The Effects of Noise Pollution on Wildlife: Marine Life and Birds
Tuesday, September 9, 10:30am-4pm
Westin Resort and Spa,
321 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.,
The workshop is sponsored by the Japanese-American philanthropy, Michiko So Finegold Memorial Trust, organized by U.S.-based Quieter America, with the assistance of the South Florida Audubon Society and the South Florida Wildlife Center, and hosted by the U.S. Institute of Noise Control Engineering.
Noise pollution matters. While wildlife and ecosystems cope with many pollutants and environmental stressors, recent research shows that noise has a greater impact than previously realized. One study documented noise as a major factor in the population decline of 234 species of birds and mammals near human infrastructure. The decline in abundance and change in animal behavior has also resulted in reduced plant growth and reproduction. International, national and local leaders will speak about the effects of noise on wildlife and ecosystems. Scientists Kyle Baker from NOAA, Jose Alicea-Pou from the University of el Turabo in Puerto Rico, George Frisk from Florida Atlantic University, and Catherine Ortega wildlife and riparian ecology researcher, will present leading research on the effects of noise on wildlife and ecosystems and how current policies exacerbate problems. Quiet-aviation pioneer Erik Lindbergh will speak about following his grandfather Charles Lindberg’s footsteps, and his pioneering first quiet-electric aircraft flight over the Grand Canyon, part of his own quiet flight initiative. Miccosukee activist / artist of the Otter clan, Houston Cypress will offer his unique, indigenous perspective. There are still sponsorship opportunities available. We look forward to seeing you there!
Pre-registration is recommended. For further details and to register contact: Darlenenoiseworkshop@gmail.com
or phone at 970-224-2932 (please include your name, organizational affiliation, number of people attending, contact email address and phone number).
Director Community Outreach Quieter America
Audubon Assembly 2014: Mac Stone Confirmed as Featured Speaker at Friday Lunch
Audubon is proud to announce that award-winning conservation photographer Mac Stone will be the featured speaker at the Friday luncheon at the 2014 Audubon Assembly.
As a former biologist at Audubon’s Everglades Science Center at Tavernier, Mac traveled to the most remote areas of the Everglades to collect his unique images.
With his camera, he explored Everglades National Park, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Fisheating Creek, and dozens of sites that few are permitted to visit.
His stunning photographs celebrate the innumerable facets of this ecological marvel while speaking to the importance of wilderness conservation and the need to protect this irreplaceable wetland.
From Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, from inside the bone-crushing jaws of an alligator to the storms that race across the blackwater backcountry,
Mac has captured all that natural Florida has to offer through his camera lens. You won’t want to miss his special presentation
As an added bonus, Assembly attendees will have a special opportunity to attend a book signing event showcasing Mac’s new book
- Everglades: America’s Wetland –
featuring more than 240 striking photographs highlighting the natural beauty of the Everglades.
This year’s Audubon 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.
This 2014 Audubon Assembly is being held at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina.
Please note, you must book your hotel room by September 26, see below for more information.
Please stay tuned to the official Audubon Assembly website for updates on this event.
Audubon staff and chapter leaders are hard at work to ensure that this year’s Assembly will be inspire you to Make it a BIG YEAR for Florida’s land, water, and wildlife!
Do not miss Florida’s premiere conservation event!
Please consider migrating to the Assembly in flocks by sharing transportation in order to reduce global warming pollution.
To register by mail or by phone, contact Jonathan Webber at 850-222-2473.
Hotel Information: Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina
Click here to book your group rate online or call 1-800-775-5936 (mention you are with Florida Audubon)
and book by September 26, 2014 to reserve your room. Group rate is $119 a night.
555 NE Ocean Boulevard
Stuart, FL 34996
Partners for Panthers
Please join us for a special announcement as long-time neighbors, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Naples Zoo,
announce a joint partnership to help advance panther research efforts in Florida.
Monday, September 8, 2014 at 10:30 AM
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Eaton Conservation Hall
In spite of great conservation strides over the past decades, Florida panthers remain at risk of extinction.
Florida panther recovery must be guided by sound science and supported by collaborative efforts in order to ensure that
future generations of Floridians have the privilege of sharing the landscape with this majestic creature.
Please confirm attendance by contacting Lisa Ball at 239.403.4224 or email@example.com
Celebrate National Wildlife Day with Local Artist
NAPLES – The Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center will offer buy one, get one free admission in honor of National Wildlife Day on September 4.
This holiday was created in memory of famous conservationist and wildlife expert Steve Irwin,
and is celebrated each year to bring awareness to the growing number of endangered animals around the world.
Enjoy a live painting demonstration and guided tour of wildlife artwork in the art gallery with local artist Linda Soderquist.
Soderquist will also provide a lecture on gopher tortoises and sea turtles as well as sign copies of her Sea Turtle book.
Attendees will also have the chance to participate in naturalist-led discussions on snakes.
There will also be interactive exhibits where participants can discover the fragile species that thrive within the reserve and ways to preserve them for future generations
Buy one, get one free admission cannot be combined with other offers.
WHAT: National Wildlife Day
WHEN: Thursday, September 4, from 9:00 a.m – 4:00 p.m.
11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Slithering Snakes naturalist-led demonstration
12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Painting Demonstration and “Watercolor Walk”
2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Sea Turtle and Gopher Tortoise lecture
WHERE: Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center
COST: Buy one adult admission for $5/get one FREE
RAMSAR – Wetlands for our Future
FGCU Professor Bill Mitsch, Eminent Scholar and Director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park, Florida Gulf Coast University, Naples, Florida,
was approved as Chair of the United States National Ramsar Committee at a meeting of the Committee held at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Arlington Virginia on May 8, 2014.
Suzanne Pittenger-Slear, President of Environmental Concern, St. Michaels, Maryland, was chosen as Vice-Chair and Ralph Tiner, Association of State Wetland Managers, was chosen as Treasurer.
Deborah Hahn of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Washington DC, was renewed as Secretary of the Committee.
Members of the United States National Ramsar Committee include representatives of United States nongovernmental organizations NGOs, both nonprofit and for-profit,
and local and state governmental organizations that have an interest in supporting the objectives of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
The Committee has as its mission to support the mission of the Ramsar Convention in the USA and to encourage and facilitate the development of wetlands of international importance in the USA and encourage their proper management.
he Convention on Wetlands, formally called the “Ramsar Convention” is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their
Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.
Unlike the other global environmental conventions, Ramsar is not affiliated with the United Nations system of Multilateral Environmental Agreements,
but it works very closely with the other MEAs and is a full partner among the “biodiversity-related cluster” of treaties and agreements. It has its international headquarters in Gland, Switzerland.
Vote Yes on Amendment 1
What is Amendment 1?
Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, will appear on the November 4, 2014 ballot.
Amendment 1 will set aside 33 percent of Florida’s existing excise tax on documents (also known as the “documentary stamp tax” paid when real estate is sold) and
guarantee that these funds can be used only for conservation purposes, including keeping pollution out of Florida’s drinking water supplies, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters and protecting natural areas and wildlife habitat.
Only with dedicated funding for water and land conservation, management, and restoration will we be able to save our springs and restore our
Everglades so that future generations can enjoy Florida’s natural areas the way we have.
For more about Amendment 1, including when the measure will take effect and how it will benefit all Floridians, please visit our FAQ page.
Audubon Florida Advocate Naturalist Magazine – Summer 2014
Summer Edition of Audubon Florida Naturalist Magazine Now Available
Download your (free!) copy of Audubon’s popular conservation magazine.
FISH THE EVERGLADES AT FAKAHATCHEE STRAND
Calling All Kids!
You’re invited to a Free Fishing Clinic at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.
Join us for a day of fun and hands-on learning experiences.
There will be field demonstrations from local fishing guides and experts as well as exhibits
and presentations from parks and agencies!
Participants will go through five skill stations: knot tying, tackle, angler ethics, casting and fishing.
After completing the stations and instructions, kids will receive a free rod and reel (thanks to
a generous grant from Fish Florida – limit 150-first come, first served).
Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Registration will be on-site the day of the event.
The Fishing Clinic will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 20.
The location will be Harmon Lake which is next to the event field, and across from the ranger station
at the main entrance to Fakahatchee Strand.
Refreshments will be provided.
This event is sponsored by Fish Florida and the Friends of Fakahatchee, Inc.
For more information, visit www.floridastateparks.org/fakahatcheestrand or call 695-4593.
Join us for the Everglades Coalition’s 30th Annual Conference! Send it South: Water for America’s Everglades
The Coalition’s Annual Conference seeks to raise critical, timely issues for in-depth debates in an open, accessible forum.
Community leaders and political figures come to discuss their positions, pledge their support and offer challenges to the community.
The conference is attended by decision-makers from federal, state, local and tribal governments, agency representatives, stakeholders and a vast array of public and private interests
including scientists, educators, contractors, conservationists, the media, students and the general public.
The conference is the largest annual forum to advance Everglades conservation and restoration.
The 30th Annual Conference – Key Largo, FL
January 8th, 9th,& 10th, 2015
Plenary Panel topics will be:
Plenary: Economics of the Everglades
Plenary: Federal Restoration Priorities & Funding Mechanisms
Plenary: Restoration of the Southern Everglades & Florida Bay
Plenary: State Water Quality, Storage & Southern Flow
Special Session: “Kissimmee to the Keys: Thirty Year Retrospective” will be a special
conference event featuring an all-star panel of EVCO Hall of Famers to discuss the
history and future of America’s Everglades
Of Interest to All
5 National Parks With Beautiful Fall Foliage
Autumn is my favorite time to visit our national parks. Not only are the summer crowds gone as families get their kids back to school, but fall is when the leaves start changing colors, offering awe-inspiring vistas brilliantly bathed in gold, scarlet, orange and more.
Most Americans live within a half-day’s drive of a national park. For a modest entrance fee, you can take a scenic drive to a spectacular look-out, or hike along a trail, often ending up at a lake, river or waterfall. Do this during the fall, and you’ll be doubly rewarded for your effort by the swirl of colors all around.
Of the 58 parks in the U.S. to choose from, those with the best color will be ones that contain deciduous or leaf-dropping trees, like maples, oaks, elms, and hickory. Many trees start changing color by mid-August, when the air gets cooler and the days get shorter. “Peak” season is usually in September and October. Most park websites will provide an update on the status of their leaf color so you can plan your visit.
Here are five national parks where you’ll find truly spectacular fall foliage.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – This park sports 500 miles of trails, 101 of which are officially part of the Appalachian Trail system. Not interested in hiking? Cruise along Skyline Drive, and enjoy the peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains before you drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Acadia National Park, Maine – This is red maple leaf country, and there’s no mistaking it. You can go horseback riding, hiking, canoeing, or mountain biking. But be a little ambitious and trek up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. You won’t be disappointed!
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming – Rather than scarlet-hued maples, this park flames with the bright yellow its millions of aspen trees turn in the fall. Hikes range from a simple walk out to a lake where you can fish, to the steep. Huff and puff your way to the top of a ridge, then sit down and enjoy the glow of this majestic landscape in autumn.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina – How can you beat the Smokies? In addition to breathtaking reds and scarlets, the sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgum, red pale and hickories are shining with golds, oranges, and more. Remember the orange/red/yellow section of your Crayola crayon box? You’ll find most of those colors here in September and October.
Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska – If you’ve always wanted to go to Alaska but feared summer’s big mosquitoes or winter’s smothering snow falls, autumn may be the perfect compromise. You’ll be rewarded not just with eye-popping leaf color, but possibly views of moose, caribou, and bears, too. Fall comes early to Alaska, so aim for late August and early September for the best color palette.
Diane MacEachern|August 22, 2014
Satellite Map Shows Fracking Flares in Texas and North Dakota Equal to Greenhouse Emissions From 1.5 Million Cars
Earthworks, a nonprofit which works to protect communities from the impacts of mineral and fossil fuel extraction and promote sustainable energy development, has released a new report showing that the flaring of natural gas waste in just two shale plays, or exploration areas, is the equivalent of an additional 1.5 million cars on the road. The flares occur when natural gas is burned rather than captured.
In June 2014, the Eagle Ford shale produced seven billion cubic feet per day, while the Bakken produced 1.3 billion cubic feet per day. Produced gas includes gas that is flared and gas that is captured for use. Above, flaring in the Bakken. Photo credit: Sarah Christianson
The report, “Up in Flames: U.S. Shale Oil Boom Comes at Expense of Wasted Natural Gas, Increased Carbon Dioxide,” accompanied by an interactive map by SkyTruth, a group that provides aerial evidence of environmental impacts. This map allows people to track flaring activity in the U.S. and around the world based on nightly infrared data collected by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite.
SkyTruth’s chief technology officer Paul Woods pointed to the potential impact of this map:
This new tool makes the scale and frequency of flaring more comprehensible and less abstract. Hopefully, enabling everyone to see where, when, and how often operators are flaring will create public pressure on government and industry to reduce the waste of this hard-won natural resource.
The report specifically looks at waste created in the North Dakota Bakken and Texas Eagle Ford development areas and how lax regulations and oversight enable this waste, a byproduct of fracking.
Among the study’s findings:
130 billion cubic feet of natural gas burned in the Bakken and Eagle Ford Shale has produced the equivalent of 1.5 million cars’ emissions of carbon dioxide.
$854 million in natural gas has been burned as waste in the Bakken shale play since 2010.
$854 million would pay for 5 kilowatt photovoltaic solar panel installations for almost every household in Fargo, North Dakota’s largest city.
North Dakota neither tracks how much companies pay in taxes on flared gas, nor independently tracks the volume of flared gas.
Texas does not require producers to pay taxes on flared gas.
The study’s author Dusty Horwitt said:
Burning natural gas as waste is costing taxpayers and the climate. States should enact tough new standards to prevent flaring, including requiring drillers to pay taxpayers the full value of any gas they flare.
Environmental watchdogs in North Dakota and Texas commented on the study’s findings.
“This report shows that North Dakota regulators simply aren’t doing their job,” said Don Morrison, executive director of nonprofit grassroots group Dakota Resource Council. “Instead they’re putting private profits ahead of the public interest. This isn’t our first oil boom, we know how to do it better.”
“The Railroad Commission is statutorily required ‘to prevent waste of Texas’s natural resources’,” said Earthworks Texas organizer Sharon Wilson. “I don’t see how the Railroad Commission isn’t breaking the law by allowing drillers to waste natural gas by flaring it off rather than capturing it.”
But Earthworks sees the wasteful burning of drilling byproducts as one part of the larger problem of fossil fuel exploration and extraction.
Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel said:
Flaring is just one of many problems associated with unconventional oil and gas development. Unfortunately, North Dakota and Texas’s inadequate oversight of flaring is representative of state oversight of fracking across the country. The ultimate solution to these problems is to transition away from fossil fuels entirely and towards renewables like wind and solar.
Anastasia Pantsios|August 22, 2014
Keewaydin Island Ranked as One of the World’s Top 10 Secret Beaches
Keewaydin Island, located within the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, was recently named by CNN online as one of the world’s “Top Ten Secret Beaches.”
Keewaydin Island, located off the coast of Naples, was selected for the list along with beaches in Kenya, Mexico, and Hawaii. This 1000-acre barrier island boasts a seven-mile long pristine beach with sugar white sand and glittering turquoise water. As CNN reports, the principal reason it has been a best-kept secret is it is only accessible by boat.
Rookery Bay Reserve manages 110,000 acres of lands and waters between Naples and Marco Island. Roughly 80 percent of Keewaydin Island is under state ownership, including the south end which is visited by more boaters than any other location in thereserve. Staff and volunteers educate visitors about the island’s wildlife and habitat, monitor beach-nesting birds and other species that reside there, and work tirelessly to keep the island clear of invasive species such as Australian pine.
“Keewaydin Island is an extremely valuable natural resource that, in its pristine state, helps bolster the local economy through tourism,” said Gary Lytton, the reserve’s director. “It is an honor that our reserve was recognized by this international news source for its captivating natural beauty.”
Keewaydin Island is not only known for its world-renowned beach, but is also home to a diverse array of wildlife. Deer, gopher tortoises and panthers are among the many species that inhabit this island, along with America’s national bird, the bald eagle.
Keewaydin Island draws the type of residents that enjoy a more relaxed life that is considered “off the grid.” There are no amenities on the island and very few homes. Most residents rely on solar panels, rain barrels and fish for dinner.
One of Keewaydin Island’s more famous residents is Vice President Joe Biden’s brother, who recently purchased property on the island. The Vice President and his wife, Jill, took a boat to the island this past New Year to ring in the holiday with their family.
To learn more about the research and resource management that takes place on Keewaydin Island by Rookery Bay Reserve, please visit rookerybay.org.
mburgerdep|Aug. 13, 2014
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 (Alt v. EPA, 4th Cir., No. 13-2534, appeal filed 12/23/13).
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.”
Regulators tried to hide threat of major nuclear accident
Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has promised to reevaluate the threats earthquakes pose to U.S. nuclear reactors.
So why has the agency suppressed a report from one of their own inspectors about the Diablo Canyon reactors in California?
Yesterday, the Associated Press exposed an internal NRC report about the two 1960-era nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon and dramatic new information about faults surrounding the plant. These faults are capable of causing an earthquake far larger than the reactors were designed to withstand.
This is a bombshell — there is no way that the NRC should allow these reactors to continue to operate given this new information.
More than a year ago the NRC’s own inspector recommended that, because of new seismic information, the reactors are no longer in compliance with their license and should be shut pending a public licensing review.
Incredibly, federal regulators have sat on this report for more than a year and have taken no action to protect the public from this threat.
We’re not going to let them get away with this inaction. Today, we are filing a petition with the NRC demanding that the agency shut down the reactors and keep them shut unless they can prove, publicly, that the reactors can withstand a major earthquake.
In addition to suppressing the document, the NRC has failed to follow its own rules to respond to a report like this within 120 days of its filing.
The bottom line is that these reactors could never be built now in the midst of these seismic faults. The NRC must act in the public interest and not in the interests of Diablo’s owner, Pacific Gas and Electric.
Damon Moglen|Senior strategic advisor|Friends of the Earth|8/26/14
Industry Lobby Tries to Block Bill That Would Protect U.S. Waters from Plastic Microbeads
A bill working its way through the California legislature to ban plastic microbeads from cosmetics and other products made and sold in the state has encountered a snag.
5 Gyres’ campaign to ban plastic microbeads from personal care products, like face scrub and toothpaste, is driving change nationally. Image credit: 5 Gyres Institute
The bill, AB 1699, authored by 5 Gyres Institute and sponsored by Rep. Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, sailed through the other chamber of the legislature, the Assembly, in May. That action came a little less than a month before Illinois enacted such a ban in June becoming the first state to do so.
“Passing the Assembly floor is a big milestone for this bill,” Bloom said back in May. “I am proud that my colleagues support our efforts to ensure that our waters are clean. Getting plastic microbeads out of these products will eliminate a significant source of pollution.” Every year 38 tons of plastic microbeads are released into California’s environment.
Alas, that will have to wait a little longer. The bill failed to garner the needed votes in the Senate by a single vote, but the sponsors have been granted reconsideration, which means if they can get one of the absentee legislators to vote for it, it will pass the Senate and go back to the California Assembly for concurrence.
According to Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres Institute, plastics industry lobbyists worked hard to block it, wanting legislation more like the far from ideal bill that passed in Illinois. The Illinois bill leaves a loophole for plastic, like Polylactic Acid (PLA) the so-called biodegradable plastic that corn cups are made of. Unfortunately, PLA doesn’t biodegrade in the environment, it requires an industrial composting facility.
“The California bill is up against its first hurdle, explaining to lawmakers that the microbead bill that passed in Illinois is no shining example of good legislation,” said Eriksen. “It’s more industry-friendly than water, allowing plastic microbeads from fossil fuels to be replaced with plastic microbeads from other feedstock like plants. Chemically speaking it’s the same stuff, with the same problems, and doesn’t move us away from the status quo. California policymakers are sold bad information by the cosmetics lobby about naturally derived plastics, but without the facts about the environmental harm they cause.
“They’ve even gone so far as to say that our bill in California bans natural alternatives to plastic in order to try to kill the bill, which is an outright fabrication. In rhetoric they tell the press they’re committed to the environment, in practice they’re committed to preserving their bottom line.”
“If this bill fails, we all lose and are stuck with the precedent of a bad bill,” said Anna Cummins, 5 Gyres’ executive director. “5 Gyres is committed to the end goal—preventing toxic plastic beads from polluting our oceans and watersheds—and we will get there. If not at the state level, then city-by-city, which ultimately will be harder for companies that use plastic beads. We hope the business community will quit playing games with legislators and get serious about stopping the pollution they created.”
New York was the first state to propose a microbead ban. New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act there in February with 5 Gyres, presenting it to the legislature for action; it’s currently in limbo. And Ohio State Sen. Mike Skindell has introduced SB 304 which would ban microbeads in that state as evidence mounts of increasing micro-plastic pollution of the Great Lakes. But with the Republican supermajority in the Ohio legislature, the bill is unlikely to even get a hearing, says Skindell.
Unfortunately, that will likely be the same fate as that of a bill to ban plastic microbeads on a federal level, introduced by New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. in June.
Anastasia Pantsios|August 26, 2014
Switching products threatening our oceans, health and economy
No one likes to be lied to. Yet Oceana found that 33 percent of 1200 seafood samples nationwide were mislabeled, where one fish was swapped out for another species.
In some cases, consumers received a cheaper, more readily available fish when they expected – and paid for – a more expensive, popular species. Oceana even found instances of high-mercury fish being labeled as species that are safe to consume.
In addition to the economic and health impacts on consumers, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a key driver of overfishing and threatens the livelihoods of many communities dependent on healthy fisheries. The entry of illegally-caught and fraudulent seafood into the supply chain depresses prices and unfairly competes with legally-caught seafood products, jeopardizing roughly a million jobs and $116 billion in sales each year.
In response, President Obama established a Task Force to Combat IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud to explore seafood traceability and other measures to fight this threat to our oceans, wallets and health.
As the second largest seafood market in the world, we in the U.S. have a great opportunity to make a global impact. Our government currently has the authority and ability to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is legally caught and honestly labeled through a system of seafood traceability, proof of legality and improved consumer labeling.
Monarch butterflies are on the brink. Over the past 20 years, the monarch butterfly population in North America has been slashed by over 90 percent. If monarchs were people, that would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio. We don’t have much time left before they’re wiped out for good.
Monarchs urgently need protection – the kind of protection that only a listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can provide.
That’s why Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity—joined by Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower–have come together to file a groundbreaking legal action to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grant Endangered Species Act protection to monarch butterflies.
We have our work cut out for us, especially considering Monsanto and friends play a big part in this disaster.
That’s because the best way to save monarchs is to curb chemicals like Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which is used abundantly on their genetically engineered crops. Roundup is a potent killer of milkweed, a major food source for monarchs. The dramatic surge in Roundup use has virtually wiped out milkweed—and as a result monarchs—in large portions of the U.S.
This is going to be an epic showdown to save monarchs. But the truth is we can’t do it alone. We need the help of concerned citizens like you to be able to stay in this fight and win.
Click here if you would like to contribute to this effort.
See a Video
On Calif. coast, biotoxins cause deadly sea lion seizures, seafood scare
An outbreak of algae-produced biotoxins that attack animal’s brains also poses a grave risk to humans
MORRO BAY, Calif. – Packed with large nets, wooden boards and a large crate, a dark blue truck scoured the edges of surfer-lined Pismo Beach late one morning earlier this month. Onlookers in the distance tipped them off to what they were searching for.
“I see a sea lion,” said Geno DeRango, the stranding coordinator at Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo Operations, as he quickly slipped on medical rubber gloves and began prepping a large syringe.
The truck came to a halt and the rest of DeRango’s crew suited up for the rescue – wooden boards in hand, two crew members crowded around a disoriented sea lion convulsing on the edge of the water while DeRango threw a net over it. The fourth crew member injected the sea lion with an anti-seizure medication before herding the animal into a large crate and loading it on the bed of the truck.
Concerned onlookers asked what happened to the sea lion as they took turns peering into the back of the truck. Heavy breaths and sounds of suffering bellowed from the cage.
DeRango explained that the rescue center got a call about a sea lion having repeated seizures on the beach and that they were taking the animal back to their rehabilitation center.
Peppa, the name given to the rescued sea lion, is like many of the animals crowding the six pens at the rescue center, which has brought in as many as 20 seizing sea lions a day in the San Luis Obispo area since June. Earlier this spring, its partner rescue center in Monterey experienced a similar boom. Of those rescued at both sites, half succumb to the seizures within days.
The culprit? Domoic acid, a deadly neurotoxin produced by algae, that appeared at record high levels along California’s Central Coast this spring and summer, closing fisheries and taking the lives of many marine mammals. But toxic algae isn’t just limited to California– this summer various toxic blooms have poisoned coastlines across America, including Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico.
While the algae in Monterey, produced by the Pseudo-nitzschia genus of phytoplankton, are a common occurrence along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and around the world, its production of domoic acid is not.
First discovered in 1987 when 107 people on Prince Edward Island fell ill after eating mussels harboring domoic acid, the algae occasionally produce this deadly toxin, which scientists believe is triggered by changing ocean conditions and surges of nitrogen into bodies of water.
Once produced by the algae, domoic acid quickly works its way up the food chain, first gobbled up by shellfish and plankton-eating fish, like sardines and anchovies, that harbor the toxin in their guts. Next in line are sea lions, brown pelicans, otters, whales and dolphins, all of which have been stranding in large numbers recently, or, in the case of pelicans, literally dropping dead out of the sky.
Once ingested, the toxin immediately attacks the brain by rapidly shrinking the hippocampus, causing loss of motor coordination, amnesia, violent seizures, vomiting, permanent neurological damage and even heart failure within two days.
But domoic acid also poses a grave risk to humans, which is why the California Department of Public Health closed certain fisheries up the coast in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties in April after high levels of the acid were reported by a team of marine scientists at University of California, Santa Cruz, that has been monitoring domoic acid for 14 years.
“The danger lies in the accumulation,” said Clarissa Anderson, one of the marine scientists in Santa Cruz tracking the growth of domoic acid events. “It’s not horribly toxic unless it accumulates at high levels.”
But Anderson says that concentrations reached dangerously high levels this spring all over the California coast, particularly in Monterey.
Monterey is the top agricultural area along the Central Coast as well as home to a suite of premier golf courses. It’s also been subject to a large coastal population boom, meaning more septic tanks and more lawns being fertilized. Combined, says Anderson, these activities result in more nitrogen running off into the Bay, altering the marine environment in a way that can lead to higher domoic acid concentrations.
Seasonal upwellings of ocean waters flush the Bay with nutrients, which could naturally trigger the algae to produce these blooms. But those upwellings usually diminish quickly, as do the nutrients that feed toxic blooms. However, constant pulses of nutrients coming from human activities, mostly from fertilizer application, allow the toxic blooms to persist.
Nationwide, agriculture is the top source of nitrogen added to water resources, and California is no different. The amount of nitrogen contained in fertilizer sold in California has increased by 800 percent since the 1940s, contributing to the hefty 800,000 tons of nitrogen used as fertilizer every year.
Even further up the coast, north of San Francisco, the aftermath of this rising nitrogen use has been unfolding at The Marine Mammal Center headquarters in Sausalito.
“These blooms are getting more frequent and larger every year and affecting more and more animals,” said Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at The Marine Mammal Center.
As the largest marine mammal hospital in the world, the Marine Mammal Center receives hundreds and hundreds of seals, sea lions and elephant seals every year, many of which are rescued from their satellite centers in Morro Bay and Monterey, as well as from independent rescue centers along the Pacific Coast.
But this year has been different.
“There are a lot of animals are being exposed to such high levels of domoic acid, that they’re dying on us. They’re not responding to treatment like they often have in the past,” Johnson said.
The Center has broken its animal admissions record this year, and the number of sea lions suffering from domoic acid has roughly doubled. But that number doesn’t include all of the sea lions that die before washing ashore, Johnson said. Nor does it account for all of the sea lion pups that will likely die without a parent. Many of the afflicted sea lions are lactating females still weaning their pups.
“If there are a few hundred or even a thousand sea lions affected by domoic acid right now, well there’s a few thousand pups that we’re probably losing,” Johnson said. “If this is happening over and over again, year after year, there is a fear that domoic acid may have a negative impact on the overall sea lion population.”
On July 11, the California Department of Public Health lifted its seafood advisory for Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties after combined monitoring efforts with Anderson’s team found levels had dropped back down to ones safe for human consumption. However the renewed surge in marine mammal strandings has left scientists puzzled.
“A lot of the animals that are stranding right now don’t tend to feed very far off shore,” Anderson said. “So the mystery is, where is the domoic acid that they’re acquiring? We’re not measuring it in the mussels and shellfish near shore.”
More research needed
In California, marine scientists are seeing more and more animals, like sea lions, affected by high levels of domoic acid. America Tonight
Part of the problem is that monitoring of domoic acid is limited to wharfs close to shore, but the fish harboring the toxins – and the algae producing the toxic blooms – may be living just offshore, where sampling tends to be either too expensive or too technically difficult to do regularly.
While Anderson believes that the Department of Public Health is doing a good job protecting humans from danger (no human illnesses have been reported this year), she thinks that more could be done to stop the sources of the problem.
“The California State Water Resources Control Board is doing a lot, but they are certainly susceptible to pressures of all the different interest groups that are involved,” she said.
The California State Water Board limits the amount of pesticides, nutrients and other pollutants discharged into surface and groundwater. While it has strict reporting requirements for pollutants like pesticides, nutrient reporting is interpretive and a 100-percent reporting system for agricultural fertilizer use has yet to be implemented.
Part of the reason why nutrient reporting is lacking is because determining the correct level of nutrients for water systems is very complex, said Rik Rasmussen, the fresh water quality standard program manager for the State of California.
“It’s not a simple thing as saying 10 is the right number. Or one is the right number, or zero is the right number,” said Rasmussen. “If we don’t have nutrients, we don’t have life.”
While nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – three common ingredients in fertilizer – are the backbone of life, finding the right balance is tricky since every body of water reacts differently to nutrients, Rasmussen said.
This becomes even more of an uphill battle during drought. In years of low snowpack like in 2014, rivers and streams become warmer and run slower in the spring due little snow melt, which increases a water body’s sensitivity to additions of nitrogen. This then becomes even more complicated during El Nino, as is predicted to hit this fall, as heavy rainfall will likely sweep accumulated fertilizer from drought-stricken lands into nitrogen-sensitive waters.
“It’s a harder job for our scientists and engineers to write the correct levels in permits because it varies depending on the water body,” Rasmussen said.
So as regulators fine-tune the rules, and scientists try to crack the mystery of where the toxic algae are blooming, marine mammals continue to suffer.
Peppa, the sea lion rescued on Pismo Beach, succumbed to her violent seizures only three hours after her rescue. Cause of death: a severe dose of domoic acid toxicosis. Peppa was also found to be nursing.
“From being on the front lines and seeing how it affects negatively these animals, my biggest fear is if this happens all the time or if it’s everywhere on the West Coast,” Johnson said. “And if that happens, it’s going to affect all the fish and it’s going to close down fisheries and it’ll have a huge negative impact on everyone.”
Both Johnson and Anderson agree that research will be the key to better understand and prevent toxic blooms, which are anticipated to cost the U.S. up to $50 million each year in cleanup and job loss. But Anderson said what’s needed first is more funding for that research and more federal and state action.
Courtney Quirin|August 26, 2014
Massive Half-Mile-Long Crack Appears in Ground in Northern Mexico
Last week a video emerged of a giant fissure in the Northern Mexican desert, 3,300 feet long and up to 25 feet deep. Speculation centered at first around an earthquake, but the region is not known for seismic activity. I personally checked out the U.S. Geological Survey earthquake data because the Buena Vista Copper mine (the fourth largest in the world by output) is only about 150 miles north of the enormous crack, and earlier this month they spilled 40,000 cubic meters of sulphuric acid into two rivers during the worst spill in Mexico’s modern mining history. But I found no reports of tremors in the region and authorities were skeptical that this had anything to do with an earthquake.
Fast forward to Tuesday, Aug. 26, the Washington Post posted a story with this headline: Why no one should freak out about the giant crack that opened in the Mexico desert. The Post reports:
The chair of the geology department at the University of Sonora, in the northern Mexican state where this “topographic accident” emerged, said that the fissure was likely caused by sucking out groundwater for irrigation to the point the surface collapsed.
“This is no cause for alarm,” Inocente Guadalupe Espinoza Maldonado said. “These are normal manifestations of the destabilization of the ground.”
I’m sorry, no. These are not normal manifestations of natural activity, this the result of human activity run amok. Just because Cthulhu isn’t clambering out of the breach to wreak havoc on humankind does not mean we shouldn’t be alarmed by the fact we’ve sucked so much water out of the ground that the surface of the earth is collapsing.
Barely a month ago NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory warned of ‘shocking’ groundwater losses in the Colorado River basin, a major watershed to the north of Sonora with similar climate and landuse. Using gravitational data from the satellite-based Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) instrument, scientists found “the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater. That’s almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total—about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers)—was from groundwater.”
NASA’s measurements of groundwater based on gravity. Areas in red show a deficit in groundwater, blue indicates surplus. Image credit: NASA/JPL
The Washington Post also reports that cotton used to be a major crop, but intrusion of saltwater from the Sea of Cortez caused some areas to become unusable for agriculture. However, there is still plenty of large-scale agriculture as evidenced by the Landsat image below.
Hermosillo region of Sonora, Mexico, as seen by Landsat 8, on Aug. 17. Bright green rectangles in the middle of the desert are irrigated fields.
However, around the green fields, there appear to many fields that are not being irrigated this season—seen as tan rectangles with a faint grid of roads in between parcels.
The blue geometric shapes on the left appear to be salt-drying pans. Image credit: NASA/USGS via SkyTruth
Groundwater reserves can take centuries to recharge, so industrial-scale extraction of water for big agriculture in the middle of the desert cannot continue forever. In the U.S., water managers are facing an uphill battle to control water use in the Colorado River Basin and from the Ogallala Aquifer which stretches from Texas to South Dakota. Factor in that hydraulic fracturing is permanently removing water from the hydrological cycle in some of the most drought-stressed regions of the West, and you have a serious problem.
To be clear, the entire southwestern U.S. is not necessarily about to fall in on itself all at once, but it is struggling to support large-scale agriculture, enormous demand for water from a revitalized onshore oil and gas industry, and a growing population. Maybe this chasm in the desert doesn’t herald the coming of Judgment Day, but perhaps we should be freaking out about our poor judgment.
David Manthos|SkyTruth|August 28, 2014
36 Eye-Opening Works Of Street Art That Are Fighting For The Planet
Saving Our Birds
ITHACA, N.Y. — THE passenger pigeon is among the most famous of American birds, but not because of its beauty, or its 60-mile-an-hour flight speed. Nor is it a cherished symbol of our great country. No, we remember the passenger pigeon because of the largest-scale human-caused extinction in history.
Possibly the most abundant bird ever to have existed, this gregarious pigeon once migrated in giant flocks that sometimes exceeded three billion, darkening the skies over eastern North America for days at a time. No wild bird in the world comes close to those numbers today. Yet 100 years ago this week, the very last pigeon of her kind died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo. Her name was Martha, and her passing merits our close attention today.
Mercilessly slaughtered by the tens of millions at breeding colonies in the North and at huge wintertime roosts in the South during the post-Civil War era, passenger pigeons were shipped by trainloads to dinner tables in homes and restaurants across the East. Their population fell from biblical numbers at midcentury to tiny, aimless flocks in 1890. By around 1900 the few birds that remained were all in captivity. The last male died in 1910, leaving Martha as a barren relic of past abundance.
JOHN W. FITZPATRICK|AUG. 29, 2014
Pink slime is heading to your dinner plate
Pink slime is back. The ammonia-treated beef additive made from grinding together unused scraps of beef and connective tissue is starting to make a major comeback, with sales up three-fold since 2012.
Due to the recent spike in beef prices, suppliers have boosted their use of this cheap byproduct to keep prices low, but there’s one major problem: No laws or regulations exist to require food producers, restaurants, or grocery stores to label products containing pink slime.
We have the right to know what we’re putting in our shopping carts and in our bodies. As sales of this potentially dangerous substance continue to rise, we need to pressure the USDA to require mandatory labeling of pink slime.
While the food industry and the USDA claim that pink slime is safe for human consumption, the additive raises a number of health and safety concerns. The New York Times exposed in 2009 that, despite being treated with ammonia, three E. coli contaminations and four dozen salmonella contaminations occurred between 2005 and 2009.
What’s more, ammonium hydroxide is itself harmful to eat and can potentially turn into ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in homemade explosives.
Major grocery store chains and restaurants, including McDonalds, Kroger, and Safeway, among others, have already said they will stop selling products containing pink slime. Cargill, one of the largest suppliers of the additive, has already agreed to voluntarily label its ground beef containing pink slime. But stores repackaging Cargill’s beef aren’t required to disclose to consumers the existence of pink slime in their meat.
Now it’s time for the USDA to mandate that companies, from the processing plant to the consumer, label beef containing pink slime so people know what they’re buying. Please sign the petition at # 8 in “Calls to Action” below.
Calls to Action
Protect Appalachia’s Streams and Rivers From Mountaintop Removal Mining Pollution! – here
Stop Seismic Blasting in the Atlantic – here
Call for a Statewide Ban on Fracking – here
Protect the Grand Canyon From Destructive Developments – here
Demand a Cleanup Plan From Conowingo Dam – here
- Tell President Obama’s Task Force you support seafood traceability – here
- Don’t Let The Wolverine Go Extinct – here
- Tell the USDA to label pink slime now – here
Birds and Butterflies
Birding Economics: Birding is Big Business
Your birding and wildlife viewing dollars, if recognized as such, are a vote for conservation. They lobby local communities to conserve their resources not only for the health of their environment, but for the health of their economy.
Did you know?
- In 2011, wildlife viewing activities generated more than $4.9 billion for Florida’s economy. In 2006, wildlife viewing activities generated more than $5.2 billion in Florida. .
- Nationwide, birding is big business: 46.7 million people observed birds around the home and on trips in 2011; there are nearly 72 million wildlife watchers in the U.S. Nationwide, the estimated economic impact of wildlife watching is $54.9 billion. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
- Wildlife viewing in Florida supports 44,623 full- and part-time jobs. That is more jobs than the entire air transportation industry (35,268 jobs) statewide. (US Bureau of Economic Analysis)
- Florida ranks in the top five in the U.S. for the number of residents who participate in all types of wildlife viewing, including trips away from home and feeding or viewing wildlife around the house. The 3.6 million wildlife watchers who live in Florida exceed the population of every metropolitan area in Florida except the Miami – Fort Lauderdale – Pompano Beach area with 5.7 million people.
- In 2011, more visitors traveled to Florida to see wildlife than any other state. (ranked by total number of wildlife-viewing days, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
- The number of nonresident wildlife watchers in Florida has grown each year since 2001, by 52% from 2001 to 2006 and by 11% from 2006 to 2011. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
- The number of participants who make day and overnight trips away from home specifically to view wildlife grew substantially in the five-year period from 2006 to 2011 (22% increase).
- Florida ranks second in the nation for the number of residents (1.4 million people) who take trips to view wildlife. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
- In 2011, Florida residents who enjoyed viewing wildlife around their homes (3.3 million) outnumbered the population of 28 states. (U.S. Census Bureau)
- The total spent annually in Florida for wildlife viewing is two and a quarter times greater than the value of the state’s annual orange crop harvest. ($1.2 billion in 2011, Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services)
- Travel-related spending associated with wildlife viewing in Florida has increased from $675 million in 2001 to more than $1.4 billion in 2011; the overall economic effect of wildlife-viewing travel (food, fuel, lodging, etc.) equipment and accessories in Florida was $2.7 billion in 2011.
- Tax revenues in 2011 related to wildlife viewing in Florida amounted to nearly $285 million at the state and local levels and nearly $397 million at the federal level.
- The 2013 Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival had an estimated economic impact of $1,286,492 in Brevard County; $416,000 in labor income was generated and more than $185,000 in government tax revenues was accrued.
(The Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival 2013: Economic Impact & Demographic Profile)
Outrage as Canada geese are rounded up for culling – by council contractor who claimed they were just being ‘relocated’
When Ian Carroll asked council contractors why they were herding Canada geese into a van at a park, he was not satisfied by their claim to be ringing the birds’ feet.
Mr. Carroll, 39, contacted the park ranger but remained unconvinced by his assurance the birds were being relocated to a country park – even after the ranger sent him a picture of them supposedly being released.
So the postman, who is a member of a local animal rescue group, lodged a Freedom of Information Act request with Sandwell Council, which finally admitted the geese had been taken away and ‘humanely’ killed.
Ian Carroll, 39, saw a council contractor herding Canada geese into a van at Victoria Park, Tipton, West Midlands
The park ranger told Mr. Carroll that the geese, pictured, were being relocated to a county park. He later sent Mr. Carroll a photo to prove it
The West Midlands authority has now admitted it removed and killed 220 Canada geese from parks in Tipton and West Bromwich in 2013 and 2014, using a licensed pest control firm.
The removals including the geese and goslings filmed by Mr. Carroll in Victoria Park, Tipton in summer last year.
Mr Carroll said yesterday: ‘I can’t believe they could lie to me like that. We still haven’t found out how they killed them. They could have been shot, gassed or had their necks broken.’
He added: ‘I have spent the last 17 years rescuing swans and wildfowl in Sandwell who have been maimed by other animals thugs. But this action by the council is worse than all of these incidents put together.
But Mr Carroll, a postman, did not believe the ranger’s explanation and sent a Freedom of Information request about the geese, pictured, to Sandwell Council, which is responsible for the park
‘The birds have been rounded up and killed during the molting season when they loose their flight feathers and were unable to get away.’
In large numbers Canada Geese can have a detrimental impact on their environment, producing large numbers of droppings which contain bacteria and phosphates blamed for polluting watercourses, and dispersing native species.
Councillor Maria Crompton said a total of 150 geese were culled from Victoria Park and Dartmouth Park in 2013. Seventy geese were culled from Victoria Park this year.
The West Midlands authority admitted it removed and killed 220 Canada geese from parks in Tipton and West Bromwich in 2013 and 2014, using a licensed pest control firm
The removals included the geese and goslings filmed by Mr Carroll in Victoria Park, Tipton in summer last year
She said: ‘I’m very sad we had to do this but people’s safety and public health are paramount.
‘We have done this as a last resort and as humanely as possible in response to repeated complaints and real concerns from park users, including parents of young children.’ She said the numbers of geese had ‘got out of control’, with more than 1,000 grazing in Sandwell’s parks.
In 2012 it emerged that more than 11,000 Canada Geese had been culled from parks by Stoke-on-Trent City Council over the previous two years.
Andy Dolan|Daily Mail|24 August 2014
Monarch Butterflies at A Record Low
MEXICO CITY (AP) – The number of Monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico plunged this year to its lowest level since studies began in 1993, leading experts to announce Wednesday that the insects’ annual migration from the United States and Canada is in danger of disappearing.
A report released by the World Wildlife Fund, Mexico’s Environment Department and the Natural Protected Areas Commission blames the displacement of the milkweed the species feeds on by genetically modified crops and urban sprawl in the United States, as well as the dramatic reduction of the butterflies’ habitat in Mexico due to illegal logging of the trees they depend on for shelter.
After steep and steady declines in the previous three years, the black-and-orange butterflies now cover only 1.65 acres (0.67 hectares) in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City, compared to 2.93 acres (1.19 hectares) last year. They covered more than 44.5 acres (18 hectares) at their recorded peak in 1995.
Because the butterflies clump together by the thousands in trees, they are counted by the area they cover.
The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, experts say.
The announcement followed on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which saw the United States, Mexico and Canada signing environmental accords to protect migratory species such as the Monarch. At the time, the butterfly was adopted as the symbol of trilateral cooperation.
“Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the Monarch migration, the symbol of the three countries’ cooperation, is at serious risk of disappearing,” said Omar Vidal, Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico.
Lincoln Brower, a leading entomologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, wrote that “the migration is definitely proving to be an endangered biological phenomenon.”
“The main culprit is now GMO herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops and herbicides in the USA,” which “leads to the wholesale killing of the monarch’s principal food plant, common milkweed,” Brower wrote in an email.
While Mexico has made headway in reducing logging in the officially protected winter reserve, that alone cannot save the migration, wrote Karen Oberhauser, a professor at the University of Minnesota. She noted that studies indicate that the U.S. Midwest is the main source of the butterflies coming to Mexico. “A large part of their reproductive habitat in that region has been lost due to changes in agricultural practices, mainly the explosive growth in the use of herbicide-tolerant crops.”
While some gardeners and activists in the United States have started a movement to plant small patches of milkweed, the effort is in its infancy. Extreme weather – extreme cold snaps, unusually heavy rains or droughts in all three countries – have also apparently played a role in the decline.
It’s unclear what would happen to the Monarchs if they no longer migrated. The butterflies can apparently survive year-round in warmer climates, but populations in the northern United States and Canada would have to face bitter winters. There is also another small migration route that takes the butterflies to California, but that has also registered declines.
The migration is an inherited trait. No butterfly lives to make the full round-trip, and it is unclear how they remember the route back to the same patch of forest each year, a journey of thousands of miles to a forest reserve that covers 193,000 acres (56,259-hectares) in central Mexico.
Inhabitants of the reserve had already noted a historic change, as early as the Nov. 1-2 Day of the Dead holiday, when the butterflies usually arrive.
“They were part of the landscape of the Day of the Dead, when you could see them flitting around the graveyards,” said Gloria Tavera, the director of the reserve. “This year was the first time in memory that they weren’t there.”
Losing the butterflies would be a blow for people such as Adolfo Rivera, 55, a farmer from the town of Los Saucos who works as a guide for tourists in the Piedra Herrada wintering ground. He said the butterflies had come later and in smaller numbers this year, a fact he attributed to a rainy winter. “This is a source of pride for us, and income,” Rivera said.
Butterfly guide Emilio Velazquez Moreno, 39, and other farmers in the village of Macheros, located inside the reserve, have been planting small plots of milkweed in a bid to provide food for the Monarchs if they decide to stay in Mexico year-round, which he said some do.
Sitting beside a mountainside patch of firs where the butterflies were clumping on the branches, Velazquez Moreno, a second-generation guide who has been visiting the butterflies since he was a boy, said “we have to protect this. This comes first, this is our heritage.”
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
Shifts In Habitat May Threaten Ruddy Shorebird’s Survival
An intrepid bird called the red knot migrates from the southern tip of South America to the Arctic and back every year. But changes in climate along its route are putting this ultra-marathoner at risk.
The federal government has proposed to list the red knot as threatened on the endangered species list, because of the risk of extinction the bird faces over its 9,300-mile journey, largely because of climate change.
“You know, this bird is facing any conceivable difficulty from Terra del Fuego [Argentina] all the way to the Arctic,” says Kevin Kalasz, a biologist who manages the shorebird project for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. Kalasz has studied red knots for more than a decade.
Other animals, from polar bears to butterflies, increasingly face analogous threats as climate change alters their habitat; saving these various species may take more effort — even sacrifices — from humans, according to scientists.
Global Warming Puts Crucial Red Knot Refueling At Risk
Biologists worry a changing climate could throw this critical rendezvous out of sync. The crabs and the birds have to arrive at the same time if the birds are going to make it to the Arctic to nest, and warming water temperatures could prompt the crabs to lay eggs before the birds arrive.
Meanwhile, rising seas and bigger storms are washing away the beaches, which make one of the biggest weight gains in animal kingdom possible, according to Kalasz.
“In a number of years, we could lose this very special place,” he says. “And if that were to occur, I’d feel a tremendous sense of loss.”
The changing climate is creating other risks for the red knot along its migration path, including in the Arctic where it nests.
“Warming in the Arctic, we know, is proceeding faster than other parts of the globe,” says Wendy Walsh, a senior biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That’s changing the landscape where red knots nest from barren tundra to a place with larger plants and even trees. The shift in habitat is sure to alter the behavior of predators, like foxes and falcons that eat chicks and eggs — but scientists do not yet know how, Walsh says.
Some Coastal Communities Oppose Listing Red Knots As ‘Threatened’
The Fish and Wildlife Service can’t do much about the changing habitat in the Arctic. What it can do is try to better protect the bird along the East Coast.
In places such as North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a strip of low-lying islands where some of the birds stop or even stay for the winter.
Bird projects like this one in Delaware indicate the number of red knots passing through has dropped by 75 percent since the 1980s.
But the local governments there and elsewhere along the bird’s path are nervous about the implications for people.
To protect other rare shore birds, stretches of beach already are closed during tourist season. Those closures mean that wonderful places to surf, fish and swim aren’t available for tourists, says Warren Judge, who chairs the Dare County Board of Commissioners in the Outer Banks.
“The red knot is just another bird that can land someplace and create another closure,” says Judge. “Our tourism is based upon [using] the beach. It’s very hard on the economy.”
Walsh, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, says it’s true: If the red knot goes on the endangered species list, some beaches could be closed briefly every year.
And that’s not all. Her agency could discourage communities from doing things such as building sea walls to protect themselves from rising seas and the big storm surges linked to climate change. Hard structures destroy beaches.
“This is totally understandable why humans would do this when they have valuable infrastructure and property and lives at stake behind the walls,” Walsh says, “but that is a threat to the red knot going forward.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects to make its final decision in late September. That’s also when the birds will be making their fall migration from the top of the globe back to the bottom.
Elizabeth Shogren|July 28, 2014
Fall is the Time to See Raptors on the Move
The best time to see hawks, harriers, eagles, and other raptors is during their fall migration, which will soon be in full swing across the country.
Raptors tend to fly known routes—which means folks can count on seeing large numbers of them as they head south.
Click here to learn more about raptors and their migrations.
Hawkwatch: the best places to see hawks
The best time to see hawks, harriers, eagles, and their kin is during the fall migration. We’ve chosen some of the top hawkwatch sites in North America. Click on a location for information about the site and species that can be seen there. Click on the name of a species to learn more about its migratory habits.
Every fall, millions of birds fly south to spend the winter in sunny places with mild climates and plentiful food. Most smaller birds migrate under the cover of darkness, stopping to fuel up on insects or seeds by day and using the stars to guide them at night. Hawks, by contrast, are diurnal migrants; they depend on currents of rising warm air to lift them to high altitudes where they glide on their broad wings without flapping, thereby conserving energy. During these flights, hawks use their keen eyesight to recognize landmarks, follow landforms that provide rising thermals, and steer a course to their ancestral wintering grounds. In some places these migrating hawks gather in huge numbers, and people gather to watch them with binoculars and data sheets in the phenomenon known as hawkwatch.
Counting hawks during migration is more than a competitive pursuit for list-oriented birders. The data collected at hawkwatches helps experts monitor the health of various ecosystems. Because hawks are top predators — that is, they occupy the top of the food chain — they’re very sensitive to changes that affect prey species. Comparing hawk numbers from year to year reveals trends that offer insight into the well-being of the environment in both the breeding and wintering areas.
But more than simply counting hawks, there’s the spectacle of it all. Standing atop a ridge on a crisp autumn day while hundreds of hawks circle and stream past is an unforgettable experience, which helps explain why people return to these sites day after day and hawkwatch programs across the country attract volunteers by the dozens. Visit any hawkwatch site, and you’ll find people who came one day out of curiosity and soon became regulars.
On the lookout for Florida’s rare upland birds
Ornithological question of the day:
Do American kestrels breed in Southwest Florida?
“That’s a good question,” said Keith Laakkonen,Fort Myers Beach’s environmental sciences coordinator. “During the winter, we see them quite a bit. They’re on every power line on every road in the area. Cape Coral and certain parts of Collier County are absolute hot spots for them.
“But during their breeding season, we’re not really sure. It would be helpful to know if these birds are breeding down here.”
To determine where kestrels breed, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking the public to be on the lookout for the small falcon species during its breeding season (May through June) and report sightings to FWC’s new Rare Bird Registry.
FWC also wants breeding season sightings of painted buntings, which don’t breed in Southwest Florida, and burrowing owls, which do.
Reported sightings will provide data that will help FWC scientist study and protect these species.
Populations of all three species are declining, said Karl Miller, lead researcher for FWC’s non-game bird program.
“They are disappearing because of habitat loss,” he said. “A lot of times, these critters occur in rural areas, which are not well-surveyed by other bird-monitoring methods. We can’t possibly cover all of the state, so we need people through this citizen-scientist program to help us.”
Although painted buntings winter in South Florida, they head to North Florida and along the east coast as far north as eastern North Carolina for breeding season, which runs May through July.
“They usually show up here around Oct. 10,” bird guide Vince McGrath said. “I show them off for the winter.”
With an estimated 1,000 breeding pairs, Cape Coral is the burrowing owl capital of Florida – burrowing owl breeding season is February through July.
Because much of the burrowing owl’s native habitat has been lost to development, the animals tend to dig their burrows in vacant lots in residential areas, but as houses are built on those lots, owls can be displaced.
“We’re concerned because we’re not seeing the numbers we used to see,” said Pasha Donaldson, past president of Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife. “There’s so much going on in Cape Coral, and we don’t know how all the building will affect the population of owls.”
Another Southwest Florida burrowing owl population center is Marco Island, where owls have dug burrows on 130 sites – 75 percent of the burrows are producing chicks, said Nancy Richie, a Marco Island environmental specialist.
“I’ve been monitoring burrowing owls here for almost 15 years, and this is probably the most productive year to date. When we had the big building boom in 2003 and 2004, we saw a the population dip a little bit. Plus, we were in a drought situation.
“Then the building slowed down, and we started getting rain, so there are lots of insects and frogs to eat. Now there’s plenty of food, and their able to propagate.”
As with Cape Coral, the future of Marco Island’s burrowing owls is uncertain.
“Marco will build out,” Richie said. “It’s inevitable. There are 1,200 undeveloped lots on Marco, and 90 percent of the nests are on undeveloped lots. Ultimately, this population will have to find nooks, crannies and niches to live in. As we lose empty lots, the population will go down.”
Programs such as FWC’s Rare Bird Registry provide good science, Laakkonen said.
“These things are really valuable,” he said. “The number of biologists and scientists in state agencies is limited. There is a large part of the public that really cares about nature, and a lot of them are birders. They may be observing species in places where the agencies aren’t aware of because they don’t have the resources to get out there and survey every scrap of Florida.”
Help Florida’s upland birds
To report sightings of burrowing owls, American kestrels and painted buntings, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Rare Bird Registry at myfwc.com. Here is a closer look at the birds:
* American kestrel
Distribution: Throughout most of North and South America
Size: Length 8-12 inches, weight 3-6 ounces
Habitat: In Florida, the kestrel is found in open pine habitats, woodland prairies and pastures
Diet: Insects, mammals, birds, lizards, snakes, amphibians
* Burrowing owl
Distribution: Throughout Florida
Size: Length 9 inches, wingspan, 21 inches
Habitat: Historically preferred open prairies in Central Florida, but birds moved mostly to South Florida as former habitat was converted to farm lands and commercial and residential development. Found locally in Cape Coral and Marco Island.
Diet: Moles, mice, insects, small birds, amphibians and reptiles.
* Painted bunting
Distribution: There are two painted bunting populations. The Eastern population breeds from eastern North Carolina to North Florida. The Western population breeds from Gulf Coast of the United States west to southern New Mexico; and north to Kansas, and south to northern Tamaulipas, Mexico. Eastern painted buntings spend the winter in southern Florida (from the Keys to Manatee, Orange and Brevard counties), the Bahamas, and on Cuba.
Size: Length 5.5 inches, wingspan, 8.5 inches
Habitat: The coastal Southeast population breeds in scrub communities, wooded back dunes, palmetto thickets, maritime hammocks, hedges, yards, fallow fields, and citrus groves.
Diet: Seeds most of the year, switching to mostly insects during breeding season.
Public sightings of Florida panthers, bears going strong, helping FWC biologists
When someone catches sight of a panther or black bear and reports it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the agency’s biologists may use that sighting to help research and manage those species.
Already, the public’s willingness to report where they see panthers and black bears in Florida is having a positive impact on what is known about where these large mammals live and reproduce in the state.
Based on two years of online public reporting of panther sightings and nearly one year of online reports of bear sightings, biologists know more about what areas of Florida provide viable habitat for these species.
A total of 1,537 Florida panther sightings were reported as of June 2014, of which 275 have been verified as panthers based on photos of the animal or its footprints. This includes the first verification of a panther sighted near the Green Swamp north of Interstate 4 in central Florida. Primarily, the verified panther sightings are in southwest Florida.
There also were a total of 2,257 Florida black bear sighting reports as of June 2014, with more than 500 of those reports containing uploaded photographs. Sightings of bears were reported in 59 of the state’s 67 counties.
The FWC continues collection of panther sightings at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings, and bear sightings at MyFWC.com/BearSightings. Here people can find information about the animals, including how to identify them, what to do or not do if they see one, and a Google map making it easy to pinpoint the sighting location.
“Someone’s excitement about seeing a Florida panther or black bear may translate into important scientific information if that sighting is reported to the FWC,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader. “The FWC is pleased that so many people are making the effort to be citizen scientists and sharing their sightings of panthers and bears. By doing so, they are contributing to conservation of Florida’s largest land mammals.”
Soon, cooler weather will be on the way and more people will be resuming their outdoor pursuits.
“We hope people going outdoors to hunt, hike or pursue other recreational activities remember to share their bear sightings with us, particularly if it is a mother bear with cubs,” said FWC bear biologist Brian Scheick.
For a list of the many FWC wildlife sightings, surveys and hotlines in which citizen scientists are invited to participate, go to MyFWC.com/get-involved/citizen-science/.
FWC recommends Collier County residents take steps to protect small livestock from panthers
Because of recent incidents of Florida panthers taking small livestock in Golden Gates Estates, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is cautioning Collier County residents to take the necessary precautions to properly shelter animals such as goats, sheep, calves, pigs, donkeys and chickens.
“The best way for people to protect small livestock is to keep them in a secure, fenced enclosure with a roof, especially at night,” said FWC panther team leader Darrell Land. “Panther depredations on animals in backyards can be prevented, and we encourage Golden Gate Estates residents to take the necessary steps to protect their animals from being taken by a panther or other predator.”
Similar safety measures should be taken to protect pets like dogs and cats, by keeping them indoors at night or in an outdoor panther-proof pen.
The FWC is investigating and monitoring depredations on so-called hobby livestock that recently have been concentrated in the area of 6th Street SE in Golden Gate Estates. However, panther depredations can occur throughout the area, and biologists encourage the community’s residents who live east of Collier Boulevard to take appropriate steps to protect their backyard animals from all predators roaming this semi-rural area. Predators include bobcats and coyotes as well as panthers.
“The FWC is alerting Golden Gate Estates residents that taking precautions today to protect their small livestock from panthers will have beneficial long-term effects by discouraging panthers and other predators from repeatedly coming back into their community looking for easy prey,” Land said.
People can learn more about living in panther country from the brochure, “A guide to living with Florida Panthers”. It reminds people, for instance, not to feed deer or other wildlife around their home, since that can attract panthers looking for prey.
Land, who has lived in Golden Gate Estates for more than 25 years, said wildlife is common in the area because its relatively large residential lots often include natural habitat areas. The community also is bordered on three sides by conservation lands, which include the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to the east, Picayune Strand State Forest and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park to the south, and Bird Rookery Swamp, part of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, to the north – all of which are regularly used by panthers.
If people have problems or concerns about panthers, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone. To report a panther sighting to the FWC, go to MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.
Additional information about Florida panthers is available at FloridaPantherNet.org.
Check your chickee: New exotic bug may be chewing it up
The first thing Nancy Kilmartin noticed was the frass. That’s science-speak for caterpillar poop — little dark pellets baby butterflies or moths expel as they eat. And it was scattered in a dark drizzle under Manatee Park’s chickee when she inspected it this month after volunteer Alice Thrower told her it was looking odd.
Above the frass, the sabal palm-thatched roof of the structure was pocked with holes, ranging from buckshot to quarter-size. It was plain that something was chewing up the chickee, a traditional open log-frame structure built by Florida’s native Miccosukee and Seminole tribes.
But what? Every caterpillar Kilmartin, a senior program specialist, knew of favored live stuff — not dead, dry fronds.
After consulting with several biologists, horticulturist and The News-Press columnist Stephen Brown examined the roof, collected specimens and sent a sample to University of Florida entomologist Lyle Buss. He pegged the culprit as an Asian moth caterpillar: “Simplicia cornicalis.” Instead of going after clothing or crops, this moth prefers dead palm fronds.
Bad news for Southwest Florida, says Brown, where the countless thatched roofs shading docks, patios and parks are all potential caterpillar victims. He likens the chewing critters to cattle munching on hay, and expects the problem to worsen as the bugs spread.
Though this is the first official report of an infestation in Lee County, “It could be of major consequence to the parks and tourist facilities who use them for shade,” says Fort Myers environmental consultant Dick Workman.
Dormant during the day, the caterpillars keep themselves hidden among the thatch, emerging at night to eat. The dun-colored adult moths stick around to lay their eggs on the roofs, Brown says, and the cycle repeats, unless a lizard snags the moth first.
Should a homeowner discover an infestation, Brown recommends treating the roof with insecticide at night.
First spotted in Florida in 2006, the pest has made its way south from Louisiana, feeding on dead plants as it goes. It joins an ever-growing list of exotic invaders that have found a comfy niche in Southwest Florida — species like lionfish, Cuban frogs and fire ants.
“I don’t think they attack live, green leaves, but get onto the leaves after they have been cut and made into roofs,” Buss wrote in an email. He’s heard of them in Collier, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties, but this was the first report from Lee.
The Collier County Museum has a Seminole chickee at its downtown Naples campus that was recently refurbished, says spokeswoman Christina Apkarian, “But that was due to weather and normal wear and tear,” she says — not caterpillar damage.
The caterpillars were news to Brett Daly, who edits the Seminole Tribe’s paper, the Seminole Tribune. “That’s not something we’ve come across,” she says.
The only other Lee County property with at-risk roofs is Crescent Beach Family Park on Estero Island, which has three palm-thatched pavilions, says county spokeswoman Betsy Clayton.
“Most of our Lee County Parks & Recreation shade structures have fabric or metal roofs,” she wrote in an email. The county has started pricing treatment for the roof at Manatee Park in east Fort Myers, but has no estimates yet.
“We will proceed with getting bids from county-approved vendors and working to best remedy the situation at the park,” Clayton wrote. “That will help us determine how to proceed if we must do the same at other sites.”
Amy Bennett Williams|news-press.com|August 27, 2014
Grizzly Bears in the North Cascades
The National Park Service this week took an important step toward recovering grizzly bears in the North Cascades in Washington state. The agency says it is beginning a three-year process to analyze options for boosting grizzly bear populations in the area, including the possibility of translocating bears and developing a viable population.
“We’re happy to see the Park Service begin the long-overdue conversation about bringing grizzly bears back to the North Cascades,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Grizzlies have lost more than 95 percent of their historic habitat in the lower 48 states so we welcome any step that brings them closer to returning to some of their ancestral homes.”
In June, the Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin returning grizzly bears to vast swaths of the American West. The petition identified more than 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly bear habitat, including parts of Washington, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.
Today, there are roughly 1,500-1,800 grizzly bears in the continental United States, most of them in and around Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. The grizzly populations remain separated from each other, which impedes genetic exchange and limits their ability to expand into new areas.
The Northern Cascades ecosystem includes about 9,800 square miles in the United States and 3,800 square miles in Canada. A grizzly bear has not been spotted on the U.S. side since 2010.
“The Northern Cascades has the potential to host a viable grizzly bear population,” Greenwald said. “The same could be said for many spots scattered throughout the West. If grizzly bears are ultimately going to have a thriving, healthy population no longer threatened by extinction, they’ve got to be given a chance to return to some of the places they were driven out of years ago.”
Center for Biological Diversity|August 22, 2014
Read more at Center for Biological Diversity.
The California Drought is Making Life Pretty Rough for Bees
When it comes to food, the California drought has affected many things that we eat: berries, beer and avocados just to name a few. Now there’s yet another item to add to that list: honey.
Traditionally, California has been one of the top producers of honey. Now, however, with fewer crops on account of the drought, honeybees have had fewer places to forage, and they’re producing much less honey because of it. Since the drought began three years ago, honey production in California has fallen from 27.5 million pounds in 2010 to 10.9 million pounds in 2013, according to the AP reports. This year, things are expected to be even worse.
“Our honey crop is severely impacted by the drought,” Gene Brandi, a beekeeper in Los Banos, a farming town in California’s Central Valley told the AP.
That’s bad for business and it’s also bad for the honey consumer. There was already a worldwide shortage of honey, and the drought has helped pushes prices to an all-time high. “Over the past eight years, the average retail price for honey has increased 65 percent from $3.83 to $6.32 per pound, according to the National Honey Board,” reports CBS News.
To keep their bees alive, some beekeepers are having to supplement with sugar syrup or high-fructose corn syrup since there is a lack of the honeybees’ usual diet of nectar.
“Not only are you feeding as an expense, but you aren’t gaining any income,” beekeeper Mike Brandi told the AP. “If this would persist, you’d see higher food costs, higher pollination fees and unfortunately higher prices for the commodity of honey.”
While feeding the bees sugar keeps them alive, it doesn’t get the bees producing honey, and it doesn’t keep the bees as healthy; without the same nutrients as the pollen, keeping bees on a sugar diet makes them susceptible to diseases.
Given their current situation, that’s a bit of a slap in the face if you’re a honeybee. Bees have already been having a rough go of things, what with Colony Collapse Disorder and all. Have you seen the pictures of what your grocery store aisle would look like without bees? It’s pretty dismal. As pollinators, bees are essential to our food production, and without them we risk the threat of a global food crisis.
We need bees, and they need food; a good reminder of how interconnected our food systems truly are.
Anna Brones|August 28, 2014
One of Florida’s rare creatures; the smalltooth sawfish
Smalltooth sawfish are aptly named, having a long, flattened, toothed “saw” extending out from the head. They have 22 to 29 unpaired teeth on each side of the rostrum (saw); males typically have more than females. If completely lost, the teeth are not replaced; if only chipped and their bases are intact, the teeth will continue to grow as the fish grows. The saw is used for feeding and defense against sharks, their only known predators.
Smalltooth sawfish belong to a group of fishes called elasmobranchs, which includes all other rays and sharks. Smalltooth sawfish swim like sharks but are actually a type of ray, in part because their gill slits are on the bottom of their bodies, like stingrays. All elasmobranchs have a skeleton made of cartilage.
Smalltooth sawfish in Florida waters give birth primarily in April and May. Females can give birth to up to 20 young measuring 2 to 2.7 feet long. They can be found in a wide range of habitats, including mud bottoms, sand bottoms, oyster bars, red mangrove shorelines, docks, seawall-lined canals and piers. Juveniles, like the one pictured, will also travel many miles up rivers if freshwater inflow is reduced.
Smalltooth sawfish can grow up to 18 feet long and 700 pounds.
Because they are so rare – their population has declined by more than 95 percent – smalltooth sawfish are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. If a smalltooth sawfish is accidentally caught, it must be promptly released unharmed. It is illegal to actively attempt to hook or net one and possessing even a part of sawfish is a violation of rules.
Recovery efforts for this critically endangered species are in progress. Learn about what’s being done, and what you can do to support research efforts.
NOAA Lists 20 New Corals as Threatened Under the Endangered Species Act
Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 20 coral species will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Fifteen of these coral species are in the Indo-Pacific and five are in the Atlantic/Caribbean. Including two previously listed coral species – elkhorn and staghorn – there are a total of 22 species that are now listed as threatened.
Coral species newly listed as threatened in the Atlantic/Caribbean:
* Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus)
* Rough cactus coral (Mycetophyllia ferox)
* Lobed star coral (Orbicella annularis)
* Mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata)
* Boulder star coral (Orbicella franksi)
All seven of the threatened corals from the Atlantic/Caribbean are found throughout the wider Caribbean region, including Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The listed corals from the Indo-Pacific can be found in several areas, including Guam (4 coral species), Northern Mariana Islands (3 species), American Samoa (13 corals) and the US Pacific Remote Island Areas (3 corals).
Please click here for more information.
A Win in Aspen: Tortoises From Art Installation Go to Sanctuary
The Aspen Art Museum has sent three tortoises to a sanctuary after thousands of Center supporters objected to their exploitation in an art exhibit by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The exhibit featured three African sulcata tortoises, each with a pair of iPads stuck directly to its shell.
The move comes less than a week after the Center for Biological Diversity delivered a petition signed by more than 12,000 people opposing the controversial exhibit. Earlier this month, a nationwide boycott was led by Lisbeth Odén and by Andrew Sabin, a New York businessman and turtle conservationist.
We’re glad to see these tortoises heading to the sanctuary; they deserve a life without iPads glued to their backs. Thank you to all the people who spoke out against their mistreatment.
Three Southeast Flowers Get 2,500 Acres of Protected Habitat
Following the Center’s 757 species agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service has protected 2,488 acres of critical habitat for three flowering plants in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee: Short’s bladderpod, fleshy-fruit gladecress and whorled sunflower.
The Center first petitioned the Service to protect these plants in 2004; they had been on a waiting list since 1999. The plants were finally protected early this month, and now they have protected habitat too. So far — under our landmark 2011 agreement to speed protection decisions for 757 species — 130 have gained Endangered Species Act protection, including the three flowers, and another 13 have been proposed for protection.
Habitat loss is the primary reason plants and animals become endangered, so protecting the last areas where these highly endangered flowers live will help make sure they aren’t erased by careless human activities.
Read more in the Tennessean.
Read more in our press release.
[Could there still be hope for receiving protected critical habitat for the Florida Panther?]
Wild & Weird
MIGRATION SEASON BEGINS…
…at least for the birds and Monarch butterflies that are already being seen assembling and moving south as summer fades into fall.
However, no large directional movements have been noted yet this year for our migrant dragonflies. As conspicuous and charismatic as dragonflies unquestionably are — zooming around freshwater habitats feeding, seeking mates, and defending territory on the wing — some aspects of their migratory behavior are still bewildering. Migration season is upon us, but when will these colorful denizens of the insect world make their movements obvious to us?
Few reports of migration flights have been seen in listserv inboxes or on dragonfly Facebook group pages so far this summer. By this time in both 2012 and 2013, Swamp Darners (Epiaeschna heros) had been seen in directional flights on the east coast, making an easy meal for Purple Martins. However, there have been numerous reports in the past few weeks of members of our top five migrant species seen in feeding swarms or as newly emerged tenerals. Are the Common Green Darners (Anax junius) and Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) observed in local swarms merely residents feeding on a bounty of midges and mosquitoes, or are they migrants amassing their reserves for the long trek south? A report of hundreds of newly emerged Common Green Darners in mid-August in Milwaukie, WI is highly suggestive of a cohort destined for migration, as are the feeding swarms of Common Green Darners observed in separate incidents on August 17 and 20 in Ohio. One observer has remarked that the usual abundance of Common Green Darners around their pond in Quebec was reduced this year to only three tenerals seen on August 19. These teneral dragonflies are likely to be migrants and this report reflects a common complaint on many Facebook pages of reduced dragonfly numbers in 2014, especially in the east, leading us to wonder whether migration flights will be down as well this fall.
Although the most dramatic dragonfly migration flights are often seen along the coasts and the shores of the Great Lakes, inland observations are key to understanding the origins of these flights. Participating observers at Hawk Watch sites are perfectly placed to note coincident movements of dragonflies, as migrating raptors such as Mississippi Kites are often seen taking advantage of an in-flight meal of migrating Common Green Darners as they share a flight path south. Inland hawk observatories often witness large dragonfly migration flights; because these observatories are frequently located on ridge tops they are ideal vantage points to detect inland populations of dragonflies collecting along leading lines of not only mountain ridges, but lakes and rivers as well. Continuing observations will tell us more about how and when these dragonflies make their way to the coasts, and where they may be collecting in staging areas to rest and feed before the next leg of their southern flight.
Reports from the West Coast of small clusters of Variegated Meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum) may indicate just that — individuals coming together from sites further inland and resting or waiting for favorable winds or other environmental cues to send them on their way. Reports this month on the Northwest Odonata listserv from people at Oregon’s northern coast may indicate southward movement of small numbers of individuals as well as staging stopovers as these meadowhawks fuel up at Oregon beaches and coastal wetlands. Directional flights composed of only a few individuals can easily go unnoticed, but we are pleased to have multiple observers this year detecting these smaller movements and reporting their observations.
Because we know very little about where migration flights originate, we need your watchful eyes not only to detect directional movements of the migratory species, but also to note emergences and late-season tenerals around local ponds throughout North America. We hope you’ll spend some of your last days of summer (and even into fall) at your local wetland, pond, ridge top, or coastal beach making notable discoveries of our last dragonflies of the season on the wing.
The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership is composed of dragonfly experts, nongovernmental programs, academic institutions, and federal agencies from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Together, we are combining research, citizen science, and education and outreach to better understand North America’s migrating dragonflies and promote conservation of their wetland habitat. For more information please visit the MDP website.
See the options SFWMD has for future water storage here
NOAA: Southwest Florida a ‘hotspot’ for wetland loss
Naples. Fla. – Southwest Florida has lost 148 square miles of land cover – an area 1 1/2 times the size of Cape Coral – to development and to changes in the region’s climate over the past two decades, a new government report shows.
Much of the land lost was wetlands, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and environmental experts say are vital to wildlife, help clean waterways, and mitigate flooding and storms.
When it comes to land cover loss, the region is “one of the most active in the country,” said NOAA physical scientist Nate Herold, who directs the mapping effort at NOAA.
The NOAA study, which was released this week, analyzed land cover in 29 coastal states, including those bordering the Great Lakes, from 1996 to 2010 to see how much forested areas and wetlands have shrunk.
“Although development is responsible for most of the changes, storms, drought and sea-level rising also all play a part,” Herold said.
Overall, NOAA found 8.2 percent of the nation’s coastal regions suffered a land cover decline during that period, totaling 64,975 square miles – an area larger than Wisconsin.
Lee County, with an 8.7 percent land cover loss, saw a bigger percentage loss than the national average. That includes losing 38 square miles of forested wetlands. With all land types included, new development gobbled up 54 square miles during the study period.
Herold says Lee “pops out as one of the hot spots for wetland losses,” along with the Tampa-Orlando corridor, coastal Los Angeles and coastal Alabama.
In both Lee and Collier counties, roughly half of the development lost was from freshwater forested wetlands (which also accounted for the bulk of the overall wetland losses), and another third from former agriculture areas, NOAA said.
Collier lost less of its cover than Lee: 21 square miles of forested wetlands disappeared, and 35 square miles of all land types became new development.
But because Collier is nearly twice the size of Lee, and has substantial preserve areas, proportionally it lost less land cover.
In total, NOAA said, about 3 percent of Collier’s area changed during the period.
NOAA’s report noted that throughout the country, 642 square miles, or the equivalent of 61 football fields, is lost to development every day.
“But the southeastern quadrant of the country is especially affected because it isn’t as built out as some other regions of the country, such as the Northeast,” Herold said.
The Southeast also is heavily impacted by industries such as logging, which destroys trees but also replants them, Herold said. So over time, some of the land cover is replaced.
Local restoration and developer mitigation activities also allowed some Gulf Coast areas to gain modest-sized wetlands, Herold said, though the gains did not offset the losses.
Hurricanes, forest fires, tornadoes and other natural calamities also destroy land cover, but the effects tend to be localized, he added.
“But over time, these small impacts add up, making the cumulative effect more dramatic,” he said.
Local environmentalists say wetlands serve an important role in the ecosystem, serving as nurseries and breeding grounds for a variety of fish and birds, including the wood stork, a threatened species, and the bizarre two-toed amphiuma, a snakelike salamander.
But they also point to less obvious benefits.
Kevin Cunniff, research coordinator for Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve along the coast between Naples and Marco Island, said the area’s dominant mangrove wetlands produce leaf litter that blunts storm surges. The wetlands also capture sediments that otherwise would be carried inland during storms, effectively serving as land builders.
Jason Lauritsen, director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary along the Lee-Collier line, said wetlands help prevent red tides by filtering pollution from water runoff; prevent floods by storing large quantities of water during storms; and help control temperatures, which can help prevent tornadoes.
Lauritsen also said the nation has been committed to a policy of no net loss of wetlands since the late 1980s. Supported by four successive presidential administrations, the federal policy seeks to restore wetlands that have been degraded and create new wetlands when building or farms supplant them.
“It was a fantastic idea, but NOAA’s study shows we are not meeting it,” he said.
June Fletcher|naplesnews.com|Aug 23, 2014
South Florida Flood Protection Project Approved
Addressing water quality and quantity continues to be a top priority for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In a move to increase flood protection for south Florida residents, the department today issued a permit for the construction of a new levee system. This project is a cooperative effort between the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Indian Trail Improvement District (ITID).
The environmental resource permit is for the construction of a 6.25 mile levee system within the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area located in western Palm Beach County. The levee system improvement project consists of constructing a new levee within uplands and wetlands in areas which separate J.W. Corbett from the ITID M-O Canal.
In August 2012, Tropical Storm Isaac brought unprecedented rainfall to areas of central and western Palm Beach County resulting in widespread flooding. During post-storm evaluations conducted by the state, the ITID M-O Canal was identified as an area of critical concern because of localized slope failures, excessive seepage and the formation of boils. Under the direction of Governor Rick Scott, the SFWMD convened a multi-agency working group in September 2012 to develop a plan for strengthening the M-O Canal in an effort to meet current standards and to improve flood protection and safety to the residents in the surrounding areas.
“I’m excited about the effect this project will have on the local community,” said Jill Creech, director of DEP’s Southeast District. “The impact from Tropical Storm Isaac on the property owners in western Palm Beach County was huge. This project will help restore some peace of mind for residents should another significant weather event, such as Isaac, bear down on our community.”
The purpose of the project is to improve flood protection for the residents of the surrounding areas. In addition, the project will expand operational control of water levels as originally designed and permitted, which may attract additional endangered species to inhabit the area.
“The district moved historic amounts of water from the deluge caused by Tropical Storm Isaac and worked to shore up a key berm for better protection in an emergency situation,” said John Mitnik, SFWMD bureau chief of operations, engineering and construction. “We have engineered a new levee and are ready to initiate construction to help ensure the safety of residents for years to come.”
Phase one of the project is anticipated to be complete by January 2016. Phase two will follow and the levee should be complete by January 2018. The total cost of the project is estimated at $7.8 million.
mburgerdep|August 22, 2014
U.S. Sugar sees new opportunities for Hendry County in 43k-acre sector plan
The latest version of U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers’ 43,000-acre sector plan, which would divide portions of Hendry County into six different land-use areas.
The goal of the plan is to attract new people and businesses to Hendry County over the next 46 years.
CLEWISTON — A plan to develop roughly 43,300 acres of Hendry County over the next 46 years is currently in the works, led by the U.S. Sugar Corporation and Hilliard Brothers.
The Hendry County Board of County Commissioners OK’d an advancement of the over 43-thousand-acre sector plan at their last regular meeting, held on Aug. 26 in Clewiston City Hall.
The Sugar Hill Sector Plan would allow U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers to develop more than 43,000 acres of U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brother-owned land, the majority of which is located west of Clewiston surrounding Airglades Airport. The Sugar Hill plan does not, however, include the airport in its scope of development.
The Sugar Hill plan would divide the specified land into six land-use categories: long-term agriculture, employment centers, rural estates, mixed-use suburban, mixed-use urban and natural resource management.
The specifically planned divisions are a required aspect of the sector plan as mandated by state law. As explained by Mark Morton, director of strategic development and planning for U.S. Sugar, sector plans allow one or more landowners to take an holistic approach towards future development of large-scale areas of land. Sector plans are “very big picture,” he said.
The Sugar Hill plan is based on a 46-year time period, within which U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers hope to attract new people and businesses to Hendry County by developing the land according to the six land-use categories.
The long-term agriculture division would maintain Hendry County’s agricultural efforts and consist of roughly 14,400 acres south of Clewiston and continuing east.
The employment center division would house the industrial and economic development projects that stakeholders hope to attract in the future. The division would be located near Airglades Airport to the west, northwest, northeast, south and southeast.
The mixed-use suburban area would contain housing developments where the community could “work, play and live,” according to Mr, Morton, and would be located south of the employment centers near the airport.
The mixed-use urban area would also contain housing developments, but would be located just west of Clewiston abutting the city limits.
The rural estates division would also provide areas for housing units, set at least one acre apart from each other.
Finally, the natural resource management areas would contain small patches of native plant species, including cypress trees and cabbage palms, intended to preserve the integrity of Florida’s land.
It is precisely this aspect of the project that has some groups worried about the effects of the plan’s implementation.
Julianne Thomas, who spoke on behalf of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said she was concerned about Everglades Restoration efforts and was interested in what the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) would have to say, though she admitted she was happy with some aspects of the project.
Rhonda Roth spoke on behalf of the Sierra Club and even accused U.S. Sugar of attempting to inflate land prices before they had an opportunity to sell it the state for Everglades Restoration.
Mr. Morton said the project’s intent was to raise Hendry County to the highest level of fiscal health.
Hearing all public comments, county commissioners voted to approve the transmittal of the sector plan to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), with a motion made by Commissioner Don Davis and a second by Commissioner Mike Swindle.
Once in the hands of the DEO, it will be sent to several other agencies and may undergo more changes before being sent to Tallahassee for approval. Some of the agencies who will vet the project include the SFWMD and the Department of Environmental Protection.
If the plan continues to progress, stakeholders hope to have it adopted by the end of the year.
Melissa Beltz|The Clewiston News|August 28, 2014
Everglades restoration project has had modest impact, report shows
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A $13.5 billion project to restore the Florida Everglades has had limited impact even as the embattled ecosystem faces threats from climate change and invasive species, a progress report said on Friday.
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), started in 1999 to restore Florida’s “river of grass” over 30 to 40 years, has been hindered by intermittent federal funding, the biennial report on the project by the National Research Council said.
Since the council’s last update two years ago, CERP has had “modest restoration progress focused on the edges of the Everglades (and) considerable state effort to improve water quality,” the report said.
The Everglades, an ecosystem of marshes, lakes, wetlands and tree islands stretching 200 miles (320 km) from Orlando to Florida Bay, is about half its original size. Water now moves through a maze of levees, canals and pump stations.
Much of the water is diverted for industry and for millions of people in South Florida. The water that remains is heavily polluted.
The CERP has seen modest improvements at Picayune Strand in southwest Florida, coastal wetlands at Biscayne Bay and at the C-111 Spreader Canal in southern Miami-Dade County, the report said.
The CERP is not adequately considering the threat from climate change, with the Everglades facing rising sea levels caused by higher temperatures, it said.
Climate change is expected to increase demands for water from agriculture, straining supplies as population increases.
CERP lacks overall coordination to deal with non-native species, with a shortage of research on them and their impact.
Such invasive plant species as melaleuca and Australian pine are infesting hundreds of thousands of acres (hectares) and fuel brushfires that destroy native plants.
Burmese pythons have become the Everglades’ top carnivore, eating alligators and virtually wiping out vertebrates, the report said.
The CERP involves 68 component projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District. The goal is to reinstate the original water flow as much as possible, mainly by restoring undeveloped wetlands.
In a statement, the Corps of Engineers said: “We recognize that as much progress as we’ve made in our restoration efforts to date, there’s still more work to be done.” A spokesman for the South Florida water district had no immediate response.
The National Research Council is part of the National Academies, which advise the U.S. government on scientific and technical issues.
Reuters|June 27, 2014|Reporting by Ian Simpson|Editing by Bill Trott
Water Quality Issues
Top 10 U.S. Cities Running Out of Water
Even as we watch the stunning footage of an overwhelmed Detroit drowning under massive rainfall, U.S. Drought Monitor shows other regions of the country parched and longing for more water. The organization releases weekly maps tracking the extent of drought in the U.S., ranking regions on five levels: “abnormally dry,” “moderate drought,” “severe drought,” “extreme drought” and “exceptional drought.”
Its current map documents a huge swath of the western U.S., extending as far east as Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, suffering from drought conditions. It also shows patches of South, Midwest, upper Great Lakes region and even New England having a drier than normal summer, covering more than a third of the continental U.S.
But the areas of “exceptional drought,” the highest category, are localized in four states. California is by far the hardest hit, with 58 percent of the state under “exceptional drought” and 82 percent in the two highest categories. Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas also have patches of “exceptional” drought, surrounded by a sea of less intense drought.
So it’s not surprising that all of its top ten cities with a severe water shortage are in California, located mostly in its fertile Central Valley growing region. Bakersfield, which has seen explosive growth in the last 40 years, tops the list with 90 percent of the city under “exceptional drought.” Unlike most of the other cities in the top 10, it has enacted no water restrictions. The other cities in order of the severity of drought are Hanford, Salinas, Gilroy-Morgan Hill, Santa Maria, Merced, Santa Cruz, Madera, Visalia and Fresno.
With these cities supplying a large percentage of the nation’s produce—70 percent of its lettuce comes from Salinas—the impact should be felt in grocery stores across the country.
The water shortage in these cities also points out the absurdity of California-based bottled water companies sourcing their product from local spring and tap water, and processing it to ship out of state.
(NaturalNews) The U.S. Drought Monitor has released new data on U.S. cities that are running out of water — and believe it or not, the top 10 spots are all located in California. Some of the worst drought conditions on record have left much of the Golden State grasping for moisture wherever it can be found. But for these 10 cities, more than 75 percent of their land area is now marked by “exceptional” drought, the highest level on the chart.
10) Fresno, California. The Drought Monitor recognizes five levels of drought intensity: D0 is the lowest, categorized as “abnormally dry,” and D4 is the highest, categorized as “exceptional drought.” Based on the data, Fresno has had D4 conditions on over 75 percent of its land since the beginning of the year, and the entire city has been in an “extreme drought,” the second highest category, for all of 2014, so far.
9) Visalia, California. Like Fresno, Visalia is a leading agricultural region of California that grows specialty crops like fruits, nuts and vegetables. But the county in which it is located, Tulare, was forced to declare a state of emergency at the beginning of the year due to extreme drought conditions. The entirety of Tulare County has been in an extreme drought during this time, with 75 percent of it ranking in the exceptional category.
8) Madera, California. Conditions in the Central Valley town of Madera, population 78,000, have been similarly dire, prompting the county to restrict water usage outdoors. With more than 76 percent of its land marked by exceptional drought, conservation measures have had to be put in place to save water for growing grapes, almonds and various other nuts, which are a major component of the local economy.
7) Santa Cruz, California. Known for its “green” approach to living, Santa Cruz has implemented extreme water restrictions that subject residents to fines and other penalties for exceeding established water limits. This is because drought conditions took a dramatic turn for the worst, escalating from just half of the urban area experiencing a severe drought last year to nearly all of it experiencing an extreme drought this year.
6) Merced, California. Already an extremely dry area, Merced has been hit hard by the drought, clocking in at a measly one inch of rain during the entire year of 2013. Lake McClure, where much of the local water is drawn, has sunk so low that the local water district is having to relocate boats docked there — more than 78 percent of the area is experiencing exceptional drought conditions.
5) Santa Maria, California. For the first time ever, Santa Maria achieved exceptional drought conditions back in February. The area does, however, have better-than-average groundwater supplies.
4) Gilroy-Morgan Hill, California. Oddly enough, this area of Santa Clara County had not been recorded as being in either extreme or exceptional drought conditions at any point during 2013. But this year, nearly 80 percent of Morgan Hill is now at the highest level of drought, with a high risk of wildfires.
3) Salinas, California. The so-called “Salad Bowl of the World,” Salinas is now more than 85 percent engulfed in exceptional drought. This does not bode well for the nation’s food supply, as 70 percent of lettuce comes from Salinas.
2) Hanford, California. Another heavy agricultural area, Hanford saw a dramatic escalation of its drought conditions since the beginning of the year. Local farm workers are having a hard time staying employed because of drought-induced crop failures — more than 85 percent of the area is experiencing exceptional drought conditions.
1) Bakersfield, California. The U.S. city with the worst drought conditions overall, Bakersfield went from having no areas of exceptional drought last year to an astounding 90 percent this year. And yet, despite facing the biggest water shortages of all, Bakersfield has implemented no water restrictions whatsoever on its roughly half-a-million residents.
Anastasia Pantsios|August 14, 2014
Red Tide in the Gulf
A patchy bloom of Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism, has been detected this month in the northeast Gulf of Mexico offshore between Dixie and northern Pinellas counties. In other regions sampled this week along the Florida Gulf coast, only three samples contained background concentrations of K. brevis. No respiratory irritation or fish kills associated with this bloom have been observed alongshore or inshore of the west coast of Florida. Additional samples analyzed throughout Florida this week did not contain red tide.
Satellite images from the Optical Oceanography Laboratory at the University of South Florida show a surface bloom extending between Dixie and northern Pinellas counties, but preliminary data collected this week during an offshore research cruise on the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s R/V Bellows between Levy and Pinellas counties revealed mixed algae blooms often dominated by non-toxic species in surface waters. Low to medium concentrations of K. brevis were found at several locations within this region, mostly in deeper waters. Data from samples collected this week will be available in reports next week, as FWC researchers returned from the cruise earlier today with water samples.
Fish kills and low oxygen in bottom waters have been observed in the offshore bloom area.
Forecasts by the Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides show slow north movement of surface waters and little movement of bottom waters near the bloom patches in the next few days.
Please follow this link to the current statewide interactive Google Earth map:
The FWRI HAB group in conjunction with Mote Marine Laboratory now have a facebook page. Please come like our page and learn interesting facts concerning red tide and other harmful algal blooms in Florida at: http://facebook.com/FLHABs.
Tables and maps of sample results are attached. This information will be available shortly on our Web site: (http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/events/status/statewide/).
What Toledo’s Water Crisis Reveals About Industrial Farming
As you may have heard, about half a million people in the Toledo, Ohio area lost their municipal drinking water supply on Saturday because of possible microbial toxin contamination from Lake Erie. A combination of heavier spring rains, exacerbated by climate change, and runoff of phosphorus from fertilizer applied to crops is the likely cause. The good news is that farmers can adopt better practices to eliminate this problem. The bad news is that the agriculture industry, and the public policies that it lobbies for, work against these solutions.
A toxic microbe, or cyanobacteria (a.k.a. blue-green algae), has been causing big water problems in Lake Erie and other bodies of water around the country for the last several years. Scientific research pointed to the combination of agricultural and climate change as the cause of the historic 2011 toxic Lake Erie microbe “bloom” and subsequent dead zone. And research shows that farm pollution, which feeds the explosion of toxic microbe growth, especially from phosphorus fertilizer, has been increasing since the 1990s. Now, new research published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research has further solidified the connection between industrial ag, climate change, and an explosion of toxic algae.
While the most dramatic news this week is the city of Toledo’s move to shut down public water sources, there are other important impacts such as harm to commercial and sports fishing and recreation at the lake. After the microbes die, other bacteria consume them, using up much of the oxygen in large parts of the lake in the process. The resulting dead zones kill fish and other lake life, and harm fisheries. The toxins close down beaches, and the foul odors and bacterial slime often discourage beachgoers even in places where they remain open.
On Monday, several news sources reported that Toledo residents could once again drink from their taps, but the algae bloom continues. And the recent research cited above suggests that even if phosphorus levels were reduced enough to limit blooms, further reductions would still be needed to bring the dead zone in Lake Erie back to pre-1990s levels.
Dead zones like these are not unique to Lake Erie. Water pollution from phosphorus is harming Lake Winnipeg and many reservoirs. There are also about 400 global marine coastal dead zones, caused mainly by nitrogen fertilizer, including one in the Gulf of Mexico that is measuring the size of Connecticut this year and another large one in the Chesapeake Bay.
Yes, we can purify the water, but it costs millions of dollars and does nothing to help the lake itself. For that we need to get to the source.
Industrial Agriculture: Providing Band-Aids for Hemorrhages
Ironically, these toxic microbes are growing thanks to an agricultural practice that is widely touted as an improvement in the sustainability of industrial agriculture—conservation tillage and no-till farming. As their names imply, these are approaches to farming that require farmers not to plow the soil with tractors, but rather to leave it in place and kill weeds in other ways. They are often practiced in concert with the use of herbicides and genetically engineered seeds.
Genetic engineering is sometimes given credit for the adoption of no-till, but the practice actually started to become widely adopted years before genetically engineered (commonly known as GMO) crops were commercialized. Nonetheless, engineered herbicide-resistant crops made conservation tillage easier in many areas (until the advent of glyphosate herbicide resistant weeds, that is). So the tarnishing of no-till also diminishes one of the main purported benefits of GMO crops.
No-till usually reduces soil erosion, which is a very good thing. Many farmers and scientists also believed that it would reduce phosphorus pollution because that nutrient binds tightly to soil. So reduced erosion should also reduce the amount of soil washed into streams carrying bound phosphorus. Unfortunately, when phosphorus fertilizer is not plowed into the soil, it builds up at the surface, and from there it can be more easily washed off soil into streams and lakes. This is because this form of phosphorus, called dissolved reactive phosphorus, is not bound to soil. It is also more easily utilized by the toxic microbes in lakes and waterways.
What About Factory Animal Farms?
Industrial corn and soybean production are clearly linked to the problems in Lake Erie via fertilizers. But factory farming of livestock is also suspect. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have a manure problem. Because so many animals are confined in such as small area, they often produce far more manure than can be applied to the surrounding farmlands without causing runoff. That means more nitrogen and phosphorus gets into streams.
When livestock farms were smaller, and more dispersed geographically, manure could be used to fertilize nearby crop fields in a balanced way, but today CAFOs are large and often located near one another. And it is simply too expensive to transport manure far enough to spread onto fields in amounts that won’t end up in streams or groundwater.
Although the role of CAFOs in the Lake Erie microbial blooms has not been quantified, Ohio has many CAFOs. And the overlap between the location of most Ohio CAFOs and the Maumee River watershed, the source of most of the phosphorus that causes the blooms, is striking.
Here are the maps side-by-side:
We have the solutions to these problems. Agroecology, or farming that uses principles of ecology and includes organic, relies on organic sources of crop nutrients, and integrates livestock and crop production in ways that are much less likely to cause phosphorus or nitrogen pollution. It is possible to use too much manure on organic farms too. But the integration of crops and livestock works against pressure to overuse manure on too few acres, as with CAFOs. Organic farms also often rely on cover crops, which literally cover otherwise bare soil and absorb excess nutrients through their roots and can also make a big difference.
Collectively, these methods have been shown to greatly reduce nitrogen pollution. And preliminary data shows reduction in phosphorus runoff as well. We need more research to examine this further, and to learn how farmers can efficiently use these methods. We also need farm policies that reward farmers for adopting methods with multiple benefits for the environment, society, and public health instead of continuing to subsidize corn and soybean overproduction and pollution. Agroecology-based farming methods not only reduce water pollution, they reduce or eliminate pesticide use, and can reduce global warming emissions. And they have been shown to be profitable and highly productive.
The lesson from Lake Erie is that piecemeal fixes like no-till, though they have some important benefits, will not fix a system that is fundamentally broken. We need systematic change, not band-aids.
Addendum: The new paper on the sources of phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie, points to manure as an important source of phosphorus in the eastern part of the Lake, rather than the Maumee River basin in the western part of Lake Erie (Figure 13). The Maumee River Basin phosphorus is predominantly from agriculture sources, as noted in the blog post, but according to the paper, mainly from fertilizer (the post does note that fertilizer is the overall main source of agricultural phosphorus pollution). This does not affect the main points in the blog that agriculture, and no-till combined with heavier precipitation, are major sources of increased phosphorus entering the Lake since the 1990s. But it does strongly suggest that the correlation between CAFOs and the Maumee River basin is just that—a correlation and not a cause.
Doug Gurian-Sherman|August 5, 2014
Great Lakes & Inland Waters
Life Discovered In Antarctic Lake That Hasn’t Seen Sunlight For Millions Of Years
Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, teems with microscopic life. Tiny organisms dwell on the ice and live inside glaciers, and now, researchers confirm, a rich microbial ecosystem persists underneath the thick ice sheet, where no sunlight has been felt for millions of years.
Nearly 4,000 species of microbes inhabit Lake Whillans, which lies beneath 2,625 feet (800 meters) of ice in West Antarctica, researchers report today (Aug. 20) in the journal Nature. These are the first organisms ever retrieved from a subglacial Antarctic lake.
“We found not just that things are alive, but that there’s an active ecosystem,” said lead study author Brent Christner, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “If you had to think up what would be the coolest scenario for an ecosystem in Antarctica, you couldn’t make this up.” [See Photos of Lake Whillans' Drilling Project & Microbial Life]
Cold, dark and alive
Antarctica has nearly 400 lakes trapped under its ice sheet. Some of them — like Lake Whillans — are connected by rivers and streams. Others are deep, isolated basins like Lake Vostok, where drillers have yet to successfully recover uncontaminated water samples. The new Lake Whillans discovery raises scientists’ hopes that these other hidden waterways also carry life.
“This is a landmark paper for the polar sciences,” said Martyn Tranter, a glaciologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study. “This paper is bound to stimulate further calls for subglacial lake research.”
Drillers broke through to Lake Whillans in January 2013, after years of planning and more than $10 million spent by the National Science Foundation. The team, called WISSARD, used a custom hot-water drill with its own decontamination system. Within a day of pulling out the tea-colored water, tests done in a temporary lab confirmed the lake sparked with life. Researchers returned to the United States with 8 gallons (30 liters) of lake water and eight sediment cores from the lake bottom. Scientists at Montana State University, the University of Tennessee and other institutions parsed out the precious samples, growing cultures of different cell types and sequencing the DNA. The results show evidence for 3,931 species of single-celled life in Lake Whillans. [Video: Life Discovered in Subglacial Lake Whillans]
“We were surprised about the number of organisms,” Christner said. “It’s really not that different than the number of organisms in a lake on the surface.”
Bacteria cultured from water samples from subglacial Lake Whillans.
How life persists
Living without sunlight, all of the lake organisms rely on minerals in the water and lake muck for the energy needed to “fix” carbon dioxide, turning it into organic compounds. The most abundant microbe is an archaea that lives in the water (rather than mud) and oxidizes ammonium. When the archaea die, they become food for another group that oxidizes sulfur for energy, Christner said. The second most common group of microbes oxidizes iron. Yet another group of bacteria chomps on methane.
“These are opportunists that are using every available energy source,” Christner said.
Crushed under ice, Lake Whillans is not like a pond or lake at the surface. The environment is more like the deep ocean floor, which is cold and starved for nutrients, Christner said. The water’s muddy color comes from glacial flour — pulverized rock that is so fine it barely settles in liquid.
The oddly shaped pool is only 6.5 feet (2 m) deep and 23 square miles (60 square kilometers) in size. It sits on the side of a hill, trapped in an ice pocket by the weight of the ice above. The water temperature is only slightly below freezing, at 31.1 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 0.5 degrees Celsius). Antarctica’s stream network regularly fills and drains Lake Whillans like a bathtub on a five- to 10-year cycle.
The sea flooded Lake Whillans’ home more than once before Antarctica iced over. The lake’s ammonium and methane likely came from decomposing organic matter in these ancient marine sediments, the researchers said.
“This area is like southern Louisiana with a kilometer [half-mile] of ice over it,” Christner said.
U.S. scientists successfully drilled into Lake Whillans, a subglacial expanse of water measuring about 1.2 square miles (3 square kilometers)
and hidden deep beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, they reported on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013.
Life on other planets?
The team would like to track down the origin of Lake Whillans’ life — whether it arrived from elsewhere, brought in by ice or rivers, or was trapped in place, in the old ocean sediments.
Only bacteria and archaea have been found so far, but the researchers have not thoroughly tested for more complex eukaryotic life, the kind of cells that make up animals such as the worms that dwell in Antarctica’s surface lakes. However, they did not expect to encounter such organisms, because the subglacial lake is energy-starved.
“It’s likely that different types of microbes inhabit different types subglacial lakes closer to the center of Antarctica, particularly those that are away from the former marine sediments that underlie big areas of Antarctica,” Tranter said.
The findings at Lake Whillans also provide a unique glimpse into how life may survive on other planets, such as within Mars’ ice cap or beneath the icy exterior of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
“I think this does strengthen the case for finding life on icy bodies,” Christner said.
A Massive Acid Spill in Mexico Has Turned The Sonora and Bacanuchi Rivers Red and Toxic
A leak near the U.S. border leaves 20,000 people without water.
More than 10 million gallons of sulfuric acid from one of the world’s largest copper mines spilled into two major rivers—the Sonora and the Bacanuchi—in northern Mexico earlier this month, cutting the water supply of 20,000 people and closing 88 schools. Some locals even fear eating food.
“If [a cow is killed], we don’t know if we can eat it,” housekeeper and farm laborer Ramona Yesenia told AFP. “They say if the [cattle] drink just a little water [from the rivers], they get infected.”
Civil defense official Carlos Arias told The Associated Press that the spill in Sonora, Mexico, on Aug. 7 was caused by defects in new ponds that hold the acids used to filter metal. Residents discovered the reddened water, usually clear this time of year, the next day. Grupo Mexico, which operates the Buenavista copper mine, hadn’t told authorities.
Mine operators alerted the attorney general for environmental protection almost a full day after the leak, which was within the 24-hour filing requirement, according to Arturo Rodriguez, the agency’s head of industrial inspection. He said that careless supervision, rains, and construction errors seem to have resulted in the spill—noting that operators should have discovered the leak before a huge amount of sulfuric acid flowed into the rivers. Arias said the overflow has above-normal levels of arsenic and other pollutants.
Local Jesus Sabori told AFP that the water has become “more and more red every day…. It was only [Aug. 11] that they told us to keep our animals away.”
“We’re angry because they didn’t take the time to tell us either that the spill had happened or that they were cutting off our water,” said resident Israel Duran.
AFP reported that the mine’s executives blame “abnormal rains” for causing the acid to spill over from its tanks. They also claim to have notified the government by email, insisting that the acid is “not toxic in itself.”
Grupo Mexico’s international relations vice president, Juan Rebolledo, told a local radio station, “There’s no problem nor any serious consequence for the population, as long as we take adequate precautions and the company pours lime into the river, as it is currently doing.”
Lime, or calcium, will deacidify the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers. “What you can’t get rid of are the heavy metals,” said Arias.
So far no serious injuries have been reported, but according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, short-term exposure to sulfuric acid may irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. Direct contact with skin and eyes will cause severe burns, and inhaling the vapor may result in tooth erosion, sore mouth, and trouble with breathing. Arsenic can cause cancer.
The Buenavista mine, which employs 9,000 people, hasn’t announced any plans to cancel or delay an upcoming expansion. By 2016, its output is expected to increase from 200,000 tons of copper to 510,000 tons.
Duran told AFP, “Even if [the mine] creates jobs, it would be better if they close it if they’re going to behave like this every time something happens.”
Kristina Bravo|Assistant Editor|Take Part|August 24, 2014
‘Most Endangered’ River in the Nation
The organization American Rivers has distinguished the San Joaquin River of California with the dubious title of “most endangered” river in the nation. Since 2009 the stream has been celebrated as a path-breaking example of restoration—status that could now be threatened.
This artery of California’s Central Valley and important supplier of water to southern California begins in high Sierra wonderlands south of Yosemite National Park and in the breathtaking Evolution Valley of Kings Canyon National Park. Below the stunning park-protected headwaters and wilderness areas, the river and its tributaries are dammed 30 times. The San Joaquin is repeatedly impounded for hydropower as it plunges toward grassy foothills, diverted for irrigation in the Central Valley, finally ending in the Delta as a conduit of agricultural runoff and the second-longest river system in California.
The San Joaquin can claim to be the hardest working river in America; not only did diversions completely dry up a 63-mile middle reach for fifty years, but then the lower river’s polluted return-flows are pumped back upstream to be used yet again. The Water Education Foundation called this the “most impaired major river in the state.” A legendary migration of half a million salmon—nourishing Indians, sport anglers, wildlife and a robust commercial fishery at sea—was reduced from one of the most prolific anadromous runs in America to virtually nothing. But in 1988, the river’s prospects began to change.
When the federal Bureau of Reclamation acted to extend the San Joaquin’s overdrawn plight by rubber-stamping another 40-year extension of irrigation supply contracts, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation groups appealed, and prevailed in court. With hard-earned consensus of all major parties in 2006, a legal agreement set new rules, contracts and appropriations to serve irrigation needs but also to re-nourish nominal flows in the desiccated reaches, to upgrade water quality, and to restore self-sustaining runs of salmon. With great fanfare, initial flows freshening the San Joaquin’s long-parched mid-section bubbled northward in 2009. Salmon—eager to return home for spawning even after the species’ half-century of absence—migrated upriver once again in 2012 and 2013. Restoration flows were recaptured downstream for farmers. Fishing derbies, salmon festivals and summer camps sprang to life in communities along the way as the newly formulated San Joaquin gained stature as America’s preeminent river to be reborn.
A panic-stricken response to the drought could put these gains in jeopardy. Earlier this year a bill passed the House of Representatives to undercut the San Joaquin’s negotiated settlement of two decades in the making. The Senate will not likely approve this edict, but the future of the restored lifeline remains vulnerable and depends on continuing support for the fish and wildlife gains of recent years.
Architects of the restoration accord anticipated the stress of this year’s drought, and specified that flows would not be released to the dewatered section in years of lowest runoff, such as 2014. Restoration biologists have trapped the progeny of 360 adult salmon that made it up the river to spawn this year and trucked them around the dried-up reach—a backup plan recognizing that compromises are necessary. Even this year, at the height of California’s worst drought, the restoration program is working. People from all sides have negotiated a truce that’s effective and promising.
If there’s hope that a nugget of California’s original wealth can be restored while sustaining modern day demands, that hope lies along the San Joaquin. The restoration started here is a promising historic achievement with a legacy that belongs to everyone. It should not be sacrificed to the cynical belief that a river is wasted if it serves some small remnant of native life, which once thrived to the benefit of all.
Tim Palmer|August 25, 2014
Offshore & Ocean
Oil from BP spill pushed onto shelf off Tampa Bay by underwater currents, study finds
The thick globs of BP oil that washed ashore on beaches along Florida’s Panhandle in 2010 never reached Tampa Bay, to the relief of hotel owners, restaurateurs, anglers, beachgoers and local officials.
But oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, floating beneath the surface after being sprayed with dispersant, settled on a shelf 80 miles from the Tampa Bay region within a year of the spill’s end, according to a scientific study published this week.
There is some evidence it may have caused lesions in fish caught in that area, according to John Paul, the University of South Florida oceanography professor who is lead author on the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology. However, research is continuing on that question.
Tests of the samples from those areas on bacteria and other microscopic creatures normally found in that part of the gulf found that “organisms in contact with these waters might experience DNA damage that could lead to mutation,” the study reported.
The oil that landed on the shelf, which extends miles into the gulf, is likely to stay there a long time, Paul said.
“Once it’s in the sediment, it’s kind of immobile,” he said.
BP spokesman Jason Ryan said scientists working for the company, as well as various government agencies, had “conducted extensive sampling to identify, track and map oil in the water column over time,” and found no signs of BP oil on the shelf near the Tampa Bay area.
But Paul said the researchers looked for signs of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the shelf based on observations by a colleague, USF oceanographer Bob Weisberg.
Weisberg found a major upwelling — a swirling current of cool water from deep in the gulf — had begun in May 2010 and continued through the rest of that year. The upwelling could have caught hold of the underwater plumes of dispersed oil off the Panhandle and then pushed them southward onto the shelf that lies off the state’s west coast, he said.
“It made its way southeast across the bottom and eventually it gets to the beach,” Weisberg said. “A little bit probably got into Tampa Bay, and a little bit probably got into Sarasota Bay, and it exited the Florida shelf down around the Dry Tortugas.”
When he put forward his theory in 2010, Weisberg called for sampling to be done along the shelf to test whether he was right, but that proposal did not get any funding, he said.
Eventually, though, as part of a series of 12 trips into the gulf for their own research, Paul and his colleagues collected samples along the shelf, as well as closer to the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster off Louisiana.
They found nothing in 2010, but when they went back in 2011 and 2012, they found what Weisberg had predicted. The oil did not reach the southern end of the shelf until last year. Water samples collected off the shelf were toxic to bacteria, phytoplankton and other small creatures, the report said.
The USF discovery shows that scientists continue to grapple with measuring the full impact of the disaster, which began with a fiery explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig on April 20, 2010.
The disaster held the nation spellbound for months as BP struggled to stop the oil. To try to break up the oil before vast sheets of it washed ashore on the beaches and marshes along the Gulf Coast, the company sprayed the dispersant Corexit directly at the wellhead spewing oil from the bottom of the gulf — even though no one had ever tried spraying it below the water’s surface before. BP also used more of the dispersant than had been used in an oil spill, 1.8 million gallons.
The Corexit broke the oil down into small drops, creating underwater plumes of oil, something no one had ever seen before in an oil spill. The discovery of the plumes raised questions about how they would affect sea life in the gulf.
Yet even before BP managed to shut off the undersea flow July 15, 2010, observers ranging from Time magazine to Rush Limbaugh said damage from the 4.9 million-barrel spill seemed far less severe than predicted. In the three years since, though, scientists have uncovered ongoing damage — deformed crabs, dying dolphins and other woes.
Getting this study published in a peer-reviewed journal was a long process, Paul said.
“Publishing anything about the oil spill is inherently more difficult than anything else because it’s so contentious,” he said.
BP agreed last year to pay $4 billion to settle criminal charges, including manslaughter, in connection the disaster, and rig owner Transocean settled civil and criminal charges for $1.4 billion.
BP is now locked in a civil court battle with the U.S. Justice Department and hundreds of businesses affected by the spill. If it loses, BP could face damages of $17.5 billion, although company officials have predicted the fines will be less than $5 billion.
Craig Pittman|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|August 20, 2013
Plastics….a Serious Threat to our Oceans, Seas and Waterways
Plastics were invented in the 1800’s but its mass production began in the 1950’s and has since taken off around the globe. While it is possible to recycle most types of plastic, it is estimated that only about 25% of plastics are recycled worldwide. A great deal of the plastic ends up in our oceans, seas, and waterways. Research has shown severe impacts on our environment and our economy from this type of pollution. Marine life such as sea turtles, whales, seabirds and other marine life are eating the plastic and dying. Scientists are looking at long term impacts of pollutants consumed by fish and their potential effects on human health. It has become such an environmental concern that a little over a decade ago a science of marine debris began the study of garbage in our waters. A recent study showed the global magnitude of this problem.
The Malaspina expedition of 2010 was a nine month research project to study the effects of global warming on the oceans and the biodiversity of the deep ocean ecosystem. Andres Cozar and his team were to study the small fauna living on the ocean surface. He was reassigned when plastic fragments kept turning up in water samples to assess the level of plastic pollution. Using that data and the data gathered by four other ships he and his team of researchers completed the first ever global map of ocean trash.
Recently, Cozar’s work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team found a worldwide distribution of plastic on the surface of the ocean mostly accumulating in the convergence zones of the five subtropical gyres (an area of anti-cyclonic ocean circulation that sits beneath a region of subtropical high pressure). Researchers estimated the total amount of floating plastic used in the manufacture of products like bags, food and beverage containers, kitchen utensils and toys, in open ocean between 7,000 and 35,000 tons, a lot less than the 1 million ton figure they had expected. This included only floating debris and not plastic that may reside beneath the surface or on the ocean floor. Cozar said,” the plastic is somewhere in the ocean life, in the depths, or broken down into fine particles undetectable by nets.”
There are some ways that individuals can make sure that plastics never reach our oceans. Among them are recycling and picking up plastic litter, asking for a reusable water bottle, bringing your own reusable bags to the store and pressuring plastic producers to design packaging so that it is fully recyclable.
Preserving our Waters|Start 1|September 2014 Newsletter
‘Widespread methane leakage’ from ocean floor off US coast
A sonar image of a new methane plume is discovered off the US east coast
Researchers say they have found more than 500 bubbling methane vents on the seafloor off the US east coast.
The unexpected discovery indicates there are large volumes of the gas contained in a type of sludgy ice called methane hydrate.
There are concerns that these new seeps could be making a hitherto unnoticed contribution to global warming.
The scientists say there could be about 30,000 of these hidden methane vents worldwide.
Previous surveys along the Atlantic seaboard have shown only three seep areas beyond the edge of the US continental shelf.
The team behind the new findings studied what is termed the continental margin, the region of the ocean floor that stands between the coast and the deep ocean.
In an area between North Carolina and Massachusetts, they have now found at least 570 seeps at varying depths between 50m and 1,700m.
Their findings came as a bit of a surprise.
What is methane hydrate?
- Methane hydrate is in the form of a 3D ice structure with natural gas locked inside
- The substance looks like white ice, but it does not behave like it
- If methane hydrate is either warmed or depressurized, it will break down into water and natural gas
- The energy content of methane occurring in hydrate form is immense
- In the Gulf of Mexico, gas hydrate resources have recently been assessed at more than 6,000 trillion cubic feet
Source: US Department of Energy
“It is the first time we have seen this level of seepage outside the Arctic that is not associated with features like oil or gas reservoirs or active tectonic margins,” said Prof Adam Skarke from Mississippi State University, who led the study.
The scientists have observed streams of bubbles but they have not yet sampled the gas within them.
However, they believe there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence pointing to methane.
Most of the seeping vents were located around 500m down, which is just the right temperature and pressure to create a sludgy confection of ice and gas called methane hydrate, or clathrate.
The scientists say that the warming of ocean temperatures might be causing these hydrates to send bubbles of gas drifting through the water column.
They do not appear to be reaching the surface.
“The methane is dissolving into the ocean at depths of hundreds of metres and being oxidized to CO2,” said Prof Skarke.
Methane hydrates recovered in the Gulf of Mexico by the US Geological Survey
“But it is important to say we simply don’t have any evidence in this paper to suggest that any carbon coming from these seeps is entering the atmosphere.”
This research, though, does highlight the scale of methane that is under the waters.
Estimates suggest that these undersea sediments are one of the largest reservoirs on Earth, and contains around 10 times more carbon than the atmosphere.
Prof Skarke and his colleagues estimate that worldwide, there may be around 30,000 of the type of seeps they have discovered.
They acknowledge that this is a rough calculation but they believe that it could be significant.
While the vents may not be posing an immediate global warming threat, the sheer number means that our calculations on the potential sources of greenhouse gases may need revising.
The scientists also found abundant life around many of these seeps, but not perhaps as we know it.
The creatures they describe are termed chemosynthetic, meaning they derive energy from chemical reactions and not from the Sun as do photosynthetic organisms.
Others who have collaborated on the search for seeps say these discoveries are important.
“These are significant geochemically, as they and our research teams found perhaps one of the largest seeps yet discovered with very active methane bubbling and large amounts of frozen hydrates,” said Prof Steve Ross, from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.
“These seeps are also significant biologically, as we have found unique chemosynthetic communities, huge range extensions and increased biodiversity.”
As to the energy potential of these new seeping sources, Prof Skarke is fairly pessimistic.
“There is no evidence to say that these clathrates are related to conventional gas reservoirs, so there is no evidence to say they are a recoverable resource.”
Matt McGrath|Environment correspondent|BBC News|24 August 2014
The research has been published in the journal “Nature Geoscience”.
Jamaican coral reefs get a helping hand
Jamaica may be known for its sun and sea, but under the waves the country is battling to rebuild its coral reefs. Manmade reefs have begun to see success after the island’s corals were decimated by disease and pollution.
The warm waters of the Caribbean Sea were once rich in biodiversity – they teemed with marine life, and many holidaymakers who go there still expect to see the soft corals, mollusks and fish they’ve seen on other reef dives.
But beneath the waves off the coast of Jamaica, there’s not much see. Only eight per cent of Jamaica’s coral reef is still alive, and many of the fish that once thrived there have disappeared.
For an island trying to reduce its dependence on food imports, that’s not an ideal situation. Fish is an important part of the local diet, and its disappearance from the ecosystem has changed nature’s balance – which has not only implications for fishing, but also tourism.
Like rainforests, coral can transform a nutrient-poor environment into a biodiverse wonderland
Some three decades ago, two types of coral were prominent across the Caribbean: But in 1980, Hurricane Allen – the worst storm to hit Jamaica in the past 100 years – smashed the reefs to smithereens. Everyone expected the corals to recover, but the storm ended up decimating the ecosystem.
Coral are the building blocks for marine life; it’s a habitat for herbivorous species like adult Parrot Fish who use it as somewhere to sleep, to provide protection and as a nursery.
But overfishing of algae-eating fish, and a mystery disease which wiped out the sea urchins that also grazed on the algae.
Coral and algae are in constant competition, and without these two grazers, there was nothing left to slow algae growth, which smothered most of the coral.
But there is some hope. Marine biologist Andrew Ross runs Seascape Caribbean, a firm helping to re-grow the island’s reefs bit by bit. He’s created an artificial reef made of metal, which has proven to be successful. Over the past nine months, it’s slowly become covered with coral.
He and his team do the work that algae-grazing species used to take care of. “Until the coral gets established, you have to pick it off by hand – there’s not enough fish on the structure to keep it going,” Ross told DW.
SeascapeCaribbean locates areas where the reef is recovering naturally. “We take very small samples from each of those corals, and we put them into a nursery and we grow them,” Ross said.
It takes from six to 12 months for the coral fragments to grow 10 times in size. At this size they’re then used to repopulate existing nurseries and start new nurseries. Any leftover coral is replanted onto the reef.
As the artificial reef grows, so does the fish population that feeds on the worms, snails and algae on the coral. But until then, if Ross and his team didn’t remove the algae by hand, the coral would die.
Snorkeling, free-diving and scuba diving are all thriving tourism activities where oceans offer coral
Since Jamaica is one of the most indebted nations on the planet, funding for Seascape comes from the private sector.
The local hotels understand how coral gardens help attract holidaymakers – by donating money to the coral projects, they are securing a future for their own businesses.
Caribsave, an environmental organization, is trying to work with the country’s 32,000 fishermen and women to help the islands’ reefs. Caribsave coordinator Michelle McNaught said the private sector has a vital role to play in educating the wider community.
Government funding, she said, “has to be prioritized with other things like education or justice – which is understandable. So private partnership is the way to go now,” McNaught told DW.
Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Peter Gayle from the University of the West Indies explained how a changing ocean PH level dissolves calcium carbonate, which makes up coral structures.
“It becomes less dense and is more susceptible to things like wave energies, and has a smaller chance to protect coastal areas from sea level change,” Gayle described. This can even become a vicious cycle, as more reefs die and become ever more susceptible to destruction.
Dayne Buddo, a lecturer at the UWI Marine Lab in Jamaica, said that despite the threats to coral reefs, things are thankfully improving.
“It’s not all doom and gloom, there are areas in Jamaica where I still enjoy diving, there’s a lot of coral and the fish are coming back – but it takes time,” Buddo said.
Often referred to as the rainforest of the seas, coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world. One that Jamaica depends on so much for food, income and leisure – and with help, one that will recover and benefit the country in the process.
Author|Nick Davis|Negril, Jamaica|Editor|Charlotta Lomas|21.08.2014
Sewage flow to sea to cease — mostly
Broward County‘s practice of spewing treated wastewater into the ocean off Pompano Beach will diminish in coming years.
But the county no longer is required to cut off the flow completely in 2025.
Commissioners agreed at a recent budget workshop to devote $100 million to reducing the flow. Last year’s legislative changes relaxed requirements, allowing up to 5 percent of the wastewater flow to be dumped in the ocean after 2025.
The law also requires significant reuse of wastewater.
Broward’s ocean outfall is one of a few in South Florida.
Total savings to the county from the 2013 state legislative amendments: $455 million.
Brittany Wallman|Sun Sentinel|August 25, 2014
Our changing sea world
Global teams study effects of acidification, pH levels on coral
Mote Marine Lab on Summerland Key is working this month with an international team of coral ecologists researching the causes and effects of a major threat to corals throughout the world — ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification occurs with the lowering of oceanic pH levels due to increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Larger amounts of carbon dioxide in the air are making the world’s oceans more acidic, and in turn, reducing the amount of calcium and carbonate in the oceans. Corals need both to form their hard skeletons.
Coral ecologists with Mote and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel, have partnered to test the effects of ocean acidification and rising sea temperature. The researchers gathered for two weeks at Mote’s Summerland Keys lab to further their research.
The ecologists focused on two species of coral found in the Florida Keys — Porites porites, commonly called finger coral, and Porites astreoides, commonly referred to as mustard hill coral.
Mote’s lab looked like a mini-disco tech as the two species of coral were exposed to bright red, blue and purple LED lights, mimicking differing scenarios of sunlight. The ecologists also altered the pH levels and temperatures in the water to create different environmental conditions that corals in the wild could be exposed to in the future if pH levels and temperatures continue to rise.
The researchers are also looking at the corals on a microbial level and researching several other physiological parameters of coral to see how ocean acidification is impacting them.
“We are looking at this at so many levels,” said Maoz Fine, a coral ecologist and expert in the field of ocean acidification at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences. “That’s how we will understand how this system will respond to changing environmental conditions.”
The research could help Mote and other ocean conservation groups determine what species and genotypes of coral fare better against ocean acidification and other stresses. This would give them guidance on what types of coral to rear in the coral nurseries and replant back on the reef, said Emily Hall, a coral ecologist with Mote working on the ocean acidification study.
Mote, The Nature Conservation and the Coral Restoration Foundation have a half-dozen coral nurseries throughout the Keys, where they rear coral that is later planted on the reef or used for research purposes.
“This could allow Mote and others to focus its restoration efforts,” Hall said. “We can see what different species and genotypes do better or worse.”
Mote researchers plan to do similar work with Fine on Red Sea corals in December, Hall said.
“This partnership (with Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences) has allowed us to not only look at this with a global perspective, but also see how each of these reefs is responding to these changes,” Hall said.
TIMOTHY O’HARA|Citizen Staff|keysnews.com
Efforts to Restore Coral Habitats Stink – Literally
If, while looking for a new apartment, you happened upon a pungent neighborhood, you’d look for a home in another area, right? Well, fish and coral are no different. New research from the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that damaged reefs emit an unpleasant odor that fish and coral can smell; this scent subsequently drives the creatures to try to settle somewhere else.
Evolutionarily speaking, the odor has probably usually been a good thing. It keeps coral and fish from settling in unsafe environments. Alas, with the fishing industry and other human interference destroying so many reefs, having this scent drive away sealife from most areas is probably a detriment at this point.
This study likely explains why areas that marine biologists designate in the hopes of having a coral reef “recovery” aren’t especially successful. Evidently, fish can still sense that something smells fishy… I mean suspect, and flee the area. With the stench of “failed habitat” lingering, scientist intervention might not be enough to revive a degrading reef.
Coral reefs are a delicate ecosystem. Seaweed generally prevents coral from growing, which is why it’s great to have seaweed-eating fish frequent coral reefs. When the fish are not around to keep the amount of seaweed limited, old corals die out and new corals look elsewhere for a home. This seaweed, it turns out, also lets off a stinky scent, giving fish and coral yet another odorous reason to stay away from declining reefs.
One of the more discouraging findings of the study is that even coral larvae smell and make living choices based on the water’s scents. With studies showing that baby coral avoided the smelly water five times more than it went to it, that means that coral avoid this type of water even more than it does algae, which is toxic to coral. Obviously, that suggests that reviving old coral reefs will be a tricky task.
Fish are even pickier about the scent, apparently. Scientists looked at 15 different species of fish and found that each one greatly preferred taking up residence in less stinky water, sometimes by as much time as eight times more than they did in the smelly former reefs.
Fortunately, scientists won’t give up on trying to bring back dying reefs, they’ll just likely alter their tactics in light of this information. At the present, some experts believe the best tactic will be to clear certain parts of the ocean floor of seaweed and dead coral altogether in the hopes of preventing the water from being foul-smelling. With any luck, this will be just the adjustment necessary to achieve more success in restoring coral reefs.
Kevin Mathews|August 25, 2014
New Tool Can Measure How Sound Effects Marine Life
There are pros and cons to being land-dwelling creatures. A con is that we can’t really float around in the air like we can in water, so that’s kind of a bummer. A pro is that on land there is a significantly reduced chance of drowning, which is kind of awesome. I guess we probably evolved for the best.
However, for this land-lubber, spending so much time above sea level makes the ocean one big, blue mystery. What goes on under the surface? Who lives there? Mermaids? I have no idea. Sometimes, even though I know intellectually that the ocean is teeming with life, it’s easy to just view the wide expanse of water as…nothing. Anything we do out there doesn’t count. It’s the ocean. It’s not like we have an effect on anything.
Of course, we do have an effect. Pollution is obviously a big problem, so big in fact that it’s drawn the attention of the United Nations. But it’s not just trash that can muck up the oceans. Noise can, as well.
It’s weird to think of something as unavoidable as sound as having a negative impact on the natural world, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that it does, at least to some extent. Some birds go out of their way to nest in quieter locations. Plants are effected as well, but it’s not universally harmful. Of special concern are marine animals because of the reliance on sonar due to lack of light. As humans continue to expand our reach by developing off-shore, monitoring how our noise is impacting life below the surface is especially important.
A new tool developed by scientists at the University of St Andrews and SMRU Marine could help us monitor the situation. Called the Interim PCOD (Population Consequences of Disturbance) Model, it will help scientists predict how offshore development will affect five species: bottlenose dolphins, harbor porpoise, minke whale and harbor and grey seals. It was designed specifically to monitor marine animals off the coast of the United Kingdom and is being made available for free.
The ability to predict the impact of offshore development is becoming more and more important as offshore energy developments gain speed. According to the National Resources Defense Council, there are 53 offshore energy project in 10 European countries with nine more under construction. The UK hosts the largest offshore wind farm in the world with 100 turbines.
It’s important to remember that, just because something is better for the environment, like renewable energy, doesn’t mean it’s without its costs. If we’ve learned anything from the past century of economic development, it should be that our actions have consequences. As they say, the road to hell was paved with good intentions. We need to remain vigilant when developing new technologies so we can make sure not to do any more damage to fragile ecosystems.
Even though this tool has some predictive powers, it’s not operating off complete information. We actually know surprisingly little about how noise effects marine mammal behavior or their ability to survive. Developers did what they could to close the gaps in their knowledge, but a lot more study is needed to really come to grips with how the noise we make effects our water-dwelling friends.
Mindy Townsend|August 28, 2014
Wildlife and Habitat
Killing Alligators in a Wildlife Refuge?
Alligators are fierce and terrifying carnivores. They’re also fascinating animals that have been around since prehistoric times, playing a distinct and important role in the swampy ecosystems where they live.
Wildlife supporters and biologists want to keep alligators protected, which they have been as long as they’ve been on national wildlife refuges. But recently, the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge became the first refuge in the national system to allow recreational alligator hunting. Hunters are celebrating, but animal lovers are up in arms.
In fact, a Care2 member has started a petition drive to pressure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages our federal refuges, to stop the alligator hunt.
Objections to the hunt focus primarily on the cruelty of it. Hunters can stalk the gators from the safety of boats and armed with something called a “bangstick.” That’s a pole that shoots a shotgun pellet or bullet into the animal’s brain. Though the shot might immobilize the creature, it may not kill it instantly, subjecting it to inhumane pain and torture until it dies. Advocates of hunting claim that the alligator population needs to be controlled. Plus, many hunters view the dead animals as trophies, and either stuff them from head to toe, or cut off their head to mount for display.
However, animal welfare supporters note that alligators are an “umbrella” or “keystone” species in the refuge. In other words, they are at the top of the food chain and provide an important biological link, not just in Loxahatchee, but in 150,000 acres of the northern Everglades ecosystem. Plus, thousands of people come to the refuge and the Everglades every year to get a glimpse of these remarkable gators. I’ve been there myself, and I can tell you, it is truly exciting to see an alligator in the wild.
Alligators are already widely hunted outside refuges, not only to make trophies, but also for their skin, which is turned into leather for purses, shoes, belts, and boots, and meat. The animals are also being negatively affected by climate change as a substantial percentage of the freshwater habitat they depend on becomes increasingly contaminated by salt or brackish water brought on by sea level rise. Warming waters also are starting to affect the ability of alligators to reproduce. Like many other reptiles, the eggs alligators lay are very susceptible to the temperature of the water they’re laid in. As water heats up, the eggs are more likely to turn into males than females, upsetting the balance of nature that could lead to a decline in alligator populations.
Diane MacEachern|August 25, 2014
African Farmers Are Creating Forest Gardens and “Planting it Forward”
In arid and degraded areas of Sub Saharan Africa, farmers who were barely able to provide for their families are now creating abundant forest gardens and “planting it forward” as they pass on successful techniques to their neighbors.
Working with agroforestry experts and volunteers from Trees for the Future, an Aid for Africa member organization, farmers in West Africa are turning small unproductive fields into veritable oases of fruits and vegetables.
One plant-it-forward scenario begins with Omar in Senegal. Thirteen years ago, he inherited about two acres (one hectare) of land with a few trees, shrubs and peanut plants. Income from this field was about $200 a year. Working with Trees for the Future, Omar began to add fast-growing trees with deep roots to improve soil quality and thorny acacia trees around the border to keep out grazing animals and harsh winds. Omar then intercropped vegetable plants and fruit trees. Within four years, Omar’s forest garden produced fruits, vegetables and tree products and an income of $1,000 a year.
Determined to spread his knowledge to others, Omar worked with Trees for the Future to provide seed and technical advice to his neighbor Keba, a 52-year-old peanut farmer who was struggling to make a living on land that was depleted from 50 years of peanut farming. Today, Keba’s land, which is surrounded by more than a thousand thorny bushes, produces a variety of crops including hot peppers, jujube berries and cashew nuts. In the past, he was lucky to earn $200 a year. Today, he earns that amount in a month from selling his hot peppers.
Keba too wanted to “plant it forward” and share his knowledge with another local farmer. The result—another thriving sustainable forest garden where there once was a degraded peanut field. Through example and word of mouth, farmers in the region continue to help each other find a better way to feed their families and rise out of poverty.
Trees for the Future has worked with more than 300,000 families throughout Africa and other parts of the world to help them return degraded land to sustainable production. John Leary, Trees for the Future’s executive director, has seen what happens when farmers “plant it forward.”
“In a place where difficulties abound, the worst thing to lose is hope. This farmer-to-farmer relationship of planting it forward brings cooperation, learning, teaching and hope…” he said.
Learn more about Trees for the Future and how they are working with African farmers to plant it forward.
Aid for Africa|August 23, 2014
More Than 90,000 Acres of Critical Tiger Habitat Will Be Logged
With fewer than 1,500 Bengal Tigers left in the wild, these magnificent cats are on the brink of extinction, and now the FDCM are threatening their survival by pushing plans to log some of the only precious natural habitat they have left.
The area due to be cut is so vital to the tigers that it was once earmarked to become a protected wildlife refuge. Care2 reader Mary Elizabeth heard about this alarming news and started a petition to fight back against this appalling decision and to help save the forest from being logged for profit.
Bengal Tiger Numbers Are Plummeting
Less than one hundred years ago, tigers prowled freely and abundantly all across the Indian subcontinent, but exploding human populations, particularly since the 1940s, have played a major role in their decline.
Through a combination of habitat destruction, poaching and human conflict, Bengal Tiger numbers have plummeted immensely in recent years, and at this rate they will be completely extinct in the wild within a few decades.
The Best Hope for Bengal Tigers
The Satpura forests of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra offer sanctuary for India’s remaining wild tigers. Consisting of several Tiger Reserves, all of which are connected by forest corridors, this green oasis is essential to the hope of the Bengal Tiger’s chance of survival.
The rocky and undulating terrain consisting of deep valleys, sandstone peaks and plunging waterfalls is covered in a blanket of thick teak forests which support much of India’s most endangered flora and fauna. It’s not just Bengal Tigers, either, that this paradise helps to protect: Sloth Bears, Indian Giant Squirrels and Crested Serpent Eagles are just some among hundreds of fascinating wildlife that takes refuge in the Satpura forests.
Giving home to many of the last of India’s tigers, The Satpura Landscape Tiger Program works tirelessly to conserve and protect this very important tiger range, but despite their best efforts, plans to log an unforgivable amount of this delicate area are being pushed ahead.
Critical Tiger Habitat Will Be Destroyed
Plans are in place to destroy 96,300 acres of a critically important forest ecosystem in the Indian state of Maharashtra despite the fact that the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) warned of the damage it will have on the endangered Bengal Tiger numbers.
Situated between the Pench and Nagzira tiger reserves, this area of dense forest is crucial for the tigers and their cubs as it allows them to travel from one reserve to another for breeding. If the logging plans were to be put into action, a huge area of forest would be cut and sold so that new bamboo and teak plantations could be grown on the land. Not only would this devastate the wildlife living in this beautiful and delicate ecosystem, it would also put the Bengal Tiger at even more risk.
Earlier this year, the NTCA warned planners of the danger posed to the tiger’s natural habitat, offering alternative solutions and locations for the logging plans, yet this fell on deaf ears. It is another case of commercial profits coming before environmental sustainability, and key decision makers continue to ignore advice from environmental agencies in regards to the importance of this stretch of forest.
Abigail Geer|August 22, 2014
Mangroves planted to protect Semarang’s new Ahmad Yani airport from coastal erosion
Dozens of schoolchildren and hundreds of university students and soldiers helped to protect Ahmad Yani International Airport in Semarang, Central Java, from coastal erosion by planting 10,000 mangroves on Maron Beach on Saturday.
Medicine producer PT Phapros donated the mangroves being planted. “We launched the ‘Go Green’ program by planting mangroves on Maron Beach, Semarang, in 2011. We have so far planted 380,000 mangroves in the area,” Phapros’ president director Iswanto said.
He said the program had been conducted in cooperation with Diponegoro University’s student community KeSEMaT who shared the company’s concern about mangrove preservation.
The planting, according to Iswanto, was also an attempt to educate younger generations to love nature and to develop their support for mangrove conservation.
“We have also conducted research by taking samples of mangrove products to see if they can be further developed for added value,” said Iswanto adding that the alkaloid content in the plant’s fruit and seeds might be able to be developed into a medicinal product.
Studies have revealed that Semarang’s northern coastal area has been experiencing erosion by up to 50 meters annually.
If nothing is done it is feared the erosion will cause problems at Ahmad Yani’s runway, which is located only about a kilometer from the beach.
The research also revealed that some 70 percent of the mangroves along Semarang’s coastline have been damaged due to the ignorance of local people who have cleared mangroves for the wood and converted the areas into fish ponds.
According to satellite data, mangrove forests in Indonesia cover an area of around 3.1 million hectares, the second-biggest in the world after Brazil. This accounts for 22.6 percent of the world’s total mangrove forests.
Separately, commander of the Military Regional Command (Kodam) IV/Diponegoro, Maj. Gen. Sunindyo who joined the planting on Saturday, said that he had commanded all the TNI (Indonesian Military) personnel assigned to coastal regions to plant and preserve mangroves.
“The TNI has fields in coastal regions such as in Cilacap, Pekalongan, Semarang, Kendal and Rembang,” he said.
He hoped that the private sector would participate in and care about the preservation of the environment by planting mangroves.
The cooperation between the private sector, local administrations, the TNI and police, he said, could be conducted like in a war zone, i.e. by establishing sectors.
It was reported earlier that the government planned to build a “floating” passenger terminal on a platform in the sea as part of the expansion project of the airport.
The airport operator PT Angkasa Pura I said that the expansion would allow the airport to accommodate up to 6 to 7 million passengers annually, up from 3.2 million as of the end of 2013.
Suherdjoko|The Jakarta Post|Semarang|Jakarta|August 25 2014
Logging McLaughlin Ridge: Watershed advocates say logging threatens city’s water source
Jane Morden and the Watershed Forest Alliance (WFA) have been fighting against logging at McLaughlin Ridge for close to half a decade now, but with city council’s unanimous decision on Monday night to support their efforts they may be one step closer to a solution.
Sarah Thomas, a volunteer with the WFA, presented the group’s concerns to city council and called on the city to support the WFA’s efforts to pause the logging at McLaughlin Ridge and have a conversation with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations as well as landowners Island Timberlands.
The company owns McLaughlin Ridge and is legally permitted to log the old growth trees located there. The area represents a few hundred hectares of the 250,000 ha that Island Timberlands owns.
According to Thomas, the McLaughlin Ridge old growth lands were identified by the province as areas that should be protected. However by 2004, the lands were removed from the Tree Farm License (TFL) and while promises were made to come to some agreement about how the lands would be protected, this never happened.
McLaughlin Ridge, which is about an hour southeast of Port Alberni, is home to a couple of hundred hectares of old growth Douglas Fir as well as the China Creek Watershed, the city’s main water source. Currently, the watershed meets Island Health’s 4-3-2-1-0 water requirements but the concern is that if the old growth is cut down, that might not be the case anymore.
“It’s important to protect [the China Creek Watershed] because you can always treat water but this costs a lot of money and it’s never as good as the original. We would like to make sure that nothing really bad happens to that water,” said Edna Cox of the Save Our Valley Alliance, a public education group.
“It’s designated a community watershed so we’re asked to stay out of the area and yet logging continues,” said Thomas at city council.
While the city does have other, secondary sources of water in Bainbridge Lake and Lizard Lake, China Creek is the best water source that Port Alberni has due to the filtration that the old growth up McLaughlin Ridge provides.
“The water comes down very, very slowly and it’s really well filtered [by the old growth]. If it comes of a bare slope or washes a lot of silt down then it’s not such high quality water,” said Cox.
If a lot of silt is washed down, the amount of sediments in the water increase, as does the turbidity.
“When there’s turbidity there’s a problem because you can’t even treat the water, it doesn’t help,” Cox said.
The old growth also helps keep the city’s water supply steady throughout the year. With the old growth there, the snowpack up on the ridge melts a little slower.
“The forest acts as a sponge so you don’t have all the water coming down in the spring melt and then no water in the summer.
“We’ve had low water conditions now for over a year; we didn’t have much of a snowpack last year either,” said Jane Armstrong, also from the WFA.
Armstrong is not sure what the future holds for Port Alberni’s water supply, but she thinks that with climate change happening that drought conditions will stick around and that instead of rain throughout the year, the watershed will be filled up by occasional huge downpours.
[“If this happens] the forest is a natural solution for helping to control the flow of water,” Armstrong said.
Clearcutting also has another, more immediate danger; landslides. In 2006, clearcuts in the Beauforts, followed by a large amount of precipitation, were thought to have caused landslides that affected Beaver Creek’s water and brought gravel in debris into people’s homes.
There’s a chance that clearcutting on McLaughlin Ridge could lead to the same.
While Island Timberlands is required to replant trees that they cut down—and states that they typically do so within nine months —the high elevation of McLaughlin Ridge means that it will be generations until those replacement trees are big enough to serve any purpose, says Morden.
“This area is at a higher elevation, we’re talking about a thousand metres up, so it’s not going to grow back at a fast rate. Up there, you can have a 20-year-old tree that’s not anywhere much above your waist, said Morden, “and when the roots start to decompose from the huge [old growth trees,] then your chances of landslides are going to increase.”
In an e-mailed statement, Morgan Kennah, Manager of Sustainable Timberlands and Community Affairs for Island Timberlands, said that they “have and continue to work cooperatively with the city to ensure water quality is maintained in China Creek. In cooperation with the Ministry of Environment, we have installed a continuous water quality monitoring station in the watershed to ensure we meet the applicable water quality objectives.”
However, Cox doesn’t think that this is good enough because while “drinking water is protected [that] protection will take precedence when there’s an imminent threat, when it’s basically too late.”
According to Coun. Cindy Solda, the issue has been brought up at the Association of Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC), the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and the Alberni-Clayquot Regional District (ACRD) and that a main goal of these government-led bodies is to change the way private land is regulated.
“One main goal is to get private land and Crown to be the same… we want to have more say,” Solda said.
“[Water] is a human right, we really need to have water,” said Coun. Wendy Kerr, “the forest companies have to know that they don’t own that water, they’re only renting the space, nobody owns this planet but we need to start taking care of it now.”
With that, Kerr raised motions to give city council’s support to the WFA and support the organization’s request to pause the logging at McLaughlin Ridge as well as to request a meeting between council, the WFA, Island Timberlands and the provincial forestry ministry.
City council carried the motion to applause from meeting attendees.
◆ The first cut done at McLaughlin Ridge was four to five years ago, with a large cut occurring in 2011. Jane Morden of Watershed Forest Alliance says 50 per cent of the old growth remains.
◆ Port Alberni gets its water from the China Creek Watershed, located an hour southeast of the city. McLaughlin Ridge is located at the northern edge of the watershed boundary.
◆ There are two water intake sources within the China Creek Watershed: a creek intake off of China Creek at the western edge of the watershed and a lake intake off of Bainbridge Lake, located slightly northwest of the watershed boundary.
◆ The city primarily uses the creek intake due to its marginally higher water quality. However, if anything were to happen to the creek intake water quality, the city could use the lake intake.
Those two water intakes represent the redundancy in the city’s water supply, which means that it is unlikely that the two sources would both be unusable at the same time, city engineer Guy Cicon said.
◆ Port Alberni’s water is treated with chlorine before being stored in reservoirs. The city is currently in phase one of upgrading their water facilities by adding UV disinfection at a cost of $4 million. There is also the possibility of later adding a filtration system at an additional $3 million.
Katya Slepian|Alberni Valley News|Aug 14, 2014
Global Warming and Climate Change
Symposium makes it clear: Action needed to combat rising seas
Recently, a daylong Sea Level Rise Symposium was held at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach [hosted by The Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades] with various speakers and panels stressing the importance of understanding the threats inherent in this scientifically recognized phenomenon.
Perhaps the proposed figure of sea level rise facing South Florida, that of up to 6 feet by 2100 and the attendant figure of 1 inch of sea level rise equaling the loss of 8 feet of shoreline, will resonate with residents who may be skeptical of its potential impact.
One has only to consider our own compromised shoreline, and the disproportionate proposed cost of fixing it, to realize that the problem will continue to escalate and our sand will only disappear regardless of how many cubic yards are dumped on designated “hot spots.”
Our entire shoreline should be considered vulnerable to sand loss, storm surge, saltwater intrusion into our shallow fresh water aquifer (which is our drinking water supply); and the impacts of stronger and more frequent storms and other weather-related problems. It should be obvious that the increase worldwide in cyclone, tornado and hurricane activity, and our own “1,000 year” storm this past January that resulted in the “drowning” of several private vehicles on the island, are warning signs of catastrophes to come.
Can anyone who has spent the summer here doubt that this is the hottest year on record? Proven global climate change continues unabated with ocean water expanding due to higher world temperatures, melting of glaciers and polar ice, and the root cause of high emissions of greenhouse gasses particularly from the burning of fossil fuels, according to the International Panel on Climate Change, which is made up of 700 scientists from around the world.
The South Florida Regional Climate Action Plan has been supported by the Board of County Commissioners. It is urged that the county’s mayors sign the Mayors Pledge and that the sea level rise data be incorporated into local comprehensive plans. To date, this is not being done relative to Palm Beach’s proposed $17 million plus beach renourishment project.
I urge Mayor [Gail] Coniglio to support the South Florida Mayors Climate Action Pledge and recognize the perils associated with the inevitable problem of sea level rise, especially as it pertains to the vulnerable South Florida shoreline, and before we all become, in the words of one symposium panelist, “sea-level rise refugees.”
Judy Schrafft|Palm Beach Daily News|August 24, 2014
California is suffering through its worst drought on record, while the East Coast sees off-the-charts flooding. Both types of extremes are worsened by global warming as scientists have explained for decades.
But in recent years you may have noticed a disproportionate increase in record-smashing extreme weather and suspected that’s also linked to global warming. A new study from a team of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) says you’re right. The PIK release explains:
Weather extremes in the summer — such as the record heat wave in the United States that hit corn farmers and worsened wildfires in 2012 — have reached an exceptional number in the last ten years. Man-made global warming can explain a gradual increase in periods of severe heat, but the observed change in the magnitude and duration of some events is not so easily explained. It has been linked to a recently discovered mechanism: the trapping of giant waves in the atmosphere. A new data analysis now shows that such wave-trapping events are indeed on the rise.
Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences has been at the forefront of this research. She explains her findings in this video.
A key point is that the path of the jet stream “typically has a meandering shape, and these meanders themselves propagate east, at lower speeds than that of the actual wind within the flow. Each large meander, or wave, within the jet stream is known as a Rossby wave.”
This new PIK study offers a specific mechanism for why we’re seeing this quantum leap in extreme weather — some Rossby waves are stalling out for extended periods of time: “the study shows that in periods with extreme weather, some of these waves become virtually stalled and greatly amplified.”
Why is this happening? Here things get a little technical, as befits a study titled, “Quasi-resonant circulation regimes and hemispheric synchronization of extreme weather in boreal summer.” But read on — our emerging understanding of why extreme weather has begun running amok may be one of the most important and consequential scientific findings in recent years:
We show that high-amplitude quasi-stationary Rossby waves, associated with resonance circulation regimes, lead to persistent surface weather conditions and therefore to mid-latitude synchronization of extreme heat and rainfall events. Since the onset of rapid Arctic amplification around 2000, a cluster of resonance circulation regimes is observed involving wave numbers 7 and 8. This has resulted in a statistically significant increase in the frequency of high-amplitude quasi-stationary waves with these wave numbers.
Note that the study doesn’t merely find that stalling Rossby waves lead to an increase in extreme weather events. It also leads to extreme heat events and extreme rainfall events becoming synchronized (as, for instance, has happened just last week).
Here’s what that increase since 2000 looks like:
The number of planetary wave resonance events is shown as grey bars for each 4-year interval. While there used to be one or two events in a 4-year period, 2004-2007 saw three such events and 2008-2011 even five events. For comparison the red curve shows the change in Arctic temperature relative to that in the remainder of the Northern Hemisphere. Since 2000, the Arctic has warmed much faster than other latitudes [aka Arctic amplification]. Graph: PIK
Arctic amplification is the accelerated warming that occurs in the Arctic relative to the rest of the globe’s human-driven warming. A key reason it occurs is that as the more reflective snow and ice melt in the Arctic, darker land and ocean are exposed — and they absorb more solar energy. Other elements of Arctic amplification are discussed here.
Resonance regimes are associated with standing waves, which under the right condition can have a very large amplitude. Quasi-resonant means “almost resonant,” as scientist-blogger Greg Laden writes in his detailed explanation of the study, “and resonant means that instead of the meanders meandering around, they sit in one place (almost).”
What is the specific link between stalling Rossby waves and Arctic amplification? The study concludes, “We argue that recent rapid warming in the Arctic and associated changes in the zonal mean zonal wind have created favorable conditions for double jet formation in the extratropics, which promotes the development of resonant flow regimes.”
What’s a double jet stream formation? Wikipedia notes, “Jet streams can split into two due to the formation of an upper-level closed low, that diverts a portion of the jet stream under its base, while the remainder of the jet moves by to its north.” Last year, Popular Mechanics had a good discussion in its article, “How the Dual Jet Stream Sparks This Weird Summer Weather.”
Here is the jet stream from May/June 2012:
And here is the double jet stream from May/June 2013, a period of very unusual weather in Europe and the U.S. — “McGrath, Alaska, hit 94 degrees on June 17, four degrees warmer than Miami, which sits 4200 miles closer to the equator.” In the graphic, the two jet-streams are the (small) green band of wind surrounding the Arctic and the (larger) one over the United States.
We have much more to learn about “Recent Arctic amplification and extreme mid-latitude weather,” as made clear in a recent Nature Geoscience paper (with that title) written by several of the leading researchers in the field, including Francis. But the evidence is mounting that we have entered a new regime of extreme weather thanks to our as-yet unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gas.
Joe Romm|August 19, 2014
[See the Video “Understanding the Jetstream”]
How does CO2 go from Permafrost into the atmosphere?
The vast reservoir of carbon stored in Arctic permafrost is gradually being converted to carbon dioxide (CO2) after entering the freshwater system in a process thought to be controlled largely by microbial activity.
However, a new study — funded by the National Science Foundation and published this week in the journal Science — concludes that sunlight and not bacteria is the key to triggering the production of CO2 from material released by Arctic soils.
The finding is particularly important, scientists say, because climate change could affect when and how permafrost is thawed, which begins the process of converting the organic carbon into CO2.
“Arctic permafrost contains about half of all the organic carbon trapped in soil on the entire Earth — and equals an amount twice of that in the atmosphere,”� said Byron Crump, an Oregon State University microbial ecologist and co-author on the Science study. “This represents a major change in thinking about how the carbon cycle works in the Arctic.”�
Converting soil carbon to carbon dioxide is a two-step process, notes Rose Cory, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, and lead author on the study. First, the permafrost soil has to thaw and then bacteria must turn the carbon into greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide or methane. While much of this conversion process takes place in the soil, a large amount of carbon is washed out of the soils and into rivers and lakes, she said.
“It turns out, that in Arctic rivers and lakes, sunlight is faster than bacteria at turning organic carbon into CO2,” Cory said. “This new understanding is really critical because if we want to get the right answer about how the warming Arctic may feedback to influence the rest of the world, we have to understand the controls on carbon cycling.”
“In other words, if we only consider what the bacteria are doing, we’ll get the wrong answer about how much CO2 may eventually be released from Arctic soils,” Cory added.
The research team measured the speed at which both bacteria and sunlight converted dissolved organic carbon into carbon dioxide in all types of rivers and lakes in the Alaskan Arctic, from glacial-fed rivers draining the Brooks Range to tannin-stained lakes on the coastal plain. Measuring these processes is important, the scientists noted, because bacteria types and activities are variable and the amount of sunlight that reaches the carbon sources can differ by body of water.
In virtually all of the freshwater systems they measured, however, sunlight was always faster than bacteria at converting the organic carbon into CO2.
Oregon State University|August 21, 2014
Read more at Oregon State University.
Earthquake, Drought and Wildfires Ravage California
We probably can’t blame the earthquake that hit California’s Napa Valley this weekend on climate change. But it’s one more thing that the beleaguered residents of the so-called “Golden State” have to deal with. And while we can’t do much to address the fact that the state sits on geographical fault lines, other issues have a human element.
With its spate of natural disasters, some spurred by human action, California isn’t looking like such a “Golden State.”
The magnitude 6.0 earthquake, which occurred early Sunday morning, is the largest to hit the state since 1989′s Loma Prieta quake. It injured several hundred people.
The earthquake is understandably dominating the headlines coming out of California, while the fallout from the state’s record drought is being reported almost daily.
In East Porterville in the rural San Joaquin, several hundred homes have no tap water because their wells have dried up. That’s due to an exceptionally low flow in the Tule River, which fills the wells.
Volunteers and county workers are delivering bottled water provided by the county to these homes, but those deliveries are only a stop-gap solution. The area’s high poverty rate makes it difficult for residents to affordable ongoing solutions, such as digging new wells.
Tulare County has been hearing from residents about their diminished water supply since February, but the trickle of calls has become a gusher. The Fresno Bee reports that nearly 1,000 people are now impacted by the dry wells.
“I grew up here. I’ve never seen this many people out of water,” Tulare County District Five Supervisor Mike Ennis told the Fresno Bee.
Up in the state’s northwest corner in Trinity County, already threatened by salmon die-offs due to low water flow in the Salmon and Klamath rivers, a wildfire that started late Sunday afternoon is threatening homes in Weaverville. About 200 homes were evacuated as crews worked to build containment lines that had about 25 percent of the fire under control by this morning. But local officials said they were concerned about gusting winds and dry conditions causing the fire to flare up again.
The Redding, California newspaper the Redding Searchlight reports that four other wildfires are currently burning tens of thousands of acres in the area as well.
TckTckTck, the Global Call for Climate Action reports:
High temperatures and drought in the American West, both linked to climate change, lead to the dry conditions and tree deaths that enable more frequent and intense wildfires. The American wildfire season is getting longer, and the number of very large fires has doubled in California and many other states since the 1970s.
Anastasia Pantsios|August 25, 2014
Big Climate Problems in Big Sky Country
No matter how far you go on vacation, sometimes you can’t get away—especially if you write about science policy for a living.
I recently escaped the steamy confines of Washington, D.C., for the mountains of Montana for some sorely needed R & R. The last time I set foot in Big Sky Country was 10 years ago, when I attended a grizzly bear conference at a ranch just outside of Yellowstone National Park. And the first and only other time I visited the state was 35 years ago, when I backpacked in Glacier National Park.
From a climate perspective, things there have gotten worse.
The glaciers I marveled at on my backpacking trip have shrunk considerably, and even then they were a pale approximation of what they once were. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that there were approximately 150 glaciers in the area in 1850, and most of them were still there in 1910 when the park was established. In 1979, when I was fending off mosquitoes at the Continental Divide, the official National Park Service estimate was down to 75 glaciers, and now, according to the USGS, there are only 25 glaciers larger than 25 acres.
At that 2004 conference, I learned that global warming is making it harder to keep a key item in the grizzly bear pantry in stock. The bears like to feast on high-protein seeds from whitebark pine cones in the fall to fatten up before hibernation time, but the tree is being ravaged by the mountain pine beetle, which develops faster and survives winter more easily thanks to warmer temperatures.
To be sure, the beetles have been around for a long time, and they aren’t the whitebark pine’s only problem. The trees also have been suffering from white pine blister rust—a disease accidentally introduced via imported seedlings nearly a century ago—and fire pattern changes have enabled other tree species to invade their territory. But over the last 10 years, beetle outbreaks have intensified. According to a 2012 U.S. Forest Service study, they “are occurring more rapidly and dramatically than imagined a decade ago.” Since my last visit, the Forest Service estimates the beetle has killed more than 4.5 million whitebark pine trees in Montana alone.
This grim state of affairs prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to determine in 2011 that the whitebark pine is in “imminent” risk of extinction due to, among other things, global warming—the first time the federal government identified climate change as a contributing factor in a tree species’ demise. Budgetary constraints and more pressing agency priorities, however, have kept the tree off the endangered species list.
The fate of the Yellowstone region’s grizzlies, meanwhile, has teetered back and forth in recent years. In 2007, the FWS concluded that they had recovered sufficiently and took them off the threatened species list, which they had been on since 1975. Two years later, however, a federal district court in Montana put them back on, citing concerns about the whitebark pine. Regardless, the FWS is again considering delisting the roughly 700 bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, contending they are supplementing their diet with more meat.
If anyone gets climate in Montana, it’s scientists. During my recent visit I picked up a copy of the Missoulian, Missoula’s daily newspaper, and came across an op-ed titled “Climate change is a scientific reality.” Written by University of Montana entomologist Diana Six and five other Montana-based scientists, the July 30 column was essentially a public version of a letter they and 96 other scientists across the state sent to Montana’s governor and the state’s congressional delegation in late June.
The scientists cited some of the severe impacts global warming is already having on the state—including longer wildfire seasons and the aforementioned pine beetle—and warned that the consequences of doing nothing to curb carbon emissions would be dire indeed.
They also chastised Montana politicians for turning a blind eye to empirical evidence.
“Some of Montana’s political leaders continue to ignore the most basic scientific findings about climate change,” they wrote. “We hear them say: ‘I’m not a scientist so I cannot be sure.’ We are scientists and let us be clear: The scientific evidence that Earth’s climate is warming is overwhelming. We need to move from debate to solutions.”
One solution the scientists support is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent proposal to limit power plant carbon pollution. The draft plan requires Montana industries to cut carbon emissions 21 percent by 2030. Given that coal was responsible for 53 percent of the electricity generated in Montana last year and the state has the largest coal reserves in the nation, the proposal received a mixed reception among Montana pols. Their responses ranged from praising the EPA for a responsible, flexible plan to condemning the agency for making war on coal and Montana jobs.
In fact, coal jobs are few and far between in Montana. According to preliminary U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers for 2013, the coal industry employed only 1,116 people out of a total workforce of nearly 437,000. That’s an anemic 0.25 percent. Oil and gas jobs are even more scarce. Although there are four oil refineries in the state, only 761 Montanans worked in the industry last year. Agriculture and outdoor recreation are much more important to the state’s economy, and climate change is taking a toll on both. Droughts and wildfires are a growing problem for farmers and ranchers, and dead trees don’t do much to enhance the hiking experience.
Six and her co-authors also called on state officials to make Montana a hub for clean energy jobs. Given the latest news on that front, however, don’t count on that happening anytime soon.
Like 28 other states and the District of Columbia, Montana has a standard in place promoting renewable energy, such as wind and solar. Montana’s standard, which went into effect in 2008, requires the state’s two largest utilities and an electricity supplier to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2015, a relatively modest goal. Late last month, a state legislative committee issued a draft report concluding that Montana’s standard has been an economic success. It created new jobs, bolstered rural county development, had a “negligible impact” on electric rates, and cut carbon emissions at the same time.
That’s the good news. The bad news? Despite the fact that the three companies have already met the 15 percent requirement—and the fact that Montana has the third best wind resources in the country that could meet more than 240 times the state’s current electricity demand—the legislative committee recommended that the renewable requirement remain at 15 percent.
You might call that a victory, considering some legislators wanted to drop the standard altogether. Jeff Deyette, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, calls it a missed opportunity.
“While Colorado, Minnesota and other states blessed with tremendous wind potential are forging ahead and ramping up their renewable energy targets, Montana is missing a golden opportunity to build on what it has already started,” said Deyette, the co-author of “Ripe for Retirement,” a 2013 study on aging coal plants. “I can see why Montana scientists are frustrated with their elected officials. Given what we know about global warming, legislators there are clearly putting the interests of the coal industry ahead of their own constituents.”
Elliott Negin|Union of Concerned Scientists| August 15, 2014
Dutch solution to Miami’s rising seas? Floating islands
A Dutch team wants to build lavish, off-the-grid homes on 30 floating islands on Maule Lake, an old rock mining pit.
The floating islands will be moored to telescope-like piers that keep them stable but allow them to rise and fall with changing sea levels.
Maule Lake has been many things over the years: industrial rock pit, aquatic racetrack, American Riviera. Now it is being pitched as something else entirely: a glitzy solution to South Florida’s rising seas.
In the land of boom and bust where no real estate proposition seems too outlandish — Opa-locka’s Ali Baba Boulevard connects to Aladdin Street in one of the more kitschy bids to sell swampland — a Dutch team wants to build Amillarah Private Islands, 29 lavish floating homes and an “amenity island” on about 38 acres of lake in the old North Miami Beach quarry connected to the Intracoastal Waterway just north of Haulover Inlet.
The villa flotilla, its creators say, would be sustainable and completely off the grid, tricked out to survive hurricanes, storm surge and any other water hazard mother nature might throw its way. Chic 6,000-square-foot, concrete-and-glass villas would come with pools, boathouses or docks, desalinization systems, solar and hydrogen-powered generators and optional beaches on their own 10,000-square-foot concrete and Styrofoam islands.
Asking price? About $12.5 million each.
If this sounds like a joke, think again. This, as the Dutch say, ain’t no grap.
“We’re serious people,” said Frank Behrens, vice president of Dutch Docklands, which has partnered with Koen Olthuis, one of Holland’s pioneering aqua-tects.
Still, it’s hard not to be skeptical.
“It’s both fantastic and fantastical,” said North Miami Beach City Planner Carlos Rivero, before adding, diplomatically, “This is quite a departure.”
Behrens won’t say exactly how much the company has invested so far but suggested it is enough to take the plan seriously.
“Look who I’m sitting next to,” he said during an interview, pointing to Greenberg Traurig shareholder attorney Kerri Barsh and Carlos Gimenez, a vice president at Balsera Communications and son of the county’s mayor, both hired to help ensure the project’s success. “This isn’t like, ‘Oh, let’s buy a lake and do a project and make money.’ It’s ‘Let’s buy a lake and show people what we’re capable of.’ ”
Together Dutch Docklands and Olthius’ firm, Waterstudio.NL, have completed between 800 and 1,000 floating houses in Holland along with 50 other projects including — if there were any question about their design chops —a floating prison near Amsterdam. The team is also constructing the first phase of a 185-villa floating resort in the Maldives — Behrens said 90 have already sold. Olthius also designed a snowflake-shaped floating hotel in Norway, floating mosques in the United Arab Emirates and even a floating greenhouse out of storage containers usually used by oil companies.
The team believes that by building an extreme example of a floating house in Miami, with every bell and whistle imaginable, it can open up a new American market to a way of building that has addressed rising waters in the Netherlands for a century.
“We chose Miami because we know this city is one of the most affected cities by sea-level rise,” Olthuis said by phone from Holland. “Once it’s done, you’ll see it’s a beautiful archipelago effect in the lake.”
So can you get a mortgage? Buy windstorm insurance? Declare a homestead exemption?
Yes, yes and yes, Barsh said. Practically speaking, the barge-like structures are considered houses, not boats, she said. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision on a Riviera Beach houseboat that Barsh helped argue cleared the way by declaring floating homes real estate. After the victory, Barsh started talking to Behrens — they met through the Dutch Chamber of Commerce he founded in Miami in 2011 — about Dutch-style floating homes in the United States.
“Before, there was a lack of clarity,” Barsh said. The court decision “opened up an opportunity for this development to go forward.”
Barsh, who also represents rock-mining interests, says such projects could potentially provide a valuable way to reuse rock pits scattered throughout South Florida.
But what would it mean for the manatees that lumber through the saltwater lake, which is designated critical habitat?
Protections would remain in place, the team said. And the islands, with specially contoured undersides, could provide a habitat for sea life, Behrens said.
Still, making the project fit local laws could be tricky. In a preliminary review by the North Miami Beach city staff, Rivero raised questions as mundane as the need for parking. The city’s civil engineer wondered about stormwater runoff, among other things. And police say they would need a boat from the developer to patrol the islands. There’s one other thing: North Miami Beach’s rules for such developments so far apply only to land.
Luis Espinoza, spokesman for the county’s Division of Environmental Resources Management, said county officials would need to evaluate the islands for environmental impacts. And there’s the matter of taxes.
“If it’s a permanent-type fixture, then it will be assessed as property,” property appraiser spokesman Robert Rodriguez said.
Over the next 100 years, scientists predict climate change will alter water on a global scale. Seas will swell and coasts will shrink. Weather will become more extreme, with stronger hurricanes, harder rains and higher floods. Even routine tides will rise. And almost nowhere else will those effects likely be more dire than in South Florida, where beachfront highrises and marshy suburbs sit on soggy land kept dry by a complicated network of canals, culverts, pumps and other controls.
So solving the problems of coastal living in the 21st century could be lucrative.
“Here in Miami, it’s an artificial landscape, manipulated by mankind at a very high cost,” said Dale Morris, an economist with the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C., who is not connected to the Amillarah project. “So to think it can be maintained at no cost is nuts. I’m an economist. Nothing is free in this world.”
The floating islands, he pointed out, do nothing to solve larger climate problems for cities in South Florida, where flooding now occurs with normal high tides in Miami Beach.
Florida, like Holland, will have to tackle gradual sea rise in addition to event-related flooding like hurricane storm surges, Dutch landscape architect Steven Slabbers said at a recent workshop on resilient design in Miami.
“It’s an inexorable, decade-by-decade phenomenon,” he said.
Considering other Dutch designs — protective dunes tunneled out to hold parking, parks that become ponds and highways that float — a rock-pit-turned-floating-housing by using drilling rig technology might not seem so farfetched.
In recent months, the last new project on Maule Lake, Marina Palms, has shown that demand for lakefront property with Intracoastal access is high. Condos in the first of two buildings, which got the glam treatment this year on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing Miami, sold out. But Maule Lake has not always been a twinkling star in the real estate firmament. It began life as a rock pit, when E.P. Maule moved from Palm Beach in 1913. Maule Industries would become the state’s largest cement manufacturing plant before falling into bankruptcy in the 1970s after it was purchased by Joe Ferre, whose son, former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, managed the company.
“That area was rich in rock pits, quarries and concrete manufacturing,” explained historian Paul George, who said the rock pits pocked the largely industrial area well into the 1960s.
The porous limestone mines fill with water from the area’s high water table. The new lakes provided even more waterfront property to an area already rich with water views, creating a developer’s dream — and possibly an environmentalist’s nightmare.
In addition to worries about marine life, building on the lake may raise concerns about water quality and potential effects on the nearby Biscayne Bay aquatic preserve and the Oleta River, another protected ecosystem. There might also be a question of encroaching on some of the area’s rare open space.
“We have a history in South Florida of viewing open spaces as a pallet for more product to be built on,” said Richard Grosso, a Nova Southeastern University law professor and director of the Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic. “Florida’s always been a place where we’ve suspended the laws of nature and physics and people haven’t always taken into account that there’s a finite amount of space.”
Gimenez, the public relations executive who is also a land use attorney, said the Dutch team has already met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about concerns. The team also plans to meet with neighbors. And while nothing has officially been submitted, he said no one has raised objections. The 7- to 13-foot-deep lake, he pointed out, is too deep to harbor much marine life or sea grass.
Gimenez also said floating islands are better than the alternative: filling the lake and building highrises. Once mined, rock pits are sometimes refilled with construction and demolition debris. Developers in Hallandale Beach, for example, are filling a 45-acre lake with debris to build an office park. Rivero, the planner, said a North Miami Beach ordinance prohibits the lake from being filled, although property trustee Raymond Gaylord Williams, who had the property listed with a local Realtor for $19.5 million, could challenge that.
But getting a variance from a county ordinance regulating waterways could be a feat, since so few are granted, said land use and environmental attorney Howard Nelson.
“Let’s face it, [what developer] wouldn’t rather replace a houseboat with a houseboat office,” he said. “All of a sudden you don’t have the bay anymore. You just have dock space after dock space after dock space with offices.”
Behrens, a former banker who grew up in Aruba and was CEO of a Miami-based Dutch distillery, said the team has been meeting with various regulatory agencies to size up the obstacles since 2013 and will resolve issues as they come up. They hope to have permits completed within the next year and a half, he said.
“It’s a step-by-step approach,” he said. “But we’re Dutch. …We know how to stay and how to make success.”
Jenny Staletovich|The Miami Herald|08.23.14
World’s Most Extreme Weather Events in Early 2014
Just two months into 2014, produced a parade of strange weather extremes around the world, from searing heat, to one of the coldest winters in decades, to flooding so severe it hasn’t been seen in more than a century.
Among the most bizarre was the lack of a winter in parts of the drought-stricken West, including California.
January was the warmest and driest on record in San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. Only four other Januaries since 1878 had been completely dry in Los Angeles until January 2014.
Among the number of monthly records set, perhaps none stood out more than the ongoing record warmth in Sandberg, Calif., located in the mountains of northern Los Angeles County. Sandberg crushed the previous January record number of 11 days of 60-degree-plus warmth with 21 such days. In February, it surpassed the previous record number of 70-degree-plus days (four days), tallying seven such days through Feb. 25.
Instead of digging out from heavy Sierra snow and toting umbrellas, parts of the West were battling wildfires in January.
Perhaps the most bizarre of these was a pair of fires in the coastal range of northwest Oregon in late January, a typically wet and/or chilly location in mid-winter.
In mid-January, a campfire above Glendora, Calif. quickly roared out of control, fanned by Santa Ana winds and ongoing drought conditions, charring almost 2,000 acres and burning 15 structures.
Wildfires also burned in a few spots in northern California earlier this month, including one prompting the evacuation of Kimball Island in Solano County, and others in Marin and Humboldt Counties.
However, another pair of fires shocked us above and beyond those California events.
A pair of fires flared up along in the Oregon coastal range east of the town of Arch Cape, about 70 miles west-northwest of Portland on January 23. Fanned by winds estimated at 70 mph, the flames had burned around 120 acres as of January 24, according to a story by KGW News Channel 8 in Portland.
Average January precipitation and days with measurable precipitation compared to January 2014 (through January 24) in Seaside, Ore.
The coastal ranges of northwest Oregon are among the most reliably wet locations in the Lower 48 states during the winter months.
The graph at left shows average January precipitation and days with measurable precipitation at nearby Seaside, Ore. As you can see, two-thirds of January days typically have at least measurable precipitation. At least one inch of precipitation typically drenches the area 3-4 days each January.
By contrast, January 2014’s precipitation is a small fraction of the monthly average. This precipitation deficit stretches back to fall, as well.
Seaside picked up only 1.41 inches of precipitation in December and 5.86 inches in November. They average over 10 inches each month. Altogether, their deficit from October 1 – January 24 is over 25 inches.
Put simply, the dearth of precipitation since October has left soil moisture levels very low, virtually almost as susceptible to wildfires as their parched neighbors to the south.
Particularly within the last month or so, the Pacific storm track has taken a sharp northward detour into Alaska and northwest Canada, deflected by a massive omega block of high pressure aloft oriented along the West Coast.
Instead of a more typical parade of storms lashing the West with heavy rain and mountain snow, extended dry weather has been the rule this winter.
While it’s not unusual for a northward bulge of high pressure to periodically set up camp in the winter along the West Coast, it’s the persistence of this feature that has tipped the scales to an historic drought for California and significant drought for the rest of the Pacific Northwest.
This past week, with a center of high pressure aloft centered over the coast of British Columbia, coupled with a weak upper-level low off the northern California coast, strong, dry offshore winds buffeted the coastal ranges of northwest Oregon.
According to the story by KGW News Channel 8 in Portland, forestry officials believe these strong winds helped smoldering slash piles flare up into the pair of larger wildfires.
Going into the new week, it appears rain will return to the Pacific Northwest, and also seems likely to shift farther south into at least parts of drought-suffering California.
However, the omega block pattern mentioned earlier may only shift westward into the Pacific Ocean, instead of breaking down altogether. If so, a return to drier conditions may emerge in early February after this upcoming week’s rain.
So, fire crews will have to remain vigilant for wildfires in the West during the rest of 2014.
In February, two snow events blanketed one of the world’s most populous cities with significant snow in less than a week.
By the evening of Feb. 8, 11 inches of snow blanketed central Tokyo. According to Fuji TV, it was the heaviest snow in 45 years for Tokyo and in 60 years for the city of Kumagaya, northwest of Tokyo. Digital meteorologist Nick Wiltgen (Twitter) says the all-time calendar-day snow record was tied in Kumagaya (43 cm, or 16.9 inches).
The following weekend parts of eastern Japan, including parts of the Tokyo metro area, received another round of snow. Some smaller communities were essentially isolated by more than 3 feet of snow.
Atlantic winter storms are not out of the ordinary for western Europe, but what has taken place in parts of England this year is something not seen since the late 19th century.
With the exception of some intense wind-producing storms, it’s been the number and overall persistence of the Atlantic storms that tipped the scales to a major flood event in the south of England, among other locations.
England and Wales were drenched by their wettest December-January period since 1876-77, and their second wettest such period in the entire period of record, dating to 1766, according to the U.K. Met Office.
Then a succession of storms piled on in early-mid February bringing more flooding rain, wind-whipped waves and high winds.
As of mid-February, more than 5,000 homes and businesses were flooded, and 150 square miles of land were submerged, according to news reports. Prince William and Prince Harry were photographed tossing sandbags. Floodwaters cut off Devon and Cornwall from the rest of England on Feb. 8.
In addition to the rain, each storm’s waves have been destructive along the southwest coast of England and southern Ireland.
The Thames Barrier, built to protect central London from tidal flooding, was closed a record 18 times as of Feb. 16. River levels on the Thames reached flow rates not exceeded since prior to 1950, according to the U.K Met Office.
While California and other parts of the western U.S. have registered record highs and a lack of winter precipitation, that has not been the case in the Midwest and East.
In many parts of the Midwest, this has been the coldest winter since the late 1970s or early 1980s. In some locations, this may be a top three coldest winter on record. Some typically bitter cold locations are even breaking previous records for days with subzero cold.
Then there’s the snow.
This winter is already the record snowiest in Toledo, Ohio, and is the second snowiest season on record in Detroit, topped only by a winter during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880-81.
While much of the central and eastern U.S. was shivering, Alaskans experienced their third warmest January in 96 years of record, according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.
Homer, Talkeetna, King Salmon, and Cold Bay (no pun intended) all chalked up their record warmest January. On Jan. 27, Port Alsworth tied the all-time January record high for the state, topping out at an incredible 62 degrees, according to Rick Thoman of the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
Among the impacts of this warm spell:
- A closure of the Alyeska Ski Resort for two days.
- A closure of Fairbanks International Airport on Jan. 23 due to freezing rain.
- Schools closed due to rain, not snow.
Warm air and a series of storms with heavy, wet snow, or even rain, triggered several large avalanches. One notable avalanche in late January buried part of the Richardson Highway in up to 30 feet of snow, cutting off access to America’s snowiest city, Valdez, Alaska.
Interestingly, a wind chill of 97 degrees below zero was observed at Howard Pass on Valentine’s Day, setting a new record cold wind chill for the state, previously held at Prudhoe Bay on Jan. 28, 1989 (-96F). The air temperature at that time was -42 degrees with a sustained wind of 71 mph.
Following Australia’s hottest year on record in 2013, a searing heat wave continued into mid-January 2014.
According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, more than 10 percent of Queensland and almost 15 percent of New South Wales sweated through their record hottest days on Jan. 3.
Another potent heat wave cooked parts of southern Australia in mid-January, during the first week of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.
Temperatures peaked above 41 degrees Celsius (just under 106 degrees Fahrenheit) for four straight days from Jan. 14-17, reaching a searing 43.9 degrees C (111 degrees F) on both Jan. 16 and 17.
On Jan. 14, Canadian tennis player Frank Dancevic fainted during his Australian Open match, claiming he saw Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s famous dog, in an hallucination. Players resorted to draping bags of ice around their necks to keep cool, and crowds thinned for the tournament’s opening rounds.
The heat was even too much for bats. An estimated 1,000 dead bats were found in Dayboro, just north-northwest of Brisbane, in early January.
First, Winter Storm Kronos brought a rare blanket of snow as far south as Louisiana, and sleet as far south as Harlingen, Texas and Pensacola, Fla. in late January.
That was only an appetizer.
Just days later, the confluence of temperatures well below freezing and thousands of vehicles compacting snow on untreated roads lead to a commuter apocalypse in both Birmingham, Ala. and Atlanta during Winter Storm Leon.
Commutes that normally take minutes took in excess of 20 hours for some and involved walking miles from abandoned cars. Some teachers and students were forced to stay at school overnight.
Leon also spread ice and sleet to the Gulf Coast, including the Florida Panhandle, and the Low country of South Carolina.
One more storm, however, would eclipse the ice from Leon.
Winter Storm Pax deposited an inch or more of ice in a swath from east-central Georgia into South Carolina, including Augusta, Ga. and Aiken, S.C. Pax was the second heaviest ice storm dating to 1947 in Wilmington, N.C.
Accumulated ice from Pax claimed the famed “Eisenhower tree” at the Augusta National Golf Club. Pax marked the first time since January 1940 that Columbia, S.C. saw snowfall for three straight days.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation used 33,300 tons of road salt, more than 2.3 million gallons of salt brine, and 12,700 tons of sand on roads for Winter Storms Leon and Pax combined.
In this case, it was a nightmarish commute for those in the Raleigh-Durham metro area on Feb. 12, while virtually all businesses and schools were closed in Atlanta.
Strangely enough, the week after Pax, Columbia, S.C. tied its all-time February high of 84 degrees. Augusta, Ga. warmed into the 80s two straight days on Feb. 19-20.
Also of note, Pax was the third heaviest snowstorm of record in both Blacksburg and Roanoke, Va. Eight states from western North Carolina to Vermont and Massachusetts had at least one location with 20 inches of snow or more.
Can we blame Global Warming?
It is difficult to attribute individual weather events to human-induced climate change, but several recent studies are suggesting the role that greenhouse gases played in weather extremes.
2003 European heatwave contributes to the deaths of about 70,000 people. In 2004, Peter Stott of the UK Met Office and colleagues found that global warming had doubled the likelihood of such an event (Nature, doi.org/c7hxpt).
2010 A heatwave, and smog from resulting fires in Russia, contribute to 56,000 deaths. In 2011 Stefan Rhamstorf of Potsdam University in Germany estimated that there was an 80 per cent chance that the heatwave would not have happened without global warming (PNAS, doi.org/dhnggk).
2011 Drought and extreme heat strike Texas. David Rupp of Oregon State University and his colleagues estimate that the conditions were 20 times as likely to occur in the late 2000s as in the 1960s, due to the added greenhouse gases (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, doi.org/j7r).
2011-2012 Thailand suffers severe floods, more than 800 people perish and damages are estimated at $45 billion. A study by Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute concluded that climate change was not to blame, but that development along the banks of the Chao Phraya river contributed to the disaster (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, doi.org/j7r).
2012 Floods in south-eastern Australia bring a sudden end to a 13-year drought that had afflicted the region. Two separate studies of the floods found no link to climate change (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, doi.org/vc3).
[It seems that the predictions made by scientists as early as twenty years ago that our weather patterns would be changing are actually fact.]
Genetically Modified Organisms
The Problem with G.M.O. Labels
A few weeks ago, I stood behind a woman at a farmers’ market in the Hudson Valley. There was a wide selection of apples, a bit unusual so early in the year, and the woman asked the farmer if any were “G.M.O. apples.” He looked surprised and said no. She was not assuaged.
“How do you know?” she said sharply. ” How can you be sure?”
“He knows because genetically modified apples don’t exist,” I said. “There are none in the orchards and none in the stores.” She turned to me, squinted, and said, “Then don’t you think they should have a label saying so? That way we could at least eat them without worrying.”
Americans are spending a lot of time worrying about what is in their food. This is understandable, given that so much of it is laden with sugar, highly processed flour, and saturated fat. In polls, an overwhelming majority of respondents say they want foods with genetically engineered ingredients to be labelled, and most people add that they would use those labels to avoid eating such foods. Dozens of bills have been put before the legislatures of more than half the states. Vermont and Connecticut have already enacted labeling laws, and many more are likely to follow.
Who, after all, wants to stand in the way of transparency? As John Mackey, of Whole Foods, the temple of organic consumption in America, has said, “People have a right to know what is in their food.” He is right, of course. Yet there is another, equally compelling truth to consider: the overwhelming scientific consensus, based on hundreds of independent studies, demonstrates that foods containing currently available G.M.O.s pose no greater health risk or environmental concern than any other foods.
Americans demand labels, at least in part, because they are afraid. And they are afraid because of the kinds of assertions made by people like Vandana Shiva, an Indian activist whom I profiled this week in the magazine. Shiva and her allies talk constantly about dangers of G.M.O.s that are not supported by facts.
G.M.O. labels may be a political necessity, but they make no scientific sense. Most of the legislation that has been proposed would require a label that says something like “produced with genetic engineering.” Almost none of the labels would identify any specific G.M.O. ingredient in any particular food. In fact, the laws now proposed are so vague that many of the foods in a grocery store would have to carry a label. They would tell you how your food is put together, but not what it contains. How could that help anyone make a sound decision about his health?
All breeding—whether mixing varieties of apples or crossing types of orchids—modifies genomes. There is no other reason to do it. And all the food we eat has been modified in some way—either by nature or by humans. Conventional techniques, often simply a random mixing of genomes, are not necessarily safer than engineering. Nor is mutagenesis, a process in which mutations and variations are induced by radiation or chemicals.
Let’s concede that politics is going to trump science on this issue, and that labelling is inevitable. (And it is not necessarily wrong for concerns about openness to take priority over science.) But we need a uniform standard, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, not dozens of them set by different state laws. So far, a federal standard has seemed unlikely—largely because officials at the F.D.A. have no desire to put labels on products unless there is a clear scientific reason to do so, as there is with tobacco. Warning labels on cigarette packs save lives. What can we expect to get out of such labels on engineered foods?
Activists speak loudly about consumer choice, but many of them want, ultimately, to ban the products of agricultural biotechnology. In the United States, that would be foolhardy and pointless—but not much more than that. What happens in this country, though, will affect the work of scientists everywhere. This kind of crop will be necessary to help feed the ten billion people that will inhabit this planet by the end of the century.
Since this kind of statement is often purposely taken out of context, let me be clear: genetically engineered products are not magic. They will not by themselves feed the poor or heal the sick. But the world needs crops that demand less from the environment and provide more nutrition, using less water, on the same amount of land. Without relying on progress and the advance of science, as we have for centuries, it’s simply not going to happen.
Michael Specter|August 20, 2014
[Eons ago when hunter/gatherers turned to farming and began crossing plants to achieve desirable characteristics, genetic engineering was born. I agree with Mr. Specter in that not all genetic engineering is bad – otherwise you wouldn’t be able to eat sweet corn unless you bought it at the farm and hurried home to cook it. However, as you will see next, a 2011 innovation in GMO corn allows it to produce it’s own insecticide, by splicing genes from insecticides with the corn’s genes. Personally, I think this is taking unwarranted liberties with our food supplies.
Many of the cultivars we enjoy daily are cross-bred and produce no ill-effects. I am, however, against the type of genetic engineering that produces weed killer and/or insect resistance in foodstuffs, because we don’t know what, if any, long-term effects are associated with the new products. They have been approved for use without proper studies. This is simply a ploy to sell the modified seeds and improve the bottom line of the producers, who apparently do not care if there are any ill-effects associated with their products.
I would also appreciate knowing what happens to our foodstuffs when an animal gene is spliced into a plant and vice-versa. In that respect, GMOs should be labeled. It should be up to the consumer to decide whether not to consume an offered product.]
GMO Study: OMG, You’re Eating Insecticide…
Most Americans remain blissfully unaware (or don’t care) they are eating genetically-modified (GM) organisms every day. Passivity and blind faith in the USDA, FDA and EPA have largely contributed to this attitude. Perhaps that will change now that a new study reveals an insecticide produced in GM corn actually gets absorbed into the human body.
If you haven’t been paying attention to your food lately, biotechnology giants such as Monsanto thank you for that. Because behind your back, they’ve succeeded in replacing 86% of US corn with their patented insecticide-producing “frankencorn”.
The industry name for this is “Bt corn” and the insecticide is actually produced inside the plant, so it is impossible to wash it off. This is accomplished by inserting genes from the bacteria Bacillus Thuringiensis into the corn.
Up until now, scientists and multinational corporations such as Monsanto and DuPont have spent billions in lobbying, campaign donations and “testing” in an attempt to convince world governments that GMOs are safe. In the case of Bt corn, they stated the insecticide produced within the corn posed no danger to human health because it was broken down in the digestive system.
Despite corporate assurances, many have been skeptical. Non-GMO advocates such as Jeffrey Smith from The Institute For Responsible Technology and the Organic Consumers Association have long been concerned about the potential impact this Bt toxin could have on human health.
Scientists from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, proved the validity of these concerns when they detected the insecticidal protein, Cry1Ab, circulating in the blood of both pregnant and non-pregnant women. They also detected the toxin in fetal blood, suggesting that the toxin can be passed on to the fetus. The research paper has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Reproductive Toxicology.
Neither the women studied or their spouses worked in agriculture. All reported to be consuming a typical Canadian diet that is virtually identical to the American diet.
“Generated data will help regulatory agencies responsible for the protection of human health to make better decisions”, said researchers Aziz Aris and Samuel Leblanc.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel that our pro-GMO Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will pay attention to this research. I also doubt that our Deputy Commissioner of Foods Michael Taylor, who also happens to be Monsanto’s former vice-president, will pay this study much attention either. It doesn’t stop there. The revolving door is growing exponentially and the foxes have taken up residence in the hen house.
Are you pissed? You should be. We’ve let corporate interests turn us into poison-fed lab rats. It doesn’t end at corn either. 93% of both soy and canola are also genetically-modified. On top of that, Monsanto has acres of laboratories containing new mutant species awaiting to slip into your pantry. You’re probably wearing some of their Bt cotton right now. It comprises 93% of US cotton and 68% of Chinese cotton.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the uproar around Bt brinjal, a GM variety of eggplant, in India. When it was approved in 2009, a country-wide protest began and the Indian government applied a moratorium on its release.
Meanwhile, here in the US, GMO crops are getting approved left and right and most Americans still don’t even know what “GMO” even means.
Mutant Crops Drive BASF Sales Where Monsanto Denied: Commodities
Crop breeders increasingly are using radiation and gene-altering chemicals to mutate seeds, creating new plant varieties with better yields — all without regulation.
The United Nations’ Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture program has received 39 requests this year for radiation services from plant breeders in dozens of countries, the most since records began in 1977, according to program head Pierre Lagoda. The group in Vienna promotes developing more “sustainable” crops by irradiating them to resist threats like drought, insects, disease and salinity.
Mutation breeding, after booming in the 1950s with the dawn of the Nuclear Age, is still used by seed developers from BASF SE to DuPont Co. to create crops for markets that reject genetic engineering. Regulators don’t demand proof that new varieties are harmless. The U.S. National Academies of Science warned in 1989 and again in 2004 that regulating genetically modified crops while giving a pass to products of mutation breeding isn’t scientifically justified.
“The NAS hits the nail on the head and I don’t think that any plant- or crop-scientist will disagree,” said Kevin M. Folta, a molecular geneticist and interim chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida. “Mutation breeding is absolutely the least predictable.”
The increase in mutation breeding raises questions of fairness and safety compared with genetic engineering, a regulated technique used by companies such as Monsanto Co. that involves transferring specific genes from one species to another. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean, a blockbuster product in the U.S. and Brazil, can’t be grown in the European Union, where national governments have cited concerns about risks to health and the environment.
In contrast, mutagenesis deletes and rearranges hundreds or thousands of genes randomly. It uses a man-made process that mimics with a greater intensity what the sun’s radiation has done to plants and animals for millennia, spawning mutations that sometimes are beneficial or hazardous to the organism.
The randomness makes mutagenesis less precise than St. Louis-based Monsanto’s genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, the NAS said in a 2004 report. It’s the breeding technique most likely to cause unintended genetic changes, some of which could harm human health, the academy said.
Still, mutagenesis is gaining in popularity because it’s a far cheaper way to give crops new traits than the $150 million to $200 million that companies such as Monsanto pay to get a new GMO on the market. Mutant crops also face no labeling requirements or regulatory hurdles in most of the world.
“These difficulties in getting a GMO to the market, we don’t have it in mutation breeding,” Lagoda said in an Oct. 16 phone interview.
Breeders have registered more than 3,000 mutant varieties with Lagoda’s program, a partnership between the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Those varieties are just “the tip of the iceberg” because many breeders actively avoid revealing how they create new plants, Lagoda said.
This year alone, Lagoda’s program has gotten requests to help irradiate 31 plant species, ranging from sugar beets from Poland and wheat from the U.K. to rice from Indonesia and potatoes from Kenya.
Some of the program’s greatest successes have been in Asia. Lower labor costs there make it practical to sort through tens of thousands of plants to find a variety with the desired change. In Vietnam, mutant varieties of soy account for half of the crop and higher yields from mutant rice has made the country self-sufficient in that grain, Lagoda said. Vietnam is now using the technique to develop salt-tolerant rice, he said.
Mutant breeding was developed during World War II and promoted during the Cold War as a peaceful use of nuclear technology. It created thousands of new plant varieties by knocking out genes with X-rays and gamma rays as well as chemicals.
Atomic gardens, built around gamma-ray emitters, were popular among breeders in the 1960s and Japan still operates one. China began launching seeds into space in 1987 to take advantage of cosmic radiation and low gravity, developing more than 40 mutant crops with higher yields and better disease resistance, including varieties of rice, wheat and pepper.
Most of the world’s wheat, rice and barley are descendants of mutant varieties, according to Lagoda. Mutagenesis is used to give fruits and vegetables a new color and to make grains shorter and easier to harvest. In the U.S., mutagenesis was used to develop Star Ruby grapefruit and varieties of lettuce, beans, oats, rice and wheat.
BASF, the world’s biggest chemical company, is having success with its line of Clearfield crops. The German company made the crops tolerant of its Clearfield herbicide through chemical mutagenesis. It alters the crops’ DNA by dousing seeds with chemicals such as ethyl methanesulfonate and sodium azide, according to company filings in Canada, the only nation that regulates such crops.
“This has been a technique used for many decades without issue, without concern,” Jonathan Bryant, a BASF vice president said by phone.
BASF enlists the help of 40 seed companies, including DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. in the U.S. and Switzerland’s Syngenta AG to sell Clearfield crops in markets that reject GMOs. Clearfield wheat, rice, lentils, sunflowers and canola are planted from Russia to Argentina and the U.S. without regulatory review.
DuPont Products Operating earnings at BASF’s agriculture unit rose 27 percent last year, partly because of higher demand in Eastern Europe for Clearfield herbicide and the mutant crops that tolerate it, the company said in its annual report. Its products are safe for consumers and the environment, said Nevin McDougall, a BASF senior vice president.
DuPont’s Pioneer seed unit created an herbicide-tolerant sunflower by exposing the seeds to ethyl methanesulfonate. The sunflowers are marketed as ExpressSun and are grown primarily in Russia, Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe, said Paul Schickler, president of Pioneer, where plant breeders use both genetic modification and mutagenesis.
“There is not a black line between biotechnology and non-biotechnology,” Schickler said. “It’s a continuum.”
Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley agreed. Plant breeders for the past five years have had the ability to use molecular markers and sequenced genomes of corn and other crops to improve crosses, making conventional breeding more like genetic engineering, he said.
“For all practical purposes, breeding and biotechnology are converging,” Fraley said in an interview, adding that Monsanto uses mutagenesis “a little bit.”
Still, for some scientists there’s a clear distinction between mutagenesis and creating GMOs. The latter are more likely to be safe because regulators require breeders to document why any new proteins won’t cause health problems such as allergies, said Alan McHughen, a molecular geneticist at the University of California in Riverside.
Breeders who avoid genetic modification are simply trusted to rid their new plants of any hazards. That doesn’t always happen: Varieties of conventionally bred potatoes, celery and squash have been pulled from the market after breeders accidentally increased levels of naturally occurring toxins.
Whatever the risk borne by mutation breeding, it has a “microscopic” chance of creating a health hazard compared with the possibility of getting a food-borne illness such as salmonella, according to Wayne Parrott, professor of crop science at the University of Georgia in Athens.
“There are always unintended changes, but what we are worried about is hazardous unintended changes, and the probability of that is very, very low,” Parrott said by phone.
The NAS and other science groups have urged the U.S. to adopt a system more like Canada, where novel food traits are examined for safety regardless of the method used to create them. In the U.S., where only GMOs are required to pass through an approval process, the Department of Agriculture issued a memo this year verifying crops created through mutagenesis as acceptable even for organic farming.
“Any GMO on the market today is safer than anything that hasn’t gone through that safety regulatory step,” McHughen, a member of the National Academies who helped write the 2004 report, said by phone.
Despite that view, Monsanto — the world’s largest maker of genetically altered crops — faces not just regulation of its GMOs and bans in some countries, but also political hurdles that can delay product introductions for years, sometimes indefinitely.
In July, it withdrew applications for planting its seeds in the EU, which has approved only one application in two decades. BASF last year decided to move its plant-science division, which works on engineered crops, to the U.S. from Germany. Given the situation in the EU, breeders have little choice except to switch to mutation breeding, Lagoda said.
“The current regulations are a huge incentive to go back and do things the old way,” including mutagenesis, said Parrott of the University of Georgia. “Simply because, even though you may bring in a bunch of unknown genes and a lot of unknown changes, it’s not regulated.”
New Study Shows Glaring Differences Between GMO and Non-GMO Foods
New studies conducted by scientists independent of the biotech industry are showing glaring differences between genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their non-GMO counterparts.
“Substantial Equivalence” has benefited the GMO produce trade, allowing it to skip over regulations that would apply to other food products including uniquely processed foods, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and food additives, all of which require a wide range of toxicological tests and can be subject to legal limitations regarding safe consumption.
These findings contrast the principle of “Substantial Equivalence,” which has facilitated the approval of GMOs with virtually no protection for public health or the environment, reports the Permaculture Research Institute.
The substantial equivalence concept, introduced in 1993 by the Organisation for Economic Development (an international economic and trade organization, not a health body), states that if a new food is found to be mostly equal to an already existing food product it can be treated the same way as the existing product in respect to safety.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare typically base their GMO food safety regulations on substantial equivalence.
This faulty concept has benefited the GMO produce trade, allowing it to skip over regulatory requirements that would apply to other food products including uniquely processed foods, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and food additives, all of which require a wide range of toxicological tests and can be subject to legal limitations regarding safe consumption.
There are many good reasons for consumers to feel unprotected by these regulatory policies, considering how flexible and open they are to interpretation for the approval of just about any kind of GMO submitted.
“In practice, the principle allows the comparison of a GM line to any existing variety within the same species, and even to an abstract entity made up of ingredients from a collection of species,” wrote Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji in a Permaculture Research Institute post. “This means that a GM variety can have all the worst traits of many different varieties and still be deemed substantially equivalent.”
Independent assessments of substantial equivalence carried out across the world have shown how this practice is not only inadequate but untrustworthy, and the new studies confirm this.
In April 2013, an Egyptian publication led by Professor El-Sayed Shaltout at Alexandria University, found that a type of Monsanto’s GMO corn showed substantial non-equivalence and toxicity when compared to non-GMO corn,
A more recent study led by Thomas Bøhn at the Norwegian Centre for Biosafety tested scores of GMO and non-GMO soybeans, and found them not to be substantially equivalent.
“Profiling technologies … allow the simultaneous measurement and comparison of thousands of plant components, in this case proteins, without prior knowledge of their identity,” wrote Sirinathsinghji. “These methods are now being employed by independent scientists to provide a more thorough, unbiased and global profile of GM crop composition for risk assessment.”
John Deike|February 20, 2014
Keep GMO foods off our plates
The way we produce food in our country is broken.
From genetically engineered ingredients hidden in products with no warning to consumers, to GMO crops engineered to withstand ever-increasing levels of Monsanto’s pesticides, to unnecessary, risky GMO salmon, the junk food and chemical industries are pouring millions into a future dominated by unhealthy, unsustainable, chemical-intensive, corporate-controlled industrial food production.
But I believe that the future of food can and must be local, organic, healthy and just.
Thanks to people like you, our work to build a healthy, sustainable food future is already gaining traction on several fronts. Consumers are sending a strong message that we don’t want these GMO foods on our plates, and food retailers are starting to respond.
Because of our work, the top two grocery chains, Kroger and Safeway, along with more than 60 other major supermarkets, have committed to not sell GMO salmon if it comes to market. What’s more, two of the largest apple buyers — McDonald’s and Gerber — have confirmed that they will not sell GMO apples.
Meanwhile, we’re making sure food companies reject GMOs 2.0 — produced via new “extreme” genetic engineering techniques called synthetic biology. This week Haagen-Dazs (owned by Nestlé and General Mills) and other companies confirmed to Friends of the Earth they won’t use unlabeled, virtually unregulated synbio “vanilla” flavoring, excreted by genetically engineered yeast, in their ice cream.
Even as some retailers and food companies are saying “no” to GMOs, the junk food and chemical companies profiting from them are not giving up. So if we don’t want to eat these foods, we have to make sure GMOs already on the market are labeled.
Big Food is spending big to fight GMO labeling initiatives across the country. Last year, they spent millions to blanket the airwaves with misleading ads, leading to the narrow defeat of labeling initiatives in Washington and California. Now, they’re at it again, fighting Oregon voters’ right to know what they are eating.
That’s why we’re on the ground right now in Oregon, reaching out directly to the public about the importance of labeling GMOs. If we can win in Oregon it will open the door to GMO labeling across the country.
Lisa Archer|Food and technology program director|Friends of the Earth
Fracking’s Chemical Cocktails
Fracking is once again in trouble. Scientists have found that what gets pumped into hydrocarbon-rich rock as part of the hydraulic fracture technique to release gas and oil trapped in underground reservoirs may not be entirely healthy.
Environmental engineer William Stringfellow and colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of the Pacific told the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco that they scoured databases and reports to compile a list of the chemicals commonly used in fracking.
Such additives, which are necessary for the extraction process, include:
- acids to dissolve minerals and open up cracks in the rock;
- biocides to kill bacteria and prevent corrosion;
- gels and other agents to keep the fluid at the right level of viscosity at different temperatures;
- substances to prevent clays from swelling or shifting;
- distillates to reduce friction;
- acids to limit the precipitation of metal oxides.
”Some of these compounds – for example, common salt, acetic acid and sodium carbonate – are routinely used in households worldwide.
But the researchers assembled a list of 190 of them, and considered their properties. For around one-third of them, there was very little data about health risks, and eight of them were toxic to mammals.
Industrial secrecy prohibits full disclosure
Fracking is a highly controversial technique, and has not been handed a clean bill of health by the scientific societies.
Seismologists have warned that such operations could possibly trigger earthquakes, and endocrinologists have warned that some of the chemicals used are known hormone-disruptors, and likely therefore to represent a health hazard if they get into well water.
Industry operators have countered that their techniques are safe, and involve innocent compounds frequently used, for instance, in making processed food and even ice-cream.
But the precise cocktail of chemicals used by each operator is often an industrial secret, and the North Carolina legislature even considered a bill that would make it a felony to disclose details of the fracking fluid mixtures.
So the Lawrence Berkeley team began their research in the hope of settling some aspects of the dispute.
Tim Radford|The Ecologist|August 22, 2014
Continue reading at ENN affiliate, The Ecologist.
5 Things You Should Know About Solar Panels Before Installing Them in Your Home
Solar panels are an energy saving home power solution that can help dramatically reduce both your power bill and your carbon footprint. Installing them is relatively simple and although their one-time installation cost may be high, long term prices for these panels are remarkably reasonable. Many commercial and residential dwellings use solar panels as part of their energy plan and use is only growing in popularity. This applies particularly to areas of the world where at least 6 hours of peak sunshine are available on a daily basis for large parts of the year.
However, even in less sun soaked places, panels can be installed and will still help reduce your power bill to some extent.
That said; let’s look over some important factors that you need to consider before installing a solar panel system in your own home or business. This is a fairly big decision and you need to have at least your basic facts straight if you want to go ahead with it.
1. Basic Considerations
As a first step towards setting up your own solar power system, you will need to calculate your approximate energy requirements and how much of that you can expect to cover with a solar array of whatever size you can afford. Your monthly and annual energy consumption can be easily found just by looking at your monthly electrical bills over a range of several months and calculating an average annual consumption.
If your energy bills are particularly high, then you might also consider ways in which you can lower them to some extent by cutting back on using electrical lighting unnecessarily, shutting off certain appliances and maybe buying less energy intensive home appliances. You may also consult a professional electrician on how you can optimize your electrical wiring and lighting locations at home to reduce your overall electricity consumption.
With your energy consumption calculated, you need to know how much peak sunlight you can expect for your particular region. This is going to vary greatly depending on where you live but generally speaking you should be able to count on at least a few hours of peak sunlight per day for half the year. Furthermore, to improve this, your panels should be installed on a southward facing surface for maximal sun exposure.
The average American home uses about 14,000 watt hours per day of electricity. You’ll want to cover as much of this as possible with your panel array.
2. How Much for How Much Energy?
So, given that the average home uses about 14,000 watt hours per 24 hour day in powering its main electrical and electronic devices (except the heating and cooking appliances), how much solar panel coverage will you need to almost completely meet the needs of your power consumption?
Well, modern PV (photo voltaic) cells generate about 70 miliwatts per square inch; this means that if you can get 4 hours of usable sunlight per day, you’d be receiving about 280 miliwatt hours per inch per day. With these quantities, you’d need to install at least 51,000 square inches of solar paneling; this amounts to 354 square feet of panels. These will provide you with an estimated 14,000 watt hours during their peak operating times under perfect conditions. However, since you won’t normally get perfect conditions and because the sun only shines for a fraction of each day, actual energy savings from such an array may be somewhat less than complete.
Nonetheless, these 354 square feet (assuming you live in a typical middle class home) will still drastically reduce your annual power bill by as much as 90%.
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3. Equipment Requirements
Solar energy systems for homes don’t just consist of a series of glass panels. These are the most visible part of the whole arrangement, but hardly the only one. In addition to the numerous photo voltaic cells or modules, you will also have to install two other principal components. These are the electricity inverter unit, which turns the solar arrays DC current into the AC current that powers your home, and a battery cell unit, which can store extra energy for when there is no solar power coming to the PV cells in your yard or on your roof.
Certain modern PV solar panels actually have their own built-in micro inverters attached to each one of the individual cells. These are beneficial because they allow you to grow your solar array however you please without having to replace inverters to fit expanding or shrinking size requirements. They also allow for easier installation and lose less energy absorption ability under conditions of partial shade.
The most important question of all to the budget conscious green thinking homeowner; cost is a big reason why solar power isn’t more common in places where it’s not actually necessary. Even though prices have steadily been dropping as the home based solar energy market expands, PV arrays are by no means cheap even now.
An array such as our example above will probably cost you a minimum of $16,000 for the panels alone and another twice that for the inverter and battery storage system. Furthermore, the battery does have to be replaced every few years, adding to your costs. Micro-inverter based PV cells are going to save you some expense by removing the cost of a single inverter, but the individual cells are more expensive than normal PV modules.
A key cost reduction factor will be in the energy reduction measures you take. This means that before you even install your system, you should have switched to energy saving appliances, reduced the use of unnecessary lighting and decreased the number of unneeded electronics in your home. These cutbacks will allow you to reduce the size of your power bill before you even start with Solar panel installation.
5. Return on Investment
So, assuming you decide to set up a solar array of at least 354 square feet and manage to reduce your annual grid based power consumption by at least 90%, how long will it take you to earn back the investment? Well, let’s assume your overall installation costs amount to a total of $33,000 to $40,000 dollars for an array of 354 square feet or more. With such an installation you reduce an average annual power bill of $1500 by 90% and are left with an annual savings of $1350. You might even manage to attain complete electrical self-sufficiency, but given the realities of weather, electrical inefficiency and other factors, this is unlikely.
With $1350 saved each year, your $33,000 investment (at the lower end of the cost scale) will be able to completely pay for itself within a little over 20 years.
However, there are a few other factors that can shorten your ROI time rapidly. First of all, there is a federal tax credit available to homeowners that cover 30% of your solar array installation costs. In addition to this, there may be a number of annual or one time state tax and utility credits that you can take advantage of in your particular state. If you live in another country, similar programs may apply for your local jurisdiction and any of them will help shorten your ROI.
Finally, you should also bear in mind the inflating cost of grid based electricity, and this is rising at an annual rate of 5% in many places. What this means is that the amount you don’t pay to the utility company each year will more than likely grow, shortening the amount of time it takes you to pay for your initial solar array installation.
Greener Ideal|August 20, 2014
Third US Offshore Wind Lease Auction Goes to Italy-based US Wind
US Wind won an 80,000-acre parcel off the coast of Maryland with an $8.7 million bid. The land is estimated to have more than 1.4 GW of capacity.
Massachusetts, USA — The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held its third auction of offshore wind leases yesterday, this time for prime U.S. federal waters off the coast of Maryland. Italian renewable energy company US Wind Inc. won the 80,000-acre parcel with an $8.7 million bid, well above previous auctions.
The area of interest was separated into two parcels, a North and South lease area located about 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. If fully developed, this land has the potential to support up to 1,450 MW of offshore wind capacity.
Sixteen companies expressed interest in the area and were qualified to compete, including familiar names from the previous two offshore auctions: Fishermen’s, Iberdrola, Sea Breeze, Orisol, Apex, Energy Management, SCS Maryland Energy, EDF, Dominion, Convalt, Bluewater Wind Maryland, Green Sail, Maryland Offshore Wind, RES America Developments, Seawind, and US Wind. Out of the sixteen, only three companies — US Wind, Green Sail and SCS Maryland — participated in a 19-round bidding process.
Last year, BOEM held two offshore wind auctions. Deepwater Wind won the first auction for two parcels off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island with a $3.8 million bid. The 164,000-acre area holds an estimated 3.6 GW of potential. Dominion Virginia Power won the second auction for land 23 miles off the Virginia coast with a $1.6 million bid, which amounts to 2 GW of potential on 112,000 acres. BOEM also has a hand in facilitating the 454-MW Cape Wind project, which will likely be the first U.S. offshore wind farm, and the 30-MW Block Island Wind Farm, which is following close behind. Hoping to capitalize on these developments, the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts is constructing an offshore wind port to facilitate the construction and transportation of materials for the U.S. Atlantic coast.
In addition to federal support, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has promised a $1.7 billion, 20-year taxpayer subsidy for a 210-MW offshore wind farm at the site, the first subsidy created for a lease site. Once the project is commissioned, household electric rates will increase up to $1.50 per month and businesses will see a 1.5 percent monthly surcharge. The bill was signed into law after several years of debate, and coincides with Maryland’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which calls for 20 percent of its electricity to come from renewables by 2022. O’Malley hopes the law will not only help reduce emissions, but also boost the economy.
“We need a jobs agenda to match our climate challenge,” said O’Malley in a statement. “Expanding renewable energy, like we’re doing here, will bring Maryland’s vision for clean energy one step closer to reality and clearly set our State apart on the country’s renewable energy landscape.”
US Wind has one year to send BOEM a site assessment plan, which describes how the company will evaluate wind resources at the site. It then has 4.5 years to submit a construction and operations (COP) plan, followed by an environmental assessment. Once approved, US Wind will have earned a 25-year term of operations.
“[Yesterday’s] results are a major achievement and reflect industry confidence as we strengthen our nation’s foothold in this new energy frontier,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in a statement. “The collaboration and thoughtful planning that went into this lease sale will serve as a model as we continue up and down the coast in our efforts to ensure wind energy is developed in the right way and in the right places.”
BOEM is scheduled to hold additional offshore wind lease auctions off the coasts of Massachusetts and New Jersey within the next year.
Meg Cichon|Associate Editor|RenewableEnergyWorld.com|August 20, 2014
Scientists Invent a Way to Generate Electricity From Your Home’s Windows
A transparent solar concentrator turns window glass and even smartphones into solar panels.
Forget putting solar panels on your roof—in the near future, you may be generating electricity from windows, skylights, or even your iPhone.
Researchers at Michigan State University have created a transparent photovoltaic material that can be placed over glass or any other clear surface. It’s not a new idea. Captivated by the notion of transforming glass-walled skyscrapers into giant solar power stations, scientists have spent years tinkering with solar films that can generate electricity.
The problem? Most of those materials carry a colored tint, which would make working in a building with such solar windows “like working in a disco,” in the words of Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State.
The breakthrough made by researchers led by Lunt was to create a material that is truly see-through. How? The luminescent solar concentrator they developed is composed of organic molecules that absorb wavelengths of sunshine invisible to human eyes, so the device could be made completely transparent. That collected sunlight is then shuttled to the edges of the plastic-like material, where it strikes thin strips of photovoltaic cells to generate electricity.
“The aesthetic quality of this approach is exceptionally high, which is key to many applications,” Lunt wrote in an email.
In other words, the neighbors aren’t going to complain if you install Lunt’s solar concentrators on your picture windows.
They probably wouldn’t even notice. The working prototype that Lunt’s team built looks like an unremarkable piece of clear plastic.
For now, though, the solar concentrator doesn’t produce much power. The prototype was less than 1 percent efficient at converting sunlight into electricity, according to a paper Lunt’s team published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials. Most conventional solar panels like those found on residential rooftops, on the other hand, are around 20 percent efficient.
The goal, Lunt said, is to make the material more than 5 percent efficient. That doesn’t sound like much, but imagine the electricity generated if, say, every window in Los Angeles or Houston was covered with luminescent solar concentrators.
He said it will probably be five or more years before the solar concentrators hit the market. But he and his colleagues have spun off a company called Ubiquitous Energy to commercialize the technology.
Expect to see it first on smartphones and other electronic devices. “It is natural to start with smaller and pricier products and then move toward larger-area applications,” Lunt said.
Todd Woody|senior environment and wildlife editor|TakePart|August 20, 2014
Study Finds 8 Fracking Chemicals Toxic to Humans
Fracking is once again in trouble. Scientists have found that what gets pumped into hydrocarbon-rich rock as part of the hydraulic fracture technique to release gas and oil trapped in underground reservoirs may not be entirely healthy.
Environmental engineer William Stringfellow and colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of the Pacific told the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco that they scoured databases and reports to compile a list of the chemicals commonly used in fracking.
Such additives, which are necessary for the extraction process, include: acids to dissolve minerals and open up cracks in the rock; biocides to kill bacteria and prevent corrosion; gels and other agents to keep the fluid at the right level of viscosity at different temperatures; substances to prevent clays from swelling or shifting; distillates to reduce friction; acids to limit the precipitation of metal oxides.
Some of these compounds—for example, common salt, acetic acid and sodium carbonate—are routinely used in households worldwide.
But the researchers assembled a list of 190 of them, and considered their properties. For around one-third of them, there was very little data about health risks, and eight of them were toxic to mammals.
Fracking is a highly controversial technique, and has not been handed a clean bill of health by the scientific societies.
Seismologists have warned that such operations could possibly trigger earthquakes, and endocrinologists have warned that some of the chemicals used are known hormone-disruptors, and likely therefore to represent a health hazard if they get into well water.
Industry operators have countered that their techniques are safe, and involve innocent compounds frequently used, for instance, in making processed food and even ice cream.
But the precise cocktail of chemicals used by each operator is often an industrial secret, and the North Carolina legislature even considered a bill that would make it a felony to disclose details of the fracking fluid mixtures.
So the Lawrence Berkeley team began their research in the hope of settling some aspects of the dispute.
Dr Stringfellow explained: “The industrial side was saying, ‘We’re just using food additives, basically making ice cream here.’ On the other side, there’s talk about the injection of thousands of toxic chemicals. As scientists, we looked at the debate and asked, ‘What’s the real story?’”
The story that unfolded was that there could be some substance to claims from both the industry and the environmentalists. But there were also caveats. Eight substances were identified as toxins. And even innocent chemicals could represent a real hazard to the water supply.
“You can’t take a truckload of ice cream and dump it down a storm drain,” Dr Stringfellow said. “Even ice cream manufacturers have to treat dairy wastes, which are natural and biodegradable. They must break them down, rather than releasing them directly into the environment.
“There are a number of chemicals, like corrosion inhibitors and biocides in particular, that are being used in reasonably high concentrations that could potentially have adverse effects. Biocides, for example, are designed to kill bacteria—it’s not a benign material.”
Tim Radford|Climate News Network|August 19, 2014
How Cutting Emissions Pays Off
Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution.
But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.
But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.
“Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality,” says Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT, and co-author of a study published today in Nature Climate Change. “In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution.”
Selin and colleagues compared the health benefits to the economic costs of three climate policies: a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy, and a cap-and-trade program. The three were designed to resemble proposed U.S. climate policies, with the clean-energy standard requiring emissions reductions from power plants similar to those proposed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
The researchers found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost to implement a transportation policy, but up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program. The difference depended largely on the costs of the policies, as the savings — in the form of avoided medical care and saved sick days — remained roughly constant: Policies aimed at specific sources of air pollution, such as power plants and vehicles, did not lead to substantially larger benefits than cheaper policies, such as a cap-and-trade approach.
Savings from health benefits dwarf the estimated $14 billion cost of a cap-and-trade program. At the other end of the spectrum, a transportation policy with rigid fuel-economy requirements is the most expensive policy, costing more than $1 trillion in 2006 dollars, with health benefits recouping only a quarter of those costs. The price tag of a clean energy standard fell between the costs of the two other policies, with associated health benefits just edging out costs, at $247 billion versus $208 billion.
Audrey Resutek|MIT News|August 25, 2014
Read more at MIT News.
Verizon On Track to Be No. 1 Solar-Power Producer Among U.S. Comm. Companies
Verizon announced today that it will invest nearly $40 million to expand the on-site green energy program that it launched in 2013. This year, Verizon will install 10.2 megawatts of new solar power systems at eight Verizon network facilities in five states — California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. This investment nearly doubles the amount of renewable power generated by solar energy systems installed at six Verizon facilities last year.
To date, Verizon has invested nearly $140 million in on-site green energy. With the 2014 solar investment announced today, Verizon is on target to deploy upward of 25 megawatts of green energy upon completion of the new solar projects. The system will generate enough green energy to power more than 8,500 homes each year. Verizon’s total green-energy efforts are expected to offset 22,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is equivalent to taking nearly 5,000 passenger vehicles off the road each year.
“Our investment in on-site green energy is improving the quality of life in the communities we serve by reducing CO2 levels and reducing strain on commercial power grids, while increasing our energy efficiency,” said James Gowen, Verizon’s chief sustainability officer. “By almost doubling the amount of renewable, solar energy we’re using, we are making further progress toward Verizon’s goal of cutting our carbon intensity in half by 2020, in part, by leveraging the proven business case for clean-energy alternatives to the commercial power grid.”
With this announcement, Verizon is on track to become the No. 1 solar-power producer among all U.S. communications companies, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. trade association for companies that research, manufacture, distribute, finance and build solar projects domestically and abroad.
“Based on its existing solar power capacity and on-site generating systems, combined with its new solar energy expansion plans for 2014, it’s clear that Verizon is on a path to become the solar-power leader in the U.S. telecom industry,” said SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch. “In fact, we project that Verizon will be among the top 20 of all companies nationwide in terms of the number of solar installations it operates, and one of the top 10 companies in the U.S. based on solar generating capacity.”
Verizon contracted with SunPower Corp. to design and install all of the solar systems. The new equipment, consisting of high-efficiency rooftop, parking-structure and ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems, will vary from site to site.
Guest Author|Clean Techies|August 26, 2014
Continue reading at ENN affiliate CleanTechies.
Cooling tubes at FPL St. Lucie nuke plant show significant wear
Florida Power & Light’s St. Lucie Nuclear Plant on Hutchinson Island, about 50 miles north of West Palm Beach, may be in trouble.
More than 3,700 tubes that help cool a nuclear reactor at Florida Power & Light’s St. Lucie facility exhibit wear. Most other similar plants have between zero and a few hundred.
Worst case: A tube bursts and spews radioactive fluid. That’s what happened at the San Onofre plant in California two years ago. The plant shut down forever because it would have cost too much to fix.
FPL says its plant is safe, the rate of wear is slowing and its customers’ multibillion-dollar investment in the plant is not in jeopardy.
“The bottom line is, these components are functioning within their requirements, and if they weren’t they would be removed from service,” said Michael Waldron, an FPL spokesman.
FPL is so confident in St. Lucie’s condition that it boosted the plant’s power. The utility acknowledged that will aggravate wear on the tubes, located inside steam generators.
Critics say that’s like pressing hard on the accelerator, even when you know the car has worn brakes.
“The damn thing is grinding down,” said Daniel Hirsch, a University of California at Santa Cruz nuclear policy lecturer. “They must be terrified internally. They’ve got steam generators that are now just falling apart.”
Nuclear power plants are like very expensive tea kettles. The reactor heats water. The steam generator turns hot water to steam, which powers a turbine, which makes electricity.
The steam generator also uses its thousands of alloy tubes to cool water, which is pumped back to cool the reactor. In that sense, the steam generators are a safety device.
“The tubes need to be very thin to transfer heat, and they need to be very strong to prevent a meltdown,” said Hirsch, who reviewed the tube problems at San Onofre and St. Lucie. “Steam generators are really critical to safety. It’s not a feature you want to play with.”
FPL, the state’s largest electric utility, brought the St. Lucie 2 plant online in 1983, about 50 miles north of West Palm Beach.
In 2007, FPL installed two new steam generators for $140 million, intending them to last until the plant’s license expires in 2043. Each generator contained about 9,000 tubes, which are 50 to 70 feet long.
In 2009, FPL shut down the reactor for routine refueling. An inspection found that the tubes were banging against the stainless steel antivibration bars, leaving dents and wear spots.
More than 2,000 tubes showed some wear in 5,855 separate places. (A tube can be worn in multiple spots.)
At that time – this was three years before San Onofre – it was by far the most wear found at the 20 or so similar plants with new generators, according to filings with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Salem 2 plant in New Jersey had 1,567 wear indications when first inspected, but no other plant had more than a few hundred. The typical plant had fewer than 20.
Aging steam generators near the end of their useful lives can develop significant tube wear, but to sustain thousands of wear indications just a couple of years after installation is unusual.
“St. Lucie is the outlier of all the active plants,” said Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and frequent critic of the nuclear industry.
FPL turned the plant back on, telling the NRC in a subsequent report that the tube wear was within allowable levels. Federal regulators agreed that the plant was safe to operate, though they noted that the number of wear indications was “much greater” than in other steam generators of similar age.
In 2011, FPL again shut down the reactor and inspected the tubes. The wear had spread.
Affected tubes: 2,978, up 46 percent from 2009.
Worn spots: 8,825, up 51 percent.
A few months after the San Onofre leak, FPL inspected the St. Lucie plant. Again, the problem had spread. More than 3,745 tubes showed wear in 11,518 places, almost 1,250 more than at San Onofre 3.
In answers to questions from the Tampa Bay Times, the NRC said the plant has no safety issues and operates within established guidelines. That includes holding up under “postulated accident conditions.”
FPL insisted St. Lucie should not be linked to San Onofre from either a safety or financial standpoint.
“From an engineering perspective,” said Waldron, the FPL spokesman, ”you can neither make a comparison, nor can you assume an outcome because the two systems are so different.”
Southern California Edison, however, found plenty of similarities.
In its analysis of what happened at San Onofre, the company called St. Lucie “the next closest plant with a high number of wear indications.”
“Although a different (steam generator) design, the (antivibration bars) serve the same design function,” Edison wrote in its April 2, 2012, analysis. “So St. Lucie was used to determine similarities and potential actions.”
During hearings, Edison repeatedly pointed to St. Lucie as having the same problem, said Hirsch and Gundersen.
“I think the comparison is dead on,” Gundersen said. “All of the failure modes except for (tubes hitting each other)are identical. When the same problem popped at the two San Onofre plants, it suddenly became a cluster.”
Ultimately it’s not the number of instances of wear but the depth of wear that matters most.
Think of it this way: If hundreds of roof shingles all show minor wear, the home remains dry. But if a hole wears right through to the attic, water leaks into the living room every time it rains.
Inspectors measure the depth in percentages. One percent is very shallow; 100 percent equals a burst tube. The tube walls are 0.043 inches thick, about as thick as a compact disc.
Speaking generally, Michel J. Pettigrew, principal research engineer for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., said most tube wear stays shallow and doesn’t develop into anything significant.
“It is the wear indications greater than 20 percent of tube wall that are significant,” he said. “These should be monitored closely.”
When it closed, San Onofre 3 had 2,519 wear spots at least 20 percent deep into a tube wall. When last inspected in 2012, the St. Lucie plant had 1,920, the Times analysis found.
As for the deepest wear, FPL can correctly argue that San Onofre was in far worse shape. More than 280 wear spots showed at least 50 percent wear. At St. Lucie there were none.
When a wear spot reaches 40 percent deep, federal regulations require a utility to plug the tube. Plugging eliminates the possibility of a tube bursting but also renders the tube useless. Plug too many and the plant can’t produce as much power.
FPL had plugged only about 155tubes as of the last inspection, far less than the 807 at San Onofre 3.
But St. Lucie’s tubes are still in use, and some are still wearing down. The last inspection found 480 wear spots at least 30 percent deep, and 139 of those were at least 35 percent deep.
While not as severe as San Onofre, the depth of wear at St. Lucie exceeds other plants with replaced steam generators.
For instance, neither of the two plants at the Joseph M. Farley complex in Alabama had plugged any tubes as of their 2011 and 2012 reports. Same for Diablo Canyon 1 in California. Beaver Valley 1 in Pennsylvania and Comanche Peak 1 in Texas had plugged just one tube since the new steam generators began operating.
The last inspection of units 1 and 2 at the South Texas Project didn’t find a single wear spot due to antivibration bars, even though the steam generators are several years older than the ones at St. Lucie.
“We have not had any issues at all,” said Buddy Eller, a spokesman for South Texas.
In its response to the Times, FPL pointed to the big difference in the number of tubes with deep wear as a reason why its nuclear plant will be fine in the long run. The tubes at San Onofre 3 wore out in less than a year, while St. Lucie’s replacement steam generators have been running for seven years and the wear still is not as advanced, the company said.
FPL also emphasized that the wear at the St. Lucie plant is mostly contained to areas around the antivibration bars. There is none of the rapid tube-to-tube wear like at San Onofre.
Waldron, the FPL spokesman, said these numbers are not alarming.
“We have very detailed, sophisticated engineering analysis that allow us to predict the rate of wear, and we are actually seeing the rate of wear slow significantly,” he said.
For the last 16 months, however, St. Lucie’s tubes have been under more stress.
Near the end of 2012, FPL completed a $1.2 billion project to boost the power from both St. Lucie reactors by almost 12 percent. The more power the plant puts out, the harder the tubes work to do the dual job of creating steam and cooling the reactor.
FPL estimated the additional power could increase the rate of tube wear by up to 24 percent, according to an NRC review dated Jan. 27.
Joey Ledford, an NRC spokesman, said regulators reviewed the impact of the increased power at St. Lucie. They determined that FPL would only be allowed to “operate their steam generators if they could maintain tube integrity for the period of time between inspections.”
“The reference to 24 percent is more representative of an upper limit for potential wear during post-uprate operation and is not a prediction of the actual wear rate,” Ledford said.
But Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, compared the power uprate to playing roulette.
“That would seem to be a gamble,” he said. “I don’t want (a leak) to be the indication I have a problem.”
“I’d have to agree that every steam generator has dents,” Gundersen said. “But the magnitude of what is going on at St. Lucie is off the charts. These guys are a hundred times worse than the industry average.”
Ivan Penn|Times Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|February 22, 2014
Threat of Hydropower Dams Still Looms in Chile’s Patagonia
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Aug 26 2014 (IPS) – After its victory in a nearly decade-long struggle against HidroAysén, a project that would have built five large hydroelectric dams on wilderness rivers, Chile’s Patagonia region is gearing up for a new battle: blocking a quiet attempt to build a dam on the Cuervo River.
The dam would be constructed in an unpopulated area near Yulton lake, in Aysén, Chile’s water-rich region in the south. The aim is to ease the energy shortage that has plagued this country for decades and has prompted an accelerated effort to diversify the energy mix and boost the electricity supply.
However, the Cuervo River project is “much less viable than HidroAysén, because of environmental and technical reasons and risks,” Peter Hartmann, coordinator of the Aysén Life Reserve citizen coalition, told Tierramérica, expressing the view widely shared by environmentalists in the region.
The big concern of opponents to the new hydroelectric initiative is that it could be approved as a sort of bargaining chip, after the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled HidroAysén on Jun. 10.
Endorsement of the Cuervo River dam will also be favored by an Aug. 21 court ruling that gave the project a boost.
The Cuervo Hydroelectric Plant Project is being developed by Energía Austral, a joint venture of the Swiss firm Glencore and Australia’s Origin Energy. It would be built at the headwaters of the Cuervo River, some 45 km from the city of Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region after Coyhaique, the capital.
It would generate a total of approximately 640 MW, with the potential to reduce the annual emissions of the Sistema Interconectado Central de Chile (SIC) – the central power grid – by around 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.
Energía Austral is studying the possibility of a submarine power cable or an aerial submarine power line.
In 2007, the regional commission on the environment rejected an initial environmental impact study presented by the company.
Two years later, Energía Austral introduced a new environmental impact study, for the construction of a hydropower complex that would include two more dams: a 360-MW plant on the Blanco River and a 54-MW plant on Lake Cóndor, to be built after the Cuervo River plant.
“Cuervo appeared when HidroAysén was at its zenith, and the Cuervo River dam was a second priority for the Patagonia Without Dams campaign,” said Hartmann, who is also the regional director of the National Committee for the Defence of Flora and Fauna (CODEFF).
“In the beginning there was diligent monitoring of the project, from the legal sphere, but we ran out of funds and the entire focus shifted to HidroAysén as the top priority, and not Cuervo,” he added.
According to the experts, the Cuervo River plant would pose more than just an environmental risk, because it would be built on the Liquiñe-Ofqui geological fault zone, an area of active volcanoes.
For example, a minor eruption of the Hudson volcano in October 2011 prompted a red alert and mass evacuation of the surrounding areas. Mount Hudson is located “right behind the area where the Blanco River plant would be built,” Hartmann said.
“Energía Austral is doing everything possible not to mention the Hudson volcano, because it knows what it’s getting involved in,” he added.
In response to such concerns, the company has insisted that the plant “will be safe with regard to natural phenomena like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.” It adds that “the presence of geological fault lines is not exclusive to the Cuervo River.”
It also argues that in Chile and around the world many plants have been built on geological fault lines or near volcanoes, and have operated normally even after a seismic event.
The national authorities approved the construction of the Cuervo dam in 2013. But shortly afterwards the Supreme Court accepted a plea presented by environmental and citizen organizations to protect the area where it is to be built, and ordered a thorough study of the risks posed by construction of the plant.
However, on Aug. 21 the Court ratified, in a unanimous ruling, the environmental permits that the authorities had granted for construction of the dam. The verdict paves the way for final approval by the government, which would balance out its rejection of HidroAysén.
“The state is not neutral with respect to energy production; we are interested in seeing projects go forward that would help us overcome our infrastructure deficit,” Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco said in June.
And in July he stated that “Chile cannot feel comfortable while hydroelectricity makes up such a small share of our energy mix, given that it is a clean source of energy that is abundant in our country.”
Chile has an installed capacity of approximately 17,000 MW, 74 percent in the SIC central grid, 25 percent in the northern grid – the Sistema Interconectado Norte Grande – and less than one percent in the medium-sized grids of the Aysén and Magallanes regions in the south.
According to the Energy Ministry, demand for electricity in Chile will climb to 100,000 MW by 2020. An additional 8,000 MW of installed capacity will be needed to meet that demand.
Chile imports 60 percent of the primary energy that it consumes. Hydropower makes up 40 percent of the energy mix, which is dependent on highly polluting fossil fuels that drive thermal power stations for the rest.
Currently, 62 percent of the new energy plants under construction are thermal power stations. And 92 percent of those will be coal-fired.
Regional Energy Secretary Juan Antonio Bijit told Tierramérica that independently of Aysén’s enormous hydropower potential, “if we analyze the energy mix, it is highly dependent on thermal power, so the most logical thing would appear to be to increase supply in the area of hydroelectricity.”
He said the Aysén region “currently produces around 40 MW of energy, which only covers domestic consumption.”
But, he said, “we have significant potential” in terms of hydroelectricity as well as wind and solar power.
“The region’s capacity for electricity generation is quite strong,” he said. “However, we have to study how we will generate power, and for what uses.”
Bijit said the region’s contribution of energy to the rest of the country “should be analysed together with the community.”
“We can’t do things behind closed doors; we have to talk to the people,” he said. “That was done in a workshop prior to the decision reached on HidroAysén and now we are doing it with the Energía Austral project and others,” he said.
“The idea is that the people should be participants in what is being done or should be done in the field of energy,” he added.
Marianela Jarroud|Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez|Translated by Stephanie Wildes
Three Southwest Florida projects are on the new Florida Forever priority list for the 2014-15 budget year:
Florida Forever is the state’s landmark environmental land acquisition program. The Florida Forever Priority List reflects the acquisition priorities of the portion of Florida Forever administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
These lands are proposed for acquisition because of outstanding natural resources, opportunities for natural resource-based recreation, or historical and archaeological resources. The Acquisition and Restoration Council recommends and ranks projects on a proposed priority list that is submitted for approval to the Governor and Cabinet (acting as the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, or BOT).
Florida Forever BOT project boundaries are maintained in GIS by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory.
Florida Forever Priority Projects
* Myakka Ranchlands in Sarasota County, with an estimated 11,239 acres that would be acquired by conservation easements. The project has been on the state list since 2007.
* Charlotte Harbor Estuary in Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties, with 6,874 acres projected to be acquired. The project has been a target of state land purchases since 1972.
* Terra Ceia in Manatee County, with 2,474 acres of potential purchases.
N.J. marshes are getting rebuilt with dredged material
MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — On Ring Island, outside Stone Harbor, there is muck ado about something.
It is the pumping of dredge spoils onto the shrinking marshes, a pilot program undertaken by the Department of Environmental Protection that is designed to help build up wetlands and create bird habitat.
“It’s a beneficial re-use of dredge material,” said Dave Golden, chief of the Bureau of Wildlife Management for New Jersey Fish & Wildlife. “The concept is to increase coastal elevation. Subsidence, coupled with sea-level rise, has made some of our marshes vulnerable, and they are becoming open water. We’re losing habitat because there is too much water for the vegetation to be healthy.”
“Dredging the channels and the back bays of sediments and carting it off makes no sense,” said Lenore Tedesco, director of the Wetlands Institute, which has an unobstructed view of the dredging project taking place several hundred yards away. “This program is about keeping the material in the system. It shouldn’t be taken out of the system in the first place.”
Returning dredge spoils to the wetlands, whence they came, departs from the traditional method of storing the materials in a confined disposal facility (CDF), an option that is increasingly rare as state regulations become stricter. The lack of available space in CDFs has resulted in lagoons and back bays filling with silt, rendering them unnavigable at low tide, and has forced officials in coastal towns to seek alternatives to disposing of spoils.
This program could be the solution to that problem.
“We need to dredge,” Tedesco said. “There has been a dramatic change in the historic way we dispose of spoils. This project is kind of an elegant solution to the problem, taking what we don’t want in lagoons and putting it where it is needed.”
Following lead of other states
Although it is a first in this state, the program is not untested.
Hoping to replicate the success Louisiana and Delaware have had in rebuilding wetlands through the use of dredge spoils, New Jersey Fish & Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy and Green Trust Alliance partnered in obtaining a $3.4 million Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Grant from the Department of the Interior.
On Ring Island, the federal funds are being used to create a black skimmer nesting habitat, an area about 1 acre in size and 4 to 6 feet high at its center, and to spray a thin layer of material, between 3 and 6 inches deep, over a 2-acre area to increase its height.
The money also is earmarked for a 2-acre, thin-layer project this fall and a 45-acre, thin-layer project next fall, both in Avalon; and a 45-acre, thin-layer project in Fortescue, Cumberland County, next fall. A marsh-edge restoration project spanning between one-half and three-quarter miles also is planned to take place next fall in Avalon.
The locations for the pilot project were chosen for a variety of reasons, Golden said. The DEP selected areas owned and managed by the Division of Fish & Wildlife and in close proximity to active dredging projects for which the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Transportation had funding in place.
More than 7,000 cubic yards of material will be returned to the marsh at Ring Island, with 2,000 cubic yards being sprayed in a thin layer and 5,200 cubic yards being used to build nesting habitat for black skimmers, which are partial to sandy nesting grounds, Golden said. The three projects scheduled for Avalon will total 75,000 cubic yards, and the one in Fortescue will total 50,000 cubic yards, he said.
“We are taking all the dredge materials they want to get rid of and, depending upon toxicity testing and the size of the sand grains, using it all,” Golden said. “This project strives to keep clean sediment in the system to provide resiliency to the environment.”
Giving nature a fighting chance
“The marsh is drowning,” Tedesco said. “If this project works, it’s an opportunity for the marsh to rebound and keep up with sea-level rise. Because the marsh is flat, 6 inches can make a big difference.”
She said 1 acre of marsh can absorb 1 million gallons of water, making the wetlands an invaluable component of the seashore environment.
Golden said thin-layer application of sediments to the marsh can benefit plants by increasing elevation.
“Spraying the material on the marsh is one way to mimic accretion,” he said.
It also can benefit shorebirds that rely on the vegetation in the marsh for nesting sites. In addition to black skimmers, Tedesco named willets, clapper rails, laughing gulls and northern harriers as species that are threatened by loss of habitat.
“These birds nest on the marsh or just above it,” she said. “High tides can drown their nests and wipe them out.”
“This is an example of a species living on the edge,” said Golden, pointing to two laughing gull nests situated deep in grass on Ring Island as he walked across the mucky marsh to the dredging site.
Both Tedesco and Golden said neighbors had expressed concerns about the project, mostly stemming from a lack of information before the dredge arriving on site.
“It’s a short-term inconvenience for a long-term impact,” Tedesco said. “The neighbors are going to have a front-row seat to a fantastic bird habitat and healthy marshes once this is done.”
CINDY NEVITT|Staff Writer| The Press of Atlantic City|August 23, 2014
Following Elio Motors: the IAV Engines That Power the Three-Wheeler
A recent blog piece from Elio Motors got me thinking about the state of small displacement ICE development, and how newly innovative power plants can add value to the overall transportation segment. According to Elio’s manufacturing partner IAV,
“Internal combustion engine(s) will remain the chief source of propulsion for automobiles and light commercial vehicles for decades to come. (IAV is) hard at work on reducing fuel consumption and emissions from these engines while harmonizing product costs, quality and other product attributes consumers find important.”
Clearly an ability to create extended travel ranges, while satisfying today’s reduced carbon footprints by means of refined fuels, are not only possible, but more importantly logical, since measured North American oil and gas supplies have never been higher. That said, however, it’s ‘who’ gets from ‘here to there’ that typically makes the world of difference.
In the case of Elio’s decision to utilize IAV’s three-cylinder ICE, the move offers a host of overall value propositions that seem to be almost too good to believe. However, under the bonnet IVA’s little engine is quite remarkable technologically, and at the heart of this result is the German company’s core environmental mission,
“IAV provides engineering services to the automotive industry, carrying out innovative research and development projects and making new, eco-friendly drive concepts ready for mass production… through IAV’s engineering work, an important contribution is made to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, thereby realizing low CO2 drive concepts; for example, by permitting the use of regenerative energy sources on an increasing scale.”
Based in Berlin, the company was founded in 1983 by Dr. Hermann Appel in order to serve as a University research institute. However, from its inception the technologies developer has produced a number of impactful automotive-related systems including the aforementioned regenerative energy system, along with its 2009 quick-charger battery unit, and now the final configuration and roll-out of the Elio’s three-cylinder powerplant.
Along with Elio Motors, however, IAV produces engineering innovations for a host of other automotive brands including; VW, BMW, PSA Peugeot, Citroen, Fiat, Ford, GM and Toyota. IAV’s engineering value is being further enhanced by a number of major auto supply-chain providers including; Bosch, Delphi, Continental AG, and the ZF Group.
Rick Carlton|August 29, 2014
California moves closer to banning plastic grocery bags
SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) – Prospects grew for a proposed California ban on plastic grocery bags on Thursday as the state Assembly broadly approved the prohibition after an earlier vote failed to garner enough support in the face of opposition from bag manufacturers.
A number of cities in California and other states, including Hawaii’s Maui County, have made it illegal for grocery stores to pack consumer purchases in plastic. But California’s ban, if it passes in the state Senate before a Sunday deadline, would be the first statewide bar.
The measure, which passed the Assembly by a 44-29 vote, would ban grocery stores from handing out single-use plastic bags with customer purchases, and would give local bag companies funds to retool to make heavier, multiple-use bags. Customers could purchase paper or compostable plastic bags for 10 cents.
Environmentalists have pushed for banning plastic bags, which are cheaper for supermarkets to use than paper bags, but create mountains of trash that is difficult to recycle. There is also concern that plastic pollution harms marine wildlife and waterways.
“We live in a throw-away society. We live a lifestyle that is ultimately not sustainable,” Democratic Assembly member Bill Quirk of Hayward said during debate. “The 10-cent fee will encourage people to use sustainable bags.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents grocery store workers, said it now supported the bill after taking a neutral stance earlier in the week because of concerns over how the 10-cent fee would be used.
Critics say plastic bag restrictions should be left up to local jurisdictions, and warn that a statewide ban would cost jobs and benefit only grocers.
“The revenue doesn’t come up to the treasury to go to education or public safety,” said Assembly member Don Wagner, a Republican representing Irvine. “It’s a tax increase we impose to benefit local businesses.”
Joaquin Palomino|SACRAMENTO Calif.|Aug 28, 2014|Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Grant McCool
China Encourages Recycling by Trading Plastic Bottles for Free Transportation
China Encourages Recycling by Trading Plastic Bottles for Free Transportation
The general public would be a far more willing to recycle something like a plastic bottle if their doing so actually resulted in some value for them. Organizations like Recyclebank already use this reward to encourage positive environmental actions, but now a company in China is taking it a step further with instant gratification.
When a person deposits a recyclable plastic bottle into one of the recycling vending machines located throughout in Beijing, the person gets reimbursed for their bottle in the form of free transit on public transportation.
Watch the video to see how it works, and to hear the public’s reaction to the new pro-recycling idea.
Ian Andrew|August 27, 2014
The Truly Simple Way You Can Save Dragonflies From Extinction
A confluence of human actions and environmental changes have put many, many animal and plant species at risk. If you’re anything like me, hearing about the danger these species are in stings. Not necessarily because I feel the potential loss keenly, but because so often there’s nothing I can do about it.
Efforts to mitigate the loss of an endangered or threatened species are certainly worthwhile, but the effects of our actions can feel attenuated from the problem at hand. It gets me a little down to know that there has to be an enormous cultural and political shift in favor of sustainable development, even though I try my hardest to support such a shift with my time and money. I have nothing to feel bad about; I think it’s a normal reaction when confronted with an uphill battle.
So I love it when something simple comes along that makes it relatively easy to do the right thing and produces measurable results. A study partially funded by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority found that simply not driving as fast could save thousands of endangered dragonflies.
The Hine’s emerald dragonfly is the only dragonfly on the federal endangered species list. The insect’s habitat originally spanned seven states. However, today you’ll only find the emerald dragonfly in four states. The largest population is found in Wisconsin, but they can also be spotted in Illinois, Michigan and Missouri.
The largest population of dragonflies have the unfortunate luck of living near a popular Wisconsin vacation site. Of the estimated 13,000 dragonflies in the area, about 3,300 are killed every year by summer drivers.
Now, no one is suggesting that you swerve for dragonflies. First, that’s dangerous. Second, it’s impractical. You have better eyes than I do if you can spot an insect more than a second before it hits your wind shield. But it turns out that just slowing down can save those little dragonfly lives.
Conservation biologist from the University of South Dakota Daniel Soluk and graduate student Amber Furness mounted cameras on a truck and drove around Door County, Wis., home to the largest population of Hine’s emerald dragonfly. They drove around at various speeds and determined that the emerald dragonflies don’t die if you hit them at lower speeds:
At speeds below 35 mph (56 km/h), Hine’s emerald dragonflies — and other kinds of dragonflies — survive their tumble over the hood, and fly away to live another day, Furness found. Faster speeds kill, according to Furness’ research, presented here Thursday (Aug. 14) at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting. The dragonflies are either killed on impact or they suffer severe shock and fall to the ground, and are run over by a second vehicle.
A speed limit of about 30 miles per hour could greatly reduce the number of this rare dragonfly that are killed every year. Actually, this speed limit wouldn’t even need to be a year-round thing. This particular species of dragonfly are only really active June through August.
Dragonflies may seem like small potatoes. However, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has taken steps previously to mitigate dragonfly fatalities by raising a bridge span on Interstate 355. Dragonflies can’t collide with cars if the cars are too high.
It’s not that often that something as simple as a speed limit can really help conservation efforts. Given that dragonflies actually do play an important role in the ecosystem — they serve as water quality watchdogs, for example — hopefully this small action will go a long way.
Mindy Townsend|August 22, 2014
Weed blaster shows promise as alternative to herbicides
The method, gaining attention from organic farmers, uses grit such as corncob bits instead of chemicals to protect crops.
Frank Forcella is tackling the problem of weeds head-on.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture research agronomist in Morris, Minn., Forcella doesn’t spray pigweed and foxtail with herbicides to shrivel them.
He blasts them to smithereens with corncob grit.
The tactic is gaining attention from organic farmers who don’t use chemicals and from food companies seeking to market pesticide-free snacks and other products.
Forcella said the technology is experimental but shows promise. It uses an air compressor to spray gritty material on both sides of a crop that kills young weeds without harming corn or soybeans.
“It obliterates the weed, especially if it’s a small broad-leaved weed like Lamb’s quarters or pigweed that’s one to 3 inches high,” Forcella said. “The corn plants growing next to them are taller and thicker and can withstand the grit blast, but the weeds just disappear.”
Forcella uses mainly dried corncob bits but has had similar success with other gritty textures such as ground walnut shells, corn gluten meal and soybean meal. He and others from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service have been working on organically certified plots owned by the University of Minnesota at its West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris.
Initially, Forcella used an air compressor mounted on an all-terrain vehicle and sprayed the rows by hand. Collaboration with an engineer at South Dakota State University has now yielded a unit mounted on a tractor that blasts the weeds four rows at a time from eight nozzles. High-speed particles of grit shred the weeds at 100 pounds per square inch of compressed air.
“We point the nozzles at either side of a corn row and blast about a 4-inch band on either side of the row and within the row,” he said. Field trials typically hit the weeds twice: once when the corn is 4 to 6 inches high, and again when it’s about a foot tall. The technique is called “propelled abrasive grit management.”
“We’ve been getting season-long weed control of about 80 to 90 percent, which isn’t perfect, but most organic farmers would be happy with that amount of weed control,” Forcella said.
The “back of the envelope” cost is about five times what spraying an herbicide would cost per acre, Forcella said, but that price differential could shrink if the technology takes off.
Sam Wortman, assistant professor at the University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences, said that abrasive weeding or blasting might have greater potential for other row crops that have higher value, such as fruits and vegetables. He heard Forcella present the idea at a conference in 2011.
Wortman used the technique on tomatoes last year and on peppers this season, and may expand to sweet corn, kale and broccoli in the future.
“In our initial work [with tomatoes], we were able to reduce the density of weeds by about 75 percent with just one application,” he said. “And the weeds that we didn’t kill we were able to reduce the overall height so that they wouldn’t become competitive with the crop.”
Wortman said tomatoes and peppers are often grown with plastic film or mulch, with seedlings planted into 4-inch square holes. So the weed blasting involves driving along rows and spot spraying the weeds that emerge in the “crop hole” next to the plants, he said, and that would otherwise probably need to be hand-pulled.
The process for tomatoes uses much less grit than the continuous spraying along corn and soybean rows.
“Some grit does hit the stem of the tomato plant, but as long as we’re not hitting the growing part at the top of the plant, then we don’t see any unacceptable levels of damage,” he said. One member of the research team is a plant pathologist who is monitoring any potential infections of the plants from soil-borne pathogens, he said.
Organic and smaller farmers are excited about the possibilities, Wortman said, because they could make their own blasting kits with an air compressor, applicator and cart for $2,000 to $3,000.
What’s most exciting to Wortman is the potential to piggyback weed blasting with fertilizing.
Organic farmers could use granular forms of fertilizer, such as corn gluten meal or soybean meal, to nourish their plants at the same time they’re blasting weeds, Wortman said. Those materials contain about 7 to 9 percent nitrogen, he said, whereas corncob and other grit are essentially inert.
The weed-and-feed treatment would also be cost-effective, Forcella said. “If we start using fertilizers that organic farmers are putting on those fields anyway, there’s really no added costs except for the machinery.”
Companies including PepsiCo are following the research closely, Forcella said, for the potential to make and market pesticide-free snack foods. Farmers often sign contracts with food processors, especially for organic products, he said, so the industry has a vested interest in new technology that can improve productivity and profitability on specific farms.
Forcella said there may be potential international interest as well. He hosted a researcher from Spain recently who is planning to test the technology in vineyards and olive orchards where weeds have become resistant to conventional herbicides.
Wortman and Forcella said the technology is still in its infancy, and that a huge amount of work needs to be done to determine whether it has potential to be deployed on farms.
“It’s not anything that’s wide-scale yet for sure, but we’re hoping,” Forcella said. “We never thought it would work, but it did work.”
TOM MEERSMAN|Star Tribune|August 25, 2014
Maine lobsterman catches rare blue lobster
SCARBOROUGH, Maine (AP) — A Maine lobsterman says one of his traps caught a one-in-two-million crustacean: a blue lobster.
WCSH-TV reports Jay LaPlante of the Miss Meghan Lobster Catch company caught the curious creature in Scarborough around 10:45 a.m. Saturday. LaPlante and daughter Meghan were hauling traps when she discovered the bright blue critter.
The story has a happy ending for the lobster. Meghan says she is naming it Skyler and donating it to the Maine State Aquarium, far from any dinner rolls or pats of butter. The aquarium says it has three other blue lobsters and an orange one.
LaPlante says it’s the first time he has caught a blue lobster.
From Associated Press
Is Industrialized Farming Making Our Fish Terribly Sick?
In three Pennsylvania river basins, boy fish have girl fish parts. They also have distasteful looking black blotches and open sores. Shockingly, this is nothing new. It’s happening in a lot of places.
This stomach-turning state of affairs has experts deeply concerned. The culprits behind this phenomenon are called estrogenic compounds. Scientists wish we’d do something about them — soon — because the problem seems to be growing.
The latest salvo in this battle comes from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). A report issued by USGS this summer finds that the prevalence of immature female eggs in the testes of male smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania’s Delaware, Susquehanna, and Ohio drainage areas “correlated with the percent of agricultural land use in the watershed above a site.”
Researchers believe high amounts of estrogenic compounds are washing down from farmlands into our waterways. They accumulate there, jacking up the estrogen content of the water, silt and sediment, causing biological changes to fish eggs and young adult fish.
USGS biologist Vicki Blazer was studying fish kills in the Potomac River watershed in 2003 when she found repeated instances of male fish carrying female egg cells. She wasn’t looking for it, but there it was.
A variety of organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the USGS began independent investigations in 2006 and continued through 2012.
During this period, Blazer and her colleagues studied smallmouth bass, white sucker and redhorse sucker in Pennsylvania. They found the same odd intersex fish problem, often coupled with disease indicators such as “red raised, eroded or mucoid lesions, black spot, leeches, [and] cloudy eyes” on external body surfaces and “small white spots, grubs, pale coloration, eroded, frayed” gills.
What surprised Blazer was the scope of the problem in the waters of Pennsylvania. “I did not expect to find it quite as widespread,” she told The Washington Post. Researchers also identified the intersex fish phenomenon in 2009 in the Columbia, Colorado and Mississippi river basins.
“Fish are a good indicator of the health of the aquatic environment,” Blazer told Philly.com. “They are always in it.” How bad can our surface water be if it’s actually changing gender indicators in fish? Pretty damn bad is a safe guess.
Where are these chemicals in our waterways coming from? Some undoubtedly enter the water in human sewage after being ingested in the form of pharmaceuticals like hormone replacements and contraceptive medication. However, scientists say about 90 percent of estrogenic compounds come from modern agricultural practices.
It appears the sheer volume of industrialized agriculture exponentially increases the estrogenic compounds being carried by stormwater into our rivers. It’s not that farmers are feeding these chemicals to their livestock, says the study.
Rather, it comes from veterinary pharmaceuticals, pesticides and herbicides. It also comes from the high volume of urine and manure excreted by livestock which naturally contain these compounds.
“Human waste is at least treated,” University of California, San Francisco professor Tracey Woodruff, who specializes in reproductive science, told Al Jazeera America. “Cows don’t use toilets, and a lactating pregnant cow, for example, produces a lot of estrogen.”
In addition to all that livestock pee and poop, we have to worry about fertilizer as well. Incredibly high volumes of manure end up spread over millions of acres of crops. Rain falls over all this manure and, once again, whatever’s in that poop ends up in our rivers. It’s giving male fish some female features and is apparently causing disease.
“We do think some of the same feminization chemicals are causing immunosuppression,” Blazer told Al Jazeera America. “And that disease is having an effect on the [fish] population.”
Concern over the environmental effects of industrialized agriculture and factory farming is nothing new. This latest report is simply additional evidence that we’re ruining our planet. We strive to produce ever greater quantities of meat and dairy, which ends up feeding only a percentage of the world’s population.
Add to this the deleterious effects of the harmful chemicals and millions of gallons of water used on the crops intended to feed all these meat-producing animals. Industrial agriculture cannot continue to grow without exacting a greater and greater price on the environment. Is it worth it?
Can we perhaps grow fewer crops and feed them to people instead of to livestock? Turning from a meat to a plant-based diet may hold the key to this problem, but it’s a change that many millions will need to embrace to make a difference.
Will we do it before circumstances force us to? Time will tell.
Susan Bird|August 25, 2014
What Does A Humpback Whale Really Eat For Dinner?
A video has received lots of attention around the internet since it appeared— and for good reason.
It shows a surfer’s VERY close encounter with a humpback whale off the beaches of Santa Cruz, in Northern California.
But it’s also interesting because it’s a great close-up view of how a Humpback feeds and the sort of marine life that makes up its diet.
Humpbacks are baleen whales and have no teeth. They feed by using the large plates of baleen (see photo to right) in their mouths to filter out shrimp-like krill and other small creatures from the water. Plated grooves in the whale’s mouth allow water that was taken in to easily drain, leaving a mouth full of dinner.
But most folks don’t realize that baleen whales such has humpbacks also consume fish— mainly small schooling fish they hunt in same fashion as krill.
In the video you can clearly see lots of small prey fish scattering in all directions just before and as the whale breaches. (Double click on the video if you want to see a bigger version of it). You an also see the whale’s baleen plates and the water rushing from its mouth as it filters out its prey.
Humpbacks are energetic hunters, taking krill and small schooling fish such as herring, mackerel, pollock, and haddock. They’re also quite clever and have been known to use a technique called bubble net feeding.
A whale or group of whales swims in a shrinking circle blowing bubbles below a school of prey, encircling and confining the school in an ever-smaller cylinder. The whales then suddenly swim upward through the ‘net’ with their mouths open, filtering huge quantities of water and capturing thousands of fish in one gulp.
It’s a pretty amazing thing to observe…
And one other fun thing to note in the video is all the seabirds following the whales as they feed. These birds know that breaching whales panic fish and make them easy pickings for an alert bird. Looking for flocks of seabirds working the ocean’s surface is time-honored way for fisherman to locate schools— and for whale watchers to find whales.
eNature|August 28, 2014
A global plan for road expansion that doesn’t cost the earth
the first major highway in the Amazon was initially just a razor-thin cut through the forest. Today, that narrow incision has grown into a 400-kilometer-wide slash of forest destruction across the entire eastern Amazon.
Roads are responsible for massive environmental damage around the world, writes Bill Laurance – yet they also bring huge benefits. His solution? A new atlas that shows where the ‘goods’ of roads outweigh the ‘bads’, so that developing countries can harness the prosperity new roads can bring, without the destruction.
“The best thing you could do for the Amazon is to blow up all the roads.” These might sound like the words of an eco-terrorist, but it’s actually a direct quote from Professor Eneas Salati, a forest climatologist and one of Brazil’s most respected scientists.
Many scientists share Salati’s anxieties because we’re living in the most explosive era of road expansion in human history.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that by 2050 we will have 60% more roads than we did in 2010. That’s about 25 million kilometers of new paved roads – enough to circle the Earth more than 600 times.
In new research published today in Nature, we’ve developed a global ‘roadmap’ of where to put those roads to avoid damaging the environment. Our maps are also available to the public on a new website.
Roads today are proliferating virtually everywhere – for exploiting timber, minerals, oil and natural gas; for promoting regional trade and development; and for building burgeoning networks of energy infrastructure such as hydroelectric dams, power lines and gas lines.
Security and development versus biodiversity
Even national security and paranoia play a role. The first major roads built in the Brazilian Amazon were motivated by fears that Colombia or the US might try to annex the Amazon and steal its valuable natural resources.
India’s current spate of road building along its northern frontier is all about defending its disputed territories from an increasingly strident China.
According to the IEA, around nine-tenths of new roads will be built in developing nations, which sustain the most biologically important ecosystems on Earth, such as tropical and subtropical rainforests and wildlife-rich savanna-woodlands.
Crucially, such environments also store billions of tons of carbon, harbour hundreds of indigenous cultures, and have a major stabilizing influence on the global climate.
‘Killer roads’ open up forests for logging, farms and hunting
Why are roads regarded as disasters for nature?
Far too often, when a new road cuts into a forest or wilderness, illegal poachers, miners, loggers or land speculators quickly invade – unleashing a Pandora’s box of environmental problems.
For instance, my colleagues and I recently found that 95% of all forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon has occurred within 5 kilometers of roads. Other research has shown that major forest fires spike sharply within a few dozen kilometers of Amazon roads.
Notably, we also found that many Amazonian roads are illegal – for every kilometer of legal road, there were three kilometers of illegal roads.
The Congo Basin is reeling from a spree of forest-road building by industrial loggers, with over 50,000 kilometers of new roads bulldozed into the rainforest in recent years.
This has opened up the forest to a tsunami of hunting. The toll on wildlife has been appalling; in the last decade, for instance, around two-thirds of all forest elephants have been slaughtered for their valuable ivory tusks.
In Peru, a new highway slicing across the western Amazon has led to a massive influx of illegal gold miners into formerly pristine rainforests, turning them into virtual moonscapes and polluting entire river systems with the toxic mercury they use to separate the gold from river sediments.
The first cut is the cruelest
Many road researchers believe the only safe way to protect a wilderness is by ‘avoiding the first cut’ – keeping it road free. This is because an initial road opens up a forest to deforestation, which then spreads contagiously, like a series of tumors.
And that cancer quickly grows. An initial road slicing into a wilderness typically spawns a network of secondary and tertiary roads, allowing deforestation to easily metastasize.
For instance, the first major highway in the Amazon – completed in the early 1970s to link the cities of Belem and Brasilia – was initially just a razor-thin cut through the forest. Today, that narrow incision has grown into a 400-kilometer-wide slash of forest destruction across the entire eastern Amazon.
And yet, for all the environmental perils of roads, they are also an indispensable part of modern societies. Most economists love roads – seeing them as a cost-effective way to promote economic growth, encourage regional trade and provide access to natural resources and land suitable for agriculture.
How do we balance these two competing realities – between road lovers aspiring for wealth and social development, and road fearers hoping to avoid ecological Armageddon?
For those who want to know, a global roadmap
This vexing question has been the focus of a talented group of researchers I‘ve been leading over the past two years, from Harvard, Cambridge, Melbourne, Minnesota, Sheffield and James Cook Universities and the Conservation Strategy Fund.
Our scheme has two components. The first is a map that attempts to illustrate the natural values of all ecosystems worldwide. We built this map by combining data on biodiversity, endangered species, rare habitats, critical wilderness areas, and vital ecosystem services across the Earth.
We added in parks and other protected areas, as these are also high priorities for nature conservation.
The second component is a road-benefits map. It shows where roads could have the greatest benefits for humankind, especially for increasing food production.
Focusing on food is vital because, with continuing rapid population growth and changing human diets, global food demand is expected to double by 2050.
With roads, more food is grown, and reaches those that need it
Roads affect food because large expanses of the planet – especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and expanses of Asia and Latin America – are populated by small-scale farmers who produce much less food than they could if they had new or better roads.
Such roads could give them ready access to fertilizers, modern farming methods and urban markets to sell their crops.
In these regions most of the native vegetation has already been cleared, so intensifying farming shouldn’t have major environmental costs. In these contexts, new or better roads (along with other investments in modern farming methods) are a key way to help struggling farmers to boost their productivity.
A potential bonus of this strategy is that, as farming becomes more productive and rural livelihoods more prosperous, regions with better roads tend to act as ‘magnets’ – attracting people from elsewhere, such as the margins of vulnerable forests.
In this way, investing in better roads in appropriate areas can help to focus and intensify farming, accelerating food production while hopefully helping to spare other lands for nature conservation.
Conflict zones, but reasons to hope
By intersecting our environmental-values and road-benefits maps, we have estimated the relative risks and rewards of road building for Earth’s entire land surface – some 13.3 billion hectares in total.
In our map, green-toned areas are priorities for conservation where roads should be avoided if possible, and red-toned areas are priorities for agriculture.
Dark-toned areas are ‘conflict zones’ – where environmental and agricultural priorities are likely to clash. Light-colored areas are lower priorities for both environment and farming.
The good news is that there are substantial areas of the planet where agriculture can be improved with modest environmental costs.
But there are also massive conflict zones – in Sub-Saharan Africa, expanses of Central and South America, and much of the Asia-Pacific region, among others. These hotbeds of conflict often occur where human population growth is rapid and there are many locally endemic species – those with small geographic ranges that are especially vulnerable to intensive development.
A global plan for road expansion – in the right places
Our global roadmap is, admittedly, an exceedingly ambitious effort. Yet our hope is that our strategy can be incorporated with finer-scale local information to help inform and improve planning decisions at national and regional scales.
Our effort is a first step toward a vital goal: a global plan for road expansion. We’re not so naïve as to believe everyone will immediately adopt it, but such efforts are unquestionably a crucial priority.
There is precious little time to lose if we don’t want to see the world’s last wild places overwhelmed by an onslaught of roads, destructive development and the roar of fast-moving vehicles.
Bill Laurance|28th August 2014
Mount Polley: A wake-up call for Canada’s mining industry
When a tailings pond broke at the Mount Polley gold and copper mine in south-central B.C., spilling millions of cubic metres of waste into a salmon-bearing stream, B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett called it an “extremely rare” occurrence, the first in 40 years for mines operating here.
He failed to mention the 46 “dangerous or unusual occurrences” that B.C’s chief inspector of mines reported at tailings ponds in the province between 2000 and 2012, as well as breaches at non-operating mine sites.
This spill was predictable. Concerns were raised about Mount Polley before the breach. CBC reported that B.C.’s Environment Ministry issued several warnings about the amount of water in the pond to mine owner Imperial Metals.
With 50 mines operating in B.C. — and many others across Canada — we can expect more incidents, unless we reconsider how we’re extracting resources.
Sudden and severe failure is a risk for all large tailings dams — Mount Polley’s waste pond covered about four square kilometers, roughly the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. As higher-grade deposits become increasingly scarce, mining companies are opting for lower-grade alternatives that create more tailings. As tailings ponds grow bigger and contain more water and waste than ever before, they also become riskier. The average height of a Canadian tailings dam doubled from 120 metres in the 1960s to 240 metres today. Alberta writer Andrew Nikiforuk likens increasing mining industry risks to those of the oil sands.
Open ponds of toxic slurry aren’t the best way to manage mining waste. Although there’s no silver-bullet solution, and more research funding on alternative technologies is needed, smaller underground mines are finding safer ways to deal with waste by backfilling tailings. Drying tailings or turning them to a paste before containment are two other options. Safer solutions cost more, making them less popular with profit-focused corporations. But surely B.C.’s $8-billion mining industry can afford to pay more for public and environmental safety.
The government allows the mining industry to choose the cheapest way to deal with waste, and companies often lack adequate insurance to cover cleanup costs when accidents happen. Imperial Metals admits its insurance will likely fall far short of what’s required to repair the damage at Mount Polley.
The mining industry and provincial and federal governments must do a better job of managing risks. But how can this happen when we’re facing unprecedented dismantling of Canada’s environmental regulations and decreased funding for monitoring and enforcement?
Although the B.C. government rightly appointed an independent panel of three top mining engineers to review the cause of the Mount Polley breach and report back with recommendations, the lack of an environmental or cultural perspective on the panel makes it unlikely we’ll see meaningful industry reform. And even the most thorough reviews remain ineffective without implementation commitments — a point made clear by the federal government’s failure to act on the Cohen Commission’s 75 recommendations on the decline of Fraser River sockeye.
Canada’s mining industry must also work more closely with First Nations, some of which are challenging industrial activity in their territories. The Tahltan blockaded Imperial Metals’ nearly completed mine in the Sacred Headwaters, and the Neskonlith Indian Band issued an eviction notice to an Imperial subsidiary, which proposed an underground lead-and-zinc mine in Secwepemc Territory in the B.C.Interior. With the Supreme Court’s Tsilhqot’in decision affirming First Nations’ rights to land and resources within their traditional territories, we’re likely to see more defending their lands against mining and other resource extractions.
The Mount Polley tailings spill threatens two of B.C.’s most valued resources: salmon and water. As one of the largest sockeye runs enters the waterways to spawn, we must wait to find out the long-term repercussions for Polley Lake, Quesnel Lake and aquatic life further downstream.
This disaster has eroded public trust in the mining industry and regulations governing it. If risks are too high and long-term solutions unavailable or too expensive, the only way to ensure that toxic tailings are kept out of our precious waterways and pristine landscapes may be to avoid mining in some areas altogether.
As the government rallying cry of “world-class safety standards” echoes in our ears, it’s time we lived up to our self-proclaimed reputation.
By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Jodi Stark.