lead attorney for VPIRG and CFS. “We will vigorously defend this legally sound and important law, which is critical to our members and our mission.”
Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, said his group is prepared to contribute resources to help the state defend the law.
“Vermonters take their food seriously, and this law gives them the information they need to make informed purchasing choices,” Burns said. “VPIRG will do whatever we can to defend the GMO labeling law from corporate bullies who would rather keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.”
Falko Schilling, VPIRG’s leading advocate for GMO labeling, said it is unclear exactly how much the legal effort will cost.
“I can’t put a figure on that at this point,” he said. “We’re basically putting forward whatever resources we can. We’re going to have to raise some resources, I believe, to mount a strong defense.”
Attorney General Bill Sorrell has said Assistant Attorney General Megan J. Shafritz, chief of the attorney general’s civil division, will serve as the lead attorney for the state. The litigation team defending the law will include in-house attorneys Jon Alexander, Kyle Landis-Marinello and Naomi Sheffield. It will also employ attorneys from the Washington, D.C., firm Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP, which struck a $1.465 million contract with Sorrell’s office.
Sorrell told lawmakers the legal effort could cost the state as much as $8 million if it loses the case.
Vermont’s law, set to take effect in July 2016, is seen as a key battle in whether or not food companies will be required to label products with genetically modified ingredients. Two other states, Connecticut and Maine, have passed food labeling laws that are contingent on other states passing similar legislation. And Oregon has a ballot initiative on the November ballot.
Mary-Kay Swanson, executive assistant to Sorrell, who was out of state Tuesday, said the state is not opposing intervention by VPIRG and CFS, but the court will decide if they meet the legal standard for party status. She said the state is planning to mount a strong defense regardless.
“There’s no question that the state will vigorously defend this law and that we have the resources and expertise at our disposal,” she said. “In no way will this case be hindered by us having to pinch pennies.”
Schilling said both VPIRG and CFS can help boost the state’s defense of the law if they are granted party status.
“This is an issue that we have been involved with … and we have a long history of working on and we feel we can bring a lot of things to the table,” Schilling said. “That’s why we’re pushing to intervene. We believe the law is constitutional and believe it will be upheld.”
Neal P. Goswami|VERMONT PRESS BUREAU|July 23,2014
Monsanto is Messing With Animals’ Sperm
Animals exposed to the commonly-used pesticide Roundup are more likely to have an impaired sperm structure, suggests new research from the University of Caen, France.
The scientists investigated the effects of Roundup after an eight day exposure in adult animals. They found a significant difference in the expression of a compound called aromatase in the testis of animals. Aromatase is an enzyme involved in a key step in the synthesis of estrogens in the body. They also found a reduced expression of genetic material in sperm, and a change in hormonal balance (male hormone to estrogen balance) and the resulting quality of sperm. The scientists concluded that “The repetition of exposures of this herbicide could alter the mammalian reproduction.”
Roundup is a glyphosate-based pesticide developed and sold by Monsanto. Earlier research in the journal Entropy linked the chemical pesticide to other health problems, including gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer, and Alzheimer‘s disease. The Entropy study showed that glyphosate impairs the functions of enzymes in the body that are essential to detoxification as well as increases the damaging effects of other environmental toxins and foodborne chemical residues. The scientists who conducted this study indicated that glyphosate residues are found in common foods eaten regularly, including corn, soy, wheat and sugar.
Monsanto is not just the developer of the herbicide Roundup; it also created the genetically-modified seeds that have been altered to withstand being sprayed by Roundup. For years, environmentalists, consumer groups and plant scientists from several countries have warned that our current heavy use of glyphosate is causing problems for plants, people and animals.
Earlier research found that glyphosate is linked to infertility, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer. Meanwhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a review of glyphosate and has set a deadline of 2015 for determining if glyphosate use should be limited.
Roundup isn’t the only Monsanto-created pesticide that has been in the news for possible toxic effects. The company lost a court battle two years ago after a judge ruled it was guilty of chemical poisoning. Paul Francois, a French farmer, sued Monsanto after he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches, and stammering after inhaling another of the company’s chemical pesticides known as “Lasso.”
Perhaps that is why the most common Google search term linked to “Monsanto” is “Monsanto evil”?
Michelle Schoffro Cook|July 24, 2014
Doctors Warn of Super-Toxic GMO Threat
This could be the worst GMO ever!
We already know there are lots of health threats related to genetically engineered crops, including the extreme rise of pesticides found in the food you eat. But a new GE seed/pesticide combo could make things much worse, potentially causing lifelong, irreversible, and expensive health problems for children and adults.
In an attempt to protect the American public from this new threat, a contingency of prominent doctors, scientists, and business leaders this week urged federal lawmakers to pressure the Obama Administration to keep this potent new GMO/pesticide threat out of America fields (and our bodies).
During a Congressional briefing, the public health experts and business leaders asked Congress to reject Dow AgroSciences’ request to approve Enlist Duo, a new toxic herbicide mix consisting of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup weedkiller, and 2,4-D, a component of the Agent Orange defoliant chemical used during the Vietnam War. (Do you really want that sprayed on your food? Remember, our country converted war chemical factories into pesticide-making plants after World War II.)
Dow Chemical has a long history in both industries, and the agricultural branch of the corporation is asking both the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow Enlist II to be sprayed on our food crops like genetically engineered corn and soy.
Those opposing Dow’s toxic new formula at the Congressional briefing included Philip Landrigan, MD, dean for global health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Catherine Thomasson, MD, of Physicians for Social Responsibility, John P. Wargo, PhD, of Yale University, Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, of the Center for Food Safety, and Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm and the advocacy group Just Label It. “Exposures to herbicides in early life can lead to disease in childhood or disease later on in adult life or even old age,” said Dr. Landrigan. “Herbicide chemicals can also cross from mother to child during pregnancy and prenatal exposures that occur during the nine months of pregnancy are especially dangerous.”
The increase in pesticide use is another clear threat. “2,4-D already is permitted by EPA to remain as residues on over 300 different forms of food,” said Wargo, Ph.D., professor of environmental health and politics at Yale University. “Spraying millions of additional acres with these chemicals will increase their contamination of soils, surface and groundwater, and foods bearing their residues. If applied by aircraft, sprays will drift to adjacent lands, potentially endangering those who reside, go to school or work nearby.”
In June, 35 doctors, scientists and researchers, including Dr. Chensheng (Alex) Lu of Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Raymond Richard Neutra, a retired division chief of the California Department of Public Health, also sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy urging her to deny Dow’s application.
3 Fast Facts on Glyphosate
• The review, recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, examined 44 papers to see how 80 active ingredients in 21 different chemical classes impacted farmers’ risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The International Agency for Research on Cancer researchers found that exposure to glyphosate doubled a person’s risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That’s problematic, since the chemical is now so heavily used it’s winding up in the rain!
• In 2009, French researchers published a scientific paper in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology showing that low levels of four glyphosate formulations used in Roundup—levels far below what’s allowed in agriculture; levels on par with what’s in our food—all kill human umbilical, embryonic, and placental cells within 24 hours.
• Glyphosate isn’t just an herbicide; it’s registered as an antimicrobial agent in the U.S., too, thanks to its ability to wipe out a wide variety of pathogenic organisms. The problem is harmful pathogens like Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella, and E. coli are able to survive glyphosate in the gut, but the “good guys” in your digestive tract, protective microorganisms, bacillus and lactobacillus, for instance, are killed off. This could set your digestive tract up for a nightmarish situation, including “leaky gut,” where the protective gut lining is compromised, allowing bacteria and toxins to escape into your bloodstream.
3 Fast Facts on 2,4-D
• Americans are already exposed to 2,4-D in herbicides applied to lawns, turf grass, and other non-agricultural sites. Exposure to the toxic defoliant has been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease, as well as damage to the immune, thyroid, and reproductive systems. A weed-killing chemical that’s classified as a hormone disruptor by the European Union, 2,4-D has been dubbed a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
•”The risks of approving a new 2,4-D mixture are clear,” says Mary Ellen Kustin, senior policy analyst at the Environmental Working Group. “If approved, the use of 2,4-D would increase three-to-sevenfold by 2020, according to the USDA. The risks are too great and benefits too few to jeopardize public health and the environment.”
• 2,4-D has been shown to vaporize and travel up to half mile into neighboring fields and gardens, where it has the potential to annihilate non-targeted plants. It outright kills or deforms beloved crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, grapes, and other cash crops.
U.S. Ranks Near Bottom Globally in Energy Efficiency
WASHINGTON, Jul 18 2014 (IPS) – A new ranking has lauded Germany for its energy efficiency, while condemning the United States for lagging near the bottom.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a non-profit here, called the U.S. economy’s inefficiency “a tremendous waste” of both resources and money, in a scorecard released Thursday. Looking at 16 of the world’s largest economies, the rankings use 31 metrics to measure efficiency-related measures within each nation’s legislative efforts as well as the industrial, transportation and building sectors.
“The most important kilowatt hour is the one you don’t have to produce.” — Mark Konold
“A country that uses less energy to achieve the same or better results reduces its costs and pollution, creating a stronger, more competitive economy,” the ACEEE’s report begins. “While energy efficiency has played a role in the economies of developed nations for decades, cost-effective energy efficiency remains a massively underutilized energy resource.”
Though Germany produced the highest overall score- with 65 out of 100 possible points- and came in first in the “industry” sector, China had the top-scoring assessment in the “buildings” category, Italy had the most efficient “transportation” sector, and France, Italy and the European Union tied three-ways in the “national efforts” division.
Rachel Young, an ACEEE research analyst, told IPS that the U.S government has taken important recent steps to limit carbon emissions, particularly from existing power plants. But she recommends much broader actions.
The U.S. needs to “implement a national ‘energy savings’ target, strengthen national model building codes, support education and training in the industrial sector, and prioritize energy efficiency in transportation,” she says. Doing so, Young suggests, would not only reduce emissions but also save money and create jobs.
ACEEE’s focus has traditionally been on improving energy efficiency in the United States. But the new scorecard’s broad emphasis – on how energy efficiency makes for both an environmentally and financially wide investment – can be applied to international economies as well.
The Worldwatch Institute, a think tank here, is one of the many international development-focused organizations that have adopted this approach.
“We think that energy efficiency is one of the fastest ways that countries can get more mileage out of their energy usage,” Mark Konold, the Caribbean project manager at the Worldwatch Institute, told IPS. “The most important kilowatt hour is the one you don’t have to produce.”
Citing the Caribbean, West Africa, Central America and South America as prime examples, Konold says energy efficiency can be a wise economic investment for governments and individuals alike.
“Especially in island countries, which face disproportionately large energy bills, energy efficiency can go a long way in terms of reducing [an individual’s] financial burden,” he says. “Something as simple as window installations can make buildings in these island countries more efficient.”
Worldwatch and others increasingly consider energy efficiency a key element in the sustainability agenda.
Konold, who recently co-authored a study on sustainable energy in Jamaica, believes it is critical to examine the return on investment of energy-efficient practices. Doing so, he says, can help determine which cost-effective energy models should be implemented in developing nations.
Such recommendations are particularly relevant given the international community’s growing focus on efficiency issues.
The United Nations and the World Bank, for instance, recently established the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative to help “promote [a] paradigm shift” towards sustainability in developing countries. As one its three objectives, SE4ALL mandates “doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency”.
“There is a growing realization that energy efficiency is the lowest-cost energy and greenhouse gas emission option,” Nate Aden, a research fellow the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS. “This is especially important for developing countries that are trying to address energy access while also addressing climate change.”
Part of this new focus is specifically due to the SE4ALL initiative, Aden says. Further, he believes that the programs other two goals – doubling the share of renewable energy and providing universal energy access – are “consistent and complimentary” with energy efficiency.
“For example, in India, there’s a lot of discussion about the appropriate choices going forward, given that you have hundreds of millions who still lack access to energy,” Aden says. “You have to ask what the right choice is in terms of not only producing low-carbon emissions, but also in bringing energy to people.”
Aden also spoke enthusiastically about the “unique perspective” that private companies may take on energy efficiency, pointing to the efficiency efforts of Phillips, a U.S.-based lighting company. Aden believes that the ACEEE’s call for more energy-efficient practices will help make companies “able to plan effectively and be well-positioned from the supplier side” of energy.
While actions by the international community will clearly be important in implementing energy-efficient strategies from the top down, some are also emphasizing the need for cultural change at the individual level.
“A huge chunk of this issue is education and awareness-building,” Worldwatch’s Konold says. “And once we start to spread the message that individuals can better their own situation, that’s when we start seeing a change,”
He says there is a profound lack of awareness around energy in many countries, pointing to a phenomenon he refers to as “leaving the air-conditioning on with the windows open”. But Konold emphasizes that individuals can indeed make broad, substantive impact if they adopt more energy-saving behaviors in their homes.
This sentiment was echoed by the ACEEE’s Young, whose report pointed out that Americans are particularly guilty of energy-wasting behaviors, consuming roughly 6.8 tons of oil equivalent per person. This put the U.S. in second to last place in terms of individual energy consumption, only beating out Canada, where estimated oil consumption was 7.2 tons.
Based on this phenomenon, Young believes that individuals should “take advantage of incentives offered by their local utilities and governments to learn more about what they can do to reduce energy waste”, and to check out the ACEEE website, which “has dozens of consumer tips on improving energy efficiency.”
Julia Hotz|Reprint|Jul 18 2014
U.S. Becomes Biggest Oil Producer After Overtaking Saudi Arabia
A report issued recently by Bank of America declared the U.S. has now surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer. The daily output average for the first quarter of 2104 exceeded 11 million barrels, a significant increase from the previous quarters’ (Sept-Dec 2013) average of 7 million barrels, according to the International Energy Agency.
The expansion of domestic oil production in the U.S. has been significant under President Obama, supported by his “all of the above”—or rather the American Petroleum Institute’s “all of the above”—energy strategy which has overseen a four-fold increase in drilling rigs under his administration.
News of the surge in U.S. oil production was reported almost concurrently with the release of another news item: global climate scientists have again reported historically high levels of atmospheric carbon. As reported by Climate Central, June 2014 was the third month in a row in which carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere topped an average of 400 parts per million—a level not seen on Earth in at least 800,000 years.
Dr. Pieter Tans, a senior climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said, “As long as human society continues to emit CO2 from burning fossil fuels, CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans will continue to increase … It is urgent that we find a way to transition to non-carbon fuels as our source of primary energy.”
Despite these warnings, Obama’s “all of the above” policies have in fact supported the increased development of key fossil fuel production sectors:
- Obama has approved new offshore drilling permits for the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean and (reversing a decades-long moratorium) off the East Coast.
- Coal exports have risen to record levels under the Obama administration.
- U.S. oil exports, banned for more than 40 years, are now being loosened by the Commerce Department, providing U.S. oil companies the opportunity to target lucrative markets in Europe and Asia, also spurring the economic incentive to increase production as well as consumption.
The increase in U.S. oil production also helps accommodate a surge of growth in U.S. oil consumption. In 2013, U.S. oil consumption rose by more than 390,000 barrels per day from its levels in 2012, up to more than 18 million bbd. For the first time since 1999, the use of oil in the U.S. rose more rapidly than in the rest of the world. These trends in both oil production and consumption stand in direct opposition to the warning calls from the scientific community about the consequences of increased burning of fossil fuels. This, from the most recent National Climate Assessment Report:
“The amount of (global) warming projected beyond the next few decades is directly linked to the cumulative global emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles. By the end of this century, a roughly 3°F to 5°F rise is projected under a lower emissions scenario, which would require substantial reductions in emissions and a 5°F to 10°F rise for a higher emissions scenario assuming continued increases in emissions predominantly from fossil fuel combustion.”
“The amount of future climate change … will still largely be determined by choices society makes about emissions.”
President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy—in stark contrast both to his climate rhetoric and, more importantly, to the warnings of the world’s leading climate scientists —indeed supports the continued production and consumption of the principal fossil fuel sources of man-made greenhouse gas emissions at a tragically wrong time in history.
Our nation’s ‘achievement’ in becoming the world’s #1 oil producer—at the very time atmospheric levels of carbon continue to rise at historic, dangerous levels—represents nothing less than the huge climate change failure of Obama’s “All of the above” energy strategy.
Here are some of President Obama’s quotes on climate change and the need to move beyond oil:
“Someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safe, more stable world?” —President Barack Obama, June 25, 2013
“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.” —President Barack Obama, June 25, 2013
“The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century. We are not going to move backwards. We are going to move forward.” —President Barack Obama, June 2, 2010
EPA Says Duke Energy Finished Cleaning Toxic Coal Ash Spill. But Did They?
Less than two months after it was instructed to clean its coal-ash mess from North Carolina’s Dan River, Duke Energy has completed the job.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Duke both announced the cleanup’s completion this week. In February, Duke reported that it spilled 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash into the river near Eden, NC. Based on those numbers, the spill was the equivalent of 413 to 677 rail cars of wet coal ash being poured into a public drinking water source. However, the company has since decreased its estimate down to 39,000 tons.
Duke only dredged about 2,500 tons of coal ash that had been found against a dam in Danville, VA, the Associated Press reported. Though the company only recovered a small portion of its spill, a coordinator said recent testing showed that concentrations of toxic metals were below federal limits and comparable to pre-spill levels.
“We continue to do some monitoring and will base our decisions for actions on the data collected,” the EPA’s on-scene coordinator Myles Bartos Bartos said. ”But I don’t think there will ever be a removal again in the river. I think it has been adequately removed.”
Duke making its own announcement didn’t sit well with Waterkeeper Alliance, especially an attorney who has reason to believe the announcement came far too soon.
“This arrogant announcement from Duke Energy is the ultimate insult to the people North Carolina and Virginia whose river has been devastated by the company’s toxic ash spill,” Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison—who conducted testing on the Dan River after the announcement—said in a statement.
“Worse yet, Duke doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that there’s still a public health advisory declaring that the river is not safe to fish and swim in. Duke’s celebratory announcement that it ‘completed’ the clean-up threatens to mislead the public into think the danger has passed.”
Coal ash, which contains arsenic, mercury and more, made its way into the river after a pipe collapsed at a waste dump, turning the river gray for about 70 miles.
As a result of the spill, the EPA decided the company had to:
- Perform a comprehensive assessment
- Determine the location of coal ash deposits
- Remove deposits along the Dan River as deemed appropriate by EPA, in consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service
“Protection of public health and safety remains a primary concern, along with the long-term ecological health of the Dan River,” EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney said before the cleanup
Care2 Causes Editors|July 20, 2014| This post was written by Brandon Baker and originally appeared on EcoWatch.
Don Lieber|DeSmogBlog|July 20, 2014
Japan Bank Sets Aside $2 Billion for Clean Energy
Shinsei Bank Ltd., a lender for Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s clean-energy projects in Japan, plans to provide as much as 200 billion yen (US $2 billion) in loans for renewable developments.
“We’ve found our niche in supporting companies that are entering the solar market as an innovator,” Tsukasa Makizumi, an executive officer and general manager of the specialty finance division of the bank, said in an interview.
Shinsei is among lenders increasing financing for clean energy projects in Japan as the country expands generation capacity from sources such as solar and wind after introducing an incentive program two years ago.
The bank served as an arranger of loans for a 40-megawatt solar-power station in Ibaraki prefecture and a 16-megawatt wind farm in Yamagata, both sponsored by Goldman’s Japan Renewable Energy Co. It also provided financing for developers such as Renova Inc.
The country’s solar market will become one of the largest in the world in terms of added capacity this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Shinsei’s policy is to provide project finance rather than corporate, Makizumi said.
“That is the only business strategy that works for us,” Makizumi said. “Even though we try to compete with megabanks, they provide corporate finance for projects whose size, spread and profitability are completely different.”
The bank has committed to fund about 250 megawatts of solar projects, according to the official. That is expected to increase to about 300 megawatts, worth about 75 billion yen in lending, later this year.
Shinsei targets a total 150 billion yen to 200 billion yen in loans for renewables projects in Japan by March 2016, Makizumi said. “That is not an impossible target” after locking in 75 billion yen of commitments in about 18 months, he said.
The bank is also looking at wind, biomass and geothermal projects as it wants to diversify lending targets, Makizumi said.
Large-scale solar will “probably peak out this year or next,” he said. “Clean energy in Japan has been skewed toward solar. We, as a provider of financing, need to consider different energy sources.”
Makizumi said the bank may provide lending for a Dutch offshore wind farm and a U.K. biomass project.
Chisaki Watanabe, Emi Urabe and Tesun Oh|Bloomberg|July 16, 2014
Are Offshore Wind Farms the Future of Atlantic City?
Yesterday, feds announced they’ll lease nearly 344,000 acres off the South Jersey coast for commercial wind energy.
New Jersey Wind Energy Area
The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced yesterday the proposed sale of commercial wind energy leases for nearly 344,000 acres off the South Jersey coast as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
BOEM proposes to auction the Wind Energy Area as two leases: the South Lease Area (160,480 acres) and the North Lease Area (183,353 acres). The Wind Energy Area begins about seven nautical miles off the coast from Atlantic City. A map of the Wind Energy Area can be found by clicking here.
Analysis performed by the Department of Energy suggests that the area, if fully developed, could support up to 3,400 megawatts of commercial wind generation which could power around 1.2 million homes.
Following the July 21, 2014, publication in the Federal Register of a “Proposed Sale Notice,” there will be a 60-day comment period ending September 19, 2014 (you’ll be able to submit comments starting July 21st at regulations.gov under docket No. BOEM-2014-0029).
Comments received or postmarked by that date will be made available to the public and considered before the publication of the Final Sale Notice, which will announce the time and date of the lease sale.
The Proposed Sale Notice also provides detailed information concerning the areas available for leasing, the proposed lease provisions and conditions, auction details (e.g., criteria for evaluating competing bids and award procedures) and lease execution.
According to the South Jersey Times, the announcement could also be a boon for Paulsboro, N.J., right across the Delaware River from the airport.
The announcement by the feds may prove beneficial for the Port of Paulsboro, where a company could end up building components for wind turbines.
In 2013, representatives from the state government met with former governor Jim Florio and investors in a major wind energy project — Atlantic Wind Connection — at the Port of Paulsboro to discuss the possibility of the port becoming a construction site for wind energy converter platforms.
The port has been vacant for more than a decade and “the wind turbine news has been one of the few glimmers of hope for the site in recent years,” the paper reports. So perhaps this is the future of Paulsboro: Wind turbine boom town.
Of course, not everyone is a fan. The Courier-Post reports:
[T]he closest locations of some of those lease blocks — within seven miles of beaches — gives pause to David Mizrahi, vice president of research for New Jersey Audubon, who’s done extensive research on the potential effects of wind turbines on migratory birds.
“I see that as a problem,” said Mizrahi, who did studies when the Atlantic County Utilities Authority built its monumental 380-foot-high onshore turbines in Atlantic City. He’s concerned that locations closer to shore could harm migratory birds. According to an 2013 article on Smithsonian.com, between 140,000 and 328,000 birds die each year from collisions with wind turbines.
Brian Howard|July 18, 2014
[I believe wholeheartedly in alternative forms of energy, but siting is a major consideration. The Atlantic Migratory Flyway utilizes the entire Eastern Seaboard, and extends into the ocean a considerable distance. As long as the windfarms are located far enough off shore to clear the flyway, the area is prime wind energy territory.]
Why Doesn’t The Sunshine State Use More Solar Energy?
As far as solar energy goes, the Sunshine State is third in the country for potential — and 18th in actual installation.
In Florida, there’s no financial assistance for installing solar panels on your roof. Solar energy users can only take a federal tax credit.
Florida Power and Light powers the state using mostly natural gas. Out of all the energy FPL provides, only 0.06 percent comes from solar energy.
The only way to get solar panels installed on your roof is to call an independent contractor.
A Miami-based company called Mr. Solar is keeping busy installing more solar energy for homeowners and businesses, says CEO Brian Gillis.
“Their goal is to reduce their electric bill and do it in a manner that is cost effective,” says Gillis.
Gillis says business could be better, though, if the state and the utilities were more involved with solar energy.
Florida doesn’t have many policies in place to make solar energy happen on a large scale. In 2006, the state started a rebate program for installing solar panels, but ended it when it became too popular.
In this year’s legislative session, the state scrapped the program off the books entirely. Some people were still waiting for their rebates when the program ended.
Florida Power and Light still offers some rebate programs, but the wait list is long and the funds are limited.
Buck Martinez, director of FPL’s Office of Clean Energy, says Florida is doing solar energy the best way it can right now.
“We’re not doing as bad as people think we are,” says Martinez. “But I think we’ll have an opportunity to advance as the price continues to come down.”
Martinez also says despite it being the Sunshine State, Florida’s climate also poses a challenge.
“I think in the state of Florida our challenge is the amount of rainfall and the amount of cloud coverage we have,” says Martinez. “Obviously Florida has good potential. It’s not great potential.”
Some solar energy advocates say FPL could get around the rain and clouds by building solar plants across the state. The would grab energy from a sunny area while it’s cloudy in another.
James Fenton researches solar energy at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He argues solar energy is not only possible in Florida, but it’s not as expensive as most people think.
“Alternative energy is always alternative until it’s cheaper,” says Fenton. “We’re now getting to the point where it’s getting cheaper. When people start to understand that, then you can find a way to fix the policy to take advantage of that.”
Solar energy is being used at the utilities level around the world now, bringing down the cost. Also, the technology is getting better, making solar power easier to use.
Meanwhile, fossil fuels are getting more expensive.
Gillis says most people don’t know solar energy is getting cheaper. He even goes to schools to teach children about solar energy.
“I think a lot could change if people were more educated on what solar power is,” he says. “And how it works and a little bit more information on the feasibility of it.”
Keeping Up with Energy Storage
New Hampshire, USA — Solar and energy storage are a match made in heaven and a new report from the Solar Electric Power Association, “Electric Utilities, Energy Storage, Solar: Trends in Technologies, Applications and Costs,” takes a deep dive into the energy storage sector. The report uses information from the Department of Energy’s Global Energy Storage Database to analyze 215 distributed generation energy storage projects developed by or in partnership with utilities.
“Electric energy storage (EES) has the potential to provide services to the grid, utilities, and downstream customers by improving power quality, reliability and adding needed capacity. EES should enable more solar to be installed on the grid while reducing the operational impacts of this variable resource,” the report says.
Terry Allison, a senior engineer at American Electric Power, said to SEPA researchers, Miriam Makhyoun and Mike Taylor, “Storage is absolutely necessary and it’s getting cheaper.”
According to a recent report from Navigant Research, the annual energy capacity of advanced batteries for utility-scale energy storage applications will grow from 412 megawatt-hours (MWh) in 2014 to more than 51,200 MWh in 2023, at a compound annual growth rate of 71 percent.
The highest growth and volume of sales of advanced batteries over the next 10 years will occur in Asia Pacific, according to the report. Power grids in the region are relatively immature, and the grid infrastructure still needs much work in many countries. This provides an enormous opportunity for the use of batteries on the grid as one method to balance the load with generation.
“While there are several chemistries suitable for large energy storage installations for the grid, the clear leader is lithium ion and its sub-chemistries,” said Sam Jaffe, principal research analyst with Navigant Research. “Lithium-ion manufacturers have raced ahead in building manufacturing facilities, giving them considerable advantages in the ability to meet large-volume orders and utilize economies of scale in order to bring prices down.”
The report, “Advanced Batteries for Utility-Scale Energy Storage”, analyzes the global market for advanced batteries for large-scale grid applications.
In related news, the first grid-scale iron-chromium redox flow battery was recently used to commission EnerVault’s long-duration energy storage system. In May, the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) dedicated EnerVault Turlock, the first grid-scale iron-chromium redox flow battery deployed in the world. EnerVault designed and manufactured the long-duration, grid-scale energy storage system in Silicon Valley with a combination of private funding and research and development grants from the DOE and the Energy Commission.
Long-duration energy storage systems are emerging as the lynchpin to efficient operations for resilient grids as aging conventional power plants are replaced by higher levels of solar and wind, according to EnerVault. Interconnected to the distribution grid, EnerVault Turlock is co-located with a dual-axis tracking solar photovoltaic system in an almond orchard in California’s Central Valley.
EnerVault’s system is a 1-MWh, 250-kW system that was manufactured in partnership with New-York based Ascension Industries, who built the first prototype. NORAM, a specialized engineering and process design firm, worked with EnerVault to scale production and commercialize the system, which is designed to continuously deliver full rated power for up to four hours.
EnerVault is promoting the wide-scale use of energy storage to enable the expanded use of renewable energy, make fossil fuel power plants more efficient, reduce the costs of grid infrastructure, and increase the reliability of electric service to commercial and industrial users. The company targets applications with demand for large amounts of energy and said that its approach is ideal for supporting renewables, peak shifting in commercial and industrial facilities, or enabling operation and increasing fuel efficiency in micro-grids.
In the same month, on the same coast, Seattle, Washington-based UniEnergy Technologies (UET) announced commercial availability of its grid-scale energy storage system, called the Uni.System. The company said its system is modular, factory-integrated (including power conversion), and “plug & play,” comprised of five 20’ standard containers requiring only a concrete pad and interconnection that provides 500 kWAC of power for 4 hours, with power up to 600 kWAC and energy up to 2.2MWhAC.
The product uses a new generation of vanadium electrolyte that was initially developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with support from DOE’s Grid Storage program, said UET President and CEO Gary Yang, who believes that the product is a breakthrough because it has “double the energy density and much broader operating temperature range.”
Yang said that traditional vanadium redox flow batteries have advantages such as “superior safety, unlimited cycle life, long duration, and full use of the battery from 0 to 100 percent state of charge” but in addition to those benefits, the Uni.System is fully containerized and includes “integrated electrolyte tanks, field-proven large-scale stacks, and optimized controls and power electronics.”
The Uni.System helps integrate renewables onto the grid by providing buffering capabilities – both short and long duration – to smooth the intermittent nature of wind and solar power. It also supports smart grids and micro-grids and meets other utility needs, according to the company.
Speaking of integrating with the grid, S&C Electric Company recently announced its new PureWave SMS-250 Storage Management System, the latest in S&C’s portfolio of solutions to integrate energy storage to power systems. By providing a new building block with which to integrate energy storage to the grid, this new 250-kW storage management system offers more flexibility in how energy storage is implemented while also maximizing economic requirements, according to the company.
The product is currently in use in Field, British Colombia. The system, owned by BC Hydro, integrates a 1-MW sodium-sulfur battery bank to the power grid so that it can provide up to seven hours of back-up power should the power grid experience a disruption. The system also provides peak shaving on a daily basis.
Field is a remote mountain community that relies on a single 55-km overhead distribution line to deliver power from the substation in Golden, B.C. to the town. In this mountainous terrain, heavy forestation, difficult access, and adverse climate conditions result in frequent faults affecting reliability, according to S&C. The company said that the energy storage system alleviates this problem by automatically transferring Field’s electric load to battery power when the grid is disrupted.
On the technology front, Somerset, NJ-based NEI Corporation said that it is developing a lithium-ion battery where the electrolytes are dissolved in water instead of an organic solvent. The aqueous-based lithium-ion battery has the potential to eliminate the risks associated with lithium-ion batteries, where the organic solvents are highly flammable, according to NEI. In addition, aqueous-based lithium-ion batteries have the potential to significantly reduce cost, measured in terms of $/kWh, the company said.
The company explained that while the concept of a lithium-ion cell using a water-based electrolyte has been known and studied, a major limitation is the narrow electrochemical stability window for water, which restricts the cell voltage. For example, the electrochemical stability window for water is within the range of 0 to 1.25V; electrolysis of water occurs outside this voltage range. In contrast, organic solvent-based electrolytes are stable up to at least 4V. The lower the cell voltage is, the lower the energy density is, and consequently, water-based lithium-ion batteries have had low energy densities.
However, scientists and engineers at NEI Corporation have recently developed new materials concepts that can overcome the voltage stability issue of water-based lithium-ion systems. The innovations pertain to the composition and morphology of the materials used in the lithium-ion cell. The aqueous-based technology is being developed with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.
The company said that it is now looking to partner with a battery manufacturer to co-develop, test and qualify the water-based lithium-ion batteries.
Energy storage solutions are set to play a larger role in the German electricity market at solar generation continues to increase. German solar photovoltaic generation peaked at around 15 GW on 11 May 2014 – a record high that caused prices to sink briefly into the negative. “Balancing supply with demand in the grid presents operators with a significant challenge and leads to market price fluctuations. That is where storage solutions come into play,” said Tobias Rothacher, renewable energies manager at Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI).
While politicians and the media have focused largely on smart grids as a solution, a quiet revolution has been taking place in the photovoltaic industry, said GTAI.
“Many solar installations will have paid for themselves in the next couple of years and some will soon reach the end of their 20-year feed-in tariff contract,” said Rothacher, who advises and supports international companies planning to invest in Germany. With modern and cheaper battery technology now available, these owners are able to store excess power during the day instead of feeding it into the grid at low prices and buying it back at night when it is more expensive. This helps to reduce grid fluctuations and with feed-in tariffs set to fall this summer, it makes even more economic sense.
Market research company EuPD expects sales of solar power storage systems to rise in Germany to 100,000 units in 2018, up from 6,000 in 2013. It is a development that has not gone unnoticed by politicians with the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel calling for battery technology to be returned to its position as a leading German industry.
“A number of factors are coming together that will lead to a boom in PV energy storage solutions in Germany,” Rothacher said.
To help meet that need, German company Sonnenbatterie GmbH presented its “eco” battery in Munich at Intersolar. The company uses lithium-iron-phosphate technology coupled with “high-quality” electronic components, according to the company to produce what it said is a compact wall-mountable design that it sells at “highly attractive pricing.”
The basic version of the Sonnenbatterie eco has a capacity of 4.5 kWh. The system is wall-mounted and can be expanded modularly up to a maximum storage capacity of 13.5 kWh. As with previous generations of its products, the company said that the Sonnenbatterie eco is a ready-to-use complete system that includes intelligent energy management, online access via an app or the internet and pre-configured connections for additional applications, such as back-up power, heat pumps or CHP.
“In combination with a PV system, an operator can benefit from up to 80 percent self-consumption at constant production costs, which are already significantly below current electricity prices,” according to Christoph Ostermann, CEO. He said that the lower price reflects the economies of scale that the company was able to capitalize upon.
Saft also launched what it said is the world’s first long-term warranty extension option for domestic lithium-ion energy storage modules. The company said that its storage systems ensure the effective grid integration of solar PV at all levels from enhancing domestic self-consumption through to megawatt-scale installations that support the operation of large PV generation plant as an integral element of power networks.
Saft is now offering a warranty extension of up to 15 years for Synerion Storage Systems integrated into Bosch’s BPT-S 5 Hybrid intelligent energy management and storage solution.
In extended cycling in particular, Saft batteries maintain a high capacity, even after more than 7,000 charge/discharge cycles, according to the company. Saft’s domestic scale ESS solutions are based on its Synerion Li-ion battery modules, each of which delivers around 2 kWh energy and up to 4 kW power.
The Bosch BPT-S 5 Hybrid system, launched in 2012, integrates a solar inverter, an energy management system and Saft’s Synerion modules.
Trojan Battery is trotting out its new lines of deep-cycle batteries that featuring “Smart Carbon” technology, which addresses the impact of partial state of charge (PSOC) on cycling batteries in renewable energy (RE), inverter backup and remote telecom applications. Smart Carbon is designed to enhance life and performance of Trojan batteries operating in PSOC.
Smart Carbon is a proprietary Trojan formula that provides improved performance when the batteries operate in PSOC, enhancing overall battery life in off-grid and unstable grid applications where the batteries are under charged on a regular basis, said Trojan. Along with increased life in PSOC, Trojan’s Smart Carbon provides improved charge acceptance and faster recharge in PSOC applications.
With batteries now being one of the most expensive components of RE, inverter backup and remote telecom systems, it is critical to maximize the life of the battery bank in order to reduce total cost of ownership. Trojan understands that batteries used in these systems are regularly cycled at PSOC due to the intermittency of solar generation, an unstable grid or to minimize operating costs of a hybrid Charge-Discharge-Cycle (CDC) system. Operating at PSOC can quickly diminish the overall life of a lead acid battery, which results in frequent and costly battery replacements.
Trojan chose to add Smart Carbon first to its deep-cycle flooded batteries because flooded technology is the most widely used in off-grid and unstable grid applications globally due to its cycling performance, ability to withstand harsh conditions, widespread availability and economical price point.
“Trojan’s engineering team has spent more than five years in research and development experimenting with many types of carbon to ensure the right formula to successfully address PSOC,” said Bryan Godber, senior vice president of global market development at Trojan Battery. “While most carbon additive research has focused on VRLA batteries for start-stop automotive applications, Trojan’s focus has been on the addition of carbon to deep-cycle flooded batteries for stationary applications in off-grid and unstable grid locations.
Jennifer Runyon|Chief Editor|RenewableEnergyWorld.com|July 22, 2014
Report Exposes European Lobby Groups Who Ensure Expansion of Shale Gas
The shuffling of lobby dollars that keeps fossil fuel-friendly policies on the books for the benefit of huge corporations and their legislative pals isn’t specific to the U.S.
A new report from Friends of the Earth Europe aims to expose Shell, Total and ExxonMobil, along with groups like BusinessEurope and OGP, to reveal what it calls a “thick web of lobbying activity.” The report says public relations and law firms, paid-for scientific reports, and even members of Parliament have all been used to advance fracking for shale gas around the continent.
“The legislative process has been taken hostage by private interests,” Antoine Simon, a shale gas campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement. “They have created a climate of industry-funded misinformation that sells shale gas as a responsible resource—this could not be further from reality. The European Commission needs to put the interest of people and planet before the profits of big oil companies, by re-opening the debate on shale gas regulation.”
This graphic explains how money flows in Europe to keep fossil fuel-friendly laws on the books. Graphic credit: Friends of the Earth Europe
The report hopes to reignite the discussion of stronger shale gas industry regulation within the European Commission and increased lobbying transparency. At the very least, FOE Europe hopes for a moratorium on fracking, similar to those passed in the U.S. by the New York Assembly and in cities like Los Angeles.
In the meantime, the organization seeks to explain who is making contributions to keep a practice with proven health risks alive. Here is a visualization of the tangled web of gas companies and lobbyists in Europe. Each line shows membership, affiliation or financial contributions from energy companies to lobby groups in Brussels who represent their interests. Europia, European Union of the Natural Gas Industry and European Federation of Energy Traders are among the names included.
Graphic credit: Friends of the Earth Europe
“An underground offensive by the oil industry has managed to silence well-founded concerns about the dangers of fracking,” Simon said. “It has side-stepped the growing body of evidence on the environmental, economic and health risks of shale gas development, and undermines Europe-wide opposition from citizens to the unconventional fossil fuel.”
Liberia – communities join to fight the palm oil land grab
Liberia’s Jogbahn Clan is at the forefront of efforts to resist the grab of Indigenous Peoples’ land and forests for palm oil plantations. But according to the country’s President, they are only ‘harassing and extorting’ international investors.
If we lose our land how will we live? We are in Africa, we live by our crops. Palm plantations can’t help us!
“They refuse to talk to us about our land business. Because we are standing here, are we not people? We are somebody.”
So spoke Elder Chio Johnson defiantly looking through the tall iron gates of Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) / Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK’s) office in Grand Bassa County, Liberia.
His Jogbahn Clan had come to deliver a petition signed in solidarity by over 90,000 people to tell the UK and Malaysian palm oil companies that they must stop grabbing the Clan’s land. However the companies refused to speak with the community.
EPO also thwarted efforts to present the petition in London, when they refused a meeting. Attempts to doorstop their London premises proved futile – the office appears to exist only in the form of a brass plate.
A source of inspiration
Even though the companies refused to speak with the communities the story of their struggle is now known all over the world with signatories for the petition coming from across the globe.
Their story has also been a source of inspiration for communities all over Liberia who like the Clan are facing dispossession from their land by agribusiness corporations that will replace their sustainable communities with mono-cultural plantations to produce certified ‘sustainable’ palm oil for the global market.
The fight many communities are facing in protecting their land is a fight for their very survival.
Last month Liberian communities affected by all four major palm oil companies; Equatorial Palm Oil / Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad, Golden Veroleum Liberia (Golden Agri-Resources), SIFCA / Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (Wilmar / Olam) and Sime Darby came together for the first time to discuss agriculture concessions as a national issue.
Different companies, one shared experience
These companies are European (UK), Asian (Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean) and African (Côte d’Ivoire) with considerable European financing. The focus was on creating a space for these diverse communities to share their experiences.
The same narrative of exploitation is playing out all over the country; the companies’ names were interchangeable. Bringing the communities together in this way laid the foundations for connecting their separate struggles.
Chio Johnson offered advice to the other communities, urging them to stay united in the face of the companies’ divide and rule tactics. “Land is life, it is too valuable to lose”, he warned.
Solomon Gbargee, a youth representative gave a stirring speech recounting the Clan’s struggle so far and urged all the communities to stand together in their resistance of the companies:
“If we lose our land how will we live? We are in Africa, we live by our crops. Palm plantations can’t help us!”
A solidarity network is formed
Communities impacted by Wilmar’s operations described resisting land clearances and the destruction of their property. When they objected to paltry compensation for destroyed crops they were told by their politicians: “If you want to get nothing, take to the streets” – where communities who continue to protest face assault and arrest.
Deyeatee Kardor, Jogbahn Clan’s chairlady called on women to lead the struggle. “Because I stood up to the company people accused me of being a man but I carry the spirit of a thousand women”, she proclaimed.
“For those of us under struggle with a palm company we must remain strong. My land is my land, your land is your land, your forest and bushes are your bank. Don’t get tired. We cannot agree to leave our land.”
Communities shared advice and support and these exchanges led to the development of a community solidarity network to provide a platform to work together.
Now communities are ‘harassing and extorting investors’
In her ninth Address to the Nation in January 2014 the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, characterized community resistance to large scale concessions on their land as “harassment and extortion of investors”.
“Agriculture remains the key sector of the economy for local employment creation, poverty reduction, food security and income generation, as over 60 percent of the population depends on this sector for livelihood.
“Food security is listed as a national priority, but we must admit that there has been under-investment by both the public and private sectors. Only massive investment can fix this under-performing sector so that it can play the vital role of delivering inclusive economic growth, environmental sustainability and long-term poverty reduction.
“Our scarce budget resources cannot do this, given the many other priorities, so we will need to attract investment from the private sector. At the same time, the private sector will not respond if there is continued harassment, extortion and unreasonable community demands.”
Her statement somehow failed to recognise that investors are primarily interested in the production of export cash crops – which does nothing to increase food security in Liberia. Indeed it achieves the very reverse, as land used for local food production is comandeered to produce commodities for global markets.
The result of community resistance, she later claimed, is to undermine Liberia’s economic growth and harm “the renewed confidence that Liberia is still a good destination for investment”.
Earlier this year she voiced support for the Jogbahn Clan’s struggle against EPO – as reported by The Ecologist. But her promises have come to nothing.
Voices of dissent stifled – but not yet silenced
The prevailing narrative of Liberia for so long was that of a country ravaged by a long and bloody conflict. The current narrative is one of ‘Liberia Rising’ – a country that has dusted off the ashes of the war and plans to be a middle income country by 2030 through a development path focused on Foreign Direct Investment.
Within this narrative the voices of communities affected by palm oil have been silenced.
But even if the Liberian government refuses to acknowledge agricultural concessions as a fraught national issue it is being viewed as such internationally.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the industry body for the palm oil sector, undertook a mission visit to Liberia. This was the first of its kind to address the high volume of complaints lodged by communities in Liberia against Golden Veroleum Liberia and Equatorial Palm Oil.
However the vast number of complaints lodged to the RSPO by Liberian communities without satisfactory resolution shows the inherent weaknesses of such industry created voluntary mechanisms.
The ‘breadbasket’ narrative – ‘production must increase!’
The voices of affected communities are also absent from the current prevailing ‘breadbasket’ narrative which argues that feeding the world requires investment in large scale agriculture to make Africa’s ‘unproductive’ land productive.
A widely reported study, ‘Food appropriation through large scale land acquisitions’, shows how 300-550 million people could be fed if land “marginally utilized because of lack of modern technology” was subjected to high-tech commercial agriculture, compared to the “190-370 million people [that] could be supported by this land without closing of the yield gap.”
But it also draws attention to the fact that the increases in food production would not bring benefits to the countries, or communities, whose land was used in this way:
“These numbers raise some concern because the food produced in the acquired land is typically exported to other regions, while the target countries exhibit high levels of malnourishment. Conversely, if used for domestic consumption, the crops harvested in the acquired land could ensure food security to the local populations …
“These investments in agriculture often occur without the ‘informed consent’ of current land users, with no consideration of the societal and environmental impacts of the conversion from subsistence farming to large scale commercial agriculture, and without ensuring that the profits are shared with the local communities (ILC International Land Coalition 2011). For these reasons the process is often referred to as ‘land grabbing’.”
So the study does address the fact that the crops set to be produced on this grabbed land are not to grow food for subsistence and local markets but for cash crops for export – to support the Global North’s unsustainable overconsumption of biofuels, animal feed and processed goods, not to feed the hungry and malnourished people of the Global South.
Yet its fails to consider another dimension of ‘efficiency’ – it’s not just about production per hectare, but also about production per unit of input resources – such as energy, water, pesticide, herbicide …
Land as a human right
And its conclusion is astonishingly – indeed disgracefully – weak: “While there are some pros in the increase in agricultural production that could result from large scale investments, some measures should be in place to ensure that the benefits are shared with the local populations.”
This is an entirely inadequate reflection of the reality that hunger in the world today is a political and economic artifact – and not the result of a shortage of food production.
Nor does it represent the truth that land is much more than an ‘economic factor of production’ – but is the root of the culture, livelihood and spirituality of those millions of people worldwide that depend on their land to survive.
Nor does it acknowledge that the right of Indigenous Peoples to remain on their historic land is a fundamental human right, essential to their survival and dignity. This right is strongly maintained in Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which states (Article 7):
“The peoples concerned shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control, to the extent possible, over their own economic, social and cultural development. In addition, they shall participate in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of plans and programs for national and regional development which may affect them directly.”
So any land-grab of indigenous territory, such as that of the Jogbahn Clan, is in fact a severe breach of international humanitarian law. How on Earth could this essential fact escape the notice of the distinguished academic authors?
Only small scale, sustainable agriculture can feed the world
The former UN Special Rapporteur to the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter argued in The Ecologist that shifting to large‐scale, highly mechanized forms of agriculture will not solve hunger but make it worse.
Poverty and hunger will be addressed by ensuring communities have access to land and resources and are supported in small scale agriculture. Smallholder agro-ecological farming and small-scale food production can ensure the sustainable use of resources and sustainable livelihoods. It can also out-perform industrial commodity production.
70% of the world is fed by smallholder farmers like the Jogbahn Clan. The Clan countered the unproductive land argument better than any academic paper could when they presented all the crops they produced on their land to the visiting RSPO delegation. “This is why we will not give up our land”, said Chio.
Though the Jogbahn Clan continues to face the threat of the imminent clearing of their land, they will keep resisting.
And given the rousing calls of “Community Action” made by the communities when they came together to form the solidarity network they will not be alone but alongside other communities in Liberia and in solidarity with communities resisting land grabs worldwide.
Jacinta Fay & Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor|18th July 2014
Wisconsin Tribes Urge EPA to Use Clean Water Act to Stop Gogebic Taconite Mine
The Wisconsin Federation of tribes has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to use the 404 C portion of Clean Water Act to stop mining activity by Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) in the Penokee Mountains located on the edge of the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation.
Tribes in Alaska successfully used a similar tactic to halt silver and gold mining earlier this year near Bristol Bay, noted Mike Simonson in an article in the Ashland Daily Press.
Section 404c of the Clean Water Act protects treaty rights, aquatic resources, fisheries, wildlife, subsistence and public uses of public waterways. In the May 27 letter, signed by the Bad River, Red Cliff, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, St. Croix and Sokoagon Ojibwe Bands, tribes maintain that mining activities by GTAC will threaten the health of the western Superior Basin and Bad River Watershed.
According to Mark Anthony Rolo, Communications Director for the Bad River tribe, this issue has been added to the agenda of the annual EPA Region 5 Regional Tribal Operating Committee meeting next month in Traverse City, Michigan.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, long time supporter of GTAC’s plan to build the large open pit iron ore taconite mine near Lake Superior, is “crying foul,” according to an editorial in the Capital Times. Walker “hopes the EPA will not step in to evaluate the environmental effects of the project before other state and federal agencies are given the opportunity to act on any permits for the project.”
He further expressed concerns that the EPA might politicize the process of evaluating the mine.
Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins said, “Gov. Walker has done everything he can to grease the skids for this out of state mining company to get their law then their mine. We washed our hands of him. Unfortunately now he is trying to interfere with the tribes sovereign relationship with the federal government. Walker’s comments characterizing the treaties and trust responsibility as “politics” is just another example of why Bad River has gone to the federal level.”
Bob Seitz, Director of External Affairs for GTAC, expressed surprise about the tribes’ request for EPA evaluation of the mining process.
“We are following and trust the science and experts in this process. The experts at the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers do a good job of protecting the environment; their process if rigorous,” he said.
Asked if GTAC is concerned about EPA’s possible involvement with the mine he said, “We are concerned about anything that would block the process of gathering science and data. We are working with state and federal authorities to ensure they have everything they need to make a good decision.”
There have been differing claims regarding the presence of asbestos and sulfite in the rocks at the proposed mining sites and the possibility that the mining process would release these poisonous contaminants into the environment.
Last week, GTAC filed a license renewal with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that includes plans for six new drilling sites in a four-mile area east of the town of Mellen in eastern Ashland and western Iron counties.
According to a WDNR press release the department has 10 days to review and issue a response to the application.
The mining controversy has attracted national and international media attention. On Friday, the Bad River community viewed the premier of a documentary episode of Al Jazeera’s America’s Fault Lines series, “Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff,” according to Rolo.
The 30-minute investigative film “tells the story of how GTAC and its allies wielded money and power to influence the law, and goes behind the scenes with the burgeoning movement to resist the mine. It explores the potential harms the mine might bring, from asbestos exposure to acid runoff into the waterways in the area,” according to the organization’s press kit.
Mary Annette Pember|7/16/14
Governor Scott Announces Almost $16 Million Investment for Coast to Coast Connector Project
Governor Rick Scott today announced the 11 new projects that will be funded this year to help advance the Coast to Coast Connector, which will provide a safe and continuous multi-use trail from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic. The Department of Transportation will invest $15.9 million to complete 11 phases of separate trail segments in nine counties. This new funding is in addition to the more than $26 million that has already been invested by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for the Connector project over the next five years.
Governor Scott said, “This $15.9 million investment will help to complete 11 sections of the Coast to Coast Connector which will help to bring more tourists to our state, and create jobs for families in our state. Our tourists increasingly desire new ways to explore this beautiful state and the Coast to Coast Connector will do just that as the only trail in America connecting the Gulf to the Atlantic.”
- Brevard Co. Line to Aurantia Road – $5.6 million
- Canaveral Ave to Max Brewer Causeway and Max Brewer Causeway to Atlantic Ocean – $100,000
- Suncoast Trail to existing Good Neighbor Trail – $1 million
- SR 33 to Silver Eagle Road – $1.5 million
- Van Fleet State Trail to Villa City Road – $1.3 million
- Seg 1 ‐ Hiawassee Rd to Pine Hills Road – $530,000
- Seg 2 ‐ Clarcona‐Ocoee Rd to Seminole Co. Line – $1.1 million
- Pinellas/Pasco Co. Line to North of SR 54 – $460,000
- East Lake Rd/Keystone Rd intersection to the Pinellas/Pasco Co. Line – $3.9 million
Seminole/ Volusia County
- Wayside Park over US 17/92 Bridge and US 17/92 Bridge over Spring to Spring Trail – $100,000
- Withlacoochee State Trail to Van Fleet State Trail – $350,000
When complete, the Connector is expected to be over 250 miles and will link communities between St. Petersburg and Titusville into a major destination route that will allow residents and visitors to explore Central Florida by bicycle or foot. An estimated 75 percent of the trail corridor is already developed and open to the public or funded for construction.
FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad said, “With the projects announced today, we will be moving forward this year on virtually every gap within the Coast to Coast Connector. FDOT is pleased to play such an instrumental role with our state and local partners to help advance this ambitious trail project. It will provide an exceptional experience and safe transportation route for our residents and visitors.”
FDEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. said, “FDOT continues to be a great partner in the statewide trail effort. We are very excited that the Connector project will be the first of many efforts to complete the Florida Greenways and Trails Priority System.”
Senator Andy Gardiner, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development, has been a strong advocate for the Connector and was instrumental in setting aside the new funding.
Senator Gardiner said, “It is very rewarding to see the combined efforts of so many come together to help close the gaps in the Coast to Coast Connector. These projects represent a significant step forward for this exciting effort.”
The Connector is a collaborative effort of many agencies and organizations, including the eleven Central Florida metropolitan planning organizations that signed a joint resolution last summer making the trail project a regional priority.
Along with more than nine other long distance corridors, the Connector is a state priority in the 2013-17 Florida Greenways and Trails System Plan (Plan), developed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Greenways and Trails, the lead entity for statewide trail planning. The plan outlines the vision for the Florida Greenways and Trails System, defining the role of the system in advancing Florida’s economy, tourism, health, transportation, recreation, conservation and quality of life.
President & CEO of VISIT FLORIDA Will Seccombe said, “Florida is an incredibly diverse destination with so much more to see and do than our visitors often realize. Stretching from Tampa Bay to the Space Coast, the Coast to Coast Connector will offer a unique opportunity for them to discover some of the Sunshine State’s most scenic greenways and trails.”
FDOT will supervise development of the remaining Connector gaps, and local governments or other managing agencies will be responsible for operation and maintenance of the completed trail segments.
mburgerdep|July 21, 2014
Amendment aims cash at conservation efforts
TALLAHASSEE – For Florida environmentalists, the fate of the Wekiva-Ocala Greenway is emblematic of why they are taking the fight over preserving green spaces to the voters this fall.
Amendment 1 on the November ballot sounds like a godsend for green groups. If passed, the constitutional question could steer $700 million or more to conservation projects next year, and more than $1.3 billion annually within two decades.
But the reality of the amendment may be in the eyes of the Legislature, which would have broad authority to decide what types of projects could qualify for the money.
Environmentalists say the amendment was spurred by projects such as the Wekiva-Ocala Greenway, which have price tags putting them out of range. Florida policymakers through the decades have devoted $183 million to assembling the jigsaw-like pieces of the threatened 80,000-acre natural landscape of springs, swamps, uplands and rivers connecting Orlando to Ocala National Forest.
But first came the Great Recession, drying up Florida’s documentary-stamp tax on real-estate transactions, the traditional source of cash for many conservation efforts. The Legislature responded by scrapping spending on land purchases.
Then in 2013, when bonds used to make environmental purchases were paid off, the Legislature rerouted $140 million that could have otherwise gone to conservation into road-building. Suddenly, the thought of finishing projects such as Wekiva, which still needs about $32 million to buy the remaining 25,000 acres, felt like a pipe dream.
“We just realized that when the next set of environmental bonds are paid off, the Legislature was just going to steal that money and put it into development subsidies,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida, which has been pushing the Wekiva project for years.
The amendment is designed to force lawmakers to steer 33 percent of net doc-stamp taxes into the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
That money would have to be spent on buying, restoring or managing “wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites.”
Right now, doc-stamp taxes are split under a formula that steers more than $2 billion into a grab bag of programs for land conservation, parks, hunting grounds, water management, transportation, invasive-plant control and affordable-housing projects. Supporters say the redirection of more money into the land-buying fund won’t hurt other projects because the revenue source – real-estate transactions – is projected to consistently grow for the next two decades.
“This is a pie that’s increasing out into the future,” said Will Abberger with The Trust for Public Land, one of the main financiers of the amendment.
But state economists required to review its impact noted last year the amendment “may result in reductions to existing programs,” depending on how lawmakers decide to shift funds. For instance, they could provide level funding for many of the same programs out of the land-buying trust fund.
This year, lawmakers steered at least $637 million into water- and land-protection programs that could have fallen under that definition, including money for Everglades and Indian River Lagoon cleanup; land management; springs protection; beach and inlet protection; lake restoration; and petroleum-tank cleanups.
“There is nothing in the amendment that requires us to prioritize specific water or land projects,” said incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who would help oversee implementing it should it pass. “The wording is so broad that it will depend on how legislators will direct those funds in the future.”
His Senate counterpart, incoming President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has conceded the amendment overwhelmingly appears poised to garner the 60 percent voter approval needed to pass, and “we will evaluate all the options” for carrying it out.
Most of Florida’s Republican leadership has taken a hands-off approach to the amendment, refusing to endorse it but also avoiding being too critical. “I recognize the importance of conserving our natural resources, but I’m concerned about writing the budget into our state constitution,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
But others say the real positive from the measure would be a two-decade prohibition on lawmakers’ raiding the environmental trust fund for other government expenses.
“This is simply stating that we need to get a little help with our discipline,” said Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican. “It’s not my preference to do it this way. At the same time, I’m a realist.”
Aaron Deslatte|Tallahassee Bureau Chief|Orlando Sentinel|July 23, 2014
Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1 (2014)
The Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1 is on the November 4, 2014 ballot in the state of Florida as an initiated constitutional amendment. The measure, upon voter approval, would dedicate 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
The Land Acquisition Trust Fund would be expended to acquire and improve conservation easements, wildlife management areas, wetlands, forests, fish and wildlife habitats, beaches and shores, recreational trails and parks, urban open space, rural landscapes, working farms and ranches, historical and geological sites, lands protecting water and drinking water resources and lands in the Everglades Agricultural Areas and the Everglades Protection Area. The fund is designed to manage and restore natural systems and to enhance public access and recreational use of conservation lands.
The leading organization campaigning for the initiative is Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, Inc.
This Laundry Detergent Turns Your Clothes Into Smog-Eating Machines
A group of designers and scientists has made the wash cycle more eco-friendly.
There’s a new weapon in the fight against eye-watering, lung-clogging, planet-warming air pollution: your clothes.
As improbable as it sounds, a project from a group of London-based researchers is out to make your pants and shirts the new frontier of sustainable fashion. With their effort, called Catalytic Clothing, the researchers have formulated a laundry detergent that uses the same kind of technology that’s behind smog-eating billboards, sidewalks, and buildings. The detergent coats clothes in tiny particles of titanium dioxide. The additives then attract smog pollutants and catalyze their oxidation, producing a safe by-product.
How much air can clothes washed with the special detergent purify? According to the project’s website, if the air or clothing moves quickly enough, one square meter of fabric can suck 0.5 grams of nitrous oxide—a pollutant emitted by cars—out of the atmosphere a day. (A light-duty vehicle releases about 0.017 grams of nitrous oxide per mile.)
“If you were to unravel the fibers in clothing and set them out as a single surface, we’re all wearing the equivalent of a tennis court,” London College of Fashion professor Helen Storey told Fast Company. “The other advantage is that we walk around in pollution, and that movement is an aid. It allows more air to be purified.”
Catalytic Clothing is in talks with a large laundry manufacturer to get the product to market. To make an impact, Storey said that all detergents would have to incorporate the catalyst in their products. But getting consumers to buy them could pose a problem. The cleansers need to be unscented, and individuals may find little personal gain from eschewing their spring meadow detergents.
“You personally don’t benefit,” Storey said. “The person behind you benefits. So one of the other challenges for the industry is how to market altruism. We’re used to marketing something that makes you more beautiful or cleaner or better fed. The idea of marketing something where someone else benefits more than you do is a challenge.”
Kristina Bravo|Assistant Editor|TakePart|July 23, 2014
ALL ABOARD FLORIDA MOVES FULL STEAM AHEAD WITH UNVEILING OF WEST PALM BEACH STATION DESIGN PLANS
Today marked another exciting milestone as Palm Beach County Mayor Priscilla A. Taylor and West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio joined All Aboard Florida executives to reveal designs for All Aboard Florida’s new West Palm Beach station. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) in association with Zyscovich Architects, the downtown West Palm Beach station unveiling is the latest in a series of recent announcements made by All Aboard Florida as the project continues to move forward.
The West Palm Beach station will be located between Datura and Evernia Streets, with City Place and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts Center to the south, and the government center district and Clematis Street to the north.
This strategic location will act as a new gateway into the city and Palm Beach County. It will also strengthen links to the existing Tri-Rail and Amtrak stations and connect with the neighborhood’s vehicular trolley and pedestrian networks, creating a new transportation hub for the West Palm Beach area.
“We are excited at what our vision of the future holds for West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County,” said P. Michael Reininger, President and Chief Development Officer of All Aboard Florida. “Passenger rail has been integral to the history of Florida, and we have arrived at a point in time where it will once again take on a transformational role – creating connectivity, representing a unique collaboration between the private and public sectors, and stimulating job creation and economic impacts.”
Economists estimate that All Aboard Florida will add more than $6 billion to Florida’s economy over the next eight years, including $333 million in economic impact for Broward County through 2021. Nearly 1,200 jobs will be created in Palm Beach County through the construction of the station and the rail line.
For additional information, please visit our website to view the full press release, fact sheet and the unveiling slide show and video, which are to be uploaded soon.
All Aboard Florida Team
Obama Administration Proposes Stricter Rules for Crude Oil Trains to Halt Derailments
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced details Wednesday of a proposal to make crude oil transportation safer, in a bid to prevent more derailments and the threats that accompany them.
The proposal would phase out older DOT 111 tank cars that ship packing group I flammable liquids, a category that includes most Bakken crude oil. Retrofitting the tank cars to comply with new standards is the only way that wouldn’t be phased out.
Other elements of the proposal include braking controls, lower speed laws and a testing program for mined gases and liquids.
The“Safety is our top priority, which is why I’ve worked aggressively to improve the safe transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials since my first week in office,” DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “While we have made unprecedented progress through voluntary agreements and emergency orders, today’s proposal represents our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids, including Bakken crude and ethanol, are transported safely.”
The proposal is subject to 60 days of public comment. The proposal is based on an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in September that received more than 150,000 comments. Here are some highlights of Wednesday’s proposal:
- Carriers would be required to perform a routing analysis for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs) that would consider 27 safety and security factors and select a route based on findings of the route’s analysis.
- HHFTs that contain any tank cars that don’t meet enhanced tank car standards would be required to choose one of three speed restrictions: A 40-miles-per-hour maximum speed restriction in all areas; a 40-mph speed restriction in “high-threat urban areas”; or a 40-mph speed restriction in areas with populations of 100,000 or more.
- All HHFTs would be equipped with alternative brake signal propagation systems. Depending on the outcome of the tank car standard proposal and implementation timing, all HHFTs would be operated with either electronic controlled pneumatic brakes, a two-way end of train device or distributed power.
More crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013 than in the previous four decades combined. The trend continued this year with derailments like one that spilled thousands of crude oil gallons into the James River in Virginia.
The DOT in February issued an emergency order requiring all shippers to test product from the Bakken region to ensure the proper classification of crude oil before it was transported by rail.
Brandon Baker|July 23, 2014
Cigarette butt recycling comes to the Big Easy
New Orleans partners with TerraCycle to launch the first large-scale public cigarette butt recycling campaign in the U.S.
Now that New Orleans has found a solution to its where-to-tinkle-with-dignity-during-Mardi Gras dilemma, the historic Louisiana city has set out to conquer a specific type of waste that blankets city streets and sidewalks during its
debauched colorful Fat Tuesday celebrations. And no, we’re not referring to plastic baubles and beads but to something you might commonly see dangling out of parade-goers mouths while they get their laissez les bons temps rouler on: cigarette butts.
Launched in partnership with the merry — and reality show-friendly — band of waste solution specialists at New Jersey-based TerraCycle, New Orleans’ cigarette butt recycling initiative is the first citywide tobacco waste recycling scheme to be launched in the United States and the second in North America following Vancouver, B.C.
Specializing in the recycling/upcycling of undesirable and difficult-to-recycle waste items, TerraCycle debuted its pioneering Cigarette Brigade program in Canada — and the U.S. shortly thereafter — in 2012 and also worked with officials in Vancouver to launch that city’s non-biodegradable butt-recycling campaign which was the first of its kind in the entire world.
To be clear, the recycling of cigarette butts, one of if not the most pervasive types of out there, won’t be a only-during-Mardi Gras type of deal in New Orleans. A total of 50 permanent cigarette butt recycling receptacles will be eventually installed throughout the city center as part of the pilot; the first were installed at a downtown intersection (Lafayette St. and Tchoupitoulas St.) yesterday. Each receptacle is labeled: “Recycle Your Butts Here.”
For the scheme, the New Orleans Downtown Development District will work with TerraCycle to ensure that the discarded cellulose acetate stubs are collected regularly and shipped off to the company’s recycling facilities where the filters are shredded, zapped of biotoxins, and melted down into plastic pellets. Any non-plastic waste such as tobacco and paper will be composted.
As Albe Zakes, TerraCycle’s VP of Global Marketing and Communications, relays to the Associated Press, the pellets will be recycled into products that are used for industrial purposes such as pallets and plastic lumber. “We don’t make any consumer products from this material, mostly because of the stigma around butts,” he explains.
The Downtown Development District will be paid $4 for every pound of cigarette waste it ships off to TerraCycle. This is a potentially lucrative arrangement considering that Downtown New Orleans is home to a number of bars (smoking inside of freestanding bars is also permitted), clubs, and Harrah’s Casino. It’s also near the French Quarter. Kurt Weigle, president and CEO of the District, tells the AP that a one-day butt cleanup effort held downtown in 2011 yielded a staggering 7,000 discarded cigarette butts.
This is a huge move and it’s fantastic to see a city like New Orleans, a city famous for its let-your-hair-down-and-go-wild attitude, be the first in the U.S. to embrace cigarette butt recycling. This isn’t to say that a cloud of Pall Mall smoke permanently hovers above the Big Easy but it’s certainly not the most puritanical town on the map. People visit New Orleans to soak in the atmosphere — and that often means eating copious amounts of fabulous food, drinking, gambling, and being naughty. Smoking comes with the territory.
It would be excellent to see initiatives such as the one in Vancouver and now, New Orleans, be instituted in other cities. Apparently, this is very much a possibility as Zakes, noting that TerraCycle has collected 25 million cigarette butts since the end of 2012, tells the AP that the company is in talks with officials to bring butt recycling schemes to Toronto, Sydney, Phoenix, Tokyo, and Atlantic City.
The Times-Picayune|Tue, Jul 22, 2014
New research compares environmental costs of livestock-based foods
Trust me, no one loves a nice, big, juicy steak more than me and while I have no immediate plans of becoming a vegetarian, I am a little concerned about the resources and costs it takes to produce the proteins of our favorite meals. From the land that is used by livestock to the supplies and energy it takes to raise these animals for our consumption, it is evident that environmental resources take a toll. But what is the real cost?
New research at the Weizmann Institute of Science, conducted in collaboration with scientists in the US, calculates these environmental costs and compares various animal proteins to give a multi-perspective picture of what resources are really being used.
The team looked at the five main sources of protein in the American diet: dairy, beef, poultry, pork and eggs. Their idea was to calculate the environmental inputs — the costs — per nutritional unit: a calorie or gram of protein.
The inputs the researchers employed came from the US Department of Agriculture databases, among other resources. The environmental inputs the team considered included land use, irrigation water, greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrogen fertilizer use.
When the numbers were in, including those for the environmental costs of different kinds of feed, the team developed equations that yielded values for the environmental cost for each food.
The winner? Or should we say, the protein with the biggest footprint? Beef. Which does not come as a surprise. Researchers calculated that in total, eating beef is more costly to the environment about ten times on average — than other animal-derived foods.
Why? For one, cattle require on average 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water. They are responsible for releasing 5 times more greenhouse gases, and consume 6 times as much nitrogen, as eggs or poultry. Interestingly, poultry, pork, eggs and dairy all came out fairly similar. Dairy production is often thought to have low environmental impacts, however, that the price of irrigating and fertilizing the crops fed to milk cows — as well as the relative inefficiency of cows in comparison to other livestock — jacks up the cost significantly.
Besides changing the way we think about our diets, researchers hope this study will help inform agricultural policy. Models based on this study can help policy makers decide how to better ensure food security through sustainable practices.
The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Allison Winter|ENN|July 22, 2014
Read more at the Weizmann Institute.
Two years ago hardly any highly explosive crude oil was being shipped by rail along the Hudson River in New York. Now about 3 billion gallons a year go through, mostly from the Bakken fields around North Dakota. But the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Coast Guard haven’t updated their spill-response plans to protect people and wildlife living along the river. So this week the Center for Biological Diversity sued the EPA and the Coast Guard to spur them to get their plans up to snuff.
At least 17 endangered and threatened species call the river home, including Atlantic sturgeon, sea turtles and piping plovers.
“With little public scrutiny or input, there’s been a massive increase in transport of highly flammable crude oil by rail and barge, which puts communities, rivers and wildlife in danger,” said the Center’s Mollie Matteson. “We have to take immediate action to make sure these rare and marvelous creatures aren’t casualties of a reckless industry.”
Get more from the Courthouse News Service.
Precious habitat for one of the world’s most endangered birds, the California condor, is in imminent danger. The Center and American Indian allies have filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its approval of a so-called “habitat conservation plan” that would allow the destruction of 14,000 acres of federally protected, key condor habitat in Tejon Ranch, California’s largest privately owned swath of non-timber land and a biodiversity hotspot. Destruction of the habitat has been approved for the construction of a resort development called Tejon Mountain Village.
For more than a decade the Center has been the most uncompromising environmental group in the fight to save Tejon Ranch and its condors from destruction.
“Tejon Ranch is critical to the survival of California condors, but only if it’s not turned into tennis courts, swimming pools and parking lots,” said the Center’s Adam Keats. “Rather than enabling sprawl development, the Fish and Wildlife Service ought to be doing everything it can to protect the few pieces of remaining condor habitat that are left.”
Read more in our press release.
New Poll Shows Support for Carbon Tax
The concept of a national carbon tax is a hard sell for most people these days. According to a recent poll, only 34 percent of U.S. respondents said they would support taxing fossil fuels like oil, gas or natural gas.
But support for a carbon tax changes dramatically when it comes to scenarios in which the funds are either reimbursed to taxpayers or used to fund renewable energy projects. The 798 respondents were surveyed for each question according to their political affiliations in order to determine what resonated with each of three specific political groups (Republican, Independent and Democrat). The poll was conducted by the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion and the University of Michigan Center for Local, State and Urban Policy this year.
Sixty percent of those surveyed gave thumbs-up to the more creative form of a carbon tax where it is then used to fund renewable energy. Half (51 percent) of those who identified themselves as Republican said they would support a tax that was then reused for greener purposes. An estimated 54 percent of Independents and 70 percent of Democrats said they would support the idea as well.
Stats also showed that respondents weren’t really as worried about getting their money back as about seeing the funds go to a useful “green” purpose. A lower number (56 percent) overall of those questioned said they would support a carbon tax if the money were reimbursed to them. As to political leanings: 43 percent Republican-identified respondents said yea to this idea; 52 percent of Independents and 65 percent of Democrats said this was also a good way to approach carbon taxation.
Jan Lee|Triple Pundit|July 24, 2014
Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Triple Pundit.
Three Blind Pinnipeds: Treating Blindness in Seals and Sea Lions
Whether sick, injured, or just young and hungry, all of our patients need help. But the blind seals and sea lions we treat require lots of special care.
Blindness in seals and sea lions is not as uncommon as you might think. It can be the side-effect of having big eyes and big teeth—two things that don’t necessarily go well together. Having large eyes is a great adaptation for seeing in dark water, but the cornea (the clear outer covering of the eye) can be easily damaged.
Winky, California sea lion
While none of the species we care for are at much risk for putting their own eyes out, they can definitely cause trauma to each other. This is likely what happened with a few young California sea lions we’ve treated in the last few months, including Winky, a juvenile male who had enough trauma to one of his eyes that his cornea essentially popped.
When this happens, the eye can shrink down and become non-functional—a condition called “phthisis bulbi” (pronounced like “thesis bulb-eye”). Once the eye has shrunken down, it is no longer painful and can be left alone in most species. Luckily, this was the case for Winky. He remains in our care while we assess some of his other health issues, including pneumonia and a flipper wound.
Encumberance, California sea lion
There are many causes of eye trauma in the patients that we treat. Bullets, falling (or other types of blunt trauma) and even whiskers (called “vibrissae”) can cause damage to a seal or sea lion’s eyes. Once the cornea is damaged, it is easy for infection to set in—especially in species that spend so much time in the water.
If an animal’s eye is non-visual but infected or painful, we can perform an enucleation, a procedure in which the eye is removed. This was the best option for Encumberance, a California sea lion pup that was admitted to our hospital on May 18 with a severe infection in one of his eyes.
After his infected eye was removed, Encumberance began to improve. After six weeks in our care, he was released at Chimney Rock in Point Reyes National Seashore. How we treat eyes depends on the type and depth of damage, and we often consult with an ophthalmologist when we’re diagnosing and treating eyes.
Our friends at Animal Eye Care in Fremont, California, generously provided their services to help us care for Encumberance and many of the other blind animals we’ve treated this year.
Solar, northern elephant seal
Trauma isn’t the only cause of blindness, and one patient in our care right now is an interesting example of that. Solar is a northern elephant seal that was blind when he was rescued by the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center at the end of March and brought to The Marine Mammal Center for rehabilitation.
During his admit exam, our veterinary experts noticed white spots in the middle of his eye. On closer investigation, they realized this was his pupil. The pupil is the space in the iris where light enters the eye. The lens, located behind the iris, refracts and helps direct the light rays toward the retina, the back edge of the eye where light is received and translated for the brain.
Usually the pupil appears black because light passes through it and not enough of the light rays reflect back for us to see. In Solar’s case, the pupil appeared white, indicating that the light wasn’t getting to the retina because the lens wasn’t clear.
This condition is known as cataracts, and Solar was suffering from it in both eyes, rendering him completely blind.
But luckily for Solar, in cases like this, blindness can be a reversible process.
We brought Solar to Animal Eye Care where Dr. Patricia Smith removed the cataracts via a process known as “phacoemulsification,” in which sound waves are used to break down the clouded lens of the eye. Once the lens is broken down, light is able to reach the retina and vision may be restored.
After the surgery, Solar needed special care to ensure his eyes healed properly. In addition to pain medication and antibiotics, he received eye drops four times a day. At first, these drops were administered through a special catheter tube inserted directly into his eye. After a few days, these tubes came out, and our animal care experts had to patiently wait for Solar to open his eyes before they could deliver his eye drops.
Solar’s recovery following his surgery has been a slow process, and this may be because his brain first had to learn “how” to see. When an animal is born with cataracts, as we suspect Solar was, its brain doesn’t know how to interpret input from the eyes. It may take some time before the brain learns what to do with these visual signals. In some cases, the animal may never learn to see, even if its eyes are working, because the brain no longer has the pathways to understand any information from the eyes.
Although it took Solar quite a while before he was able to see, it’s now clear that his cataract surgery was a success. He is able to track his caregivers when they enter his pen, and he eats the fish offered to him in the pool.
For Koret Foundation Veterinary Intern Greg Frankfurter, Solar’s case reminded him of one of the first patients he treated at The Marine Mammal Center: an elephant seal named Cappy, who also suffered from cataracts in both eyes.
Cappy’s vision was restored after a successful cataract surgery just like Solar’s, and he was released back to the ocean last October, four months after arriving at the Center for treatment. Since then, he has been spotted several times and seems to be doing quite well in the wild.
Dr. Frankfurter and our veterinary team consulted Cappy’s patient records as they developed a treatment plan for Solar, building on what they had learned to provide the very best care possible. Although Solar is still on the road to recovery, we have high hopes that he will follow in Cappy’s footsteps and eventually be able to return to his ocean home.
As for Dr. Frankfurter, his year-long internship sponsored by the Koret Foundation comes to a close much like it began: helping a blind elephant seal find his way in the world.
“During my year here at The Marine Mammal Center, I’ve been exposed to more patient cases, more diseases and more treatment methods than I ever expected,” he says. “It’s been a fantastic hands-on clinical experience.”
Inspired by the challenges he saw here at the Center, Dr. Frankfurter plans to create a nonprofit organization focused on developing new technology for wildlife conservation professionals.
The Marine Mammal Center|Fort Cronkhite|Sausalito, CA
EPA Appeals District Court Ruling to Exempt Farmyard Runoff From Discharge Permits
The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to review a district court ruling that said the agency can’t require farmers to obtain Clean Water Act discharge permits for agricultural stormwater runoff from farmyards.
The Dec. 23 appeal by EPA follows an Oct. 23 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia holding that stormwater runoff from litter and manure is exempt from National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting requirements under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (Alt v. EPA, 2013 BL 218814, N.D. W.Va., No. 2:12-cv-00042, 10/23/13; ).
The environmental groups Food and Water Watch, Potomac Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, Center for Food Safety and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, which intervened on behalf of the EPA, also filed separate notice of appeal Dec. 20 of the ruling.
The district court ruled that litter and manure washed from “the farmyard to navigable waters by a precipitation event is an agricultural stormwater discharge, and, therefore, not a point source discharge, thereby rendering it exempt from the NPDES permit requirement of the Clean Water Act.”
Lawsuit Filed in 2012.
At issue was a 2012 lawsuit filed by West Virginia poultry grower Lois Alt against the EPA, challenging the agency’s authority to regulate livestock farms under the Clean Water Act by interpreting regulations in ways that treat ordinary agricultural stormwater runoff as “process wastewater,” effectively making all areas of poultry farms regulated production areas.
In particular, the district court said the areas between poultry houses are clearly not animal confinement areas and that manure and litter in the farmyard “would remain in place and not become discharges of a pollutant unless and until stormwater conveyed the particles to navigable waters.”
Alt challenged the basis for the EPA administrative order against the Eight is Enough broiler operation near Old Fields, W.Va., that threatened penalties as high as $37,500 a day for not obtaining an NPDES permit.
EPA could not be reached for comment on the appeal.
However, Scott Edwards, co-founder of the Food and Water Justice, a project of Food and Water Watch, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 23, “We believe that the court completely misapplied well-settled law in exempting the Alt pollution discharges from the Clean Water Act.”
Edwards said, “The court has, in effect, given these highly polluting, yet sorely under-regulated facilities, an even greater license to pollute. Not only does the law require permits for the kinds of pollution that Alt admits is coming from her operation, but the deteriorating conditions of our waterways demands it.”
Ellen Steen, general counsel for the American Farm Bureau Federation, which intervened on behalf of Alt in the case, told Bloomberg BNA in a Dec. 23 e-mail, “If EPA wishes to persist in its unlawful application of the Clean Water Act, we are pleased to take the matter to the appellate court. We are confident the Fourth Circuit, too, will decide this case in favor of Mrs. Alt.”
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