ConsRep 814 D

Maintaining healthy forests is essential to those who make a living from the land and for those of us who use them for recreational purposes. Cathy McMorris

Announcements

South Florida Audubon Society / Project Perch

South Florida Audubon Society is a Chapter of National Audubon and Florida Audubon.

South Florida Audubon Society / Project Perch$19. 

Buy a Shirt

All proceeds will be used to protect and nurture the burrowing owls in Southeast Florida while simultaneously teaching the students at local schools how to care for the owls. 

Funds will be used to install owl friendly fencing, artificial burrows and nesting chambers at schools and local parks.  Safe burrows save owls. 

Burrowing owls are a threatened species that suffer from lack of habitat and are living in marginal habitats like school yards.

Project Perch works closely with the Broward County Schools to create owl habitats that can serve as outdoor classrooms where children learn about environmental stewardship. 

The students want to become guardians of their owls but need help getting supplies for their owl projects.   

The Broward County Burrowing owl Cam, a 24 hour live web feed, allows everyone to enjoy some of the school yard burrowing owls. 

Please help our students create a real life HOOT!  Buy a t-shirt and help save an owl!

Aug 21, 2014 – Sep 10, 2014

All proceeds will be used to protect and nurture the burrowing owls in Southeast Florida while simultaneously teaching the students at local schools how to care for the owls. 

Funds will be used to install owl friendly fencing, artificial burrows and nesting chambers at schools and local parks. 

Safe burrows save owls. 

Burrowing owls are a threatened species that suffer from lack of habitat and are living in marginal habitats like school yards.

Project Perch works closely with the Broward County Schools to create owl habitats that can serve as outdoor classrooms where children learn about environmental stewardship. 

The students want to become guardians of their owls but need help getting supplies for their owl projects.    

The Broward County Burrowing owl Cam, a 24 hour live web feed, allows everyone to enjoy some of the school yard burrowing owls. 

Please help our students create a real life HOOT!  Buy a t-shirt and help save an owl!

www.facebook.com/BurrowingOwlCam

Started by Nancy Boyle – All Proceeds Benefit South Florida Audubon Society/Project Perch 

2014 Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival

The 2014 Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival is Tuesday, Sept. 23, through Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. 

Save the date, we are currently working hard to get you a complete list of our events, please check back soon. 

If you have immediate questions, please contact us at flkeysbirdfest@gmail.com or phone 305-304-9625 for more information.

Now in its 16th year, the festival offers a variety of programs, field trips, workshops and speakers guaranteed to enthrall nature lovers of all ages.

Festival activities span the length of the island chain, from Everglades National Park to the Dry Tortugas,

and give participants a unique perspective on the terrestrial and marine habitats of this subtropical paradise.

The festival is anchored at Curry Hammock State Park, mile marker 56.2, which is also home to the annual Florida Keys Hawkwatch,

a citizen science effort that monitors the fall migration of raptors over the islands.

The 2014 Festival includes a fantastic selection of birding experts who will lead morning guided walks, mid-day workshops and evening presentations. 

The festival features field trips to Dry Tortugas National Park, the National Key Deer Refuge, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Park and other national, state and private natural areas.

Additional trips include kayaking and boating ecotours, history, natural history, botanical, photography and butterfly field trips.

Think of this event as a backstage pass to the natural wonders of the Florida Keys.

Advance registration is requested, as many trips have limits on participants.

Go to website for more info. http://keysbirdingfest.org/

Early Voting is Open

Vote Yes ON Amendment 1 to generate funding for land conservation

Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades

Launching the Lady Windridge December 6th, Kudos to the Crew

Behind every great social occasion, there is a dedicated “crew” of volunteers who devote countless hours of valuable personal time gathering silent and live auction items,

perfecting event logistics, deciding on music and decorations, and most importantly, gathering their friends and colleagues to join them for the great occasion.

At the Marshall Foundation, we are extraordinarily blessed to have a dedicated crew of talented volunteers who are working tirelessly behind the scenes

to ensure that the 2014 Gala Cruise to be held December 6th on the flagship yacht, Lady Windridge, is an unprecedented success.

We are delighted to thank our wonderful volunteers publicly by recognizing them here.

Chair Bonnie Lazar; Honorary Chairs Thais & Matthew Piotrowski and Bernadette & Robert Shalhoub; Committee Members Laurel Baker, Carol Bloom, Connie Buico,

Christina Coenen, Joyce Cohen, Kathryn Fox, Barbara Fretwell, Leslie Garcia-Furey, Kimberly Goodyear, Kim Hanson, Mary Hart, Sandra Kaplan, Haylee Kaye,

Donna Kellman, Marti La Tour, Matthew Leger, Trish Lowry, Nancy Marshall, Barbara McDonald, Elaine Meier, Ann Paton, Judy Ramella,

Sheila Schwartz, Georgie Skover, Fritz Waldorf, Elaine Weber, Kate Wetherby, Jody White and Ellen Wolff.

Our crew joins us in encouraging you to “jump on board” for our challenge to save Florida’s most important and endangered resource – the Everglades.

We sincerely hope you will want to become an Everglades Hero this year.

When you give a gift of $1,000 or more to our Everglades education programs, you will be invited to attend the spectacular River of Grass Gala Cruise, December 6,

and your gift will be matched in full by the Batchelor Foundation.

Enjoy a fabulous night of great food, music and fireworks with friends and double the value of your contribution to Everglades education.

Have fun doing the right thing for our Everglades.

Click here to visit our website to become an Everglades Hero today!

Your Trash Could Be Our Treasure!

Clean out that Closet, Garage and Storage Unit

The Sawgrass Nature Center is having its huge multi-family, indoor

12th Annual “Trash to Treasure” Sale

Saturday & Sunday, September 13th and 14th

from 9 AM to 3 PM

910 University Dr. Coral Springs, Fl. 

in the former Office Max Store

(just to the right of Whole Foods, between Atlantic Blvd. & Ramblewood Dr.)

Donated items are greatly appreciated

(and can be dropped off at the store on the following dates & times)

Sat & Sun. August 30 & 31st 10:00AM – 3:00PM
Sat. & Sun. September 6 & 7th 10:00AM – 3:00PM

(Weekdays& evenings by appointment)

For additional information, please call the Center at (954) 752-9453.

Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital,

located at Sportsplex Park in Coral Springs. The SNC provides care for injured,

sick and orphaned wild birds, mammals and reptiles and provides environmental

education programs for children and adults.

Proposal to Remove or Transfer Ownership of Aids to Navigation in Everglades National Park

The United States Coast Guard wants to hear from you!

The USCG is asking for public comment related the removal of channel markers from Coot Bay to Little Shark River Entrance. The USCG is in the process of making a determination of transferring the markers to

National Park Service ownership as well as considering complete removal of markers in the backcountry from Coot Bay to the mouth of the Little Shark River

NOW IS THE TIME TO TELL THE COAST GUARD THAT YOU OPPOSE THE TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP AND REMOVAL OF CERTAIN MARKERS!

Public Comment Period Closes: October 1, 2014

In recent years, the USCG has allowed the markers to fall into disrepair to the point where many regular visitors now avoid the channel due to the potential for submerged piles below the waterline increasing the potential for collisions.

Now that the markers have degraded to such a state, that the USCG, the agency responsible for their decline is e now attempting to discontinue service that has played a vital safety roll for all on water activities in the backcountry.

Those that are beginners fishing the backcountry, those that are enjoying the houseboats on an infrequent basis and those that canoe the Wilderness Waterway from Chokoloskee to Flamingo

depend on these markers to assist with confirmation of their location in this vast part of the Park. This is a boater and paddle craft safety issue

Please send comments to the email address above in support of the USCG continuing to maintain the markers from Coot Bay to the entrance of Little Shark River.

For more information please contact Trip Aukeman CCA Director of Advocacy at taukeman@ccaflorida.org

Bok Tower Gardens to host Florida Wildflower Symposium on Sept. 19-20

The Florida Wildflower Foundation is proud to partner with Bok Tower Gardens to bring the 2014 Florida Wildflower Symposium to the scenic Lake Wales attraction on Sept. 19 and 20.

The event includes field trips to natural lands, workshops, walks in the Gardens, and presentations by experts on wildflowers, native plants, butterflies and bees.

There is also a landscaping track for those who want to learn about using natives at home.

Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, will speak at the symposium banquet, to be held Friday, Sept. 19, at the Gardens.

Tallamy, who chairs the University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, will talk about the important roles native plants play in ecosystem health and our own well-being.

Cost for dinner is $35 for FWF and Bok Tower Gardens members, or $45 for non-members.

Symposium registration includes access to Friday field trips ($10 each), and admission to Bok Tower Gardens for Friday and Saturday activities.

Registrants attending Saturday also will receive a beautiful “La Florida: 500 Years in the Land of Flowers” poster ($10 value).

Cost to attend the event is $35 for FWF and Bok Tower Gardens members, and $45 for non-members, which includes a $5 donation to the Gardens.

Additionally, Bok Tower Gardens also will host “Wildflower Day” on Saturday, Sept. 20, which includes public events such as short films, a presentation by Doug Tallamy, walks in the Gardens, and book signings in the gift shop.

All “Wildflower Day” activities are included with Gardens admission, with the exception of Tallamy’s presentation, which costs $18 for symposium registrants and $20 for the general public.

Visit the Florida Wildflower Foundation website, www.FlaWildflowers.org, to learn more about Symposium and Wildflower Day activities, and to register.

Special hotel rates also are available.

Please join us in thanking our event sponsors.

Lisa Roberts

Executive Director

Florida Wildflower Foundation

225 S. Swoope Ave., Suite 110

Maitland, FL 32751

407-622-1606

Town Hall Meeting on Fracking Next Tuesday ‏

Join the Americans Against Fracking coalition for an important town hall Tuesday August 26th
Date: Tuesday August 26
Time: 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT
Call: 559-726-1200
Code: 776632
Between now and October 16, there are key organizing opportunities for us to get out and show the breath of our movement and the power in our ranks. In short, there is work to do, and we have potential to make great strides for our movement.
Please join as we discuss major events in our movement happening over the next month and a half – the People’s Climate March on Sept 21, the Global Frackdown on October 11 and October 16, when the comment period closes for the EPA carbon rules.
Speakers for the call will include Wenohah Hauter of Food & Water Watch, Sandra Steingraber, and Josh Fox.

Of Interest to All

Deep Dredge Silt Is Killing Our Coral After All, Admit State Inspectors

For years, Deep Dredge proponents have promised that the $220 million project wouldn’t kill off Biscayne Bay wildlife. Coral would be removed from harm’s way, they claimed, and water quality would be closely monitored.

Like the massive dredge barges themselves, however, those promises appear to be full of crap.

State inspectors released a study Monday showing that silt from the dredge has already killed many corals and had “profound” and “long-lasting” ecological effects on Biscayne Bay.

The report appears to confirm environmentalists’ worst nightmares.

In 2011, a coalition of activists filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, the government agency overseeing the project. The environmentalists argued that not enough was being done to protect Biscayne Bay wildlife from years of dredging and underwater dynamiting.

“Once we inflict enormous environmental damage on the bay, we can’t go back,” local boat captain Dan Kipnis said at the time. “This could be a permanent setback to the bay as we know it.”

Kipnis and others weren’t able to stop the dredge, of course, but they were able to obtain more money for mitigation and greater monitoring.

Last month, however, Kipnis and his coalition (which includes marine biologist Colin Foord, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, and the Tropical Audubon Society) filed a formal notice of their intent to sue the corps and its contractor once again — this time for improperly monitoring the dredge and for damaging the bay with its dirty plumes.

They provided New Times with evidence that silt from the Deep Dredge had spread across Biscayne Bay, burying coral under a deadly layer of dirt, sand, and bacteria.

The day the group filed its motion, the dredge ships disappeared from Biscayne Bay. The corps claimed that its main ship was struck by lightning and that the stoppage has nothing to do with damage from the dredge.

Either way, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection used the pause in dredging to investigate. This Monday, they sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers outlining numerous violations.

Silt from the dredge had spread far beyond the confines of the project. In some locations — including at least one artificial reef — corals were buried beneath up to 14 centimeters of dredge detritus.

Even corals that weren’t buried were at risk because of how dirty the water had become from the dredge.

“During this diving inspection, significant impacts to hardbottom beyond those that were permitted were observed,” the letter said.

In the accompanying report, photos show the damage already done by the dredge: corals broken by boulders errantly dropped by dredge ships; corals covered in bacteria or buried under silt; once-vibrant ecosystems now reduced to rubble.

“The corps and [its contractor's] continued manipulation, evasion, and total disregard for conditions defined in our settlement agreement and the DEP permit requirements is an affront to the citizens of South Florida,” Kipnis said of the study. “ACOE’s blatant bullying and suppression of calls by concerned citizens and environmental organizations for transparency and compliance during PortMiami’s Deep Dredge project borders on the criminal.”

Foord, an expert in corals, said he was shocked by the DEP’s photos.

“It is, in fact, far worse than we thought,” he said. “State-protected sea fan gorgonians are also being smothered in silt and then subsequently overgrown with cyanobacteria.”

Most troubling of all, Foord said, is that summer is corals reproductive period. Instead of a sea swimming with coral larvae, however, the DEP found that dredge silt had killed them all.

“The bigger question now is just how far away this silt extends north of the channel,” Foord said. “It is possible that there will be no larval recruitment for miles around the channel.

“The ACOE should be held accountable,” he said. “They need to immediately rectify the methods they are using to dredge, abide by the coral monitoring reports, and adhere to the conditions of their permit. If anyone else besides the federal government was causing this much impact to Florida’s coral reefs, that individual or group would be facing huge fines and potentially imprisonment. This in conjunction with the fact they simply dumped the legally required ‘mitigation reef’ boulders directly onto the natural existing coral is a shameful (easily avoidable) act that demonstrates the low levels of professional/scientific conduct the project is operating on.

The DEP study gives the Army Corps two weeks to respond. It ends on a halfway hopeful note: “A fast response to this issue may minimize long-lasting impacts.”

Kipnis has a bleaker prognosis.

“If the corps and [its contractor] can stall, hem and haw long enough, they will get the project done,” he said. “We will be left holding the bag, as Miami-Dade County ultimately is responsible for the damages and remediation as per the contact agreement between PortMiami and the corps.

“Something is definitely wrong with this system.”

Michael E. Miller|Aug. 20 2014

Leonardo DiCaprio gala raises $25 million for conservation

A star studded gala hosted by Leonardo DiCaprio in St Tropez, France raised more than $25 million for The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting and preserving the world’s environment and wildlife.

Areas of focus include; land, oceans and species conservation, climate change and disaster relief, and recent grants from the Foundation has gone to protecting tigers in Nepal and working with with WWF, Frankfort Zoological Society, the Australian Orangutan Project, Kehati and Eyes on the Forest to save the largest remaining block of rainforest in Sumatra.

Guests at the event included: Bono, Marion Cotillard, Jared Leto, Joan Collins, Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne, Petra Nemcova, Robin Thicke, Julian Lennon, Natasha Poly, Toni Garnn, Dean and Dan Caten, Joan Collins, Philippe Cousteau, Ashlan Gorse Cousteau, Alina Baikova, Caroline Scheufele, among many others.

In his opening speech Leonardo DiCaprio said: “Today we stand at the 11th Hour – facing a tipping point of environmental crises unprecedented in human history.  Not since the age of the dinosaurs have so many species of plants and animals become extinct in such a short period of time.

“We must now make an effort to protect the rich biodiversity that could allow nature to eventually recover. The good news is there are solutions to these massive problems. Efforts like tonight will start addressing them.“ 

Nanoparticles: Panacea or Pandora’s box?

Nanoparticles can be used to deliver vaccines, treat tumors, clean up oil spills, preserve food, protect skin from sun and kill bacteria. They’re so useful for purifying, thickening, coloring and keeping food fresh that they’re added to more products every year, with the nanofoods market projected to reach US$20.4 billion by 2020. Nanoparticles are the new scientific miracle that will make our lives better! Some people say they’ll usher in the next industrial revolution.

Hold on… Haven’t we heard that refrain before?

Nanotechnology commonly refers to materials, systems and processes that exist or operate at a scale of 100 nanometers or less, according to U.S.-based Friends of the Earth. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter — about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. An FoE report finds use of unlabeled, unregulated nano-ingredients in food has grown substantially since 2008. Because labeling and disclosure are not required for food and beverage products containing them, it’s difficult to determine how widespread their use is. Nanoparticles are also used in everything from cutting boards to baby bottles and toys to toothpaste.

“Major food companies have rapidly introduced nanomaterial’s into our food with no labels and scant evidence of their safety, within a regulatory vacuum,” says report author Ian Illuminato, FoE health and environment campaigner. “Unfortunately, despite a growing body of science calling their safety into question, our government has made little progress in protecting the public, workers and the environment from the big risks posed by these tiny ingredients.”

Studies show nanoparticles can harm human health and the environment. They can damage lungs and cause symptoms such as rashes and nasal congestion, and we don’t yet know about long-term effects. Their minute size means they’re “more likely than larger particles to enter cells, tissues and organs” and “can be more chemically reactive and more bioactive than larger particles of the same chemicals,” FoE says. A Cornell University study found nanoparticle exposure changed the structure of intestinal-wall lining in chickens.

Like pesticides, they also bio-accumulate. Those that end up in water — from cosmetics, toothpaste, clothing and more — concentrate and become magnified as they move up the food chain. And in one experiment, silver nanoparticles in wastewater runoff killed a third of exposed plants and microbes, according to a CBC online article.

Their use as antibacterial agents also raises concerns about bacterial resistance and the spread of superbugs, which already kill tens of thousands of people every year.

The Wilson Center, an independent research institution in Washington, D.C.,recently created a database of “manufacturer-identified” nanoparticle-containing consumer products. It lists 1,628, of which 383 use silver particles. The second most common is titanium, found in 179 products. While acknowledging that “nanotechnologies offer tremendous potential benefits” the Center set up its Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies to “ensure that as these technologies are developed, potential human health and environmental risks are anticipated, properly understood, and effectively managed.”

As is often the case with such discoveries, widespread application could lead to unintended consequences. Scientists argue we should follow the precautionary principle, which states proponents must prove products or materials are safe before they’re put into common use. Before letting loose such technology, we should also ask who benefits, whether it’s necessary and what environmental consequences are possible.

Friends of the Earth has called on the U.S. government to impose a moratorium on “further commercial release of food products, food packaging, food contact materials and agrochemicals that contain manufactured nanomaterials until nanotechnology-specific safety laws are established and the public is involved in decision-making.”

The group says we can protect ourselves by choosing fresh, organic and local foods instead of processed and packaged foods and by holding governments accountable for regulating and labeling products with nanoparticles.

Nanomaterials may well turn out to be a boon to humans, but we don’t know enough about their long-term effects to be adding them so indiscriminately to our food systems and other products. If we’ve learned anything from past experience, it’s that although we can speculate about the benefits of new technologies, reality doesn’t always match speculation, and a lack of knowledge can lead to nasty surprises down the road.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Broward to dig deeper at Port

County will pay $18 million tab

The most expensive piece of real estate in Broward County must lie at the bottom of Port Everglades. That’s where officials are going to spend $18 million to buy an extra foot of clearance for ships.

Broward county commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to pick up that tab using public funds from Port Everglades business revenues.

Broward County‘s been trying for 18 years to win federal approval — and partial funding — to deepen the port so larger ships can do business there. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently delivered the disappointing news that it will recommend dredging to 47 feet, not the 48 feet the county had hoped for. The Corps said the county could still win approval for a 48-foot dredge, but the cost of that last foot would have to be borne by Broward.

The port channel is currently 42 feet deep.

Business giant Terry Stiles of Stiles Corp. was among those expressing frustration Tuesday with the delays of the federal government in approving a project he said would be “life-changing” for Broward.

“I think it’s a disgrace that our government isn’t taking it seriously to get this approved,” he complained.

Col. Alan Dodd, district commander with the Army Corps of Engineers, defended the agency, saying that approving the project, which requires the destruction of a massive acreage of coral reefs, meant “working through probably the most challenging environmental issue short of the Everglades that this district has taken on.”The Army Corps figures that for every $1 of the $370 million project, the nation will get $2.7 dollars in return over the next 50 years, Dodd said Tuesday. But the additional benefit of dredging to 48 feet instead of 47 is not great enough to justify the additional cost, he said.

Ports across the east coast are racing to dredge deeper in order to take on the larger ships that will be traversing an expanded Panama Canal. PortMiami is dredging to 50 feet, for example.

Broward Commissioner Tim Ryan said if the project isn’t approved by the end of the calendar year, Broward could miss the next deadline to be considered for federal funding.

Dodd said he would try to get the project through the review process by the end of December, but it could be as late as February 2015.

The county’s total share will be $183.1 million

Brittany Wallman|Sun Sentinel|August 12, 2014

[There is no guarantee that the Post-Panamax ships the Eastern Seaboard ports are courting will stop at any Florida port. Savannah is dredging to 50’ and is more centrally located, easier to access and has it’s overland infrastructure already in place. Cargo coming to Florida would have to be shipped by land some 450 miles just to leave Florida, which puts the cargo in the Savannah vicinity anyway. I believe the only cargo that will come to Florida is that which is destined for consumption in Florida. Broward County suffers no compunctions when it comes to wasting taxpayers’ money.]

Watch: Awesome expedition from 1934 ‏

Imagine bolting yourself into a huge cast iron ball and being tossed into the Atlantic Ocean. That was just another day in William Beebe’s life.

Beebe, a marine biologist, explorer, and our founding ornithologist, made history in August 1934 – 80 years ago – when he descended 3,028 feet off the coast of Bermuda in a deep diving sphere called the Bathysphere. At the time, it was the deepest dive ever performed by a human, and Beebe was able to observe a number of animals that had never before been seen alive.

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the dive, we’re sharing his amazing story. Check out this historic footage of Beebe and his fellow scientists on expeditions conducted for the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society). You can also see the Bathysphere today at its home at the New York Aquarium!

Learn how our scientists at WCS are inspired by Beebe’s legacy and carry on in his footsteps. Pretty cool, right?!

Enjoy!

Wildlife Conservation Society

Toxic Algae Scare Prompts Backlash Against Farms

What do a no-drink order in Toledo and a backlash against factory farming have in common? A lot, as it turns out. Residents of Ohio’s fourth-largest city were advised for multiple days earlier this month to refrain from drinking their tap water because it had been contaminated by toxic algae. As residents struggled to deal with their contaminated water supply, the culprit behind the problem became readily apparent: factory farms. The Ohio Agriculture Advisory Council (OAAC) is proposing a regulatory crackdown that could forever change industrial farming practices in this Midwestern state.

The chain between factory farms and contaminated drinking water is a long one. It starts with confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where animals are kept in close quarters in order to maximize production. This generates a huge volume of waste, which is stored in massive lagoons like the one seen above. That waste isn’t treated, however, and when those lagoons overflow or contaminate groundwater, the result is a release of waste filled with a variety of potentially infectious organisms — and nutrients that algae and plants love to feed on.

This causes a phenomenon known as nutrient pollution (another culprit for nutrient pollution is fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture), where waterways become choked by organisms that are growing out of control because they’re getting far more nutritional support than they usually do. They can out-compete native species and totally change aquatic environments. And they can cause drinking water contamination, which leads to large-scale no-drink orders like the one that just happened in Toledo.

While factory farming is bad news for a number of reasons (not least of which is animal welfare), this is a huge problem — and it’s one that is very poorly regulated. Limited restrictions on how waste is collected, controlled and treated exist, and inspectors are overstressed with demanding schedules, which leaves few opportunities for monitoring farms in their regions. As a result, farms can store manure in unsafe conditions with few repercussions. Despite multiple record-breaking waste spills in regions across the United States, regulators have been slow to act on the problem. CAFO operators aren’t required to treat their waste, and often pass the responsibility for cleanup on to government agencies and other parties, sometimes escaping without even a fine for their activities.

S.E. Smith|Care2|August 18, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.

 Audubon Wins Settlement in Osceola County Land Use Plan Challenge

I am pleased to report the final outcome of Audubon’s challenge of the Osceola County Comprehensive Plan ( the litigation was filed in the name of the Florida Audubon Society, Inc.)  You may recall that in April, Osceola County suddenly voted to strip most of the meaningful policy from the “Conservation Element” of its comprehensive plan. Among other things, plan provisions providing for wetland protection, and the protection of important habitats such as scrub and sandhill were removed. Also, a policy was changed which appeared to open the way for the development of conservation lands previously purchased by the county, or the use of density allocations from county conservation lands to increase other developments in the county.

Charles Lee and our Kissimmee Valley chapter appeared at the County Commission meeting in April to argue against these plan changes, but they were adopted over our strong objections.

In an unusual, but necessary step for Audubon, we filed a petition for a formal administrative hearing. We were ably represented by environmental attorney Chris Byrd. We took this step because the repeal of these policies in the Osceola County plan appeared to us to be one of the most serious incidents of undermining county plan provisions since the elimination of the Department of Community Affairs in 2011. Without a state agency to challenge these changes they would have gone into effect had Audubon not stepped in. The deciding factor for us was the fact that Osceola County sits at the headwaters of the Everglades, and hundreds of thousands of acres of important wetlands and wildlife habitat in the Kissimmee floodplain were put at risk.

On Monday, August 18th the Osceola County Commission voted unanimously to agree to a stipulated settlement of Audubon’s litigation. The county agreed to essentially restore the policies that were removed in April. There were some stylistic and language changes, but on balance the essential provisions of the policies that had been stripped from the plan were restored.  After the case was filed, Charles Lee of our staff and attorney Chris Byrd met with Osceola’s attorneys and planning staff. Charles also cultivated interest in the case by the press, and several strong editorials and opinion columns in the Orlando Sentinel, which were reprinted in other newspapers around the state, criticized Osceola’s decision to severely weaken their comprehensive plan.

The county’s turn-around demonstrates what carefully developed strategy employing advocacy, litigate and media cultivation can achieve.

Eric Draper|Executive Director|Audubon FLORIDA|August 19, 2014

UGA Student wins National Water Quality Challenge Award ‏

ATLANTA – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that James Wood, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Georgia located in Athens, Ga., was one of seven undergraduate and graduate student winners for Phase 1 of the National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS) Campus Challenge.  The award was based on Wood’s proposal to assess major trends in river plants and measure the bioaccumulation of heavy metals in highly urbanized watersheds.
Announced in February, the NARS Campus Challenge encourages students to develop proposals for research projects that find innovative ways to use NARS data about the condition of the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and coastal areas.  The challenge recognizes exemplary research in the area of water quality and ecosystems.
“The National Aquatic Resource Surveys are helping our states and tribes effectively and accurately monitor the ecological condition of our surface waters, which in turn helps EPA better target program efforts to meet our Clean Water Act goals,” said Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Water Office. “These students are working to protect America’s surface water resources and bring to this challenge energy, innovative perspectives, and cutting-edge knowledge.”

The National Aquatic Resource Surveys are a series of statistically representative surveys conducted by state, tribal and federal partners about the condition of the nation’s waters using core indicators and standardized lab and field methods. In addition to providing national assessments of key water body types such as coastal areas, rivers and streams, lakes, and wetlands, NARS also helps to improve the states’ capacity for water quality monitoring and assessment.

The other winners of the Phase 1 awards are:

Anna Palmer, SUNY-Purchase, New York, for her proposal to use statistical analyses for assessing  socio-economic factors related to water quality;

Lauren Reuss, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, for her proposal to develop a new system for identifying the condition of shallow lakes and factors that affect the quality of lake condition such as land use, lake size and depth;

John Lombardi, SUNY-College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, Syracuse, New York, for his proposal to combine citizen science data with National Lakes Assessment (NLA) data.
Kelly Heber and Lain Dunning, Ph.D. candidates, MIT, Massachusetts, for their proposal to link between stakeholder communities and coastal ecosystem health;

Kevin Meyer, Ph.D. candidate, Iowa State University, Iowa, for his proposal to estimate land use effects on water quality using spatial econometrics;

Amanda Winegardner, Ph.D. candidate, McGill University, Canada, for her proposal to explore biological  diversity changes across the U.S.; and

The Phase 1 winners each received an award of $2000 for their proposals. After completing their proposed work, these students may apply for Phase 2 of the NARS Campus Research Challenge. The Phase 2 winners will be awarded $5000 each.

More information on the National Aquatic Resources Surveys Campus Research Challenge is available at:

http://water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/monitoring/nars-challenge.cfm

More information on the National Aquatic Resources Surveys is available at:

http://water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/monitoring/aquaticsurvey_index.cfm

NEWS RELEASE|Dawn Harris Young|EPA|August 19, 2014

Hempcrete Could Change How We Build Everything

People have been set on using the best materials when it comes to building houses, in regards to foundations, insulation, electricity, etc. and we would like to believe that our government and top corporations are in the business of using the best materials to build with as well as benefit the environment. Well, if this was true, the world would be using hempcrete.

So what is hempcrete? Hempcrete is a building material similar to concrete but with a few differences that are quite notable. First off, it incorporates hemp, using the shiv (inner stem of the plant) and a limestone base. It creates a negative carbon footprint, and is highly versatile. Hempcrete can be used as insulation, flooring, roofing, and even drywall. It is fireproof, waterproof and rot proof provided it is above ground. It is easier to make than concrete, as well as more durable. It is 3x more resistant to earthquakes as compared to regular concrete.

Limestone is the binder in hempcrete, and it does not need to be heated as much as conventional concrete mixture, reducing energy costs. Going back to the carbon aspect of it, hempcrete isolates carbon in its cellulose structure, meaning that the carbon inside the hemp plant does not release back into the atmosphere. A standard home made hempcrete can save up to 20,000 lbs. of carbon.

What really makes hempcrete a superior building material is that it is lightweight, breathable, and incredibly strong. When it’s used for exterior walls, it will let water in without damaging or rotting the material, and due to this, the moisture levels maintain with the absorbed water releasing as the temperature goes up, and this very fact eliminates the need for insulation as it is its own acting insulator. Hempcrete can simply just be used as a wall with no need to leave a gap for insulation. Now, since the lime is wrapped in cellulose, it takes a bit longer for the mixture to petrify but it makes up for being highly durable, over time the limestone will grow harder and turn back into rock petrifying completely. A wall of hempcrete will last thousands of years compared to 40-100 with conventional concrete, especially if it’s reinforced with steel (a self-destroying design might I add).

The other great thing about hempcrete is that if you mess up a batch, it acts as a great fertilizer, simply being returned to the soil. Hemp reaches maturity in 14 weeks and doesn’t take much to grow it, no major pesticides, or fungicides to maintain its health and its seeds are extremely healthy and rich in omega-3 oils. One can only wonder why we don’t already have this plant used in mainstream industries already. As a matter of fact, this was the country’s first major cash crop until a legal scare put the industry out due to its relative cannabis-sativa classified as a schedule 1 drug.

Hopefully, we will see this material used for our future generations as the world’s need for carbon reduction and durable supplies increases.

Austin Miller|August 18th, 2014

Oregon Rejects Key Permit for Coal Export Terminal

The state of Oregon stood up to dirty coal exports today by denying a key dock-building permit. This denial is a major victory for residents and climate activists who have waged a huge, high-profile campaign against coal exports. Oregon’s decision today shows that our state leadership values clean air, our climate and healthy salmon runs.

Hundreds of Oregonians gathered at a youth-led rally against coal export in March. Kids ages three and up spoke out against coal exports and demanded that Governor Kitzhaber protect their future from dirty coal.

Coal export proponent, Ambre Energy asked the Oregon’s Department of State Lands for permission to build a new loading dock to ship Powder River Basin coal down the Columbia River to ocean-going ships bound for Asia. Oregon said no, saying the coal export project “would unreasonably interfere with the paramount policy of this state to preserve the use of its waters for navigation, fishing and public recreation.”

As American use of coal declines, the Pacific Northwest is threatened by industry trying to maintain profits by exporting the coal that is too dirty to burn here. At its peak, Oregon and Washington faced six coal export proposals. Three proposals were withdrawn by the companies and today’s decision marks the first time a Pacific Northwest state agency formally rejected a coal export permit. Two coal export terminals remain on the table in Washington and face intense public opposition, led by Power Past Coal, an alliance of health, environmental, businesses, clean-energy, faith and community groups working to stop coal export off the West Coast.

The decision to place the protection, conservation and best use of the Columbia River above coal export deals a severe blow to Ambre Energy’s struggling proposal. In the spring of 2012, Australian-based Ambre Energy was described by The Australian as, “a small-time Queensland resources company … at risk of financial collapse.” Since then, Ambre has failed to succeed at any of its coal-related ventures in the U.S. or abroad. Today’s permit denial seriously challenges the company’s ability to continue their attempt to export coal in the U.S. and should be seen as a warning to other coal companies hoping to try exporting coal to eek out more profit from their dying industry.

Here’s how communities in the Northwest stood up to Ambre Energy:

  • More than 20,000 people contacted the Department of State Lands urging them to deny the permit to build a coal export dock.
  • Eighty-six elected officials from Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Washington urged Governor Kitzhaber and DSL to reject the dock permit.
  • Close to 600 Northwest businesses and business leaders expressed concern or outright opposition to coal export.
  • More than 3,000 medical professionals and public health advocates requested a denial of the Morrow Pacific project permit. Coal contains toxic pollution like lead and arsenic known to harm human health. In addition to dangerous diesel exhaust from trains, barges and ships, toxic coal dust will threaten air quality and worsen asthma, respiratory illness and other health problems.
  • One hundred sixty-five Oregon physicians voiced their concerns directly to Governor Kitzhaber in the Position Statement on Coal Exports from Concerned Oregon Physicians to Governor Kitzhaber.
  • And we rallied … we rallied like it was our job. Because protecting the river, salmon and health of our climate and community is our job.

Brett VandenHeuvel|Columbia Riverkeeper|August 18, 2014

State: Port Miami dredging damaging coral

State environmental inspectors say a $205 million project to deepen Port Miami is damaging sea life and smothering coral.

The Department of Environmental Protection warned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week that the work violates state permits. The Corps was given two weeks to respond to Monday’s letter.

The Miami Herald (http://hrld.us/1qp8SJy) reports a local watchdog group also issued a similar complaint last month and threatened to sue in September if the work isn’t cleaned up.

The Corps, which is overseeing the project, told the Herald the letters are being reviewed.

Last month the state sent divers to inspect the area around the dredge. They found the edges of some coral colonies are already dying and smaller colonies are showing signs of stress.

The Associated Press|Aug. 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.

Household use

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.

Real story

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

Where Have All the Trees and Wetlands Gone?

More than 1,500 square miles of wetlands and 16,400 square miles of forest were lost between 1996 and 2011, much of them gobbled up by human development, according to a new analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the march goes on: Developments like parking lots, homes and commercial buildings consume, on average, the wetlands equivalent of 61 football fields every day.

The study notes that during this 15-year period the Northeast added more than 1,100 square miles of development — an area larger than Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and D.C. combined. Meanwhile the West Coast saw 4,900 square miles of forests cut, and the Southeast lost 510 square miles of wetlands.

There are some bright spots — some local restoration projects are paying off — but the NOAA report raises very serious concerns about wild places that are disappearing before our eyes.

Learn more in the report and see how your region fared.

[In 1995, President Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order that mandated “no net loss” of wetlands and called for the creation of an additional 100,000 acres of wetlands annually.]

University of Illinois studying bee venom as cancer treatment

Another reason to love bees: they might be able to help us fight cancer.

While venom isn’t usually known as a friendly thing, new research shows that venom from bees, snakes and scorpions could potentially be used to fight certain forms of cancer. While you wouldn’t go and inject someone with a dose of venom, which could have lethal effects, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that if they isolated specific proteins in the venom, these could be used in a safe way to block tumor growth.

“We have safely used venom toxins in tiny nanometer-sized particles to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells in the laboratory,” study author Dipanjan Pan of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said in a statement. “These particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue.”

Previous studies have shown the potential power of venom, but because of the potentially very dangerous side effects of venom injection – damage to nerve cells, for example – hat power couldn’t be properly harnessed. That’s what makes this new research so exciting.

The toxins in question are peptide toxins. The researchers made a synthetic version in the lab, then injected it into the tiny nanoparticles. “The peptide toxins we made are so tightly packed within the nanoparticle that they don’t leach out when exposed to the bloodstream and cause side effects,” Pan said.

Anna Brones|Care2|August 21, 2014

Read more at ENN Affiliate, Care2.

Calls to Action

  1. Stop exploding trains – here
  2. Tell the EPA- Fracking Chemicals Shouldn’t Be Secret – here
  3. Tell Walmart Developer- Stop Building on Priceless Habitat – here
  4. Tell EPA to Prevent a Mining Catastrophe in Alaska – here
  5. Protect Brown Bear Habitat From Toxic Mininghere
  6. Keep water on public lands in our rivers – here
  7. Ban fishing of the Pacific bluefin tuna immediately – here
  8. Tell Congress to protect tiger habitat – here
  9. Tell McDonald’s to Go Deforestation-Free – here
  10. Tell the USDA- No Apples Imported From China! – here
  11. Help End Poaching Of Africa’s Last Rhinos – here

Birds and Butterflies

Raven populations rise in US as they turn man-made structures to their advantage

Ravens have turned human interference in the landscape into a benefit

A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), US Geological Survey (USGS) and Idaho State University (ISU) has revealed how man-made structures affect the nesting of a variety of avian predators.

The study took place on the sagebrush landscapes of the US Department of Energy’s Idaho site and surrounding areas in the state, locating nest sites for all four species over a three-year span.

Researchers compared common ravens, red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks, and ferruginous hawks.

Overall, the analysis showed that energy transmission towers and other artificial substrates (e.g. mobile phone towers, billboards and buildings) are overwhelmingly preferred by ravens as nesting sites, and are not at all favoured by any of the three hawk species.

“Raven populations have increased precipitously in the past four decades in sagebrush ecosystems, largely as a result of fragmentation and development of anthropogenic structures,” said ecologist and study lead author Peter Coates.

“Our study shows that in addition to habitat fragmentation, the addition of human-made structures benefit ravens, whereas some species of raptors like the ferruginous hawk have been impacted and limited in nesting areas.”

Why the difference in nest selection between ravens and large hawks? The answer may be linked to the availability of preferred prey.

“Ravens are opportunistic foragers, eating just about anything, including carrion,” said co-author and USGS ecologist Kristy Howe.

“In addition, they tend to be highly intelligent birds that adapt quickly to changing environments and have been shown to transmit learned behaviors from one generation to the next.

“Conversely, hawks tend to be strongly territorial, intolerant of human disturbance, and prefer prey like jackrabbits that occupy similar habitats.”

Ravens were classed as an uncommon breeder within this area as recently as 1986. They are now the most pervasive predatory species nesting in this area, accounting for 46 per cent of nests among the four.

Transmission towers are the tallest objects in the study area. Nesting on or near them may afford ravens myriad advantages, including a wider range of vision, greater attack speed, and greater security from predators, range fires, and heat stress.

While this is good news for ravens, it could be bad news for sensitive prey species, including the greater sage-grouse.

Howe speculates on the study’s other implications and directions for future research: “Since ravens are important predators of young birds and eggs, and hawks are predominantly predators of adults, these landscape changes could shift ecosystem dynamics.

“Predation risk would now likely be greater for sage-grouse eggs and young, and correspondingly lower for adult sage-grouse and other prey species.

“This adds new insights for ecosystem managers who seek to understand the complex relationships between ravens, hawks, sage-grouse populations, and habitat changes.”

“Industrial development, wildfires, invasive plant species, and other disturbances are changing sagebrush landscapes throughout the western United States,” concluded Peter Coates.

“Our results shed light on how these avian predators might change with them.”

Read Audubon’s Top Ten Tips on Saving Shorebirds

New population of critically endangered parakeets found by young team in Brazil

A team of young conservationists in Ceará State, north-east Brazil, has discovered a small population of five grey-breasted parakeets  (Pyrrhura griseipectus). 

Fewer than 200 are known to survive in the wild, and all of them are in Ceará State. The team, employed by Brazilian NGO Aquasis, was granted a Conservation Leadership Program (CLP) Future Conservationist Award in 2012.

This award enabled the team to conduct several research expeditions to find new populations and improve knowledge about the parakeet’s range.

“Last year, as part of our CLP-funded project we found clues suggesting the presence of this species in an isolated mountain,” said Fabio Nunes, the project leader.

“It was only in March that we were able to confirm and document the finding.

“This discovery could be a new hope to add to the existing conservation efforts led by Aquasis and its partners.”

Usually, the grey-breasted parakeet lives in tropical forests, nesting inside tree hollows. Yet on this occasion, the five individuals were found in a nest located in a small cavity on top of a rocky mountain, above dry vegetation known locally as caatinga.

These rare birds face immediate threats from trafficking for the pet trade and habitat destruction. The newly discovered birds represent the third remnant population of 15 which were previously known to exist; the other two being in Serra do Baturité and Quixadá.

The discovery of new populations is excellent news, but the grey-breasted parakeet faces an uphill struggle.

Having been left in isolation for so long, the genetic make-up of the new population may be different enough to suggest that uniting populations could be problematic and risky.

The team is now writing a scientific paper to emphasize the importance of this discovery for the survival of the grey-breasted parakeet.

Future conservation efforts will focus on environmental education and direct species and habitat conservation activities, led by Aquasis and supported by CLP, BirdLife International among others.

Habitat loss is a major risk to penguin populations

All penguin species are continuing to be at risk from habitat degradation and loss a new study finds.

Populations have declined substantially over the past 20 years and in 2013, 11 species out of the total 18 were listed as ‘threatened’ by IUCN, two as ‘near threatened’, and the remaining five as ‘of least concern’.

The scientists examined different factors where human activity might interfere with penguin populations.

They found habitat loss, pollution, and fishing are the primary concerns, and future resilience of penguin populations to climate change impacts will almost certainly depend upon addressing these threats.

Dr Phil Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at the British Antarctic Survey and the lead author of the study, said:

“Penguins and humans often compete for the same food, and some of our other actions also impinge upon penguins. Our research highlights some of the issues of conservation and how we might protect biodiversity and the functioning of marine ecosystems.

“Whilst it is possible to design and implement large-scale marine conservation reserves it is not always practical or politically feasible. However, there are other ecosystem-based management methods that can help maintain biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem.

“For example, the use of spatial zoning to reduce the overlap of fisheries, oil rigs and shipping lanes with areas of the ocean used by penguins; the use of appropriate fishing methods to reduce the accidental bycatch of penguins and other species; and, the use of ecologically based fisheries harvesting rules to limit the allowable catches taken by fishermen, particularly where they target species that are also food for penguins.”

Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary Gets Needed Upgrade

This summer, Audubon Florida’s Coastal Islands Sanctuaries installed another 425 feet of offshore breakwater at the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary in Hillsborough Bay, south of Tampa.

The breakwater, created from large pH-balanced hollow concrete pyramids, intercepts waves and ship wakes, slowing erosion of the bird nesting habitats for the nearly 6,000 pairs of colonial waterbirds that nested on the Alafia Bank this spring and summer. The project was funded by a $250,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Shell Marine Grant, funds generated from oil recovered and sold by the government following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This installation is the second large-scale breakwater placed on the north shore of the Alafia Bank, adding to 800 feet installed in 2011.

The 8,000-lb concrete pyramid units were lowered into place by a large crane mounted on a barge. The pyramids’ hollow structure and overlapping placement dissipate wave energy, creating a quiet shoreline to protect the island from erosion, which has been toppling bird nesting trees. Oysters and barnacles readily attach to the pH-neutral pyramids, providing habitat for fish and crabs.

The Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary, owned by The Mosaic Company and leased to Audubon for management as a bird sanctuary, is a critically important bird nesting site for 16 species of birds, including Brown Pelicans, herons and egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, and American Oystercatchers.

Audubon Florida News Blog|August 14, 2014

500,000 Acres Proposed for Protection of Rare Western Cuckoos

One of the West’s most endangered birds is getting important habitat protected. Following the Center for Biological Diversity’s historic 757 species agreement and a 1998 petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed last Thursday to set aside 546,335 acres as federally protected “critical habitat” for the yellow-billed cuckoo in nine western states, from California to Wyoming.

Also called the “raincrow” because its song is often heard just before thunderstorms, this bird has a sunshine-yellow beak it uses to gobble grasshoppers, cicadas and even spiny caterpillars. First identified as needing protection in 1986, it wasn’t formally proposed for a place on the endangered species list till last October, though its population has been devastated by dams, grazing, water withdrawals and more. A final decision on protections is due this fall.

“This is an important victory, not just for yellow-billed cuckoos but for rivers and streams across the West,” said the Center’s Michael Robinson.

Read more in the Albuquerque Journal.

5 Things You Can Do to Help Monarch Butterflies Migrate

Monarch butterflies are on the move. In one of Nature’s most spectacular events, billions of these wonderful insects are starting to migrate from many parts of the U.S. and Canada down to the California coast and Mexico.

The entire process is amazing. First, they emerge from their cocoon (called a chrysalis). Immediately, they start feeding so they can fatten up enough to withstand their journey. Most monarchs will fly around 3,000 miles to their winter breeding grounds, and they’ll need food and shelter as they go. Ultimately, they’ll end up congregating in swaths of forests. Butterflies coming from west of the Rocky Mountains will alight in coastal California. Those coming from east of the Rockies will find their way to central Mexico. There they’ll stay, carpeting the trees, until next spring.

Though this process has been going on for eons, this past century has been very tough on monarchs, and their numbers are taking a toll. In Mexico, the area of forest monarchs occupied last winter shrank to just 1.65 acres. That’s almost 50% less than what it was the previous year, reports National Wildlife Federation, and far lower than the 45 acres monarchs filled during the mid-1990s. In California, says NWF, the number of monarchs wintering along the coast has declined by nearly 90 percent since the mid-1990s.

Why the decline in population? Monarchs are just as susceptible to climate change and extreme weather events as we all are, but they face additional threats as well. The more fields are planted with genetically-modified crops, the bigger the impact seems to be on all kinds of pollinating insects, butterflies included. Intensive farming to grow corn and soybeans for bio fuels, illegal logging, and suburban sprawl are eating up butterfly habitat, too.

Fortunately, you can make a difference. Here’s how:

1) Plant milkweed bushes that are native to your region. Milkweed acts as a host plant for monarch caterpillars and provides nectar for adult monarchs as well as other pollinators. You can figure out which milkweed is native to your area here. You can probably find milkweed plants ready to transplant into your yard or garden at your local garden center. Otherwise, order transplant “plugs” or seeds online.

2) Grow other native plants that bloom during the migration season. Butterflies need nourishment throughout their migration path. They get that nourishment from the nectar in flower blooms. Again, check with your garden center or county agricultural extension service for recommendations. Asters, goldenrods, sunflowers, and blazing stars are late bloomers that will help quench a monarch’s thirst.

3) Garden organically. Monarchs and many other insects and birds are highly susceptible to pesticides, especially “systemic” pesticides like neonicotinoids. Instead of spraying insecticides widely, can you remove them by hand? I often use my garden gloves to wipe pests off stems and leaves, and to crush larger bugs. I don’t worry about getting rid of every pest. My goal is to keep their populations under enough control that they don’t get out of hand and the flowers can still bloom. Why not give that approach a try?

4) Get your community involved. Many towns and cities have done a great job protecting their trees. Why not do the same for milkweed? Encourage your friends and neighbors to plant milkweed bushes on their own property as well as in community spaces. Set up a Facebook or Pinterest page so people can post pictures of the monarchs that visit their milkweed plants.

5) Choose GMO-free corn and soybean products. Shift your spending to oils and other processed foods that are not made from corn or soybean products grown from the genetically modified seed that seems to be harming monarch butterfly populations.

Diane MacEachern|August 15, 2014

6 Fascinating Facts About the Misunderstood Magpie

Magpies are often maligned as pests, but they’re actually quite interesting birds that are usually overlooked for both their beauty and their intelligence. Here are six interesting facts about magpies.

1. Magpies Don’t Like Shiny Things — They’re Scared of Them. Magpies have a reputation as thieves out to steal your shiny jewelry or take ornaments from your garden, but new research shows that objects that are shiny probably repel magpies who don’t much like the look of them. The myth seems to have built up without much science to back it up, but the truth could actually be useful. Magpies are capable of wrecking crops by digging for grain, berries and other food, so along with other bird-scaring measures, the use of shiny materials in fields might help keep the magpies away and our crops safe from being upturned and trampled.

2. Magpies Will Eat Almost Anything, Including Bird Eggs and Chicks. While their natural diet is quite broad, including insects, mice and other small rodents, grain, berries and other fruit, magpies have been known to steal other birds’ eggs and even young chicks.

In addition, they’ve adapted rather well to suburban living and will often eat leftover scraps and other food bits put out for them, though for their health it’s probably better that you give them proper bird food so as to ensure they don’t eat anything that might be poisonous.

3. Magpies Are Closely Related to Crows, Jays and Ravens. Though they may look quite a bit different at first glance, magpies belong to the bird family corvidae, a group that includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws and jays, as well as lesser recognized members like treepies, choughs and nutcrackers. As such, they are among the most intelligent family of birds recognized by modern science. Which leads us to our next fact:

4. Magpies Recognize Themselves in Mirrors. European magpies have demonstrated the remarkable ability to recognize their own reflections in mirrors, something that was once thought to be a defining characteristic belonging only to humans. This might not sound that amazing, but out of countless species tested, only four ape species, bottlenose dolphins and Asian elephants have demonstrated this ability.

Scientists tested the magpies by placing a colored mark on their necks (which did not hurt or cause skin irritation). Then when placed in a cage with several mirrors, the birds were filmed scratching at  their necks after looking at their reflections. With everything else controlled for, this could only mean that magpies had recognized themselves in the mirrors, and not just that, but had differentiated between what was their normal physical state and their now marked plumage.

You can watch a video of that here.

For a really nerdy aside: scientists believe that self-awareness in birds and certain mammals may be an example of convergent evolution, which is where unrelated species evolve particular characteristics through different means. Another example of convergent evolution, and perhaps one of the best, is our very own set of eyes.

5. What is a Group of Magpies Called? There are several names given to a group of magpies, but perhaps the most descriptive is “a parliament.” The birds have earned this title as a result of their often appearing in large groups in the Spring, looking stately and cawing at each other.

6. To The End of the Tail. Our last fascinating fact relates to one of the defining features of a magpie. While they share some similarities with their corvid family, the magpies possess an extremely long tail. In fact, a magpie’s tail is often roughly the same length as its entire body. Why magpies have such long tails is still debated but it may be that it gives the magpie, who isn’t a particularly strong, though still capable flier, the ability to make swift turns while in the air. This would allow the magpie to evade larger predator birds and make up for its rather average flying abilities.

Steve Williams|August 20, 2014

Save the monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies are so beautiful and fragile — and right now they’re dying at the hands of an unsurprising villain: Monsanto.

Monsanto makes big profits off convincing farmers to douse their fields with a pesticide called Roundup. Then they make even more cash when the farmers have to buy GMO seeds resistant to Roundup’s poison — seeds only Monsanto makes.

But as Roundup booms, it’s wiping out plants like milkweed, the only food monarch butterfly larvae can eat. Milkweed is now gone from at least 100 million acres of crops. And monarch butterfly populations are crashing. Scientists know this is no coincidence, but Monsanto will never raise a finger to protect monarch butterflies. The only way to save monarch butterflies is to get the government to step in — and step in quickly, before it’s too late.

Monarch butterflies are beloved by many. If you live in certain parts of the United States, you may have seen the gorgeous display of their 2,500 mile migrations from Canada or the States, all the way south to Mexico. It’s truly unforgettable.
But unless we step in, monarch butterfly migrations will just be a distant memory — another natural wonder that Monsanto will crush in their pursuit of bigger and bigger profits.

If we speak out together, we’ll be too big and too outspoken for our leaders to ignore. Otherwise, the prospects for monarch butterflies look dim — this year’s monarch migration was at a record low. It’s the third straight year of steep declines.

Scientists are sounding the alarm, but their words won’t be enough against Monsanto’s deep pockets. To save the monarch butterflies, we must speak out, and we have to do it now.

Nathan Empsall|SierraRise Senior Campaigner

 Florida Panthers

Eastern Collier habitat plan in works, so is new push for Town of Big Cypress

NAPLES, Fla. – A coalition of eight large landowners has been drafting a habitat conservation plan for eastern Collier County that some critics say could spell trouble for endangered Florida panthers.

Going by the acronym ECMSHCP, the Eastern Collier Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan could be submitted to federal environmental reviewers as early as this fall.

The habitat plan amounts to a kind of master federal permit that would set the rules for what would get preserved and what would get paved across 177,000 acres in eastern Collier County, including habitat for protected species, for the next 50 years.

Backers of the habitat plan say it will improve the otherwise piecemeal preservation that comes with individual permit reviews, but opponents worry that it would allow too much growth and maybe even push Florida panthers over the brink as their growing population runs out of room to roam.

“We have, of course, grave concerns about that,” said Jennifer Hecker, natural resource policy director for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples.

At least one development proposal, the Town of Big Cypress, has been on hold since 2010 waiting for the habitat plan, but landowner Collier Enterprises has been talking with county officials about “potential timelines” for reviving the town plans, Collier Enterprises Vice President Patrick Utter said.

“There’s not a set schedule,” Utter said last week.

Collier Enterprises unveiled plans in 2006 to build 25,000 homes in a new town and scattering of smaller villages on 8,000 acres of farmland surrounded by 14,000 acres of preserve east of Golden Gate Estates between Immokalee Road on the north and Interstate 75 on the south.

In 2007, the company submitted plans for a first phase of the project — 9,000 homes, offices, shops, light industrial space, a golf course, a hotel, a hospital and civic buildings and parks — around a town center that would be created at an intersection of Oil Well Road and a new extension of Randall Boulevard.

Utter said it’s too early to say how the plans might change, if at all, but this much has changed: The law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 to abolish the Department of Community Affairs, which reviewed local growth, also exempted towns like Big Cypress from having to get additional approvals as a Development of Regional Impact.

Now, Big Cypress only needs approval akin to a local rezoning under Collier County’s landmark Rural Lands Stewardship Area plan, which was adopted in 2002 after a slow-growth order by then- Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet.

The landowners proposing the habitat plan are Alico Land Development Corp., Barron Collier Partnership, Collier Enterprises, Consolidated Citrus LP, English Brothers, Half Circle L Ranch Partnership, Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd. and Sunniland Family Partnership.

The habitat plan would cover a host of species including panthers, alligators, wood storks, red-cockaded woodpeckers, scrub jays, crested caracaras, snail kites, bonneted bats, eastern indigo snakes and gopher tortoises.

Besides putting the Town of Big Cypress on the drawing board, the Rural Lands planning document also set in motion plans by the Barron Collier Cos. for Ave Maria University and a companion town that is built on 5,000 acres next to Big Cypress.

The rural lands plan, which allows landowners across some 200,000 acres around Immokalee to earn development rights to build in less sensitive areas by preserving natural land, overlaps with the Habitat Conservation Plan.

The habitat plan, to be reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, amounts to the federal permitting mechanism for a panther protection plan devised by a coalition of environmental groups and large landowners to build on the county growth plan.

The panther plan proposed to create two panther travel corridors, cap development at 45,000 acres, preserve 102,000 acres and set up new mitigation requirements for development in panther habitat.

The plan also proposed new fees on mitigation credits and real estates sales in eastern Collier County that would raise an estimated $150 million to buy panther habitat for preservation and to pay for habitat restoration and wildlife crossings.

How much of the panther plan ends up in the habitat plan proposal remains to be seen, but environmental groups on both sides of the issue are eagerly awaiting the details.

“We’ll be looking at it very closely to see where development will be, what land will be preserved and how,” said Nancy Payton, Southwest Florida field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation, which was among the groups that worked on the original panther plan.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which has opposed the panther plan, went to court to ask a judge to order the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate 3 million acres of critical habitat for the panther in South Florida, including in Collier and Lee counties. A judge refused.

The critical habitat designation the Conservancy sought would have added a new permitting hurdle for projects by requiring that they not “result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat” for the panther.

“We’re waiting to see what the HCP says, but I think it’s safe to say, if it tracks the (panther plan) we’ll have substantial concerns with it,” said Hecker, the policy director with the Conservancy.

In the works already for years, the habitat plan likely will take years more before federal regulators decide whether to sign off on it.

“I would say we’re safely a couple years out from a permit decision at this point,” said Craig Aubrey, supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service South Florida field office in Vero Beach.

Eric Staats|Aug 11, 2014

Basic Facts About Florida Panthers

Florida panthers once prowled and flourished in woodlands and swamps throughout the Southeast. When European settlers arrived in the 1600s, the clear-cutting, building and other human activities that destroy, degrade and fragment habitat began, and the fear and misconceptions that led to panther persecution took root. Today, the panther is recognized as Florida’s official state animal but it is one the most endangered mammals on Earth.

Proportionately, panthers have the largest hind legs of any cat, allowing them to leap up to 15 feet vertically and 45 feet horizontally.

Panthers are an umbrella species: Protecting them and the vast, unspoiled, wild territory each one needs to survive—an average of 200 square miles for a single male—protects many other plants and animals that live there. At the top of the food chain, these cats help keep feral hog numbers in check and deer, raccoon and other prey populations balanced and healthy.

Florida panthers primarily eat white-tailed deer, but they will also hunt feral hog, rabbit, raccoon, armadillo, birds and other animals.

Estimated at 100-180 adults and subadults in south Florida, the only known breeding population.

Panthers historically ranged across the southeastern United States including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina. Now, the breeding population of Florida panthers is found only in the southern tip of Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River. In recent years, young male panthers have traveled north into central and northeast Florida, and one even dispersed to west-central Georgia near the Alabama border. Females do not roam as widely and none have been documented outside of south Florida in decades.

While the Florida panther is large, it is more closely related to small cats — like lynx and housecats — than to other big cats — like lions and tigers.

Panthers are habitat generalists, which means they use a variety of habitat types, including forests, prairies and swamps. They are solitary and territorial animals that travel hundreds of miles within their home ranges. Panthers are mostly active between dusk and dawn, resting during the heat of the day. Males have a home range on average of 200 square miles and females about 75 square miles.

Panthers are usually quiet, but they do communicate through vocalizations that have been described as chirps, peeps, whistles, purrs, moans, screams, growls, and hisses. Females signal their readiness to mate by yowling or caterwauling.

Rarely do all kittens survive. Kittens are born with dark spots that soon fade away as they become adults. They stay with their mother for up to two years.

Rescued Florida Panther Kitten Moves to New Residence at Wildlife Park

Yuma, now healthy and growing stronger, will reside in Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Park Service today celebrated Yuma, a Florida panther kitten, and his move to his permanent habitat at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. They were joined by officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Yuma arrived at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park on April 3 of this year. Yuma is a Native-American word that means “son of the chief.” As a one-week old kitten, he was discovered barely alive on Jan. 23 by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission biologists checking on the den of a female panther in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Naples. The kitten had apparently been abandoned, was dehydrated and non-responsive. He received emergency care at Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples and rehabilitative care at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa.

“It is an incredible honor to have Yuma at the Wildlife Park,” said Clif Maxwell, district chief for the Florida Park Service. “While we are saddened he cannot be returned to his natural habitat, this will provide visitors to Homosassa Springs the opportunity to view one of Florida’s rarest and most iconic endangered species. We are very proud to add Yuma to the Homosassa family and will enjoy watching him grow.”

Since he cannot return to the wild, he will live at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, where he will serve as an ambassador for his species. Park staff and volunteers have been preparing this exhibit for the rambunctious panther kitten for the last seven months.

It is estimated that only 100 to 160 adult panthers remain of the species. Most of them are located in Lee, Collier, Hendry, Dade and Monroe counties. By 1995, only 20 to 30 panthers remained in the wild. That year, eight female Texas cougars were relocated to the area to restore genetic viability. The biggest threat to Florida panthers is loss of habitat.

Florida panthers are considered an umbrella species. Many plants and animals benefit from its protection and the protection of its habitat. Panthers prowl the same woods as black bear, coyotes, bobcats, white-tailed deer, wild hogs and many smaller mammals. Many varieties of birds, reptiles and amphibians live side-by-side with panthers. Rare tropical plants flourish in the south Florida wilderness where panthers roam. By protecting habitat for panthers, we protect our environmental heritage and health, and provide a wildlife legacy for our children and generations to come.

mburgerdep | August 22, 2014

  Invasive species

Floridians Would Tax Selves to Fight Invasive Species

Floridians would likely support a 1 percent sales tax bump to prevent and eradicate disruptive invasive species, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences public opinion survey shows.

The survey also shows that residents say they’re not as up to speed on endangered and invasive species as they would like to be.

An online survey in July of 515 Floridians found respondents believe environmental conservation is an important issue and ranked it sixth of 10 public-interest topics: well behind the economy and health care, but ahead of immigration and climate change.

For the second annual survey on endangered species, researchers from the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, or PIE Center, included questions about invasive species, said Alexa Lamm, the center’s associate director.

The last decade has seen the state struggle with a growing number of non-native species that can wildly disrupt the ecosystem, including the Burmese python, the Argentine black and white tegu lizard and lionfish from the Indo-Pacific.

Florida has 121 animal and plant species listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, including Florida panthers, American crocodiles and aboriginal prickly-apples.

Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said as someone whose research centered on wildlife and conservation, the issues are close to his heart.

“I’m thrilled that the people of Florida want to know more about the animals and plants in our state that are imperiled,” Payne said. “That’s what UF/IFAS Extension is for — educating the public on topics critical to the state’s future.”

In the survey, 55 percent of respondents said they would support a 1 percent increase in the state’s sales tax rate to fund prevention and eradication efforts for invasive species. But their support only goes so far, with just 18 percent willing to support a 5 percent sales tax increase for the same purpose.

UF wildlife ecology and conservation professor Frank Mazzotti, one of the state’s scientists on the front lines of the invasive species battle, said if Floridians were ever to approve better funding for his research team’s work, he’d fight in this precise order: prevention, early detection and rapid response, containment, and long-term management.

Ecologists use a term called “the invasion curve” to illustrate why he’d choose that order. The more time a species has to become established and the larger an area it becomes established in, the more expensive control costs will be.

“Keeping them out in the first place is always your best bet,” Mazzotti said. “It’s time to stop playing Dutch boy and the dike.”

To mount such a funding effort would take education, however. Fewer than 15 percent of the survey’s respondents considered themselves highly or extremely knowledgeable about threats to endangered species, how to prevent endangerment or even which species are currently endangered.

Sixty-two percent of the survey’s respondents said they were either not knowledgeable or only slightly knowledgeable on the invasive species topic, with many suggesting they don’t know what types of invasive species are living in Florida or what they can do to prevent invasive species from entering the state.

“It’s interesting that this is one of the topics Floridians have the least amount of knowledge about, but the most passion for,” said Lamm, an assistant professor of agricultural education and communication.

The PIE Center will host a free webinar on the endangered and invasive species topic at 2 p.m. Aug. 20. Register in advance at http://www.piecenter.com/endangered.

Lamm will moderate and Steve Johnson, an assistant professor in wildlife ecology and conservation, will offer insight.

Besides endangered and invasive species, PIE Center survey topics have included public perceptions about water quality and quantity, immigration, food safety, food security and genetically modified organisms.

Mickie Anderson|University of Florida|August 19th, 2014

Lionfish-reporting app successful, plus 250 users sporting new lionfish shirts

See or catch a lionfish? Report it. That’s what many lionfish hunters have been doing, thanks to the new Report Florida Lionfish app. Released to the public May 28, the app has been downloaded by more than 2,500 people. The first 250 to successfully report their lionfish catch or sighting received an interactive Lionfish Control Team T-shirt. The logo on these shirts is designed to come to life on your smartphone.

In addition to the app, data can also be submitted online at www.MyFWC.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Report Lionfish.”

Lionfish are an invasive species that negatively impact Florida’s reefs and wildlife.

The Report Florida Lionfish app includes educational information on lionfish and safe handling guidelines, as well as an easy-to-use data-reporting form so divers and anglers can share with the FWC information about their sighting or harvest. App users also can take and share a photo of their catch. These photos may be used in future publications or social media efforts. (Samples shown here: Kyle Huber with his lionfish, and Glen Hoffman’s big catch.)

The FWC will use the data to help identify sites where targeted lionfish removal might be most beneficial. All data will be available to the public and shared with other groups and agencies collecting this kind of information.

Several users have submitted ideas on how to improve the app, and the FWC is looking into implementing those changes, including allowing users to submit using a photograph that is already on their smart device and adding fields for smallest and largest catch.

Learn more about the new app, T-shirt and interactive logo by watching a video online. Missed your opportunity to receive a Lionfish T-shirt? These shirts will also be given out at various lionfish-related events, such as derbies, across the state.

Learn more about lionfish at www.MyFWC.com/Nonnatives; click on “Marine Life.”

The Lionfish Threat to Florida Reefs

Lionfish are native to reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans and are a popular aquarium fish in the United States. Unfortunately, the release of perhaps as few as a dozen of these pet fish into the Atlantic Ocean during the late 1980s has resulted in a critical lionfish threat to Florida reefs.

Lionfish can decimate the biodiversity of a reef by simply reproducing faster and eating more than the native species. One female lionfish can produce as many as two million eggs in a year. This results in a lionfish density that can be as high as 200 adults per acre. Each of these fish will eat almost anything that it can fit its mouth around, including other fish and crustaceans, and their prey has no innate fear of them.  These factors can combine to reduce the population of a reef by 70 to 90 percent.

A crucial aspect of the lionfish threat to Florida reefs is their consumption of species that have a particular role in maintaining the health of the reef. The mudfish, for example, is an algae eater that helps to prevent damage to the reef from algal overgrowth. Without it, coral reefs are in danger of being overgrown with algae, rendering the symbiotic algae living within them to photosynthesize and flourish.

Perhaps the most serious concern about the lionfish threat to Florida reefs is that the lionfish population is proving very difficult to control. The fish have no natural predators and are not susceptible to most of the parasites that are common in the Florida waters. They typically do not bite hooks, and since they live in reefs or wreckage debris they cannot be caught with large nets. The only reliable means of harvesting the fish is to spear them one at a time.

Tournaments and derbies with rewards for harvested lionfish have become popular in some areas, as well as campaigns to encourage restaurants to serve, and patrons to eat the fish. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission now allows divers to use a rebreather when hunting lionfish, with the hope that this will stimulate divers of all types to play a larger part in helping to conserve the reefs.

Endangered Species

Demand for shark fin falls by more than half

Campaigning by conservation charities seems to have made an impact on the shark fin market as a new report reveals demand for fin has fallen by 50-70 per cent.

It follows news back in April that the number of shark fin products imported into Hong Kong last year dropped by over a third.

The report, carried out by WildAid, compiles public opinion surveys, surveys from shark fin vendors and traders in the markets of Guangzhou, China (the current center of China’s shark fin trade) and surveys of shark fin price data from Indonesian shark fishermen, as well trade statistics and media reports.

It found there had been an 82 per cent decline in sales reported by shark fin vendors in Guangzhou over the last two years and a decrease in prices (47 per cent retail and 57 per cent wholesale).

So far 24 airlines (including Philippine Airlines and Air New Zealand), three shipping lines, and five hotel groups have officially banned shark fin from their operations and 85 per cent of Chinese consumers surveyed online said they gave up shark fin soup within the past three years

“Demand reduction can be very effective” says Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid. “The more people learn about the consequences of eating shark fin soup, the less they want to participate in the trade. Government bans on shark fin at state banquets in China and Hong Kong also helped send the right message and this could be a model to address issues, such as ivory.”

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed yearly with up to 73 million sharks used for their fins, primarily to supply the market in mainland China. Some shark populations have declined by up to 98 per cent in the last 15 years and nearly one third of pelagic shark species are considered threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Read the report HERE

Citizen Scientists Saving Snow Leopards

Nomadic herders work to help an endangered species and conserve Asia’s High Mountains

Atop the windy, frozen steppes of Mongolia’s Khar Us Lake National Park, Byambatsooj guides his herd through the rocky canyons of Khovd Aimag’s Jargalant Khairkhan Mountain. An outsider might think he is lost or wandering aimlessly. But Byambatsooj knows the mountain inside and out: every cliff and spring, where to find each kind of plant, and the locations favored by rare species like argali (the Asiatic bighorn sheep), Siberian ibex, and Altai snowcock, the primary diet of local snow leopards.

This knowledge, combined with his respect for snow leopards—the spotted phantoms of the mountains—makes him the ideal “citizen scientist,” able to put his skills and passion to use protecting the grasslands and mountain both he and the snow leopard call home.

Empowering Local Communities to Protect Wildlife

This region that Byambatsooj knows so well endures some of the world’s harshest winter weather. As climate change intensifies, the frequency of livestock-killing winter snow disasters, known as “dzud” in Mongolian, is increasing. Such disasters can have a huge impact on Byambatsooj’s community and their pastoral way of life as well as on local wildlife. If Byambatsooj and his community fail to adapt to climate change impacts, one of planet’s last remaining nomadic cultures could disappear forever along with the endangered snow leopard.

However, WWF has found a way to protect the snow leopard while also benefiting nomadic herders. As part of the USAID-funded Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities (AHM) project, local herders like Byambatsooj are now being trained and equipped to collect basic data on the remote mountains they know better than anyone else.

WWF-Mongolia has trained Byambatsooj and seven other local herders to conduct snow leopard sign and prey species surveys and to use automated camera traps for monitoring snow leopards. Camera traps play a critical role in monitoring snow leopards and other wildlife as cameras can be left at a location for several months at a time.

Photos obtained from camera traps enable scientists to estimate how many individual snow leopards inhabit a mountain, track where their travel routes, and provide insight into movement of their prey species. While the cameras are self-contained, they do need to be regularly checked to make sure they are working.

Enter the nomadic herders. Byambatsooj, the youngest herder to be trained, is responsible for maintenance and data retrieval from seven camera traps. The data he collects benefits both wildlife and herders because it helps WWF study the snow leopard population and develop methods for reducing livestock kills by snow leopards. And since he began capturing images of Jargalant Khairkhan’s snow leopards, he is even more motivated to protect snow leopards and their prey.

“We never hunt the snow leopard, even if they attack our livestock,” said Byambatsooj, adding “we are very happy for the involvement of local herder communities in this action. We are all obliged to care for and safeguard the camera traps placed on the mountain,”

Furthering international conservation

In addition to addressing environmental issues in a way that benefits both local communities and ecosystems, the Asia High Mountains project is also working to build transnational dialogue on snow leopard protection and other environmental issues. WWF hopes that by empowering local residents like Byambatsooj, the project will inspire others to work for the protection of Asia’s high mountain landscapes.

Sarah Ruggiero|July 15, 2014

See the snow leopard photos

A Comeback for the Blue Iguana

What do golden lion tamarins, red wolves and, now, blue iguanas all have in common? In addition to sharing a flamboyant fashion sense, these animals are all examples of species brought back from the brink of extinction by captive breeding programs.

For the five-foot blue iguana, which lives exclusively on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean, this summer marks a milestone. To date, more than 500 iguanas have been released into the wild, and iguanas are now breeding in the wild at three distinct conservation sites.

Paul Calle, director of zoological health at the Wildlife Conservation Society, performs health inspections on the iguanas on Grand Cayman Island before they are released into the wild. He said he now handled more iguanas in a single afternoon than used to exist in the world just a few years ago.

Once widespread throughout the island, the blue iguana population declined precipitously in the last decade as the species, unaccustomed to heavy predation, fell victim to an invasion of stray dogs, feral cats and rats. Iguanas that escaped becoming lunch often ended up as roadkill as they continued to sunbathe on increasingly busy streets. By 2002, there were only 12 blue iguanas left in the wild.
“They almost became extinct without anyone even noticing,” Dr. Calle said. “We were studying how to best breed them in captivity and then, suddenly, we realized that it was already almost too late — we needed to get started right away.”

Today, there are at least 600 blue iguanas living in three protected areas across the island thanks to the breeding program, which helps give juvenile iguanas a head start by protecting them for their first two vulnerable years of life, when they are still small enough to make them easy prey.

“The program is on the brink of becoming unnecessary,” said Dr. Calle, who estimated that in just two or three more years, the population will have reached the conservation goal of 1,000 individuals living in the wild and the captive breeding program will be shut down.

In addition to being the rare endangered-species success story, the blue iguana is also becoming something of a mascot for reptile conservation.

Fred Burton, director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, explained that generally people just weren’t that interested in reptiles. “Countries have national flowers and national birds, but when have you ever heard of a national lizard?” he said.

But the very personable blue iguana, with its striking appearance and gentle demeanor, is helping people warm up to these coldblooded creatures.

Blue iguana conservation has also helped save large tracts of habitat on the island from development.

“People can get behind saving the habitat of the blue iguana,” Mr. Burton said. Consequently, unglamorous scrubland that no one highly values but that is important from an ecological standpoint is being set aside and protected.

Asked why he was so fond of the blue iguana, Dr. Calle replied: “They really are blue. I know that’s not shocking, but it is when you see it for the first time. Blue is such a rare color in the natural world, and the males get even bluer during the mating season.

JOANNA M. FOSTER| July 21, 2011 “Not to mention the way they look you straight in the eye and take interest in everything you’re doing,” he said. They really are both beautiful and smart.”

Lawsuit Seeks to Halt Construction of U.S. Military Airstrip in Japan That Would Destroy Habitat of Endangered Okinawa Dugongs

Marine base threatens survival of manatee relative

Dugongs are gentle marine mammals related to manatees and have been celebrated as “sirens” that bring friendly warnings of tsunamis. Recent surveys have only been able to conclude that at least three dugongs remain in Okinawa.

Basic respect demands that the United States make every effort not to harm another country’s cultural heritage. U.S. and international law require the same.

American and Japanese conservation groups today asked a U.S. federal court to halt construction of a U.S. military airstrip in Okinawa, Japan that would pave over some of the last remaining habitat for endangered Okinawa dugongs, ancient cultural icons for the Okinawan people. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is the latest in a long-running controversy over the expansion of a U.S. Marine air base at Okinawa’s Henoko Bay. Preliminary construction on the base began earlier this year.

Dugongs are gentle marine mammals related to manatees that have long been revered by native Okinawans, even celebrated as “sirens” that bring friendly warnings of tsunamis. The dugong is listed as an object of national cultural significance under Japan’s Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, the equivalent of the U.S. National Historic Protection Act. Under this act and international law, the United States must take into account the effect of its actions and avoid or mitigate any harm to places or things of cultural significance to another country.

“Our folktales tell us that gods from Niraikanai [afar] come to our islands riding on the backs of dugongs and the dugongs ensure the abundance of food from the sea,” said Takuma Higashionna, an Okinawan scuba-diving guide who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Today, leaving their feeding trails in the construction site, I believe, our dugongs are warning us that this sea will no longer provide us with such abundance if the base is constructed. The U.S. government must realize that the Okinawa dugong is a treasure for Okinawa and for the world.”

The Japanese Ministry of the Environment has listed dugongs as “critically endangered,” and the animals are also on the U.S. endangered species list. In 1997, it was estimated that there may have been as few as 50 Okinawa dugongs left in the world; more recent surveys have only been able to conclude that at least three dugongs remain in Okinawa. Although the Defense Department acknowledges that this information is “not sufficient,” and despite the precariously low dugong population even under the most conservative estimates, the Defense Department has authorized construction of the new base.

The Nature Conservation Society of Japan reported earlier this month that it had found more than 110 locations around the site of the proposed airstrips where dugongs had fed on seagrass this spring and summer.

“Okinawa dugongs can only live in shallow waters and are at high risk of going extinct. These gentle animals are adored by both locals and tourists. Paving over some of the last places they survive will not only likely be a death sentence for them, it will be a deep cultural loss for the Okinawan people,” said Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Today’s legal filing, which supplements a suit filed in 2003, seeks to require the U.S. Department of Defense to stop construction activities on the new airstrip until it conducts an in-depth analysis aimed at avoiding or mitigating harm the expansion will cause for the Okinawa dugong. In April 2014, the Defense Department concluded that its activities would not harm the dugong, but that conclusion did not consider all possible effects of the new airstrip and ignored important facts. In addition, the department excluded the public, including local dugong experts, from its analysis.

For years, many locals have protested and opposed the base-expansion plan for Okinawa, where 20 percent of the island is already occupied by U.S. military.

Today’s lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the U.S. organizations Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network; the Japanese organizations Japan Environmental Lawyers Federation and the Save the Dugong Foundation; and three Japanese individuals.

“Basic respect demands that the United States make every effort not to harm another country’s cultural heritage. U.S. and international law require the same,” said Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner. “The Defense Department should not allow this project to go forward without making every effort to understand and minimize its effects on the dugong. That means fully understanding the state of the entire Okinawan dugong population, how it depends on the seagrass beds around the proposed airstrip, and how construction and operation of the base might harm it. To ensure that no relevant information is excluded, the process and all related information must be fully open to the public.”

Martin Wagner|Managing Attorney|Earthjustice|July 31, 2014

Idaho Suspends Wilderness Wolf-Killing Plan In Face of Court Challenge

Victory: State Fish and Game Department will not kill wolves in Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness during 2015-16 winter

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act this September, we are relieved that the Frank Church Wilderness will be managed as a wild place, rather than an elk farm, for at least the coming year.

Faced with a legal challenge by conservationists and an imminent hearing before a federal appeals court, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (“IDFG”) has abandoned its plan to resume a professional wolf-killing program in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness during the coming winter.

In a sworn statement submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on July 24, 2014, IDFG Wildlife Bureau Chief Jeff Gould stated that IDFG “will not conduct any agency control actions for wolves within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness before November 1, 2015.” IDFG had previously advised the court that the program could resume as early as December 1, 2014.

A professional hunter-trapper hired by IDFG killed nine wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness last winter and state officials in February announced plans to kill 60 percent of the wolves in the Middle Fork section of the wilderness over a period of several years in an effort to inflate wilderness elk populations for the benefit of commercial outfitters and recreational hunters.

“As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act this September, we are relieved that the Frank Church Wilderness will be managed as a wild place, rather than an elk farm, for at least the coming year,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso, who is representing conservationists challenging the wilderness wolf-killing program. “Now we must make sure that wilderness values prevail for the long term.”

Earthjustice is representing long-time Idaho conservationist and wilderness advocate Ralph Maughan along with four conservation groups—Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and the Center for Biological Diversity—in the lawsuit challenging the wolf-killing program. The conservationists argue that the U.S. Forest Service, which is charged by Congress with managing and protecting the Frank Church Wilderness, violated the Wilderness Act and other laws by allowing and assisting the state wolf-killing program in the largest forest wilderness in the lower-48 states.

In a separate sworn statement filed with the Ninth Circuit on July 24, the Forest Service committed to providing the conservationists with notice by August 5, 2015 of any plans by IDFG to resume professional wolf-killing in the Frank Church Wilderness during the 2015–16 winter, as well as “a final determination by the Forest Service as to whether it concurs with or objects to such plans.”

“IDFG’s announcement now gives the Forest Service the chance to play out its mission—its obligation to protect our irreplaceable Frank Church Wilderness for the American people and for all its wildlife against an effort to turn it into a mere elk farming operation on infertile soil,” said Maughan, a retired Idaho State University professor who was a member of the citizens’ group that drew up the boundaries of the Frank Church Wilderness 35 years ago.

“We are pleased to see this truce in Idaho’s wolf reduction efforts in the Frank Church for a full year,” said Suzanne Stone, Defenders’ regional representative who has worked nearly three decades to restore wolves in Idaho. “The Frank Church is both the largest forested wilderness area and a core habitat for gray wolves in the western United States. Wolves belong here as they have made the ‘Frank’ truly wild again. Ensuring healthy wolf populations here is critical for the recovery of wolves throughout the entire northwestern region.”

“It is hard to imagine a decision more inconsistent with wilderness protection than to allow the hired killing of wolves,” added Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Today, some relief for wild places flows from the news that IDFG will not continue that odious operation this year. Next we will see whether the Forest Service will take action to protect the Frank Church Wilderness from such atrocities in the future.”

“It’s time for the Forest Service to stand with the vast majority of the American people by taking the necessary steps to protect wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness for the long-term, not just the next 15 months,” stated George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch. “Wolves are the epitome of wildness.  Their protection is key to preserving the area’s wilderness character.”

“We’re glad Idaho’s wolves are rightly getting a reprieve from the state’s ill-conceived predator-killing plan, at least for a year,” said Amy Atwood, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re also happy to see the Forest Service agree to be more transparent about any future decision to allow Idaho to kill wolves in the Frank Church.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had scheduled an August 25, 2014 court hearing to address the conservationists’ request for an injunction to prevent IDFG from resuming its program of professional wolf killing in the Frank Church Wilderness during the coming winter. IDFG commenced the program in December 2013 without public notice but abruptly suspended the program on January 28, 2014 amidst emergency injunction proceedings before the Ninth Circuit. Since then, the conservationists have continued to press their case for an injunction before the Ninth Circuit, which led to the scheduled August 25 court hearing.

Because IDFG has abandoned the 2014–15 professional wolf-killing program in the wilderness, the conservationists have agreed to forego the scheduled court hearing, but they renewed their call for the Forest Service to fulfill its legal duty to protect the Frank Church Wilderness.

Timothy Preso|Managing Attorney|Earthjustice|July 29, 2014

Let’s Start Caring About Seagrass Like We Care About The Rainforest

The rainforest gets a lot of attention. There are many Save the Rainforest campaigns, and while there is certainly much more work to be done to ensure that we do what we can to stop deforestation, there’s no denying that it’s definitely a part of our collective environmental conscience. Seagrass, on the other hand, is a different story.

When was the last time you saw a Save the Seagrass initiative? Probably never. Seagrass deserves just as much attention as the tropical rainforest, because it’s disappearing just as quickly, to the tune of two soccer fields an hour.

Why is seagrass so important? It plays an essential role in the lives of juvenile fish, providing them with a habitat in which they can thrive. For example, a new study shows that seagrass contains higher fish abundance than adjacent sand. This has a big impact when we’re thinking about commercial fishing. As the report’s abstract explains, “Although fisheries are of major economic and food security importance we still know little about specific juvenile habitats that support such production. This is a major issue given the degradation to and lack of protection afforded to potential juvenile habitats such as seagrass meadows.”

If we don’t protect those areas of seagrass, those fish in turn will have a harder time surviving. “When you start to lose these habitats you’ll see smaller juveniles and smaller fish stocks,” Dr. Richard Unsworth, lead researcher on the study, told the BBC.

Seagrass deserves as much attention as some of the other sensitive environments that have taken the headlines in terms of environmental causes. “The rate of loss is equal to that occurring in tropical rainforests and on coral reefs yet it receives a fraction of the attention,” Dr. Unsworth said.

Seagrass is up against a lot. It’s facing the problems of ocean acidification, coastal development and degraded water quality, and the problem is being felt around the globe. Part of a complex ecosystem, the loss of seagrass has many impacts beyond just fish. As a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences stated:

“Losses of seagrass meadows will continue to reduce the energy subsidies they provide to other ecosystems such as adjacent coral reefs or distant areas such as deep-sea bottoms, diminishing the net secondary productivity of these habitats (14). Seagrass losses also threaten the future of endangered species such as Chinook salmon and the habitat for many other organisms. Seagrass losses decrease primary production, carbon sequestration, and nutrient cycling in the coastal zone .”

Ultimately, with the current rate of seagrass loss, we’re looking at serious environmental and economic consequences. “If the current rate of seagrass loss is sustained or continues to accelerate, the ecological losses will also increase, causing even greater ill-afforded economic losses,” wrote the authors of the NAS report.

Maybe it’s time we paid a little more attention to protecting seagrass.

Anna Brones|August 15, 2014

Cargo Ships Get on Board Plan to Help Save Endangered Blue Whales

In good news for whales, a number of global shipping companies have agreed to participate in a trial program that won’t just help save endangered whales from deadly ship strikes off the coast of California, but will help keep our air cleaner.

Thanks to a new pilot incentive program, which was created and implemented by the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the Environmental Defense Center, six different shipping companies passing through the Santa Barbara Channel will be paid $2,500 per trip to slow down to 12 knots, down from typical speeds of 14 to 18 knots, through October.

Ironically, 2,500 is the same number of endangered blue whales believed to be left in the wild in that part of the Pacific, many of whom are traveling through the 130-mile stretch from Point Conception to Los Angeles right about now where they come to feed on krill every year.

Unfortunately, the areas where endangered blue whales come to feed also overlap with some of the busiest shipping lanes in the U.S.  With an estimated 5,000 ships passing through the channel every year, ship strikes have become a big threat to blue whale recovery. The severity of the problem was highlighted in 2007, when the deaths of three blue whales were confirmed as a result of ship strikes in the area, while another two were found dead of unknown causes. With so few left, it was enough for NOAA to declare the deaths “unusual mortality events.”

According to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the potential for collisions is also a problem for other species of whales. Thousands of gray whales migrate through the area, along with endangered humpback and fin whales, while orcas will occasionally make appearances throughout the year.

Supporters of the program hope that each boat that slows down will give whales time to move and decrease the risk of a collision. Several whales are known to be killed every year, but wildlife officials aren’t sure of the exact number because many strikes go either unnoticed or unreported.

The program won’t just help keep whales safe, it’s also expected to be beneficial to us. The program is also timed to coincide with the time of year the area sees the highest amount of air pollution. According to a statement, emissions from these ships account for more than 50 percent of ozone-forming nitrogen oxides in Santa Barbara County. The program’s backers believe slowing speeds will help reduce the amount of smog-forming air pollution.

“Few people realize that ships off our coast, especially those moving at faster speeds, are a risk to endangered whales and the quality of the air we breathe,” said Kristi Birney of the Environmental Defense Center.

After conservation groups tried other legal avenues that would have required shippers to slow down, the creators hope working collaboratively through the voluntary incentive program will help protect both whales and the environment.

According to a joint statement from the organizations behind the trial, the response so far has been positive with more offers to participate than they could fund. Right now the program has enough money to pay for 16 low-speed trips through a grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation. They’re currently seeking additional funding to expand the program.

Alicia Graef|August 15, 2014

8 Ways to Help Orangutans in Honor of World Orangutan Day

In Malay, the word orangutan translates to “the person of the forest.” Perhaps that’s why many feel a special bond to the only Asian great apes. The Indianapolis Zoo’s Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences, Dr. Rob Shumaker​, puts it best: “Look into the eyes of an orangutan, and a sentient being looks back.”

Orangutans are sentient beings, so how must they feel when their family members are killed, when their babies are separated from their mothers and when their homes are burned to the ground? The World Wildlife Fund highlights how endangered orangutans are the victims of ongoing habitat loss from palm oil, agriculture and (il)legal logging. They are also the easy targets of hunters and illegal wildlife traffickers who turn baby orangutans into pets because of their large size and relatively slow movement.

We’ve already seen how these threats have affected orangutans. We’ve seen a homeless orangutan heartbreakingly tell us through sign language not to buy palm oil in order to save the orangutan’s habitat. We’ve seen a baby orangutan named Tri nursed back to health after being found on a palm oil plantation. We’ve also seen Pelansgi, another young male orangutan, get the gift of freedom after he was mutilated — and eventually amputated — while trying to escape a snare.

In honor of World Orangutan Day, the Twycross Zoo is letting human redheads in for free, but I think we can do better. I think orangutans deserve better, too. Here are a few ways that we can really help critically endangered orangutans who desperately need us:

Adopt an orangutan — You can help an orangutan in need by adopting an orangutan. You’ll get updates to see how your child-orangutan is doing and the progress he or she is making.

Help save their habitat — There are programs that support the men on the ground fighting to protect the forests that the orangutans call home. Keep in mind that we’re losing six percent of the world’s forests every single year.

Plant a tree — There are programs running in Sumatra and Borneo that will plant a tree for you. Not only will you help combat deforestation and give wild orangutans a home to go to, but you’re also helping the environment because trees reduce our CO2 emissions.

Buy palm oil free — Palm oil is a major driving force behind deforestation and orangutan displacement. Some brands are making it easier than ever by labeling palm oil free products. If you can’t buy palm oil free, then please, at the very least, buy sustainably sourced palm oil.

Volunteer — Okay, this might be a stretch for most of us, but there are programs where you can travel and volunteer to work with orangutans. Organizations working to protect our great ape cousins need volunteers with all types of skill sets. They need volunteers in construction, veterinary care and communications. If you have the means, skills and desire, then this could be a unique and rewarding opportunity.

Stay connected — If you find an organization that aligns with you, then stay connected by subscribing to their email list and staying in touch via social media. The Orangutan Project, Save the Orangutan and The Orangutan Foundation International are all places to start.

Take an ecotourEcotourism is driving conservation efforts everywhere. It helps the locals financially and health care wise. It also encourages locals to protect the endangered animals that they call neighbors.

Watch and share documentaries — Get informed by watching films like Born to be Wild 3D and Green. Once you know the truth, then share it as much as you can.

Jessica Ramos|August 19, 2014

We Asked, And You Delivered!

Recently, Save the Manatee Club sent out an action alert for donations of powdered milk replacer formula from our Amazon Wishlist, to feed orphaned manatee calves in Belize, and we are happy to report that we have received over 500 pounds of milk so far! This has been our most successful action alert for formula and it came at just the right time!

Thanks to our generous donors, we have collected over 500 pounds of powdered milk replacer formula from our Amazon Wishlist, to feed orphaned manatee calves in Belize!

These generous donations will help feed young manatees until they are old enough to eat aquatic plants. In our alert, we introduced you to a small orphaned manatee named Mitch, and we are happy to report that Mitch is doing well! He is putting on weight and no longer requires 24-hour in-water care as he has grown strong enough to come up to the surface to breathe without assistance.

After we sent our first action alert, Wildtracks received yet another orphaned manatee calf. The newest addition, Lucky, is also very tiny and extremely weak, and his addition brings Wildtracks up to having an unprecedented five manatees in its care. Lucky’s arrival has made your donations even more urgently needed, and words alone cannot convey our heartfelt appreciation for your extreme kindness.

Your sustained support and donations allow us to be more effective in assisting manatees and our international partners. We appreciate your concern for manatees and your support of our efforts to help them thrive throughout their range.

With your compassion and generosity, we are making our world a better, safer place for manatees! 

With my deepest gratitude,

Katie Tripp|Ph.D.|Director of Science and Conservation|Save the Manatee Club

Sea Turtles Saved From Deadly Fishery Across 25,000 Square Miles

In response to a lawsuit by the Center and allies filed July 10, the National Marine Fisheries Service barred California’s swordfish drift gillnet fishery from operating on 25,000-plus square miles of the Pacific from July 25 through Aug. 31. The move will prevent endangered loggerhead sea turtles from becoming entangled and drowning in the fishery’s mortal snares.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups sued the Fisheries Service because it hadn’t implemented the closure for that swath of ocean, the “Pacific Loggerhead Conservation Area,” even though it’s required to do so in El Niño climate conditions, when warm weather draws the turtles into the area.

Loggerheads enter the Conservation Area in search of pelagic red crabs to eat, and drowning in gillnets is one of the primary threats to their survival. The nets form vast underwater walls that capture dolphins, seals, sea lions and even whales, in addition to loggerheads.

Green Turtle success story

More than 70 years after major turtle nesting beaches became protected on the remote UK overseas territory of Ascension Island researchers are now reporting a boom in population numbers.

Scientists from the University of Exeter and Ascension Island Government Conservation Department report that the number of green turtles nesting at the remote South Atlantic outpost has increased by more than 500 per cent since records began in the 1970s.

As many as 24,000 nests are now estimated to be laid on the Island’s main beaches every year, making it the second largest nesting colony for this species in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lead author, Dr Sam Weber, said: “The increase has been dramatic. Whereas in the 1970s and 80’s you would have been lucky to find 30 turtles on the Island’s main nesting beach on any night, in 2013 we had more than 400 females nesting in a single evening”.

The scientists’ report comes as Ascension Island Government announces that it is committing a fifth of the territory’s land area to biodiversity conservation. New legislation enacted by the Island’s Governor, Mark Capes, on the 28th of July creates seven new nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries that include the Island’s three main turtle nesting beaches, along with globally-important seabird colonies that are home to more than 800,000 nesting seabirds.

Staff|Click Green|July 30, 2014

Read  more at ENN Affiliate, ClickGreen.

Nesting Implications for the Northern Gulf Loggerhead

After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, a massive response to protect beaches, wetlands, and wildlife occurred. Nonetheless, because of the spill, extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats were reported and many studies have been conducted to quantify the affects of the oil spill on specific species.

One study in particular which started in the wake of the spill looks at the nesting loggerhead sea turtles in the northern Gulf and how their feeding areas have been not only affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill, but by commercial fishing operations, and areas used for oil and gas extraction.

The study, which is the largest to date on Northern Gulf loggerheads, examined 59 nesting females, a small and declining subpopulation of loggerheads that is federally classified as threatened.

“With such a large sample of the nesting females, we’re finally getting the big picture of when, where and how females that nest in the northern Gulf of Mexico rely on off-shore waters to survive. This information is critical for halting and reversing their declines,” said USGS research ecologist Kristen Hart, the lead author of the study.

All of the turtles tracked in the study remained in the Gulf of Mexico to feed, and a third remained in the northern part of the Gulf.

“These results show how important the Gulf of Mexico is to this group of loggerheads — they stay here throughout the year, not just during the nesting season,” said USGS research biologist Meg Lamont, a co-author on the study.

The study also revealed specific parts of the Gulf where females feed and spend most of their time. It is believed that an individual turtle will return to these specific feeding areas throughout her life.

Lamont explains, “People think of nesting beaches as their homes, but they don’t really spend much time there. They only migrate to the nesting beaches to lay eggs. The rest of their adult life is spent foraging at sea.”

The next step for USGS scientists Hart and Lamont is to track these nesting Gulf loggerheads long enough to test whether they do indeed re-visit the same feeding areas throughout their life, as they suspect. This would help pinpoint important feeding sites of long-term and high traffic use — in essence, their home ranges.

“Locating long-term feeding areas will really open up new possibilities for the conservation and management of these amazing creatures,” said Hart.

The study, “Migration, foraging, and residency patterns for Northern Gulf of Mexico loggerheads: Implications of local threats and international movements” is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Allison Winter|ENN|July 31, 2014

Read more at USGS Newsroom.

FWC recovers 299 sea turtle eggs from poacher

Nearly 300 sea turtle eggs were returned to the beach and reburied Friday after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) caught a man poaching them from a beach in St. Lucie County.

James Odel McGriff, 55, of Riviera Beach, was arrested and booked into the St. Lucie County jail.

“We take these matters very seriously,” said Capt. Jeff Ardelean, a supervisor in the FWC’s West Palm Beach office. “Stopping those who attempt to poach and commercialize our endangered species is one of our highest priorities.”

Friday night, a concerned citizen called the FWC after she saw what looked like a man stealing sea turtle eggs at the Diamond Sands beach off A1A. She was able to provide a description of the man and his vehicle.

FWC officers and investigators responded and talked with the man. After using a K-9 to track where he had been, they located a disturbed sea turtle nest and a backpack full of sea turtle eggs.

This was not the first time McGriff had been caught for poaching turtle eggs. In 2002, he was arrested after selling 12 eggs to an undercover officer and possessing 27 dozen pre-bagged eggs for sale.

“We are committed to stopping those who intentionally take advantage of our state’s fish and wildlife resources,” Ardelean said.

The FWC is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on this case and federal charges are pending.

Sea turtles are among the oldest creatures on earth. All five species in Florida are either endangered or threatened. The Marine Turtle Protection Act stipulates that it is illegal to injure, harm, harass, capture or attempt to capture any marine turtles, eggs or nests. If you know of or suspect any violations, call FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-3922 or text Tip@MyFWC.com. For more information on how you can help protect sea turtles by visiting www.MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle

U.S. EPA Serving as On-Scene Coordinator in Emergency Response to Ohio River Oil Spill ‏

CHICAGO (August 19, 2014) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is serving as the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the emergency response to an oil spill that occurred last night when approximately 3500 gallons of diesel fuel was released into the Ohio River from Duke Energy’s Beckjord power plant. Twenty-four hour operations are underway to contain and clean up oil along a 12 mile stretch of the Ohio River immediately upstream from Cincinnati.

“U.S. EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard and Ohio EPA quickly mobilized and are taking a series of steps to minimize the damage this spill does to the Ohio River and surrounding communities,” said U.S. EPA Incident Commander Steven Renninger. “U.S. EPA is on the scene to ensure the leaked oil is contained and cleaned up as quickly and effectively as possible.”

U.S. EPA has established a unified command with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Pierce Township. U.S. EPA is directing response efforts carried out by Duke Energy. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, U.S. EPA has the responsibility for inland oil spills.   

Boom was deployed in the Ohio River to contain the spill. Sheen extends approximately 12 miles from Duke’s plant down the Ohio River toward Cincinnati. The U.S. Coast Guard closed 15 miles of the river to vessel traffic.

As a precaution, the Greater Cincinnati Waterworks and the Northern Kentucky Water District each closed drinking water intakes on the Ohio River. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission is conducting water sampling on the river.

For updates on the response to this oil spill, go to www.epa.gov/region5/newsevents/duke-energy-spill/

Francisco Arcaute|Phillippa Cannon|Tue 8/19/14

Elusive European wildcats found hiding out on Mount Etna

A healthy population of European wildcats has been discovered living in the forest surrounding Mount Etna, an active volcano in Sicily, researchers say.

The rare, elusive wildcats typically avoid people, making them difficult to study. By tallying the cat’s numbers across Europe, researchers hope to understand how urgently the animals need outside protections, such as habitat safeguards, said Stefano Anile, the study’s principal investigator and an independent wildlife researcher in Sicily.

The study is among the first to show how many European wildcats live on Mount Etna. During his survey work using heat- and motion-sensing cameras and DNA analysis of fresh wildcat scat, Anile found that roughly 14 wildcats live in an area of 4 square miles.

Over a period of four months, Anile used 18 remote cameras to photograph the wildcats, examining the markings on their fur coats to tell them apart. He placed the remote cameras on paths frequented by the wildcats and their kittens. Each station included two cameras to capture images of both sides of the cat.

The researcher also used a genetic analysis of scat samples to determine the number of wildcats and their sexes.

“To get the best information, you really need to combine these different methods, because they give you different information,” said Andrew Kitchener, principal curator of vertebrates of National Museums Scotland, who was not involved in the research.

Both Kitchener and Anile are members of a newly formed consortium called EUROWILDCAT, a collaboration of scientists working to raise awareness and answer basic research questions about wildcats, such as how the animals interact with one another and behave around domestic and feral cats as wildcat habitat shrinks.

The European wildcat is more distantly related to the domestic cat than the wolf is to the dog, Anile said. Domestic cats likely descended from the wildcat family in the Near East at around the time of agricultural development, a 2007 study in the journal Science reported. In contrast, the European wildcat, another branch of the wildcat family, has stayed wild.

Just like some domestic cats and their abandoned relatives, or feral cats, European wildcats are extremely cautious around people.

“The few times you can spot it, you can definitely see that they don’t want to share anything with you,” Anile said. “They are wild animals. They want to do their business and stay as much as they can away from humans.”

The trained eye can tell wild and domestic cats apart, Kitchener told Live Science. Wildcats look like large tabby cats that have thick, bushy tails with a black tip. A black stripe runs down the middle of their backs and stops at the tail. For domestic cats, that stripe continues down the tail.

European wildcats also have thicker and wavier stripes on the backs of their necks, unlike the domestic tabby, which often has four thin stripes on its neck.

Despite these differences, European wildcats have started mating with domestic cats across Europe, with documented cases in Scotland and Hungary. The new study did not find any evidence of hybridization in the genetic samples; other research has shown lower hybridization levels between European wildcats and domestic ones in France, Spain, Portugal and Germany than in the rest of Europe. But the trend is still worrying, researchers say.

“That’s why there’s been a group of organizations in Scotland that have been developing a Scottish wildcat conservation plan with the aim of trying to preserve the wildcat,” Kitchener said.

One way of doing that is to protect the wildcat’s habitat, which is disappearing as urban areas expand.

“We live on this beautiful island, and the wildcat is one of the last wild predators that we have,” Anile said. “I don’t want this beautiful area to be full of a network of roads and other buildings.”

Laura Geggel|Staff Writer|Journal of Zoology|August 18, 2014

The study was published in the August issue of the Journal of Zoology. [See photos of the European wildcat on Mount Etna]

Win for Orcas in the Pacific Northwest

Oregon Governor Kitzhaber just made a landmark decision to protect orcas and many more wildlife in the Pacific Northwest from dirty coal.

Yesterday, the Governor rejected a permit for the Port of Morrow coal export terminal proposed for Boardman, Oregon.

This decision severely hinders any progress on this dangerous project! While the governor’s decision can be appealed, it would take years—and building a coal dock cannot begin without this permit.

Over the past few years, the coal industry has quietly advanced plans to ship U.S. coal to foreign markets from ports along the west coast. This week’s victory shows the power of the tens of thousands of wildlife advocates like you who are speaking out to stop dirty coal!

We congratulate Governor Kitzhaber in protecting habitat for wildlife like orcas from the impacts of dirty fossil fuel projects.

Adam Kolton|Executive Director|National Advocacy Center|8/19/14

Despite Threats, Feds Deny Protection for Montana Grayling

In 1994 the Fish and Wildlife Service said Montana grayling, a relative of salmon and trout, warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act. That conclusion was reaffirmed in 2010. On Tuesday, though, the agency reversed course and said the fish wouldn’t get any federal protection at all.

It’s the fourth time in a month the Fish and Wildlife Service has reversed plans to protect endangered species, including denial of protection for the wolverine and two Rocky Mountain plants.

Once found throughout the upper Missouri River drainage above Great Falls, Mont., native populations of Montana grayling have been reduced to a few spots, including a short stretch of the Big Hole River. A key factor in their range decline is stream dewatering — the Big Hole slows to a trickle nearly every summer.

“Fish need water to survive,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald. “And excessive water withdrawals are immediately threatening the survival of the grayling.”

Read more in the Missoulian.

Scorecard: Wyoming Plan Fails to Protect Greater Sage Grouse

The Bureau of Land Management’s latest plan for managing parts of Wyoming fails to follow more than two dozen recommendations by government scientists to protect greater sage grouse, according to a new scorecard released by the Center and allies this week.

The Center for Biological Diversity is leading an effort to hold the BLM accountable for protecting these showy birds and more than 300 other sensitive species as the agency finalizes a series of land-management plans governing activities like oil and gas drilling across more than 60 million acres of western public lands. We’ll be releasing a scorecard — with a pass or fail grade — for each of the upcoming plans.

“Federal scientists have identified very specific steps for protecting greater sage grouse from development in the West, including restraining oil and gas exploitation. The question now is whether the Obama administration will follow those steps,” said the Center’s Randi Spivak.

Read more in the Houston Chronicle.

Africa Faces Unsustainable Levels of Ivory Poaching

When it comes to illegal wildlife trade, one thing has always puzzled me … Why is the demand for ivory so high? While I may not come across the black-market demands or understand the cultural or historical needs for these rare animal teeth, one thing is easy to see – populations of the African elephant are declining.

Despite multiple national and international bans on ivory trade and raised awareness, poaching continues. And sadly, according to new research, an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012.

While the number of elephants remaining in Africa is uncertain, these losses are driving declines in the world’s wild African elephants on the order of 2-3% a year.

The study, published in PNAS, provides the first verifiable estimation of the impacts of the ongoing ivory crisis on Africa’s elephant populations.

Researchers drew on data and experience from an Africa-wide intensive monitoring program. The most thoroughly studied site was Samburu in northern Kenya where every birth and death over the past 16 years has been recorded in a long-term monitoring project co-founded by Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology and George Wittemyer of Colorado State University, for Save the Elephants. The work is done in association with the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Wittemyer, the lead author on the paper, says: ‘Our data has become the most sensitive barometer of change during this poaching epidemic. We needed to quantify the scale of killing and figure out how to derive rigorous interpretation of poaching rates.’

The researchers determined illegal killing in Samburu began to surge in 2009. This surge was directly correlated to a more than quadrupling of local black-market ivory prices (the poacher’s price) and tripling in the volume and number of illegal ivory seizures through Kenyan ports of transit. The data also show that the destination of the illegally trafficked ivory increasingly shifted to China.

The team used the intensive study of the Samburu elephants as a ‘Rosetta stone’ to translate less detailed information from 45 elephant populations across Africa to estimate natural mortality and illegal killing rates to model population trends for the species.

Allison Winter|ENN|August 20, 2014

Read more at the University of Oxford.

Tuesday, Fish and Wildlife Service Plays Politics With Wolverine Survival

Conservation Groups Decry Withdrawal of Proposed Endangered Species Act Listing

MISSOULA, MONT. — Bowing to political pressure, today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) formally withdrew its proposal to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), despite the species’ small population and serious threats to its continued existence. Only 250 to 300 wolverines call the contiguous U.S. home, living in small populations scattered across the West. Scientists unanimously acknowledge the greatest threat to the species’ survival in the U.S. is habitat loss resulting from climate change.

Following the Service’s announcement, a coalition of conservation groups will take steps to initiate a federal lawsuit challenging the wolverine listing decision. The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) will send the government a formal notice of their intent to sue and public records request on behalf of the coalition.

“The Service is improperly prioritizing political appeasement over science in the wolverine Endangered Species Act listing decision,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The Endangered Species Act requires listing decisions be made on the basis of best available science alone.”

After reviewing wolverine population data, the Service’s scientists and an independent panel unanimously identified climate change impacts on the species’ habitat as the primary threat to its continued existence. To den and rear their young, wolverines rely on deep, high-elevation snow pack long into the spring and summer. Scientists largely agree climate change will increasingly affect snowfall patterns throughout wolverine range over the next 75 years, reducing available habitat by up to 63 percent.

Service Director Dan Ashe’s decision to withdraw the proposed listing not only goes against the recommendations of his own agency’s scientists, but also the law, Supreme Court precedent, and Obama administration Executive Order 13563. The ESA mandates species listing decisions be based solely on the best available science. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that in making listing decisions, species should be afforded the benefit of the doubt.

After rampant politicization of the ESA listing process under the George W. Bush administration, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum and Executive Order directing administrative agencies to reprioritize science-based decision-making. The withdrawal of the proposed wolverine listing flouts these edicts by prioritizing natural resource extraction and industry profits over the wellbeing of a rare native carnivore.

“This is another example of the Service and Director Ashe caving to political pressure from the special interests preventing sound wildlife management in the western states,” said Western Environmental Law Center’s Rocky Mountain office director Matthew Bishop. “It is obviously time for the Service to employ the precautionary principle and protect a clearly imperiled species before it’s doomed to extinction.”

In February 2013, the Service acknowledged climate change is “threatening the species with extinction.” According to scientists, snowpack in wolverine habitat will decrease; the only uncertainty is precisely how much snow will disappear and exactly where snowfall will decline most. In July, a leaked memo from Service Region Six Director Noreen Walsh to biologists in the agency’s Montana field office relied on that sole area of uncertainty to call for the proposed listing’s withdrawal.

“The Service knows the house is on fire, but is deciding to wait until it is absolutely certain which room will burn first before doing anything to put out the blaze,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “The degree of certainty the administrators want before protecting wolverines is ridiculous and illegal.” 

Wolverines, hardy and solitary members of the weasel family, traverse huge, high-elevation territories. Tenacious hunters capable of taking much larger prey than their medium stature would suggest, wolverines also scavenge carrion as they cover vast distances through boreal forest and over snowcapped mountain ranges. American wolverines reside mostly in the Northern Rockies and Cascades, where small populations rely on individual dispersers to maintain healthy genetic diversity. Adolescent males disperse farthest, with breeding females holding smaller territories closer to their birthplaces. In recent years, a single male settled in Colorado, and confirmed sightings place wolverines in Oregon, northeast Utah, and southwest Wyoming. It remains unclear whether these intrepid wolverines are establishing new territories and breeding populations, or simply passing through.

Wild & Weird

Curious Marmot Interrupts Greenpeace Video With Most Adorable Photobomb Ever

Wild animals have had some hilarious reactions to discovering cameras set up to watch them, and one curious little marmot in Montana who decided to step into a project dedicated to protecting its home is no exception.

Members of Greenpeace USA had set out to make a time-lapse video of a stunning valley in Glacier National Park to raise awareness about climate change and how it’s impacting the park’s shrinking glaciers and alpine tundra. Instead, they got something that’s arguably even better – a kiss from a marmot.

Writing on Facebook, the group said, ‘Though we didn’t capture the time-lapse video of Glacier National Park that we intended to, we captured something much cooler…Marmot Love.’

Even though the adorableness factor of the video is off the charts, the underlying message is sobering. The video was intended to be part of the organization’s campaign to ‘Keep our coal in the ground,’ which is raising awareness about climate change and the problems with the federal coal leasing program, in addition to raising opposition against the Department of the Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Land Management for auctioning off our public land for coal mining.

Writing in the video’s description, the organization stated: “In Glacier National Park, global warming is melting glaciers and shrinking the alpine tundra environment as treelines move higher up the mountains. Shrinking tundra threatens marmots and other animals that live up high in these mountains.”

At the end of July, the organization took to the skies with an airship in Montana during the Magic City Balloon Festival, to highlight the trouble that comes with mining and exporting coal from the West and to raise awareness about plans for the expansion of several mines in the state.

While the Obama Administration is trying to address climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and the problems burning coal causes by reducing its use here, the U.S. is still extracting and selling it abroad, which is undermining global efforts to curb carbon pollution.

According to Greenpeace, the DOI just sold 8 million tons of coal at 36 cents a ton from public lands in Colorado, despite attempts by environmental organizations to stop it over concerns that it would be exported. Soon the agency will try again to expand the Decker coal mine in Montana, which will unlock as much carbon pollution as 14 million cars a year.

Wherever it’s burned, our use of coal is fueling climate change. Greenpeace hopes to help stop the use of the one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet by getting Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to issue a moratorium on coal leases that will force companies that are taking advantage of taxpayers and destroying our environment to be stuck in the domestic market, where the use of coal is being rejected.

Now Greenpeace is urging us all to call on Jewell to help ensure a future for marmots and the other creatures who call our national parks home, and to ensure these national treasures are around for future generations, by keeping coal in the ground.

Watch the Video

Alicia Graef|August 15, 2014

36 random animal facts that may surprise you

From immortal jellyfish and death-defying tardigrades to proposing penguins and voting bovines, here are three dozen randomly interesting facts about our planet’s impressive array of animal life.

Earth is home to about 1 million known animal species, each one representing an ancient tome of biological trivia. Much of this random knowledge gets lost in the ether, leaving us to speculate about things like dinosaur divorce rates or amphibian dance moves. But we still catch an awful lot, providing us with plenty of interesting — if not always actionable — facts about our fellow fauna.

The list below is a tribute to such trivia. From extinct penguins to newly identified wasps, these tidbits reflect the depth of our own species’ curiosity about nature — and our skill in shedding new light on it. As you peruse these facts, imagine all that went into discovering each one. We embrace their randomness here, but most hail from a robust body of knowledge about the animal in question.

So without further ado, here are 36 random animal facts that may interest you:

1. A type of “immortal” jellyfish is capable of cheating death indefinitely.

2. Octopuses have three hearts.

3. Butterflies can taste with their feet.

4. Cats and horses are highly susceptible to black widow venom, but dogs are relatively resistant. Sheep and rabbits are apparently immune.

5. Sharks kill fewer than 10 people per year. Humans kill about 100 million sharks per year.

6. Wild dolphins call each other by name.

7. Young goats pick up accents from each other.

8. Humpback whale songs spread like “cultural ripples from one population to another.”

9. Tardigrades are extremely durable microscopic animals that exist all over Earth. They can survive any of the following: 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 Celsius), -458 degrees F (-272 C), the vacuum of space, pressure six times stronger than the ocean floor and more than a decade without food.

10. Horses use facial expressions to communicate with each other.

11. Elephants have a specific alarm call that means “human.”

12. Squirrels can’t burp or vomit.

13. Less time separates the existence of humans and the tyrannosaurus rex than the T-rex and the stegosaurus.

14. There’s a place on Earth where seagulls prey on right whales.

15. Owls don’t have eyeballs. They have eye tubes.

16. Animals with smaller bodies and faster metabolism see in slow motion.

17. Dogs’ sense of smell is about 100,000 times stronger than humans’, but they have just one-sixth our number of taste buds.

18. The extinct colossus penguin stood as tall as LeBron James.

19. Male gentoo and Adelie penguins “propose” to females by giving them a pebble.

20. Azara’s owl monkeys are more monogamous than humans.

21. Barn owls are normally monogamous, but about 25 percent of mated pairs “divorce.”

22. A group of parrots is known as a pandemonium.

23. Polar bears have black skin.

24. Reindeer eyeballs turn blue in winter to help them see at lower light levels.

25. A human brain operates on about 15 watts.

26. Warmer weather causes more turtles to be born female than male.

27. African buffalo herds display voting behavior, in which individuals register their travel preference by standing up, looking in one direction and then lying back down. Only adult females can vote.

28. If a honeybee keeps waggle dancing in favor of an unpopular nesting site, other workers head-butt her to help the colony reach a consensus.

29. Honeybees can flap their wings 200 times every second.

30. The claws of a mantis shrimp can accelerate as quickly as a .22-caliber bullet.

31. A single strand of spider silk is thinner than a human hair, but also five times stronger than steel of the same width. A rope just 2 inches thick could reportedly stop a Boeing 747.

32. A supercolony of invasive Argentine ants, known as the “California large,” covers 560 miles of the U.S. West Coast. It’s currently engaged in a turf war with a nearby supercolony in Mexico.

33. The recently discovered bone-house wasp stuffs the walls of its nest with dead ants.

34. By eating pest insects, bats save the U.S. agriculture industry an estimated $3 billion per year.

35. Fourteen new species of dancing frogs have been discovered in 2014, raising the global number of known dancing-frog species to 24.

36. A sea lion is the first nonhuman mammal with a proven ability to keep a beat.

Russell McLendon|Aug 19, 2014

Is there really plankton clinging to the outside of the space station?

A Russian official says that cosmonauts have collected evidence of sea plankton on the outside of the International Space Station.

A Russian official claims that samples collected by cosmonauts show evidence of sea plankton on the outside of the International Space Station, news agencies are reporting.

Cosmonauts on the orbiting outpost have allegedly discovered trace amounts of sea plankton and other microscopic organisms living on the outside of the station, exposed to the vacuum of space, according to a news story quoting space station official Vladimir Solovyov.

However, NASA has not confirmed the reports. “As far as we’re concerned, we haven’t heard any official reports from our Roscosmos colleagues that they’ve found sea plankton,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot said. Roscosmos is Russia’s Federal Space Agency. [5 Bold Claims of Alien Life]

Recommended: Are you scientifically literate? Take our quiz

The unconfirmed claims — reported by ITAR-TASS — were reportedly the result of a long-term study done using specialized equipment by Russians on the station, according to the news agency.

Although the cosmonauts did sample the outside of the space station and a window on one of the modules this week, they were not necessarily looking for traces of microbes, according to NASA.

“I’m not sure where all the sea-plankton talk is coming from,” Huot told Space.com. “The Russians did take samples from one of the windows on the Russian segment, and what they’re actually looking for is residues that can build up on the visually sensitive elements, like windows, as well as just the hull of the ship itself that will build up whenever they do thruster firings for things like re-boosts. That’s what they were taking samples for. I don’t know where all the sea plankton talk is coming from.”

It’s possible that the plankton, if confirmed, could be a contaminant launched into space with the space station module, said NASA scientist Lynn Rothschild.

Previous studies have found that microorganisms can survive in outer space.

For example, tardigrades — a microscopic invertebrate found all over the world — can dehydrate and fall into a hibernation that allows them to survive in space, Rothschild said. Tardigrades (also called “water bears”) are part of a group classified as “extremophiles” — organisms that can survive in even the harshest environments.

“Note that there is a long history of U.S. and European missions proving that microbes could survive in low Earth orbit for extended periods of time,” Rothschild told Space.com via email.

Researchers have also discovered microbes in Earth’s upper atmosphere. In 2013, scientists reported that they found a large number of many kinds of microorganisms in the atmosphere 5 to 10 miles (8 to 16 kilometers) above the planet’s surface, according to Space.com sister site Live Science.

Bacterial life has even been found 24.8 miles (40 km) up into the atmosphere, according to a 2013interview with Tina Santl Temkiv, an environmental chemist at Aarhus University in Denmark, by Space.com’s sister site Live Science.

NASA officials keep an eye on bacteria growing inside spacecraft. Biofilms — colonies of bacteria — grow on the interior of the International Space Station, and scientists are working to understand how the microgravity environment affects their growth. Astronauts grew bacteria in fake urine during a flight of NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis and found that it grows strangely when compared to biofilms of the same species cultivated on Earth.

“The unique appearance and structure of the P. aeruginosa biofilms formed in microgravity suggests that nature is capable of adapting to nonterrestrial environments in ways that deserve further studies, including studies exploring long-term growth and adaptation to a low-gravity environment,” Cynthia Collins, who led the study, said in a 2013 NASA statement. “Before we start sending astronauts to Mars or embarking on other long-term spaceflight missions, we need to be as certain as possible that we have eliminated or significantly reduced the risk that biofilms pose to the human crew and their equipment.”

Miriam Kramer|Staff Writer|SPACE.com|August 21, 2014

Water Quality Issues

In Florida, Toxic Algae is a Year-Round Fight

A toxic algae outbreak that recently caused officials in Toledo, Ohio to ban citizens from drinking tainted city water for several days, grabbed headlines around the world. For those of us living here in sunny Florida, these noxious green slime outbreaks are now a year-round occurrence.

A water plant that is supposed to serve 30,000 people along Southwest Florida’s Caloosahatchee River, near Fort Myers, has been repeatedly shut down over the years because toxic algae makes the water unsafe.

The main thing to realize is that these outbreaks are preventable. At Earthjustice, we have been in court for 15 years, fighting to get enforceable, numeric limits on the main culprits in these outbreaks—sewage, manure and fertilizer. We have taken our case to the state capital in Tallahassee and all the way to Washington, D.C.

We are fighting for common-sense control of these pollutants. That means using fertilizer in a targeted way on plant roots, and not broadcast spraying it over the land, where most of it is wasted when it runs off into waterways. Several South Florida communities have passed laws that prevent people from fertilizing their lawns during the rainy season, because what they end up fertilizing instead are our public rivers and lakes. These local laws are a great step forward in solving a pollution problem.

But agricultural pollution is the biggest culprit. Despite proven ways to reduce this pollution, agricultural corporations have bitterly fought even the most modest proposed restrictions on their behavior. A few years ago, we watched as lobbyists for agricultural corporations, and their political friends in Congress, actually held the entire budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hostage until they got lawmakers to remove language that would have enforced stronger limits on this pollution in Florida.

A big polluter like an industrial plant would be fined if it spilled toxic materials into a river. But that’s not true for Florida agricultural operations. Florida allows them to use voluntary goals called “best management practices.” All the corporation has to do is say it is implementing a plan to control pollution, and it is exempt from monitoring. It’s as if you were allowed to speed on the freeway so long as you gave the highway patrol a speed-limit compliance plan.

How many times are we going to have to watch green slime wreck our drinking water, our swimming holes and our beaches? We need to demand that American leaders hold polluters accountable. Every day, factory farms send fertilizer and manure into our public waters, when they could be controlling this pollution on-site.

Everyone should be required to meet specific pollution limits, and they should face consequences if they exceed those limits and trash our water. That’s what the Clean Water Act intended. It’s the fair thing to do for those of us who depend on clean water. And that’s every one of us.

David Guest|Wednesday|August 06, 2014

Bacteria-Powered Electric Bugs Could Monitor Water Quality in Developing Countries

Access to clean drinking water is a crucial issue for many people living in developing countries. Testing water for pollution usually involves collecting samples and taking them back to a lab. More high tech solutions include mass spectrometry — a very sensitive process that requires expensive specialist equipment — to detect toxins in water supplies, but that can’t be used for routine water monitoring and is too expensive and complex for using in developing areas.

Looking to find a better solution, researchers at the University of Bath along with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of the West of England have designed an inexpensive sensor using 3D printing that is powered by bacteria and can be placed directly in rivers and lakes to continually monitor water quality.

The University of Bath explains, “The sensor contains bacteria that produce a small measurable electric current as they feed and grow. The researchers found that when the bacteria are disturbed by coming into contact with toxins in the water, the electric current drops, alerting to the presence of pollutants in the water.”

“We found that when we injected a pollutant into the water there was an immediate drop in the electric current they produced. The drop was proportional to the amount of toxin present and the current is recovered once the toxin levels fell,” said Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Bath.

That means that pollution levels can be monitored in real time without any more special equipment or experts needed for analysis.

The device is able to detect even very small quantities of pollutants. In testing, the researchers detected tiny concentrations of cadmium at quantities far below accepted safe levels.

Megan Treacy|TreeHugger|August 16, 2014

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Florida Conservation Coalition Calls on Public to Support Clean Water Act Rules

Congressman Southerland’s Bill, H.R. 5078, Muddies the Water

In the face of attacks by the Florida Farm Bureau and a narrow group of elected officials, the Florida Conservation Coalition calls on the citizens of Florida to support the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule to protect Florida’s water resources.

The Clean Water Act prevents activities that would harm the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and coastal waters. As required by the Act, EPA regulations protect water quality, help to prevent flooding and limit the impact of droughts. However, federal court decisions have made it essential that the EPA clarify which waters must be protected. 

Legislation proposed by Congressman Steve Southerland and supported today by the Florida Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau and other industry groups would prohibit adoption of an important new rule being proposed by EPA in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide this clarity. The legislation would also shut down the public comment process, denying the public the opportunity to voice its position on the proposed rule.

This effort by Representative Southerland and others to keep the Clean Water Act rules muddy is not in Florida’s best interest. Clarifying that streams and their wetlands are protected but uplands are not regulated brings certainty to landowners and assures protection of Florida’s most important natural resources.

The proposed rule actually excludes regulation of most dry ditches, the subject of the Farm Bureau’s objections. All historical exclusions and exemptions for agriculture are preserved, and the proposed rule provides exemptions for many farming, timber and other land-use activities. 

“Southerland’s legislation is a misguided reaction to the proposed rule.  This legislation intervenes in the middle of the public commenting process and raises suspicion that the industry groups demonstrating today do not want to allow citizens to voice their support of our natural resources. Clean water depends on clear standards,” said Vicki Tschinkel of the Florida Conservation Coalition and former Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

It is especially important that Floridians support EPA’s efforts to protect wetlands which are an integral part of many Florida waterbodies. They are essential to human life in Florida, providing safe drinking water, flood protection for our homes and roads, and our food supply.  In addition, wetlands are vital to the health of Florida’s waters; to wildlife which depend on them for food and habitat; and to our fisherman, tourists and all citizens who depend on the productivity of our estuaries, Atlantic and Gulf.  There is nothing more central to Florida’s economy than the health of our water resources.

Despite the political fracas created by the Farm Bureau, EPA’s proposed rule does not increase or decrease regulation of farming or other activities. The rule simply makes clear the boundaries between flowing waters, wetlands and uplands.

“We are puzzled by the fierce reaction against something that only seeks to provide needed clarity to the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule does not regulate any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Act.  Clarity of these regulations is desperately needed to protect our precious, yet deteriorating waters and to stop endless litigation,” said Tschinkel.

The Coalition encourages Floridians who value healthy wetlands and a strong economy to express their opinion of H.R. 5078 to their congressman.

The Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC) is composed of over 50 conservation organizations and thousands of individuals devoted to protecting and conserving Florida’s land, wildlife and water resources. The first priority of the Coalition is to protect and preserve Florida’s waters.

Founder and Chairman, Bob Graham; Vice-Chairmen, Nathaniel Pryor Reed & Lee Constantine

Student Develops Inexpensive Solar Lens To Purify Polluted Water

Deshawn Henry, a Civil Engineering sophomore at the University of Buffalo, spent his summer developing a solar lens using inexpensive supplies from a hardware store that can clean 99.9% of pathogens in a liter of water in about an hour.  The research project is practical and inexpensive, with the potential to be widely implemented and save lives.

Over one billion people around the world lack consistent access to clean water, leading to the death of a child under the age of 5 every single minute. Many water treatment options are expensive.

The device itself has a rather humble appearance, with a six-foot-tall frame of 2x4s topped with a lens constructed of plastic sheeting and water, which focuses down onto a treatment container for the water. This simplicity of design and the inexpensive nature of the building materials means that many living in impoverished areas would be able to obtain the technology and provide clean water for their families.

The lens is able to magnify sunlight and heat a liter of water to about 130-150 degrees Fahrenheit in about an hour. As the sun changes position in the sky, the treatment container for the water needs to be adjusted in order to stay under the focal point of the lens. This heating process eliminates about 99.9% of pathogens found in the water, leaving it clean and drinkable.

“The water lens could have a huge impact in developing countries,” Henry said in a press release. “Millions of people die every year from diseases and pathogens found in unclean water, and they can’t help it because that’s all they have. Either they drink it or they die.”

The design of the lens came with a bit of trial and error. While more water would be able to magnify more sunlight, the thicker plastic needed to hold the heavier amount of water was more opaque, which diminished the effect. Thus, it was important to strike a balance and find what would be most practical in the system. However, the issue of water loss is one that has not been made entirely clear. A lid could potentially diminish the efficiency of the lens, but leaving it off could result in more water evaporating than can be used to effectively clean the water.

All in all, not bad for a summer project.

“I have seen how intense research activities can inspire UB students and educate the next generation of innovators,” added James Jensen, the professor who supervised Henry’s project over the summer. “Deshawn’s work would allow a family in sunny regions to treat drinking water without having to expend energy or rely on imported technologies.”

Though the summer semester is over, Henry is not giving up on his project. Currently, his design that cleans a liter per hour is only enough to meet about one third of the demand for a family of five. He hopes to continue working and develop a larger lens that would be able to clean the amount of water needed.

Lisa Winter|August 18, 2014

8,000 Gallons of Oil Spill Into Ohio River From Duke Energy Coal Plant

This one’s not a big one in the scheme of things. But to those impacted—especially in Ohio, where algae bloom recently caused the water supplying nearly a half million people in the Toledo area to be undrinkable for several days—it’s bad news. Monday morning, reports the Columbus Dispatch, the Coast Guard closed down a 15-mile length of the Ohio River after Duke Energy’s W.C. Beckjord Station outside Cincinnati dumped approximately 8,000 gallons of oil into the river, according to a Coast Guard estimate.

The Dispatch said that it was unclear if the spill was contained or if it had any impact on wildlife or drinking water, and a company spokesperson said that they were “still assessing the situation,” adding that drinking water intake from the river had been closed down. Duke called the spill a “routine transfer of fuel oil.”

That is likely small comfort to the three million people who get their water from the river, stretching from Illinois to Pennsylvania and running along Ohio’s southern border. And many in the area no doubt have fresh memories of a 10,000-gallon spill that contaminated a football field-sized area in the Oak Glen Nature Preserve near Cincinnati in March.

It might be good news to them that Duke Energy Ohio expects to retire all six coal-fired units at the nearly 60-year-old plant by the end of this year, thanks to new Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Ohio-based Sierra Club organizer Neil Waggoner said of Monday’s spill:

This is yet another example of dirty fossil fuels putting us at risk. We pay with our health. We pay for the dangerous cleanup with our tax dollars. At the same time that Duke Energy was spilling oil in our river, it’s also asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to bail out its old, polluting coal plants by passing extra costs on to its customers. If utilities in Ohio invested these dollars in clean energy, we could breathe easier, have safe water and power our lives without suffering the dangers of refineries and coal plants.

Anastasia Pantsios|August 19, 2014

Toxic Algae Scare Prompts Backlash Against Farms

What do a no-drink order in Toledo and a backlash against factory farming have in common? A lot, as it turns out. Residents of Ohio’s fourth-largest city were advised for multiple days earlier this month to refrain from drinking their tap water because it had been contaminated by toxic algae. As residents struggled to deal with their contaminated water supply, the culprit behind the problem became readily apparent: factory farms. The Ohio Agriculture Advisory Council (OAAC) is proposing a regulatory crackdown that could forever change industrial farming practices in this Midwestern state.

The chain between factory farms and contaminated drinking water is a long one. It starts with confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where animals are kept in close quarters in order to maximize production. This generates a huge volume of waste, which is stored in massive lagoons like the one seen above. That waste isn’t treated, however, and when those lagoons overflow or contaminate groundwater, the result is a release of waste filled with a variety of potentially infectious organisms — and nutrients that algae and plants love to feed on.

This causes a phenomenon known as nutrient pollution (another culprit for nutrient pollution is fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture), where waterways become choked by organisms that are growing out of control because they’re getting far more nutritional support than they usually do. They can out-compete native species and totally change aquatic environments. And they can cause drinking water contamination, which leads to large-scale no-drink orders like the one that just happened in Toledo.

While factory farming is bad news for a number of reasons (not least of which is animal welfare), this is a huge problem — and it’s one that is very poorly regulated. Limited restrictions on how waste is collected, controlled and treated exist, and inspectors are overstressed with demanding schedules, which leaves few opportunities for monitoring farms in their regions. As a result, farms can store manure in unsafe conditions with few repercussions. Despite multiple record-breaking waste spills in regions across the United States, regulators have been slow to act on the problem. CAFO operators aren’t required to treat their waste, and often pass the responsibility for cleanup on to government agencies and other parties, sometimes escaping without even a fine for their activities.

S.E. Smith|Care2|August 18, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Why It Makes Sense to UN-dam a River

There was a time – especially in the 19th and 20th centuries – when nothing seemed to make more sense to community planners than to dam up their local rivers. Because rivers flow constantly, they seemed to provide an endless source of energy. That energy was first tapped to power mills, but later, dams of all sizes were built to convert that flowing power into electricity.

Dams were also the technology that people turned to to control floods and manage water supplies.  By collecting river water and then releasing it on demand, it was possible to reduce flooding during storms or in the spring, when people living in mountainous regions had to contend with snow melt that would send rivers overflowing their banks.

But dams have had several significant downsides. For one, they make it difficult for fish like salmon and steelhead trout to reach their spawning grounds. Salmon famously swim upstream to spawn. But when they encounter dams that block their paths, their spawning runs come to a halt. Wildlife biologists have tried to build fish ladders to allow the animals to bypass the dam. Or, they trap the salmon and move them above the dam to continue their journey. Both approaches are expensive and have had mixed results.

Speaking of expense, many dams are so aged that the cost to repair them has become exorbitant. As other renewable energy sources like wind and solar gain ground, and as energy conservation gets increasingly more effective at reducing power demands, dams look less and less appealing.

Dams also flood scenic areas that often teem with wild animals and plants, or canyons notable for their archeological artifacts.

Finally, an unanticipated impact of building dams has been the effect they often have on the river’s ecology. Behind the dam, the water reservoirs intended to provide drinking water or a place for boating and swimming often have become silted up with mud, sand and gravel. Below the dam, the river beds are sorely lacking in these same materials, becoming little more than a muddy wasteland.

Dismantling a dam can take many forms. Some communities opt to literally blow theirs up. Others take a slower approach and unbuild a dam piece by piece or section by section. However it is done, by and large, scientists seem to be pleased with the results. Though the movement to remove dams is still relatively recent, research shows that native fish populations are bouncing back pretty quickly once a river is restored. So are the river beds and banks.

The moral of the story may be: Mother Nature knows best

Diane MacEachern|August 17, 2014

5 Ways to Help the Mighty Colorado River

From the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River flows through some of the world’s most majestic landscapes.

Spanning seven U.S. states and two in Mexico, she supplies drinking water to nearly 36 million people, irrigates more than 4 million acres of farmland, and provides power to the region’s cities. This western lifeline also supports a thriving $26 billion recreational economy.

Over the last 15 years, a changing climate, booming populations and rapidly growing demands have taken a toll on this iconic river and its tributaries. In fact, the river has not regularly reached the sea in decades.

Hope for the River

When it comes to water issues in the West, progress is slow and conflicts are common. Farmers, cities, businesses, recreation and wildlife all depend on a healthy river. Balancing all of these needs is the trick – every one of them is valid, and yet there just isn’t enough water to go around.

In spite of these challenges, I continue to believe there is hope for the river.

An historic event this past March buoyed my optimism: I saw water flow into the Colorado River Delta for the first time in decades.

This formerly lush and green expanse of land is located along the U.S.-Mexico border and had been bone dry for decades. The area symbolized the very issues we face throughout the River’s vast Basin – not enough water to meet growing needs and maintain the river’s health.

Amid conflict and struggles, the U.S. and Mexico signed an agreement in November 2012 to begin to restore the Colorado River Delta. This showed the world we were able to reach solutions for our communities and the environment in spite of water scarcity.

What You Can Do

Everyone who depends on the Colorado River can help. There are five simple things you can do to help us keep the river healthy for generations to come:

1. Shorten your daily shower by two minutes and you’ll save up to 150 gallons per month.
2. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and save up to 150 gallons per month.
3. Run your clothes washer and dishwasher only when they are full and save up to 200 gallons a month.
4. Fix that leaky faucet or running toilet and save up to 300 gallons per month.
5. Use water-wise and drought tolerant plants and water them in the early morning or evening to reduce evaporation.

Together, we can bring hope to one of the world’s most iconic rivers.

Taylor Hawes|The Nature Conservancy|August 17, 2014

Water Releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead to Increase, USBR Says

BOULDER CITY, Nev. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will increase its water releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead in Water Year 2015, following the recent completion of its monthly operational study.

The release will increase from 7.48 million acre-feet (maf) in Water Year 2014 to 8.23 maf in the coming year, the agency said, with Lake Mead operating under normal conditions in Calendar Year 2015. Water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin and Mexico will also receive their full water orders.

The projections are used in accordance with the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead to determine the amount of water released from Powell to Mead each year.

The 2007 Interim Guidelines allow water managers to plan ahead for varying reservoir levels along the Colorado River with a “greater degree of certainty about annual water deliveries”, Reclamation said. The guidelines also “define the reservoir levels that would trigger delivery shortages and specify reduced delivery amounts in the Lower Colorado River Basin.”

HydroWorld.com reported in July that Lake Mead — impounded by Hoover Dam — had dipped to its lowest levels since the 1930s after Reclamation forecast lower water releases into the lake in August 2013 due to what is now being called a 15-year drought.

The bureau said runoff in the Upper Colorado River Basin was 94% of average in 2014, compared to 47% in 2013 and 45% in 2012. Despite the increased runoff, however, Reclamation said the elevation of Lake Mead is projected to continue to decrease in the coming year, falling from its current 1,080 feet.

The 2007 Interim Guidelines dictate Reclamation will perform another review of conditions at Lake Powell and Lake Mead in April 2015, at which point the releases from Powell could be increased to 9.0 maf for Water Year 2015.

Reclamation said its long-term hydrologic models show the first chance for reduced water deliveries into the Lower Basin are in 2016.

Michael Harris|August 19, 2014

Original article

Israeli Scientists Protect Coral by Taking Rainforests Underwater

Efforts have been underway for some time now to find a way to save the world’s coral reefs. Coral, which is often thought of incorrectly as a marine plant, perform an essential symbiotic role in our oceans that often benefit other organisms. Their incredible diversity allows them to replicate in a variety of environments and makes them essential to the world’s oceans. Home to more than 800 types of coral, the world’s coral reefs alone support the existence of more than 4,000 species of fish, many of which provide essential food for human populations. Other coral communities, such as those in the Red Sea, are also essential to marine life.

So, finding a way to stem the decline of coral has been a priority for marine scientists for the past several decades – at least since the late 1990s when scientists attempted unsuccessfully to replant coral in the Great Barrier Reef. According to the World Resources Institute’s 2011 report, Reefs at Risk Revisited, 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs face extinction from climate change, coastal development, pollution and overfishing.

And they are more than a form of marine animal. Often likened to the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, “coral reefs are harbingers of change,” the WRI states. The increasing extinction of coral is a clear indicator of the future of the world’s oceans.

The good news is that after years of research, scientists in Israel may have found a way to repopulate coral reefs. Dr. Baruch Rinkevich, senior scientist at Israel’s Institute of Oceanographic and Limnological Research, and Dr. Shai Shafir, chair of the department of Natural Science and Environmental Education at Oranim Academic College, have developed a means by which to regrow coral and replant it in its natural habitat.

“We grow corals on mid- water nurseries in the Red Sea,”  Shafir explained in a recent interview. At the present time the coral is being grown individually in the nurseries and then replanted “one by one” in the communities in the Red Sea.

Shafir refers to coral as “’the rain forest of the sea.’” Like trees, they root themselves in the earth’s floor, becoming a natural habitat for other species. The coral reforestation not only helps regenerate coral communities, but they also provide a vibrant marine ecology for those around them.

“Basically, what we’ve done here is copy the forestry concept,” Shafir said, “and the idea is really taking hold around the world because you can use it almost anywhere.” In fact, the idea has shown so much success that the Jewish National Fund has gotten behind the project, which has opened doors for a new angle on marine reforestation. Shafir said the North American Friends of the IOLR have also been instrumental in promoting and funding their work.

The concept of regrowing and replanting declining species has been around for a while in terms of kelp reforestation, but not in terms of successful replanting of coral beds. It’s an idea that will benefit not just marine areas around Israel, but also worldwide.

“It’s not just about conservation, but also about active restoration,” Shafir said, who noted that the team are also working on an idea that would allow groups of coral to be grown in “carpets” or squares that could then be integrated into the marine setting. The process is still in research stage, however.

Coral replantation techniques dovetail with another form of reforestation called passive restoration, which has been in the works for years and takes much longer to accomplish. Marine protective areas, which are seen throughout the world and take decades to recover, fulfill this purpose. Active restoration, however, takes just two years to start.

Its success, and of course the speed of reforestation however, will still depend heavily on aspects of human habitat: whether we can find the impetus and mechanisms to halt climate change, marine encroachment and, of course, overfishing.

Jan Lee|August 20th, 2014|Gratitude is extended to Dr. Shai Shafir and Dr.  Baruch Rinkevich for additional information and photos.

FIU to study nitrogen loads, Caloosahatchee wetlands

The South Florida Water Management District voted last week to set aside $200,000 of property taxes to study nitrogen in the Caloosahatchee River.

Called “Bioassays for Determining Dissolved Organic Nitrogen Bioavailability to Primary and Secondary Production in the Caloosahatchee River Water Column,” the project is a two-year agreement with Florida International University. Researchers at FIU will study the costs and effectiveness of wetlands and restoration projects used to reduce nitrogen loads in the river.

Nitrogen occurs naturally in the ecosystem, but the nitrogen loads FIU will study come mostly from Lake Okeechobee releases and stormwater run-off in the Caloosahatchee River watershed. Nitrogen is used by farming operations and as fertilizer for golf courses and residential areas. Tons of the nutrient are released into the river each year — which can provide fuel for algal blooms such as cyanobacteria and Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tides in our region.

Nitrogen also provides fuel for drift algae that covers sea grasses, eventually gathering in clumps called “rolling moss” by some locals.

 Chad Gillis|news-press.com|August 22, 2014

Offshore & Ocean

UF/IFAS Research Findings Shed Light on Seagrass Needs

Seagrass beds represent critical and threatened coastal habitats around the world, and a new University of Florida study shows how much sunlight seagrass needs to stay healthy.

Loss of seagrass means fish, crabs and other animals lose their homes and manatees and sea turtles lose a source of food. Nutrients, such as phosphorous, may prevent seagrass from getting the sunlight it needs to thrive. Nutrients may come from many sources, among them fertilizers used in agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, pet waste and septic tank waste.

Scientists often use seagrass to judge coastal ecosystems’ vitality, said Chuck Jacoby, a courtesy associate professor in the Department of Soil and Water Science and co-author of a new UF study that examines light and seagrass health.

“By protecting seagrass, we protect organisms that use seagrass and other photosynthetic organisms that need less light,” said Jacoby, a faculty member in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

When nutrient levels are too high, microorganisms in the water, called phytoplankton, use these nutrients and light to grow and reproduce until they become so abundant that they block sunlight seagrass needs to survive, said Zanethia Choice, a former UF graduate student who led the investigation.

“Seagrass can cope with short-term light reductions, but if those conditions last too long or occur too frequently, seagrass will deteriorate and ultimately die,” Choice said. “Good water clarity is vital for healthy coastal systems.”

Choice studied seagrass beds in a 700,000-acre swath off the coast of Florida’s Big Bend.

Choice, now a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service in Mississippi, conducted the study as part of her master’s thesis, under the supervision of Jacoby and Tom Frazer, a professor of aquatic ecology and director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Choice combined 13 years of light and water quality data and two years of seagrass samples from habitats near the mouths of eight rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico.

Seagrass off the Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Waccasassa, Withlacoochee, Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka and Weeki Wachee rivers constitutes part of the second largest seagrass bed in Florida. The largest bed is in Florida Bay, between the Everglades and the Florida Keys, Jacoby said.

Choice wanted to see how much light was needed to keep the seagrass in this region healthy. She found different seagrass species needed varying amounts of light, ranging from 8 to 27 percent of the sunlight at the water’s surface.

The UF/IFAS study will give water resource managers, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, water-clarity targets they can use to set proper nutrient levels for water bodies, Jacoby said.

Reducing nutrient levels can promote the health of seagrass and coastal waters. For example, concerted efforts to reduce nutrients flowing into Tampa Bay over the past 20-plus years resulted in a 50 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 50 percent increase in water clarity and a return of lost seagrass, according to a study conducted by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Unlike Tampa Bay, there is no evidence that elevated nutrient levels in Choice’s study area have led to loss of seagrass. UF researchers are trying to make sure nutrients do not pollute the seagrass beds off the coast of the Big Bend, and they hope their results will guide managers as they strive to prevent any damage.

The study of seagrass light requirements is published in this month’s issue of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Brad Buck|Friday, April 18th, 2014

Mercury in Seafood: How Much Is Too Much?

Toxicologists have a saying: “The dose makes the poison.” In other words, there is no such thing as “toxic” or “non-toxic”—it always depends on how much of a substance you consume.

So what’s a toxic level of mercury in your diet? This has long been a concern, because many fish contain measurable levels of mercury, which can cause profound neurological disease and death if consumed in sufficient amounts. The issue gained new urgency last week when a study in the journal Nature showed that mercury concentration at the ocean surface has tripled since the beginning of the industrial era.

How does mercury get into fish, anyway?

In the 19th and 20th centuries, factories dumped massive amounts of methylmercury—the most dangerous form of mercury, bonded to carbon and hydrogen—directly into waterways. The most infamous example occurred in Japan in the 1950s and ’60s, when industrial mercury poisoned more than 2,000 people who ate fish from Minamata Bay. (The neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning is called “Minamata disease” after the tragedy.)

Mercury dumping has been a problem in the U.S., too. I grew up a few miles from New York’s Onondaga Lake, where the Allied Chemical Company disposed of as much as 20 pounds of mercury per day in the mid-2oth century. “America’s most polluted lake” is still recovering.

Mercury can also take a less direct route to the sea. Burning fossil fuels releases mercury into the air—around 160 tons per year in the U.S. The mercury settles to the ground, where rains eventually wash it to the ocean. There, elemental mercury turns into methylmercury. Scientists aren’t quite sure how this conversion occurs, but it probably involves the metabolism of a small but abundant living creature. When that creature is eaten by bigger creatures, the methylmercury travels up the food chain, collecting in animal tissue in larger and larger amounts. That’s why predators like tuna have troubling levels of mercury—they eat a lot.

Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutution

Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

What are the effects of mercury exposure?

Cases of mercury poisoning go back thousands of years. Mercury probably killed the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in 210 B.C.E. at the age of 39. He believed mercury pills would grant him immortality (oops). But Mercury doesn’t just kill. It can first drive a victim to insanity. The phrase “as mad as a hatter” harkens back to Victorian England, where mercury was used in haberdasheries. (Mercury inhalation is still a problem in many workplaces.)

Mercury’s notoriety as a poison derives from these instances of acute exposure. Diagnosing these cases is clinical child’s play. The symptoms—like numbness in the extremities, weakness, and a narrowing of the field of vision—are well known, and they appear soon after exposure. The challenge for toxicologists is sussing out the more subtle effects of lower doses of mercury, like the ones you might get from eating fish.

Fetuses and small children, for example, are extremely sensitive to mercury. Exposure to mercury in the womb can affect cognitive development, impair memory and attention, and slow language acquisition, even when the doses are too low to cause any observable symptoms in the mother.

Chronic, low-dose exposure in adults could also be a concern. Some doctors believe that trace levels of mercury contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure, though the evidence for this is currently inconclusive. These claims are based on a small number of studies conducted on discrete populations living in remote areas. In addition, the precise mechanism that would link low-dose mercury to heart disease isn’t fully understood.

So how much is too much?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends consuming a daily maximum of 0.1 micrograms of mercury for each kilogram of your body weight. That would limit a 176-pound adult (the national average) to 8 micrograms of mercury each day.

What does that mean in terms of cans of tuna or pieces of sashimi? Well, you’ll need a species-by-species chart of mercury concentration to figure that out. The amount of mercury in certain types of fish varies greatly. For instance, the average adult could eat 13 ounces of fresh salmon per day while staying under the EPA recommended maximum. You should avoid swordfish, though—eating just 0.14 ounces, a mere forkful, would put you over the limit.

table

If you don’t want to break out your calculator and metric system conversion charts, use this handy seafood calculator from Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth) for an estimate of your weekly mercury consumption.

These calculations can be helpful, but there are caveats. Not all scientists agree with the EPA’s mercury limits, and many more would add the proviso that they represent an extremely rough guess at what constitutes a safe level. In addition, the recent Nature study shows that oceanic mercury levels are on the rise, and existing research suggests that trend may continue for centuries. As increasing mercury concentrations travel up the food chain, the amount of fish you’ll be able to consume while staying within the EPA’s “safe zone” will decrease over time.

The federal government (and the fishing industry, naturally) don’t recommend avoiding fish altogether. Almost immediately after I received notification of the Nature study, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Twitter account recommended increased fish consumption for pregnant women. (My colleague Jason Bittel has more details about the new federal fish-eating guidelines.) It’s tough, with all the conflicting advice, to know for sure what to do.

Promising developments?

But there’s hope! Last November, the U.S. joined the Minamata Convention on mercury. If enacted, this international agreement would prohibit new mercury mines, regulate the industrial use of mercury and reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Now for the bad news. Although 100 countries have signed on, the U.S. is the only nation that has gone through the official legal processes required to accept the convention. It will take 49 others before the agreement goes into force. So after budgeting a few years for that, plus a century or two before ocean mercury levels actually begin to drop, maybe you should leave the swordfish to your distant descendants.

Brian Palmer|OnEarth | August 14, 2014|This article was originally posted in Natural Resources Defense Council’s OnEarth.

July Ocean Temperature Hits Record High—Again

Last month, Earth’s ocean surfaces tied the previous record for the hottest July during the 130 years the U.S. government has been compiling data.

The National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the average temperature was 62.56 degrees Fahrenheit, 1.06 degrees above the 20th-century average. The ocean surfaces also reached that temperature in July 2009. It’s the third straight month this year that ocean surface temperatures set a record.

The NOAA reported:

Much warmer than average and record warm temperatures were prevalent in every major ocean basin, particularly notable across parts of the Arctic Seas between Greenland and northern Europe, the southern Indian Ocean, and the western equatorial Pacific Ocean. Neither El Niño nor La Niña conditions were present across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean during July 2014. Temperature departures from average in this region, a major indicator of the conditions, cooled slightly compared with the previous month.

Other July statistics from the NOAA:

The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for July 2014 was the fourth highest on record for July, at 1.15°F above the 20th-century average of 60.4°F.

The global land surface temperature was 1.33°F above the 20th-century average of 57.8°F, marking the 10th warmest July on record.

The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–July period (year-to-date) was 1.19°F above the 20th-century average of 56.9°F, tying with 2002 as the third warmest such period on record.

Anastasia Pantsios|August 18, 2014

Why Trashed Beaches Are Expensive

One would assume that the economic cost of polluted beaches comes from having to clean them up, but in fact there’s another aspect involved: the recreational costs.

A new economic report by NOAA’s Marine Debris Program looking at Orange County found that because the cleanliness of a beach is of top concern to beachgoers, they will drive farther to find a less polluted one. That means a higher economic cost in terms of gas, tolls, parking, and more. In fact, according to NOAA, if the amount of trash on Orange County beaches was cut in half, the savings of residents could add up to $67 million during the summer. Even cutting the amount of trash by 25% would mean a large amount of savings, to the tune of $32 million.

“This study shows that beachgoers are worried about marine debris and will seek out cleaner beaches for recreation at a cost,” said Nancy Wallace, Marine Debris Program director. “Reducing or eliminating marine debris from our beaches is critical, because littered shorelines are costing people more than we anticipated. We can use these kinds of data to prioritize beaches for debris prevention and removal activities.”

As the report pointed out, this isn’t just a problem that California is dealing with; the economic loss associated with beach pollution is a national issue. “Given the enormous popularity of beach recreation throughout the United States, the magnitude of recreational losses associated with marine debris has the potential to be substantial,” wrote NOAA in a statement.

To cut those losses, we not only need to put more beach clean up efforts in place, but of course deal with the problem of polluted beaches before they get to that point. That means taking steps to prevent pollution in general, and in particular, work hard to get rid of single-use plastics.

Organizations like Surfrider and the Rise Above Plastics campaign are making the link between plastic and pollution very clear, and highlighting why we need to work hard to not only refuse single-use plastic items like bags and silverware, but also petition to ban them, so that there are simply less of them to end up in the ocean and on our beaches.

Ending beach pollution means eliminating products that pollute in the first place.

Anna Brones|August 18, 2014

Invisible threat: Microplastic contamination discovered on bottom of Sydney Harbour

The bottom of Sydney Harbour has been contaminated by widespread microplastic pollution which could be entering the food chain, scientists say.

Professor Emma Johnston from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science said the microplastics, or fragments of plastic less than five millimeters long, represented the “emergence of new contaminants in our harbors and waterways”.

In the first study of its kind, 27 sites were tested across the harbour, with researchers discovering up to 60 microplastics per 100 milligrams of sediment.

The environmental effects of the contaminants are largely unknown, but there have been moves to ban their use in products overseas.

Professor Johnston said some of the microplastic contamination was coming directly into the harbour.

“For example when we wash our fleecy jackets in the washing machine, lots of particles of microplastics, thin threads, come off and enter our waterways,” she said.

“But there are also microplastics from facial scrubs and there are breakdown products from macro debris, like plastic bags or plastic bottles.”

A PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, Vivian Sim, said several hotspots were identified and the worst-affected area was in the pristine-looking waters of Middle Harbour.

“Something interesting is going on here, but we’re not sure what,” she said.

Nicole Chettle|22 Aug 2014

Seven new artificial reefs crucial to Martin County’s economy

After completing a $150,000 project, Martin County will have seven new artificial reef sites within the South County reef area offshore. Construction is expected to start this month.

“The artificial reef program been going along since the ’70s,” said Kathy FitzPatrick, Martin County’s coastal engineer. “For the last 15 years, the county has taken over the program … And there are a lot of different benefits, including an economic benefit to people who never go into the water.”

The project is the result of a community effort between a local group of fishermen and fishing enthusiasts, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, educational institutions, concerned citizens and the county that has made a long list of diving and fishing sites within the county at offshore reef sites including the Donaldson, Ernst and Sirotkin reef sites. Each of these sites contain artificial reefs deployed over the past several years.

In addition, the county has nearshore reef sites in the ocean between the Stuart and Jensen public beach parks.

Currently, the county is collecting at least 3,500 tons of secondary-use concrete material for the artificial reef project, which according to FitzPatrick, is a great way to keep concrete out of the landfill. Construction workers can drop concrete off at the Martin County Transfer Station, 9101 S.W. Busch St. in Palm City just off State Road 714, at no charge.

Creating these concrete reefs is helpful in several ways, according to FitzPatrick.

“Natural reefs have a lot of pressure,” she said. “Some of the reefs we build are more attractive, and there’s a lot of neat things to swim through. That takes fishing pressure off the (natural) reefs,” she said. “Some reefs target the fisheries themselves … Habitat to fish on one end, and another where we put a ship to be a fishing destination.”

It’s also important to maintain that resource because it part of a larger ecosystem, FitzPatrick said.

“Martin County sits at the northern end of the Florida Coral Reef track. We have the last vestiges of that Florida track, and that is a resource we want to protect. We are very involved in the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative.”

Through the South County reef site, there will be three artificial reefs on the east side and four on the west side. One hope is to track the lionfish on the natural reef versus the artificial reef. FitzPatrick said they would like to go out periodically and monitor what fish are appearing on the reefs, but it’s all a matter of funding — something they don’t have for that portion of the project.

Increasing fishing habitat is good for the community, FitzPatrick said.

“There really is a lot of different benefits, including an economic benefit to people who never go into the water,” she said. “One out of 10 jobs is connected to the waters of Martin County.”

The MCAC Reef Fund is a group of concerned citizens, sport fishermen and overall fishing enthusiasts who support these projects, raising money through an annual tournament, said John Burke, an investment adviser who is now president of the fund. The group calls itself the MCAC because the anglers club originally supporting the event closed about three years ago.

“Fishing is so important to a community like Stuart because of the tackle stores and charter boats and on and on … It is a big infrastructure, and it is vitally important to have habitat to flourish.”

The organization supports a lot of causes similar to the county’s goals. About two months ago, the organization got a $2,500 grant from West Martin to help try to address the growing lionfish population, which depletes the fish resource.

“They are like vacuum cleaners in the amount of fish that they eat, and they propagate like bunny rabbits. They really have made an enormous explosion of growth up and down the coast,” Burke said.

Building more habitat like the county’s newest project can help address these concerns, he believes.

“Natural reefs are in peril between water quality attacking them and other ecology issues (like the lionfish),” he said. “It helps to have the artificial reef.”

Michelle Piasecki|Palm Beach Post|Aug. 20, 2014

DEP Awards $10 Million for Critical Indian River Lagoon Restoration

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded $10 million in grant funding to Brevard County today for the removal of up to 350,000 cubic yards of muck in the Indian River Lagoon and its tributaries. The project is a priority of Governor Scott and members of the Florida Legislature who appropriated the funds for this lagoon restoration project and many others during the 2014 Legislative Session.

“Governor Scott and Florida’s legislative leaders are committed to improving the health of the Indian River Lagoon,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Restoring this unique and treasured water body is a top priority among our state’s leadership and the department is proud to partner with Brevard County to improve lagoon water quality.”

Created by decades of runoff, erosion and nutrient loading, the accumulated muck deposits within the lagoon are damaging to seagrass beds, contribute to algal blooms and create bottom conditions that are not conducive to healthy marine life.

The Brevard County project is also expected to remove up to 672 tons of total nitrogen and 144 tons of total phosphorous contained within the muck deposits. This project joins other lagoon restoration efforts already underway including a $10 million Eau Gallie River muck removal project, $746,000 for water quality monitoring sensors throughout the lagoon, more than $12 million in water quality restoration grants and millions more in support to local lagoon organizations focused on raising awareness of lagoon health.

“This is a critical point in lagoon restoration where state, federal and local partners realize we have to get started now with projects that will work,” said Ernie Brown, Director of Brevard County Natural Resources Management. “This project serves to bring strong science about muck removal to the conversation while making real progress, and DEP has been a fantastic partner in getting this project expedited.”

Brevard County staff aims to have some dredges in the water by January 2015 with full deployment and active operations among all dredging resources by July 2015.

“The ecological health of the Northern and Central Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River are central to our way of life throughout this beautiful region,” said Senator Andy Gardiner. “These restoration efforts are and will continue to be a significant priority of the Florida Legislature and I want to thank Senator Altman for his leadership on this issue.”

“Communities up and down the Space Coast rely on the lagoon to strengthen their local economies and support their quality of life,” said Senator Thad Altman. “It’s critical we remove these sediments from our waterways and get the Indian River Lagoon on a pathway to health.”

The Indian River Lagoon is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida’s east coast from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to the southern boundary of Martin County. Widespread algal blooms appeared in the lagoon in 2011 when temperatures dropped significantly. This was followed by brown tide blooms in 2012 and 2013. Approximately 47,000 acres of seagrasses were lost, a reduction of about 60 percent of the lagoon’s total seagrass coverage. Removing excessive nitrogen and phosphorus in the lagoon is important to help prevent these events from occurring in the future.

Dredging projects, water quality monitoring and support for local lagoon awareness organizations are all part of a larger, multi-agency effort to improve the health of the lagoon. The St. Johns Water Management District, the South Florida Water Management District, DEP, Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, local governments and educational institutions are individually and collectively working to identify additional opportunities to speed the lagoon back to ideal health.

mburgerdep | August 22, 2014

The dark side of Hawaii’s aquarium trade

Hawaii’s salt-water aquarium trade is lucrative – but depends on the constant, scarcely regulated collection of wild fish, writes Elizabeth Claire Alberts. With 98% of fish in the trade taken from the wild, and high mortality rates from the moment of collection, Hawaii’s coral reefs are experiencing a daily massacre.

Not only do fish die as they are captured and transported, but they don’t live long in captivity, often dying from fin rot or septicaemia … the aquarium trade demands a constant, insatiable supply of reef wildlife.

On 8th May 2014, environmentalist Rene Umberger dove off the Kona coast in Hawaii to document two scuba divers using dip nets to collect tropical fish from a coral reef site.

As Umberger filmed from a distance of 10 metres, one of the fish collectors, Jay Lovell, swam up to her and ripped the air supply from her mouth. (see video below)

If Umberger hadn’t been an experienced diver, the incident could have been fatal.

Umberger and her dive partners filmed the attack and gave the footage to state investigators. However, it took nearly three months for Lovell to be charged with second-degree terroristic threatening.

The attack was probably an anomaly, but it created a huge amount of public awareness about the multi-billion dollar aquarium industry.

The aquarium trade is a worldwide problem, but Hawaii has one of the most poorly managed systems. While fish collecting is legal in Hawaii, environmentalists argue that the collectors can easily exploit laws, and that scientists need to properly research the trade’s detrimental effects on the marine environment.

Umberger’s assault also points to the dark side of the aquarium trade. If collectors resort to violence to avoid being filmed, one must ask: what are they trying to hide?

The aquarium trade is responsible for reef decline

Around the world, coral reef systems are in a state of crisis. They are threatened by ocean acidification, temperature variation, and sea level rise.

Dr. Ku’ulei Rodgers of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology explains that Hawaiian reefs also face numerous local problems like sedimentation, agricultural runoff, overfishing, and of course – fish collecting.

Aquarium trade supporters, however, often downplay the impacts of fish collecting, arguing that it’s impossible to know which issue is responsible for reef degradation. Umberger, Director of the environmental group For the Fishes, states that it’s actually quite simple to discern if extraction has caused reef decline and depleted fish populations:

“You just need to look at what happens when collecting pressure is removed. For yellow tangs, their populations nearly doubled within four years of area closures in West Hawaii.”

The effects of fish collecting can also be understood when examining specific areas suffering from algal growth, Umberger explains:

“If fish collectors remove all herbivores in those areas, the algae wins. On Maui, since the state enacted a no-take herbivore zone where the effluent is having large impacts, things seem to be getting a bit better.”

According to aquarium collection reports from Oahu – Hawaii’s most populated island – fish populations are plummeting. In fact, one study has concluded that the aquarium trade has stressed fisheries in Oahu to the point of collapse. [The Commercial Marine Aquarium Fishery in Hawai‘i, 1976-2003, William J. Walsh, Stephen S.P. Cotton, Jan Dierking and Ivor D. Williams]

Environmentalists believe that other fisheries around the Hawaiian islands are not far behind.

Read More

Wildlife and Habitat

Popular Fla. nude beach causing problem for wildlife
Passage Key is a popular hotspot for nudists located between Anna Maria Island and Egmont Key.
For 50 years, the small island has been a federally protected habitat for nesting birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there are a number of rare species there ranging from royal terns, to black skimmers, to oystercatchers. 

A spokesman for the FWS says in 2006, the island became completely submerged because of Hurricane Alberto. But in the past few months, the sandbar returned – along with birds, and nudists.

The island has been popular for nudists recently, with reports of more than 200 nudists on the small island. The FWS claims this is disrupting rare birds and scaring them off. ?

A FWS spokesperson says it is a federal crime to walk on the island, saying nudists are allowed to wade in the water off-shore, but are prohibited by law from being on the island.

Federal officials monitor Passage Key on the weekends, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission helps with monitoring during the week. However, the island is remote and it’s impossible to patrol the island seven days a week.

Federal officials urge tourists and nudists to stay off the island. Signs have been posted urging nudists to follow the law and stay off the beach, but officials say more needs to be done to stop the nudists from bothering these nesting birds.

Dozens of different kinds of species nest there this time of year. Bird nesting season lasts from April to late August.

The spokesman for the federal agency says in the spring, FWS officials will discuss what changes need to be made to better protect the nesting birds.

Punishments for disrupting the habitats vary depending on the rarity of the bird species. Some offenders could be issued fines or given jail time.

John Rogers|Aug 14, 2014

Black bear curriculum teaches kids about wildlife, meets Florida education standards

Giving schoolchildren a chance to learn all about Florida black bears is a great way to teach them about wildlife, while sharpening their skills in reading, math, science and problem solving.

For that reason, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has updated its Florida Black Bear Curriculum, and put it online for the first time at BlackBearInfo.com.

The revised Florida Black Bear Curriculum is free, easy for teachers to use, and meets the new Florida Standards for educational curricula.

The curriculum offers 10 lessons on topics such as “The Black Bear Necessities” and “Oh Where, Oh Where is the Florida Black Bear?” and includes hands-on activities such as mapping and role-playing. There are also videos for students to watch such as the FWC’s “Living with Florida Black Bears.”

“The Florida Black Bear Curriculum takes children’s curiosity about black bears into the classroom, where learning about black bears can improve kids’ skills in basics like reading, math, science and problem solving,” said Sarah Barrett with the FWC’s black bear management program. “Whenever FWC staff talks to kids about Florida black bears, the response is overwhelmingly positive because kids are eager to learn and ask great questions about bears.”

With more encounters today between people and bears in Florida than in the recent past, it is increasingly important for children to learn about the state’s bear population.

The Florida Black Bear Curriculum was designed for children in grades 3-8 and has been in use since 1999, when it was created as a joint project of the FWC and Defenders of Wildlife.

Florida teachers who register on the Florida Black Bear Curriculum website can gain access to additional information, particularly in regard to how the material fits the Florida Standards.

But anyone is welcome to go to BlackBearInfo.com and take advantage of the educational material there.

Why Our Future Depends on Spider Conservation

How much do you know about spiders? The superhero Spider-Man is awesome, but the role of actual spiders in diverse ecosystems around the world is just as captivating.

“If spiders disappeared, we would face famine,” declares Norman Platnick, who studies arachnids at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, where a live spider exhibit opened in July. “Spiders are primary controllers of insects. Without spiders, all of our crops would be consumed by those pests.”

Just to clarify: although insects and spiders are often grouped together, they belong to different animal groups. Spiders are arachnids – technically Class Arachnida, which includes ticks, mites, and scorpions. The most obvious way to distinguish insects from spiders is to count their legs. Insects have six legs, while arachnids have eight.

The importance of spiders to agriculture may be well known, but did you know that the spiders on one acre of woodland alone consume more than 80 pounds of insects each year? Clearly, those insect populations would explode without their spider predators.

That’s what Platnick is talking about.

Aside from chemical control, predation is the only way to limit herbivorous pests. And spiders are excellent at this task. Spiders are particularly crucial in organic farming, which relies heavily on biological pest control.

A few more fascinating facts about spiders:

*  Spiders were around more than 300 million years ago, long before dinosaurs walked the Earth.

*  Only about 50 percent of known spider species make webs. Others hunt their prey or burrow underground.

*  You are unlikely to be bitten by a spider, since they are very shy. They generally prefer to run away rather than bite.

Scientists are also exploring other ways in which spiders could be helpful to humans. That’s because a spider’s venom contains hundreds of different chemical compounds, some of which may be medically active.

So researchers are testing many of these chemicals. At Yale, scientists are examining whether chemicals in the venom of the Australian funnel-web spider could be used to improve pain-control medications. At the University of Buffalo, a researcher is working on healing muscular dystrophy patients with a compound in the venom of a South American spider. In Seattle, a doctor is working on a project that involves a scorpion-venom concoction that makes brain tumors glow.

Then of course there is spider silk: spiders make many different kinds of silk in their webs, each with a property, such as toughness, flexibility, stickiness. Perhaps this too could have important uses in the future.

There are indeed many unknowns about spiders.

“Scientists have identified almost 45,000 different spider species,” says Platnick, “and that’s at best one-half of what actually exists. When we lose a spider species, we may lose a compound that could have cured epilepsy. We may lose a silk that could have produced a strong and lightweight material.”

But Platnick is most concerned about the vital importance of spiders to agriculture since, like many animals, spiders are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation of habitat, as well as by introduced species. Spiders may often be overlooked in conservation planning, just because they are so small.

That is a huge mistake, Platnick believes. For him, it is quite simple: without spiders, our crops will be eaten by insects and we humans will starve.

Spiders have been fascinating writers for a long time: remember Shelob, Tolkien’s giant evil spider in “The Lord of the Rings”? Or E.B. White’s Charlotte the spider?

So look kindly on the next spider you see; our future depends on these eight-legged creatures.

Judy Molland|August 19, 2014

Dolphins & Whales Squeal, But Why?

Dolphins and whales have their own “Happy” song, according to scientists who have translated the animals’ high-pitched sounds as squeals of delight.

Researchers at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego originally thought the sounds were signals that food was present. But, when dolphins and beluga whales emitted the same squeals after a successful training mission, scientists interpreted the sounds as “whoops” of triumph, according to U.S. cetacean expert and author Dr. Sam Ridgway.

Ridgway has spent over 50 years studying and training cetaceans, and rewarding them with fish treats. After his wife suggested that the squeals reminded her of delighted children, Ridgway wondered if the sounds could be expressions of delight.

Ridgeway and his colleagues then analyzed past recordings of dolphins and whale experiments and found a connection between the squeals and the release of dopamine, the brain chemical associated with pleasure.

“We think we have demonstrated that (the victory squeal) has emotional content,” says Ridgway in an article in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Lisa Kaplan Gordon|August 19, 2014

Is Your Sunscreen Harming Dolphins and Whales?

Researchers find that two common sunscreen ingredients are toxic to tiny animals that are a food source for fish and whales.

Many of us wear sunscreen to protect our skin. But when that sunscreen washes off in the ocean, it can harm marine life.

A new study shows that two common ingredients in sunscreen—microscopic particles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide—can combine with ultraviolet sunlight to cause toxic effects in phytoplankton, a food source for small fish, shrimp, and whales.

Given the growth of coastal tourism and the sun care–product market, it’s a timely and important issue, according to David Sánchez-Quiles, a researcher at the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain and coauthor of the study.

“Coastal tourism is, in many countries, among the fastest-growing areas of contemporary tourism,” he said in an email. “And the global market of sun care products has increased an average of seven percent per year over the last five years.”

Here’s what happens: When sunscreen slides off swimmers’ skin into the sea, the tiny particles—also known as nanoparticles—of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide react with ultraviolet light to create hydrogen peroxide. When hydrogen peroxide accumulates at higher levels, it puts a damper on phytoplankton growth though it doesn’t harm human. Because larger marine animals feed on the microscopic algae, it could also affect their available food supply.

Hydrogen peroxide is also produced from titanium dioxide nanoparticles that accumulate in beach sediments, said Sánchez-Quiles.

The researchers collected coastal seawater samples from the Mediterranean Sea off Palmira Beach, a popular swimming area on Spain’s Majorca Island. They first measured the levels of UV sunlight and hydrogen peroxide. Then they tested the effect of three sunscreens on phytoplankton by immersing the products in seawater samples exposed to UV sunlight.

Sunscreens with nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide generate more hydrogen peroxide than sunscreens without them, according to Sánchez-Quiles. The major contribution comes from titanium dioxide, he added.

So what can concerned swimmers and surfers do? The bad news is that most sunscreens contain these nanoparticles, despite “non-nano” labels on some products, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization.

But you can reduce their impact by using cream-based sunscreens instead of spray versions, because the spray products are more water-soluble, Sánchez-Quiles said.

“Environmental scientists and cosmetics companies must work together to compromise between human and environmental health,” he said. “More ecotoxicological analysis, as well as better labeling of sunscreens, can also help to address the issue.”

Kristine Wong|August 21, 2014

Forestry

Norway puts $1.6B into rainforest conservation

Since 2008 Norway has been the single largest foreign donor to tropical forest conservation, putting more than 10 billion Norwegian Krone, or $1.6 billion, toward programs in several countries under its International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI). But how effective have those funds been in actually protecting forests? A new assessment by the country’s Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) concludes that the program is indeed having an impact despite an inauspicious start.

Norway burst onto the rainforest conservation scene in 2007 when it pledged to allocate up to NOK3 billion per year from its aid budget for programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The concept, known as REDD+, aims to offer performance-based incentives for environmental stewardship, rather than the traditional conservation model, which often funds projects that lack concrete measures of success.

Norway’s first major country-level commitment was a billion dollar pledge to Brazil. That was followed by similar agreements with Guyana, Tanzania, and Indonesia, as well as funds for civil society and initiatives run by the U.N. and the World Bank.

But while the dollars committed were substantial, there have been open questions about the effectiveness of various programs, especially in sectors and countries rife with poor governance and corruption. For example, deforestation in Indonesia has remained stubbornly high — even increasing by some measures — despite Norway’s money.



Norway has pledged a billion dollars to both Brazil and Indonesia, representing 60 percent of its pledges to date. But while Brazil has received some $720 million in disbursements, Indonesia had gotten only $30 million due to lack of capacity and readiness as well as a later start to the program.

However the new report claims “considerable progress” in three critical priority areas: including forests in a new new international climate regime, establishing the infrastructure needed for performance-based compensation for reducing deforestation, and promoting natural forest conservation.

“The evaluation points out that the initiative has made considerable progress. In general positive results have been achieved in the three climate change goals,” said Ida Hellmark, an adviser in Norad’s Evaluation Department, in a statement. “The initiative has been crucial for the international work on setting up systems to reduce deforestation. With regard to the development goal, the initiative has assisted in mapping forest areas, thus clarifying who has the right to use the forest.”

“Better governance has been achieved by mapping the land and the activities that take place in the forests and by identifying who owns them. Civil society has played a significant role in the work on anti-corruption measures, illegal tree felling and the rights of indigenous people.”
Another bright spot has been the substantial drop in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2008, part of a continuing decline in forest loss in the region over the past decade.

Nonetheless, the report finds some areas for improvement. For example, it notes that money given to the U.N. and World Bank has not been well-spent to date.

“The multilateral organizations are ineffective and badly coordinated,” stated Norad. “The multilateral organizations are also increasing the number of countries they support even though many of the countries that have already received support show little progress. The cause of the lack of progress should therefore be analyzed before more new countries are included.”

The report also concludes that results-based financing may not work in some countries, while uncertainty about REDD+ financing could jeopardize the whole concept of payment for performance.

The lack of certainty over results based REDD+ funding is regarded as the single greatest risk to progress yet there has been a lack of attention to the cost of systems in relation to national capacity and the likely levels of REDD+ finance available to sustain them,” states the report. “Readiness activities have so far been overly focused on start-up costs, with insufficient attention given to running costs and whether these will be affordable by partner countries given the likely level of rewards to be earned.”

mongabay.com|August 19, 2014

Running to reforest: communities, NGOs work to save Ugandan reserve in the midst of massive deforestation

Ugandan forest managers stress the importance of public support and participation in conservation efforts

Stung by massive loss of forest cover in Bugoma central forest reserve, part of a vast chimpanzee habitat in the western part of Uganda, seven private local and international organizations in the east African country have joined hands to raise awareness of forest issues and money for reforestation efforts — by launching a conservation-themed quarter-marathon.

The maiden 10-kilometer run (with a five-kilometer option for those who’d rather run a bit less) is named ‘”Run for Nature” and will take place on September 7, 2014. Organizers say they expect to raise at least 20 million Uganda shillings (about $7,800) from participation fees.

Constantino Tessarin, the coordinator of the Bugoma forest conservation campaign, said the proceeds from the run will be invested in “the first reforestation exercise of Bugoma central forest reserve after many years in which no such exercise took place.”

“We intend to invest in reforesting degraded areas by planting indigenous trees and important species which are so much needed in the ecosystem to sustain the chimpanzee population and other animals,” he said.

At a press conference in Kampala about the event, Tessarin said the idea was born in February, after a public lecture at Kyambogo University in Kampala that revealed the extent of the degradation, illegal logging and deforestation taking place in Bugoma forest.

“We decided to work together to take action against all this destruction and because we feel that the private sector and the civil society can play a vital role in helping forest conservation,” he said. “Bugoma forest conservation campaign decided to make steps in different directions: promoting awareness about forest conservation with public events; working on research and preparation of a long term conservation project for the forest and the surrounding communities; planning eco-tourism development to improve on conservation and job creation in the area.”

Bugoma Forest Reserve provides important habitat for eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii), which are currently listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Tessarin said the 2014 run will be the first of what they expect to be an annual event. They hope to tempt participation with prizes, including a holiday package at a local lodge and a game drive at Murchison Falls National Park.

Organizers of the run, which has been endorsed by National Forestry Authority (NFA) of Uganda, include the Kyambogo University Environmental Management Association (KUEMA), Uganda Wildlife Society, Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Trust, Green Bio Energy Ltd, Destination Jungle Ltd, and Green Organisation Africa Ltd.

Bugoma forest, which comprises 41,144 hectares, is ranked 12th out of 65 central forest reserves considered to be of biodiversity importance in Uganda. Located in western Uganda’s wildlife migratory corridor that also includes the River Kafu basin, Bugoma has 267 species of trees, 18 mammals, 278 butterflies and 221 bird species.

Of the mammals in the forest, according to NFA, primates are most abundant, with an estimated chimpanzee population of 580. It also has a large number of black and white colobus (Colobus species), Ugandan mangabey (Lophocebus ugandae), red-tailed monkeys (Cercophithecus ascanius), blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis), as well as a small population of bush elephants (Loxodonta africana), golden cats (Profelis aurata) and side-striped jackals (Canis adustus).

Data from Global Forest Watch shows that between January 2001 and December 2012, a 62,254-hectare area that contains Bugoma forest lost 5,747 hectares of forest cover – in other words, the region around lost about nine percent of its tree cover in just 12 years. Some areas directly bordering the reserve have lost upwards of half their forest cover. Nationally, Uganda lost approximately 365,000 hectares of forest over this time, representing 1.5 percent of its total land area.

Presenting the findings of a survey they carried out in April, Laster-Stoney Ogola, a project officer with Uganda Wildlife Society, said the major causes of the massive deforestation in Bugoma forest include limited community awareness of their role in forest management and conservation, and insufficient funding for forest patrolmen. Others include failure by forest authorities to tame illegal forest activities such as logging and poaching, and conflicts between forest managers and communities regarding resource ownership and benefits.

“The government and, in particular Bugoma forest managers, need to address these factors to be able to enhance community participation in the forest management and conservation,” he said.

The 40 respondents to the survey recommended five actions that need to be implemented in order to conserve the forest. They included increasing the human resource capacity charged with the management of the forest, sensitizing communities about their roles in forest management and protection, restoring degraded parts of the forest by planting indigenous tree species and putting up clear forest boundary markings.

According to Ogola, the respondents also called on the government and forest conservation enthusiasts to “provide benefits to communities, including establishing socio-economic, ecologically beneficial conservation enterprises such as ecotourism, tree seedlings for on-farm planting, small businesses and others, to encourage their participation in forest management and protection.”

The Spokesperson for NFA, Gilbert Kadilo, said Bugoma forest “has come under immense pressure” from encroachers. He said the agency does not have the capacity to monitor, on its own, activities in all of the 506 central forest reserves under its care.

“The job of managing these resources is no small job. There are immense challenges that we face,” he said. “We should not leave these things to the government. Much as we say the management of NFA is investing in forest conservation, the role of the wider public cannot be over-emphasized.”

Benon Herbert Oluka|mongabay.com correspondent|August 21, 2014

Why We Need to Help Save Longleaf Pine Forests

At one point in time, longleaf pine forests in the United States stretched 90 million acres, from Virginia to Texas–but fire suppression, agriculture and development combined to devastate this critical ecosystem.

For decades, longleaf pines, which can reach 100 feet tall, have been harvested for their high-quality timber and replaced by faster growing loblolly and slash pines. But thanks to a diverse group of public and private interests, including The Nature Conservancy, the acreage of longleaf forests and longleaf-dominated forests has rebounded from record lows to increase for the first time in more than 40 years.

Longleaf forests now cover 3.3 million acres nationwide, up from a low of 2.8 million acres. Similarly, the acreage of longleaf- dominated forestland has increased to 4.2 million acres, up from 3.9 million acres. While these gains may seem small, this upward trend illustrates the importance of strong science, and smart, collaborative conservation.

Restoring the health of longleaf pine forests is critically important in a state like Texas. Mature stands of longleaf pine provide ideal nesting and foraging for the imperiled red-cockaded woodpecker, as well as the Bachman’s sparrow, eastern wild turkey, bobwhite quail and 67 other species of birds. The tree’s seeds, which contain 25 percent protein, provide an important food source for a number of small mammals.

In a bid to continue this upward trend of longleaf pine forest restoration, The Nature Conservancy recently helped secure an easement on 4,784 acres of Texas longleaf forestland in an area known as Longleaf Ridge. Located north of Jasper, Texas, the easement is adjacent to the Conservancy’s 132-acre Little Rocky Preserve. Both tracts protect longleaf pine forests and all that they encompass–hillside pitcher plant bogs, American beech slope forests and spring-fed streams.

We are also restoring longleaf pines in the Big Thicket region of East Texas. At our 5,654-acre Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary, efforts to re-establish stands of wet and dry longleaf pine savannahs (using tools such as reforestation and fire management) are creating open-floor forests with diverse grasses, forbs and wildflowers that offer myriad benefits to birds and wildlife. That preserve is open to the public for hiking, photography and bird watching– it is Site #17 on the Upper Loop of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail and is included in the Top 500 Birding Places by the American Bird Conservancy. Visitors can also rent canoes and kayaks from local vendors.

The Nature Conservancy|August 22, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Kellogg Wants Suppliers to Report Carbon Emissions

Kellogg said Wednesday it will step up efforts to reduce planet-warming emissions in its supply chain as part of a broader initiative designed to be more environmentally friendly.

Under the plan, the Battle Creek-based food products manufacturer will require key suppliers such as farms and mills to measure and publicly disclose their greenhouse gas outputs and targets for reducing them. The company said it will report annually on those emissions and include climate and deforestation policies in the company’s code of conduct for suppliers.

Kellogg Co. will strengthen cutback requirements for its own plants, building on a 2008 pledge to reduce emissions 15 percent to 20 percent, said Diane Holdorf, chief sustainability officer. It also pledged to join Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, a coalition that supports legislation that favors cleaner energy and a low-carbon economy.

“Not only is it what our customers and stakeholders expect of us … but we want to hold ourselves accountable,” Holdorf said.

The announcement drew praise from Oxfam International, a group pushing the food and beverage industry to reduce carbon emissions.

“Climate change is putting hundreds of millions of people at risk of hunger and threatening everything from coffee and cereal to wine and chocolate,” spokeswoman Monique van Zijl said. “Kellogg is joining a growing list of companies that are putting the weight of their brands behind climate action.”

In addition to the measures on climate, the cereal maker also known for products such as Pringles potato chips and Keebler cookies announced a series of green performance goals to reach by 2020 that include a 50 percent increase in use of low-carbon energy and establishing water-reuse projects in 25 percent of its plants.

Kellogg will boost to 30 percent the number of plants sending no waste to landfills and use more efficient packaging, with all timber-based packaging materials being recycled or coming from sources certified as sustainable, Holdorf said.

JOHN FLESHER|Environmental Writer|AP|Aug 13, 2014

How Will Man-Made Climate Change Affect Our Food Supply?

A new study attempts to give some concrete predictions on just how seriously the global food supply will be impacted by man-made climate change in the next 20 years, and the results are eye-opening.

The research by Stanford University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research says that the possibility of a slow-down in crop production in the next 20 years as a result of natural climate change is relatively low. However, while still remaining low, when you introduce man-made climate change, which under a moderately conservative estimate could lead to a temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), the risks of a reduction in staples like corn and wheat are much higher, with a 10 percent chance that the rate of corn yields will slow, while wheat is predicted to suffer a 5 percent slowdown.

In all, the researchers calculate the risk of a production slowdown due to crop failure to be about 20 times higher than natural climate change patterns would predict — and if that’s just in the next 20 years, what about in the future?

To arrive at this conclusion the researchers, writing this month in the journal Environmental Research Letters, took current figures of crop yields and predictions on future crop yields, as well as data on supply and demand ratios, and plugged all that into our best climate models so that they could track of how the warming temperatures might impact food production. They found that supply and demand for crops has kept a roughly even pace when looked at globally. However, when man-made climate change is factored in, and as above, the potential for a shortfall rises significantly.

It’s important not to let these predictions go unqualified though. The risk is still relatively low, but what the scientists point out is that this problem isn’t going to go away if we don’t act now.

“Climate change has substantially increased the prospect that crop production will fail to keep up with rising demand in the next 20 years,” Claudia Tebaldi, co-author of the study, is quoted as saying. “We can’t predict whether a major slowdown in crop growth will actually happen, and the odds are still fairly low. But climate change has increased the odds to the point that organizations concerned with food security or global stability need to be aware of this risk.”

Of course, this all hinges on how fast global temperatures will rise. It may be that this problem doesn’t emerge for several decades, but unless we plan for it, the problem will be serious.

The researchers believe that in order to deal with this risk, we could implement a strategy of planting wheat and corn in cooler regions. At the moment that’s not been happening quickly enough to combat warming temperatures, but a concerted effort now could forestall future problems. Perhaps most interestingly of all on this topic, when the researchers added in data to their climate models on strategies like using different crop varieties or changing how we grow crops, these did not offset the reduced yields that were predicted, and as such the researchers believe that new strategies will be needed.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recently published a document (pdf) predicting that global production of major crops will increase by 13% by 2030. Previously, demand has kept pace with this but, due to a number of factors including global population rise coupled with the rise of new consumer powers like China, the margin has tightened more than ever before. The UN believes that man-made climate change makes that narrow margin potentially disastrous if the world doesn’t take action now.

As a result, global powers should start seriously considering how both the supply and pricing of crops will be affected if global temperature rises have the impact predicted here. Given that the US House has just seen two amendments introduced that would, as one Representative put it, limit spending on pursuing “a dubious climate change agenda” and block federal money from being used on such initiatives, there is still a lot of work needed to convince our legislators that not only is action and serious consideration of climate change important, but also vital if we don’t want to see widespread famine and serious economic turmoil in the future.

Steve Williams|July 30, 2014

Mysterious Siberian crater attributed to methane

Build-up and release of gas from thawing permafrost most probable explanation, says Russian team.

A mystery crater spotted in the frozen Yamal peninsula in Siberia earlier this month was probably caused by methane released as permafrost thawed, researchers in Russia say.

Air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane — up to 9.6% — in tests conducted at the site on 16 July, says Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia. Plekhanov, who led an expedition to the crater, says that air normally contains just 0.000179% methane.

Since the hole was spotted in mid-July by a helicopter pilot, conjecture has abounded about how the 30-meter-wide crater was formed — a gas or missile explosion, a meteorite impact and alien involvement have all been suggested.

But Plekhanov and his team believe that it is linked to the abnormally hot Yamal summers of 2012 and 2013, which were warmer than usual by an average of about 5°C. As temperatures rose, the researchers suggest, permafrost thawed and collapsed, releasing methane that had been trapped in the icy ground.

Other researchers argue that long-term global warming might be to blame — and that a slow and steady thaw in the region could have been enough to free a burst of methane and create such a big crater. Over the past 20 years, permafrost at a depth of 20 metres has warmed by about 2°C, driven by rising air temperatures1, notes Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten, a geochemist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

Hubberten speculates that a thick layer of ice on top of the soil at the Yamal crater site trapped methane released by thawing permafrost. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” he says. Hubberten says that he has never before seen a crater similar to the Yamal crater in the Arctic.

Larry Hinzman, a permafrost hydrologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and director of the International Arctic Research Center, says that such craters could become more common in permafrost areas as the region heats up.

In Siberian permafrost, large deposits of methane gas are trapped in ice, forming what is called a gas hydrate. Methane remains stable and frozen at certain temperatures, but as the permafrost warms, and its internal strength decreases, it may be less able to withhold the build-up of sub-surface gases, he says, leading to a release.

But such gas hydrates normally occur at depths of at least 100 metres, says Carolyn Ruppel, a geophysicist in charge of the gas hydrates project at the US Geological Survey in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The depth of the Siberian crater is not known. When Plekhanov and his team tried to measure its depth with a video camera tied to a 50-meter rope, the camera did not reach the bottom. But the video footage suggests that the depth to a pool of water at the bottom of the crater is around 70 metres, Plekhanov says. The water could add considerably to that dry depth, he adds.

To confirm what caused the crater, Plekhanov says that another visit is needed to check the methane concentration in air trapped in its walls. That will be difficult, however: “Its rims are slowly melting and falling into the crater,” Plekhanov says. “You can hear the ground falling, you can hear the water running, it’s rather spooky.”

Since the crater was reported, local reindeer herders have noted a similar but smaller hole nearby. Although the hole is yet to be confirmed, scientists worry that the release of trapped methane could threaten local industry and communities. “If [a release] happens at the Bovanenkovskoye gas field that is only 30 km away, it could lead to an accident, and the same if it happens in a village,” says Plekhanov.

To avoid such an event, the Russian team has now suggested drilling holes into the permafrost to release the pressure artificially. But Hinzman says that it would be extremely difficult to do so, if not impossible, as one would have to know exactly where the build-up was in the first place.

Katia Moskvitch|31 July 2014

The ‘pre-Holocene’ climate is returning – and it won’t be fun

A string of events earlier this year provided a sobering snapshot of a global climate system out of whack, writes Peter Fisher. Could it represent the end of a rare 10,000 year island of stability in global climate? If so, we had better get used to it. The Earth may never be so comfortable again …

The calm and tranquil Holocene has now been replaced by the Anthropocene – heralding a return to a volatile and destructive climate. Truly, we have awakened an angry beast from its slumber.

A string of events earlier this year provided a sobering snapshot of a global climate system out of whack.

Europe suffered devastating floods, Britain’s coastline was mauled, and the polar vortex cast a US$5 billion economic chill over America.

Meanwhile, an abnormally mild winter in Scandinavia disrupted bears’ hibernation; while Australia was ravaged by fires and record-breaking heat.

These happenings give us an idea of what life must have been like in the lead-up to the Holocene Epoch, living on the brink of seismic change, amid a series of abrupt climate shifts.

The beast awakes

As the archaeologist Steven Mithen wrote in his book After the Ice:

“People were thin on the ground and struggling with a deteriorating climate … massive ice sheets had expanded across much of North America, Northern Europe and Asia. The planet was inundated by drought, sea level had fallen to expose vast and often barren coastal plains.

“Human communities survived the harshest conditions by retreating to refugia where firewood and foodstuffs could still be found.”

Since then, we have been lulled into a false sense of security by the ensuing 10,000-odd years of peaceful, stable climate during the Holocene itself. This has allowed us to tame crops and livestock, and to come together to form communities, villages and, ultimately, cities.

But the calm and tranquil Holocene has now been replaced by the Anthropocene – heralding a return to a volatile and destructive climate. Truly, we have woken an angry beast from its slumber.

From ice age to rapid warming

When the last ice age began to teeter 14,700 years ago, meltwater began to pour into the oceans, raising levels by up to half a meter per decade. The sea moved inland like a slow tsunami.

But after a hesitant couple of millennia of warmer conditions, the cold was back with a vengeance, turning western Asia and Europe into ice empires. This event, dubbed the Younger Dryas, derived from the collapse of the ice walls on Lake Agassiz in North America, sending freshwater flooding into the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

As a result it cut back the Gulf Stream, returning the planet to cool and dry conditions in a matter of decades, with the average Northern Hemisphere temperature plummeting by 7oC.

These cold conditions lasted for about 1,400 years. Then, just as rapidly, the warm and wet conditions returned, marking the beginning of the Holocene about 11,700 years ago.

Stable era

Since then, the world’s climate has remained remarkably stable – boring, even. The relatively static shorelines have made farming, fishing, towns and cities possible.

Humans have got used to thinking that this is a natural state of affairs. But, as James Hansen has declared, “it’s our relatively static experience of climate that is actually exceptional.”

Of course, there have been divergences from the norm, although these have thankfully been few and far between. One was 5000 years ago, when the Sahara went from a land of hippos and giraffes to desert in a mere 100-200 years.

That event was caused by gradual changes to the Earth’s orientation towards the Sun. It shows us that even when the forces are gradual, the climate may not always respond gradually but instead can move in juddering, unpredictable shifts.

At about the same time, seismic change was happening in our own midst, with the eruption of Mount Gambier sending an ash plume up to 10 km high – an event that would have partially obscured the Sun.

Eruptions like this were the main cause of climate variability in the Holocene, causing cooler, drier episodes such as the ‘Mediaeval little ice age‘.

Things are different now

Now, however, carbon dioxide has reached levels not seen for at least 3 million years, and fossil fuel emissions have become the dominant driver of the changes to our climate. In a world potentially several degrees warmer than the one that spawned our civilization, we had better ready ourselves for some surprises.

This isn’t alarmism; it’s just sensible risk management. Retired US Navy Rear Admiral David Titley, now head of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, pointed out that governments still spend money on defence, despite the declining number of people killed worldwide in war.

He told the US Congress that “we rightly invest in our security and defence as one component of hedging against unknown or unlikely security risks”. Inaction on climate change violates that same fundamental risk-management principle.

What’s nature ever done for us?

Of course, nature will carry on regardless, albeit savaged. As the MIT physicist and humanities professor Alan Lightman has noted, “tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions happen without the slightest consideration for human inhabitants.”

Yet if we turn our backs on nature, while at the same time climbing the population hill to nine billion, we will create a horrid future for humanity’s survivors, with ongoing wild species extinctions and a world polluted by human-invented chemicals.

Some have predicted that, within just two or three centuries, we could be alone except for pets, chickens, livestock, and an unknown suite of microbes and freeloaders such as mice and cockroaches.

For a sneak preview of this ‘biosimplification’, look no further than the swathes of European countryside where there has been a crash in bird populations – no songs, no glimpses of plumage, just an eerie silence – as a result of the wholesale ripping up of hedgerows, draining of wetlands and ploughing over of meadows robbing farmland birds of their homes and sustenance in order to boost farming production.

That would leave us living in a drab, crummy landscape where surviving native plants cower in small niches away from the weeds; zoos exhibit a lost fauna; and biophilia is reduced to watching carp.

It’s surely a trajectory that’s worth getting off.

Peter Fisher|Adjunct Professor|Global, Urban and Social Studies|RMIT University|16th August 2014

An Undeniable Link: Glacial Melt and Man-Made Climate Change

While many of our politicians continue to deny man-made climate change is a reality, new figures reveal that human-caused climate warming may be the single biggest driving force behind recent glacial melt.

There’s a reason why we have the phrase “a glacial pace.” Everything about glaciers is slow, so even though we know they are melting due to the warming climate, it’s hard to get a fix on just how rapid that melting process is, when it began in earnest and, crucially, whether man-made climate change can be shown to have exacerbated the melting, and to what extent.

Now researchers from Canadian and Austrian university and publishing this month in the journal Science Express have been able to conduct a systematic analysis of data on glacial melt that is collected as part of the Randolph Glacier Inventory (RGI) initiative. The researchers say that glaciers actually provide a very neat way of looking at climate change because their responses are so slow to manifest. As a result, the researchers could, and with some accuracy, estimate the state of the glaciers as far back as 1851, and then begin to calculate the speed of glacial melt from there, adjusting for known reasons why melting may have slowed or sped up other than natural causes or what we’d call man-made climate change.

The figures showed that man-made climate change could be tracked over several decades, exacerbating standard melting patterns. What’s more, over the past couple of decades there has been a sharp upturn in glacial melt that the researchers believe is consistent with our modern manufacturing boom. In fact, they believe they can say that man-made global warming, and mainly the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal for energy, may be responsible for as much 69 percent of the glacial melt between 1991 to 2010.

To put that in more solid terms, the researchers were able to create a rough estimate for just how much ice is melting every year. They think that around 295 billion tons of ice melts every year due to human-linked climate change compared to just 130 billion tons related to natural causes.

Still, due to the way in which these figures were calculated based on estimates, there is a sizable margin for error on this and we do have to take that into account. Taking just the 1991 to 2010 figure as an example, the human contribution to glacier melt may be as low as 45 percent, or it could even be as high as 93 percent, but the researchers believe that the evidence suggests the 69 percent figure is probably closer to the real value. What isn’t in dispute here is the contribution of man-made climate change which, even at the lower end of the spectrum, remains considerable and worrying.

The research did turn up some surprises, however. When the researchers dug down into area-specific glacier melt, they found that man-made climate change may not have an effect on every area. For instance, they could see clear signs of human-contribution to melting in areas like Alaska, western Canada and Greenland, among many others. Yet some areas like the Andes gave figures that meant the researchers couldn’t link glacial melt to human influence with high confidence.

The researchers stress that they need to make improvements to their various climate models and to their data analysis methods to improve their confidence in all these figures, but the research has been welcomed by other climate scientists who are quoted as saying this makes “perfect sense,” with non-affiliated researcher Richard B. Alley of Pennsylvania State University telling Mashable:

“Warming melts glaciers, whether the warming is caused by natural or human causes. And because glaciers are slow thermometers, even if humans were to quit warming the climate, the glaciers will lose more mass in the future as they ‘catch up’ with the warming that has already occurred.”

So what does this mean for our understanding of the glacial melt problem? Well most importantly it highlights the need to redouble our efforts to find alternative energy sources so as to cut our reliance on fossil fuels. We’re unlikely to be able to stop the glacial melt now, but this research makes clear that what we do today will be important for the situation our children and their children face in the years to come.

Steve Williams|August 18, 2014

World’s Largest Ice Sheets Melting At Fastest Rate Ever Recorded

Greenland and Antarctica are home to the two largest ice sheets in the world, and a new report released Wednesday says that they are contributing to sea level rise twice as much as they were just five years ago.

Using the European Space Agency’s CryoSat 2 satellite, the Alfred Wegener Institute from Germany has found that western Antarctica and Greenland are losing massive amounts of ice.

“Combined, the two ice sheets are thinning at a rate of 500 cubic kilometers per year,” said glaciologist Dr. Angelika Humbert, one of the authors of the AWI study, in a press release. “That is the highest speed observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago.”

The report, published in the online magazine The Cryosphere, says the CryoSat 2 satellite measured over 200 million elevation data points in Antarctica and 14.3 million in Greenland to track the loss of ice mass over the last several years. “When we compare the current data with those from the ICESat satellite from the year 2009, the volume loss in Greenland has doubled since then,” said Humbert. “The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has in the same time span increased by a factor of three.”

Somewhat encouragingly, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is gaining mass. However, those gains are very modest and don’t make up for the loss of ice in West Antarctica and Greenland. Greenland is losing 350 cubic kilometers of ice annually, mostly from its southwestern coast, and accounts for almost 75 percent of the total volume lost each year. Together, the flows from Antarctica and Greenland could cover the entire Chicago land area with 600 meters of ice each year.

The glacier melting the fastest among those measured was the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland and the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica. The Jakobshavn Glacier is descending into the ocean at a rate of 46 meters — or half a football field — each day. Last year, a chunk of ice twice the size of Detroit broke off the tip of the Pine Island Glacier.

Robert Bindschadler of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center recently contributed to a similar study for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Rising sea level is widely regarded as a current and ongoing result of climate change that directly affects hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers around the world and indirectly affects billions more that share its financial costs,” he said in a press release. By 2100, ice melt from Antarctica alone could add up to 37 centimeters, or more than 14 inches, to global sea levels.

Another study published in the journal Science this month shows that in the last 20 years, human-caused climate change has become the primary driver of glacial melt.

Jonathan Feldman| The Huffington Post|08/21/2014

Extreme Weather

Annapolis, Baltimore lead nation for rise in flooding events

‘Nuisance’ events occurring 10 times more often than 50 years ago

Tuesday’s flooding may have been extreme, but it wasn’t unfamiliar for much of the region.

The low spots are well known: Compromise and Dock streets in Annapolis, Caroline and Thames streets in Fells Point. After a good rain and a high tide, they’re under water.

For Maryland’s two largest cities on the Chesapeake, flooding that once occurred just a day or two in any given year is increasingly common — more so than anywhere else in the country, according to a recent federal study.

So-called “nuisance” floods overwhelm storm drains 10 times as frequently as they did half a century ago — growing to nearly 40 days a year in the state capital and 13 days a year in Baltimore.

The data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could boost pushes in Maryland and other coastal states to adapt to rising sea levels and sinking land, protecting businesses and historic sites from damage and losses. But many of those affected by flooding weren’t surprised by the region’s distinction, accepting most flooding events just as scientists described them — as nuisances.

“If it rains really hard and the wind’s blowing just right, the street outside will flood and you’ll have to close the club,” said Stephen Olsen, an assistant manager at the Fleet Reserve Club on Compromise Street in Annapolis. “It’s been doing it for years.”

The NOAA study looked at data from 2007-2013 and compared it with data from 1957-1963, at tide gauges from Boston to Mayport, Fla., on the Atlantic coast; Key West, Fla., to Port Isabel, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico; and Seattle to La Jolla, Calif., on the Pacific coast.

What qualifies as a “nuisance” flood varies from gauge to gauge, depending on the slope of shoreline and the presence of any man-made barriers. In parts of New York and New Jersey devastated by superstorm Sandy, for example, it takes a rise of nearly 20 inches above normal high tide levels to cause nuisance flooding. But in Annapolis, perhaps not coincidentally with its ranking, it only takes about half of that.

The researchers say it’s because rising sea levels means it takes less rain and smaller tide surges to cause flooding.

We’re seeing a very drastic change in the frequency of these events,” said William Sweet of NOAA, one of the authors of the study. “Any increase in the mean sea level is only going to increase the frequency and the severity.”

NOAA’s data shows mean sea level is rising by about three and a half millimeters each year in Annapolis, and slightly less, 3.25 millimeters, in Baltimore.

Other cities that have seen dramatic rises in flooding include Atlantic City and Sandy Hook in New Jersey; Philadelphia; Port Isabel, Texas; Charleston, S.C.; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and Norfolk, Va.

While some might question whether the results reflect better reporting of flood data and impacts, Sweet said it accounts for the effects of outlier storms, increases in impervious surfaces and any sinking or rising of shorelines.

“I think it’s important for these communities to start looking at their current situations and ask, ‘Can we really get a handle on the situation?’ so at least they’re ready and they’re aware,” Sweet said.

A report last year from a panel of scientists urged Maryland to plan for sea level rise of up to 2 feet in the next 40 years, prompting officials to urge coastal communities to adjust building codes and zoning.

In Annapolis, such efforts are underway. The Army Corps of Engineers visited historic sites in the city’s downtown flood plain last week as it prepares a report evaluating vulnerabilities and suggesting protective measures, said Lisa Craig, the city’s director of historic preservation.

“It’s been visible to everyone,” Craig said. “It’s an issue that no one discounts.”

City officials routinely deliver a flatbed truck full of sand for businesses along Dock Street to fill up bags before significant storms. An inflatable bladder wraps around Market House on City Dock to protect its shops.

Once or twice a year, the flooding laps on the doorsteps of Armadillo’s, a restaurant and bar on Dock Street, manager John O’Leary said.

“We just kind of deal with it. It doesn’t cause any structural damage typically,” O’Leary said. “If it were to come up a few more inches each time, that would be different story.”

But it does mean lost revenue for the restaurant and lost wages for its staff, he said.

In Fells Point, damaging floods have been limited to hurricanes like Isabel in 2003, but nuisance floods are more common — particularly this year. Rainfall at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the point of record for Baltimore, reached 8.6 inches in April, a tenth of an inch shy of a record dating to 1889.

Tuesday’s rainfall of more than 6 inches at BWI was the second-heaviest single-day rainfall there on record. Rain is more than 10 inches above normal there so far this year.

Scott Dance|The Baltimore Sun|August 12, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

Farmers, Environmental Groups Defend Moratorium of GMO Crops on Hawaii ’s Big Island

Groups seek to intervene as biotech firms attempt to roll back regulations on genetically engineered crops

A coalition of local farmers and environmental groups today filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit to defend a Hawaii County ordinance that imposes a moratorium on the expansion of genetically engineered (GE) crops on the Big Island. Sustainable agriculture nonprofit, Center for Food Safety (CFS), and three Hawaii‘i Island farmers asked the court permission to join as defendants in a biotech industry lawsuit challenging the County of Hawaii ’s Ordinance 13-121. The ordinance regulates GE organisms to prevent their environmental and economic harms, such as contamination of organic and conventional crops and wild plants and associated pesticide use. The coalition is jointly represented by counsel from CFS and Earthjustice.

“Hawaii County, like every county, has the right to protect its farmers and native environments from genetically engineered crops,” said George Kimbrell, CFS senior attorney. “Having GE-free zones is critical for the sustainable future of U.S. agriculture, and to protect Hawai‘i’s unique ecosystems.”

The lawsuit, driven largely by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the world’s largest trade association for the biotech industry representing companies like Monsanto, seeks to dissolve the county’s 2013 ordinance to open the island up for the expansion of genetically engineered crop production. These herbicide resistant crops result in intensive pesticide use, which threatens public health, contaminates water, and harms wildlife and neighboring crops. Most GE crops also threaten transgenic contamination of non-GE crops, which has already caused several billion dollars in damage to growers.

“Hawai‘i is one of the most biologically diverse, as well as spectacularly beautiful, places in the world, but the chemical companies have been turning the islands into experimental laboratories, unleashing a fountain of pesticides and genetically engineered material into the air, land and waters,” said Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice managing attorney based in Honolulu. “We stand with the people of Hawai‘i Island who are trying to protect their island from being transformed into another toxic waste dump.”

Hawai‘i County passed Ordinance 13-121 in December 2013. It restricts any future growing of GE crops in the county in order to protect farmers from transgenic contamination and instead “preserve Hawai‘i Island’s unique and vulnerable ecosystem while promoting the cultural heritage of indigenous agricultural practices.” However, the regulations do not apply to GE papayas, which existed on the Big Island before the ordinance was passed.

“In Hawaii we believe that our seeds, crops, and foods should remain free of contamination from genetically engineered plants,” said Big Island farmer and agricultural educator, Nancy Redfeather.

“Ordinance 13-121 protects me and farmers like me. In Ordinance 13-121, the island/Hawai’i County Council properly acted to protect the life and the health of the lands and our communities, now and for future generations, and we cannot let these corporations take away those vital protections.”

CFS and Earthjustice are also helping to defend the Kauai‘i County ordinance regulating pesticides and GE crops from a challenge filed by biotech industry, represented by the same attorneys challenging the Big Island’s ordinance.

GE crops are widely grown on most of the Hawaiian Islands—Kauai‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, and Molokai‘i. Hawai‘i’s climate, which allows for growing three or more crops per year, makes it attractive to growers, and consequently Hawai‘i has become a world center of experimental GE seed production. Some of the acreage is devoted to experimental crops that companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta grow to determine whether their genetic modifications produce a marketable product before seeking government approval to commercialize them. Other fields are then used to produce the commercial seed in quantity for export to other states.

Most GE crops are created to be resistant to the effects of herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup, allowing growers to douse their fields without harming their crop. It has been shown that these herbicide resistant crops result in increased use of herbicides, with consequent health impacts, water contamination, harm to wildlife, and harm to neighboring crops from drift. Most GE crops also threaten transgenic contamination of non-GE crops, which has already caused several billion dollars in damage to other growers.

Paul Achitoff|Managing Attorney|Earthjustice|August 1, 2014

Brazil Farmers Say GMO Corn No Longer Resistant to Bugs

The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region said farmers first noticed in March that their genetically modified (GMO) corn crops were less resistant to the destructive caterpillars that “Bt corn”—which has been genetically modified to produce a toxin that repels certain pests—is supposed to protect against. In turn, farmers have been forced to apply extra coats of insecticides, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.

The association, which goes by the name Aprosoja-MT, is calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Dow companies to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses. In a release posted to the Aprosoja-MT website, spokesman Ricardo Tomcyzk said farmers spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides, and that the biotech companies promised something they didn’t deliver, “i.e. deceptive advertising.” (via Google Translate)

But Monsanto, et al are unlikely to accommodate the farmers. According to Reuters, “seed companies say they warned Brazilian farmers to plant part of their corn fields with conventional seeds to prevent bugs from mutating and developing resistance to GMO seeds.”

Earlier this year, a similar problem arose in the U.S., when scientists confirmed that corn-destroying rootworms had evolved to be resistant to the GMO corn engineered to kill them.

The industry response to such loss of efficacy is not to encourage biodiversity, but to further modify the organisms, according to the nonprofit GM Watch.

The case of Brazil is an example for an overall trend showing that nearly twenty years after the start of commercialization of Bt crops, there are problems in several countries growing this kind of genetically engineered crop. Industry tries to tackle this issue by commercialization of so called “stacked events” that produce several different Bt toxins. The best known example is Monsanto’s SmartStax maize that produces six different Bt toxins.

Another unintended outcome is almost certainly an increased use of pesticides, as has already happened in Mato Grosso.

Deirdre Fulton|Common Dreams|July 30, 2014

U.S., Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialization of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

“If Brazil and the United States get permission to commercialize these trees, there is nothing to say that they wouldn’t just export these products to other countries to grow,” Anne Petermann, the executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and the coordinator of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees, a network that Wednesday announced a new global initiative, told IPS.

“These GE trees would grow faster and be more economically valuable, so it’s easy to see how current conventional plantations would be converted to GE plantations – in many parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Further, both Europe and the U.S. are currently looking at other genetically engineered trees that bring with them a whole additional range of potential impacts.”

While the United States has thus far approved the use of two genetically modified fruit trees, the eucalyptus is the first GE forest tree to near release. Similar policy discussions are currently taking place in the European Union, Australia and elsewhere, while China has already approved and is using multiple GE trees.

The plantation approach

The eucalyptus is a particularly lucrative tree, currently the most widely planted hardwood in the world and used especially to produce pulp for paper and paper products.

In the United States, the trees would also likely be used to feed growing global demand for biofuels, particularly in the form of wood pellets. In 2012 alone, U.S. exports of wood pellets increased by some 70 percent, and the United States is today the world’s largest such producer.

U.S. regulators are currently looking at two types of eucalyptus that have been genetically engineered to withstand frosts and certain antibiotics, thus allowing for plantations to be planted much farther north. The company requesting the approval, ArborGen, says the introduction of its GE seedlings would quadruple the eucalyptus’s range in the United States alone.

ArborGen has estimated that its sales could see 20-fold growth, to some 500 million dollars a year by 2017, if GE trees receive U.S. approval, according to a comprehensive report published last year by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. Likewise, Brazilian analysts have suggested that the market for eucalyptus products could expand by some 500 percent over the coming two decades.

Yet the eucalyptus, which has been grown in conventional plantations for years, has been widely shown to be particularly problematic – even dangerous – in monoculture.

The eucalyptus takes unusually high levels of water to grow, for instance, and is notably invasive. The trees are also a notorious fire hazard; during a devastating fire in the U.S. state of California in the 1990s, nearly three-quarters of the blaze’s energy was estimated to come from highly combustible eucalyptus trees.

In addition, many are worried that approval of the GE proposals in the United States and Brazil would, inevitably, act as a significant boost to the monoculture plantation model of production.

“This model has been shown to be very negative for local communities and nature, expelling and restricting the access of people to their territories, depleting and contaminating water sources – especially in the Global South,” Winifridus Overbeek, coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, a global pressure group, told IPS from Uruguay.

“Many of these plantations in Brazil have hindered much-needed agrarian land reform under which hungry people could finally produce food on their own lands. But under the plantation model, most of the wood produced is destined for export, to attend to the ever-increasing paper demand elsewhere.”

Overbeek says Brazilian peasants complain that “No one can eat eucalyptus.”

More wood, more land

Despite the rise of digital media over the past decade, the global paper industry remains a behemoth, responding to demand for a million tons of paper and related products every day. That amounted to some 400 million tons of paper used in 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and could increase to 500 million tons per year by the end of the decade.

A key argument from ArborGen and others in favor of genetically engineered trees, and the plantation system more generally, is that increased use of “farmed” trees would reduce pressure on native forests. Indeed, ArborGen’s motto is “More Wood. Less Land”.

Yet as the world has increasingly adopted the plantation approach, the impact has been clear. Indonesia, for instance, has allowed for the clear-cutting of more than half of its forests over the past half-century, driven particularly by the growth of palm plantations.

According to U.N. data, plantations worldwide doubled their average wood production during the two decades leading up to 2010.  But the size of those plantations also increased by some 60 percent.

“While it sounds nice and helpful to create faster-growing trees, in reality the opposite is true. As you make these things more valuable, more land gets taken over for them,” GJEP’s Petermann says.

“Especially in Brazil, for instance, because we’ve seen an intensification of wood coming from each hectare of land, more and more land is being converted.”

In June, more than 120 environmental groups from across the globe offered a vision on comprehensive sustainability reforms across the paper sector, traditionally a key driver of deforestation. That document, the Global Paper Vision, encourages users and producers to “refuse fibre from genetically modified organisms”.

“Theoretically, arguments on the benefits of GE trees could be true, motivated by increasing competition for wood resources,” Joshua Martin, the director of the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a U.S.-based umbrella group that spearheaded the vision document, told IPS.

“But ultimately this is an attempt to find a technological solution – and, we feel, a false solution given the dangers, both known and unknown, around this experimental use. Instead, we advocate for conservation and reducing consumption as logical first steps before manipulating nature and putting natural systems at risk of contamination.”

Carey L. Biron|IPS|Aug 20 2014|Edited by: Kitty Stapp

Truth in seafood labeling

Do you prefer that your Salmon come from wild-caught sources, or that if farm raised it comes from Scotland instead of Thailand? How accurate ARE those labels at the fish counter? The University of Hawaii took a look at this recently. They were assessing the levels of mercury in fish offered for sale that were mislabeled.

Their study took measurements of mercury from fish purchased at retail seafood counters in 10 different states show the extent to which mislabeling can expose consumers to unexpectedly high levels of mercury, a harmful pollutant.

Fishery stock “substitutions” – which falsely present a fish of the same species, but from a different geographic origin—are the most dangerous mislabeling offense, according to new research by University of Hawai’i at Mānoa scientists.

“Accurate labeling of seafood is essential to allow consumers to choose sustainable fisheries,” said UH Mānoa biologist Peter B. Marko, lead author of the new study published in the scientific journal PLOS One. “But consumers also rely on labels to protect themselves from unhealthy mercury exposure. Seafood mislabeling distorts the true abundance of fish in the sea, defrauds consumers, and can cause unwanted exposure to harmful pollutants such as mercury.”

The study included two kinds of fish: those labeled as Marine Stewardship Council- (MSC-) certified Chilean sea bass, and those labeled simply as Chilean sea bass (uncertified). The MSC-certified version is supposed to be sourced from the Southern Ocean waters of South Georgia, near Antarctica, far away from man-made sources of pollution. MSC-certified fish is often favored by consumers seeking sustainably harvested seafood but is also potentially attractive given its consistently low levels of mercury.

In a previous study, the scientists had determined that fully 20 percent of fish purchased as Chilean sea bass were not genetically identifiable as such. Further, of those Chilean sea bass positively identified using DNA techniques, 15 percent had genetic markers that indicated that they were not sourced from the South Georgia fishery.

In the new study, the scientists used the same fish samples to collect detailed mercury measurements. When they compared the mercury in verified, MSC-certified sea bass with the mercury levels of verified, non-certified sea bass, they found no significant difference in the levels. That’s not the story you would have expected based on what is known about geographic patterns of mercury accumulation in Chilean sea bass.

Roger Greenway|ENN|August 19, 2014

WSJ: Monsanto expects 2014 approval for new GMO soy seeds ‏

Here’s a frightening headline from this morning’s Wall Street Journal: “Monsanto Expects 2014 U.S. Approval for New Soybean Seeds.”

Even more chilling? What makes these seeds new and different is that they’ve been genetically engineered to be resistant to an even broader range of pesticides – meaning Big Ag will be able to dump even more, and even stronger, pesticides on our food.

This news makes our fight to label genetically engineered food more important than ever.

It’s no wonder that that Monsanto and other big chemical companies are pulling out all the stops to defeat Measure 92: Without labeling, we’ll have no way of knowing whether Monsanto’s new pesticide-drenched crops are ending up on our kitchen tables.

It’s not right – we deserve to know what’s in the food we eat and feed our families. Passing Measure 92 would be a huge victory for Oregon consumers and for labeling advocates nationwide.

The Yes on 92 team|8/21/14

Glyphosate Herbicide Sales Boom Powers Global Biotech Industry

According to a new market report published by Transparency Market Research, the global glyphosate herbicides market was valued at USD 5.46 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach USD 8.79 billion by 2019, growing at a CAGR of 7.2% over the forecast period from 2013 to 2019. In terms of volume, the global glyphosate market demand was 718.6 kilo tons in 2012.

Glyphosate demand has witnessed a momentous growth in the past two decades, notably after the introduction of Roundup Ready, glyphosate tolerant GM crops by Monsanto, in 1995. Rising demand of glyphosate tolerant GM crops in countries such as the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India and China among others are expected to incite glyphosate demand for GM crops such as soybean, maize, cotton and canola (rape seed) among others.

GM crops accounted for 45.2% of the total glyphosate demand in 2012. Furthermore, glyphosate demand for conventional crops has been increasing, substantially, as a result of growing unsustainable global agricultural activities.

Increasing adoption of glyphosate tolerant GM crops mainly in the emerging economies of Asia Pacific and Latin America is expected to boost the market for glyphosate over the next six years. Additionally, the rising demand for no tillage farming systems is in turn expected to fuel glyphosate market. However, quick evolution and emergence of glyphosate resistant weeds along with stringent regulations over the use of agrochemicals, especially in Europe, is expected to fetter market growth over the forecast period.

Asia Pacific, riding on the high growth in countries such as China and India, is anticipated to be the fastest growing market over the forecast period of next six years. Growing adoption of herbicide tolerant GM crops in the region is one of the major reasons for the rising demand of glyphosate in Asia Pacific. The region accounted for more than 30% of the global glyphosate demand in 2012 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.0% between 2012 and 2019.

North America is expected to be the highest revenue generator, owing to higher priced specialized glyphosate products available in the market as compared to low priced generic products available in Asia Pacific.

The glyphosate market is concentrated with top four players holding more than 50% share. Some of the key manufacturers of glyphosate include Monsanto Company, Nufarm Ltd., Syngenta AG., DowAgroSciences LLC, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Zhejiang Xinan Chemical Industrial Group Company, Ltd., Jiangsu Good Harvest-Weien Agrochemical Co., Ltd. and Nantong Jiangshan Agrochemical & Chemicals Co., Ltd. among others.

The development of scientific studies showing glyphosate’s possible health risks to humans and damage to the environment could harm the image and global markets of the top four players mentioned above over the next 5 years.

Health risks

Laboratory and epidemiological studies have already confirmed that Roundup and glyphosate pose serious health and environmental hazards, including possible endocrine (hormone) disruption, cell death, DNA damage, cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders.

Some of these toxic effects are observed at low, realistic doses that could be found as residues in food and feed crops and in drinking water.

People are exposed to glyphosate though contaminated food, water and air, often as a result of the herbicides application to fields. This is not only the case in rural areas, where ‘Roundup Ready’ GM crops are grown on a large scale. Glyphosate-based herbicides are widely used by municipal authorities on roadsides, pavements, and in public parks and school grounds. It is also widely used by home gardeners.

Roundup and glyphosate and their residues have been detected in testing in breast milk, pregnant women’s blood, urine, rain, food and groundwater.

Not enough safety tests

Roundup and other glyphosate herbicide formulations as sold and used have been found in studies to be more toxic than the isolated ingredient, glyphosate. However, only glyphosate alone is tested in long-term safety tests for regulatory authorisations. This is a fundamental problem affecting all pesticide authorisations.

The ‘safe’ dose for Roundup exposure set by regulators is not based on up-to-date objective evidence. So, current regulations do not protect the public.

The chemicals used in the GM model of farming are toxic, and the model of farming itself is unsustainable and damaging to the environment – with an increase in herbicides significantly increasing pollution and health risks for citizens, and contributing to biodiversity loss.

The only people who stand to gain from this model are those that produce the herbicide-resistant crops and the chemicals required to grow them.

Sustainable Pulse|Aug 21 2014

The Full Report ‘”Glyphosate Market for Genetically Modified and Conventional Crops – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2013 – 2019″: www.transparencymarketresearch.com

Energy

Harnessing High-Altitude Wind Energy

Researchers have discovered that the world’s energy needs could easily be met by harnessing the power potential of high-altitude winds.

Developers in an emerging field known as airborne wind energy envisage using devices that might look like parachutes or gliders to capture electricity from the strong, steady winds that blow well above the surface in certain regions.

While logistical challenges and environmental questions remain, scientists at NCAR, the University of Delaware, and the energy firm DNV GL have begun examining where the strongest winds are and how much electricity they might be able to generate.

Their key finding: winds that blow from the surface to a height of 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet) appear to offer the potential to generate more than 7.5 terawatts—more than triple the average global electricity demand of 2.4 terawatts.

Among the areas where such winds are strongest: the U.S. Great Plains, coastal regions along the Horn of Africa, and large stretches of the tropical oceans.”This type of research could prove critical if airborne wind energy takes off. The growing industry now includes more than 20 startups worldwide, exploring various designs for devices that could be tethered to ground stations and then raised or lowered to capture the most suitable winds at any point in time.

“From an engineering point of view, this is really complicated,” said NCAR scientist Luca Delle Monache, a co-author of a new study examining these issues. “But it could greatly increase the use of renewable energy and move the U.S. toward the goal of energy independence.”

To estimate the potential of airborne wind energy, Delle Monache, with Cristina Archer at the University of Delaware and Daran Rife at DNV GL, turned to an NCAR data set known as Climate Four Dimensional Data Assimilation. It blends computer modeling and measurements to create a retrospective analysis of the hourly, three-dimensional global atmosphere for the years 1985—2005.

The research team looked for various types of wind speed maxima, including recurring features known as low-level jets. Such jets can be ideal for energy because their speed and density is as high or higher than jets at higher elevations that would be beyond the reach of tethered wind devices. They also blow more steadily than winds captured by conventional wind turbines near the surface, potentially offering a more reliable source of energy.

ClickGreen Staff|ClickGreen|August 14, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, ClickGreen.

[Again, I can’t stress enough, the fact that proper siting is key to environmentally sound wind energy production. Unfortunately,  bird migration routes sometimes coincide with these higher wind areas.]

Rail oil tankers, victim of U.S. safety rules, also unwanted in Canada

WASHINGTON/CALGARY (Reuters) – Thousands of oil train tankers soon to be deemed obsolete in the United States are unlikely get a second life in Canada’s oil sands industry, undercutting a U.S. government forecast that the costly cars will continue in use in the energy sector.

If thousands of obsolete tank cars are scrapped, it could add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of the proposal, industry officials said – unwelcome news for regulators trying to craft a safety plan that does not add crippling costs to industry.

Regulators on both sides of the border are contemplating rules to prevent oil train accidents like the July 2013 Lac Megantic disaster in Quebec, in which a runaway train loaded with fuel from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch derailed, killing 47 people.

Those plans would modernize the current U.S. fleet of roughly 90,000 tank cars with puncture-resistant shells and other costly upgrades that government and industry sources expect to cost more than $3 billion.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has said the transition will be eased with about 23,000 existing cars going into service to cart Canadian oil sands crude – a molasses-like fuel, bitumen, that is less flammable than ordinary crude oil.

“No cars will retire as a result of this rule,” the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said in its oil train proposal released in July.

But industry experts said it is not feasible to simply retrofit the older cars to the specifications needed to carry oil sands, making it likely thousands of cars will be scrapped.

“We don’t anticipate we will see the cars here,” said Julie Puddell, investor relations manager of Keyera Corp, which operates a loading terminal in Edmonton, Alberta, with Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP.

While the general purpose cars can be used to transport bitumen diluted with a light fuel called condensate, many oil sands shippers prefer specialty-built tank cars with internal heating coils, because heat stops the bitumen from solidifying while in transit and makes it easier to unload at refineries.

Industry sources say adding heated coils to a standard tank car – which can have a useful life of forty years or more – would have prohibitive costs.

“There are ways to retrofit, but it could make them even more expensive than a new-build,” Puddell said.

A spokeswoman for Cenovus Energy Inc, Canada’s No. 2 oil producer which aims to ship 30,000 barrels per day of oil by rail by year-end, said the company was focused on leasing new heated and coiled cars.

And Valero Energy Corp has ordered more than 2,900 heated tank cars for delivery in the next twelve months to take bitumen to its St. Charles, Louisiana refinery and elsewhere.

Between rail and barge deliveries, the largest U.S. independent oil refiner expects to be receiving more than 55,000 bpd of bitumen from Canada by mid-2015. A Valero spokesman said the company principally relies on heated cars to move the fuel.

A U.S. Transportation Department official said the agency’s proposal was open to amendment following a public comment period that ends on Sept. 30.

“Regulators are academic when they write these rules. They always underestimate costs,” said Larry Bierlein, a veteran hazardous materials lawyer and former hazmat counsel to the Department of Transportation.

“That will become clear as the industry digests this proposal and prepares for the political push-back,” Bierlein said.

Patrick Rucker and Nia Williams|WASHINGTON/CALGARY|Aug 14, 2014

U.S. Coal Exports America’s Carbon Footprint Around the Globe

In June, the EPA released its plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The emissions guidelines propose “state specific rate based goals” to address greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel power plants. This is just one of a series of efforts on behalf of the Obama Administration to take the lead on global climate change. The coal industry fought unsuccessfully to stop the regulations. As a result, many of the nation’s more than 600 coal and oil-powered plants have gone offline, with many more expected to be retired by 2016.

With the cost of coal increasing as the price of natural gas has decreased (largely due to fracking), America has reduced, though not eliminated, its reliance on coal powered energy over the last six years. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind continue to be added to the grid, but still provide a small part of our energy. Nevertheless, America has made significant strides in reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that are the cause of the planet’s global warming.

That is, reducing emissions here in America.

During the same period that U.S. consumption of coal fell, coal exports increased. For most of the world, coal still remains the cheapest form of energy and the U.S. has a large recoverable source. Several countries buy American coal including the UK, Italy, Germany and China. The Netherlands coal imports also get distributed to many other European nations, extending the reach throughout the continent.

Germany has been lauded for its investment in solar power in recent years. Still, it’s not enough to keep up with growing energy demands. Germany has been bringing more “clean coal” power plants online, having built five since 2008. Unlike in the United States, access to natural gas isn’t as easy and still remains very expensive for many countries. Coal is cheap and easily attainable. Australia and Indonesia remain the largest coal exporters, while Germany imports almost 50 percent of its coal from the United States.

Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions have increased significantly at the same time.

America’s largest client is China, which purchased 7.8 million tons of American coal in 2012. China accounts for nearly half of the world’s coal consumption as it tries to meet the demands of its population and growing cities. All around the world, nations are dealing with increased energy demands and don’t have enough of their own natural resources or, as in the case of China, the infrastructure and technology to access them to meet the demand. The American coal industry is more than happy to oblige.

We still consume far more coal than we export, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Geography has been a huge impediment to shipping. West Virginia is a large exporter of coal, where the Appalachian Mountains provide metallurgical grade coal to China and other nations. They have strong competition from Australia, however, which can ship for much cheaper.

Major companies are seeking ways to establish railways that head to the Pacific, where they wish to build new export terminals. The idea is to make it easier to ship to China in the hopes to become the largest supplier of the nation’s coal. Plans for shipping ports along the Pacific coast are in various stages of development, largely along the Oregon and Washington coasts. However, the plans have received a lot of pushback from environmentalists and tribes, as well as local and state governments.

The only ones not fighting them is the federal government.

The Obama Administration has authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate the impact of the proposed export terminals on climate change. Thus far, however, they have refused to do so. This has frustrated state governors in both Oregon and Washington, leading to them developing their own evaluation processes with mixed results.

The effects of emissions of coal exports aren’t just felt in other nations but in America as well.

The shipping of the coal along railways still spews ash into the air, causing health problems for anyone living along the routes. The burning of coal in power plants in China and other Asian nations emits the carbon dioxide into the air, which travels to the west coast of the United States. Carbon dioxide contributes to the rise in sea levels around the globe and the severe weather linked to global warming. Residents living along the coasts are already feeling the impact through property damage and losses caused by rising waters and intense storms.

Proving once again that climate change isn’t just local problem and requires a global commitment – no matter who is leading the charge for change.

Crystal Shepeard|July 30, 2014

Hot cooling canals threaten shutdown of Turkey Point nuclear power plants

Rising water temperatures and severe algae blooms in cooling canals have threatened to force the shutdown of two nuclear reactors at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point plant over the last few weeks.

The utility and federal regulators say there isn’t a public safety risk but the canal temperatures, climbing to 94 to 99 degrees, have come within one degree of a federal limit that would mandate an expensive shutdown at a time when power demands are soaring. The hot water has also stoked the spread of algae through the 168-mile long canal system, which has helped keep temperatures high and reignited concerns about the power plant’s impact on water quality in Biscayne Bay.

In a letter last month to state regulators, the company asked to control the algae with herbicides and to cool the canals with daily injections of millions of gallons from an underground reservoir that supplies Miami-Dade County’s drinking water — requests that drew questions from Biscayne National Park and environmentalists. FPL has also asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to raise the 100-degree operating limit to 104 degrees to keep the reactors on line.

“The urgency in all of it is that we’re in the summer. Demand on the grid is very high and we have to make sure we can service our customers,” said FPL spokeswoman Bianca Cruz.

In an effort to address concerns, FPL on Wednesday outlined its plans during a meeting of federal, state and local agencies overseeing restoration of Biscayne Bay.

Worries over damage to the bay, now protected in a national park, have dogged the plant since FPL dug the sprawling canal system in the 1970s after environmentalists sued to stop billions of gallons of hot water from being pumped into the bay. Environmentalists also worried that a recent $3 billion overhaul of the plant, which allows FPL to generate up to 15 percent more power, could worsen the inland creep of an underground plume of saltwater that threatens drinking water well fields in South Miami-Dade County.

But Matt Raffenberg, FPL’s environmental services director, said Wednesday that the overhaul, called an uprating, had not caused the jump in temperatures and was not harming the bay.

“There are things going on in the cooling canals we’re trying to manage,” Raffenberg said. “But in terms of impacts to Biscayne Bay, we don’t see data suggesting the cooling canals are affecting bay water.”

In a June 27 letter to the South Florida Water Management District, an FPL manager asked for emergency withdrawals of up to 30 million gallons a day of cooler water from a brackish section of the underground Biscayne Aquifer — source of most of Miami-Dade’s fresh water — to avoid shutting down its two reactors and a natural gas plant.

That same day, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection agreed to allow FPL to pump up to 14 million gallons a day but from a deeper source, the Floridan aquifer. DEP also approved the utility’s plan to dump herbicides, including copper sulfate and hydrogen peroxide, for up to 90 days to kill algae boosted by the warmer water.

The NRC, meanwhile, is still evaluating FPL’s request to increase the cooling canal temperature limits for operating the reactors.

“What they’ve run into more recently is (temperatures are) trending higher than historical averages,” said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah. “It is very warm because most plants in the country, and I don’t know specifically for all plants, but most plants would have temperatures much lower.”

High water temperatures, an algae bloom and a spreading underground saltwater plume may not appear related but they do highlight the complexity of operating a plant that depends on cool water in steamy South Florida.

“With a big industrial facility next to the park, you’ve got be concerned, said Biscayne National Park superintendent Brian Carlstrom. “I’d rather be on the side of erring with an abundance of caution than be on the response side of trying to mitigate an environmental catastrophe.”

Last month, George McHugh, the park’s chief of administration, wrote federal, state and local officials asking for an investigation into the “broad poor water quality trends, their source and potential solutions.”

Worsening salt water intrusion, which can alter native coastal habitat, is the biggest threat.

A U.S. Geological Survey mapping the leading edge of the plume earlier this year showed the biggest advance since 1995 in Florida City, just northwest of the sprawling grid of canals. In 2009 and again in 2011, water managers and environmentalists worried that tapping the aquifer to cool canals would worsen saltwater intrusion.

The chemical request also raises concerns, said Julie Dick, an attorney for the Everglades Law Center.

“When they’re doing things on an emergency basis, it makes it hard for all the responsible agencies to deal with all the issues. There should be more forward thinking,” she said. “These aren’t necessarily benign chemicals being applied and additional monitoring is needed.’’

Mining companies just west of Turkey Point have also argued that saltier water from the sprawling canal system, which is heavier than freshwater, has sunk deep within the aquifer and migrated west, threatening their business as well as drinking water wells.

“When they were originally conceived and designed in the late 60s and early 70s, they were supposed to theoretically operate in a way that the salinity in the canals was going to mimic what’s in the bay,” said Ed Swakon, president of EAS Engineering and a consultant for Atlantic Civil, which operates a large mine just west of the canals. But over the years, salt built up, he said, making the water heavier and forcing it deeper underground.

At some 70 feet below the surface, he said, “it begins to spread like an inverted mushroom.”

FPL maintains salt water intrusion issues have existed since the 1940s and its canals have not played a part in the spreading plume.

“The canals are definitely a closed system,’’ Cruz said. “They don’t touch any other source of water.”

But on Wednesday, Scott Burns, a chief environmental scientist with the water management district, said tests conducted in recent years indicate underground water is creeping west. And in a letter last month, Justin Green, chief of DEP’s office that permits power plants, said FPL has been “put on notice” about the creeping plume. DEP and the water management district, he said, are drafting an order to deal with it, which will include pumping water from the Floridan Aquifer, deep below the Biscayne.

“When we increase pumping, that will reduce salt seepage and stabilize the system,” Burns said.

But Phil Stoddard, mayor of South Miami and a longtime critic of Turkey Point’s nuclear operations, worries drawing more water from the lower aquifer will make things worse.

“All the crap we’ve thrown into the Floridan is going to end up in the Biscayne Aquifer heading toward the drinking water,” he said. “The green slime is absorbing heat and heating up the water. The problem for FPL is hot water doesn’t do such a good job of cooling the pipes.”

Jenny Staletovich|The Miami Herald|07/16/2014

Major Federal Court Ruling Will Help Transition Grid to Renewables

On Friday the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. upheld the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Order No. 1000, which eliminates many obstacles in the way of modernizing the electrical transmission grid.

More than 40 states, industry groups,and utility companies had filed the challenge to the order saying that the federal government had overstepped its authority. But environmental groups came to its defense, since the order not only brings order and economic savings to grid construction and upgrades but eases the move from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. The groups, represented by Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Fund, include Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation Law Foundation and Union for Concerned Scientists.

Order 1000 creates requirements for regional planning and cooperation between the owners of transmission companies on the funding of new investments in the grid to make upgrades more efficient and economical. It also opened the door to new entrants into the arena of building and owning transmission facilities by eliminating existing  companies’ rights of first refusal.  As with the unbundling of electric generation and transmission starting in the ’90s, which opened generation to new companies, the order increases competitiveness on the transmission side. Among other things, this would help guarantee that the infrastructure exists to meet states’ clean energy mandates.

Earthjustice attorney Abigail Dillen said:

“We are thrilled that the court validated these crucial reforms that will help us build the 21st-century clean energy grid. We have an aging grid that needs billions of dollars worth of renovations and the question is how that money will be spent—on the smart grid technology that can hasten reliance on more clean energy or on masking tape and chewing gum solutions that keep us wedded to fossil fuels.  With the Obama administration’s newly announced Clean Power Plan, we must undertake transparent, forward-looking regional transmission planning to ensure we have the infrastructure in place to meet state clean energy mandates.”

Anastasia Pantsios|August 19, 2014

Native Americans Launch ‘Love Water Not Oil’ Ride To Protest Fracking Pipeline

Winona LaDuke, executive director of Native environmental group Honor the Earth, launched the “Love Water Not Oil” horse ride this week to draw attention to the group’s continued opposition to the Enbridge Sandpiper pipeline. It would carry fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil fields through the Sandy Lake and Rice Lake watersheds in northern Minnesota. The area is not only rich in recreational fishing facilities but it is also home to vast fields of wild rice or manoomim, a Native American staple.

The ride began at Rice Lake on Aug. 18 and concludes at Big Bear Landing on the White Lake Reservation on Rice Lake on Aug. 27, where there will be a powwow and gathering. During the ride, which anyone is free to join, the group plans to raise awareness of the pipeline and its impact on both surrounding Native communities and local landowners.

The group says:

This is the only land that the Anishinaabe know, and we know that this land is good land, and this water is our lifeblood. One-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water supply lies here, and it is worth protecting. Our wild rice beds, lakes and rivers are precious—and our regional fisheries generate $7.2 billion annually and support 49,000 jobs. The tourism economy of northern Minnesota represents $11.9 billion in gross sales (or 240,000 jobs).

Honor the Earth asserts that a single leak could spew up to 20,000 gallons of fracked oil per minute.

“This would cause irreparable damage to an extremely biodiverse and intact ecosystem,” said LaDuke. “Enbridge chose a bad path. The people of Minnesota love their water more than oil and they are standing up against the pipeline.”

The group points to another spill caused by the Enbridge Corporation, the same company proposing the Sandpiper project. In July 2010, a pipeline break dumped 1.5 million gallons of tar sands crude oil into the Kalamazoo River system in Michigan, causing the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history and one of the costliest. That spill still has not been completely cleaned up.

“For us on the White Earth reservation in northwestern Minnesota, it is the Sandpiper which threatens our community and our way of life,” said Honor the Earth. “The Sandpiper line of fracked oil will cross pristine ecosystems and facilitate the creation of a national sacrifice area in western North Dakota. This land and this water are precious, and they are endangered.”

Partnering for the “Love Water Not Oil” tour is  oil and gas analyst Shane Davis of Colorado’s Fractivist.org, who has been documenting the fracking industry there.

“Fracked oil is a last-ditch effort and poses a significant radioactive threat to the environment and human health,” he said.

Anastasia Pantsios|August 19, 2014

No One Wants You to Know How Bad Fukushima Might Still Be

Last month, when the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced it would move forward with its plan to construct an “ice wall” around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant’s failed reactors, it seemed like a step backwards. In June, the utility company in charge of decommissioning the plant—which was ravaged by a tsunami in March 2011—indicated that its initial attempt at installing a similar structure had flopped. Its pipes were apparently unable to freeze the ground, despite being filled with a -22°F chemical solution.

Similar techniques have been successfully used by engineers to build underwater car tunnels and mine shafts. But Dr. Dale Klein, an engineer and expert on nuclear policy, isn’t so sure it’ll produce the same results on a project of this magnitude. He says that although freezing the ground around reactors one through four might help corral the water that’s being used by TEPCO as a coolant, there’s little technical understanding of how the natural water sources surrounding the plant might respond. “As the water comes down the mountains towards the ocean, it’s not clear to me that [TEPCO] really know how it is going to move around that frozen barrier,” he said in an interview with VICE.

“But it has to go somewhere,” he continued. “It’s such a complicated site and problem, and I don’t know if they fully understand that yet.”

It’s worrying to hear doubt from someone like Klein, whose expertise ranges from politics to pedagogy. He was appointed to chair the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission by President Bush in 2006 and, after stepping down in 2009, he served as the organization’s commissioner in 2010. Now, in addition to being associate director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, he’s part of an international TEPCO advisory panel and visits Japan three to four times a year to work with officials as they struggle to helm a largely ad hoc clean-up effort.

Aside from TEPCO’s unwillingness to consider other engineering solutions, his main point of criticism about Japan’s largest utility company is rooted in one that countless others have voiced since the earthquake (and subsequent tsunami): a suspicious disregard for keeping the public informed.

“When rumors start circulating, TEPCO needs to come forward right away and say, ‘This is what we know, this is what we don’t know,’ rather than staying silent,” Klein said. “They give off the perception that they’re covering up something, when that isn’t what they’re doing at all.”

But it’s hard to give TEPCO the benefit of the doubt when misinformation, lying, and a sub-par approach to safety culture have been central to this quagmire since before the natural disasters. While it’s rarely constructive to point fingers in a time of crisis, it’s worth noting that TEPCO has been reprimanded by the Japanese government, international scientists, peace-keeping organizations, global media outlets, and both anti- and pro-nuclear advocates for its unwillingness to disclose key details at a time when they are desperately needed. Coupled with the unmitigated radiation still pouring into Pacific waters, this helps explain why a Japanese judicial panel announced in late July that it wants TEPCO executives to be indicted.

This negligence can be traced back to the Fukushima plant’s meltdown. Just three months after the plant was crippled, the Wall Street Journal came out with a report culled from a dozen interviews with senior TEPCO engineers saying its operators knew some reactors were incapable of withstanding a tsunami. Since the Daiichi plant’s construction in the late 1960s, engineers had approached higher-ups to discuss refortifying the at-risk reactors, but these requests were denied due to concerns over renovation costs and an overall lack of interest in upgrading what was, at the time, a functioning plant. In 2012, it came to light that one such cost-cutting measure was the use of duct tape to seal leaking pipes within the plant.

A year after the Wall Street Journal report, TEPCO announced that the Daiichi plant’s meltdown had released 2.5 times more radiation into the atmosphere than initially estimated. The utility cited broken radiation sensors within the plant’s proximity as the main reason for this deficit and, in the same statement, claimed that 99 percent of the total radiation released from the Daiichi plant occurred during the last three weeks of March 2011. That last part turned out to be untrue—a year later, in June 2013, TEPCO admitted that almost 80,000 gallons of contaminated water had been leaking into the Pacific Ocean every day since the meltdown. As of today, that leak continues.

This year marked the disaster’s third anniversary, but new accounts of mismanagement and swelling radiation levels continue to surface. In February, TEPCO revealed that groundwater sources near the Daiichi plant and 80 feet from the Pacific Ocean contained 20 million becquerels of the harmful radioactive element Strontium-90 per gallon (one becquerel equals one emission of radiation per second). Even though the internationally accepted limit for Strontium-90 contamination in water hovers around 120 becquerels per gallon, these measurements were hidden from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority for nearly four months. As a response, the national nuclear watchdog agency censured TEPCO for lacking a “fundamental understanding of measuring and handling radiation.”

And last month, TEPCO told reporters that 14 different rice paddies outside Fukushima’s exclusion zone were contaminated in August 2013, after a large piece of debris was removed from one of the Daiichi plant’s crippled reactors. The readings were taken in March 2014, but TEPCO didn’t publicize their findings until four months later, at the start of July—meaning almost a year had passed since emissions had begun to accumulate at dangerous levels in Japan’s most sacred food.

The list, unfortunately, goes on. This is merely the abridged account of TEPCO’s backpedalling and PR shortfalls. It begs many questions, but the most perplexing one is: Why? Why has a crisis that is gaining traction as the worst case of nuclear pollution in history—worse, emission-wise, than Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or Chernobyl—being smothered with internal censorship? If omission of information isn’t intentional, like Dr. Klein suggests, why haven’t these revelations led to a stronger institutional effort to contain Fukushima and reduce the chance that irregularities go unnoticed or unreported?

When I asked past Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Helen Caldicott these questions, she was quick to respond: “Because money matters more than people.”

Dr. Caldicott was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School when she became president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, an American organization of doctors against nuclear warfare, climate change, and other environmental issues, in 1978. The organization, along with its parent body the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, a year after Caldicott left.

Last September, Caldicott organized a symposium at the New York Academy of Medicine entitled, “The Medical and Ecological Consequences of Fukushima,” and has a book coming out on the issue this October. Her expertise on the subject is founded on academic research, but also her lifelong role as a doctor practicing preventative medicine in the nuclear age.

“Japan produces parts for nuclear reactors, like reactor containment vessels,” she said in an interview with VICE. “They’re heavily invested in nuclear power, even though they actually have access to nine times more renewable energy than Germany.”

Although Caldicott says what separates Fukushima from Chernobyl is the continuous leakage of radioactive material, in her eyes they’re unified by an institutionalized effort to keep the veil from lifting. “The Japanese government took three months to tell the world that there had been three meltdowns, even though the meltdowns had taken place in the first three days,” she said. “They’re not testing the food routinely. In fact, they’re growing food in highly radioactive areas, and there are stories that the most radioactive food is being canned and sold to third-world countries.”

“Some doctors in Japan are starting to get very worried about the fact that they’re seeing an increase in diseases but they’re being told not to tell their patients that the diseases are related to radiation,” she continued. “This is all because of money. Bottom line.”

The money she refers to isn’t only rooted in Japan’s export of nuclear reactor parts, or the fact that the economy is starting to reclaim its reign over Japan’s national consciousness. It’s threaded throughout a history of collusion and secretive deals that extend beyond TEPCO’s record. Late last month, a long-term vice president of the Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), which sourced nearly 50 percent of its electricity from nuclear power sources like Fukushima before the 2011 accident, revealed to Japanese reporters that the company’s president donated approximately $3.6 million to seven different Japanese prime ministers and other political figures between 1970 and 1990. The amount officials received was based on how much their incumbency profited the nuclear and electric energy sectors.

And if it’s not money that lies beneath these multi-faceted attempts at obscuring information about Fukushima, it’s the fear of mass hysteria. When it was revealed that the United Nations-affiliated pro-nuclear group International Atomic Energy Association made a deal with local government officials in Fukushima to classify information that might stoke public concern (like, observers speculate, cancer rates and radiation levels), civilian fears of a cover-up campaign crept out of the mischief associated with conspiracy and into the gravity of a situation that feels more and more surreal.

Despite these efforts, plenty has come to light. As of August 2014, we know that radiation levels around the Fukushima area continue to rise, even after three years of containment attempts. We know that doctors have found 89 cases of thyroid cancer in a study of less than 300,000 children from the Fukushima area—even though the normal incidence rate of this disease among youths is one or two for every million. We know that Japanese scientists are still reluctant to publicize their findings on Fukushima due to a fear of getting stigmatized by the national government.

We also know that US sailors who plotted a relief effort in Fukushima immediately after the disaster have reportedly been experiencing a well-up of different cancers, that monkeys living outside Fukushima’s restricted zone have lower blood cell counts than those living in other parts of northern Japan, and that the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War’s thorough critique of a recent Fukushima report by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation shows how the international community is severely underestimating the effects of the crisis.

Whether or not TEPCO’s ice wall will be as successful as the company’s lead engineers expect is ultimately dependent on trial. But Dr. Klein, Dr. Caldicott, and others have their own ideas of what should have been done, and what might still need doing in the near future.

“I would like to see them try external pumps a bit more to see if they can slow the inflow of water,” said Dr. Klein. This would involve placing mechanical pumps upstream from the water sources and away from the plant, to collect and contain the water before it passes over the damaged reactors. “Before the accident occurred, they were moving about 27,000 gallons of water a day around the site.”

“The problem is that TEPCO has hardly invited in the international community to help to try and solve the problem,” says Dr. Caldicott. “A huge company like [Florida-based engineering group] Bechtol, which makes reactors and is a very good engineering company, should have been invited in by the Japanese government to try and propose a way to deal with these problems in an engineering fashion.”

At the same time, she recognizes that it’s not only up to Japan. “There should be an international consortium of global experts from France, from Russia, from the United States, and Canada, putting their heads together with the Japanese and working out solutions,” she said.

Others believe that Japan needs to look northwest, towards the Kremlin. Chernobyl gave Russia and Ukraine a level of experience in handling nuclear failures that stands apart from most of the world.

But even though the ecological effects of Fukushima continue to be hotly debated by scientific organizations and the public, Dr. Klein wants to take a step back from the conversation in order to move towards the endgame. “I’d like to see a completely safe operation. It’s complicated,” he concedes, “but we need to help support the Japanese clean-up efforts whenever we can.”

Johnny Magdaleno|Aug 19 2014

Big Oil is poisoning my community ‏

Every day, Big Oil poisons the air in my community and communities across the country.

I live in Port Arthur, Texas, home to four major refineries, four chemical plants, two petcoke facilities and an international chemical waste incineration facility.

To say our air is polluted would be an understatement. Each year, tons of legal and illegal emissions from refineries are released into the air we breathe, poisoning it with toxic chemicals and known carcinogens.

The impact on my community is impossible to miss. There are a disproportionate number of people suffering from respiratory issues like bronchitis and asthma, and many are on dialysis and/or suffering from cancer. One out of every five households have someone in it who must undergo breathing treatments or must use a nebulizer just to breathe properly.

People living in close proximity to large industrial polluters face a myriad of health and quality of life challenges, which threatens the overall resiliency of our communities. And all across the country, those residing nearest to these industrial polluters tend to be among the more vulnerable sectors of society, such as racial and ethnic minorities, and low income families.

Why must our communities continue to be used and dumped on just so these corporations can make billions? While Big Oil makes record profits, our communities get left with dilapidated infrastructure, more health issues, and not enough good jobs. To add insult to injury, we’re stuck with the burden of increased medical bills after being exposed to these polluting industries year after year.

For far too long, the oil industry has treated the air we breathe as an open sewer for their toxic pollution. Enough is enough.

Thanks for being a part of this movement,

Hilton Kelley|Executive Director & Founder |Community In-power and Development Association Inc.|8/21/14

Land Conservation

EPA Proposes Protection for Bristol Bay

Draft plan would protect world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery from potentially destructive impacts of proposed Pebble Mine

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a proposal to protect the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska, from the potentially destructive impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine.

The EPA estimates the proposed mine would be nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon, cover an area larger than Manhattan and fill a major football stadium up to 3,900 times with mine waste, threatening one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world. Home to rivers that witness the salmon runs of over 30 million each year, Bristol Bay produces nearly 50% of the world’s wild sockeye salmon.

This news is a big milestone for Alaskans and for thousands who have raised their voice on this issue. The bay provides millions of dollars in jobs for commercial fisherman and supports 31 Alaska Native Villages who source salmon for their food, livelihoods and income.

“Everyone who is concerned about the future of Bristol Bay knows that allowing an immense, open-pit mine in its headwaters needlessly risks the economic and environmental well-being of the entire region” said Margaret Williams, managing director of Arctic programs. “Today’s announcement from EPA reconfirms that the federal government knows that too. EPA’s decision gives us hope that the salmon-rich rivers flowing into the Bay will continue to support people, nature and vibrant Alaskan economies.”

The next steps in the process include public consultation on the proposal. The EPA is seeking comments on its plan and will hold public meetings and consult with village tribes in steps towards a ‘Recommended Determination’. The EPA has only used its 404(c) authority under the Clean Water Act only 30 times over 42 years, on projects with significant impacts on ecologically rich and valuable waters.

Laura Margison|July 18, 2014

DEP issues construction permit for new Corbett levee system

In a move to increase flood protection for south Florida residents, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has 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.

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.

DEP|August 18, 2014

Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to conserve the natural resources and rural way of life in the Kissimmee River Valley. Our partners in this effort include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, The Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

As part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar accepted a 10-acre donation of land in south-central Florida to officially establish the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area – conserving one of the last remaining grassland and longleaf pine savanna landscapes in eastern North America.

If fully realized, the refuge and conservation area will span 150,000 acres north of Lake Okeechobee. Two-thirds of the acreage, or 100,000 acres, will be protected through conservation easements purchased from willing sellers. With easements, private landowners would retain ownership of their land, as well as the right to work the land to raise cattle or crops. The easements would ensure the land could not be developed in the future.

650-Acres of Conservation Land Approved for Acquisition by ARC

Today the Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) voted to amend the existing boundary line of the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods Florida Forever Project to include Bond Ranch, a 650-acre parcel. This step enables the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands to move forward with the acquisition of the parcel. Acquisition of conservation land is generally limited to Florida Forever project boundaries.

DEP’s Division of State Lands worked with the South Florida Water Management District and the Trust for Public Land to fast-track the boundary amendment to place it on today’s ARC agenda. The division will partner with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which has committed $1.5 million for acquisition of the parcel.

“Adding the Bond Ranch parcel to the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods project will augment the current restoration efforts for Charlotte Harbor and the Caloosahatchee River watershed,” said Kelley Boree, director of DEP’s Division of State Lands. “I appreciate our partners recognizing the importance of this acquisition happening quickly and in concert with FDOT’s I-75 widening project.”

Bond Ranch is vital in the multi-phased regional hydrologic restoration effort. The restoration initiative will not only restore the original flow of water across Charlotte County and into Charlotte Harbor, but will also reduce the flow of excess water south into Lee County and the Caloosahatchee River watershed. The reduction will result in better flood protection for North Fort Myers as well as reducing nutrient loads to the Charlotte Harbor Estuary.

This parcel is integral to the success of the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods Initiative, a multi-agency, multi-year effort to return this watershed’s waterflow to its historic westward direction. Multiple local, state and federal agencies are participating in this initiative that covers approximately 90 square miles and five sub-watersheds. Acquisition of the parcel, which is adjacent to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, will also result in immediate increased wildlife habitat.

ARC is a 10 member group of representatives from various agencies with land conservation experience tasked with the responsibility of evaluating conservation lands for possible state acquisition and management. Along with the addition of Bond Ranch, ARC voted to update five management plans and considered five proposals for possible addition to the December 2014 Florida Forever list. For more information on specific items from today’s meeting, click HERE.

mburgerdep|Aug. 15, 2014

Air Quality

NASA reports unknown source of banned ozone-destroying compound

NASA research has revealed the Earth’s atmosphere contains an unexpectedly large amount of an ozone-depleting compound from an unknown source decades after the compound was banned worldwide.


Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), which was once used in applications such as dry cleaning and as a fire-extinguishing agent, was regulated in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol along with other chlorofluorocarbons that destroy ozone and contribute to the ozone hole over Antarctica. Parties to the Montreal Protocol reported zero new CCl4 emissions between 2007-2012.

However, the new research shows worldwide emissions of CCl4 average 39 kilotons per year, approximately 30 percent of peak emissions prior to the international treaty going into effect.

“We are not supposed to be seeing this at all,” said Qing Liang, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. “It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources.”

As of 2008, CCl4 accounted for about 11 percent of chlorine available for ozone depletion, which is not enough to alter the decreasing trend of ozone-depleting substances. Still, scientists and regulators want to know the source of the unexplained emissions.

For almost a decade, scientists have debated why the observed levels of CCl4 in the atmosphere have declined slower than expectations, which are based on what is known about how the compound is destroyed by solar radiation and other natural processes.

“Is there a physical CCl4 loss process we don’t understand, or are there emission sources that go unreported or are not identified?” Liang said.

With zero CCl4 emissions reported between 2007-2012, atmospheric concentrations of the compound should have declined at an expected rate of 4 percent per year. Observations from the ground showed atmospheric concentrations were only declining by 1 percent per year.

To investigate the discrepancy, Liang and colleagues used NASA’s 3-D GEOS Chemistry Climate Model and data from global networks of ground-based observations. The CCl4 measurements used in the study were made by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Earth System Research Laboratory and NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Model simulations of global atmospheric chemistry and the losses of CCl4 due to interactions with soil and the oceans pointed to an unidentified ongoing current source of CCl4. The results produced the first quantitative estimate of average global CCl4 emissions from 2000-2012.

ClickGreen Staff|ClickGreen|August 21, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, ClickGreen.

Recycling

Can Berkeley Become the First City to Recycle 100 Percent of Its Garbage?

The California community that pioneered recycling is looking for new ways to achieve its zero-waste goal.

Berkeley, the California city that pioneered the modern recycling movement, set itself an ambitious goal a few years back: Stop sending trash to landfills by 2020. But even in one of the nation’s most environmentally self-conscious communities, that’s proving a tough task.

That’s the message from a recent report from the city auditor’s office. With five years to go, it found Berkeley is in danger of falling short of its zero-waste target even though the city of 115,000 has already slashed the volume of recyclable garbage sent to landfills by 75 percent. That challenge, and how the city responds to it, offers lessons for residents of other communities around the United States that are attempting to cut pollution and minimize their carbon footprint by achieving zero waste.

If any community should be able to recycle its trash away, it’s Berkeley. The city on San Francisco Bay started the United States’ first curbside recycling program in 1973 and now offers pickup of food waste in addition to the recyclables and garden trimmings most other towns pick up these days.

Even here, people still toss cans in the trash or sort their recyclables improperly, which can cause whole batches of recycled materials to be rejected and end up in landfills.

That’s partly because the city gets about 14,000 new residents each fall, as incoming freshmen arrive at the University of California’s Berkeley campus from around the world. It can take time for those new Berkeleyans to learn how to recycle their trash properly.

“In the past, Berkeley took a leadership role in waste reduction,” says Ann-Marie Hogan, the city auditor and author of the zero-waste report. “Now, more and more cities are following suit, and it’s time for us to take a leadership role again.”

Without broader public awareness of trash issues, she said, the city will be stuck at its 75 percent landfill diversion rate.

“There have to be changes in consumer behavior,” said Hogan. “If you throw a newspaper in the newsprint recycling bin with the plastic bag still on it, for instance, that goes to the landfill. And there are choices you can easily make while shopping that will reduce the amount of unrecyclable trash you generate.”

Hogan says the city will need to use both carrot and stick to change people’s behavior by enacting incentives to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and disincentives aimed at curbing more wasteful habits.

Berkeley is no stranger to incentive programs. In past decades, the city and its residential curbside recycling contractor, the Ecology Center, held a series of “Cash for Trash” lotteries to encourage recycling. (Disclosure: [Chris Clark]I worked at the company from 1990 to 1997.)

Crews would select a residence at random, examine the contents of its garbage can on collection day, and award a cash prize to the residents if the can held nothing that could have been recycled. Residents’ participation in the recycling program jumped dramatically.

Educating Berkeley residents about recycling at home is crucial, said Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque, but it’s only part of the picture.

“If we’re going to get to zero waste,” said Bourque, “we’ve got to divert more of Berkeley’s commercial and industrial waste too, as well as boosting composting rates.”

A ban on businesses discarding compostable matter in regular trash that took effect July 1 is likely to help, he said.

Bourque is also concerned about a waste stream that may never get to the landfill in the first place: single-use plastic take-out containers and other items that often end up in nearby San Francisco Bay.

“Berkeley has banned Styrofoam take-out containers, as well as single-use plastic bags, and we’re working now to extend that to things like lids and straws,” Bourque said. “They may not account for a lot of tonnage, but it’s vital to keep them from blowing into the bay.”

Whether the trash in question ends up in a landfill or lining a beach, it’s going to take work to coax Berkeley to eliminate it entirely.

One idea: scale back trash pickup to every two weeks while maintaining weekly curbside recycling and food waste pickup. That would encourage residents to recycle more rather than let potentially recyclable garbage pile up in their kitchens and garages.

Biweekly trash pickup would save the department an estimated $500,000 a year, which could be spent on public outreach and education about recycling.

It would also seriously boost the city’s compost pickup program, because residents would almost certainly choose to put out their decomposing leftovers in the organic waste bin rather than keep them in the house for an extra week as they waited for trash day.

Sometimes a moldy carrot makes an excellent stick.

Chris Clarke|August 13, 2014

7 Easy Steps to a Plastic-Free Kitchen

Plastics are so passé. They’re usually made of petroleum and chemical additives that can disrupt our reproductive systems and cause learning disabilities in kids. They’re sold as “indestructible” but break into tiny pieces that float in rivers, lakes and oceans until birds, fish and turtles swallow them thinking they’re food. Plastic bags and bottles create unsightly litter that just doesn’t go away.

Yet, we still use it, especially in our kitchens, one of the easiest places in our house to give plastic the heave-ho in favor of greener options.

Here are 7 ways you can get started:

1) Use reusable bags. Reusable cloth, jute or recycled fiber bags last for years and eliminate the need for plastic shopping bags. Many communities now charge a nickel for every plastic bag a shopper uses, which has been enough to convince people to bring their own bags.

2) Buy fresh, unpackaged food. One of the biggest sources of plastic in a kitchen is all the plastic that food comes wrapped in. This is especially true if you’re buying pre-packaged food that’s supposed to be convenient – but ultimately just creates a lot of trash. In addition to reusable shopping bags, get a set of reusable mesh produce bags. For bigger fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, pears, eggplant and onions, you can skip bags altogether.

3) Choose glass jars rather than plastic. You can find tomato sauce, condiments, olives, peppers, soups, spices and more in glass, rather than plastic.

4) Use glass storage containers. Glass jars and dishes with lids are very effective storage containers – they don’t leach chemicals into food, they’re durable, and you can easily see what’s inside them. I re-use glass tomato sauce jars and juice bottles. I also prowl yard sales and thrift stores for glass dishes with lids that I can buy for a couple of dollars at most.

5) Make your own soda. A big source of plastic in the kitchen comes from soda bottles. We haven’t bought soda since we got a counter-top carbonation machine. We simply filter a jug of water (which takes about a minute), pour the water in the bottle that fits the machine, pull a lever to add carbon dioxide to the water (another minute at most), and add whatever flavor we choose.

6) Make your own bottled water. Single-use water bottles are another significant source of kitchen plastic. That dandy carbonator you got for making soda is also great for bubbling up a bottle of filtered water.

7) Replace plastic utensils with stainless steel, wood, and silicone. I primarily use stainless steel or silicone spatulas when I’m frying and sautéing and wooden spoons when I’m baking.  I have glass 1 cup, 2 cup and 4 cup measuring pitchers and aluminum measuring cups and spoons in a variety of sizes. I also use glass and aluminum mixing bowls. Look for these and other non-plastic kitchen tools in the pots and pans section of your grocery store or in the kitchen utensils section of a department store.

Diane MacEachern|August 16, 2014|

5 Best Reusable Water Bottles

Reusable water bottles are the bomb when it comes to reducing throwaway plastic and saving water. It’s estimated that as much as two gallons of water might be wasted for every gallon that’s bottled in a factory, so filling up at home, at work, or on the go is a great way to save this precious resource. Plus, one reusable water bottle can eliminate the need to buy and trash literally hundreds of single-use containers – containers that actually never really biodegrade. Do the math. If you buy three plastic bottles of water every week, that’s 156 bottles you throw away in a year. In five years, that amounts to almost 800 water bottles – and that’s just you. Now multiply that number times the billions of people who are buying plastic water bottles. No wonder that, in the U.S. alone, more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away … EVERY DAY!

There are plenty of reusable water bottles on the market, but not all bottles are created equal. I prefer those that are either glass, stainless steel, or aluminum. They last longer than plastic bottles and don’t leach Bisphenol A, or BPA, into the water. Unless it says otherwise, a conventional plastic water bottle contains BPA, a compound that has been linked to a variety of worrisome health problems, including increased risk of cancer, obesity, early onset puberty, and diabetes. “BPA-free” bottles do exist, but at some point, those will wear out, and then you’re still left with a plastic bottle to dispose of. Better to use steel, aluminum or glass, all of which can be recycled over and over and over again.

These 5 reusable water bottles work great and are easily available in grocery and hardware stores or online.

The bkr (as in, beaker) – The bkr is a glass bottle; it comes in either 16 ounces or 32 ounces. The upside of glass is that it leaches nothing into the liquid, so whether it’s water, juice, milk or wine, your beverage will taste exactly like it’s supposed to. The downside of glass bottles, of course, is that they could break. However, the bkr is protected with a full-body sleeve made of silicone that also provides a good non-stick grip for the bottle. If you’re a fashionista or you just like variety, buy one bottle but a few different sleeves, which come in a variety of colors.

Kleen Kanteen These insulated stainless steel bottles and to-go mugs keep contents hot up to 6 hours and cold a lot longer. They have nice wide mouths, though you can get tops with straw attachments and sippy-cup tops for kids. You’ll love the colors and fun designs, too.

Square Clean Bottle – If you have to buy a plastic water bottle, this might be the one to consider. Though it claims to be BPA-free, what I really like about it is that it unscrews on the bottom as well as the top, so it’s easy to wash out (hence the name Clean bottle).

Aladdin Insulated Mason Jar - OK, to be fair, this is not a water bottle per se. But it is a great alternative to a plastic bottle if you’re hanging around your house or heading out on a road trip. Imagine a regular mason jar, like the one you might use for canning fruit or tomato sauce, only double wall insulated to reduce condensation when you fill it with iced tea, lemonade or something stronger. Now, add a handle, plus a lid that has a hole in the middle that’s big enough for a Slurpy-sized straw to fit through. Voila.

Lifefactory – This clever company was a pioneer in developing glass bottles with silicone sleeves you could take anywhere. Now they make casserole dishes, wine glasses, baby bottles, and food storage containers all protected by their signature stylish silicone sleeves.

By the way, the cost of these bottles ranges from $9.99 to a little more than $40. However, think back to the original calculation we did on how many throwaway bottles you buy in a year. Even if it’s only one a month, for 52 a year, if each of these throwaways costs at least a bottle, you’ll spend over $50/year. Even the most expensive reusable bottle is cheaper than buying throwaways.

One more tip: at home, rather than buy big bottles of water for a party or picnic, I keep several glass bottles with stoppers on hand, like the one pictured above. I then filter water in a handy pitcher, fill up the bottle, and I’m good to go.

Diane MacEachern|August 10, 2014

Can We Make Clothes Entirely from Recycled Cotton?

You may have noticed “organic cotton” on your t-shirt label, but what about “recycled cotton”?

In the United States, we produce around 14.3 million tons of textile waste per year, and about 50% of that could be recycled. While we know how to recycle cotton, making a garment solely out of recycled cotton fibers has been a different story; recycled cotton has most often gone to filler material for carpeting. Recently, however, a company in Sweden revealed the first garment made entirely from 100% recycled cotton.

“The scalability of this process is enormous,” Henrik Norlin, business development manager at re:newcell, the company that made the pioneering material, told The Guardian. “The technology allows us to recycle all materials that contain cellulose.”

Cotton accounts for around a a third of the world’s textile consumption, which means that the potential for using recycled fibers instead of virgin ones is huge.

The problem is that sometimes we get so excited about the prospect of recycling that we lose sight of an even more essential way to deal with waste: consume less. Just because we are able to recycle a garment does not mean that we should consume more garments. If anything, the ability to make a garment out of 100% recycled cotton should be an entry point for getting us to the discussion of the fashion industry at large and our own levels of consumption.

Recycling may not even be the best way to deal with cotton textile waste. Recycling textiles can involve dangerous materials, and once you’ve made a recycled fiber, it may not be as easily recyclable the next time around. If we wanted a full circle approach, composting might be an even better option. However, ”the dyes are a problem, which is why we need innovation in dyes,” Lewis Perkins, senior vice president of the San Francisco-based Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, told the Guardian. “But in the future we could even add valuable nutrients to clothes, which would benefit the soil when we compost them.”

But composting cotton certainly isn’t as sexy as recycling it, and doesn’t give us new garments to wear, which means you won’t hear from any of the fashion companies arguing for that option any time soon.

Re:newcell’s new garment is certainly an exciting innovation, and it paves the path for other companies to invest in similar technologies. Imagine a world where we all wore garments from recycled cotton. Ultimately, however, we can’t just think about what our clothes are made of. We also have to think about how much we’re consuming, and how to reduce that consumption.

Anna Brones|August 19, 2014

Miscellaneous

8 Scary Cleaning Chemicals to Avoid

The average household contains about 62 toxic chemicals, say environmental experts. We’re exposed to them routinely — from the phthalates in synthetic fragrances to the noxious fumes in oven cleaners. Ingredients in common household products have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity.

Manufacturers argue that in small amounts these toxic ingredients aren’t likely to be a problem, but when we’re exposed to them routinely, and in combinations that haven’t been studied, it’s impossible to accurately gauge the risks. While a few products cause immediate reactions from acute exposure (headaches from fumes, skin burns from accidental contact), different problems arise with repeated contact. Chronic exposure adds to the body’s “toxic burden” — the number of chemicals stored in its tissues at a given time.

No one can avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether, but it is possible to reduce it significantly. In the following pages, experts weigh in on the worst toxic offenders commonly found in household cleaning products, and offer ways to swap them for healthier, safer options.

1. Phthalates

Found in: Many fragranced household products, such as air fresheners, dish soap, even toilet paper. Because of proprietary laws, companies don’t have to disclose what’s in their scents, so you won’t find phthalates on a label. If you see the word “fragrance” on a label, there’s a good chance phthalates are present.

Health Risks: Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts, according to a 2003 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health. Although exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, it can also happen through skin contact with scented soaps, which is a significant problem, warns Alicia Stanton, MD, coauthor of Hormone Harmony (Healthy Life Library, 2009). Unlike the digestive system, the skin has no safeguards against toxins. Absorbed chemicals go straight to organs.

Healthier Choice: When possible choose fragrance-free or all-natural organic products. Beth Greer, author of Super Natural Home, recommends bypassing aerosol or plug-in air fresheners and instead using essential oils or simply opening windows to freshen the air. Besides causing more serious effects like endocrine disruption, “Aerosol sprays and air fresheners can be migraine and asthma triggers,”  she says. Also consider adding more plants to your home: They’re natural air detoxifiers.

2. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”

Found in: Dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet and upholstery cleaners.

Health Risks: Perc is a neurotoxin, according to the chief scientist of environmental protection for the New York Attorney General’s office. And the EPA classifies perc as a “possible carcinogen” as well. People who live in residential buildings where dry cleaners are located have reported dizziness, loss of coordination and other symptoms. While the EPA has ordered a phase-out of perc machines in residential buildings by 2020, California is going even further and plans to eliminate all use of perc by 2023 because of its suspected health risks. The route of exposure is most often inhalation: that telltale smell on clothes when they return from the dry cleaner, or the fumes that linger after cleaning carpets.

Healthier Choice: Curtains, drapes and clothes that are labeled “dry clean only” can be taken instead to a “wet cleaner,” which uses water-based technology rather than chemical solvents. The EPA recently recognized liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) as an environmentally preferable alternative to more toxic dry-cleaning solvents. Ask your dry cleaner which method they use. For a safer spot remover, look for a nontoxic brand like Ecover at a natural market, or rub undiluted castile soap directly on stains before washing.

3. Triclosan

Found in: Most liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps labeled “antibacterial.”

Health Risks: Triclosan is an aggressive antibacterial agent that can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Explains Sutton: “The American Medical Association has found no evidence that these antimicrobials make us healthier or safer, and they’re particularly concerned because they don’t want us overusing antibacterial chemicals — that’s how microbes develop resistance, and not just to these [household antibacterials], but also to real antibiotics that we need.” Other studies have now found dangerous concentrations of triclosan in rivers and streams, where it is toxic to algae. The EPA is currently investigating whether triclosan may also disrupt endocrine (hormonal) function. It is a probable carcinogen. At press time, the agency was reviewing the safety of triclosan in consumer products.

Healthier Choice: Use simple detergents and soaps with short ingredient lists, and avoid antibacterial products with triclosan for home use. If you’re hooked on hand sanitizer, choose one that is alcohol-based and without triclosan.

4. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”

Found in: Fabric softener liquids and sheets, most household cleaners labeled “antibacterial.”

Health Risks: Quats are another type of antimicrobial, and thus pose the same problem as triclosan by helping breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They’re also a skin irritant; one 10-year study of contact dermatitis found quats to be one of the leading causes. According to Rebecca Sutton, PhD, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), they’re also suspected as a culprit for respiratory disorders: “There’s evidence that even healthy people who are [exposed to quats] on a regular basis develop asthma as a result.”

Healthier Choice: You don’t really need fabric softener or dryer sheets to soften clothes or get rid of static: Simple vinegar works just as well. “Vinegar is the natural fabric softener of choice for many reasons,” explains Karyn Siegel-Maier in her book The Naturally Clean Home (Storey Publishing, 2008). “Not only is it nontoxic, it also removes soap residue in the rinse cycle and helps to prevent static cling in the dryer.” White vinegar is your best choice for general cleaning; other types can stain.

Alternatives to chemical disinfectants abound, including antibacterial, antifungal tea-tree oil. Mix a few drops of tea-tree oil and a tablespoon of vinegar with water in a spray bottle for a safe, germ killing, all-purpose cleaner. Add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil for scent.

5. 2-Butoxyethanol

Found in: Window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners.

Health Risks: 2-butoxyethanol is the key ingredient in many window cleaners and gives them their characteristic sweet smell. It belongs in the category of “glycol ethers,” a set of powerful solvents that don’t mess around. Law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label. According to the EPA’s Web site, in addition to causing sore throats when inhaled, at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Although the EPA sets a standard on 2-butoxyethanol for workplace safety, Sutton warns, “If you’re cleaning at home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are higher than workplace safety standards.”

Healthier Choice: Clean mirrors and windows with newspaper and diluted vinegar. For other kitchen tasks, stick to simple cleaning compounds like Bon Ami powder; it’s made from natural ingredients like ground feldspar and baking soda without the added bleach or fragrances found in most commercial cleansers. You can also make your own formulas with baking soda, vinegar and essential oils. See “DIY Cleaners” on page 5 for a list of clean concoctions.

6. Ammonia

Found in: Polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, sinks and jewelry; also in glass cleaner.

Health Risks: Because ammonia evaporates and doesn’t leave streaks, it’s another common ingredient in commercial window cleaners. That sparkle has a price. “Ammonia is a powerful irritant,” says Donna Kasuska, chemical engineer and president of ChemConscious, Inc., a risk-management consulting company. “It’s going to affect you right away. The people who will be really affected are those who have asthma, and elderly people with lung issues and breathing problems. It’s almost always inhaled. People who get a lot of ammonia exposure, like housekeepers, will often develop chronic bronchitis and asthma.” Ammonia can also create a poisonous gas if it’s mixed with bleach.

Healthier Choice: Vodka. “It will produce a reflective shine on any metal or mirrored surface,” explains Lori Dennis, author of Green Interior Design (Allsworth Press, 2010). And toothpaste makes an outstanding silver polish.

7. Chlorine

Found in: Scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, household tap water.

Health Risks: “With chlorine we have so many avenues of exposure,” says Kasuska. “You’re getting exposed through fumes and possibly through skin when you clean with it, but because it’s also in city water to get rid of bacteria, you’re also getting exposed when you take a shower or bath. The health risks from chlorine can be acute, and they can be chronic; it’s a respiratory irritant at an acute level. But the chronic effects are what people don’t realize: It may be a serious thyroid disrupter.”

Healthier Choice: For scrubbing, stick to Bon Ami or baking soda. Toilet bowls can be cleaned with vinegar, and vinegar or borax powder both work well for whitening clothes. So does the chlorine-free oxygen bleach powder made by Biokleen. To reduce your exposure to chlorine through tap water, install filters on your kitchen sink and in the shower.

8. Sodium Hydroxide

Found in: Oven cleaners and drain openers.

Health Risks: Otherwise known as lye, sodium hydroxide is extremely corrosive: If it touches your skin or gets in your eyes, it can cause severe burns. Routes of exposure are skin contact and inhalation. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that lasts for days.

Healthier Choice: You can clean the grimiest oven with baking-soda paste — it just takes a little more time and elbow grease (see recipes in “DIY Cleaners” on page 5). Unclog drains with a mechanical “snake” tool, or try this approach from the Green Living Ideas Web site: Pour a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the drain and plug it for 30 minutes. After the bubbles die down, run hot water down the drain to clear the debris.

If a cleaning product at your supermarket proclaims itself “green,” “natural” or “biodegradable,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s nontoxic. In 2010 the environmental consulting firm TerraChoice Group produced a report called “The Sins of Greenwashing.” In it the group found more than 95 percent of so-called green consumer products had committed at least one “greenwashing sin,” like making an environmental claim that may be truthful but unimportant. “CFC-free,” for example, is a common one, since CFCs are banned by law. Donna Kasuska of ChemConscious offers this advice: “When gauging ecological claims, look for specifics. ‘Biodegradable in three to five days’ holds more meaning than “biodegradable” as most substances will eventually break down with enough time.”

Despite Industry Opposition, Scientists Report Formaldehyde Causes Cancer

While an industry group has tried to confuse the issue and stall action on it, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a report on Aug. 8 which concludes that formaldehyde causes at least three types of cancers.

The lobby group for the chemical industry, the American Chemistry Council, latched onto NAS criticisms of a 2011 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report on formaldehyde to try to convince Congress that the EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services findings were wrong and should be reviewed by the NAS, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

So they did—not only upholding the conclusions but strengthening them.

American Chemistry Council president/CEO Cal Dooley released a statement, “The Safety of Formaldehyde is Well-Studied and Supported by Robust Science,” in which he said, “We are perplexed as to why today’s report differs so greatly from the 2011.”

But it’s not really all that perplexing.

In 2011, Congress asked the NAS to review the EPA draft assessment, not the dangers of formaldehyde itself. And the NAS found the report to be too long, repetitive and lacking in explanation. The chemical industry latched onto this to try to block studies of other possible toxic chemicals and action on potential regulations.

The new NAS report said that formaldehyde, which can be present in common households items such as clothing, wooden furniture and beauty products, is conclusively a cause of rare forms of cancer of the bones, head & neck and nasal passages.

While the American Chemistry Council said the NAS “misses an opportunity to advance science,” Jennifer Sass, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, had a different take. In a blog report she wrote:

What makes this NAS review novel is not the cancer findings, because those had already been identified by various international and national government scientific assessments. No, this review was politically motivated, the result of a campaign by the chemical industry and its allies in Congress to protect formaldehyde and styrene, another common chemical linked to cancer. Part of that effort has been a vicious attack on government scientific assessments, to distort and discredit any evidence linking toxic chemicals to diseases, disabilities or death.

Scientist Richard Denison at the Environmental Defense Fund, agreed, writing in that group’s blog, “One can only hope that this sorry episode and waste of public resources will help to expose the narrow self-interest of the industry, which for years it has deceptively sought to wrap in a mantle of sound science.  Now we know whose science is sound, and whose isn’t.”

Anastasia Pantsios| August 18, 2014

Big Oil and their Russian buddies are at it again

Turns out Exxon really DOES hate America! Now they’re working with a sanctioned Russian oil company to open a drilling rig in the Arctic.

We can’t make this stuff up. Exxon has just announced plans to partner with Rosneft, a massive Russian oil company that’s been the target of U.S. sanctions, on a $700 million oil well in the Arctic

It’s not enough that Exxon and friends are wrecking our climate, polluting our oceans, and taking $20 billion of our tax dollars to do it — now the biggest oil companies in the world are flouting U.S. sanctions.

Of course, Exxon is also ignoring the fact that there’s essentially no way to contain an oil spill in the Arctic. And of course Big Oil and their Big Russian buddies are totally ignoring climate change and the need to divest from fossil fuels immediately.

But this latest outrage makes it personal. Putin went as far as to sing the praises of Exxon, calling it “Russia’s old and reliable partner.”

But there’s a chance that we can use bad news to do something good for the planet. A lot of people in Congress want to send Russia a stronger message over the Ukraine.

And President Obama is about to head to the U.N. for a big round of talks on what world leaders can do to stop global warming. One of the most important ideas, endorsed by former heads of the U.N. and many international experts, is to end state subsidies of fossil fuel companies.

Drew Hudson|Environmental Action|8/19/14

01:20 PM

Turning Jellyfish into Sustainable Medical Products

In a United Nations report released in May, scientists worldwide were called upon to join the war on jellyfish. According to the report, jellyfish have overwhelmed the marine ecosystem as a result of the overfishing of more competitive species, consuming fish eggs and larvae of weaker specimens and creating what the report called a “vicious cycle.” So how can this cycle be stopped?

In order to prevent imminent marine disaster, Prof. Shahar Richter and his research team at Tel Aviv University have been successful in converting the plethora of jellyfish for more useful purposes. They devised a method of turning jellyfish into a resource that could be used in the paramedical, hygiene and perishable-product industries for the creation of environmentally safe medical treatments, advanced bandages, and other plastic products.

The jellyfish’s triple threat

According to another recent report, a bloom of jellyfish, spanning four square miles, devoured 100,000 salmon at a fish farm in Northern Ireland, causing damages of $1.5 million. And even though 450,000 tons of jellyfish are fished every year for the East Asian food industry, jellyfish consumption is far from effective in reducing or controlling the rapidly reproducing creatures’ population growth.

“Jellyfish cause damage in three major areas,” Richter told the website Haaretz. “First, they clog up and paralyze atomic or electric power stations and desalination plants. In fact, they spell disaster for any facility that uses sea water. This happens in many places, including Korea, Japan, Sweden and India.”

Second, jellyfish have had a dramatic impact on the world fishing industry, snagging and blocking fishing nets with their massive size. The third industry to come under jellyfish attack is tourism. While jellyfish on Mediterranean shores cause painful burning at worst, the species off Australia’s shores are deadly, requiring the closure of beaches for extended periods.

NoCamels Team|NoCamels|August 20, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, NoCamels.

Arctic insects and spiders can survive colder temperatures than thought

Arctic bugs can survive in frozen ground as cold as -27°C, scientists have revealed.

It is the first time higher-order invertebrates such as spiders, flies and beetles have been found coping in direct exposure to such cold temperatures. Previous lows were between just -5°C and a little below -10°C.


The research, published in the Journal of Thermal Biology, suggests they may be more resilient to climate change than first feared.

Throughout winter, snow cover acts like a thick blanket over polar ground, insulating the soil below from the extremes of the atmosphere above.

But over the coming decades, climate change is expected to trigger a major reorganization of snowfall across the polar regions. This has led to concerns that key invertebrates, essential to Arctic ecology, could be exposed to temperatures beyond their survival capabilities.

‘There has been this prevailing view, almost a dogma, that invertebrates survive winter better under snow cover,’ says Professor Pete Convey, of NERC’s British Antarctic Survey, who led the research. ‘But this has never really been put to the test in real-world conditions.’

Alex Peel|Planet Earth online|August 20, 2014

Read more at Planet Earth online.

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

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ConsRep 814 C

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do. “Wendell Berry

Announcements

FALL MIGRATION HAS BEGUN!

But it’s August!

Sure is, but the birds don’t pay attention to our seasons, they have their own agenda to follow.

One of the species that we all love has started to head south already…the Ruby-throated Hummingbird…,

their migration begins in July and typically ends in October.

Peak numbers occur in Florida around mid-August.

Wash out your feeders, hang ‘em near the windows and wait for the action.

You don’t have a feeder?

Our affiliate partner, Duncraft has a great choice of hummingbird feeders AND they give back 10% of every sale to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

The funds are used to support the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. http://www.wildlifefoundationofflorida.com/birding

For more information on feeding hummingbirds
http://www.rubythroat.org/feedinghintsmain.html

For more information on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/ruby-throated_hummingbird/id

 Everglades Coalition Conference

30th Annual Conference – Key Largo, FL

January 8th, 9th, & 10th, 2015

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 for debate of Everglades conservation and restoration.

http://www.evergladescoalition.org/conference.html#sthash.5Z82pWpk.dpuf

13th IWA International Specialist Conference on Watershed & River Basin Management

9-12 September 2014

San Francisco, CA, USA

Website: http://www.iwa2014sanfrancisco.org/

The 13th IWA Special Conference on Watershed and River Basin Management will be held 9-12 September 2014, in San Francisco, California, USA. 

The conference will be hosted by the Ecological Engineering Research Program at the University of the Pacific (www.eerp.org) and will address cutting edge issues related to sustainable watershed management,

with a special focus on emerging issues related to climate change. Conference topics will include climate change,

delta and estuary ecosystems, environmental impact of large water projects, harmful algae blooms, irrigated agriculture and more are planned.

Themes for the meeting include:

                                      • Climate change and impacts on watershed management
                                      • Delta and estuary ecosystems
                                      • Hydromorphological pressure and impact issues in river basin management
                                      • Managing watersheds across political boundaries
                                      • Flood control, management and risk assessment
                                      • Managing watersheds affected by wildfires and reducing wildfire threats to watersheds
                                      • Irrigated agriculture water management and the role of soil management on watersheds
                                      • Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) management
                                      • Effects of hydraulic fracturing and mining on water quality
                                      • European Union Water Framework Directive
                                      • Urban planning to protect watershed resources
                                      • Managing eutrophication and harmful algal blooms
                                      • Monitoring of biological elements, pelagic organisms and fisheries
                                      • New results in monitoring and assessment
                                      • New tools, technologies and economic opportunities in watershed management
                                      • Processes for societal consultation and participation

Contact: 

Conference Chair

Professor William T. Stringfellow

Director, Ecological Engineering Research Program

3601 Pacific Ave.

Stockton, CA 95211

Conference Organizer

Chelsea Spier

Email: iwa2014wrbm@gmail.com 

Phone: (+1) 209-946-2595

The registration site for the 13th IWA specialist conference on watershed and River Basin Management in San Francisco Sept 9-12, 2014 is now open. 

To register for the conference, please follow this link.

The conference is bringing leading water experts from all over the word to San Francisco this September. Currently, individuals from over 30 countries are planning on attending.

The conference is unique in that it is a mixture of water managers, scientists, and technical experts.

There will be a focus on discussing implementation of science and technology in water-basin policy and management.

The conference is organized into sessions addressing the most critical water management issues of our times.

The impact of climate change on watershed management is a globally critical issue and will be a strong theme of this conference. 

We will have an especially strong session on tools and technologies for watershed scale management.

Other sessions will address water-energy nexus, managing watersheds across political boundaries, flood control,

harmful algae blooms, irrigated agriculture, urban planning to protect water resources and more.

Temperince Morgan as the new executive TNC director in Florida.

The Nature Conservancy is pleased to announce Temperince Morgan as the new executive director in Florida.

A Florida native, Morgan is a scientist by training and has spent the last 17 years working on conservation and water issues in Florida,

most recently as the division director for Everglades policy for the South Florida Water Management District.

Morgan will oversee all aspects of the Conservancy’s work in Florida, including protecting critical linkages and springsheds,

increasing the resilience of our coastline and securing water for people and nature.

Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades

Upcoming Events

Annual Cypress Seed Harvest and Photo Project
Date:  October 25, 2014
Location:  Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatachee Wildlife Refuge

River of Grass Gala
Date:  December 6, 2014
Location:  Lady Windridge Yacht, launching from Palm Beach

For more information about any of these events call the Foundation at 561-233-9004

or email info@artmarshall.org.

Of Interest to All

Icequakes triggered by earthquakes

In 2010, a powerful magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck off the coast of central Chile, rocking much of the country and producing tremor as far away as Argentina and Peru. But a new study suggests its effects were felt even farther away – in Antarctica. In the wake of the Maule temblor, the scientists found, several seismic stations on the frozen continent registered “icequakes,” probably due to fracturing of the ice as the planet’s crust shook.

Earthquakes are already known to affect Antarctica’s ice shelves, thanks to the tsunamis they can spawn. Tsunami waves can propagate for great distances across the ocean; if the waves reach Antarctica’s ice shelves – the floating platforms of ice surrounding the continent—they can push and pull on the ice, promoting fractures and ultimately helping large chunks of ice break off, or calve.

But whether earthquake seismic waves, traveling through the ground, can chip away at Antarctica’s ice sheet – the ice piled on top of the continent – remained an unanswered question. Zhigang Peng, a geophysicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, found the answer by accident while studying effects of the Chile quake in South America. His team was looking for surface waves – shallow seismic waves that travel along the planet’s crust rather than going deeper into the mantle. Surface waves come in two basic types: Love waves, which shake the ground from side to side; and Rayleigh waves, which move in a rolling motion, compressing and expanding the ground as they travel. Both types of surface waves can in turn trigger numerous micro-earthquakes, called tremor.

Peng didn’t initially intend to look at signals from Antarctic seismic stations, but data from a few somehow sneaked onto their research list. And when his team looked for the surface wave signals at those stations, “we found something very interesting,” Peng says. “We started to find tiny seismic signals that we believe are associated with ice cracking.”

Carolyn Gramling|Science|August 11, 2014

Read more at Science.

The Wilderness Society Photo Contest is Here

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act, and here at The Wilderness Society, we’re excited to announce a great way to celebrate this landmark.

Written by The Wilderness Society and passed with our support, the act revolutionized wilderness protections — and has made it possible for Americans to safeguard nearly 110 million acres (and counting!) of our most pristine wildlands.

To mark this occasion, we want to see the lands that you love! Share your photos of the amazing outdoor spaces and wild places you enjoy across the United States.

Click here to enter the contest

Four first place winners will receive a copy of National Geographic photographer Peter Essick’s breathtaking keepsake book, The Ansel Adams Wilderness, which features stunning images of the California Sierra Nevada wilderness area named after one of our nation’s most revered naturalists. Runners up will receive our #WeAreTheWild t-shirt.

In addition, the winning entries will be featured in a special edition collection of 50th anniversary note cards celebrating the beauty of our wild landscapes.

Share your photos today. We can’t wait to see them!

Cathy Grams|Director of Membership|The Wilderness Society

Nestlé — not so sweet anymore? ‏

Nestlé is selling California’s water despite the state’s record-breaking drought — and profiting. 

Nestlé — beloved provider of chocolate chip cookies and candy bars — is bottling California’s water, selling it, and profiting while the state suffers from a scorching, record-breaking drought.

California is in a water crisis. The state has already lost $1 billion in agricultural revenue and residents are being urged to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent.

But Nestlé doesn’t seem to care. They can continue gulping down California’s water without oversight because their plant sits on a Native American reservation.

Grant, we are fuming. To date, Nestlé has refused to acknowledge concerns about the water they are taking. They’re trying to ignore the outrage, but you know what they can’t ignore? 50,000 Nestlé consumers just like you and me demanding action. They’re not taking this situation seriously, but together we can show them they don’t have a choice.

One of the craziest things about this situation is the sheer hypocrisy we’re seeing from Nestlé’s leadership. In a recent statement, Nestlé’s chairman and former CEO claimed that the world is “running out of water” and that water scarcity is “much more urgent” than climate change.

Then the company said, “We proudly conduct our business in an environmentally responsible manner that focuses on water and energy conservation.”

What fairy tale land must they be living in for this to make sense?

There is nothing environmentally responsible about depleting an entire ecosystem’s water supply during a three-year drought. And to claim that water scarcity is one of the world’s most pressing issues at the same time is absolutely abhorrent.

We can’t let this stand — we must stop Nestlé before they take all of what little water California has left. Join us in telling Nestlé to match their words with action and immediately stop profiting at California’s expense.

Last year, when over 45,000 LCV members joined with activists from around the country to demand that Target and Walmart take action to remove products with dangerous toxic chemicals from their shelves, both companies did so. We know that these large corporations — always concerned about their profits — will pay attention to their customers. But only if enough of us speak out.

Kristin Brown|Director of Digital Strategy|League of Conservation Voters

[Please sign the petition at #3 in Calls to Action below.]

Bottling Water from Drought Stricken Areas

The bottled water industry has grown exponentially the past few decades despite the fact tap water in the United States is generally safe. Never mind the fact bottled water producers have had more than their fair share of safety issues: bottled water has become accepted by consumers. While companies such as Nestlé insist they are taking responsibility for water stewardship and recycling, they also bottle their water at dubious sources, including those in drought stricken regions.

In fact, much of the bottled water produced in the U.S. comes from areas affected by drought. As an article recently posted on Mother Jones illustrates, four of the most popular bottled water brands—Aquafina, Dasani, Arrowhead and Crystal Geyser—come largely from California. True, farming takes up the lion’s share of water in the state, and bottled water in the grand scheme of things is not parching California on its own. But at a time when California is struggling to provide residents, industry and farmers adequate supplies of water, more citizens are asking why it is bottled here and shipped out of state.

Part of the problem is regulation, or lack of it. While most states monitor and restrict groundwater use to ensure they are not depleted, California lacks any such laws. The state’s legislature is finally starting to address this oversight, but even if the legislation in current form is passed, the state will long be in danger if the current drought conditions do not improve. Agencies in charge of groundwater basins will not have to issue sustainability plans until 2020, and those plans would not have to be fully implemented until 2040, according to the Washington Post. Over half of the bottled water churned in California and ending up in PET bottles is groundwater, through the bottling companies prefer the more exotic term, “spring water.”

Whether it is spring water, groundwater, or water coming from other municipal supplies, the point is that the state could be using this water for far better use than allowing the beverage companies to bottle it and mark it up to sell it at obscene profit margins. Despite the bottling industry’s bizarre claims that bottled water production is “ironically” low compared to that of processing other beverages, it still takes almost 1.7 liters of water to produce a liter of bottled water.

Leon Kaye|Triple Pundit|August 12, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Triple Pundit.

Gulf oyster harvest has nose-dived since BP spill

Gulf Coast oyster harvests have declined dramatically in the four years since a BP PLC oil well blew wild in the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster. Even after a modest rebound last year, thousands of acres of oyster beds where oil from the well washed ashore are producing less than a third of their pre-spill harvest.

Whether the spill contributed to the decline is part of an ongoing study; hurricanes, overfishing and influxes of oyster-killing fresh water had already put pressure on the industry.

“To the extent that oyster populations are down, data from government studies have indicated it is likely due to other conditions,” Geoff Morrell, a BP senior vice president, said in a statement.

The millions of gallons of oil that spewed into the Gulf caused fishing grounds to be closed for fear the oil and the chemical dispersant used to break it up would make seafood inedible, either by direct ingestion of the substances by marine life or by tainting the food chain. More visible were the oil-covered dolphins, birds and other sea life that either died in the oil or required rescue and scrubbing to clean away the oil.

But whether the spill crippled spawning and swimming oyster larvae that had not yet settled onto oyster beds isn’t yet known, said Thomas Soniat, an oyster biologist at the University of New Orleans.

A BP “white paper” states that Louisiana biologists did not find any oil on the oyster beds they checked in 2010, 2011 or 2012. The paper also said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s checks on oysters after the spill either found no hydrocarbons or levels far too low to cause health problems.

Louisiana’s 2010 assessment of oyster stocks, cited as a source, noted that oil wasn’t found on beds that were always submerged, even in areas where oil hit nearby shorelines.

Regardless of the cause, the harvest is way down, and prices are way up as a result.

Louisiana has historically accounted for about half of the Gulf oyster harvest and about a third of U.S. production. The state has more than a dozen naturally producing public oyster bed areas along its coast, occupying more than 1.6 million acres of Gulf bottom.

Louisiana’s public reefs typically would produce anywhere from 3 million to 7 million pounds of oyster meat a year. In 2010 and 2011, production dropped to barely 2 million pounds, then nosedived to just 563,100 pounds in 2012 before rising to 954,950 pounds last year.

Mississippi and Alabama, where some oil washed ashore during the spill, also had very poor oyster production since 2010.

“It’s pretty disturbing,” said Chris Nelson, owner of Bon Secour Fisheries Inc., an Alabama-based dealer that buys oysters from all five Gulf Coast states.

Nelson noted that Louisiana oyster prices before Hurricane Katrina were $25 or less per sack. Prices climbed to about $30 after hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike, and shot up to more than $40 per sack after the oil spill.

Prices now range from $45 to $62 per sack, depending on quality — and that’s “with many oysters being sold in smaller-sized sacks,” Nelson said.

STACEY PLAISANCE|The Associated Press|Aug. 12, 2014|Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report from New Orleans.

More Than 163 Acres of Conservation Land Donated to State of Florida

The state of Florida is accepting a major land donation from Calusa Pines Golf Club, LLC, an affiliate of Indian Hill Partners. The move will preserve wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities in Collier County. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands, acting on behalf of Governor Scott and the Board of Trustees, accepted the donation of the more than 163 acres of valuable conservation land on the north border of Picayune Strand State Forest.  The parcel is valued at $400,000, and also includes $1,000 per acre for management. The donation is part of Indian Hill Partners’ efforts to offset any impacts to the environment caused by future planned developments.

“Indian Hill Partners and its affiliates are pleased to donate this 160-acre tract of land to the state for incorporation into the Picayune Strand State Forest,” said Managing Member Christopher Johnson. “I see the donation of this property as a win-win for the state and Indian Hill. The property is surrounded by the state forest and will fill one of the many missing links in these conservation lands, providing wonderful habitat for many listed species in perpetuity.”

The Picayune Strand is located in western Collier County, approximately 2 miles east of Naples. The forest provides opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and bird watching. It also provides prime habitat for Florida panthers, as well as habitat for black bears, bald eagles, wood storks, fox squirrels and swallow-tailed kites, and is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.

“We applaud the generosity of the Indian Hill Partners for their land donation to the state of Florida,” said Kelley Boree, director of the Division of State Lands. “This donation will provide additional habitat for wildlife and increased recreational opportunities for the visitors to Picayune Strand for years to come.”

The Florida Forest Service will manage the tract as part of the Picayune Strand State Forest in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District.

mburgerdep|July 30, 2014

Massive tailings pond breach at Mount Polley Mine

Last Monday August 4th the unthinkable happened. A massive tailings pond breach at Mount Polley Mine in the Caribou region of BC sent ten million cubic meters of waste water and almost five million cubic meters of mud and contaminated slurry rushing out into the natural environment. Tons of arsenic, mercury, lead, selenium, phosphorus and other heavy metals gushed into a local fish-bearing creek and two lakes.

The breach is one of the world’s largest tailings pond accidents! The clean-up cost is conservatively estimated at $200 million, not to mention the cost of compensating local businesses, residents and First Nations in the area. Of great concern is the fact that Imperial Metals, the company that owns and operates the mine, has just $15 million in “interruption of business” insurance—an amount far too low to address the serious environmental impacts of this incident.

The magnitude of this catastrophic collapse has raised many serious questions:

Why did the tailings pond, over 4 km in diameter, contain up to five times the amount of effluent it was originally intended to store?

How much did the BC government know about the structural integrity of the tailings pond and when? Preliminary reports show that former employees and contractors raised serious concerns about the dam to both Imperial Metals and the BC government years earlier.

What role did government cutbacks play in this incident? Environmental laws, both federally and provincially have been severely weakened over the past decade, and government oversight of industry has declined dramatically in a move towards “results-based” oversight which places heavy emphasis on the ability of industry to “self-regulate.”

BC has nineteen operating mines and numerous closed mines—many with similar tailings ponds. How safe are these “ponds” and do other mining companies have enough insurance to cover the cost of a catastrophic breach should it occur?

Imperial Mines has pursued plans for two mines in the pristine wilderness of Clayoquot Sound, BC—one of Canada’s most iconic wilderness areas. This west coast region is of global ecological significance, with First Nations and other communities that rely on a clean, healthy environment. A disaster like Mount Polley would have absolutely devastating impacts—yet another reason for a mining moratorium in the Sound.

Join me in demanding that the BC government commission an independent investigation of the Mount Polley breach, an immediate province-wide inspection of large tailings ponds and an increase in government resources for oversight of all mining activities. Please sign the petition at #6 in Calls to Action below.

Study: Keystone’s Carbon Pollution Way Worse Than Once Thought

A new study finds that the Keystone XL pipeline could produce four times more global warming pollution than the State Department estimated earlier this year. The pipeline, designed to deliver dirty tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas, would increase world greenhouse gas emissions by up to 121 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to the study. The State Department said previously that, at most, it would increase it by 30 million tons (still unacceptable, of course).

And if that wasn’t enough, consider this: Right now, the Obama administration isn’t even calculating the cumulative climate costs of projects like Keystone and the Alberta Clipper pipeline expansion, which would double the amount of dirty tar sands oil piped across Canada and Minnesota. This week, the Center joined a coalition of groups calling for a true accounting of these dangerous projects.

“The Obama administration can’t pretend these fossil fuel projects happen in isolation. Keystone XL and the Alberta Clipper expansion will have significant climate impacts and, together with fossil fuel development happening around the country, will push us deeper and deeper into the climate crisis,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Marc Fink.

Southeast could become an overdeveloped ‘megalopolis’ in the next half century

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey warns that the entire region could become one big megalopolis by 2060.

Giant urban sprawl could pave over thousands of acres of forest and agriculture, connecting Raleigh to Atlanta by 2060, if growth continues at its current pace, according to a newly released research paper from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We could be looking at a seamless corridor of urban development,” said Adam Terando, a research ecologist with the USGS and an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University who was the study’s lead author.

The development will engulf land from North Carolina to Georgia, and possibly spread to Birmingham, Ala., “if we continue to develop urban areas in the Southeast the way we have for the past 60 years,” he said.

Combining USGS demographic modeling with North Carolina State’s High Performance Computing Services and analyzing the data for six years, Terando and his five co-authors estimated that urbanization in the Southeast will increase by up to 190 percent.

It will nearly mirror the decades-old development of the Northeast corridor, from Washington to Boston, Terando said, and in Florida from Jacksonville to Miami. “I would say that’s definitely a future that the study is pointing toward,” he said.

Land cover change metrics shows projected urbanization for 200 model simulations for the study region and twelve ecoregions. Abbreviations are as follows: BR – Blue Ridge, CA – Central Appalachians, IP – Interior Plateau, MACP – Mid Atlantic Coastal Plain, MAP – Mississippi Alluvial Plain, MVLP – Miss. Valley Loess Plains, P – Piedmont, RV – Ridge and Valley, SP – Southeastern Plains, SCP – Southern Coastal Plains, SFC – South Florida Coastal Plain, SA – Southwest Appalachian. (Terando et. al/PLOS One)

Development on that scale would result in losses of 15 percent of agricultural land, 12 percent of grasslands and 10 percent of forests, the study said. It would take the form of tract housing developments, business centers and thousands of miles of paved roads.

The research paper was published last month in the journal PLOS One. Its co-authors include Jaime Collazo and Alexa McKerrow, also researchers at USGS, and Curtis Belyea and Rob Dunn, researchers at North Carolina State.

“The upshot is that . . . climate change isn’t the only story in the Southeast,” Terando said. “There are large-scale human impacts on our environment . . . the way we develop.”

Over the past 60 years, the southeastern United States population has grown 40 percent faster than in the rest of the country, and it shows no signs of stopping. A megalopolis is as scary as it sounds — one giant sprawl of unbroken urban development spanning several major cities. According to USGS, the entire corridor from Raleigh to Atlanta could be paved over for roads, housing and businesses. One thing a megalopolis doesn’t include: wildlife habitat.

In a region that already faces extreme weather and threats of sea-level rise from climate change, the further loss of habitat and increased emissions from more people and more roads would endanger the health of both human and wild inhabitants. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By addressing population growth, urban planning and wildlife conservation now, the Southeast can still take a detour from this mega-disaster.

Darryl Fears|August 9, 2014 

Mine proposal draws hundreds at Alaska hearing

Hundreds of people turned out in Anchorage to comment on a proposal that would severely restrict development of a massive gold-and-copper mine in the Bristol Bay region.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Hundreds of people turned out in Anchorage to comment on a proposal that would severely restrict development of a massive gold-and-copper mine in the Bristol Bay region.

The proposal, made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month, effectively would bar the type of project the mine’s owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals, has discussed.

The agency is hosting public meetings in Alaska this week, though written comments can be submitted through Sept. 19.

People on both sides of the issue testified about their love of salmon during Tuesday’s hearing, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.

But mine opponents said the project, near the headwaters of a world-premier sockeye salmon fishery, posed too great a threat. Some pointed to the partial failure of a tailings dam in British Columbia that sent contaminated slurry into a lake.

Others said the project should be allowed to move through the permitting phase before action is taken that could curtail development.

Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, which is working to advance the project, said it was “ludicrous” to hold a public meeting so soon after releasing a lengthy technical report.

“This hearing is much more about show than it is about substance,” he said.

EPA’s review of whether to impose restrictions on development, through a rarely invoked process under the federal Clean Water Act, could take a year. The agency’s regional administrator, Dennis McLerran, said he was taking notes from the testimony and said the proposal could be modified.

Pebble supporters, though, fear the EPA is on track to preemptively veto the project.

The Pebble Partnership and state of Alaska have sued, saying the EPA overstepped its authority. The agency has asked a federal judge to toss the case.

At Tuesday’s hearing, tribal leaders, religious leaders, fishermen and environmentalists spoke in support of the EPA.

Mary Ann Johnson, who grew up in Naknek on Bristol Bay, said village residents can’t depend on the state to look out for them.

Several legislators also testified, some in support of the EPA’s actions, some against.

“I’m just a working stiff like everybody else around here. I’m not a lawyer,” said Rep. Pete Higgins, R-Fairbanks, a dentist by trade. “This is not about tribes. This is not about Pebble mine. This is about government overreach.”

The Pebble deposit is on state land.

Deantha Crockett, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association, said she regularly takes calls from potential financiers wondering if investing in mining in Alaska is a safe bet. “And I don’t know what to say to them,” she said.

Everett Thompson, a commercial fisherman from Naknek and Bristol Bay Native Corp. shareholder, urged the EPA to stay tough.

“I believe it to be arrogant to say fishing and mining can coexist,” he said.

The Associated Press|August 14, 2014

United Nations Climate Summit September 23

This fall, a group of young people between the ages of 13-21 will attend the United Nations Climate Summit and ask the world’s leaders what they’re going to do about climate change.

The search is on to find them.

Climate change threatens our planet, the world economy, and our lives — and it will impact young people the most. It’s only fair that they get a chance to demand answers and action from the leaders who are responsible for protecting their future.

In an email yesterday, Vice President Gore asked for young persons to submit a video asking a Why? or Why not? question about climate change. Share this link with every young person you know — or if you’re between 13-21 years old, submit one yourself.

The winners will fly to New York City to attend the U.N. Climate Summit on September 23 and have their question asked on the world’s stage.

We’ve already received many smart and insightful questions — check them out:

I hope you’ll help us engage young people around the world in this project.

Ken Berlin|President & CEO|The Climate Reality Project

Report Finds 34 Pesticides in Tea From India

Tea anyone? I’m a self confessed “queen of tea”–preferably green and, if I can get it, especially green chai. All the healthy properties of green tea spiced with the flavors and traditions of India, one of the world’s greatest tea inspirations and an important tea producer.

But I wasn’t so sure about my green chai after I read the new report “Trouble Brewing” released today by Greenpeace India.

The report reveals the systematic presence of mixtures of multiple pesticides, many classified as highly or moderately hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in tea grown and sold in India as well as exported abroad [1] by leading international and national brands such as Tetley, Lipton and Twinings. These brands belong to companies like Tata Global Beverages, Hindustan Unilever and Twinings, among others.

Practically all the samples taken from packaged tea purchased on the Indian market over the last year contained residues of at least one pesticide, and more than half of them contained “cocktails” of more than 10 different pesticides, including one sample, which contained residues of 20 different pesticides!

Overall a total of 34 different pesticides were found including the highly hazardous monocrotophos (the pesticide linked to the Bihar mid-day meal tragedy when 23 school children died from acute poisoning due to misuse of pesticide containers) and neonicotinoid insecticides such as imidacloprid (associated with reproductive or developmental impacts in animals, as well as affecting bees and other beneficial insects).

It appears that 23 of these 34 pesticides are not even registered for use in the cultivation of tea in India. The research also uncovered the frequent presence of DDT, despite the fact that it is no longer registered for use in agriculture in India and was banned in such applications as long ago as 1989. Although it is still in use for control of disease carrying insects and may be present as a contaminant of other pesticides.

This is in fact not completely unexpected. These findings are similar to previous Greenpeace investigations on pesticides—in Chinese tea (2012) and in Chinese herbal products (2013).

However, close to 60 percent of the samples also contained residues of at least one pesticide above the Maximum Residue Levels set by the EU (EU-MRLs), with almost 40 percent of the tea samples exceeding these levels by more than 50 percent.

That’s a little worrying seeing as India is responsible for supplying just over 11 percent of world tea exports; with top export markets for Indian tea including Russia, U.S., UK and Germany.

As the report points out, it’s really not clear why these big brands are still supporting tea farming that is stuck on the old outdated pesticide treadmill when—especially in places like India—alternative ecological pest control practices are already being used very successfully, saving farmers money and getting away from dependence on costly and environmentally destructive chemicals.

Ecological pest control and farming can grow tea without relying on toxic chemicals that contribute to our intake of pesticides and potentially expose us and tea workers to completely unnecessary health risks.

Ecological farming makes full use of natural functions and the diversity of nature. It not only makes environmental sense but can make sure tea farms—and farmers—are here to stay in changing markets and climates.

It’s really about time the big brands got their act together and moved the tea sector into ecological tea farming. They should push their own supply chains and the large tea estates to urgently phase out pesticides and shift to ecological tea cultivation.

Tea companies should also help to ensure government bodies in India develop support systems and funds for small tea growers (already responsible for 26 percent of Indian tea cultivation) to move away from pesticides.

Unilever already agreed to some of Greenpeace India’s demands. Will other tea companies follow their example and clean our chai (tea) too?

Melissa Shinn|senior ecological farming campaigner|Greenpeace International.

Calls to Action

  1. Help save the world’s rarest dolphin from extinction – here
  2. Close the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, ID – here
  3. Tell Nestlé to stop bottling water straight from the heart of California’s record-breaking drought – here
  4. 96 elephants are killed every day in Africa. You can help stop it – here
  5. Tell Congress to protect tiger habitats – here
  6. Prevent another Mount Polley disaster – here
  7. Save Our Parks From Fracking – here
  8. Say No to Genetically Engineered Treeshere
  9.  

Birds and Butterflies

South Florida butterflies win federal protection

Two South Florida butterflies won federal protection as endangered species Monday, with wildlife managers planning to scorch their former habitats with fire to clear the way for the return of the plants they eat.

The Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterflies once ranged as far north as Broward and Palm Beach counties. Today they pollinate and lay eggs only in isolated pine rocklands in extreme South Florida, with the Florida leafwing found only in one section of Everglades National Park.

They join other South Florida butterflies, such as the Schaus swallowtail and Miami blue, as species struggling to survive the loss of habitat and other threats, from mosquito spraying to disease. Of the 160 butterfly species in Florida, about 20 have declined significantly, with most of those found in South Florida, said Mark Salvato, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We have butterflies from a variety of habitats becoming imperiled in South Florida,” he said. “By blinking out, they’re telling us that something is wrong in these habitats.”

Monday’s announcement came as part of the settlement of a lawsuit with the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona-based environmental group that had gone to court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over delays in deciding whether to protect species under the Endangered Species Act.

“This is an important victory for these two struggling Florida butterflies,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida attorney for the Center. “This designation should help protect the rare and disappearing pine rocklands that are important habitat for a host of Florida species.”

The government announced that it would designate 11,539 acres in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties as critical habitat for the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and 10,561 acres for the Florida leafwing. Most of the land is already under federal control, such as parts of Everglades National Park and the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.

The primary reason for the two butterflies’ decline is the loss of pine rockland habitat to development and an absence of fire in the habitat that remained. Without fire, either caused by humans or by lightning, fast-growing vegetation will crowd out the pineland croton plants on which these insects depend for food.

The three-inch Florida leafwing, which looks like a dead leaf when its wings are closed, has vanished from 96 percent of its historical range. The one-inch Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak is gone from 93 percent of its range. Both butterflies had only been discovered in the 1940s.

The best way to restore them to some of their old habitat is with fire, Salvato said, using prescribed burns in places such as Everglades National Park, Big Pine Key and various patches of pine rocklands under the control of the Miami-Dade and Monroe county governments. His recovery outline will be ready in two months or so, he said, and will set out prescribed fires as the key step in returning the butterflies to lands on which they used to live.

“First and foremost, we need to get habitat restoration going,” he said. “These butterflies occur exclusively in pine rockland habitat, and there’s not much of that left. Everywhere their habitat is, it’s degraded. The first thing is prescribed burns. That’s going to be the big one.”
Once habitat is restored, they will consider reintroducing the butterflies to their old territory, possibly through captive breeding, he said.

Other reasons for their decline include parasites, disease, butterfly collectors and the use of pesticides for mosquito control. Most recently, a new Walmart has been announced for some of the land in southern Miami-Dade County used by the Bartram’s hairstreak. Federal wildlife officials are in talks with the developer.

A future threat is sea-level rise, since both species live only at low elevations. But Salvato said that if land managers act quickly, they can save both butterflies.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” Salvato said. “The population in the Everglades of the Florida leafwing is doing well. The hairstreak has a number of populations. It’s something to work with.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service butterfly announcement|David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|August 11, 2014

They claim the California Gnatcatcher doesn’t even exist! ‏

The latest attempt by some Southern California developers to have the California Gnatcatcher removed from protections under the Endangered Species Act is pretty bold – they claim the bird doesn’t even exist!

The delisting petition sponsored by these developers relies on recent research claiming that the California Gnatcatcher is not a genetically unique subspecies. But a number of avian experts say that the referenced study isn’t nearly enough to overturn more than a hundred years’ worth of research to the contrary. They point out that the new study does not analyze enough genes to make that determination and that it downplays plumage variation among the three subspecies that can only be explained by genetic differences.

The fact that the California Gnatcatcher is a distinct subspecies worthy of protection was confirmed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 1993, and there’s nothing in this latest petition that casts doubt on that determination.

Not only is the California Gnatcatcher a magnificent bird worthy of protection, it is also emblematic of the rich coastal sage scrub of southern California, an enduring remnant of our wild coast that is now one of the most endangered habitat types in North America. Some researchers estimate that as little as 10 percent of California’s original coastal sage scrub habitat remains today.

But we are working to change this. For example, we are leading the way on cutting-edge coastal sage scrub restoration at our Starr Ranch Sanctuary. Our science and policy teams are fighting proposed development in Orange County and Los Angeles County Important Bird Areas that host California Gnatcatchers and other wildlife.

Audubon California|8/12/14

Africa’s Vultures Threatened By An Assault on All Fronts

Vultures are being killed on an unprecedented scale across Africa, with the latest slaughter perpetrated by elephant poachers who poison the scavenging birds so they won’t give away the location of their activities.

When they arrived at South Africa’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, André Botha and his companions found that an elephant had died just inside the reserve’s fence. But instead of vultures and other scavengers tussling for their piece of the ecological bonanza, there was only eerie silence. The carcasses of 37 African white-backed vultures lay in the grass around the elephant.

Botha, the co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) vulture specialist group, knew the whole story with one glance. The elephant carcass had been poisoned to kill the vultures that would come to feed on it. The heads of 29 of the vultures had been cut off to be sold for traditional African medicine. The eight vultures with their heads still intact showed that the poisoned elephant continued to kill after the poacher departed, starting what could have been a significant vulture slaughter if Botha had not intervened.

It is the story, with some variations, of vultures all over Africa. In July 2013, roughly 600 vultures died after scavenging a dead elephant that had been poisoned near Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park. In the savannahs of East Africa and southern Africa, there has been an estimated 50 to 60 percent decline in vultures. In the West African countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, four species of large vultures declined 98 percent outside of protected areas over 35 years, according to Jean-Marc Thiollay of France’s Laboratory of Ecology and Evolution in Paris.

Ralph Buij, a researcher with the Netherlands’ Alterra Wageningen University and Research Center, discovered similar population declines in another West African nation, Cameroon. In addition to the killing of vultures, factors such as habitat loss and declines in the wild ungulates on which vultures often feed are taking a toll. “Even the most common vulture species has declined 44 to 55 percent compared to 1970,” says Buij.

The reasons behind the killing of African vultures are far different — and often more malevolent — than the steep and widely publicized declines of vulture populations in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. There, vultures have been accidently poisoned after feeding on the carcasses of cattle treated with the veterinary anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, which is highly toxic to them. Five of the Indian subcontinent’s vulture species declined 95 percent from 1993 to 2000, according to BirdLife International. The loss of so many vultures has had major consequences, with cattle rotting in the streets, an upsurge of wild dogs, and an increase in rabies.

Sharp declines continued on the subcontinent through 2007, a year after India, Pakistan and Nepal banned the manufacture of the drug. Those countries now encourage the use of an alternative drug that is safe for vultures and also have created captive breeding programs. Since 2008, Indian vulture populations have leveled off or even increased slightly.

Vultures in Africa are being poisoned for several different reasons, both purposely and accidently. Recently, some of the more nefarious killers have been big game poachers, who have sharply intensified the slaughter of elephants for their ivory and rhinoceroses for their horns, which are valued in Asia for their purported medicinal purposes. In the past three or four years, the poachers have realized that circling vultures are tipping off the authorities to their crimes, so they poison them. Carbofuran, purple grains that are intended as an insecticide, is the most commonly used poison.
“Poachers will kill an elephant and poison the carcass to remove vultures from the environment,” says Botha. “It’s rampant in East Africa right now.”

All over the world, farmers protect their livestock by killing carnivores. In Africa, the favored method is poison. “In Kenya, we got our first wind of this situation when the poisoning of lions, leopards, and hyenas became a big issue again,” says Kenya-based Darcy Ogada, assistant director of Africa programs for The Peregrine Fund. Farmers set out livestock carcasses salted with poison. “Vultures come in by the hundreds and die by the hundreds,” she said. The vulture deaths far outnumber the carnivores that the farmers intended to kill.

Poisoning vultures for traditional African medicine also is taking a toll. When Buij investigated why the vultures of Cameroon were disappearing, he found that the demand for vulture parts for traditional African medicine in Nigeria was so strong that it had nearly wiped out several species. Nigerians were turning to the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Niger,

Benin, Chad, and Sudan to buy vultures, most of which are killed by poisoning, according to Buij.

The use of vultures in traditional medicine is limited mostly to West Africa. Vultures are believed to bring luck and to be able to see the future, says Buij. The vultures’ clairvoyance is associated with their heads, making that body part particularly valuable. Sales are strong when there is a large lottery jackpot. South Africa also has a tradition of using vultures in traditional medicine and vulture heads also are prized, Botha says.

Buij found that in Cameroon, while the heads of the vultures were sent to Nigeria, the meat of the birds was eaten locally. In Nigeria, a quarter of the vultures sold were intended as food.

In Africa, using chemical poisons to kill wild animals for the bushmeat trade and for use in traditional medicine is common, according to Ogada. Sometimes the cause of death is hidden from the consumer, but in some places poisoned bushmeat and traditional medicines are knowingly consumed — perhaps, she says, drawing on a history of hunting with arrows dipped in plant-based poisons.

There are no easy solutions to the problem of poisoned vultures in Africa. In April, the Vulture Conservation Foundation; the government of Andalusia, Spain; and Working Dogs for Conservation organized a conference so that scientists from around the world could discuss the African vulture crisis and see first-hand the workings of Andalusia’s comprehensive anti-poisoning program.

Spain is one of Europe’s vulture hotspots, home not only to European species, but also vultures that migrate from Africa. Its culture of farmers and hunters poisoning predators was so ingrained that it threatened several wildlife species, particularly eagles and vultures. To protect these species, Andalusia has over the last decade strengthened its laws against poisoning, started prosecuting poisoners, and raised fines as high as 200,000 Euros (about $270,000.) The group that investigates wildlife poisonings in Andalusia includes two teams of dogs trained to sniff out poisons in carcasses and food left as bait. Investigators are taught to recognize the symptoms of poisoning in the field and to carefully collect evidence. A forensics lab uses liquid and gas chromatography to screen for more than 100 poisons.

“We have some experience and luckily managed to reduce the impact of poison by about 60 percent in ten years, but this is a very hard job,” says Iñigo Fajardo, who represented Andalusia’s anti-poison program at the conference. Fajardo and many others would like to see similar programs protecting Africa’s vultures. But is such a program practical in the developing world?

“I believe the legal system is the strongest practical way of addressing poisoning, and I believe we need it even in third world countries,” says Martin Odino, a researcher affiliated with the National Museums of Kenya who works as an independent researcher on bird poisoning issues.

Odino advocates giving Africans an economic incentive to conserve wildlife, such as hiring locals to scout for poachers and lead bird-watching tours, a tactic he has tested with some success in Kenya. To date, most of the work to conserve vultures in Africa has focused on documenting the decline. Unlike India, in Africa there were few baseline population studies to compare with recent surveys. One of the first international organizations to take interest in African vultures was the U.S.-based Peregrine Fund. Munir Virani, Africa program director for the fund, has created a program to mentor Masai youth about the ecological value of vultures. He is also working in Kenya to install lights to deter lions and other predators from killing livestock, as vultures are the most common victims when livestock owners retaliate by poisoning the predators.

Hopes for curbing wildlife poisoning and saving vultures are highest for countries that have relatively stable governments, such as Kenya, or where the country is relatively wealthy, such as South Africa. In fact, when Botha investigated the vulture poisoning in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, his team was soon joined by the police, who gathered two vulture carcasses as evidence and recorded the sex and species of the rest.

To prevent further poisoning, the group piled dry wood on the elephant carcass, lit a fire, and burned the elephant to ashes.

But even governments that might be able to spare some resources to prevent the extinction of African vultures lack the political will, says Ogada. Often it takes pressure from outside Africa to create a change. For example, she says, little happened to curb lion poisonings until about five years ago, after the U.S. television news program, “60 Minutes,” aired a report.

However, for a bird that may range across countries and even continents, success in one country is not enough. Botha reports that when the 600 vultures were poisoned last year in Namibia, people noticed fewer vultures in the southern Kalahari of South Africa, hundreds of miles away. “Poison,” says Fajardo, “has neither eyes, nor heart, and does not respect boundaries.”

madeline bodin|11 Aug 2014|in Biodiversity Africa

Five Top Spots for Birding in Florida 

Here in Florida, birding and wildlife viewing is a big deal – even bigger than you might imagine.

In fact, birding is second only to beach-related activities as a form of outdoor recreation for both visitors and residents. The trend is still on the rise, so count on seeing more and more people carrying binoculars and spotting scopes around the Sunshine State.

If you’re already into birding, you probably know that Florida is considered one of the best places in the world for the activity. Here are five of the top spots you don’t want to miss:

*   Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – For Titusville, having one of the state’s most diverse wildlife habitats on your doorstep is a good thing. In January, the area hosts the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, which is the largest of its kind in the country. Birders flock to the area en masse to get a look at migrating waterfowl and all manner of shorebirds along Black Point Wildlife Drive, a 7-mile loop around salt marsh impoundments. Whether you’re visiting for a day or a week, you’re sure to check a few species off your life list here.

*   Everglades National Park – When wildlife lovers dream, they more than likely dream about the Everglades. Not only is it a National Park, it’s also designated as an International Biosphere Reserve for its ecological importance. Residents of Everglades National Park include the Florida panther, American crocodile, the rare Ghost orchid, manatees and much more. For a good day trip, check out the Anhinga Trail and the Shark Valley tram. www.nps.gov/ever

*   Dry Tortugas National Park - Located about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park is a little difficult to reach, but the reward is well worth the effort. Catch a ride on the Yankee Freedom Ferry, a high-speed catamaran that can get you there in just a couple of hours. Go in the spring and you’ll be rewarded with the rare sight of thousands of Sooty terns and Brown noddies nesting on Bush Key. www.nps.gov/drto

*   J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge - Year-round birding and wildlife viewing is terrific on Sanibel Island. At “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, you can drive around the 4-mile Wildlife Drive and get looks at Roseate spoonbills and Gray kingbirds. Take a walk on the Indigo Trail in the summer months, where Mangrove cuckoos can be found. www.fws.gov/dingdarling

*   STA5/Lake Okeechobee - It’s not a National Park or a National Wildlife Refuge, but STA-5 is one of the best birding spots in South Florida. Stormwater treatment areas are designed to filter out excess nutrients that would otherwise flow to the Everglades, but they also turn out to be excellent places for birding. To access STA-5, you’ll need to register a visit with one of the local Audubon Society chapters. The birding is fantastic year-round, and you’ll definitely add a few life-listers at STA-5. www.hendrygladesaudubon.org

If five locations aren’t enough, don’t worry. The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail covers the entire state, with 514 official sites to explore. Check out www.floridabirdingtrail.com  for more information.

Invasive species

Invasive lionfish threaten Gulf of Mexico ecosystem

GALVESTON, Texas – It sounds like something from a horror film: A beautiful, feathery-looking species of fish with venomous spines and a voracious appetite sweeps into the Gulf of Mexico, gobbling up everything in its path. Unfortunately for the native fish and invertebrates it’s eating, this invasion isn’t unfolding on the big screen.

In recent months, news has been spreading of lionfish, a maroon-and-white striped native of the South Pacific that first showed up off the coast of southern Florida in 1985.

Most likely, someone dumped a few out of a home fish tank. With a reproduction rate that would put rabbits to shame and no predators to slow its march, the fish swept up the Eastern seaboard and down to the Bahamas and beyond, where it is now more common than in its home waters.

“The invasive lionfish have been nearly a perfect predator,” says Martha Klitzkie, director of operations at the nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation, or REEF, headquartered in Key Largo, Fla. “Because they are such an effective predator, they’re moving into new areas and, when they get settled, the population increases pretty quickly.” The lionfish population exploded in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas between 2004 and 2010.

As lionfish populations boomed, the number of native prey fish dropped.

According to a 2012 study by Oregon State University, native prey fish populations along nine reefs in the Bahamas fell an average of 65 percent in just two years. Lionfish first appeared in the western Gulf of Mexico in 2010; scientists spotted them in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area about 100 miles off the Texas coast, in 2011.

Now scuba divers spot them on coral heads nearly every time they explore a reef. So far, significant declines in native fish populations haven’t occurred here, but the future is uncertain. “It’s kind of this impossible battle,” says Michelle Johnston, a research specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Galveston, who manages a coral reef monitoring project at the Flower Garden Banks. “When you think how many are out there, I don’t think eradication is possible now.”

Lionfish are fascinating, beautiful creatures. Two nearly identical species are found in the Gulf. They grow to about 18 inches and have numerous venomous spines. Their stripes are unique, like those of a zebra. They hover in the water, hanging near coral heads or underwater structures where reef fish flourish. Ambush predators, they wait for prey fish to draw near, then gulp them down in a flash. The fish mature in a year and can spawn every four days, pumping out 2 million eggs a year. They live about 15 years.

In the South Pacific, predators and parasites keep lionfish in check. But here, nothing recognizes them as food – those feathery spines serve as do-not-touch warnings to other fish.

The few groupers that have been spotted taste-testing lionfish have spit them back out, Johnston says.

In the basement of the NOAA Fisheries Science Center on the grounds of the old Fort Crockett in Galveston, Johnston sorts through a rack of glass vials. Each one contains the contents found in the stomach of a lionfish collected in the Flower Garden Banks. She points to a fish called a bluehead wrasse in one jar. “This little guy should still be on the reef eating algae, not here in a tube,” she says.

Other jars contain brown chromis, red night shrimp, cocoa damselfish and mantis shrimp, all native species found in lionfish bellies. “The amount of fish we find in their guts – it’s really alarming. They’re eating juvenile fish that should be growing up. They’re also eating fish that the native species are supposed to be eating.”

Lionfish can eat anything that fits into their mouth, even fish half their own size. They eat commercially important species, such as snapper and grouper, and the fish that those species eat, too. They’re eating so much, in fact, that scientists say some are suffering from a typically human problem – obesity. “We’re finding them with copious amount of fat – white, blubbery fat,” Johnston says.

They can adapt to almost any habitat, living anywhere from a mangrove in 1 foot of water to a reef 1,000 feet deep. They like crevices and hidey-holes but can find that on anything from a coral head to a drilling platform to a sunken ship. They can handle a wide range of salinity levels, too.

Their range seems limited only by temperature – so far they don’t seem to overwinter farther north than Cape Hatteras, N.C. – and their southern expansion extends to the northern tip of South America, although they are expected to reach the middle of Argentina in another year or two. “As long as they have something to eat, they’ll be there,” Johnston says. The impacts of their invasion could become widespread, scientists warn.

In the Gulf, lionfish are eating herbivores like damselfish and wrasse – “the lawnmowers of the reef,” Johnston calls them – that keep the reef clean. “When you take the reef fish away, there’s not a lot of other things left to eat algae,” she says. That creates a phase shift from a coral-dominated habitat to an algae-dominated one. “When you take fish away, coral gets smothered, the reef dies, and we lose larger fish. It’s a snowball effect of negativity.”

Pam LeBlanc|Austin American-Statesman (MCT)|June 8, 2014

 Floridians urged to guard against mosquitoes

MIAMI (AP) – State health officials are warning Floridians to protect themselves against mosquitoes.

The biting bugs can carry debilitating diseases and pose an elevated threat to public health during the state’s rainy season.

Officials are urging people to drain water from their garbage cans and gutters and cover their skin by wearing shoes, socks and long pants. Mosquito repellant is also encouraged.

Health officials say residents of Pinellas County should be aware of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, which has made its way to the Caribbean from Africa, Asia and islands in the Indian Ocean. They say travelers to those regions could carry the virus back to the United States and infect local mosquito populations.

The Florida Department of Public Health has confirmed at least 18 cases of imported chikungunya in the state.

Andrew Murphy

Endangered Species

  Maui’s Dolphin Facing Extinction

The Maui’s dolphin is a critically endangered subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin, also known as the ‘Hobbit’ dolphin & is the smallest & rarest of all dolphin.  Their habitat is found only on the west coast of the North Island, NZ.

It is estimated that only 55 Maui’s dolphin exist & numbers appear to be declining. Gill netting & trawling have caused the demise of these dolphins from approximately 1874, in the 1970s to just 55.

Seismic exploration by oil companies are blasts on the ocean floor ! The blasts have a terrible impact on dolphins and whales. They suffer from “acoustic impact” created by the loud and frequent sound waves. Their ear bones explode, their organs fill up with painful air bubbles (decompression sickness), they become deaf and can no longer fish. They are in constant terrible pain until ultimately they die.

Three thousand square kilometers of the marine sanctuary of the Maui’s dolphin habitat is to be opened up for oil exploration (seismic testing). Despite evidence from the scientific community that seismic testing (involving multiple underwater explosions) is a death sentence to dolphins and other cetations,  Conservation minister Nick Smith & Energy Resources minister Simon Bridges continue on their course to wipe out Maui’s Dolphin. The NZ government is refusing to protect the small population of these dolphin.

Please sigh the petition at #1 in Calls to Action

Chinese Traditional Medicine Threatens Turtle Populations

For thousands of years turtles have been used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments and diseases. Originally published in the journal Radiata and recently republished HerpDigest David S. Lee and Liao Shi Kun write, “[In Chinese culture] turtles are symbolic of long life, personal wealth, fertility, strength, and happy households.”

Despite a lack of scientific evidence demonstrating a causative link between turtle consumption and medicinal benefits, many people in China believe they provide benefits such as maintaining youthful beauty in women and improving sexual function in men. Because of these beliefs and their symbolic importance, turtles have been highly sought after for more than 3,000 years. However, in recent years, China’s economy has changed in a way that has become increasingly threatening to the country’s wild turtle populations.

The most common species used are the yellow pond turtle (Mauremys mutica), the Chinese three-striped box turtle (Cuora trifasciata), the yellow-margined box turtle (Cuora flavomarginata), the Chinese big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum), Reeves’ turtle (Mauremys reevesii), the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) and Chinese soft-shell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis). Many of these species — including the Chinese three-striped and yellow margined box turtle and the Chinese big-headed turtle — are either extinct or are dangerously close to it in the wild.

In traditional medicine, every last part of the turtle is consumed, including their turtle meat, as well as their skin, heads, eggs, shells and even their blood, urine, and bile. The eggs, blood and bile are all added to wine to provide particular cures, whereas the skin and head are eaten alone. The shell can either be ground into powder or boiled in water, and the urine is used as drops in the ear or consumed as a beverage.

These various concoctions are believed to cure coughs, prolapse of the rectum, deafness, cancer and everything in between. The wide variety of uses as well as the simple fact that they can be transported and kept alive for long periods of time post-capture has made turtles highly desirable ingredients for traditional medicine.

Erin Crandall| MONGABAY.COM|August 11, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, MONGABAY.COM.

Government Program Threatens Grizzly, Wolves and Other Wildlife

Despite thousands of citizen’s voices calling for closure of the sheep experiment station, the livestock industry is kicking and screaming to retain one of many federal handouts—a subsidy that leads to dead Grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies. The Grizzly needs your voice now.

The Secretary of Agriculture proposed to close a government-sponsored facility in Idaho that has been a massive waste of taxpayer funds and a death trap for grizzly bears.

But the western livestock industry enlisted powerful allies in Washington D.C. to prevent the U.S. Department of Agriculture from closing the Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, ID.

Direct conflict with grizzly bear and wolves has made the Sheep Station the subject of continuous litigation and controversy. The Sheep Station has significant impacts on other wildlife as well including coyotes, fox, mountain lions and wolves. Two entire packs of wolves have been shot, trapped and aerially gunned down because of conflicts with the domestic sheep in the area.

Once over 50,000 strong in the lower forty-eight states, the grizzly bear is now a threatened species that roams less than two percent of its historic range. Federal biologists have identified the Centennial Mountains of southwest Montana and eastern Idaho as the best linkage habitat between Yellowstone National Park and unoccupied wilderness areas in Idaho. 

The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station allows sheep to graze in the heart of this important Grizzly travel corridor and has had a reckless license to kill native wildlife. It’s time to bring an end to this institution and re-wild the lands that have been a death trap for Grizzlies for decades.

We must support Secretary Vilsack’s proposal to close the Sheep Station. This is where the legendary Grizzly belongs—it’s not a place for heavily subsidized public lands ranching.

Those of us who love the great wild places of the west, and the bears that make the Northern Rockies so special, must stand up now. Tell the USDA Agricultural Research Service not bend to pressure from the livestock industry. This is one tremendous chance to re-wild the Northern Rockies.

Please sign # 2 in Calls to Action above

Bryan Bird|Wild Places Program Director|WildEarth Guardians

U.S. denies protections for wolverines, outrages conservationists

SALMON Idaho (Reuters) – U.S. wildlife managers on Tuesday denied federal protections for rare wolverines, outraging conservationists but pleasing Western states that opposed adding the reclusive but feisty member of the weasel family to the endangered and threatened species list.

Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed applying Endangered Species Act safeguards for the estimated 300 wolverines left in the Lower 48 states, most of which inhabit the high country of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The service had said global warming was reducing mountain snows the animals use to dig dens and store food.

But on Tuesday federal wildlife managers said there was “insufficient evidence” that climate change would harm wolverines, which resemble small bears with bushy tails and which are known for their ferocious defense of their young.

“After carefully considering the best available science, the Service has determined that the effects of climate change are not likely to place the wolverine in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future,” Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire said in a statement.

The decision was welcomed in states such as Montana, which will determine next year whether to reinstate a limited wolverine trapping season that was suspended in 2012 after a lawsuit by conservationists.

Listing would have banned trapping of wolverines, which are prized for their fur, and imposed restrictions on snowmobiling and other winter recreation in areas inhabited by the solitary creatures.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Tuesday’s decision was part of a disturbing trend by the Obama administration of managing imperiled wildlife based on pressure by states and industry instead of science.

“All of the science points to the wolverine being in serious trouble. The Service’s own biologists said global warming was pushing the wolverine toward extinction and urged listing,” he said.

Laura Zuckerman|Aug 12, 2014|Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler

Law that would allow wolf hunt to continue passes Michigan State Senate

LANSING — The issue of hunting wolves in the Upper Peninsula intersected with the historic flooding in Detroit Wednesday as the state Senate passed a citizen-initiated law that will allow the hunt to continue.

But the fact that the Senate dealt with the wolf hunt on its only day of session in August, instead of critical issues like improving Michigan’s roads and other critical infrastructure in the wake of the flooding this week, drew the ire of Democrats.

“Democracy is one of the founding principles of our nation, but you continue to treat people like your subjects, rather than your bosses,” said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing. “It’s not as if we don’t have serious work we could be doing here today. Metro Detroit is literally underwater. Our roads are still falling apart. But on the one day you bother to show up for work this month, you ignore all that and come here to take away the rights of the people to vote again.”

On a mostly party-line vote of 23-10, the Senate passed the citizen-initiated legislation that would give control of what species of animal can be hunted to the Natural Resources Commission. The legislation, which was spearheaded by the Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management which collected enough signatures to put the issue before the Legislature, is intended to circumvent a ballot proposal pushed by Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which would have stopped the wolf hunt.

“The Michigan legislative sportsmen’ caucus considers this the number one priority this year,” said state Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville. “One in six Michiganders hunt or fish. As their representatives, we must ensure public policy decisions are based on sound science, not partisan politics or emotions.”

And Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, one of the biggest supporters of continuing the wolf hunt, said supporting the legislation was about protecting Michigan’s hunting heritage.

“The U.S. Humane Society has been backing this all along,” he said, noting the organization that bankrolled the two petition drives to stop the wolf hunt. “They’re misleading about their true intentions. This is about taking away our hunting privileges.”

But Democrats said it was about taking away the Michigan residents’ right to vote on the issue.

“You’re giving a small special interest group their way instead of letting the issue go on the ballot,” said Sen. Coleman Young, D-Detroit. “It is a tried and true Republican tactic to take issue out of hands of voters when they need to guarantee a victory.”

He cited other examples of the Legislature acting to co-opt ballot proposals, including: repealing the emergency manager law, only to have a new law passed by the Legislature; passing a minimum wage hike to $9.25 an hour to circumvent a ballot initiative that raised the rate to $10.10 per hour; and passing a citizen-initiated bill to require women to buy a separate rider to their health insurance if they wanted abortion coverage after two governors had vetoed similar bills.

The bill still has to go to the House of Representatives, which expect to take it up on Aug. 27. If they pass the legislation, it will automatically become law. If they reject it or do nothing, the issue will go on the November general election ballot. The last time the House took up the issue of allowing the hunt, it passed with bi-partisan support.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected director Jill Fritz urged the House to reject the legislation.

“The voters can be trusted, and should be allowed to hear the arguments from both sides and make an informed judgment this November,” she said in a statement. “We call on House members to end this abuse of power, and restore respect for the democratic process by letting the people vote.”

The first wolf hunt was held in November and December last year and had a goal of killing 43 of the Upper Peninsula’s population of more than 650 wolves. The hunt resulted in 23 wolves being killed by hunters.

Kathleen Gray|Gannett Michigan|Aug. 13, 2014

Feds Cave to Pressure, Abandon Plans to Protect Wolverines

Despite serious threats from global warming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week overturned the recommendations of its own scientists and withdrew its earlier proposal to protect American wolverines under the Endangered Species Act.

There are only 250 to 300 wolverines left in the lower 48 states, primarily in the Northern Rockies. Global warming in the next 75 years is expected to wipe out 63 percent of the snowy habitat they need to survive.

On Tuesday, though, top officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service said they will no longer pursue plans to protect wolverines. There’s been no new science casting doubt on the strong scientific consensus supporting a 2013 proposal to give wolverines federal protection. But the proposal came under intense opposition from states like Montana and Idaho.

“Global warming has put wolverines firmly on the path toward extinction in the lower 48, so it’s really alarming to see the Obama administration cave to political pressure like this,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald. “This is the moment when wolverines need our help the most, and the agency is turning its back and walking away.”

Elephant poaching soars as Sumatran forests turn into plantations

Reported kills for 2014 in Riau Province reached 22 by June, surpassing 2013 numbers by 63 percent

There has been a spike in elephant deaths in Sumatra this year, and conversion of rainforest to plantations is one of the main causes, according to the Indonesian Elephant Conservation Forum, or FKGI. The number of Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) poached in the province of Riau so far this year is staggering, with 22 reported kills in the first six months of 2014 compared to 14 for the entirety of 2013.

FKGI – a group comprised of several NGOs and individuals promoting conservation of elephants and their habitat — said conversion of natural forest to industrial forest such as timber plantations has split open the ecosystem and provides hunters easy access to elephant areas.

The Sumatran elephant is protected by Indonesia’s Law No. 5/1990 on Sustainable Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation. Due to a rapidly diminishing population, in 2011 the IUCN changed the status of the subspecies from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered – just one rung above extinction.

The ivory trade is thought to be the main motive of the recent spate of elephant deaths, with WWF Indonesia reporting most carcasses were devoid of tusks. Unlike African elephants that grow tusks regardless of sex, only male Asian elephants have tusks.

The group said that 18 out of 22 elephant corpses were discovered near Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper’s (RAPP) concession area. The company is a subsidiary of APRIL, the pulp & paper division of the Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) Group, a conglomerate owned by Singapore-based businessman Sukanto Tanoto.

“The corpse of the [last] elephant was found in an acacia plantation just 50 meters from the main logging road and not far from a RAPP security checkpoint,” FKGI head Krismanko Padang said in a press statement.

Four other dead elephants were found in Hutani Sola, Balai Raja Elephant Training Center, which is the concession area of the firm Arara Abadi.

Security posts set up by timber plantation companies have been loose and unable to inspect people passing through the checkpoints, FKGI added.

“From the information we gather, hunters’ car often enter the plantation area but the security officers could not stop them,” Krismanko said.

To address the situation, FKGI called for industrial forest companies such as RAPP to play a more active role in protecting elephants roaming their concession by showing more responsibility, as well as pursuing poaching cases and determining the perpetrators and the motives behind the killings.

In the last decade, at least 142 elephants have been killed by poison or gunfire, but only a single case has been brought to court. That happened in 2005 in Mahato, Rokan Hulu district, and the perpetrator was sentenced to 12.5 years in jail for poaching, possessing a firearm and defying authorities.

Elephant deaths have also occurred at Tesso Nilo, one of the last remaining lowland rainforests on Sumatra, which has been designated the Center for Elephant Conservation by the Forestry Ministry. The deaths occurred in the concession areas of Rimba Peranap Indah, Siak Raya Timber and Arara Abadi in the Tesso Nilo forest block.

The head of Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said investigation of elephant deaths is difficult. This is due to a lack of available funds and human resources, as well as the difficulty in finding witnesses, as the places where killings take place are often very remote.

“We are not making excuses but the reality is our human resources and funds are very limited. There are still other problems we need to tackle such as forest fires, illegal logging and forest encroachment,” said Kemal Amas, head of BKSDA.

According to Krismanko, attempts have been made to reach out to RAPP, with a request to RAPP management to convene and discuss the deaths. However, the request was denied by a company representative, who said they were unavailable due to the Islamic Eid holiday.

“It goes to show that Sumatran elephant death is not a priority for RAPP,” Krismanko said. “So let RAPP’s image become bad in the eye of the people and consumers. Their commitment is questionable.”

Sunarto, a species specialist from WWF, said plantation firms whose area is part of elephant range should be active in conserving elephants and be willing to allocate space for their movements.

“The government should give incentives and appreciation to companies and people who helped save elephants,” Sunarto said. “The government must also enforce the law on those involved in damaging the habitat and even worse those who hunt and kill this highly intelligent and sociable animal.”

Originally written for Mongabay-Indonesia by Zamzami; translated into English by Olivia Rondonuwu|August 14, 2014

Read more

Red tide impacts on Kemp’s ridley sea turtles

The Kemp’s ridley turtle is one of the most endangered sea turtle species but it also happens to be the most common in the bays and estuaries of Southwest Florida.

Turtles inhabiting these vital feeding grounds are at risk during the episodic blooms of the toxic algae Karenia brevis, commonly known as “red tide”.

Conservancy scientists, in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory, have been conducting the first research of its kind with wild, free-swimming Kemp’s ridleys during these harmful algae blooms (HABs).

Satellite telemetry was used to track the movements of ridleys during consecutive red tide bloom. The red tide event of 2011-12 primarily occurred offshore and alongshore the barrier islands of Charlotte Harbor, during which telemetered Kemp’s ridleys remained within Pine Island Sound.

The red tide event of 2012-13 occurred offshore/alongshore but a severe bloom also developed within Pine Island Sound. Telemetered ridleys responded with greater movements within the estuarine complex and/or moving to offshore waters.

Turtles appear to be able to detect the harmful algae and subsequently respond by avoiding areas with high concentrations of toxin.

Blood samples collected from Kemp’s ridleys indicated toxin levels in the turtles were higher during or immediately after these red tide events compared to those captured between the events. The fact that turtles tested positive when red tide was no longer detected in our area suggests the harmful effects may persist in the estuarine/marine environment for months.

The toxin levels in the blood of free-swimming turtles were below those of turtles that were found immobilized from red tide exposure and this suggests there is a threshold level at which the signs of exposure become evident. Read the full study here.

Lastly, diet studies showed that free-ranging Kemp’s ridleys in Charlotte Harbor feed on spider crabs and stranded turtles recovered alongshore during red tide events had fed on tunicates (sea squirts). Tunicates are known to filter red tide algae from the water and incorporate high concentrations of toxins in their tissues.

Previous studies in the Ten Thousand Islands found tunicates in the diet of ridleys in this area and the habit of consuming tunicates during a red tide bloom may put these turtles at risk.

Hundreds of rhinos to be evacuated from Kruger National Park

Nearly 500 rhinos could be moved from South Africa’s Kruger National Park to save them from poachers if plans are approved, say the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s population of African rhino – some  21 000 –  live in South Africa (93 per cent of Africa’s white rhino and 39 per cent  of Africa’s black rhino), including 9,600 white rhinos in Kruger.

Known as a stronghold Kruger is therefore heavily targeted by poachers with a record 606 (out of a total of 1004) rhinos killed during 2013. The news is not good for 2014 either with 351 rhinos being poached since January.
The animals will be moved to other less-known and lesser-targeted parks, both national and private, in a hope this will spread the risk and help create other rhino strongholds across the country.

The rhino population in South Africa was rescued from the brink of extinction in the early 1900s. At the time, the rhino population in the Kruger National Park was locally extinct.

Since the start of the relocation of 351 rhino from the Hluhluwe-uMfolozi game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal to the Kruger National Park 50 years ago, the Kruger rhino population had increased to  its present numbers.

The report from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs  said: “Our previous experience has shown that biological management, which includes translocations, has resulted in the growth of rhino numbers in South Africa. The complimentary approach of strategic relocations from the Kruger National Park and the creation of rhino strongholds will allow the total rhino population size of South Africa to continue to grow.

“Translocated rhinos contribute to the creation of alternative strongholds, which are areas where rhinos can be cost-effectively protected while applying conservation husbandry to maximize population growth.

“This approach allows the offsetting of poaching in the short to medium term, while also expanding rhino range and improving overall.” 

Wild & Weird

Everyone Can Calm Down: These Little Sea Rafts are Normal

California’s beaches are turning purple with the bodies of dead sea creatures, and members of the public as well as the media are panicking. What’s going on? Is the world coming to an end? What’s happening to cause this unprecedented bloom, and is it a sign of something more sinister?

Actually, no — though the increased media attention and public concern are unusual, there’s nothing weird about these particular beach visitors.

They look like jellyfish, but these marine organisms actually aren’t — not that it makes much of a difference to many people walking on beaches along the West Coast of the United States. By-the-wind sailors (also known as Sea Rafts, or Velella velella) are washing ashore in droves, and some media outlets, as well as members of the public, are wondering where they came from and what’s driving them on to shore. No, it’s not an alien invasion, although you might be forgiven for thinking so when you see beaches covered in the tiny blue-purple animals.

The life of Velella velella starts in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, when hundreds of creatures get together to form a colony, creating what’s known as a hydrozoan, and these creatures are carried by wind patterns (hence their common name) to cluster in mass colonies off the shores of the West Coast. Such blooms are in fact common, especially in the summer, and some organisms do wash on shore, but usually not in such unprecedented numbers, or this late. Social media, however, are exploding with reports of the tiny creatures, but in fact, scientists say, the perfectly earthly visitors have a reasonable explanation.

Doctor Rick Mooi, responding to a query from the San Jose Mercury News, said that:

“[Strandings] are common, happen to a certain degree pretty much every year, and have been happening for a long time, probably even long before there were humans here to notice it. Some years there are more washing up than in other years, this just seems to be a good year for it…[They are] also not a special indicator of ‘something wrong’ with the ocean or its ecosystems. Stuff happens, and this just seems to be a good year for Velella to wash up (but not a good year for those particular Velella, of course).”

So go the facts of life; Velella velella are being blown ashore by winds, which are highly variable, because they live at the mercy of the wind, moving by means of the sails embedded into their bodies. Unfortunately for them, once they get on shore, they can’t catch a ride back out to the ocean, and they dry out quickly. Like many marine organisms, their bodies don’t retain water because they’re surrounded by it, and they have no evolutionary reason to do so. Even the wind patterns associated with their movement on shore aren’t necessarily a precedent for something ominous, because wind patterns do change, and aren’t necessarily linked with climate change or other environmental events.

In the meantime, beachgoers might want to avoid handling these dying beach residents. In addition to being a bit unpleasant to touch, they also carry a venom that can irritate mucous membranes. While accidentally stepping on or touching a by-the-wind sailor isn’t going to result in a painful episode, handling them and thoughtlessly touching the eyes, nose, or mouth might result in an unhappy experience. For those who do come into contact with a by-the-wind sailor, it’s a good idea to wash thoroughly with cool water and soap, and those who notice irritation should contact a doctor.

The situation is a classic example of a normal environmental phenomenon blown out of proportion by concerned members of the public and media trafficking on what seems like a good story. When something seemingly unusual happens in the environment, it may have a lot of explanations — and not all of them are sinister. Sometimes, all it means is that you never noticed that particular iteration of the natural world before.

s.e. smith|August 12, 2014

Everglades

DEP PERMIT FOR THE L-8

Critical water storage and treatment will be bolstered by latest construction effort

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Ecosystem Projects issued a permit to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today to construct the L-8 Divide Structure, a key component of  strategies to restore south Florida ecosystems. The L-8 Divide Structure will assist the movement of stormwater into the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin providing much needed water storage and, when necessary, directing water from the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin south to designated stormwater treatment areas.  

“The department and the South Florida Water Management District continue to make progress on Governor Scott’s strategies to restore south Florida’s ecosystems,” said DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard. “This project is another significant step forward for the region as we work to increase our water storage and water treatment capacity and move cleaner water south, where it will ensure proper nourishment of Florida’s Everglades.”

The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin will use a 53-foot-deep reservoir capable of storing approximately 45,000 acre-feet of water, or the equivalent of 22,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. The below-ground reservoir was a former rock mine site located in central Palm Beach County. The location’s unique geology allows for deep, below-ground storage, reduces water loss through seepage and minimizes levee safety concerns. The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin consists of seven interconnected cells that will be utilized to manage basin stormwater. During storm events and other peak flow times, the reservoir will act as a storage feature. During dry periods, the reservoir will deliver flows for optimized treatment prior to those flows entering the Everglades.  

Other project elements such as the construction of a permanent discharge pump station and the inflow feature are already underway and on schedule for completion by Dec. 2016. The construction of embankment protection features is also nearing completion. Total project cost for the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin and associated projects is $75.5 million, with $35 million spent to date. Construction of the L-8 Divide Structure is scheduled for Aug. 2014 through Oct. 2016. The total project cost for the divide structure is $5.6 million. When completed, the L-8 Equalization Flow Basin will store up to 15 billion gallons of water so it can be treated and moved south to the Everglades.

The  water quality plan includes:  

  • 6,500 acres of additional stormwater treatment areas, which are man-made managed wetlands that naturally remove phosphorus from water prior to the water being discharged into the Everglades;
  • 110,000 acre-feet of water storage capabilities in flow equalization basins or reservoirs that work with the proposed and existing stormwater treatment areas to regulate flows and optimize treatment efficiency; and
  • Other components of the plan include engineering projects in existing treatment areas and the modification of conveyance features necessary to move the water through the SFWMD’s massive flood control and water delivery features.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection|July 10, 2014

Lake O reservoir project on hold

FORT MYERS, Fla. – A major water project designed to clean up the coastline is on hold.

The C-43 Reservoir will help reduce the number of Lake Okeechobee releases into the Caloosahatchee River.

“The idea is we would pull the water out of the river, store it in this small reservoir and then during the dry season when there’s some water left in the reservoir if there’s some water left we can release it into the estuary when it needs it,” Phil Flood with the South Florida Water Management District said.

The reservoir will be located in Hendry County.

While waiting on all the federal money to come through, the South Water Management District says it plans on starting with a smaller reservoir that would store between 8,000-11,000 acre-feet of water.

But that construction is on hold until the end of rainy season.

“We can utilize the property that we have right now for storage in the interim in the event we need to pump water out of the river,” Flood said.

John Scott, the Co-Founder for the Clean Water Initiative of Florida, says he’s okay with pushing the project back.

“It’s not like it’s a solution that’s going to make the problem go away tomorrow,” Scott said. “I mean as long as we get it done before the next dry season I think we will be okay.”

And because the C-43 reservoir doesn’t offer a way to clean the water before releasing it, Scott says he will continue to push for a more comprehensive solution.

“We’ve got to get the water south,” Scott said. “We have to be able to really put a major dent in this problem.”

Sara Belsole|Aug 8, 2014

The L-8 and C-51 Reservoirs

The L-8 reservoir. previously called the Loxahatchee Reservoir,  is a rock mine that has been converted to a below-ground reservoir.

The reservoir  turned old rock mines west of Royal Palm Beach into a 24 billion-gallon reservoir that collect stormwater that otherwise gets drained out to sea for flood control. The SFWMD approved the $64 million pumps needed to pull water from 40′ in September  of 2012.  The project is part of the State’s $880 million water quality plan for the Everglades.  The reservoir will eventually become one of three Flow Equalization Basins in the restoration strategies plan, providing 99,000 acre-feet of storage for delivery of consistent flows needed to optimize performance of the region’s Stormwater Treatment Areas.

Existing canals operated by the South Florida Water Management District and Lake Worth Drainage District would then be used to move the water south, supplementing drinking water well fields in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Core Mission Values

The reservoir will be able to capture excess water in the wet season to improve year-round flows to the Grassy Waters Preserve, the Loxahatchee Slough, and the Loxahatchee River. This reservoir adds capacity to help manage regional water supply through seasonal fluctuations and improve the hydroperiods of regionally significant wetland systems.

Other Resource Value

The site falls within a wildlife corridor that is being established to connect the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area to the north with the stormwater treatment areas and National Wildlife Refuge to the south.

C-51 Reservoir  

Water agencies in Southeast Florida have been working together to develop a regional water supply that is sustainable and affordable. The C-51 Reservoir – named after its primary water source, the C-51 drainage canal – has emerged as the leading candidate to meet these requirements. It is calculated that the reservoir could meet the future raw water demands for Palm Beach and Broward Counties for the next 50 years.

Occupying 2,200 acres of the PBA property, the C5-1 Reservoir, when implemented, could store up to 61,000 acre-feet of raw water. The initial phase would hold approximately 16,000 acre-feet and supply 35 million gallons per day (MGD) of raw water to participating utilities. Phase Two will add an additional +-45,000 acre-feet of water storage.

While serving as a municipal water supply, the reservoir will be capable of capturing storm water which is currently lost to the Lake Worth Lagoon estuary. It is expected that elimination of excess freshwater discharges to the brackish Lake Worth Lagoon will provide immense environmental benefits through water quality improvement. The reservoir would also serve to assist with flood control and Everglades restoration efforts. Comparable to the Loxahatchee Reservoir project, completed in 2007 and renamed the L8 Reservoir, the C-51 Reservoir sits on adjacent property and carries similar geological features and environmental benefits.

  • L-8 Reservoir can capture, store and deliver +- 45000 acre feet to improve performance of the STAs
  • C-51 Reservoir could capture and store  +-75000 acre feet of water from the C-51 Basin for regional water supply

Corps releases Central Everglades report for public, state and agency review

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has released the revised final report for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) for public, state and agency review today.

A notification has been published in the Federal Register announcing the availability of the report for its required 30-day review.

“All of the recommended revisions to the report have been completed and approved and we’re now moving forward with public, state and agency review,” said Jacksonville District commander Col. Alan Dodd. “The release of this report is a significant milestone for CEPP and reflects the extraordinary efforts of so many to successfully address complex issues and produce this quality report.”

The report is available on the project’s Web page at: www.bit.ly/CentralEverglades_CEPP

Comments will be accepted through Sept. 8, 2014. They can be submitted electronically to: CEPPcomments@usace.army.mil

or mailed to:

Dr. Gretchen Ehlinger
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 4970
Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019

The goal of CEPP is to capture water lost to tide and re-direct the water flow south to restore the central and southern Everglades ecosystem and Florida Bay. The Corps is jointly conducting this planning effort in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District.

Everglades report shows restoration progress, needs

An Everglades restoration progress report released Tuesday identifies signs of success as well as a long, expensive to-do list to save Florida’s fading River of Grass.

Florida and the federal government are in the midst of a decades-long, multibillion-dollar effort to protect what’s left of the Everglades — unique wetlands that provide important animal habitat and also boost South Florida’s water supply.

The 2014 Everglades “status report” from state and federal officials finds that initial efforts to restore animal habitat and water flows are working, but that more work is needed to get more water moving south.

“There is some pretty significant evidence being submitted here that Everglades restoration is working,” said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida executive director. “We are seeing improvements.”

The report comes from the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, the federal and state agencies charged with leading Everglades restoration.

The report focuses on Everglades conditions during the past five years and the findings of studies of restoration work now under way. The idea is to compile results that scientists and policy makers can use to determine what to do next.

It is also used to update Congress on restoration progress and to try to build support for the federal and state funding needed to keep it going.

“They look at all of the data [we] have compiled. … It helps them get a more focused look at what’s going on,” said Jenn Miller, spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Everglades suffers from decades of draining South Florida to make way for farming and development. That draining shrunk the Everglades to half its size and now phosphorus-laden pollution from farming and urban areas threatens to foul the remaining tree islands, sawgrass marshes and other Everglades habitat.

The state and federal government in 2000 agreed to an Everglades restoration plan that calls for storing more stormwater, cleaning up pollutants and restoring more water flows south to Everglades National Park. But the work has been slowed by funding delays, design changes and political wrangling.

Despite a soggy 2014 and 2013, the past five years have seen drier than usual conditions for the Everglades, according to the report.

The drier conditions increased fire frequency as well as lowered the amount of algae and fish that are key parts of the Everglades food chain, the report said.

Also, the number of tree islands — shared habitats that are connected to almost every species in the Everglades — continue to decline due to strained water supplies.

Signs of improvement from Everglades restoration efforts include native vegetation returning to more of the Picayune Strand, a $620 million project to turn a failed development on the western edge of the Everglades back into native wildlife habitat.

Likewise, the work done at the C-111 canal in Miami-Dade County is helping to get more water flowing to the eastern edges of Everglades National Park, according to the report.

In addition, roseate spoonbills nesting and crocodile nesting is improving due to restoration efforts, according to the report.

Restorations supporters say that one of the biggest needs moving forward is completing the Central Everglades project — a $2 billion effort to remove portions of South Florida levees, fill in canals and increase pumping to redirect more Lake Okeechobee water south toward Everglades National Park.

Congress this year authorized the next wave of long-planned Everglades restoration projects, including the nearly $900 million Broward County Water Preserve Area. But that bill didn’t include the Central Everglades plan, which means supporters still need to try to convince Congress to help pay for it.

Florida’s shortcomings on meeting federal water quality standards remain a problem in Everglades restoration efforts and should get more attention, according to Draper.

Jump starting the Central Everglades plan, building more water storage to provide alternatives for dumping Lake Okeechobee water out to sea and cleaning up more pollution before it gets into Lake Okeechobee are among the improvements needed, Draper said.

“They are taking a pass on the problem of the pollution getting into the system,” Draper said.

Everglades restoration has cost taxpayers at least $3.1 billion so far, with about $2.4 billion of that paid for by Florida taxpayers.

Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel|August 13, 2014

Water Quality Issues

Bay City (MI) losing millions of gallons in water main break

BAY CITY, Mich. (AP) — Bay City officials were searching Sunday for the source of a water main break that was draining 10 million gallons of water a day and threatening to empty reserves by Monday in the Michigan city of 35,000.

Bay City has declared a water emergency, and public works Director Dave Harran said Sunday that the situation was urgent. He urged residents and businesses to avoid all unnecessary water use, according to The Bay City Times.

Crews discovered Saturday afternoon that there was a major water main break, Harran said, and they searched all night for its location without success. He said the city’s water reserves could be empty by Monday unless the location of the leak is found and crews can halt it.

On Sunday afternoon, crews were inspecting four water mains that run under the Saginaw River to see if any of them is the source of the leak, said Gary Korthals, a city water and sewer system supervisor.

It would be challenging and expensive if the problem turns out to be under the river, Korthals said.

“Oh man, that would be big,” he said. “We’ll cross that bridge if and when we get there.”

Operations continued Sunday at businesses that use water, including the downtown Totally Clean Coin Laundry.

“I guess it didn’t faze me at all,” said Savana West, who was in the middle of doing her laundry. “If we are going to run out of water tomorrow, I’m going to need clean clothes for the rest of the week.”

The Bay City Times|Aug. 10, 2014|http://www.mlive.com/bay-city

[Unfortunately, the World’s water distribution systems are, in large part, very old. Some are centuries old. We can look for more and more of this type of occurrence as deterioration takes its toll. With the population continuing to grow more water is needed on a daily basis and we are already stretching the limits of our aquifers. Soon, our only option will be desalinization.]

IN FLORIDA, TOXIC ALGAE IS A YEAR-ROUND FIGHT

A toxic algae outbreak that recently caused officials in Toledo, Ohio to ban citizens from drinking tainted city water for several days, grabbed headlines around the world. For those of us living here in sunny Florida, these noxious green slime outbreaks are now a year-round occurrence.

A water plant that is supposed to serve 30,000 people along Southwest Florida’s Caloosahatchee River, near Fort Myers, has been repeatedly shut down over the years because toxic algae makes the water unsafe.

The main thing to realize is that these outbreaks are preventable. At Earthjustice, we have been in court for 15 years, fighting to get enforceable, numeric limits on the main culprits in these outbreaks-sewage, manure and fertilizer. We have taken our case to the state capital in Tallahassee and all the way to Washington, D.C.

We are fighting for common-sense control of these pollutants. That means using fertilizer in a targeted way on plant roots, and not broadcast spraying it over the land, where most of it is wasted when it runs off into waterways. Several South Florida communities have passed laws that prevent people from fertilizing their lawns during the rainy season, because what they end up fertilizing instead are our public rivers and lakes. These local laws are a great step forward in solving a pollution problem.

But agricultural pollution is the biggest culprit. Despite proven ways to reduce this pollution, agricultural corporations have bitterly fought even the most modest proposed restrictions on their behavior. A few years ago, we watched as lobbyists for agricultural corporations, and their political friends in Congress, actually held the entire budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hostage until they got lawmakers to remove language that would have enforced stronger limits on this pollution in Florida.

A big polluter like an industrial plant would be fined if it spilled toxic materials into a river. But that’s not true for Florida agricultural operations. Florida allows them to use voluntary goals called “best management practices.” All the corporation has to do is say it is implementing a plan to control pollution, and it is exempt from monitoring. It’s as if you were allowed to speed on the freeway so long as you gave the highway patrol a speed-limit compliance plan.

How many times are we going to have to watch green slime wreck our drinking water, our swimming holes and our beaches? We need to demand that American leaders hold polluters accountable. Every day, factory farms send fertilizer and manure into our public waters, when they could be controlling this pollution on-site.

Everyone should be required to meet specific pollution limits, and they should face consequences if they exceed those limits and trash our water. That’s what the Clean Water Act intended. It’s the fair thing to do for those of us who depend on clean water. And that’s every one of us.

David Guest|August 06, 2014

David Guest has led the Florida regional office of Earth Justice since 1990. His countless legal battles have, in one way or another, been all about water. His motivation to protect Florida’s water comes from years of running boats in the state’s rivers and lakes, which convinced him that waterways are many people’s spiritual connection to nature.

Petitioners aim to deep-six Keys shallow effluent injection wells

Injection wells for two Lower Keys water-treatment plants don’t go deep enough to safeguard Florida Keys waters, say environmental and homeowners groups.

Legal petitions seeking an appeal hearing on permits for shallow water-injection wells on Cudjoe Key and Stock Island have been filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“A deep well is the right thing to do and we hope that [the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority] and Monroe County decide to do the right thing,” said Ralf Brookes, who filed the July 25 petition against renewing DEP permits for the county’s regional wastewater treatment plant on Cudjoe Key.

“We have to do everything we can to protect our unique coral reef resources, which are a big part of our economy,” said Brookes, a former Monroe County land-use attorney now practicing in Cape Coral.

Tuesday, the Last Stand environmental group and Key West resident George Halloran filed a similar petition against DEP permits for two new shallow injection wells at a Stock Island wastewater treatment plant run by Key West Resort Utilities Inc., a private business that processes the island’s wastewater.

The Cudjoe petition was sparked by efforts of the Dig Deep Cudjoe group, comprising “a very informal group of citizens” concerned about effects of treated wastewater, or effluent, on nearshore waters, spokeswoman Jan Edelstein said.

The group contends the shallow wells, 12 inches in diameter, will pump effluent down 120 feet into “very porous” limestone.

Even after advanced wastewater treatment, the freshwater effluent could still hold large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous that reach nearshore waters as a result of tidal flow through limestone, the group says.

The legal filing lists the Cudjoe Gardens Property Owners Association and the Sugarloaf Shores Property Owners Association as petitioners, along with commercial fishermen Don DeMaria of Summerland Key and Mike Laudiciana of Big Pine Key.

All petitioners “will suffer adverse effects from the large quantity and poor quality of effluent” that would sent down the shallow injection wells, it says.

“Because of the hydrogeology of the porous limestone in the area, the large volume of low-salinity, partially treated effluent injected into shallow wells will quickly rise to the surface and adversely impact the marine surface waters and ecosystems,” the petition says.

Injecting effluent into bedrock about 2,000 feet below the surface would better safeguard the marine environment, according to Dig Deep Cudjoe.

The estimated final cost of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, to serve 9,000 equivalent dwelling units, is $162 million. Part of that is the treatment plant, costing $23 million. Digging a deepwater injection well would add from $6 million to $8 million, engineers said

Four shallow wells have already been drilled at a total cost of about $300,000 at the site of the Cudjoe Key wastewater plant under a 2009 DEP permit now up for renewal. The plant and wells will not be operational until 2015.

Aqueduct Authority managers and engineers who oversee Monroe County’s wastewater projects say the Cudjoe plant will not exceed the state’s legal daily limit of 1 million gallons of effluent sent to the shallow wells. Anything over 1 million gallons per day requires a deep injection well, a mandate in state rules covering the Keys’ designated “Outstanding Florida Waters.”

“We’ll probably run two wells at a time for better dispersal of the effluent injected into the ground,” FKAA engineer Tom Walker said.

The treatment plant also will have four monitoring wells that measure the outflow from the injection wells, FKAA Executive Director Kirk Zuelch said.

“If, in fact, the environment is not being protected because of nitrates or too much freshwater or whatever the issue may be,” Zuelch said, “then we go to the County Commission and say we need to do a deep well.”

Whether the plant output exceeds the state’s 1-million-gallon daily limit will be one of the issues contested in the petition hearing if it goes forward.

“The more our watchdogs dug into the regulatory and legal thicket, the more concerned they got. It seemed the deep-well rule and other regulations had been violated,” says an e-mail sent by Dig Deep Cudjoe.

The state DEP issued its notice of intent to renew the Cudjoe Key application July 14. “The application provided reasonable assurance of compliance with applicable department statutes and rules,” DEP press secretary Tiffany Cowie said. “The department’s proposed permitting action is currently in litigation.”

The debate could reach the Monroe County Commission at its Aug. 20 meeting.

“I think we should put the best system in the ground we possibly can … rather than wait until some time in the future when a future commission will have to bite the bullet,” Commissioner Danny Kolhage said in an Aug. 1 interview with US1 Radio.

Last Stand’s petition on the Stock Island plant contends peak winter use will exceed the million-gallon daily limit by more than 25 percent. The utility says it qualifies for a shallow well because its daily average, calculated over a year, falls below the limit.

KEVIN WADLOW|keynoter.com|August 9, 2014

Water being sold for private gain, not public benefit

Water for sale: For less than $600 you can purchase approximately 2.3 million gallons per day for 20 years.

Even though these withdrawals will damage, reduce the flow and hasten the drying up of nearby springs and rivers, that’s OK. And even though you will not use these permits to grow food to feed people, that’s also OK. And even though only you as an individual, and not the public, will benefit from this by growing richer, that’s OK as well.

But whose water is this? Apparently it belongs to the state of Florida, since the state is selling it. But what about the public trust? Does the public not own the state’s waters? Is it in the public’s interest that the state should sell its water for a pittance so that one individual should benefit even while damaging the public’s rivers and springs?

This is the current situation in Florida as the state water management districts are selling water-use permits to purchasers who do not intend to engage in agriculture with the new withdrawal permits. Instead, they plan to sell the land and want the permits so that the land will be worth more.

This type of “water banking” has traditionally been practiced in the western states, where water has always been much scarcer, hence more valuable. Water banking is the legal transfer and market exchange of water, motivated by the need to move water where it is needed most, or where it will bring the highest price. Now that people in Florida are beginning to see their water disappearing and in shortage, that practice has arrived here.

Two different viewpoints have traditionally been accepted in the U.S. regarding water rights: the appropriative system, found mostly in the west where water is scarce, and riparian, mostly in the east where water is more abundant. The appropriative system generally recognizes seniority (first user) and is not connected to the land (one need not own the land, but only use the water). Riparian rights emanate from a person’s ownership of land adjacent to a body of surface water or may allow a landowner to withdraw groundwater from wells on the owner’s land.

Florida, while geographically located in the midst of riparian country, has employed both systems. Of pertinent interest is the American tradition of riparian rights, e.g. landowners may withdraw unlimited amounts as long as it is not done for a malicious purpose or in a wasteful manner.

California employs what is called the correlative theory, which is a doctrine applied in many jurisdictions across the nation: Landowners have equal rights to withdraw for a beneficial purpose, but do not have the prerogative to seriously deplete a neighbor’s water supply. In all cases, the state intervenes by providing legal withdrawals, but at the same time must ensure safeguarding of other water rights and avoid injury to the public interest.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter: determining what is consistent with the public interest. Private property interests must be subordinated to the interest of the public as a whole.

The well-known three-prong test ostensibly applied by the water management districts in order to approve a permit application involves basically using water in a reasonable and beneficial way that is consistent with the public interest, causes no harm to other users, and, again, is in the public interest. Ronald Christaldi, writing of Florida’s policy of issuing permits in the Florida State University Law Review, correctly writes that the term public interest “presents a challenge to the agency making the determination because it is not definable” and that “regardless of ecological concerns, permits are issued whenever they meet the three criteria outlined above.”

Ethically speaking, how can the public interest be served when one individual buys a permit, not to grow crops to feed people, but to make himself richer? And when by doing so, the withdrawal will damage and diminish (this is publicly admitted by the water management district) the precious resources enjoyed by the public?

Forty-two years ago the state of Florida mandated the Department of Environmental Protection to protect the water bodies in the state and establish minimum flows and levels necessary to prevent significant harm to natural systems as a result of the withdrawal of water. The department has failed utterly and miserably in this mandate and to this date has not fulfilled this obligation.

Even as we witness the continued denigration, significant harm and the drying up and disappearance of our springs and waters, we now see our state officials selling the public’s waters to investors and entrepreneurs to benefit the few to the detriment of the public.

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson|president|Jim Tatum|member|Our Santa Fe River|Special to The Sun|July 12, 2014

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Congressional candidates agree on Apalachicola River’s importance but not how to protect it

APALACHICOLA — Both candidates in the race for Congress in the Florida Panhandle say the Apalachicola River and the tri-state water wars are an important issue for voters in the district.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system. Last year, Gov. Rick Scott filed a lawsuit against Georgia in the U. S. Supreme Court seeking to divide water among the states.

Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, is facing Democratic challenger Gwen Graham, daughter of former U. S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Miami Lakes, in the Nov. 4 election.

Southerland said he has been working to get federal law changes to counter what he says is a misinterpretation of federal law by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. But Graham said there needs to be less finger-pointing and more cooperation with other states and the federal agency.

After paddling last week in a canoe with her father along a tributary of the Apalachicola River in Franklin County, Gwen Graham called the river “a unique and very precious and important issue.”

“That river needs to be protected,” she told an audience in Apalachicola. “And it is time to stop the fighting. It is time to stop being unwilling to work together to do what is right for the community of Franklin County.”

Graham said she would seek cooperation with the Georgia congressional delegation.

She also said she would work to protect the river by establishing relationships with the Corps of Engineers, which operates dams that control water flow in the river.

“The Corps of Engineers — they need to know that I’m someone not only that they want to talk with but they can trust,” she said.

Asked by Florida Environments whether she agrees with Gov. Rick Scott that Georgia is wasting water, Graham responded, “We need to get past criticizing one another and work towards finding a way to support — whether Georgia, Alabama or Florida — to support one another in the interest of all.”

But Southerland said in response on Tuesday that Scott didn’t have any choice but to file a lawsuit against Georgia because the U. S. Supreme Court had refused to hear Florida’s appeals from two federal appeals court.

“How else are we going to get the issue there (before the Supreme Court)?” he said.

During an interview following a luncheon speech in Apalachicola on Tuesday, Southerland disagreed with Graham’s suggestion that the issue can be resolved through cooperation — or by Florida “rolling over” on the issue as someone at his lunch table suggested.

“I think part of what our responsibility is — as a representative — is to go up there and fight for our district and to fight for more water,” Southerland told Florida Environments. “I would think most people in Franklin County would agree with that battle — that I fight for water.”

During his presentation to the Rotary Club, Southerland said water is being wasted in Georgia.

“You all know of the urban sprawl around Atlanta,” he said. “You all know of what’s going on in the southwest part of the state of Georgia (where farms are located). There is a lot of water being wasted. Yet Florida is doing everything we can for proper conservation of water on our farms. Water is precious. We understand that.”

But he said the disagreement among the states stems from what he considers to be a misinterpretation by the Corps of Engineers of the Water Supply Act of 1958.

Southerland said the Corps of Engineers is not taking responsibility when salinity levels in Apalachicola Bay increase because of low flows. Scientists say those low flows were responsible for a collapse of the bay’s oyster population in 2012.

“I think that’s crazy,” Southerland said. “When they control flows coming down the ACF (Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint), they are responsible.”

Southerland said he asked senators from Alabama and Louisiana to insert language in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act that now serves as a “legislative backstop” on the water issues.

The federal law now urges the governors to reach a water sharing agreement. And it says that if they can’t, Congress “should consider appropriate legislation to address these matters including any necessary clarifications” to the Water Supply Act of 1958

“For the very first time we have legislative language that gives us the right to do that (be a legislative backstop),” he said. “That’s something we haven’t had in the four decades we’ve been waging this battle.”

BRUCE RITCHIE|FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM|Wed, Aug 6, 2014

Big Wins for Rivers in the Southeast

July brought big victories for two legal cases initiated by American Rivers that will significantly benefit rivers in the Southeast.

These victories would not have been possible without our close collaboration with and strong support from regional and local conservation organizations. In Georgia, the State Court of Appeals sided with American Rivers, Southern Environmental Law Center, Georgia River Network in ruling that all state waters are protected under Georgia law by a 25-foot vegetative buffer, benefiting tens of thousands of miles of rivers across the state.

These buffers are strips of trees and plants along a stream or wetland that are left in place to naturally filter out dirt and pollution from rain water runoff before it enters rivers, streams, wetlands, and marshes. Without protective buffers, Georgia waters are at risk of becoming clogged with mud and sediment pollution, choking out aquatic life. The decision overrules the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD) policy that only some state waters are protected by the Erosion and Sedimentation Act’s buffer provision, and also invalidates EPD Director Judson Turner’s April 2014 memorandum that stripped the protective buffer from the Georgia Coast.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the case on behalf of American Rivers and the Georgia River Network in 2012 after EPD failed to require Grady County to obtain a variance for impacting freshwater wetland buffers in its bid to build a 960-acre impoundment on Tired Creek near Cairo, Georgia.

After EPD neglected to correct its oversight, the groups filed a successful appeal with the Office of State Administrative Hearings to rectify the agency’s failure to require a buffer variance for impacts to buffers along wetlands on the site.

The July ruling overturned a state Superior Court ruling which the conservation the groups appealed. American Rivers welcomes the court’s decision affirming the consistent, clear application of environmental protections across Georgia. Having these common-sense safeguards for all the State’s waterways ensures that clean water for local communities is protected. The Catawba and Wateree rivers flow more than 300 miles from their headwaters in the North Carolina foothills, through the Charlotte metro area, and into South Carolina before emptying into the Santee River at the Congaree National Park.

Along its course, Duke Energy owns and operates 11 hydropower dams that while producing electricity also alter natural flows needed for river and floodplain health, impact fish spawning success and reduce dissolved oxygen essential for fish and wildlife. Duke’s dams are undergoing a federal licensing process which will set operational requirements, including how to reduce impacts of the dams on river health, for the next 30 to 50 years.

The Catawba-Wateree project is the nation’s largest hydroelectric project currently undergoing the federal licensing process.

In July, American Rivers, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League reached a settlement agreement with Duke Energy and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control that includes important protections for the Catawba and Wateree rivers and its fish and wildlife. The agreement ends a 5-year legal stalemate over the issuance of a state water quality permit needed for Duke’s new operating license for the Catawba-Wateree hydroelectric project.

The Catawba-Wateree settlement requires Duke Energy to release enough water from the dams to benefit endangered sturgeon. The fish, found in 76 miles of the Wateree River, need certain flows at specific times of the year to aid in their spawning.

The settlement also safeguards natural flooding of the 91,000 acre Wateree River floodplain including part of the Congaree National Park, which harbors one of the nation’s most significant bottomland forests. Through the settlement, Duke Energy agreed to file petitions with the South Carolina State Supreme Court and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to halt Duke’s legal appeal and procedural challenge to the state of South Carolina’s ability to issue a water quality permit for the new operating license.

The agreement resolves the last outstanding issues before FERC can issue a new license and ensures that Duke Energy does its part to help take care of this river that is essential for its business and the people who value it. Our victories in Georgia and South Carolina illustrate the value of the persistence shown by American Rivers and our partner organizations. In both cases we knew that a long, protracted campaign would be needed to ensure the future health of these rivers and our actions paid great dividends.

Gerrit Jobsis|August 12th, 2014

Climate change and the St. Lawrence River Basin

Climate change experts predict that water volumes and levels in the St. Lawrence River Basin will continue to dwindle over time, falling by 20 per cent to 30 per cent from existing levels over this 21st century. Environment Canada is predicting approximately 24 per cent. So we must learn to use every single drop carefully.

It is already nearly impossible to manage water levels in the basin simply by discharging water stored at the Sault-Ste-Marie, Welland-Niagara, Cornwall and Beauharnois dam complexes. This wasteful use of water, including flood water, is no longer acceptable.

The levels of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are already some two feet or 60 centimeters lower than normal. More than 18,000 kilometers of shoreline and more than 1,000 square kilometers of richly diverse wetlands, such as those of Georgian Bay and Lac St. Pierre, are in a deplorable state. Navigation has been adversely affected, as has the drinking-water supply of many communities.

Hydropower production, which would benefit greatly from better flood water management, will be increasingly affected by evolving water volumes and levels. And growing populations in the Great Lakes watershed will continue to need more water than they have.

In a report this past June titled Lower Water Blues, the Mowat Centre of the University of Toronto conservatively assessed medium-term economic impacts at about $20 billion.

The entire St. Lawrence River Basin can be considered a cascade of eight lakes and reservoirs, only four of which are already controlled by the dams mentioned above.

According to an initial design study, the construction of four additional control structures would make it possible to efficiently manage water levels throughout the entire basin, from Lake Superior to Quebec City, whatever the available flow, at an estimated cost of $5 billion to $6 billion.

The first two- to three-meter-high structure would be installed at the outlet of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron at Sarnia, and the next one above the Lachine Rapids at the outlet of Lac St. Louis, whose level is in danger of falling by more than one meter. Two more control structures would be needed down the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City, where the river is wider and shallower.

Considering the environmental, social and economic benefits, $5 billion to $6 billion is a small investment in order to maintain historic water levels, harness flood waters and ensure drinking water for a population of up to 200 million people.

Factor in the protection of 18,000 km of shoreline and 1 000 square km of wetlands, as well as the safeguarding of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the project would pay for itself many times over. And that’s not even counting hydropower production during periods of high demand, which could reach 10 TWh, more than the entire La Romaine complex.

F. Pierre Gingras|The Gazette|August 13, 2014

Offshore & Ocean

Devil in the Deep Blue Sea: How Many Dead Zones Are Out There?

A stretch of the Gulf of Mexico spanning more than 5,000 square miles along the Louisiana coast is nearly devoid of marine life this summer, according to a study released this week. Caused largely by nutrient runoff from farm fertilizer, this oxygen-deprived “dead zone” is approximately the size of Connecticut. Although slightly smaller than last summer’s edition, the Gulf dead zone is still touted by some as the largest in the U.S. and costs $82 million annually in diminished tourism and fishing yield. Which makes you wonder…

How many other dead zones are out there?

Probably around 200 in U.S. waters alone. After reviewing the academic literature on “hypoxic zones” in 2012, Robert Diaz, professor emeritus at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary, identified 166 reports of dead zones in the country. Coastal waters contain the vast majority, though some exist in inland waterways. A handful of the 166 dead zones have since bounced back through improved management of sewage and agricultural runoff, but as fertilizer use and factory farming increase, we are creating dead zones faster than nature can recover.

dead_zone_decades

There are more than 400 known dead zones worldwide, covering about 1 percent of the area of the continental shelves. That number is almost certainly a vast undercount, though, since large parts of Africa, South America and Asia have yet to be adequately studied. Diaz estimates that a more accurate count is 1,000-plus dead zones globally.

What causes these things?

Agricultural practices are the biggest culprit in the U.S. and Europe. Rains wash excess fertilizer from farms into interior waterways, which eventually empty into the ocean. At the mouths of rivers, such as the Mississippi, the glut of phosphorous and nitrogen intended for human crops instead feeds marine phytoplankton. A phytoplanktonic surge leads to a boom in bacteria, which feed on the plankton and consume oxygen as part of their respiration. That leaves very little dissolved oxygen in the subsurface waters. Without oxygen, most marine life cannot survive.

Sewage causes the majority of dead zones in Africa and South America. That’s a good thing, in a way, because engineers have been working for hundreds of years on sewage management solutions. In the early 19th century, London built a sewer system to divert waste from newfangled flush toilets into the Thames. With this influx of nutrients—one creature’s sewage is another’s sustenance—bacterial populations multiplied and depleted the river’s oxygen. The circumstances chased off aquatic life and enveloped the city in a horrific stench, culminating in the Great Stink of 1858. Sewage treatment and managed releases remedied the situation back then, and similar infrastructure investments could likely alleviate the excrement-fueled dead zones of the modern world.

Airborne nitrogen also contributes to the world’s dead zones. When cars, trucks and power plants burn fossil fuels, they emit nitrogen into the air. These particulates eventually settle into waterways and head for the sea. Nitrification is a special problem in Long Island Sound and the Chesapeake Bay, which have absorbed large amounts of nitrogen from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest.

Do I live near a dead zone?

The largest U.S. dead zones are in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Oregon. But, as this map illustrates, everyone in the eastern and southeastern U.S. lives close to a dead zone of some size.

usdominated

There are two reasons for the density of dead zones along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. First, look at a heat map of U.S. population density. There is an astonishing concentration of people, as well as animals and farms to feed them, in the East.

Second, there simply aren’t that many rivers draining into the Pacific Ocean. With fewer rivers to carry farm runoff to the sea, fewer dead zones form.

map-united-states-rivers

The eastern portion of Long Island Sound, has suffered dead zones nearly every year for the last two decades. Even halfway across the Sound—more than 50 miles from the most densely populated parts of New York City—the waters have been hypoxic in at least 10 of the last 20 summers.

The Chesapeake Bay hosts several dead zones, each from the drainage of a different river. According to Diaz, agricultural runoff and sewage account for about three-quarters of the problem. The other quarter is the result of airborne nitrogen.

You needn’t live near a coast to have a dead zone. Lake Erie is likely in for a serious case of hypoxia this summer. The cyanobacteria that contaminated Toledo’s drinking water over the weekend will soon die and sink to the bottom, where other bacteria will feast on their remains and consume the lake’s dissolved oxygen.

Are humans solely responsible for dead zones?

No, but we almost always play a role. Natural processes, such as the churning of ocean waters, can form dead zones on their own. The massive dead zone born in 2002 near the coast of Oregon—which rivals the Gulf of Mexico dead zone in area—is the result of the upwelling of nutrients that fed an algal bloom. As the algae died and settled, they created a hypoxic area. Not all scientists think the dead zone was entirely natural, though. Many believe changes in wind circulation related to global warming played a part.

Can dead zones be brought back to life?

Absolutely. The Black Sea once hosted one of the largest hypoxic zones in the world, stretching 15,000 square miles. When agricultural subsidies from the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s, fertilizer runoff dropped by more than 50 percent. The waterways took three years to recover, and international support for runoff management has helped keep the Black Sea alive and well ever since.

There’s no reason the U.S. can’t adopt those practices, too—we simply need to implement the science that we already have. Agricultural researchers have made countless recommendations to minimize farm runoff, but the advice hasn’t been heeded. Other property owners can help by taking it easy on the fertilizer and resisting the urge to install impermeable surfaces like concrete. And we already have plenty of other reasons to retire coal-fired power plants—dead zones are just one more. After all, it needn’t take the fall of an empire to improve a nation’s coastal areas.

Brian Palmer|OnEarth|August 8, 2014|This article was originally posted in Natural Resources Defense Council’s OnEarth

Bye Bye Bycatch? Smart Nets That Save Fish

Six years ago, the Norwegian coast guard filmed a Scottish fishing vessel riding gray swells, dumping 5 metric tons of dead fish back into the North Sea. Over the European Union catch quota, and so unable to keep all the fish they’d caught, the fishermen had to ditch some. To the Norwegians, who aren’t part of the EU and hold a strict discards ban, the waste was shocking.

When this news reached Dan Watson, a young British designer, it became the inspiration for SafetyNet, an ocean fishing net that allows certain fish to escape via lighted rings, offering more catch selectivity. The Scottish fishermen’s predicament, he believed, was driven by their lack of control. “There can be no villains, there can be no victims, there are just problems,” Watson says. “I started this project because I wanted to go some way towards solving that problem.”

Watson joins a growing number of innovators designing more selective fishing gear to reduce bycatch—the unwanted fish, dolphins, whales and birds that get scooped up by longlines, gillnets and trawlers each year and then discarded. Globally, the amount of marine life that is wasted or unmanaged—which makes it potentially unsustainable—forms about 40 percent of the catch. “The way we catch now is to catch everything, decide what we want to keep, and discard the rest,” says Martin Hall, head of the bycatch program at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which regulates tuna fishing in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Bycatch can result in overfishing, reduces the population of species that might already be endangered and, on the largest scale, interrupts food chains and damages whole ecosystems. It also amounts to an enormous waste of valuable fish protein.

To designers building better nets and lines, bycatch isn’t viewed as an inevitability, but as something we can phase out, piece by piece. It’s also seen as a battle that needs to be fought alongside fishermen, not against them.

Rethink the Game

Speaking from his trawler, the 45-foot Proud Mary, off the coast of Massachusetts, one such fisherman, Christopher Brown, says that over the years, fishermen have had to “rethink the game.” Brown operates a fishery that’s almost completely free of discards; is the board president of the Seafood Harvesters of America, an organization representing stewardship-minded fishermen; and has designed a squid net that reduces bycatch. The net contains an escape route at its base that exploits the bottom-dwelling behavior of unwanted flounder, encouraging them to flee the net through this gap. “We need to look at things entirely differently than we have in the last 30 years,” Brown says—and new gear is part of that equation. “It’s a matter of enlightened self-interest.”

Brown may seem unconventional, but more and more, fishermen are the ones both driving change and being consulted like clients about new gear. “The main focus has to be the fisherman,” says Watson. “You have to build something the fisherman is going to use.”

For designers, the next challenge is gaining capital. Although Watson has been working on his SafetyNet design for five years, and even though it won the prestigious James Dyson design award in 2012, it’s still staggeringly expensive, and Watson has had difficulty hiring a boat that will try out his net on open water.

Designed to free both young and endangered fish, the SafetyNet works by using fitted LED rings, which flash like exit signs to alert smaller fish. The fish can then escape by squeezing through the rings. There’s also a panel in the net that separates tighter mesh at the top from larger mesh below, allowing nontarget, bottom-dwelling species such as cod to escape through the bigger holes. With lights and panel working in tandem, “You can start almost herding the fish under the water,” Watson says.

Emma Bryce|Ensia|August 11, 2014

Planting meadows in the ocean: technique may help restore disappearing seagrass beds

BuDS method disperses eelgrass seeds, maintains genetic diversity

Seagrass meadows form important parts of many ocean ecosystems, but is disappearing due to human impacts. However, a study published recently in PLOS ONE found eelgrass beds could benefit from a restoration technique using seed-filled pearl nets.

The technique, called Buoy-Deployed Seeding (BuDS), uses pearl nets filled with seed-containing “spathes,” which are much like peas in pea pods. The spathe-filled pearl nets are attached to a buoy anchored to the substrate so that the net sways with the tides. The seeds in the spathes develop naturally and drop to the floor as they ripen. This is closer to what happens in nature compared to other artificial seeding methods that broadcast mature seeds at once, according to Dr. Brian Ort, who was the lead author of this study.

Eelgrass Eelgrass is a genus (Zostera) of a marine plant that has long, grass-like leaves, which grows in coastal waters and brackish areas around the world. It provides the foundation for entire ecosystems, just as corals do for a coral reef ecosystem, according to Ort.

“Eelgrass provides physical structure and shelter for many other organisms,” he explained. “Fish, including commercially important species, use it to hide from predators or prey. Some, like herring, use it as a nursery in which they lay their eggs, giving their young a safer place to grow before migrating to sea.”

Eelgrass and other seagrass species also provide ecosystem services that benefit humans.

“Being rooted in the sediment, they stabilize substrates and shorelines, improving water quality and guarding against erosion, like terrestrial grasses do,” Ort said. “In addition, their shoots absorb wave energy, also protecting shorelines. This also improves water clarity by trapping fine sediments in the water column, allowing them to settle to the bottom.”

Eelgrass, however, is disappearing from sea floors due to human influences.

“Eelgrass is impacted by the filling of shallow waters, dredging,…boat anchoring and mooring chains, wave energy from boats, trawling, poor water clarity as a result of sediment, and nutrient run-off,” Ort said. “The elimination of shallow areas, for example by dredging a channel and then protecting the steepened shoreline by the use of rip-rap, also eliminates eelgrass habitat. Climate change, and the rising sea levels that come with it, is also reducing the amount of suitable habitat available for eelgrass.”

The study found that BuDS is especially effective for preserving genetic diversity. The method was tested in tanks filled with water from San Francisco Bay and with seed-filled nets floating in each. The seeds fell from the nets and started to grow as they matured, and the researchers compared the genetic diversity of the seedlings in the bins to that of the natural environment where the seeds were collected. They found the resulting crop of eelgrass was just as genetically diverse as the beds where they came from.

Genetically diverse ecosystems, in relation to homogeneous ones, are better able to survive through stressful situations since a wide variety of genes allow for more flexible adaptive responses. Likewise, genetically diverse patches of seagrass tend to be better at withstanding heat and grazing by geese, increasing the likelihood that restoration will succeed.

Several years ago, BuDS was used for a project to restore a meadow that had suddenly died a few years earlier. Currently, this method is used as part of the Living Shorelines Project in the San Francisco Bay area, which aims to protect shorelines with sustainable resources and natural vegetation in lieu of conventional shoreline reinforcement methods that degrade wildlife habitat.

Anna Ikarashi|August 11, 2014

Poll Shows Californians Oppose Dumping Fracking Chemicals Into Ocean

A poll commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP), surveying 500 California voters, found that a majority of Californians opposed fracking in their state and an even larger number support a ban on dumping fracking chemicals in the ocean.

“This poll shows that Californians are deeply concerned about the environmental consequences of fracking, whether it’s done on land or in offshore wells,” said PPP’s Jim Williams. “A majority of the state supports a ban on offshore fracking in California’s coastal waters.”

In response to the question “Do you favor or oppose increased use of hydraulic fracturing in California, which is also known as fracking, a drilling method that extracts oil and natural gas from underground using a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and assorted chemicals?,” 36 percent said they favored increased fracking, while 56 percent opposed it and 8 percent were not sure.

In response to “The federal government currently allows oil companies to dispose of fracking fluid with wastewater into the ocean. Do you support or oppose a ban on dumping fracking chemicals into the water off California’s coast?,” 65 percent supported such a ban, 25 percent opposed it and 9 percent were not sure.

When presented with the choice of two viewpoints—one offering fracking as a danger to the environment which should be banned and the other saying it will create jobs and reduce energy prices and should therefore remain legal,” 55 percent agreed it was a threat to the environment, 35 percent agreed it was a job-creator and 10 percent were not sure.

“Californians know that offshore fracking poses a toxic threat to our entire coast,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program director. “This poll offers the Coastal Commission one more reason to halt fracking in our delicate ocean ecosystems. It’s time to protect our wildlife, beaches and coastal communities from dangerous fracking chemicals and the risk of a catastrophic oil spill.”

Anastasia Pantsios|August 12, 2014

The cost of marine debris

Marine debris has many impacts on the ocean, wildlife, and coastal communities. A NOAA Marine Debris Program economic study released today shows that it can also have considerable economic costs to residents who use their local beaches.


The study found that Orange County, California residents lose millions of dollars each year avoiding littered, local beaches in favor of choosing cleaner beaches that are farther away and may cost more to reach. Reducing marine debris even by 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County could save residents roughly $32 million during three months in the summer.

In order to better understand the economic cost of marine debris on coastal communities, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and Industrial Economics, Inc. (IEc) designed a study that examines how marine debris influences people’s decisions to go to the beach and what it may cost them. We selected Orange County as a study location because beach recreation is an important part of the local culture and residents have a wide variety of beaches from which to choose, some of which are likely to have high levels of marine debris.

We found that:

Orange County residents are concerned about marine debris, and it significantly influences their decisions to go to the beach. No marine debris on the beach and good water quality are the two most important beach characteristics to them.
Avoiding littered beaches costs Orange County residents millions of dollars each year.

Reducing marine debris on beaches can prevent financial loss and provide economic benefits to residents.

“This study shows that beachgoers are worried about marine debris and will seek out cleaner beaches for recreation at a cost,” said Nancy Wallace, Marine Debris Program director. “Reducing or eliminating marine debris from our beaches is critical, because littered shorelines are costing people more than we anticipated. We can use these kinds of data to prioritize beaches for debris prevention and removal activities.”

NOAA|August 12, 2014

The importance of maintaining seagrass

Seagrass meadows provide the ideal place for young fish to thrive, say NERC-funded scientists researching the importance of these habitats for commercial fishing.

Globally seagrasses are being lost at the same rate as Amazonian rainforests, and little is being done to conserve these habitats as their importance isn’t fully understood.

But scientists at Swansea University have just published two studies in the journals Marine Pollution Bulletin and Marine Biodiversity showing these areas are vital to the wellbeing of juvenile fish, and consequently the fishing industry.

‘When a fish spawns the larvae settle in shallow waters, but we don’t truly know what habitat fish around the UK use and what they want from that habitat,’ explains Dr Richard Unsworth, lead researcher on the project. ‘If you’re a small fish, like a juvenile cod, then you need food and shelter. Seagrass meadows provide both.’

Over twelve months the team assessed the size and number of fish from various species in seagrass meadows around Britain, and compare the results with nearby sand habitats.

‘We were surprised to find so many fish with a commercial value, like plaice, cod, pollock and herring, using the seagrass meadows. In one site in Wales we found 42 species living in the seagrass and eleven of these were commercially important,’ Unsworth says.

Harriet Jarlett|Planet Earth Online|August 12, 2014

Read more at Planet Earth Online.

Massive Red Tide Off Florida Coast Is 90 Miles Long And Totally Gross

A huge stretch of ocean near Florida has been taken over by Karenia brevis, a microscopic algae that can kill fish and marine mammals, contaminate seafood and turn the water a dark, brown-red color.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported elevated levels of the algae over last week, and said their tipline received multiple reports of thousands of dead fish and marine organisms. According to the FWC, images from the Optical Oceanography Laboratory at the University of South Florida show a bloom 60 miles wide and 90 miles long.

That makes this the biggest bloom in nearly a decade, Hayley Rutger, a spokeswoman with Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, told the Orlando Sentinel.

While the bloom is not yet affecting beaches, boaters have reported respiratory irritation from the algae. The Florida Department of Health says that red tide can also cause skin and eye irritation if you decide to swim in the stuff. Coughing, sneezing and watery eyes can also occur if the toxins are blown onshore, but this bloom remains far enough out that it hasn’t yet bothered beachgoers.

Red tides occur naturally almost every year, but it can be difficult to predict their behavior more than three days in advance.

“The red tide that pops up off the coast of Florida is very unpredictable,” Quay Dortch, an algal bloom researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told NBC News.

NBC also reported that a 2013 red tide killed 273 endangered manatees. The manatees ate the toxic algae when it got too close to shore and settled on sea grass. Dolphins can also be killed when they eat fish containing high concentrations of the toxins. According to the FWC, the largest dolphin die-off from a red tide occurred between 1987 and 1988, when 740 dolphins were found stranded on the coast.

Katherine Boehrer| The Huffington Post|08/13/2014

Wildlife and Habitat

We’ve just learned there has been a catastrophic breach in an earthen dam holding back billions of gallons of contaminated waste at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine in British Columbia. That mine has chilling similarities to the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska.

The scene from the mine is devastating — billions of gallons of toxic water and mining waste have cut a poisonous path of destruction through pristine forests. This river of death has already spilled into the waterways in the region. This disaster couldn’t have come at a worse time; millions of sockeye salmon will enter those rivers and lakes in the coming weeks as part of their annual spawning.

Just as disturbing, the company responsible for designing this failed dam has also been hired to design the dams at the proposed Pebble Mine! And those dams are supposed to hold back some 10 billion tons of contaminated waste in an active earthquake zone!

The Mount Polley disaster is a horrifying glimpse at what could be in store if the EPA fails to follow through with its proposal to block mega-mining in the Bristol Bay wilderness.

I’ll keep you updated on major developments in this tragic spill. For now, thank you for standing up against the disastrous Pebble Mine.

Frances Beinecke|President|Natural Resources Defense Council. The mission of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is to safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.

Forestry

The Organic Center Launches Major Research Effort to Fight Citrus Greening

On any day, a carton of orange juice can be found in almost 7 out of 10 American refrigerators. Americans drink more than 550 million gallons of orange juice every year with more than 60 million gallons of that juice being organic. And the appetite for organic juice — and organic citrus — is just getting bigger.

But a devastating bacterial disease known as citrus greening is now threatening the livelihood of America’s citrus growers and the healthy diets of millions.

To answer that threat, The Organic Center has kicked off a major multi-year study and fundraising campaign to find organic solutions to ward off citrus greening and help organic citrus growers fight the deadly disease without resorting to dangerous chemicals or genetic engineering.

The Organic Center, an independent non-profit educational and research organization operating under the administrative auspices of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), is launching a comprehensive and high-profile drive to raise its target of $310,000 for its three-year study, using its presence on social media to spread the message. For the first time in its history, The Organic Center is inviting individuals to help the effort by donations through crowdfunding at http://www.rkthb.co/44990.

A $45,000 grant from the UNFI Foundation has laid the foundation for the drive. The UNFI Foundation is concerned that the bulk of research thus far to control citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing (HLB), has focused on conventional strategies that have had only limited success in the short-term, and are not allowed — and thus not even an option — for the organic citrus growers struggling with the disease.

“Especially in this era of climate change, new pests and voracious diseases, organic agriculture deserves as much money for research as conventional agriculture. We must invest in non-toxic ecological solutions for now and for future generations,” said Melody Meyer, director of the UNFI Foundation and president of the Board of Directors of OTA.

The American appetite for organic fresh citrus and citrus juice is big and growing. According to recent statistics compiled by OTA and the fresh fruit industry, organic fresh fruit sales in 2013 (with citrus ranking among the most popular of organic fruits)  grew some 24 percent and organic citrus juice sales rose 26 percent, benefitting both organic citrus growers and health-minded consumers. That growth could be stalled by citrus greening.

Citrus greening disease threatens the citrus industry on a massive scale. It has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops throughout the United States and abroad, ravaging countries in Asia, Africa and South America. The destructive disease spreads quickly, and within four to five years can kill a tree.

In the United States, the disease was first discovered in Florida in 2005. It is carried by the tiny Asian citrus psyllid. The insects inject a bacterium into the tree,  which stops the flow of water, nutrients and minerals between the tree’s roots and its leaves and branches, leading to yellowing leaves, green and bitter fruit, premature fruit drop and eventually the destruction of the tree.

Some estimates are that 99 percent of the citrus orchards in Florida–the biggest citrus producer in the nation with a $9 billion citrus industry–have been infected. In California, the country’s leading producer of organic citrus, and Texas, with some 40,000 acres of conventional and organic citrus orchards, the insect that causes the disease has also been detected. Aggressive efforts are underway in those states and other citrus-growing areas to try to keep the deadly disease in check.

The lack of research on organic control of citrus greening means that practices not compatible with organic management are being considered. For example, mandatory sprays of synthetic pesticides have been proposed as a control method in California, but no organic alternatives are identified as substitutes for the spray regimes.

The UNFI grant will be applied to a three-year research project being led by The Organic Center, in collaboration with University of Florida entomologist Michael Rogers and Ben McLean, vice president and director of research for Uncle Matt’s Organic, to find holistic organic solutions to controlling citrus greening.

Uncle Matt’s Organic has been using a four-pronged organic approach to fight citrus greening for more than a year, and results have been positive. The approach involves biological controls, application of the mineral nutrition boron, slow-release nitrogen fertilizer, and spraying with botanical oils.

McLean is optimistic that the lessons learned from his orchard and the additional research now made possible by the grant will help organic growers around the nation live with the disease and keep it under control through safe, organic strategies.

Meyer of UNFI hopes this first grant will encourage others to help organic growers fight the disease. “My hope is that everyone in the community comes on board and gives something to support this valuable research,” said Meyer.

Individuals can join the effort to help organic citrus farmers fight this deadly disease by going to http://www.rkthb.co/44990.

Press Release by Issuing Company|July 9th, 2014

Groups fear fragile B.C. area logged

Environmental groups and labor organizations on Vancouver Island are demanding the province lend protection to a section of forest being logged near Port Alberni — except the company in question denies it’s logging fragile areas.

McLaughlin Ridge sits about one hour southeast of Port Alberni in a 78,000-hectare parcel, including a swath being logged by Island Timberlands.

Environmental groups are concerned habitat used by deer and elk in winter is being compromised.

TJ Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance said part of the area is valuable ungulate winter habitat, and the province was supposed to follow up with an agreement to protect parts of it after a 2004 decision to open it up to logging.

“They failed to pursue that agreement, so now Island Timberlands has moved ahead with logging these areas,” Watt said.

Meanwhile, local MLA Scott Fraser of the BC NDP said the government has ignored its own scientists, who recommended the ungulate habitat not be logged.

The land was removed from the Timber Forest License under Weyerhaeuser, and eventually acquired by Island Timberlands but, said Fraser, Victoria signed nothing more than an agreement recognizing the land was important.

“They made a big deal of signing a memorandum of understand assuring that those key values would be protected and then they didn’t do it,” he said.

But Island Timberlands said the land it has already logged is not in the area marked as ungulate territory.

“There are specific areas mapped and discussed at length across McLaughlin Ridge noted as good winter habitat for deer and elk during heavy snowfalls,” said Morgan Kennah of Island Timberlands.

“We are currently not harvesting within these mapped areas,” Kennah said. “We have no immediate plans to harvest within these areas at this time.”

The Ministry of Forests said as far as it’s concerned the land is private, adding it was told by Island Timberlands the sensitive area is not being logged.

Watt said he finds the claims they are not in the ungulate areas “questionable.”

Among those asking the government to protect the region are the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada and Valhalla Wilderness Society.

Jeremy Nuttall|24 hours Vancouver|July 21, 2014

A paradise being lost: Peru’s most important forests felled for timber, crops, roads, mining

Peru lost nearly a quarter-million hectares of forest over 12 years

In 1988, when British environmentalist Norman Myers first described the concept of a “biodiversity hotspot” – an area with at least 0.5 percent or 1,500 endemic plants that has lost 70 percent of its primary vegetation – he could have been painting a picture of the highly threatened Peruvian Andes mountain range. Today, the Andes are an immediate and looming portent of the fate of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest.

This year, Peru scored a 45.05 on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), coming in 110th in the world. The EPI is a metric that analyses the performance of a country with respect to high-priority environmental issues, mainly the protection of human health from environmental harm and the protection of ecosystems themselves.

With approximately 30 million people spread out over 1.3 million square kilometers, Peru scored high (70.36, 68th in the world) on the specific issue of biodiversity and habitat, nearly 14 percent higher than the average country in Latin America and the Caribbean. Recent deforestation assessments, however, indicate that its biodiversity remains threatened by a wide range of factors.

Global Forest Watch, an online forest monitoring system created through a partnership with the World Resources Institute, estimates that 58 percent of all land in Peru has greater than 75 percent forest cover, and 61 percent of the country has at least 10 percent forest cover, which sums up to 76.8 million hectares of tree cover as of 2012. Of this forest, 89 percent is primary forest, making Peru the ninth most forested country in the world.

New ecosystem maps of Peru that combine satellite data with the Carnegie Institution for Science’s advanced laser-based system reveal that Peru’s vegetation stores 6.9 billion metric tons of aboveground biomass, with terra firma forests storing twice as much carbon as the flood plains.

From 2001-2012, however, Peru has lost over 241,000 hectares of forest. Disturbingly, most of this forest loss was concentrated in areas that had greater than 75 percent forest cover. That means that the most forested land in Peru, with the highest biodiversity and species richness counts, is also the land that faces the greatest threat of deforestation.

These data reflect a steadily increasing pressure on forests worldwide. From 2000 to 2012, according to the EPI, a total of 2.3 million square kilometers of tree cover was lost globally due to small-holder agriculture (40 percent), cattle pasture (25 percent), large-scale agriculture (20 percent), logging operations (10 percent), and other causes (5 percent). Deforestation also creates 4 to 14 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions each year. Compared to tree cover extent in 2000, however, Peru’s forest loss over the subsequent 12 years ranks only 115th in the world.

Despite a comprehensive forestry reform in 2000, when a forestry concession system was adopted, up to 90 percent of timber extracted from forests in Peru is likely done so illegally. This has been explained by a complex bureaucracy behind granting of permits and concessions, combined with a multi-player, hierarchical system of habilitación or “enabling.” A recent study in the Journal Nature’s Science Reports section, conducted by Matt Finer and colleagues of the Amazon Conservation Association, examined the outcomes of logging concession monitoring by OSINFOR, a government-appointed group that has assessed 64 percent of all active concessions. Finer reports that as of 2013, 43.5 percent of the 609 logging concessions were either cancelled or under investigation for major violations, and only 20 percent had been granted a clean bill of health. A surprisingly common problem OSINFOR unearthed was the use of permits to log timber in areas outside the concession, rather than within it, indicating once more that forestry reform remains unsuccessful in Peru currently.

“These findings lead us to conclude that the regulatory documents designed to promote sustainable logging are instead enabling illegal logging,” state Finer and colleagues in their report published this year.

Peru has not escaped the world’s incessant and strident call for oil palm, either. A study in 2011 by Victor Gutierrez-Velez of Columbia University used satellite and field data to examine high- and low-yield plantations in Peru’s Ucayali district, and found that 72 percent of all new plantations expanded into forested areas in the 2000s. While low-yield plantations, run by smallholders, expanded most (80 percent of overall expansion), 75 percent of high-yield plantation expansions involved forest conversions. For a large stakeholder, it was simpler to obtain permits for large tracts of land owned by the state than it was to negotiate the complexities of obtaining cleared land owned by multiple people.

One of the most rampant and startling uses of Peruvian Amazonian rainforest today is for oil mining concessions. In 2008 alone, the Peruvian government was scheduled to lease 64 blocks that covered a whopping 72 percent of the Peruvian Amazon (490,000 square kilometers). Only 12 percent of the Peruvian Amazon is protected and does not overlap with an oil block. Possibly the worst threat to the forest comes indirectly, by the installation of roads connecting previously inaccessible areas.


A graph showing the negative relationship between deforestation and the distance to roads –

there is significantly more deforestation in areas easily accessible by road. Adapted from Vuohelainen et al., 2012.

According to Finer, in a study on oil blocks published in the open access journal PLoS One: “New access roads cause considerable direct impacts — such as habitat fragmentation — and often trigger even greater indirect impacts, such as colonization, illegal logging, and unsustainable hunting.”
These roads and unprotected rivers have given rise to a rapidly growing industry of gold mining, which brings with it untold destruction of the Peruvian Amazon. In the last decade, deforestation rates have skyrocketed as gold mining surged 400 percent along the Madre de Dios River in Peru.

These factors – logging, mining, and forest conversion – have severely damaged tropical rainforests in Peru, but they have not gone unnoticed. Peru’s active forestry, agriculture and wildlife protection government departments still strive to protect her extensive natural resources. In fact, despite these levels of deforestation, Peru’s biodiversity score assigned by the EPI has increased by over 15 points since 2002, when Peru ranked only 90th in the world, indicating progress of a nature in comparison to other countries.

Possible solutions to deforestation include the extraction of non-timber forest products, reform of the forestry law to include the complex social stratification in the timber industry, and an increased emphasis on ecotourism and conservation concessions, which have been shown to be highly effective at deterring deforestation.

Mrinalini Erkenswick Watsa|mongabay.com correspondent|August 12, 2014

‘Natural Reserves’ no more: illegal colonists deforest huge portions of Nicaraguan protected areas

Nearly a quarter of two reserves’ forest cover lost within the last 13 years

In Northeastern Nicaragua, abutting the coastal Caribbean town of Bluefields, lie two nature reserves – Cerro Silva and Punta Gorda – that are embroiled in a bitter battle for survival against the speedily encroaching agricultural frontier. The forest is all but decimated here, with disconnected patches whose very existence rests precariously in the hands of its occupiers – both legal and illegal. For centuries the forest survived as the sole home of the Rama and Kriol communities, supporting a wealth of fauna, from the mighty jaguar to the shy agouti. Today, both the fauna and people face a real and ever-present risk of being evicted from the only land they know.

Recent data from Global Forest Watch, an online forest monitoring system created through a partnership with the World Resources Institute, reveal that approximately 16 and 23 percent of forest cover has been lost in the Cerro Silva and Punta Gorda Nature Reserves, respectively, over a 12-year period from 2001 to 2013. These data were generated by a team from the University of Maryland that examined over 600,000 LANDSAT images in 30-by-30 meter pixels to identify areas in which tree heights dropped below five meters.

The splitting of the larger Indo Maíz Biosphere Reserve resulted in the demarcation of the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve in 1991, and the Punto Gorda Nature Reserve eight years later. After Hurricane Joan hit the area in 1988, destroying nearly all of the 7,500 structures in Bluefields, the Reserves were created to ensure the future survival of the indigenous communities of Rama and Kriol by providing them with sufficient land from which to extract natural resources.

According to the Plan Atónomo de Desarrollo y Administración del Territorio Rama y Kriol (PADA), a strategic development plan put together in 2009 by the Territorial Government of Rama and Kriol, the goal of designating an area a “Natural Reserve’” is to conserve and restore ecosystems that are in the process of being degraded either by natural or human action, and to provide a sustainable source of basic goods and services to the communities within them. Unfortunately, despite such allocation, from 1996 to 1999, in the aftermath of a civil war, Nicaragua distributed lands among war veterans in an attempt to speed the peace process – including land within the two reserves.

Today, nearly 2,800 families of mestizos (people of a mixture of Spanish, or colonial, and indigenous heredity) have been censused within the Reserves. Only 15 percent have any ownership documents proving a legal basis for living in the area, and 55 percent entered the area within the last decade alone. In contrast, a census in 2007 revealed a total of 1,336 Rama and 446 Kriol. Nearly half (41 percent) of the Rama live in Rama Cay, while an overwhelming 73 percent of the Kriol occupy only the town of Monkey Point.

In an interview with mongabay.com, tapir expert Christopher Jordan revealed the true extent of the devastation the illegal presence of mestizos has wrecked on community lands within the Territory of Rama and Kriol.

“I believe that nearly the majority of both reserves have been converted into cattle pasture by illegal colonists,” Jordan said. “There still exist small patches of forest, but nothing resembling a contiguous reserve.”

Jordan emphasizes that despite this fragmentation of forested land, megafauna such as the jaguar and tapir still appear on his camera-traps, indicating the importance of even disturbed areas for dispersal of large mammals to the better-protected Indio-Maíz Biosphere Reserve in the south. In fact, Jordan asserts that swamp habitats are actually likely to be of extreme importance to wildlife, “simply because the forest patches all have [a] considerable presence of hunters.”

The Rama and Kriol communities today continue to participate in resource extraction from the last forests standing, engaging in slash and burn agriculture (focused on tubers and plantains), as well as hunting (wild pigs, agouti (large rodents) and even jaguar); however, these practices, once sustainable given the large reserves that were available to them, are now impractical in the extreme.

The PADA states that for the Rama and Kriol, hunting represents a fundamental component of a traditional mode of life. When you add to this fishing and harvesting of mollusks however, the PADA deems all forms of traditional hunting to be occurring at unsustainable levels – a clear indication to them that it is time to maintain hunting as an alternative, and not primary, source of protein.

Although the area has its own autonomous communal government, and the PADA includes a plan for the coexistence with some of the older mestizo families, Jordan revealed that new mestizos continue to encroach on the territory, rapidly converting forest to cattle pastures for use or for sale to others (often illegally) immediately upon occupation. Ironically, Jordan noted that perhaps the only forested areas that remain fairly well protected are those closest to the Rama and Kriol communities, near or within the two reserves. Continual shrinking of available hunting lands, however, has caused incidences of rare species to drop further in these areas.

“So not only are the colonists affecting the reserves and the wildlife that inhabits them,” Jordan said, ”but their activities are leaving the indigenous and afro-descendant communities increasingly vulnerable.”

The area is, thus, no stranger to violence. Jordan described the recent, complete, and brutal displacement of the Rama community from a town named Wiring Cay by immigrant mestizos. In areas with high mestizo populations (coincidentally also the most deforested), tapir sightings are few and far between on his camera-traps. In fact, Jordan has even recovered a camera-trap that had been shot at three times – an undeniable symbol of hostility.

The PADA makes strong recommendations to the Nicaraguan government: it requests the support of the indigenous communities in regaining control of the land in the area, the eviction of illegal squatters, and the preservation of large tracts of forest for the establishment of breeding “source” populations of the species that the Rama and Kriol rely on for food. It proposes the creation of three zones – the first for solely community use, the second an area of recovery for the forest, and finally, a zone in which displaced mestizos may reside with permission from the Territorial Government.
It is hoped that in the near future, the Nicaraguan government will take active steps to control the spread of cattle pasture and agriculture through the communal Territory of the Rama and Kriol peoples. Not only are these forests crucial to the survival of indigenous people, but they also form a vital corridor between intact forest north and south of the reserves for animals like the jaguar and the tapir, the conservation of which will protect innumerable smaller and less charismatic species that lack prominent champions for their survival.

Another threat to the remaining forests and fauna of southern Nicaragua is the planned construction of a canal that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific through Lake Nicaragua. Dubbed El Gran Canal, the waterway is expected to cost upwards of $50 billion and will be developed at the hands of Chinese development corporation, Hong Kong Nicaraguan Development Investment Co. Otd (HKND). Hugely controversial due to environmental impacts, a Nicaraguan committee comprised of government officials, business people, and academics approved the project last month. As planned, the canal will extend 278 kilometers (173 miles), and cut right through Punta Gorda and Indio Maiz reserves. Construction is set to begin December, 2014, and finish in 2019.

Mrinalini Erkenswick Watsa|mongabay.com correspondent|August 13, 2014

Despite legislation EU counties are still failing to halt illegal timber trade

More than a year after the EU’s law governing the timber trade came into force, a survey by WWF confirms that many EU countries are still failing to stop illegal wood products entering the EU markets.

WWF’s EU Government barometer, conducted in the first half of 2014, shows that only 11 EU countries have so far adopted national legislation and procedures considered robust enough to control the legality of timber and timber products.

This leaves 17 countries that have either not adapted their national or have adopted legislation where low sanctions or dysfunctional prosecution systems are considered obstacles for an effective implementation of the law.

“The World Bank estimates that every two seconds, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illegal loggers around the globe. It is disturbing to see that despite the EU’s full awareness of the size and impact of illegal logging, and of its responsibility in fuelling such criminal activity, EU countries are still allowing tons of illegally sourced wood and wood products across their borders,” said WWF Forest Policy Officer, Anke Schulmeister.

Illegal logging has devastating environmental, social and economic impacts on some of the most pristine forests in the world and the people who rely on them; this illegality also affects European businesses and consumers who comply with the rules.

It accounts for 30 per cent of the global timber trade and contributes to more than 50 per cent of tropical deforestation in Central Africa, the Amazon and South East Asia.

Global Warming and Climate Change

New study casts light on climate change and oceanic oxygen levels

A commonly held belief that global warming will diminish oxygen concentrations in the ocean looks like it may not be entirely true. According to new research published in Science magazine, just the opposite is likely the case in the northern Pacific Ocean, with its anoxic zone expected to shrink in coming decades because of climate change.

An international team of scientists came to that surprising conclusion after completing a detailed assessment of changes since 1850 in the eastern tropical northern Pacific’s oxygen minimum zone (OMZ). An ocean layer beginning typically a few hundred to a thousand meters below the surface, an OMZ is by definition the zone with the lowest oxygen saturation in the water column. OMZs are a consequence of microbial respiration and can be hostile environments for marine life.

Using core samples of the seabed in three locations, the scientists measured the isotopic ratio of nitrogen-15 to nitrogen-14 in the organic matter therein; the ratio can be used to estimate the extent of anoxia in these OMZs. The core depth correlates with age, giving the team a picture of how the oxygen content varied over the time period.
From 1990 to 2010, the nitrogen isotope record indicates that oxygen content steadily decreased in the area, as expected. But before that, and particularly clearly from about 1950 to 1990, oceanic oxygen steadily increased, which, according to co-author Robert Thunell, a marine scientist at the University of South Carolina, runs counter to conventional wisdom.

“The prevailing thinking has been that as the oceans warm due to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases, the oxygen content of the oceans should decline,” Thunell says. “That’s due to two very simple processes.

University of South Carolina|ScienceDaily|August 10, 2014

Read more at ScienceDaily.

Gov. Scott to meet with climate change scientists Aug. 19th

Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to meet with scientists about climate change for 30 minutes Aug. 19th, said Susan Glickman, a clean energy lobbyist during a conference call this morning organized by a liberal group Florida for All.

Scott himself will be at the meeting held in his office, Glickman said.

In July, climate scientists sent a letter to Scott seeking a meeting. Scott’s likely Democratic rival, Charlie Crist, met with FSU oceanography professor Jeff Chanton in July while spokespersons for Scott’s campaign said he too would meet with them.

Chanton made the arrangements to meet with Scott, Glickman said. (Chanton is traveling and was not on the conference call.)

“I would like to hear from the governor that he recognizes climate change science is legitimate….” said University of Miami professor Ben Kirtman during the conference call. “It’s fair to have a fight over what the right policy is — he has a right to disagree. But to deny that the best available science can help guide those decisions is disingenuous.”

In 2011, Scott said he did not believe humans could alter the planet’s temperature, but more recently simply says, “I’m not a scientist.” His environmental plan released this week makes no mention of climate change.

Climate change will get far more attention in this year’s race for governor compared to Scott’s first race because of the planned attacks by NextGen Climate, funded by California billionaire Tom Steyer. NextGen released it’s first TV ads attacking Scott today.

“Governor Scott looks forward to the August 19th meeting to discuss Florida’s recent environmental investments, his commitment to the Everglades and water quality standards, and how Florida can maintain its cleanest air quality on record,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said Friday.

Amy Sherman|Aug. 8, 2014

Port Arthur Texas – Climate Justice Hits Home

Texas is considered the “Energy State.” In 2013 it was the leading crude oil-producing state in the nation; its 27 refineries exceeding even the production levels of off-shore production. That year Texas was also the leading natural gas producer in the country. Port Arthur, Texas, my home, sits on the Louisiana-Texas border on the Gulf Coast, right in the heart of this Texas energy hub. Port Arthur also is home to four major oil refineries, four chemical plants, one petroleum coke plant, and an international chemical waste incineration facility.

Many residents of Port Arthur, particularly those in the low income community of color, in the city’s Historic west side, have been and continue to be disproportionately negatively impacted by carbon emissions, volatile organic compounds, and known carcinogens from these facilities. Based on a local door-to-door community survey, one out of every five households here has someone who suffers from chronic respiratory illnesses, many of whom are children. According data compiled by the Texas Cancer Registry, the county’s cancer incidence rate is 25% higher than the state average. We have a large number of people in our community who have been diagnosed with cancer and liver and kidney disease. A separate study by the University of Texas Medical Branch found that the residents of Port Arthur are four times more likely than people who live 100 miles away to suffer from heart and respiratory problems, nervous and skin disorders, and other illnesses. The health problems endured by my friend Paula and her family are examples of the devastating impacts pollution is having in my community.

The question of how much pollution one community can bear takes on a whole new meaning when talking about climate change. The ferocity of recent hurricanes has been unexpected, bringing in storm surges that reached to the top of the 100-year levee. Due to rising sea levels, a portion of Highway 87 leading to Galveston along the Gulf Coast has not been open for years because large sections have been washed out. Vast amounts of coastal marshlands and wetlands, which serve as natural sponges that trap and slowly release storm waters, are contaminated largely due to oil spills, big ones like the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, as well as smaller ones too. There is a massive sinkhole in the Louisiana wetlands which is possibly leaking chemical waste from a very large underground injection well.

The emergence of serious storms and other significant weather changes only exacerbates the problems we are dealing with. Like the Murphy Oil flooding following Hurricane Katrina, storm surges will wash chemicals from their confinement into our neighborhoods. It’s not just the major storms that wreak environmental havoc on coastal areas like ours that are home to oil and gas production facilities. In 2008, when Hurricane Ike (a Category 2 storm) caused hundreds of releases of oil, gasoline, and dozens of other substances into our air and water, facilities were damaged causing explosions and other catastrophes that only compound the suffering of my friends, neighbors and future generations.

The time to deal with climate change and related issues like chemical safety, chemical reduction, and community resiliency is now — people are dying because of over-exposure to dangerous substances. Human and wildlife habitats are being lost. Just as important, we are losing the culture and way of life of thousands of people along the Gulf Coast. We must do more to get local, regional, and State governments involved in the fight to reduce and combat climate change. Time is of the essence.

This must happen! Not next year, not next month, but right now.

Hilton Kelley|2014 August 12

Engineering Fruit Flies May Help Crops

We’ve genetically-modified crops to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or pesticides. Nonetheless, pests still infest crops around the world.
In an attempt to control these pests, scientists have turned to genetically engineering the pests themselves!


According to scientists at the University of East Anglia and Oxitec Ltd., releasing genetically engineered fruit flies into the wild could prove to be a cheap, effective and environmentally friendly way of pest control.

Researches studied the Mediterranean fruit fly an agricultural pest which causes extensive damage to more than 300 types of crops. It is currently controlled by a combination of insecticides, baited traps, biological control and releasing sterilized insects to produce non-viable matings, known as the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT).

Lead researcher Dr Philip Leftwich, from UEA’s school of Biological Sciences and Oxitec, said: “Of all of the current techniques used to control these flies, SIT is considered the most environmentally friendly as it uses sterile males to interrupt matings between wild males and females. The down side is that these males don’t tend to mate as well in the wild because the irradiation method used for sterilization weakens them.

“Our research looked at whether releasing Oxitec flies, which are genetically engineered so that only male fly offspring survive, could provide a better alternative.

“The genetically engineered flies are not sterile, but they are only capable of producing male offspring after mating with local pest females – which rapidly reduces the number of crop-damaging females in the population. Using this method means that the males do not have to be sterilized by radiation before release, and we have shown they are healthier than the flies traditionally used for SIT.”

“This method presents a cheap and effective alternative to irradiation. We believe this is a promising new tool to deal with insects which is both environmentally friendly and effective.”

‘Genetic elimination of field-cage populations of Mediterranean Fruit Flies’ is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Editor|ENN|August 12, 2014

Read more at The University of East Anglia.

Extreme Weather

New Research Links Extreme Weather to Global Warming

If you live in some parts of the Northeast United States, you just experienced two months’ worth of summer rain falling in less than a single day.

Of course, if you do live in the swath of the country from Detroit to New York and down into the mid-Atlantic states, you hardly need me to tell you that. Look out the window. But what you might want to know is that the deluge you’re getting may be due to climate change.

Tying extreme weather to climate change is tricky. It’s not so much “this event was due to the Earth warming, which is disrupting the climate” as it is “statistically speaking, we’re seeing more extreme weather events, getting even more extreme over time”. Think of it as playing craps with ever-so-slightly loaded dice. You can’t be sure that snake eyes you threw was due to the dice being weighted, but over time you’ll see a lot more of them than you’d expect, statistically, from fair dice.

We’re throwing an awful lot of meteorological snake eyes lately.

A paper just came out by a team of climatologists possibly linking global warming to these extreme weather events. It’s based on an idea that’s been around a while, but hadn’t been verified. Now we’re seeing evidence for it.

The key to this is what’s called a “blocking pattern”, where a high-pressure system becomes immobile, squatting over a specific spot. Under the high-pressure spot, this can bring long, grueling heat waves that don’t go away for days or weeks. On the edges it can bring a deluge of rain, as moist air from the south is brought up to meet colder air coming down from the north. That’s what Detroit and New York just went through.

These blocking patterns are themselves associated with the jet stream, the constant flow of air about 10 kilometers above sea level at latitudes between 30° and 60°. Sometimes the flow weakens, and the winds can dip down into more southern latitudes. These meanders (sometimes mistakenly called the “polar vortex”) depend on a lot of factors, but the new research just published indicates they may be due to the Arctic warming up. The physics is complicated — fluid dynamics is amazingly subtle and complex — but the research indicates a warming Arctic can create and amplify the conditions that lead to jet stream excursions, and therefore blocking patterns.

In 2013, a blocking pattern squatted over Alaska, causing record breaking heat for the largest state.

Photo by Jesse Allen and Jeff Schmatltz, using data from the Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center(LPDAAC) and the LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.

It was a blocking pattern that led to a phenomenal heat wave in Alaska in 2013, to the floods in the Northeast, and to the unbelievable rain we saw here in my home town of Boulder last year; we got over 30 cm in just a day or two. A normally quiet creek near my house became a raging torrent:

During the Alaska heat wave, I mentioned that there were some scientists wondering if this were tied to global warming and climate change (similar thoughts happened after the Boulder flood as well), and of course the usual suspects came in and raised the zombies of denial.

This new paper supports what I was saying. Again, we can’t always point to any one event and say “global warming caused (or amplified) this — though sometimes we can. But as our planet heats up, as ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, and Greenland slides away, as California continues to suffer its most apocalyptic drought on record, pointing a finger at such things will get easier and easier.

Phil Plait|Aug. 14 2014

Extreme Flooding

The IPCC sees changing climate and extreme flooding as “the most widespread direct risk to human settlements…, driven by projected increases in rainfall intensity and, in coastal areas, sea-level rise. Riverine and coastal settlements are particularly at risk, but urban flooding could be a problem anywhere that storm drains, water supply, and waste management systems have inadequate capacity. Flood magnitude and frequency could increase in many regions as a consequence of increased frequency of heavy precipitation events, which can increase runoff in most areas as well as groundwater recharge in some floodplains.”

In the midst of Kenya’s first rainy season of 2010, which runs from March–May, weeks of heavy rains culminated in floods and mudslides that killed at least 93 people and destroyed thousands of acres (hectares) of crops. Mudslides have become more commonplace as more forests have been cleared to make way for farming. The flooding is the worst to affect Kenya in more than a decade

On March 1st 2009, after days of heavy rains, landslides buried three mountainous villages in the remote eastern Ugandan region of Bududa near the Kenyan border. At least 85 people were killed—including about 50 students seeking shelter in a local hospital—while more than 300 others were missing (Source: ReliefWeb). In the village of Nametsi, mud and debris rose more than 16 feet (4.9 meters) in height, completely covering most structures.

A storm system that stagnated over the Lower Mississippi Valley on May 1st–2nd 2010, killed 29 people and flooded thousands of homes and businesses. The storms spawned dozens of tornadoes and brought record amounts of rain to numerous locations in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Preliminary reports indicated that more than 200 daily, monthly, and all-time precipitation records were broken across the three states.

According to the US National Weather Service, Bowling Green, Kentucky set an all-time daily rainfall record for May of 4.75 inches (120 mm) on May 1st. However, that record was broken the following day as 4.92 inches (125 mm) of precipitation was recorded. The combined total of 9.67 inches (246 mm) was the greatest two-day rainfall total for the area since records began in 1870. In Nashville, the most rain ever recorded in a single calendar day fell on May 2nd—7.25 inches (184 mm)—making the precipitation received on the previous day (6.32 inches or 161 mm) the third-greatest rainfall total in Nashville’s history. This led to a record two-day total of 13.53 inches (344 mm), more than doubling the previous record of 6.68 inches (170 mm) received from the remnants of Hurricane Fredrick on September 13th–14th, 1979. By just the second day of the month, Nashville had already recorded its wettest May on record and fifth wettest month ever. The torrential rains caused several rivers to crest at record levels.

According to a local U.S. Geological Survey official, the flows on various rivers in the Nashville area exceeded those from the historic 1927 and 1975 floods. The Cumberland River in Nashville crested at 51.85 feet (15.80 m) on May 3rd, nearly 12 feet (3.7 m) above its flood stage—the highest level since an early 1960s flood control project was built (Source: AP). The Duck River in Centerville, Tennessee crested at 47.5 feet (14.4 m), smashing the old record of 37 feet (11.7 m) set in 1983. Fifty-two of Tennessee’s 95 counties were declared disaster areas by the governor, as were 73 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. Preliminary estimates placed damages at more than 1.5 billion U.S. dollars.

Heavy rains in northern Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan during the first week in May 2010 caused extreme flooding, killing at least 124 people and leaving thousands of families homeless. About ten thousand cattle were lost and thousands of acres (hectares) of agricultural land were ruined due to the floods. While springtime flooding is common in the region, Tajikistani officials were surprised by the magnitude of the event.

On May 16th–17th 2010, up to eight inches (200 mm) of rain fell over southern Poland and the Czech Republic in a 24-hour period. The rains and subsequent overflowing rivers brought extreme flooding, the worst in more than a decade to Poland, killing at least 20 people and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes. Poland’s prime minister stated that damages could reach three billion U.S. dollars. While Poland received the brunt of the storm damage, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Serbia also experienced extreme flooding and were majorly affected. Wind speeds of 65 mph (110 km/hr) were reported north of Budapest, Hungary.
From May 14th–28th 2010, monsoonal rains, in combination with heavy rain bands from Tropical Storm Laila, led to extreme flooding in Sri Lanka, the worst in five decades. On the heels of Laila, the Southwest Monsoon began to develop over the island on May 21st 2010 and stalled for several days due to the effects of the tropical storm. At least 20 people were killed and more than 500,000 were affected by extreme flooding, particularly in southern, western, and central parts of the country.
Australia A slow moving monsoonal system, for the 24-hour period ending at 9:00 AM local time on March 1st 2009, the outback towns of Bedourie and Birdsville in far western Queensland, Australia, recorded 7.4 and 6.6 inches (188 and 166 mm) of rain, respectively. Not only were these daily rainfall amounts the highest recorded for these stations, they also were nearly equal to the average annual rainfall in those areas. As of March 4th, Birdsville received 14.8 inches (375 mm) of rain, more than double its annual average for the entire year.

Heavy rains combined with melting snow brought extreme flooding to southern Kazakhstan on March 12th 2010. At least 40 people were killed and thousands of others were affected. Although springtime flooding is not unusual in the region, this event was exacerbated by intense snowfalls through the winter followed by uncharacteristically rapid rising temperatures.

Extreme Weather National Climate Assessment

Read about the link between Global Warming and Extreme Weather – here 

Genetically Modified Organisms

Top 10 Facts YOU Should Know About Monsanto

#1: No GMO Labeling Laws in the USA Foods containing GMOs don’t have to be labeled in the USA. Monsanto has fought hard to prevent labeling laws. This is alarming, since approximately 70% of processed foods in the US now contain GMO ingredients. The European Union, Japan, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and many other nations now require mandatory GMO labeling.
#2: Monsanto’s GMOs are Unhealthy The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients. They cite animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies show how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems. Genes inserted into GM soy, for example, can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us, and that the toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.

Numerous health problems increased after GMOs were introduced in 1996. The percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are on the rise. Although there is not sufficient research to confirm that GMOs are a contributing factor, doctors groups such as the AAEM tell us not to wait before we start protecting ourselves, and especially our children who are most at risk.

The American Public Health Association and American Nurses Association are among many medical groups that condemn the use of GM bovine growth hormone, because the milk from treated cows has more of the hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1)―which is linked to cancer.

In May 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle announced the FDA’s anti consumer right-to-know policy which stated that GMO foods need NOT be labeled nor safety-tested.

Meanwhile, prominent scientists such as Arpad Pusztai and Gilles-Eric Seralini have publicized alarming research revealing severe damage to animals (monkeys, lab rats) fed GMO foods including: sterilization, miscarriages, cancer, NEW allergies, seizures, and DEATH!!!

#3: Monsanto Puts Small Farmers out of Business 100s of American farmers have been sued. Century-old seed stocks were destroyed. 100,000s of Indian farmers commit suicide by drinking Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide after massive GMO crop failures bankrupted them. Monsanto uses the courts aggressively. It has sued hundreds of American farmers for patent infringement in connection with its GE seed. In a high profile case in Canada, which Monsanto won at the Supreme Court level,

Monsanto sued an independent farmer, Percy Schmeiser, for patent infringement for growing GMO genetically modified Roundup resistant canola in 1998. Percy Schmeiser is a Canadian farmer whose canola fields were contaminated with Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready Canola by pollen from a nearby GMO farm. Monsanto successfully argued in a lawsuit that Schmeiser violated their patent rights, and forced Schmeiser to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

Mr. Schmeiser maintained that this was accidental. He testified that in the previous year, 1997, he had suspected contamination by genetically modified Roundup resistant canola along the roadside in one of his fields and hence had sprayed along the field edge with Roundup, whereupon he found that about 60% of the canola survived. The farm hand performing the harvest saved only seed from this contaminated roadside swathe for replanting in the next year, 1998, and presumably this seed was genetically modified Roundup resistant seed.

The court found that Mr. Schmeiser and his farming company (damages were assessed only against the company as Mr. Schmeiser was found to be acting in his capacity as director), “knew or ought to have known” the nature of the seed which was planted in 1998, and that by planting, growing and harvesting it, there was infringement of Monsanto’s patent on canola cells genetically modified for Roundup resistance. This finding was upheld at the appellate court level.

Monsanto Lawsuits Against Farmers In the United States

This type of biotech bullying is happening all over North America. The non-profit Center for Food Safety listed 112 lawsuits by Monsanto against farmers for claims of seed patent violations. The Center for Food Safety’s analyst stated that many innocent farmers settle with Monsanto because they cannot afford a time consuming lawsuit. Monsanto is frequently described by farmers as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” both because of these lawsuits and because of the questionable means they use to collect evidence of patent infringement.

There have been 125,000+ small farmer suicides in the past decade, and about 4000+/year *REPORTED* in India. In 2006, 1,044 suicides were reported in Vidarbha alone – that’s one suicide every eight hours.

Some struggles facing Indian farmers are detailed in the article “Seeds of Suicide: India’s Desperate Farmers” on Frontline. The transition to using the latest pest-resistant seeds and the necessary herbicides has been difficult. Farmers have used genetically modified seeds promoted by Cargill and Monsanto hoping for greater yields. Resulting debts from such gambles with genetically modified seeds have led some farmers into the equivalent of indentured servitude. More than 125,000+ farmers have committed suicide, which some claim is mostly due to mounting debt caused by the poor yields, increased need for pesticides, and the higher cost of the Bt cotton seed sold by Monsanto.

Shankara, like millions of other Indian farmers, had been promised previously unheard of harvests and income if he switched from farming with traditional [ORGANIC REUSABLE] seeds to planting GM [GENETICALLY MODIFIED STERILE CARCINOGENIC NON-ORGANIC] seeds instead. Beguiled by the promise of future riches, he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds.

But when the harvests failed, Shankara was left with spiraling debts – and no income. So Shankara became one of an estimated 125,000+ farmers to take their own life as a result of the ruthless drive to use India as a testing ground for genetically modified crops…. ‘We are ruined now,’ said [another farmer's] 38-year-old wife. ‘We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the [GMO BT] cotton and swallowed insecticide [MONSANTO's ROUNDUP]“.

A report released by the International Food Policy Research Institute in October 2008 provided evidence that the cause of farmer suicide in India was due to several causes and that the introduction of Bt cotton was not a major factor. It argues that the suicides predate the introduction of the cotton in 2002 and has been fairly consistent since 1997. Other studies also suggest the increase in farmer suicides is due to a combination of various socio-economic factors. These include debt, the difficulty of farming semi-arid regions, poor agricultural income, absence of alternative income opportunities, the downturn in the urban economy forcing non-farmers into farming, and the absence of suitable counseling services.

    1. Child Labor and Trans-National Seed Companies in Hybrid Cotton Seed Production in Andhra Pradesh from India Committee of the Netherlands
    2. Seeds of Suicide: India’s desperate farmers from the Public Broadcasting Service
    3. Farmer’s Suicides“. Z Magazine.
    4. Indian Farmer’s Final Solution“. countercurrents.org.
    5. Rough Cut Seeds of Suicide India’s desperate farmers“. PBS Frontline. July 26, 2005. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
    6. P. Sainath (August 2004). “Seeds of Suicide II “. InfoChange News and Features.
    7. Guillaume P. Gruère, Purvi Mehta-Bhatt and Debdatta Sengupta (2008). “Bt Cotton and Farmer Suicides in India: Reviewing the Evidence“. International Food Policy Research Institute.
    8. Sheridan, C. (2009). “Doubts surround link between Bt cotton failure and farmer suicide.”.
    9. Nagraj, K. (2008). “Farmers suicide in India: magnitudes, trends and spatial patterns“.
    10. Mishra, Srijit (2007). “Risks, Farmers’ Suicides and Agrarian Crisis in India: Is There A Way Out?“. Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR).
Monsanto is responsible for more than 50 United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund sites, attempts to clean up Monsanto Chemical’s formerly uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

Monsanto’s deadly legacy includes the production of Agent Orange, DDT, PCBs, and dioxin. Now massive aerial spraying of Roundup in Colombia is being used by the US and the Colombian government as a counter-insurgency tactic, contaminating food crops and poisoning villagers.

GMO crops and their associated herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable. For example, GMO crops are eliminating habitat for monarch butterflies, whose populations are down 50% in the US. Roundup herbicide has been shown to cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths and endocrine disruptions, and organ damage in animals even at very low doses. GMO canola has been found growing wild in North Dakota and California, threatening to pass on its herbicide tolerant genes on to weeds.

1961-1971: Agent Orange was by far the most widely used of the so-called “Rainbow Herbicides” employed in the Herbicidal Warfare program of the Vietnam War. Dow Chemical and Monsanto were the two largest producers of Agent Orange for the U.S. military. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.
  • 1969: Monsanto produces Lasso herbicide, better known as Agent Orange, which was used as defoliant by the U.S. Government during the Vietnam War. “[Lasso's] success turns around the struggling Agriculture Division,” Monsanto’s web page reads.
  • 1987: Monsanto is one of the companies named in an $180 million settlement for Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
  • Monsanto’s PCBs can be found polluting every corner of the Earth from the penguins in Antarctica, to the Arctic polar bears at the north pole, to you and your children. Dioxin off-gasses from plastic food containers because our plastics are made from Rockefeller’s petroleum fossil fuel OIL! BPA is a sex hormone that migrates from plastic food containers (baby bottles, medical devices) into our food, and finally into our bodies.
  • 1976: Monsanto produces Cycle-Safe, the world’s first plastic soft-drink bottle. The bottle, suspected of posing a CANCER risk, is banned the following year by the FDA.
  • Biomass like sugarcane or hemp are far superior replacements for industrial Monsanto crops like soy (most “vegetable” oil), corn (HFCS), cotton (seed oil), canola (oil), alfalfa (fodder) – BUT biomass like hemp do NOT need herbicides* (Roundup), pesticides*, NOR the phosphate* fertilizers [***ALL*** made from petroleum fossil fuels] – and plastic bottles and food containers made from BIOMASS are not only biodegradable… they are so non-toxic (no BPA, PCBs, dioxin) and so nutrient rich that they’re natural fertilizers… plus EDIBLE!
#5: Monsanto Blocking Government Regulations Monsanto also has strong ties to the core players in the U.S. administration of George W. Bush, including John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Ann Veneman, Tommy Thompson, and Clarence Thomas, a former attorney for Monsanto who was appointed to the Supreme Court by George H. W. Bush.

A revolving door exists between Monsanto and U.S. regulatory and judicial bodies making key decisions. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a former Monsanto lawyer, was the one who wrote the majority opinion on a key Monsanto case. Michael Taylor once worked for the FDA, later represented Monsanto as a lawyer, then returned as the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy when rBGH was granted approval.

Monsanto spent $8,831,120 for lobbying in 2008. $1,492,000 was to outside lobbying firms with the remainder being spent using in-house lobbyists.

Former Monsanto lobbyist Michael R. Taylor was appointed as a senior adviser to the Food and Drug Administration (United States) Commissioner on food safety on July 7, 2009.

Monsanto gave $186,250 to federal candidates in the 2008 election cycle through its political action committee (PAC) – 42% to Democrats, 58% to Republicans. For the 2010 election cycle they have given $72,000 – 51% to Democrats, 49% to Republicans.

Public Officials Formerly EMPLOYED by Monsanto

  • Justice Clarence Thomas worked as an attorney for Monsanto in the 1970s. Thomas wrote the majority opinion in the 2001 Supreme Court decision J. E. M. Ag Supply, Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. | J. E. M. AG SUPPLY, INC. V. PIONEER HI-BREDINTERNATIONAL, INC. which found that “newly developed plant breeds are patentable under the general utility patent laws of the United States.” This case benefitted all companies which profit from genetically modified crops (GMO), of which Monsanto is one of the largest.
  • Michael R. Taylor was an assistant to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner before he left to work for a law firm on gaining FDA approval of Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone in the 1980s. Taylor then became deputy commissioner of the FDA from 1991 to 1994. Taylor was later re-appointed to the FDA in August 2009 by President Barack Obama.
  • Dr. Michael A. Friedman was a deputy commissioner of the FDA before he was hired as a senior vice president of Monsanto.
  • Linda J. Fisher was an assistant administrator at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before she was a vice president at Monsanto from 1995-2000. In 2001, Fisher became the deputy administrator of the EPA.
  • Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (under President Ford AND Bush II) was chairman and chief executive officer of G. D. Searle & Co., which Monsanto purchased in 1985. Rumsfeld personally made at least $12 million USD from the transaction.
#6: Monsanto Guilty of False Advertising & Scientific FRAUD France’s highest court ruled in 2009 that Monsanto had lied about the safety of its weed killer Roundup. The court confirmed an earlier judgment that Monsanto had falsely advertised its herbicide as “biodegradable”.

RoundUp herbicide KILLS anything that is ORGANIC. “RoundUp Ready” crops are GMOs that have a resistance to RoundUp – usually by mixing the food (corn) with BT (bacillus thuringiensis) bacteria. FYI RoundUp is made from Rockefeller’s fossil-fuel petroleum OIL. RoundUp foods are corn, soy, alfalfa, canola, and cottonseed oil… if it’s in a box or a can = you can bet it’s GMO.

In November 2009, a French environment group (MDRGF) accused Monsanto of using chemicals in Roundup formulations not disclosed to the country’s regulatory bodies, and demanded the removal of those products from the market.

In 1996, Monsanto was accused of false and misleading advertising of glyphosate products, prompting a law suit by the New York State attorney general. Monsanto had made claims that its spray-on glyphosate based herbicides, including Roundup, were safer than table salt and “practically non-toxic” to mammals, birds, and fish.

Environmental and consumer rights campaigners brought a case in France in 2001 for presenting Roundup as biodegradable and claiming that it left the soil clean after use; glyphosate, Roundup’s main ingredient, is classed by the European Union as “dangerous for the environment” and “toxic for aquatic organisms”. In January 2007, Monsanto was convicted of false advertising. The result was confirmed in 2009.

On two occasions, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has caught scientists deliberately falsifying test results at research laboratories hired by Monsanto to study glyphosate. In the first incident involving Industrial Biotest Laboratories, an EPA reviewer stated after finding “routine falsification of data” that it was “hard to believe the scientific integrity of the studies when they said they took specimens of the uterus from male rabbits”. In the second incident of falsifying test results in 1991, the owner of the lab (Craven Labs), and three employees were indicted on 20 felony counts, the owner was sentenced to 5 years in prison and fined $50,000, the lab was fined $15.5 million dollars and ordered to pay $3.7 million dollars in restitution. Craven laboratories performed studies for 262 pesticide companies including Monsanto.

Monsanto has stated that the studies have been repeated, and that Roundup’s EPA certification does not now use any studies from Craven Labs or IBT. Monsanto also said that the Craven Labs investigation was started by the EPA after a pesticide industry task force discovered irregularities.

#7: Consumers Reject Bovine Growth Hormone rBGH in Milk In the wake of mass consumer pressure, major retailers such as Safeway, Publix, Wal-Mart, and Kroger banned store brand milk products containing Monsanto’s controversial genetically engineered hormone rBGH. Starbucks, under pressure from the OCA and our allies, has likewise banned rBGH milk.

A recent court ruling found that there ARE THREE differences
between ORGANIC and rbST/rBGH monsanto pus milk:

  1. HORMONES in rBGH milk can cause CANCER!
  2. 3%- 20% PUS content (cow white blood cells)
  3. rBGH milk has DEPLETED NUTRITIONAL VALUE!!!

As of May 2008, Monsanto is currently engaged in a campaign to prohibit dairies which do not inject their cows with artificial bovine growth hormone from advertising this fact on their milk carton labels.

When the Federal Trade Commission did not side with Monsanto on this issue, Monsanto started lobbying state lawmakers to implement a similar ban. Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolfe attempted to prohibit dairies from using labels stating that their milk does not contain artificial bovine growth hormone (rbST/rBGH), but public outcry led Governor Edward Rendell to step in and reverse his secretary’s position, stating: “The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced.”

#8: GMO Crops Do Not Increase Yields Do you know what a YIELD DRAG is? The last batch of GMO corn in South Africa came up 80% SEEDLESS. South African farmers suffered millions of dollars in lost income when 82,000 hectares of genetically-manipulated corn (maize) failed to produce hardly any seeds.

A major UN / World Bank sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that GM crops have little to offer to the challenges of poverty, hunger, and climate change. Better alternatives are available, and the report championed organic farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries. One of the best options is organic Permaculture.

In 1999, a review of Roundup Ready soybean crops found that, compared to the top conventional varieties, they had a 6.7% lower yield. This so called “yield drag” follows the same pattern observed when other traits are introduced into soybeans by conventional breeding. Monsanto claims later patented varieties yield 7-11% higher than their poorly performing initial varieties, closer to those of conventional farming, although the company refrains from citing actual yields. Monsanto’s 2006 application to USDA states that RR2 (mon89788) yields 1.6 bu less than A3244, the conventional variety that the trait is inserted into.

This concentration of corporate power drives UP costs for farmers AND consumers. Retail prices for Roundup have increased from just $32 per gallon in December 2006, to $45 per gallon a year later, to $75 per gallon by June 2008 – a 134% price hike in less than 2 years. Because gene technologies can be patented, they also concentrate corporate power – by 2000 five pesticide companies, including Monsanto, controlled over 70% of all patents on agricultural biotechnology. And this concentration again drives up costs. According to Keith Mudd of the U.S.-based Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), “The lack of competition and innovation in the marketplace has reduced farmers’ choices and enabled Monsanto to raise prices unencumbered.”

At a July 2008 meeting, Monsanto officials announced plans to raise the average price of some of the company’s GM maize (corn) varieties a whopping 35%, by $95-100 per bag, to top $300 per bag. Fred Stokes of OCM describes the implications for farmers: “A $100 price increase is a tremendous drain on rural America. Let’s say a farmer in Iowa who farms 1,000 acres plants one of these expensive corn varieties next year. The gross increased cost is more than $40,000. Yet there’s no scientific basis to justify this price hike. How can we let companies get away with this?” What holds good for maize, also holds good for other GM crops. The average price for soybean seed, the largest GM crop in the US, has risen by more than 50% in just 2 years from 2006 to 2008 – from $32.30 to $49.23 per planted acre.

Patenting also inhibits public sector research and further undermines the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds. Monsanto devotes an annual budget of $10 million dollars to harassing, intimidating, suing – and in some cases bankrupting – American farmers over alleged improper use of its patented seeds.

Recent price hikes have taken place in the context of a global food crisis marked by rapid food price inflation, which has exacerbated extreme poverty and hunger, and increased social tensions. The World Bank attributes 75% of this global food price inflation to “biofuels”, and Monsanto has been at the very heart of the “biofuels” lobby, particularly the lobby for corn ethanol. Monsanto has been accused of both contributing to and benefiting from the food crisis, while simultaneously using it as a PR platform from which to promote GM crops as the solution to the crisis.

In 2008, the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations condemned corporate profiteering: “The essential purpose of food, which is to nourish people, has been subordinated to the economic aims of a handful of multinational corporations that monopolize all aspects of food production, from seeds to major distribution chains, and they have been the prime beneficiaries of the world crisis. A look at the figures for 2007, when the world food crisis began, shows that corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill, which control the cereals market, saw their profits increase by 45% and 60%, respectively.”

GMOs do NOT increase yields, and work against feeding a hungry world!

Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2009 report Failure to Yield―the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield

The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, authored by more than 400 scientists and backed by 58 governments, stated that GM crop yields were “highly variable” and in some cases, “yields declined.” The report noted, “Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable.” They determined that the current GMOs have nothing to offer the goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability.

On the contrary, GMOs divert money and resources that would otherwise be spent on more safe, reliable, and appropriate technologies.

New York Times Superweed Map

Actual USDA Releases 2010 Crop Yield Reports

Corn: 457.6 million bushels, compared to 446.76 million in 2009; average yield of 143.0 bushels per acre, compared to 150.0 in August and 153.0 last year; harvested area of 3.2 million acres, compared to 2.92 million a year ago.

Soybeans: 228.900 million acres, compared to 230.550 million in 2009; average yield of 42.0 bushels per acre, compared to 42.0 in August and 43.5 last year; harvested area of 5.450 million acres, compared to 5.3 million a year ago.

#9: Monsanto Controls U.S. Soy Market Almost any food with oil in it is either Monsanto GMO soy, Monsanto GMO canola, or Monsanto GMO cottonseed oil. The bottle that says pure “vegetable oil” is usually 100% GMO soy. even the “olive oil” mayonnaise lists soy as the second ingredient after water. a safer GREENER plant to make these products out of is organic hemp oil, which would actually treat depression rather than causing cancer, sterility, and NEW allergies.

Soy protein is used in a variety of foods such as salad dressings, soups, imitation meats, beverage powders, cheeses, non-dairy creamer, frozen desserts, whipped topping, infant formulas, breads, breakfast cereals, pastas, and pet foods.

Soy protein is also used for emulsification and texturizing. Specific applications include adhesives, asphalts, resins, cleaning materials, cosmetics, inks, pleather, paints, paper coatings, pesticides / fungicides, plastics, polyesters, and textile fibers.

A 2001 literature review suggested that women with current or past breast cancer should be aware of the risks of potential tumor growth when taking soy products, based on the effect of phytoestrogens to promote breast cancer cell growth in animals.

In 1996, when Monsanto began selling Roundup Ready soybeans, only 2% of soybeans in the US contained their patented gene. By 2008, over 90% of soybeans in the US contained Monsanto’s GMO gene.

The United States (93%) and Argentina (98%) produce almost exclusively GM soybeans. In these countries, GM soybeans are approved without restrictions and are treated just like conventional soybeans. Producers and government officials in the US and Argentina do not see a reason to keep GM and conventionally bred cultivars separate – whether during harvest, shipment, storage or processing. Soybean imports from these countries generally contain a high amount of GM content – which is WHY GMO CONTAMINATED food shipments from the USA are generally rejected in (better educated) countries such as UK, Germany, France, Russia, China, and even African countries.

Over half of the world’s 2007 soybean crop (58.6%) was genetically modified (GMO), a higher percentage than for any other crop. Each year, EU Member States import approximately 40 million tons of soy material, primarily destined for use as cattle, swine, and chicken feed. Soybeans are also used to produce many food additives.

In 2007, 216 million tons of soybeans were produced worldwide. The world’s leading soybean producers are the United States (33%), Brazil (27%), Argentina (21%), and China (7%). India and Paraguay are also noteworthy soybean producers.

Worldwide soybean production: The first genetically modified soybeans were planted in the United States in 1996. More than a decade later, GM soybeans are planted in 9 countries covering more than 60 million hectares. These GM soybeans possess a gene that confers [MONSANTO RoundUp] herbicide resistance.

#10: Monsanto’s GMO Foods Cause NEW Food Allergies In March 1999, UK researchers at the York Laboratory were alarmed to discover that reactions to soy had skyrocketed by 50% over the previous year. Genetically modified soy had recently entered the UK from US imports and the soy used in the study was largely GMO. Aspartame is also known to cause NEW allergies and hives by the “reported cases” at the FDA.

Some GMO foods have been proven in laboratory tests (on rats AND mammals including monkeys) to CAUSE: NEW allergies, cancer, sterility (consumers losing their ability to get pregnant and have babies), miscarriages, seizures, and even death!

Click here to read the FULL HISTORY of Monsanto (1901-2013)

The farce of GMO industry safety studies

Who would have expected that toxicology would become a rich reservoir of farce and irony?

Yet that is exactly what has happened in the area of GMO toxicity testing, thanks to double standards that mean studies finding harm are judged very differently to those finding safety.

The latest episode in the farce is a GMO industry safety study designed to test the effects in rats fed a GMO canola compared with rats fed non-GM canola. Unfortunately, the test animals were fed GMOs and pesticides and control animals were also fed – er – GMOs and pesticides. Unsurprisingly, the study found no effect from feeding the GM food under test and concluded that it was safe. In spite of its poor design, the study could be used to gain regulatory approval for the GM Roundup-tolerant canola under test.

The study (Delaney and colleagues, 2014) was published in April this year by employees of the biotech and agrochemical giant DuPont in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT). Readers will recall that in November 2013 the editor of this same journal, A. Wallace Hayes, forcibly retracted the long-term rat feeding study by the team of Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini. Séralini’s study found toxic effects in rats fed doses of NK603 GM maize and Roundup deemed safe by regulators. Hayes claimed he retracted the paper on the grounds of the “inconclusive” nature of the tumor and mortality findings in treated groups of rats. He blamed the alleged inconclusiveness on the relatively low number of rats used and the strain of rat, the Sprague-Dawley, which he claimed was unusually prone to tumors.

Hayes’s rationale for retracting the paper – inconclusiveness – was widely derided by scientists. Prof Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand pointed out that if this standard were applied consistently, this would result in a huge number of important studies being retracted, including two pioneering papers by James Watson and Francis Crick describing the structure of DNA and how it might replicate, which at the time of publication were inconclusive.

Now Séralini’s team has hit back at the FCT editor’s accusations in an analysis of the DuPont study. The analysis, published in FCT as a letter to the editor, exposes as worthless the DuPont authors’ claims of safety for the GM canola variety tested.

Séralini’s team analysed the laboratory rodent diet used in the DuPont experiment, which was obtained from a well-known company called Purina. They obtained the same type of feed from Purina and found that it was contaminated with 18% of Roundup-tolerant maize NK603 and 14.9% of GM Bt maize MON810. They also found that the feed contained residues of glyphosate and AMPA (the main metabolite of glyphosate). So although the control rats weren’t eating the GM canola under test, they were eating other GMOs with the same glyphosate-tolerant trait, as well as residues of the pesticide that the GMOs are grown with. In plain English, the study did not compare rats fed a GM diet with rats fed a non-GM diet, but rats fed one type of GMO plus pesticides with rats fed similar GMOs plus pesticides.

Séralini and colleagues state, “the uncontrolled presence of pesticide residues and other GMOs make the study inconclusive”. They add that according to the criteria of the FCT editor Hayes, the study should be retracted.

Séralini’s team, in contrast, did control for GMOs and pesticides in the diets used for their chronic toxicity study. So their study accurately tested for the effects of GM NK603 maize and Roundup herbicide – and the effects of organ damage and hormonal disruption found in the treated rats were real.

The DuPont researchers made their study even more inconclusive by restricting it to a 3-month timespan, too short to show long-term health effects. They also added spurious control groups of animals fed a variety of irrelevant “reference” diets. This practice, common in the GMO industry’s studies on its own products, has the effect of drowning out any statistical differences in the GM-fed group in the resulting “data noise”. Many industry studies with a similar poor design have been published in FCT and were not retracted.

FCT editor Hayes based his verdict of the “inconclusive” nature of the tumor and mortality findings in the Séralini paper on the relatively small number of rats used and the supposedly tumor-prone nature of the Sprague-Dawley strain. Yet the DuPont authors concluded on safety over a shorter period of time, measuring a smaller number of health effects, and using a comparably small number of rats (12 per sex per group compared with Séralini’s 10) of the same Sprague-Dawley strain.

There is further irony in the fact that we are not allowed to suspect that DuPont’s reassuring findings on its own GMO might be a false negative, where a toxic effect exists but is missed because of poor experimental design. But conversely we are expected to believe that Séralini’s findings, dramatic as they are, are all false positives and an artifact of the small number of rats used and the rat strain chosen – two factors which miraculously become acceptable in the DuPont study and many other industry studies.

To round off this GMO farce, the DuPont authors declare in their paper that “there are no conflicts of interest” – despite the fact that they are employees of the company that stands to profit from the market authorisation of the GMO in question. And Bryan Delaney, the first author of the DuPont study, is also managing editor of FCT. That interest too goes undisclosed.

If these shenanigans weren’t putting public health at risk, we’d be rolling in the aisles.

Claire Robinson|11 July 2014

China is Rejecting GMO Corn and That Isn’t Good for American Farmers

The industrial agribusiness has embraced GMOs in the United States, but it’s having a serious effect on farmers. Most recently, China began rejecting a variety of genetically modified U.S. corn, and the rejection is reportedly costing American farmers upwards of $3 billion, according to the National Feed and Grain Association.

The genetically engineered corn in question is one invented by the seed company Syngenta. The new gene has yet to be approved in China — in fact, it has been waiting for approval for four years. Since November, China has rejected more than 1.45 million metric tons. The corn was diverted to other buyers, but as the NFGA stated, it “almost assuredly would have negotiated a discount,” which means fewer dollars for American farmers.

A rejection of U.S. grain in China has serious consequences here on home turf, as the country is one of the top importers of U.S. corn, and its demand is projected to grow. But not if GMOs are involved.

GMOs have become an increasing concern in China. This spring, the Chinese Army banned all GMO grains and oil from its military supply stations. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “because of public concern over health risks and high-level discomfort with China becoming overly reliant on GMO strains developed by foreign companies, China has stopped short of allowing commercial distribution of GMO grains.”

China isn’t the only one. Russia has now announced that it won’t import GMO products, and the United States is having a hard time reaching a trade deal with the European Union because of GMOs.

Who should the farmers blame? The governments that don’t want the grain or the companies making them? They’re unsure.

According to NPR:

A few days ago, the U.S. Grains Council wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, urging his “immediate, direct, and personal intervention” with Chinese officials “to halt this current regulatory sabotage of the DDGS trade with China.”

The NGFA and the North American Export Grain Association, on the other hand, have called on Syngenta to stop selling the offending corn varieties until those varieties can be sold in major export markets.

“They’re being a bad actor here,” says Max Fisher of NGFA, referring to Syngenta. “They’re making $40 million” selling the new corn varieties, “but it’s costing U.S. farmers $1 billion.”

While companies will certainly find other channels for their grain, there’s no denying that the economic blow to farmers may fuel the conversation on GMOs moving forward.

Anna Brones|August 11, 2014

National Organic Program: Get Gut-Wrenching Carrageenan Out of Organic!

Carrageenan, an additive commonly used in foods, including some organic foods, is linked to gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of colon cancer.  The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) now has an opportunity to end the use of carrageenan in certified organic foods. Instead, the NOP is recommending that carrageenan be allowed in organic for another five years.

Carrageenan is an emulsifier used to keep liquids from separating in organic juice, yogurt, chocolate  milk and other dairy products, non-dairy alternatives – and even infant formula! According to the Cornucopia Institute’s 2013 report, “Carrageenan: How a ‘Natural’ Food Additive Is Making Us Sick,” research links carrageenan to gastrointestinal inflammation, including higher rates of colon cancer, in laboratory animals.

Under NOP rules, carrageenan’s approval is set to expire, or “sunset,” which would mean that it would no longer be allowed in certified organic products. But instead of heeding the latest research, the NOP is recommending that carrageenan be allowed in organics for another five years.

Companies that have lobbied for the continued use of carrageenan include the J.M. Smucker Co. brands Santa Cruz Organic and R. W. Knudsen Family, the Dean Foods brands WhiteWave and Horizon Organic, the Group Danone brand Stonyfield Farm, and farmer-owned Organic Valley. Responding to customer feedback, Stonyfield Farm and Organic Valley have since pledged to stop using carrageenan.

In May 2012, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommended that carrageenan continue to be allowed in organic foods, but not infant formula, citing studies from Europe that led to carrageenan being banned from infant formula there. The NOP is ignoring the NOSB’s recommendation to remove carrageenan from infant formula. The NOP explains:

“The NOSB’s recommendation to prohibit the use of carrageenan in infant formula was based solely on food safety concerns despite carrageenan’s status as a safe food additive … and despite FDA’s review of carrageenan in infant formula formulations…. Therefore, [NOP] is not implementing this recommendation.”

We can’t allow carrageenan to continue to be allowed in infant formula or any other organic food. And we can’t allow the organic program to be constrained by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) opinions on food safety. After all, this is the agency that insists it’s O.K. to eat olestra, saccharin, trans fats, aspartame, MSG, nitrates, and parabens!

Why Monsanto’s ‘Cure’ For World Hunger Is Cursing The Global Food Supply

What if the very GM agricultural system that Monsanto claims will help to solve the problem of world hunger depends on a chemical that kills the very pollinator upon which approximately 70% of world’s food supply now depends?

A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology titled, “Effects of field-realistic doses of glyphosate on honeybee appetitive behavior,” establishes a link between the world’s most popular herbicide – aka Roundup – and the dramatic decline in honeybee (Apis mellifera) populations in North American and Europe that lead to the coining of the term ‘colony collapse disorder’ (CCD) in late 2006 to describe the phenomena.

The researchers found that concentrations of glyphosate (GLY) consistent with the type of exposures associated with standard spraying practices in GM agricultural- and neighboring eco- systems reduced the honeybee’s sensitivity to nectar reward and impaired their learning abilities – two behavioral consequences likely to adversely affect their survival abilities. Moreover, while sub-lethal doses were not found to overtly affect their foraging behavior, they hypothesized that because of their resilience, “..forager bees could become a source of constant inflow of nectar with GLY traces that could then be distributed among nest mates, stored in the hive and have long- term negative consequences on colony performance.”

A Deeper Look at the New Study: Roundup Interferes with Bee Appetite and Learning

Roundup herbicide is a ubiquitous toxicant, with an accumulating body of research now showing it is a common contaminant in our air, water, rain, soil and food, and in physiologically relevant concentrations (even the part-per-trillion concentration range demonstrates endocrine disruptive and potentially carcinogenic properties) to microbial, insect, animal and human life.

When Roundup herbicide was first evaluated for toxicity to the honeybee, the focus was on acute toxicity of the ‘active ingredient’ and not sub-lethal and prolonged exposure effects; and certainly not the amplified toxicological synergies present in glyphosate formulations like Roundup, which when the so-called ‘inert’ adjuvant ingredients (e.g. surfactants) are taken into account, have been found to be at least 125 times more toxic than glyphosate alone. By only taking into account acute toxicity – as measured by the so-called LD50 (lethal dose, 50%) – on the ‘active’ ingredient, government regulators approved glyphosate as relatively harmless to honeybees prematurely.

The researchers expanded on the topic:

“Glyphosate [GLY] toxicity tests on Apis mellifera for product approval did not consider sub-lethal nor prolonged exposure effects. Studies were only focused on obtaining LD50 (lethal dose, 50%) as a measure of the effect of an acute exposure, but nevertheless, they were carried out on the basis that honeybees might in fact be exposed to GLY in their natural environment, either through the consumption of contaminated resources or through a direct exposure as a result of inadvertent spraying (Giesy et al., 2000). Even though LD50 results seem to indicate that GLY is not harmful for honeybees, the fact that honeybees are potentially exposed to GLY motivated us to pursue further analysis and to address the lack of chronic studies.”

The authors of the new study set out to test whether doses of glyphosate bees would realistically encounter in the field (field-realistic doses) could affect their feeding behavior (appetitive behavior) in a deleterious manner.

They exposed honeybees to field-realistic doses of glyphosate chronically and acutely, and observed: “a reduced sensitivity to sucrose and learning performance for the groups chronically exposed to GLY concentrations within the range of recommended doses,” as well as significant decrease in elemental learning, non-elemental associative learning, and short-term memory retention, when exposed to acute GLY doses.

Roundup Already Identified As Likely Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder

This latest study is not the first to link glyphosate to the vanishing honeybee.

Extensive research on the topic performed by Dr. Don D. Huber and summarized in an article published last year titled, “Is glyphosate a contributing cause of bee colony collapse disorder (CCD)?,” lead him to conclude that the 880 million pounds of glyphosate released into the environment worldwide has been contributing to the collapse of the honeybee. The paper revealed the following six ways that glyphosate could contribute to CCD:

  • Glyphosate chelates minerals, lowers nutrients in plants: In CCD, Malnutrition is universally present.
  • Glyphosate acts like an antibiotic to beneficial bacteria: In CCD, loss of Lactobacillus and other critical beneficial bacteria for digestion is commonly observed.
  • Glyphosate is a neurotoxin: In CCD, honeybees experience neurological changes associated with disorientation.
  • Glyphosate causes endocrine hormone & immune disruption: In CCD, immunity and other hormonal variables are altered or suppressed.
  • Glyphosate stimulates fungal overgrowth: In CCD, the fungal pathogen Nosema increases.
  • Glyphosate persists and accumulates: High environmental exposure, including glyphosate residues present in honey, nectar and other plant products, make honeybees susceptible to continual toxic challenge — which is believed to be a primary underlying cause of CCD.

Other Factors Contributing to Colony Collapse

While it is now increasingly acknowledged that many agrochemicals pesticides — especially neonicotinoids — are toxic to honeybees, there are other factors that likely play a role as well:

  • Electromagnetic pollution
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • GMO insecticidal proteins[2]
  • Parasitic flies

It should be pointed out that the last factor listed – infectious organisms – are likely more a symptom than a cause of honeybee morbidity and mortality. In other words, following electromagnetic, agrochemical and dietary assault, the immune system of the honeybee – and the collective immunity of the hive – weakens, leading to greater susceptibility to opportunistic infections.

One USDA study published in 2013 discussed the role of fungicidal contaminants in pollen leading to increased probability of Nosema fungal infection in bees who consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load.[3]

This linkage between chemical exposure > immune suppression, > opportunistic infection, is especially poignant when it comes to Roundup herbicide, which profoundly alters the makeup of the beneficial flora in exposed organisms, leading to the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria. A 2012 PloS study found that lactic acid bacteria living in the crop (the part of the bee’s alimentary canal that stores food prior to digestion) of bees are vitally important for the health of honeybees, with some strains suggesting a history of association with bees stretching over 80,000,000 years ago. Various chemical are capable of damaging this vitally important locus for the honeybee’s immunity and digestion, and are likely exerting their adverse effects through sublethal, hard to detect mechanisms.

Why Does Monsanto Own Beelogics, ‘The Guardian of Bee Health Worldwide’?

On Sept. 28th, 2011, Monsanto announced that it was acquiring the company Beeologics, whose explicit goal is to become “the guardian of the bee health worldwide,” including finding ways to address CCD.

Here is their mission statement:

“Beeologics LLC is an international firm dedicated to restoring bee health and protecting the future of honey bee pollination. Beeologics’ mission is to become the guardian of bee health worldwide. Through continuous research, scientific innovation, and a focus on applicable solutions, Beeologics is developing a line of RNAi-based products to specifically address the long-term well being of honey bees, including the control of parasites and how they’re involved in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).”

A classical problem-solution approach, Monsanto creates a problem – a systemic herbicide intended to ‘save the world’ from hunger as part of its GMO Roundup-ready proprietary production system that actually destroys the pollinators required to maintain our global food supply – and then capitalizes on a GM solution on the backend, with patented RNA interference ‘solutions’ intended to, again, ‘save the world’ from hunger.

Sayer Ji, Founder|August 3rd 2014

Is Roundup killing our honeybees?

A recent study has uncovered a link between the world’s most widely used herbicide – Roundup – and the dramatic decline in honeybee populations in North American and Europe.

The authors of the new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology were investigating whether exposure to glyphosate (the active ingredient of Roundup) at levels that bees could realistically be expected to encounter in the field could affect their feeding behaviour.

What they observed was that concentrations of glyphosate (GLY) produced “a reduced sensitivity to sucrose and learning performance for the groups chronically exposed to GLY concentrations within the range of recommended doses.”

Negatively impacting the honeybee’s sensitivity to nectar reward and impaired their learning abilities – are two behavioral consequences likely to adversely affect their survival abilities.

In addition they noted a significant decrease in elemental learning, non-elemental associative learning, and short-term memory retention, when exposed to higher doses of glyphosate.

Previous tests on bees have only looked for signs of acute toxicity (this is also a problem with many human toxicological tests); sub-lethal or prolonged exposure effects are not generally studied.

While sub-lethal doses were not found to overtly affect their foraging behaviour, the researcher suggest that because of their resilience, “…forager bees could become a source of constant inflow of nectar with GLY traces that could then be distributed among nest mates, stored in the hive and have long-term negative consequences on colony performance.”

A new poison for our bees

Most discussions about colony collapse disorder (CCD) have focused on poor nutrition, Nosema, and mysterious viruses and of course neonicotinoid insecticides. The potential for glyphosate to harm bees is new, but this is not the first time it has been implicated in bee deaths.

Last year, plant pathologist Dr. Don Huber submitted a paper to the Center for Honeybee Research highlighting glyphosate as a possible cause of CCD.

Huber’s found that glyphosate:

  • Chelates minerals, lowering available nutrients in plants Malnutrition is a consistent factor in CCD
  • Acts like an antibiotic to beneficial bacteria This means it kills off  Lactobacillus and other bacteria necessary for digestion
  • Is a neurotoxin A common symptom of CCD is that honeybees experience neurological changes associated with disorientation.
  • Causes endocrine hormone & immune disruption Alterations in key hormones and immune system function can be lethal
  • Stimulates fungal overgrowth This could encourage the growth of the fungal pathogen Nosema
  • Is a persistent, accumulative poison Residues present in honey, nectar and other plant products, mean honeybees are continually exposed to this toxin

Mexico has taken action

One of the reasons for the widespread use of Roundup is the planting of Roundup Ready GM plants – which have been genetically engineered to withstand repeated sprayings of this herbicide. As weeds become resistant to roundup, farmers find they spray more and more on their crops.

Most recently beekeepers in Mexico have won a court judgment which could help save their bees from exposure to glyphosate and halt the widespread planting of GMO soya crops there.

In 2012 Mexico’s agriculture ministry, Sagarpa, and environmental protection agency, Semarnat, granted Monsanto a permit to plant thousands of hectares of Roundup Ready soybeans in seven Mexican states.

The permit was granted in spite of widespread protests from thousands of Mayan farmers and beekeepers, Greenpeace, the Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and the National Institute of Ecology.

But earlier this year a district judge in the state of Yucatán overturned this permit. The judge said he was convinced by the scientific evidence presented about the threats posed by GM soya crops to honey production in the Yucatán peninsula, which includes Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatán states.

Mexico is one of the world’s largest producers of honey, and the EU is a big market for hone. However GM containing honey is not allowed for human consumption in the EU (however this ruling is being challenged).

Biotech companies argue that glyphosate is not toxic and further that it poses no threat to neighbouring non-GMO fields, however, the judge further ruled that co-existence between honey production and GM soybeans is not possible.

For us humans, the big question is not just whether we can protect our bees, but also whether pesticides like glyphosate are also harming our health in the same way and if so whether, and when we will take steps to protect ourselves.

Staff Writer|NYR Natural News|11 August, 2014

Energy

EPA Takes First Step Toward Regulating Fracking Chemicals

 The EPA today announced the start of a process that could result in companies being forced to report to the government, and possibly the public, the chemicals they add to sand and water to break apart shale rock and release oil and gas trapped deep underground. Close

Water samples are logged and stored at a treatment plant that separates oil, sediment and water mixed during the hydraulic fracturing process, near Shreveport, Louisiana. The EPA today announced the start of a process that could result in companies being forced to report to the government, and possibly the public, the chemicals they add to sand and water to break apart shale rock and release oil and gas trapped deep underground.

The Obama administration began a process that may result in the first federal regulation of chemicals used in fracking, a drilling technique that has transformed energy production while eluding oversight sought by environmentalists.

After three years of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today it’s considering rules requiring oilfield service companies such as Halliburton (HAL) Co. to send it details on the health and safety of the chemicals used. The agency said it may decide to stop short of rules, and use incentives or voluntary steps.

“It’s unfortunate that this process has taken so long, as it addresses a critical need to ensure the safety of chemicals used in fracking,” Richard Denison, the lead scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a blog post. “This is only the first baby step toward initiating the rulemaking process EPA said it would undertake.”

Environmental groups have been pressing the agency to collect information on the fluids injected with water and sand to break apart underground rocks, saying they may be a danger to human health or the environment. The oil and natural gas industries have tried to fend off any federal oversight of the practice, saying states can best oversee it. Oilfield service providers also say their recipes are trade secrets.

‘Important Step’

The EPA earlier said it would consider gathering the information under a provision of the toxic substances act. The action today is the next step, and it came without a specific guarantee of a regulation that the environmental groups sought.

“Today’s announcement represents an important step in increasing the public’s access to information on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing,” James Jones, the EPA’s assistant administrator, said in a statement. The plan will “complement but not duplicate existing reporting requirements,” he said.

Industry, which has fought to preempt federal oversight of oil and gas drilling, reacted cautiously to EPA’s announcement.

“Our members are committed to the continued safe and responsible development of America’s abundant natural gas resource and to being good neighbors in communities in which we operate,” Dan Whitten, a spokesman for the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, said in an e-mail. “We look forward to engaging with EPA to see that any new regulatory or voluntary program employ a common sense, workable and effective approach.”

Gas Boom

Fracking has led to a natural-gas boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, sparking opposition among some residents who say the technology may contaminate drinking water and add to air and soil pollution. Many drilling companies are disclosing chemical information on the industry website FracFocus.org. Some states require drillers to submit data to the site.

Critics say the website allows too many exemptions that keep ingredients secret and doesn’t permit easy aggregation of information. And drilling companies may not know the full list of chemicals used in their fracking fluids, they say. The EPA has the authority to make more broad demands, and, if necessary, keep the information private.

“The presumption should be on behalf of disclosure,” Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer at Earthjustice which, along with EDF, petitioned the EPA in 2011 to require the chemical disclosure. “One of the best incentives for safer chemicals is forcing disclosure of toxic chemicals.”

Baker Hughes

Already, one supplier to the drilling industry is acting.

Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI), the world’s third-largest oilfield services provider, in April said it will disclose all the chemicals used in fracking fluids after negotiating with suppliers and customers.

Halliburton reports its fracking fluids to FracFocus, said Susie McMichael, a spokeswoman for the company.

“Halliburton has been working and continues to work with the EPA and other regulatory agencies in answering questions and providing them with information as requested,” she said in an e-mail.

Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB), the world’s largest oilfield services provider, declined to comment.

The EPA, in its notice of proposed rulemaking today, is giving companies, environmentalists and interested members of the public 90 days to respond, and will subsequently decide on its next step.

Mark Drajem|May 9, 2014

Exploring the risks of oil spills in the Beaufort Sea

When I think about oil in the Arctic, I think about the Exxon-Valdez – about the images of oiled animals, of the dark, ominous slick spreading across the water.  When I think about an oil well blowout, I think about the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico – about the 86 days it took to stop the oil from flowing, in the best-serviced waters on the planet.  The combination of those images and memories creates a profound fear that many of us share when we think of Arctic development.

The risk is very real, but too often our ideas about it are shaped by media images, rather than by information and science.  The truth is that we really have very little information about what an oil spill in the Arctic would look like – where and how the oil would travel, how it would interact with ice, where it would reach important areas for ecosystems and wildlife. That’s what WWF aims to change for the Beaufort Sea region in Canada’s western Arctic.  Today, we’re releasing new research that explores how oil spills from a range of sources would travel through the region, and the likelihood of it spreading different distances.  These results provide critical information to shape decisions on Arctic development, especially when we see how these spills might overlap with key beluga feeding areas, where the oil might wash up on the shores of communities, and the likelihood that it will cross into American and international waters.

We worked with leading experts to develop this information and used cutting-edge technology that allowed us to map potential oil spills using real-world data.  We used proposals from industry to determine the most likely shipping and drilling locations, and compiled measured temperatures, wind speeds, currents, ice coverage and more.  The results were hundreds of models for 22 different scenarios – an incredible amount of information. The results revealed a number of concerning trends, notably that spilled oil is easily trapped in sea ice, making it difficult to contain and clean up, and allowing it to spread far from the site of the spill – in some cases the models showed oil reaching Russian shores.  The research also showed that oil spilled in Canadian waters could reach U.S. shorelines and affect communities and wildlife there.  The bottom line message is clear: even minor spills can have major impacts.  We must tread very carefully, and treat any Arctic development with great care and concern.

Equally as important as what the information tells us is what we do with it.  WWF is in the midst of traveling to Inuvialuit communities over the coming weeks to present the report to the people who would be most affected by an oil spill in the Beaufort Sea.  We have shared this information with key decision-makers in and for the Arctic.  We trust that as new development opportunities are considered, this information will help everyone involved understand what could be at risk, and be prepared for both the most likely and the worst case scenarios. At a time when a number of international oil companies are considering offshore development in the Beaufort Sea, this information is critical.  Everyone agrees that accidents can and will happen – it’s ultimately inevitable. Now is our chance to get things right, to lay the groundwork for smart, sustainable development that limits the risks to the environment.  This is the moment to put our research to work for a healthy future for the Arctic, ensuring that we avoid the damage an oil spill would wreak on this important ecosystem, affecting communities and wildlife.

David Miller|July 25, 2014

Is the US Geothermal Industry Back on Track?

After years of slow progress and fading confidence, geothermal industry players believe the stars are aligning in the US market. Is geothermal the new coal?

The U.S. geothermal industry has limped its way through the past few years with little growth, leading many companies to abandon plans and shift their business elsewhere.

While industry activity moved overseas to more promising developing markets like East Africa and Turkey, those that have stayed in the U.S. have been fighting for regulation easements, federal and state incentives and resource assessments — and it looks like all that work is starting to take shape, according to a panel conference call during the Geothermal Energy Association’s (GEA) National Geothermal Summit held in Reno, Nevada.

“The geothermal industry is poised for really strong growth in the years ahead, the question is what happens at the state level,” said GEA executive director Karl Gawell. “We can’t count on Congress any time soon, so we’re relying on states like California and Nevada.”

California has been forwarding a geothermal bill (S.B. 1139) that calls for 500 MW of geothermal procurement by 2024, which is separate from the state renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The panelists were confident that this bill would pass, which would be great news for the Salton Sea Initiative. This plan calls for the development of 1,700 MW of geothermal in the area by 2032, with hopes that it will revitalize the community.

“While the transfer of water is causing Salton Sea to recede, the good thing is that there is plenty of geothermal under [the seabed],” said Carl Stills, energy manager of the Imperial Irrigation District. “We see [the Salton Sea Initiative] as the perfect nexus between water and energy. S.B. 1139 would help that initiative, and it is picking up momentum and nearly becoming policy.”

In Nevada, officials are looking at revamping its RPS since it already surpassed its previous goals of 20 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025 set in 2007, and geothermal players are hoping that it will open its doors to significant development. Nevada also allows companies to purchase renewable energy directly from a utility, which is why Apple moved a portion of its data center operations to the state. The data centers are now powered by geothermal energy and other renewables.

“We have strong foundation in geothermal and want to continue to see that grow. NV Energy signed the first geothermal contract in 1983, and that’s why we are here,” said Paul Thomsen, director at the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy. “We want to continue to be national leader in geothermal development.”

Although critical of congressional inaction, panelists acknowledged several important bills currently on the table, which heavily emphasize permitting. Currently, the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) has a lengthy regulatory process in place for geothermal projects. It can take an average of five to seven years to develop a geothermal project, compared to around 1.5 years for a wind or solar project, and three to five years for oil and gas projects.

“Geothermal consistently comes up at least leveled cost of energy, but how long does it take to permit a project? Compared to wind and solar, we can’t build projects in a timely fashion and this is hindering forward growth,” said Gawell.

Panelists also pointed to increased grid instability as a positive factor for geothermal growth. As more and more intermittent renewables like wind and solar enter the grid and baseload fossil move off, utilities will be in need to stable, green baseload power, and geothermal fits the bill — it’s cheap, flexible, stable and emission-free, said Gawell.

“Its clear that were going through periods of change in electrical grid with the introduction of more intermittent renewables, geothermal perfectly positioned to take advantage and mitigate changes in electrical grid,” said Bob Sullivan, vice president of business development at Ormat. “Geothermal significantly positively impacts communities, and creates more jobs than any renewable technology out there.”

States, especially California, are starting to hunker down to assess the intermittency problem as more coal plants shut down, and geothermal keeps coming up in the conversation, according to Terry Page, director of regulatory affairs at Enel Green Power North America. This is why companies are starting to look at the U.S. as a possible growth space again.

“Geothermal has all the attributes of coal facility — it can be the backbone of our electrical grid,” said Sullivan. “Geothermal provides a very reliable baseload power to count on day in and day out. Geothermal is very much like a coal facility — but green.”

Meg Cichon|Associate Editor|RenewableEnergyWorld.com|August 06, 2014

More “Made in the USA” Solar Modules Coming Soon

Suniva has begun construction on a 200-MW capacity solar module manufacturing facility in Saginaw Township, Michigan.

New Hampshire — Suniva Inc., a manufacturer of crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) solar cells and modules, announced that construction of its second U.S. solar manufacturing facility has begun. The new facility, located in Saginaw Township, Michigan, will provide up to 200 MW of additional capacity of its American-made modules, as a supplement to its existing manufacturing facility at its headquarters, in Norcross, Georgia.

The company said that this new state-of-the-art facility was designed and engineered by William A. Kibbe & Associates, Inc. Suniva has selected multiple Michigan-based contractors to complete the 129,000 sq. ft. solar module assembly facility located in a former Sears Warehouse building.

“The U.S. is now one of the top three markets for the global solar industry,” said Marc Rogovin, vice president of corporate services of Suniva. He added that the Michigan location means that Suniva will “have a highly-skilled workforce to draw from and many key supply chain partners in the area. Michigan is a central location with the logistics infrastructure that makes it very easy for us to move our products.”

Suniva posted over 65 job openings on July 25th and is finalizing its initial round of hiring this week. Ultimately, the company plans to create a total of 350 jobs, as the plant scales to full capacity.

The new facility further strengthens Suniva’s position as America’s leading solar module manufacturer, employing a higher percentage of American workers than any other tier-1 solar manufacturer, according to the company. Suniva currently produces its high-powered Optimus monocrystalline module line with power ratings up to 280W (60-cell format) and an industry-leading 330W (72-cell format), the company said.

Renewable Energy World Editors|August 13, 2014

Land Conservation

US Sugar And Hilliard Brothers Seeking Large Land Master Plan

43,313 Acre Giant Master Plan Proposed By Agricultural Companies

CLEWISTON, FL. — Two of Southwest Florida’s larges agricultural enterprises, U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers are combining forces to try to persuade Hendry County officials of the benefits of the largest Master Planning of land ever in Hendry county.
The two companies are seeking to get 43,313 acres owned by the two under jurisdiction of a sector plan, otherwise known as a master plan under a law passed in Florida in 2011, Section 163,3245 of the Florida Statutes.
The broadly spread out mostly sugar cane and pasture lands are located in eastern Hendry county both west and south of the city of Clewiston
Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 7207 on June 2, 2011, which is the bill that makes the largest number of changes to Florida’s growth management statutes (and administrative rules) ever. This bill, with several others, makes the broadest and most significant changes to Florida’s growth management/planning/land development statutes seen in over twenty-five years.

The sector plan application was made to the county planning and zoning department in January 2014, and the first official public hearing on the massive proposal will be Wednesday, August 13, 2014 before the volunteer Local Planning Agency at the Hendry Courthouse, hearing arguments and then deciding to recommend or not to the Hendry Board of Commissioners who will hear the issue at their public meeting on August 26,  at 5:05 p.m. in Commission Chambers.

Trouble And Objections Ahead?

There appeared to be several either clever tactics or mistakes by US Sugar and Hilliard in it’s required notice to land owners abutting the 43,313 acres. Notices by certified mail were mailed at the last minute and there may be many who were not notified in time to protect their rights at the public hearings or the opportunity to opt out of the master plan if allowed.

Public notices in newspapers also show conflicting locations for the public hearings. Notices mailed to land owners show a meeting August 26 in LaBelle, while newspaper notices say the meeting is in Clewiston.

The notices mailed also do not give any details whatsoever about what a sector plan is or what US Sugar and Hilliard plan to do, other than an enclosed map of the “Sugar Hill Sector Plan.”

Don Browne|August 11, 2014

[It would seem that a planned housing development is in the works.]

Florida gets $2 million to conserve lands north of Lake O 

Florida received $2 million of federal land conservation money  to help protect wilderness areas, create parks and shelter public spaces from urban development while preserving the natural environment.
The announcement came in advance of a gathering of ranchers, sportsmen and federal officials in Fort Pierce on Wednesday to talk about the next steps for creation of an Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

Ranchers in Central Florida have agreed to allow conservation measures on their lands to keep them rural and available for grazing. The plan is to avoid development that leads to urban runoff that could add pollution to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will lead the discussion with members of the Northern Everglades Alliance and the Florida Sportsmen’s National Land Trust.

Federal officials are pointing to the Everglades Headwaters initiative as a leading example of land conservation.

They say it will conserve habitat for 88 threatened or endangered species, including the Florida panther, black bear, whooping crane, snail kite and wood stork. And they say it will help filter pollutants from the Everglades watershed while protecting the water supply for millions of residents.

It is part of a broader plan to take pressure off of Lake Okeechobee and prevent polluted discharges during rainy seasons that foul estuaries leading to the east and west coasts. Those discharges have impaired boating and other recreation in nearby waterways, forced communities to restrict swimming and depressed property values in parts of northern Palm Beach County and along the Treasure Coast.

But the headwaters project is just one form of conservation. Florida Park Service officials will decide how to distribute this year’s $2 million allotment, which comes from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund, generated from offshore oil-drilling revenue, has provided $134 million to Florida since 1965, and every county has benefited. The fund has been used in past years to help pay for parks, wilderness areas, access for hunting and fishing, veterans memorials, boat marinas and picnic areas.

“These local projects – parks, ball fields, open spaces – play an important role in improving the health and vitality of urban areas, and protecting natural areas for future generations of Americans to enjoy,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said on Tuesday.

Florida’s share is part of $43 million that will be distributed to the states.
Interior officials are using a national tour, including the Florida visit, to make a pitch for extending the program, which is set to expire unless Congress acts. They say it generates $4 of economic activity for every $1 spent.

William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|July 8, 2014

More Than 163 Acres of Conservation Land Donated to State of Florida

The state of Florida is accepting a major land donation from Calusa Pines Golf Club, LLC, an affiliate of Indian Hill Partners. The move will preserve wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities in Collier County. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands, acting on behalf of Governor Scott and the Board of Trustees, accepted the donation of the more than 163 acres of valuable conservation land on the north border of Picayune Strand State Forest.  The parcel is valued at $400,000, and also includes $1,000 per acre for management. The donation is part of Indian Hill Partners’ efforts to offset any impacts to the environment caused by future planned developments.

“Indian Hill Partners and its affiliates are pleased to donate this 160-acre tract of land to the state for incorporation into the Picayune Strand State Forest,” said Managing Member Christopher Johnson. “I see the donation of this property as a win-win for the state and Indian Hill. The property is surrounded by the state forest and will fill one of the many missing links in these conservation lands, providing wonderful habitat for many listed species in perpetuity.”

The Picayune Strand is located in western Collier County, approximately 2 miles east of Naples. The forest provides opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and bird watching. It also provides prime habitat for Florida panthers, as well as habitat for black bears, bald eagles, wood storks, fox squirrels and swallow-tailed kites, and is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.

“We applaud the generosity of the Indian Hill Partners for their land donation to the state of Florida,” said Kelley Boree, director of the Division of State Lands. “This donation will provide additional habitat for wildlife and increased recreational opportunities for the visitors to Picayune Strand for years to come.”

The Florida Forest Service will manage the tract as part of the Picayune Strand State Forest in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District.

mburgerdep|July 30, 2014

Air Quality

Clean Air Act: EPA’s Proposal for Reducing CO2 Emissions From Electric Power Sector Would Present the States With a Complex Task 

The Obama Administration has released its much-anticipated proposal for limiting nationwide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the electric power sector, calling for an overall 30 percent reduction by 2030, compared to a 2005 baseline (about a 17 percent reduction from current emissions).

The proposal calls for increasing the efficiency of coal-fired power plants and for reducing the amount of power generated by coal- and oil-fired plants in favor of natural gas-fired combined cycle turbines, low- and zero-carbon power generation (renewables and nuclear) and improved demand-side energy efficiency.

The proposal will likely receive a boost from the Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the core of EPA’s existing permitting requirements for greenhouse gas emissions.[1]There will be a major focus in coming months on whether EPA has legal authority to adopt this rule, since it rests on a little-used provision of the Clean Air Act. But equal attention should be given to the work it would impose on the states.

While sweeping, EPA’s proposed rule only provides a broad outline and sets ultimate objectives: state-specific CO2 emission reduction goals.

The task of fleshing out the details and implementing the reductions would fall to the states, which will have one to three years to submit plans for reducing emissions from their electric power sector.

In many states, that will include making changes to or expanding programs administered by agencies that in the past have had no direct responsibility for air quality programs.

The resulting decisions – made in the next two to four years – could substantially reshape the electric power sector in many parts of the country over the next two decades. EPA will be accepting comment on the proposal for 120 days and has said that it hopes to finalize the rule in June 2015.

If it succeeds in doing so, states will be required to complete their plans between June 2016 and 2018.

Richard H. Allan and Svend Brandt-Erichsen|July 8, 2014

10 Cities with the Cleanest Air in the World

If you’re making plans for summer vacation, you might prefer not to visit the smoggiest countries. But where might you go to find the cleanest air?

The American Lung Association (ALA) ranks Wyoming’s capital city of Cheyenne as #1 in the U.S. for being the cleanest in annual particle pollution, but the city’s crisp mountain air has become smoggier as a result of natural gas drilling that has raised ozone levels, so they’ve been higher than Los Angeles. Maintaining consistently good air quality is a challenge.

As this World Health Organization map reveals, you’ll find some of the cleanest air in Canada, the U.S., Europe (especially its northern regions) and Australia. If you’re hoping to breathe a bit easier this summer, here are ten places you might want to visit based on information from the WHO and the 2013 State of the Air report (pdf) from the American Lung Association (ALA), as determined by the amount of ozone and long-term and short-term particulate matter in the air.

1. Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

The largest city in northern Canada, Whitehorse in the Yukon, has some of the cleanest air of any city in the world, according to the WHO. As Whitehorse mayor Bev Buckway says,

“A lot of people come up north and they smell the air and the say “‘Oh wow. Amazing. The air smells so good.’ And we tend to take it for granted because we just have that all the time.”

Whitehorse can thank a lower population density and stricter regulations for its clean air, as well as a favorable climate.

2. Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

New Mexico’s capital has some of the cleanest air in the U.S., with low counts of both particle pollution and ozone — in fact, it is one of only 20 U.S. cities whose ozone levels have consistently been low. Situated in a region with 1.5 million acres of forest, the city has strict regulations to limit the burning of wood in the open air. Besides this, Santa Fe has been designated a UNESCO Creative City for its thriving art, crafts and design community.

3. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Honolulu means “sheltered bay” or “place of shelter” in native Hawaiian; this aptly describes the city on the big island of Hawaii. Honolulu is about 2,000 miles away from the U.S. mainland, beyond where particles from burning coal can travel. The Diamond Head and Koko Head craters are nearby and the city has low levels of ozone and particle matter and receives plenty of rain. A well-designed transit system with dedicated bus lanes also helps to cut down on emissions.

4. Great Falls, Montana, USA

Situated in an area of great natural beauty with hiking trails and nature refuges, Great Falls is located in north-central Montana. The city’s residents have worked to keep their air clean, successfully fending off the construction of a 250-megawatt coal-fired power plant that would have released 2.1 million tons of carbon emissions into the air per year. The power company said it would instead built a 120-megawatt natural gas-fired plant.

5. Calgary, Alberta, Canada

The WHO ranks the air quality of Calgary, Canada, highly, even with a large gas and oil industry in the region. Thoughtful urban planning and public transportation help to manage traffic congestion. Calgary is located in southern Alberta province and maintains three sanitary landfill sites for screening garbage and removing biodegradable and recyclable materials.

6. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

From a light rail system to a Spring Cleaning the Capital program in which 60,000 volunteers join together to clean parks and other public spaces, the Canadian capital has established a number of measures to keep its streets and air clean. The Rideau canal (pictured above) runs through a good part of the city and, in the winter when it freezes, becomes a huge outdoor skating rink.

7. Helsinki, Finland

The capital of Finland is one of the cleanest metropolitan centers in Europe thanks to efforts to limit emissions from vehicles and industry; the government says that as much as over half of the particle pollution in the country comes from elsewhere. The city has wide streets to cut down on traffic congestion and also advises residents to take public transit when air quality is poorer.

8. Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm has an extensive public transportation system. The Swedish capital also has the largest percentage of clean vehicles in Europe with about 5 percent of all of its vehicles being hybrids. Stockholm has also imposed a congestion charge on cars in its central area and promoted cycling. It’s a wonderful city to walk around in; Stockholm’s archipelago offers ready access to the wilderness.

9. Zurich, Switzerland

Located near Germany on Switzerland’s northern border, Zurich has a well-developed and highly efficient public transportation system of trains, boats, buses and trams. The city also encourages bike riding and has tried a number of innovative methods to main air quality such as outfitting buses with mobile sensors — all the better for residents and visitors to enjoy its architecture, cultural institutions and lake.

10. Tailinn, Estonia

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, the small Baltic country ranked as having the best air quality by the WHO (Estonia is also the most wired in the world and a leader in e-government). More than half of the country’s land is covered by trees and public transit helps to keep emissions low.

While saying that “in Estonia, clean air is as natural as tooth brushing in the morning in a decent family,” Keit Pentus, Minister of the Environment, emphasizes that residents must remain vigilant via “more environmentally friendly energy production and more modern and comfortable public transport.”

Clean air is something we cannot, sadly, take for granted today — all the more reason to keep working to make the air in these cities and around the world is the best it can be.

Kristina Chew|August 11, 2014

Beijing cuts coal use by 7% in anti-smog push

BEIJING – China’s capital Beijing cut total coal consumption by 7 percent in the first half of 2014 as part of its efforts to tackle smog, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing data from its environmental protection bureau.

Beijing is at the front line of a “war on pollution” declared by the central government earlier this year in a bid to head off public unrest about the growing environmental costs of economic development.

The city has already started to close or relocate hundreds of factories and industrial plants. It will also raise vehicle fuel standards and is mulling the introduction of a London-style congestion charge.

To reduce coal consumption, it is in the process of shutting down all of its ageing coal-fired power plants and replacing them with cleaner natural gas-fired capacity or with power delivered via the grid.

Based on last year’s coal consumption level of 19 million tons, the 7 percent cut would amount to around 1.33 million tons per year. Beijing has said previously that it plans to reduce total coal use by 2.6 million tons in 2014. By 2017, it aims to slash consumption to less than 10 million tons a year.

The Beijing environmental bureau said the city had cut total sulphur dioxide emissions by 5.43 percent over the first six months of the year. It also took 176,000 substandard vehicles off the road over the period.

Previous data issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection showed that concentrations of hazardous airborne particles known as PM2.5 in Beijing stood at 91.6 micrograms per cubic meter in the first half of the year, down 11.2 percent year on year but still more than twice as high as the recommended national standard of 35 mcg.

Much of the pollution that hits Beijing drifts in from the surrounding province of Hebei, a major heavy industrial region that was home to seven of China’s 10 most polluted cities in the first half of the year.

Under new plans to integrate Beijing with Hebei and the port city of Tianjin, the region will be treated as a “single entity” with unified industrial and emission standards.

Reuters|August 13, 2014

 

Transportation

Want People to Take Public Transportation to Work? Don’t Provide Free Parking

Encouraging people to take alternative modes of transportation is an ongoing question. In a culture where cars dominate, how do we provide incentives that make buses, subways, trains and even cycling and walking more attractive than commuting on two wheels?

One option is to provide transit passes, the idea being that if a bus or subway pass is free for a worker than they will be more likely to take public transportation. Or will they? It depends on what kinds of benefits the employee gets. A new study shows that employers who offered both free parking and free transit passes actually saw an increase in the people that would drive to work.

The researchers analyzed data from the Washington D.C. area. According to City Lab, “when employers offer no commuter benefits at all, the probability of driving alone to work is nearly 76 percent, with taking transit at 22 percent.”

While you might assume that parking and transit might cancel each other out if people can freely choose between the two, they don’t. When employees were offered free parking and free transit passes, the probability of driving to work rose to 83 percent. What if people are discouraged from driving? “When a company offers only transit benefits and nothing else, probability of taking the bus or train breaks 76 percent, and driving becomes less appealing,” reports City Lab.

So let’s just get rid of free parking, right? It’s not that easy. The problem lies in the idea of fairness. If some people drive, some people take the bus and some people ride their bikes, the fair option is to of course provide parking, transit passes and bike storage. There are very few places that offer transit-only incentives, and particularly in regards to companies that have people coming in from long distances to work, cars may be one of the only options.

What’s the solution then? One might be not providing any benefits at all.

As the authors of the study write, “benefits for public transportation, walking, and cycling, seem to work best when car parking is not free.” That’s because unfortunately the perks of free parking win out over the benefits of public transportation, at least in the commuter’s mind.

Studies like this are important in addressing the question of public transportation, showing that we have to do much more than simply just incentivize public transit. We really do have to make driving less appealing. Otherwise we will continue in the exact same to-wheeled cycle, with no progress in sight.

Anna Brones|August 10, 2014

Recycling

5 Best Reusable Water Bottles

Reusable water bottles are the bomb when it comes to reducing throwaway plastic and saving water. It’s estimated that as much as two gallons of water might be wasted for every gallon that’s bottled in a factory, so filling up at home, at work, or on the go is a great way to save this precious resource. Plus, one reusable water bottle can eliminate the need to buy and trash literally hundreds of single-use containers – containers that actually never really biodegrade. Do the math. If you buy three plastic bottles of water every week, that’s 156 bottles you throw away in a year. In five years, that amounts to almost 800 water bottles – and that’s just you. Now multiply that number times the billions of people who are buying plastic water bottles. No wonder that, in the U.S. alone, more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away … EVERY DAY!

There are plenty of reusable water bottles on the market, but not all bottles are created equal. I prefer those that are either glass, stainless steel, or aluminum. They last longer than plastic bottles and don’t leach Bisphenol A, or BPA, into the water. Unless it says otherwise, a conventional plastic water bottle contains BPA, a compound that has been linked to a variety of worrisome health problems, including increased risk of cancer, obesity, early onset puberty, and diabetes. “BPA-free” bottles do exist, but at some point, those will wear out, and then you’re still left with a plastic bottle to dispose of. Better to use steel, aluminum or glass, all of which can be recycled over and over and over again.

These 5 reusable water bottles work great and are easily available in grocery and hardware stores or online.

The bkr (as in, beaker) – The bkr is a glass bottle; it comes in either 16 ounces or 32 ounces. The upside of glass is that it leaches nothing into the liquid, so whether it’s water, juice, milk or wine, your beverage will taste exactly like it’s supposed to. The downside of glass bottles, of course, is that they could break. However, the bkr is protected with a full-body sleeve made of silicone that also provides a good non-stick grip for the bottle. If you’re a fashionista or you just like variety, buy one bottle but a few different sleeves, which come in a variety of colors.

Kleen Kanteen – These insulated stainless steel bottles and to-go mugs keep contents hot up to 6 hours and cold a lot longer. They have nice wide mouths, though you can get tops with straw attachments and sippy-cup tops for kids. You’ll love the colors and fun designs, too.

Square Clean Bottle – If you have to buy a plastic water bottle, this might be the one to consider. Though it claims to be BPA-free, what I really like about it is that it unscrews on the bottom as well as the top, so it’s easy to wash out (hence the name Clean bottle).

Aladdin Insulated Mason Jar – OK, to be fair, this is not a water bottle per se. But it is a great alternative to a plastic bottle if you’re hanging around your house or heading out on a road trip. Imagine a regular mason jar, like the one you might use for canning fruit or tomato sauce, only double wall insulated to reduce condensation when you fill it with iced tea, lemonade or something stronger. Now, add a handle, plus a lid that has a hole in the middle that’s big enough for a Slurpy-sized straw to fit through. Voila.

Life factory – This clever company was a pioneer in developing glass bottles with silicone sleeves you could take anywhere. Now they make casserole dishes, wine glasses, baby bottles, and food storage containers all protected by their signature stylish silicone sleeves.

By the way, the cost of these bottles ranges from $9.99 to a little more than $40. However, think back to the original calculation we did on how many throwaway bottles you buy in a year. Even if it’s only one a month, for 52 a year, if each of these throwaways costs at least a bottle, you’ll spend over $50/year. Even the most expensive reusable bottle is cheaper than buying throwaways.

One more tip: at home, rather than buy big bottles of water for a party or picnic, I keep several glass bottles with stoppers on hand, like the one pictured above. I then filter water in a handy pitcher, fill up the bottle, and I’m good to go.

Diane MacEachern|August 10, 2014

DEP Recognizes the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa for Outstanding Recycling Efforts

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recognized the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa today for its superior recycling efforts. In 2013, this world-renowned hotel achieved a recycling rate of 41.2 percent. The Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa is the first hotel to qualify for the DEP’s Recycling Recognition Program.

DEP’s Deputy Secretary Cliff Wilson joined Westin Diplomat’s General Manager Ed Walls, Director of Engineering David Twitchell and Sustainability Chairperson Mauricio Gutierrez for a recognition ceremony at the resort today.

“The tourism industry is a major player in Florida’s economy and can have a significant impact on our environment,” said DEP’s Deputy Secretary Cliff Wilson. “The Westin Diplomat is leading the way for the hotel industry with their recycling efforts and sustainability activities, showing that this industry can thrive while being good stewards to the environment.”

In 2013, this beachfront resort recycled more than 950 tons. The Westin Diplomat formed a sustainability committee six years ago, which led to a greater emphasis on recycling. The resort works with Waste Management to employ single-stream recycling to simplify the efforts of various people involved in managing the waste stream of the large resort complex. In 2012, their partnership with Waste Management led to an organics program – collecting food waste primarily from kitchens and prep into 90 gallon totes for pickup three times per week. Additionally, an effective kitchen grease reclamation program converts the grease into bio-diesel fuel. The Westin Diplomat also requires all landscape trimmings to be recycled.

Director of Engineering David Twitchell said, “On behalf of the entire team at the Westin Diplomat, we are very pleased and honored to receive this recognition from Florida DEP for all of the hard work by scores of Diplomat Ambassadors to make this happen. Our intent is to leverage the momentum of the recognition to further inspire our team here to new heights in recycling and sustainability awareness and initiatives.”

The department recently released the 2013 municipal solid waste annual report, which reported Florida’s statewide recycling rate at 49 percent. In 2008, the Florida Legislature established a new statewide recycling goal of 75 percent to be achieved by 2020. The Westin Diplomat is headquartered in Broward County, which ranks 11th in the state for total recycling in 2013, at 53 percent. Florida is visited by nearly 100 million visitors per year, visitors who stay in hotels and resorts throughout the state. With a recycling rate more than 40 percent, the Westin Diplomat is an excellent example for other Florida businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry.

Commercial municipal solid waste accounts for approximately 55 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream in Florida. In order for Florida to reach its 75-percent goal, the department is urging all sectors, especially the commercial sector, to actively increase its recycling efforts. According to the 2013 data, less than half of commercial waste is being recycled. It is crucial that businesses, schools and other commercial recyclers increase their recycling efforts. Recycling provides a direct cost savings to most businesses because the more that is recycled, the less waste and lower waste-management operating costs. Reuse of materials can also represent a cost savings.

The department has an easy tool for companies to track their recycling efforts – the Florida DEP Business Recycling Tracking Tool. Through the website, which includes free registration, companies can track different types of recycling efforts and produce reports on how those efforts are helping to shrink their carbon footprint. The tracking will help the department to recognize companies that are doing more to go green.

mburgerdep|July 31, 2014

For more information about the Recycling Recognition Program click here.

Miami Marlins Knock Recycling Out of the Park

The Miami Marlins organization is being recognized for its impressive 54.4- percent recycling rate. Today the Florida Department of Environmental Protection recognized the team before the game.

DEP’s Deputy Secretary Cliff Wilson and Director of Division of Waste Management Jorge Caspary joined Miami Marlin’s V.P. of Facilities Jeff King and Executive Vice President of Operations and Events Claude Delorme, Florida Recycling Partnership Chair Chuck Dees and Executive Director Keyna Cory for a recognition ceremony on the field.

“I am pleased to recognize the Miami Marlins for its dedication to recycling and sustainability,” said DEP Deputy Secretary Cliff Wilson. “Through its comprehensive sustainability program, the Miami Marlins saw the opportunity of a new ballpark as a chance to become better stewards to Florida’s environment. It is setting a great example for other large entertainment venues and sports franchises, not only in Florida but also across the nation.”

The Miami Marlins have implemented a comprehensive recycling plan that ensures plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and glass are recycled during events held at the venue. During the construction of the Miami Park District, the organization was able to divert or recycle more than 95 percent of the construction waste. The team was awarded Major League Baseball’s 2013 “Green Glove” award for the National League’s East Division. This award goes to the top teams that have the highest recycling rate in the league. The Miami Marlins is a member of the Florida Recycling Partnership, a coalition of businesses and associations dedicated to improving Florida’s recycling rates.

In addition to recycling practices, Marlins Park was designed with many aspects of sustainability in mind. From the energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems, to water use reductions, Marlins Park is the most sustainable facility in Major League Baseball.  It is the first professional sports facility in the world with a retractable roof to earn LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“It is an honor for Marlins Park to receive this recognition,” said Claude Delorme, Marlins Executive Vice President of Operations and Events. “Our goal when we built this ballpark was to create a venue that best served the South Florida community, while being mindful of the environment. Moving forward, we aim to remain at the forefront of sustainability.”

The department recently released the 2013 municipal solid waste annual report, which reported Florida’s statewide recycling rate at 49 percent. In 2008, the Florida Legislature established a new statewide recycling goal of 75 percent to be achieved by 2020.

The Miami Marlins franchise is headquartered in Miami-Dade County, which ranks 18th in the state for total recycling in 2013 at 41 percent. With a recycling rate more than nine percent higher than the average commercial recycling rate for the state, the Miami Marlins are an excellent example for other Florida businesses.

“On behalf of the Florida Recycling Partnership, we congratulate the Miami Marlins for receiving the Recycling Recognition Award. We need to encourage more businesses to step up to the plate and help Florida increase its recycling rates,” said Keyna Cory, executive director of the Florida Recycling Partnership.

Commercial municipal solid waste accounts for approximately 55 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream in Florida. In order for Florida to reach its 75-percent goal, the department is urging all sectors, especially the commercial sector, to actively increase its recycling efforts. According to the 2013 data, less than half of commercial waste is being recycled. It is crucial that businesses, schools and other commercial recyclers increase their recycling efforts. Recycling provides a direct cost savings to most businesses because the more that is recycled, the less waste that is generated and the lower the waste management operating costs. Reuse of materials can also represent a cost savings.

The department has an easy tool for companies to track their recycling efforts – the Florida DEP Business Recycling Tracking Tool. Through the website, which includes free registration, companies can track different types of recycling efforts and produce reports on how those efforts are helping to shrink their carbon footprint. The tracking will help the department to recognize companies that are doing more to go green.

 mburgerdep|July 30, 2014

For more information about the Recycling Recognition Program click HERE.

DEP Recognizes Two Key West Business for Outstanding Recycling Efforts

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recognized The Green Parrot bar and Blue Heaven restaurant today for their superior recycling efforts. In 2013, these Florida-based businesses each achieved a recycling rate of 59 percent. DEP’s South District Director Jon Iglehart joined the business owners and local officials to honor the companies at a press conference today at Old City Hall in Key West.

“Blue Heaven and The Green Parrot are great examples of how businesses can make a positive impact on Florida’s environment,” said Iglehart. “Businesses can benefit financially from investing in recycling and that investment benefits Florida environmentally by keeping recyclable materials out of landfills.”

The Green Parrot recycles a great deal of aluminum cans and bottles. Bar management decided a few years ago to offer mostly draught beer options in glassware rather than plastic to reduce waste. The Green Parrot also chose aluminum cans over bottles where possible. Aluminum is often times easier to recycle than glass due to weight and reuse options. Additionally, the bar has recycle bins behind the bar, making it easy for bartenders to recycle, and signage near recycle bins for customer use.

The Green Parrot Co-owner John Vagnoni said, “We would like to thank the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the city of Key West for shining a light on our recycling efforts. It makes all our efforts even more worthwhile to know we were on someone’s radar. Recognizing that the responsibility as a business to recycle is no different than the responsibility as a citizen, we made a business decision to do our share to keep plastic, aluminum and cardboard out of landfills and allow them to be put back into the manufacturing supply chain.”

Blue Heaven provides recycle bins for waitstaff to deposit bottles and cans in once tables have been cleared. All cardboard from food deliveries is flattened and recycled appropriately. Kitchen staff also make a point to recycle any plastic containers they no longer need. It is challenging for restaurants to achieve high recycling rates, as disposal of food scraps tends to outweigh other more traditionally recyclable materials. Blue Heaven reserves all meat and fish from finished meals and provides it to their resident cats.

“We are very happy to be recognized today but believe there is always room for improvement. Recycling is good for the planet and a smart business move,” said Blue Heaven Co-owner Richard Hatch.

The department recently released the 2013 municipal solid waste annual report, which reported Florida’s statewide recycling rate is 49 percent. In 2008, the Florida Legislature established a new statewide recycling goal of 75 percent to be achieved by 2020.

The two Key West businesses are located in Monroe County, which ranks ninth in the state for total recycling in 2013, at 56 percent. With recycling rates 14 percent higher than the average commercial recycling rate for the state, the Green Parrot and Blue Heaven are excellent examples for other Florida businesses.

“Increasing recycling is a top priority for the city of Key West, but we can’t reach our goals without both residential and commercial sector involvement,” said Will Thompson, Key West solid waste coordinator. “Businesses generate 61 percent of our overall waste stream, so it is critical that they be involved in recycling. The example set by both the Green Parrot and Blue Heaven shows that not only is commercial recycling in high-volume environments possible, but it’s also profitable by greatly reducing trash disposal costs.”

Commercial municipal solid waste accounts for approximately 55 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream in Florida. In order for Florida to reach its 75-percent goal, the department is urging all sectors, especially the commercial sector, to actively increase its recycling efforts. According to the 2013 data, less than half of commercial waste is being recycled. It is crucial that businesses, schools and other commercial recyclers increase their recycling efforts. Recycling provides a direct cost savings to most businesses because the more that is recycled, the less waste that is generated and the lower the waste management operating costs. Reuse of materials can also represent a cost savings.

The department has an easy tool for companies to track their recycling efforts – the Florida DEP Business Recycling Tracking Tool. Through the website, which includes free registration, companies can track different types of recycling efforts and produce reports on how those efforts are helping to shrink their carbon footprint. The tracking will help the department to recognize companies that are doing more to go green.

mburgerdep|July 22, 2014

For more information about the Recycling Recognition Program click HERE.

Gambia – recycling for women’s wealth and independence

Plastic waste, often burning, is a constant companion in Gambia, a poor country where few enjoy formal rubbish collection.

Now a pioneering project to upcycle waste plastic is beginning to tackle the problem – and in the process enhancing women’s social and economic status.

It teaches them how to be independent women. It gives them courage and motivates them. Self-employment can make a really big difference.”

In a shady room of a tin roof house five young women are sat on the floor surrounded by rubbish. One of them is precisely cutting a folded plastic bag so that it unravels into a long strip, which she twists and threads through the eye of a crochet hook.

In just a few minutes a delicate, shiny blue chain appears that, in two days, will become a vibrantly striped handbag. Another girl is threading together a bunch of hoops from old bicycle inner tubes to make jewelry.

They are apprentices of a community recycling project that is believed to be the first of its kind to provide an alternative to burning household rubbish in the Gambia.

Outside of the concentrated tourist resorts in the capital Banjul and a few other urban areas, municipal waste collection does not exist in Africa’s smallest country.

This is a common story across the developing and emerging world. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, around 3.5 billion people – or half the world’s population – are living without any formal waste management.

Waste plastics – a new problem that’s not going away

As GDP has risen in West Africa so has plastics consumption and waste. In the Gambia this is evident in festering roadside ditches and blocked drains and in the acrid, back of the throat taste of burning rubbish.

The environmental health hazards linked to the uncontrolled burning of plastics and the harmful pollutants released are well-evidenced, they include cancer, respiratory illness, and damage to reproductive and mental functions.

One woman’s quest to educate people in how to avoid these hazards led to the formation of the Women’s Initiative the Gambia (WIG). The project began as a Peace Corp initiative in 1997, and was taken forward by original group member Isatou Ceesay, who is now WIG national coordinator.

WIG was registered as a non-profit organisation in 2009 and has become increasingly enterprising over the years with the development of a training program that aims to equip young women with environmental and income generating skills, as well as working with communities to disseminate the benefits of re-using and recycling waste.

It is currently working with four communities in the Gambia. Each village has representatives trained in advising the rest of the residents in handling their waste.

People think I’m crazy!

“We encourage people to re-use plastics, such as re-filling palm oil bottles, and if they can’t be re-used then how to separate rubbish to be recycled or composted. A lot of the groups we work with are gardening and buying expensive fertilizers so we tell them how to make compost fertiliser”, says Ceesay.

These are hardly revolutionary ideas in the developed world, but Ceesay says that people still think she is crazy for wanting to deal with other people’s rubbish.

Showing off the products in her workshop – durable shopping bags made from up-cycled cement and rice sacks, toy animals stuffed with plastic bags, and glistening purses that on closer inspection are woven from defunct video tape – she hopes to prove there are many practical and creative solutions to what would otherwise have gone up in smoke. “We are trying to sell to the tourist market”, she says.

Her apprentices are all recent high school graduates with limited employment prospects. And as Mariana, one of Ceesay’s pupils observes: “If I wasn’t here I would be sitting at home with nothing to do. Here we are learning new skills and teaching other people about the importance of the environment.”

Empowering women in a male-dominated society

The idea is to combine environmental education with skills to make marketable products, not only from rubbish, but also traditional crafts such as tie dye, bead-making and food preservation, that she hopes will enable them to generate sustainable livelihoods.

Her apprentices then pass on these skills, along with their recycling knowledge, to their communities.

“People really change in terms of understanding the environment and their responsibilities and who they are and the skills they have to be an independent person. They understand that they can stand on their own feet and build their own life”, says Mariana.

In a male dominated, predominantly Muslim society, empowering women to generate their own incomes is no small feat. Ceesay is a well regarded women’s rights activist and her outspoken views against female genital mutilation court plenty of controversy.

Asked if her work has been met with resistance from men, Ceesay laughs wryly. “Yes, there were a lot of challenges from men when we started. They thought we were empowering women to not respect them, but now I think most realize what we are doing is a good thing. I always try to communicate my message to both men and women.”

The money is real – and badly needed

What probably helps to galvanize support is the much needed extra income that WIG participants are able to generate from their products, on average between 6,000 to 10,000 Delasi a year (about £100-£150) – not an insignificant sum when the average annual income is £200. “They are able to send their kids to school, that little amount is really sustaining them”, Ceesay says.

Ceesay, who in 2012 collected an award for her work with WIG from the International Alliance for Women in Washington DC, puts great emphasis on developing business and financial acumen among her pupils.

As they are unlikely to have commercial bank accounts, she operates her own savings box system into which each apprentice invests an agreed amount of their profits. To access their money they must have a business plan for reinvesting profits, although they can use it for emergencies.

The idea is to ensure they are prepared for the rainy season, explains Ceesay. “In August, September and October it is very difficult to get money from farming, so they have their savings and the skills to make other income to survive the rainy season.

“It teaches them how to be independent women. It gives them courage and motivates them. Self-employment can make a really big difference.”

Building markets is key to expansion

Ceesay recognises the market for up-cycled rubbish in the Gambia is not yet big enough to really make a dent on the waste mountain. “There are lots of people benefiting from this project, but product movement is slow. People don’t recognise the value of our products, to grow capacity we need start-up money to invest in more people and we need to talk to local authorities about collecting rubbish and work with other businesses.”

WIG is now receiving support from the in-country program of UK-based livelihood charity Concern Universal, as part of a European Union funded project to build the organizational management capability of women’s groups.

Projects such as WIG are part of a global so-called waste-to-wealth movement that is seeing the emergence of small enterprises generating income from recycling waste in slum areas.

UK-based The Living Earth Foundation, for example, is supporting several such schemes in sub-Saharan Africa. A new international organisation WasteAid is in the embryonic stages of gathering waste resource management best practice to share with developing countries, and also aims to generate funding to support waste to wealth projects as it grows.

A sustainable livelihood for millions

Its chair of trustees, Mike Webster, comments: “There are over three billion people with no access to basic waste management services leading to an unprecedented global public health and environmental crisis.

“Badly managed waste leads to disease, allows vermin to breed, pollutes water courses and burning waste plastic hugely reduces air quality.

“But we are also missing out on a massive economic opportunity, already a $500 billion global industry, resource recovery could provide a sustainable livelihood for millions and lift some of the most deprived communities across the world out of poverty.”

Louise Hunt|13th August 2014

Brave New Recycling Economy: Movement Turns Trash to Treasure

Every piece of garbage can be turned into raw material that can be used in future products. With his influential Cradle to Cradle movement, Germany’s Michael Braungart espouses a form of eco-hedonism that puts smart production before conservation.

Brad Pitt is undoubtedly his most celebrated fan, but chemist Michael Braungart prefers to conceal his pride with sarcasm. The American actor and environmental activist confesses that the book “Cradle to Cradle” is one of the three most important books of his life. And how does co-author Braungart respond? “Well, I’m not sure if Pitt has read more than three books yet.”

It’s a typical quip coming from Braungart, a professor based in Hamburg, Germany. To make a snappy remark, he can even forget about his revolution for a moment.

In reality, the 56-year-old is deeply flattered to hear the American star praising his life’s work. And he needs all the praise and support he can for what he has planned, which is nothing less than the environmental and industrial reorganization of the world.

In Braungart’s universe, every product is basically designed to either decompose without causing any harm or to be recycled without loss of quality. His vision is of a planet on which no garbage accumulates, because all waste becomes food.

Eco-Hedonism

“Our current world of products is totally primitive,” says Braungart. We produce things, often filled with pollutants, and we eventually throw them away. The toxins escape into the soil, air and water. In his view, our practices are completely underdeveloped — part of a dark, Neanderthal-like world. “A product that becomes waste is simply a bad product. Bad chemistry.”

Braungart wants to apply good chemistry, and make products without any pollutants, which either end up as compost or are returned into the technical cycle as a pure, unadulterated raw material. If this were achieved on a large scale, many things would change. Wastefulness would no longer be bad but would in fact be a virtue, and we would be living in a world filled with abundance instead of restrictions. Our world would mimic nature, in which, for example, the blossom on a cherry tree turns into fruit, humus or a new tree – an elixir of life in all three cases. This eco-hedonism is Braungart’s creed. “I want people to live extravagantly,” he says.

Austerity and sacrifice, the favorite disciplines of many environmentalists, are anathema to him. The German environmental movement? “A club of guilt managers deprived of enjoyment.” The proponents of sustainability? “They’re optimizing the wrong thing.”

To turn his theory into practice, Braungart has established a company, EPEA. His German clients include personal care products giant Beiersdorf and lingerie maker Triumph, mail order company Otto and cosmetics maker Aveda. Braungart advises Volkswagen, Unilever and BMW. With his help, Heidelberg Cement developed a special cement that purifies the air once its been processed into concrete. And, in 2013, Puma introduced the first fully recyclable athletic clothing collection, which includes compostable shoes.

Sexy Niche Ideas

Still, he also has many critics. Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek, the 82-year-old father of the German Chemicals Act, a strict law passed in 1980 designed to protect people and the environment from the unwanted effects of chemicals, questions whether Braungart’s idea can be implemented on a mass scale. He is unimpressed by individual developments like a compostable upholstery material. “I can feel very good on Braungart’s edible seat covers for the Airbus A380 jumbo jet, but I’m still waiting for a proposal to design the remaining 99 percent of the aircraft,” he says critically.

“Braungart’s ideas are sexy, but he operates in niches,” says Gerd Rosenkranz, who served until recently as the spokesman of German Environmental Aid (DUH). Michael Müller, who advises a German parliamentary committee as an expert on sustainability, is downright angry. He feels that Braungaurt doesn’t care about underlying political considerations and, as such, is “not legitimate.” How, he asks, can this brave new recycling economy be implemented if customers are not required by law to return materials?

Müller also notes that it takes considerable effort to push through the kind of new legislation that would be necessary. “There is enormous political and especially economic resistance, because an economy based on wastefulness is very profitable,” says Müller. “It isn’t as though we lack technological solutions. But as long as the common good does not take precedence over private interests in public policy, no system will work.” Besides, he adds, with many products in Braungart’s universe, it is unclear whether and how they will find their way back from the customer to the manufacturer’s recycling operation.

The objections are considerable, but Braungart dismisses them impatiently. He sees his critics as naysayers and worriers, trapped by political constraints. He probably needs this sort of single-mindedness to maintain his enthusiasm for decades, and to remain focused.

Arousing Curiosity

Braungart, with his absent-minded professor’s haircut and metal-rimmed glasses, is a lively and anarchic alternative to the worry-ridden apologists for austerity, but also to old-school chemists. When he gives speeches, as he did to a conference of small business owners in February, he speaks extemporaneously, walks back and forth like a standup comedian, and makes his points as if they had just popped into his head.

“You want less bad? Just hit your child twice a week instead of five?”

“Breastfeeding is great. It detoxifies the mother.”

“(The German state of) North Rhine-Westphalia wants to become climate-neutral. How stupid is that? Have you ever seen a climate-neutral tree?”

Barbie dolls are chemical weapons, and Louis Vuitton bags are a clear case of hazardous waste. Braungart’s unorthodox performance arouses people’s curiosity. Germany’s most successful female entrepreneur, Susanne Klatten, is sitting in the audience. Klatten, a major shareholder in BMW, invests primarily in sustainable, future-oriented technologies. The Bavarian carmaker has also used Braungart’s concept of a recycling economy in its new electric car.

The concept of endlessly repeating material cycles was devised in a New York skyscraper in 1991, when Braungart met American architect and designer William McDonough at a roof deck party. The two men spoke excitedly about the lunacy behind the idea of creating bad products in order to gradually improve them. How much better would it be to manufacture good products and recycle them, they speculated? The idea had been born.

Returning Materials to the Cycle

So that raw materials are truly returned to the cycle, they reasoned, goods should be leased instead of purchased, with producers being required to take them back. In this way, a TV set containing thousands of toxic chemicals would no longer end up in a landfill. Instead of a window, a consumer would buy 20 years of looking through a window, and instead of an office a company would buy seven years of sitting.

The logic is that if manufacturers eventually receive their materials back, it’s worth their while to use high-quality materials. Companies would essentially turn into reservoirs of raw materials.

“Cradle to Cradle,” the first book co-authored by Braungart and McDonough, was published in 2002, and it quickly gained supporters. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became the governor of California soon afterwards, declared his sunshine state to be a C2C project region. Film stars like Meryl Streep, Cameron Diaz and Susan Sarandon promoted the concept. Director Steven Spielberg is a C2C fan. After Hurricane Katrina, Brad Pitt teamed up with McDonough to have 90 houses designed in accordance with C2C criteria built in New Orleans.

McDonough planted sedum on the 100,000-square-meter roof at automaker Ford’s Rouge River plant. The green roof cleans rainwater and saved Ford the cost of a $50-million wastewater treatment plant. But a concept car based on corn and soy was discarded because it was too expensive.

The eco-visionaries didn’t print their manifesto on paper, but on a polymer from which the ink can be washed, allowing the ink and the book to be recycled. The sequel, “The Next Industrial Revolution,” which included real-life examples, came out in 2008, followed by the third installment, “The Upcycle,” in April 2013.

In Denmark, about 30 large companies have already committed themselves to the C2C principle. Fourteen islands in the North Sea have joined together to form a C2C network. Nike produces C2C sneakers, and Herman Miller’s classic Aeron desk chair is almost completely recyclable. The idea has even taken hold in China, where Goodbaby, the world’s largest manufacturer of strollers and child seats (Maxi-Cosi), sells a special collection with cradle-to-cradle certification.

But nowhere is there more hype about C2C than in the Netherlands. Braungart advises the Dutch government, and since 2010 the country’s entire public purchasing program has been based on sustainability criteria. An area at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is being developed under C2C criteria. The 2012 Floriade international garden show was based entirely on the C2C motto, with the main building, restaurants and sanitary installations generating their own energy. Cutlery, plates and even toilet paper were C2C.

Stef Kranendijk, a former senior executive at consumer products maker Procter & Gamble, discovered Braungart at one of his appearances several years ago. In 2007, he had bought Desso, a Dutch company that makes carpets and flooring for athletic facilities. Braungart’s presentation inspired him, and he began to wonder whether the company could be rebuilt according to C2C criteria.

The process began with the search for nontoxic materials and recyclable yarns. The company increased its consumption of green energy to 50 percent of total energy consumption. Then Desso found a nontoxic adhesive that can be removed. Since then, the company has been taking back its products and recycling them. Even better, Desso’s developers created the Airmaster, a carpet that uses special bacteria to purify the air and absorb fine dust. The green company also makes the artificial turf in sports arenas like Wembley Stadium in London, as well as much of the carpeting used on cruise ships. “Desso has seen a 20-percent increase in revenues,” says Kranendijk, who is very tall.

High Initial Costs Deter Companies

Nevertheless, many business owners are deterred by high initial costs. Others like the principle but object to Braungart’s obstinacy. Why is he so strictly opposed to saving additional resources? Others suspect that he merely wants to line his pockets with his certification monopoly. Responding to such speculation, Braungart and McDonough quickly established a non-profit certification office.

One charge already seems to have been rebutted: that C2C is only feasible in products with simple designs. Maersk, the Danish shipping, oil and natural gas multinational, built the world’s largest container ship primarily on the basis of Braungart’s principles. The ship is 400 meters (1,312 feet) long, 59 meters wide and 73 meters tall, and Maersk built it because it made sense.

Some 98 percent of a ship consists of steel of varying quality, which is bonded to other materials. When the ship is scrapped, the different types of steel are combined with all cables and plastic parts and recycled. The resulting product is of lower quality.

When building the new ship, Maersk installed the parts in such a way that they can be precisely catalogued and easily separated. “The scrapping yards pay us 10 percent more if we know the quality of various materials,” says Jacob Sterling, head of the Maersk environmental division. At a time when steel is becoming scarce, the ship serves as a valuable stockpile of raw material during its operation.

Germans Overcome Reservations

The fact that German industry still struggles with Braungart’s concept, despite such success stories, is the result of a “romanticizing view of nature,” Braungart believes. The typically German chronic “management of guilt” is also at fault. “We’re pretty good at optimizing the wrong thing,” says Braungart. Besides, he adds, German companies make a lot of money exporting waste incineration plants to the rest of the world.

For years, Braungart’s career was constrained by someone very close to him: his wife.

Monika Griefahn, a former Green Party environment minister in the northern state of Lower Saxony, often faced accusations of giving preference to her husband and his work. She once tried to appoint him to an expert commission, and then she supported his involvement in Expo Hannover, the 2000 World Fair. When it almost cost his wife her job, Braungart lowered his profile in Germany. He has only been on the offensive again since she withdrew from politics in 2012.

In the spring, representatives of the construction and real estate sector attended the first Cradle to Cradle Forum at Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart. The list of attendees shows how much business leaders have overcome their reservations. Audi and BMW were there, as were Carl Zeiss, Siemens, Bosch, Lindner, Knauf Gips and brake maker Knorr Bremse.

Christiane Benner, a board member with the IG Metall metalworkers’ union, sees C2C as a great opportunity for the German economy. Instead of trying to compete with low-wage countries, she argues, Germany should turn itself into the innovative leader of environmental reconstruction. To introduce Braungart’s idea to her engineers, she made C2C the main topic at an annual meeting two years ago.

But that was where the union official got to know the other, indomitable Braungart. When a few engineers pointed out that sacrifice is also part of change, the chemist became indignant. “Do you homework first, before you start babbling about the limits of growth,” he snapped at his audience.

That’s just the way he is, this professor from Hamburg. For a good insult, he’s even willing to abandon his revolution for a moment.

Michaela Schiessl|Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan 

Miscellaneous

 Grass-fed cattle Florida’s latest environmental worry

Grass-fed beef is a health-food trend that’s been spreading since at least 2010, and its advocates say it also benefits the environment.

The trend also is creating huge changes in the cattle industry in Florida, but not necessarily in ways that some environmentalists would like.

In North Florida, billionaire Frank Stronach has invested an estimated $200 million since 2010 to buy 86,356 acres in Marion, Levy, Taylor and Putnam counties, according to a 2013 article in Beef Magazine.

Stronach also plans to spend $60 million to clear pine forests and convert them into pastures. He plans on having cows on 50,000 to 60,000 acres, the magazine article said.

The American Grassfed Association says pasture-based farming restores natural ecosystems and wildlife habitat, reduces reliance on petrochemicals, improves soil and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

But some people disagree, particularly those who say eating little or no meat would do more to benefit the planet.

In 2011, Stronach’s 30,000-acre Adena Springs Ranch in Marion County applied to the St. Johns River Water Management District for a permit to use up to 13.2 million gallons of water daily.

That appalled environmentalists, and the controversy contributed to springs legislation passing the Florida Senate this year. The bill was not taken up in the House.

Adena Springs, now called Sleepy Creek Lands, has reduced its pumping request to 2.4 million gallons per day, according to the district.

Earlier this month, Sierra Club Florida and the St. Johns Riverkeeper filed a legal challenge, claiming the district hasn’t done enough to ensure springs are protected from overpumping and waterways are protected from agricultural pollution.

The Sleepy Creek Lands website says a retention pond will capture stormwater, and there will be a state-of-the-art nutrient management plan.

“We plan to protect natural resources while creating a one-of-a-kind Marion County grass-fed beef product,” a Sleepy Creek Lands telephone greeting said. There was no response to messages requesting comment.

But the dispute represents more than a fight between agriculture and environmentalists. It represents a big-time shift in how the cattle industry in Florida has operated.

Florida’s cattle industry is one of the 15 largest in the United States, according to the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. Most of Florida’s cattle farms raise calves until they are old enough to be shipped to the Midwest, where they are fattened on grain feed in their final months before being slaughtered.

The trend toward Florida beef started when grain prices soared, fueled by drought in western states. And the health and environmental benefits of grass-fed beef meant green consumers were willing to pay more.

Now, the Seminole Tribe of Florida also is working to create its own brand of Florida beef, said Sam Ard of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

“Simple economics are driving the equation,” Ard said.

But environmentalists say clear-cutting forests in Marion County, pumping water to irrigate pastures and spreading cow manure does more environmental harm than good.

“I get it,” Lisa Rinnaman of the St. Johns Riverkeeper said of the touted environmental benefits of grass-fed beef.

“I’m not opposed to grass-fed beef. I am opposed to further polluting our waterways.”

Bruce Ritchie|Special to the Star-Banner|July 6, 2014

  Algae: Friend or Foe?

Toxic algae like the kinds that fouled Toledo’s water supply and now threaten Florida are on the rise due to Big Ag and climate change. But we can learn from them, too.

Algae have a lot to offer. They feed the world’s marine life, thicken ice cream, and may provide the key to solving the world’s energy crisis. Algae hold your California roll together. But there’s an algal underworld, too, inhabited by murderous cyanobacteria and backstabbing Prymnesium. Many of these cloak-and-dagger species lurk in our streams and along our shorelines-as 500,000 Ohioans learned the hard way over the weekend, when a Lake Erie algal bloom left them without drinking water for nearly two days.

Humans have a long history of conflict with algae-and current agricultural practices and climate change are making things worse. One of the earliest recorded instances of algae attacking North Americans occurred in the early 1790s off the coast of Washington State, when British naval officer George Vancouver noticed that several of his men were having trouble breathing. Some sailors went numb and babbled incoherently before suffocating. They had ingested saxitoxin (probably by eating bad clams or mussels), a potent poison produced by an algal dinoflagellate belonging to the genus Alexandrium. More than 200 years later, we still have no antidote for saxitoxin, and paralytic shellfish poisoning kills about 9 percent of those who come down with it.

Death by algae is rare-history’s most deadly algal bloom killed 88 Brazilians in 1988-but it is often dramatic. People who consume too much microcystin, the cyanobacteria product that contaminated Toledo’s water supply, can experience staggering and derangement, along with the more common gastrointestinal distress. The algae Gymnodinium breve produces a toxin that, when ingested, generates alternating hot and cold sensations. Domoic acid, the waste product of several different algae species (and the demise of many seabirds), causes memory loss and disorientation. The aptly named scaritoxin can trigger vertigo.

Different regions of the United States have their own local blends of problematic algae, which means there could be more Toledos in our future. (Climate Progress has a nice rundown of some of the most algae-threatened cities, and researchers this week said that Florida could be facing its largest red tide bloom in nearly a decade.)Alexandrium tamarense, the cause of paralytic shellfish poisoning, is most common in the Pacific and the northeastern United States. Pfiesteria piscicda populates the Mid-Atlantic, while Gymnodinium breve is found in the Southeast. Gamberdiscus toxicus, which concentrates on its way up the food chain until humans consume it in large fish, is a special risk in warm waters.

Humans contribute to the problem significantly. “Harmful algal blooms are caused by eutrophication, or excess nutrients,” says Christine Maggs, a phycologist at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. Lake Erie’s blue-green algal blooms are fed by nutrients from fertilized farm fields (see “Lake Erie Deathwatch“). Ships have also accidentally carried algae around the globe, leading to massive proliferations of sometimes-invasive algal species known as red, brown, and green tides. (Phycologists group algal species by the pigments they produce.)

Researchers don’t yet have a unifying theory to explain why algae produce toxins, but humans are collateral damage. We are newcomers compared to species like cyanobacteria, which appeared on Earth billions of years before us. (“Algae created the oxygen we now breathe,” points out phycologist Robert Sheath from California State University San Marcos). The most popular hypothesis is that algae evolved toxins to ward off grazers up the food chain. There is laboratory evidence to support this idea: Phytoplankton that feed on alga seem to avoid the toxic varieties, and a handful of algal species deploy their poisons as weapons. Karlodinium veneficum, for example, uses its toxin to stun members of other algal species before swallowing them whole.

In a community of creatures that poison their own, it’s not surprising that a few algae try to game the system. William Driscoll, a postdoc at the University of Minnesota, has shown that individuals living within golden algae colonies occasionally stop producing the toxin in order to save energy. Those individuals get a free ride off the efforts of their neighbors, which continue working hard to deter predators or stun prey. Why would so many algae deplete their own energy stores for the benefits of others? It may be an example of self-sacrifice and cooperation, which seems to occur even among some of the planet’s simplest creatures. Humans could learn a thing or two from algae.

Many scientists believe that the recent proliferation of harmful algal blooms-including those involving toxin-producing species, like the ones in Lake Erie-is related to climate change. Increased rainfall causes greater runoff from farmland and more frequent overflow of water treatment facilities. Those overflows feed phosphorous and nitrogen into waterways, which allow algae to grow to unhealthy levels. If we don’t want to face more water crises in the future, perhaps it’s time for humans to make like golden algae and work collectively toward our own survival.

 Brian Palmer|OnEarth|August 6, 2014

Gulf Breeze, Florida Teacher Receives Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educator

ATLANTA- Today, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded Gulf Breeze teacher Charlene Mauro with the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educator. The ceremony at the White house included 17 teachers and 60 students from across the nation for their contributions to environmental education and stewardship. The awardees demonstrated the creativity, innovation, leadership and passion for community engagement needed to face difficult environmental challenges. Teachers and students attending the ceremony participated in a workshop led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to discuss climate and best practices in the field of climate education.

Mauro has been an environmental educator in Santa Rosa County for 15 years and instrumental in the development of a nationally recognized marine science program.  As the founder of the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station, her enthusiasm for science and learning has inspired many of her students to pursue college degrees in science, technology, environment and education.  Approximately 85 percent of her students have received Bright Futures scholarships upon graduation from the program.

After thousands of community services hours and hard-won grant funding were expended, in 2009, Mauro and her students opened the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station in a formerly unoccupied ranger station.  Since opening, the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station has hosted more than 5,000 students and members of the community with programs and curricula designed for 3 year olds to adults. The station offers field activities, overnight programs, public open houses, summer camps, festivals and programs for special needs children, all of which focus on conservation and respecting the marine ecosystem. Curricula at the station incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  Students learn how to keep laboratory journals, collect data and specimens, and collaborate with professionals on their research. Mauro’s efforts challenge her students to be critical thinkers by exposing them to real-world experiences and environmental research careers.

Dr. Suzanne Banas is the honorable PIAEE recipient of South Miami Middle Community School.

The annual PEYA and PIAEE competitions recognize outstanding student leaders in environmental stewardship and exceptional K-12 teachers employing innovative approaches to environmental education in their schools. These students and teachers creatively utilize their local ecosystems, environment, community and culture as a context for learning.

This year, students are receiving awards for projects including activities such as creating a novel water purification method, assessing apples as a sustainable fuel source, and reducing the carbon footprint of a school to help combat climate change. Teachers being honored this year have employed interactive, hands-on learning projects such as opening a marine science station, designing a solar powered garden irrigation system, building a nature trail, and connecting students to their natural surroundings through field studies.

Danielle Jackson|August 12, 2014

Gastonia, North Carolina Students Receive Presidential Environmental Youth Award

ATLANTA- Today the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded Katie Danis, Mary Hunter Russell, and Grace Wynkoop with the President’s Environmental Youth Award. The trio of students from Gastonia, North Carolina is known as The Pollution Solution team (TPSt)..

The ceremony at the White house included 17 teachers and 60 students from across the nation for their contributions to environmental education and stewardship. The awardees demonstrated the creativity, innovation, leadership and passion for community engagement needed to face difficult environmental challenges. Teachers and students attending the ceremony participated in a workshop led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to discuss climate and best practices in the field of climate education.

The now rising ninth graders found a major threat to the Catawba River in the form of polluted storm water.  The discovery was the catalyst for a grassroots effort by the teens to “Save the Catawba River: One yard at a Time.” Informational kits, built by the girls from household items they had on hand, are being used in classrooms to teach students about what causes storm water pollution and how it can be stopped.  The team tested the program with the Gaston Day School fourth-grade students.  Kids loved watching how everyday living creates pollution and learning how simple steps, like picking up after your dog or bagging your yard waste keep the storm water drains clean and the river healthy.

The annual PEYA and PIAEE competitions recognize outstanding student leaders in environmental stewardship and exceptional K-12 teachers employing innovative approaches to environmental education in their schools. These students and teachers creatively utilize their local ecosystems, environment, community and culture as a context for learning. 

This year, students are receiving awards for projects including activities such as creating a novel water purification method, assessing apples as a sustainable fuel source, and reducing the carbon footprint of a school to help combat climate change. Teachers being honored this year have employed interactive, hands-on learning projects such as opening a marine science station, designing a solar powered garden irrigation system, building a nature trail, and connecting students to their natural surroundings through field studies.

Danielle Jackson|August 12, 2014

Promoting Environmental Stewardship Among Young People: A 2009 PEYA Winner’s Story

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has evolved into a problem on a scale that no nation can afford to fight alone. There are over 190 countries. Their boundaries may be fixed, but their people breathe the same air. No matter which country contributes the most or the least to the carbon dioxide burden, all nations suffer together.

During a time when there are major differences between developed and developing nations as how to mitigate climate change, my brother and I launched Project Jatropha, an international collaboration aimed towards alleviating rural poverty and environmental destruction by promoting the biofuel shrub Jatropha curcas.

Project Jatropha provides poor farmers in southern India with enhanced technical assistance in the utility and productivity of biofuels in ways that are environmentally sustainable and economically rewarding. Additionally, this project provides a successful medium in which young people across the globe can collaborate on the implementation of sound initiatives that provide environmental and monetary benefits to impoverished farmers in need.

In 2009, Project Jatropha was awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Presidential Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). The PEYA program recognizes youth who promote environmentally-conscious awareness of our nation’s natural resources and encourages community involvement in sustainability efforts.

Each year, one outstanding project from each of EPA’s ten regional offices is selected for national recognition. The new projects awarded continue to be impressive. To be one of the lucky recipients of this award is truly one of my biggest accomplishments as an environmentalist. This honor has given Project Jatropha invaluable visibility and exposure. More importantly, the recognition from this award has helped raise awareness about how community action is key to creating essential strategies the benefit our global community and environment.

Since receiving the award, Project Jatropha has launched a variety of sister projects focused on environmental education, solar energy programs and kitchen gardens. My experience as an environmentalist has shown me that climate change is a problem on the scale that no entity can afford to fight alone. Because collective efforts can make a difference, the environmental education and stewardship of young people is undeniably crucial in the fight to combat global warming.

Apoorva Rangan|August 13,2014

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News KeysNews.com Naples Daily News  – Environmental News National Public Radio Eco-News Riverwatch News about the Caloosahatchee Sierra Club Sierra Club Florida South Florida Watershed  Journal South Florida Water Management District Union of Concerned Scientists – news Yahoo News Search: Everglades NASA Climate Information American Littorial Society log NASA Climate Information Sun Newspapers – Lake Okeechobee News Everglades City News  – Mullet Wrapper IFAW’s World of Animals Magazine

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ConsRep 812 B

There is no place where we can safely store worn-out reactors or their garbage. No place! David R. Brower

Announcements

ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

 UPCOMING EVENTS

ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Full Moon Guided Canoe Trips

Saturday, August 9, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Saturday, September 6, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. 

Meet at the Lee Road Boat Ramp to enjoy a guided moonlight canoe tour through a portion of the Refuge interior. 

Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and bring a flashlight and bug spray.

Canoe rental from Loxahatchee Canoeing is $32; you may not bring your own.  (One canoe seats 2 to 3 people.)

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED – PLEASE CALL LOXAHATCHEE CANOEING at 561-733-0192.

Guided Bird, Butterfly and Wildflower Walks

Every Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.  

Join our volunteer naturalist for an early morning nature walk and see how many birds and other critters you can spot. 

Learn about our migratory and year-round residents of the Refuge and their habitat. 

Your guide will discuss the marsh ecology, answer your questions and identify the birds,

butterflies, plants, reptiles and anything else you might find along the way.  

Meet in the Marsh Trail parking lot.

Roving Naturalist on Cypress Swamp Boardwalk

Every Tuesday, 1:30 p.m – 3:00 p.m.

Every Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. 

A volunteer naturalist will be strolling around the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk,

answering questions and discussing flora and fauna of the swamp.

Roving Naturalist on Marsh Trail

Every Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

A volunteer naturalist will be strolling around the Marsh Trail, discussing the marsh ecology, answering questions

and identifying birds, butterflies, plants, reptiles and anything else you might find along the way.

*** Programs subject to change, for more information on any of the activities and programs,

please call the Visitor Center at (561) 734-8303 or the Administration Office at (561) 732-3684.   

Refuge Annual Science Workshop

Friday, September 18, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. 

Location: South Florida Water Management District Headquarters,

                 3301 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach

               B-1 Auditorium The annual science workshop will provide a forum for learning about and discussing research and habitat management relevant to the Refuge. 

The workshop will kick off with presentations from Refuge staff to provide background on Refuge research, ecology, and management issues. 

Next, attendees will present results and research projects from the past or projects that are on-going at the Refuge. 

Attendees are encouraged to bring posters to be displayed and discussed during the session. 

The workshop is open to everyone who does work or has an interest in the Refuge.
Abstracts for presentations and posters will be accepted until COB August 29th. 

Abstracts are limited to 200 words; presentations will be limited to 20 minutes.

For more information or to submit your abstract, e-mail Marcie Kapsch at Marcie_Kapsch@fws.gov.

Refuge staff are also very interested in your input regarding ecology/management issues. 

A final agenda and directions to the SFWMD will be forwarded as we get closer to September 18th. 

Upcoming Florida Master Naturalist Courses Registration is now open for the following courses:

Environmental Interpretation Special Topic begins on August 13 and runs through August 30.

Habitat Evaluation Special Topic begins on November 12 and runs through November 22.

Both courses will be held at FAU Pine Jog Environmental Education Center.

Visit http://www.masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu/ and click on the “Current Course Offerings” menu tab to see course details and to register

Paddling and protecting Florida’s waterways

2014-15 Schedule
Suwannee River Wilderness Trail

October 24-29, 2014

Celebrate Florida’s version of autumn on its most famous river and two of its beautiful spring-fed tributaries—the Santa Fe and  Ichetucknee.

The trip spans 65 miles of the scenic Suwannee River Wilderness Trail.

Register by: October 10

Wekiva/St. Johns River Ramble

December 5-8, 2014

Work off some of Thanksgiving’s culinary indulgences with a 30-mile paddle down the spring-fed upper Wekiva River to the St. Johns in a manatee and bird lovers’ paradise! 

Accommodations for this trip include two nights in state park cabins.

Register by: November 21

Florida Keys Challenge

January 15-22, 2015

Enjoy a true island paradise, paddling beside sea turtles and railroad visionary Henry Flagler’s ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ in the azure blue waters of the Florida Keys.

We’ll journey 70 miles beside white sand beaches, from Long Key State Park to Key West. 

Register by: January 2

Wild, Wonderful Withlacoochee

February 15-20, 2015

Beginning at Lake Panasoffkee’s Marsh Bend Outlet Park, paddlers will thread their way through hardwood swamps

and clear, spring-fed streams on a 60-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. 
Register by: February 2

Dam to the Bay on the Ochlockonee

March 14-20, 2015

From wild Tupelo honey to fresh Gulf oysters, experience the Panhandle’s Ochlockonee River which winds through state

and national forest lands on 76 miles of Florida’s most remote wilderness river trail.

Register by: February 28

Suwannee River Paddling Festival

April 3-5, 2015

The third annual Suwannee River Paddling Festival will take place at the Suwannee River State Park near Live Oak. 

The festival will feature supported 12-20 mile trip options on the scenic Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers, a concert featuring some of Paddle Florida’s favorite entertainers

to benefit waterways protection, and an opportunity to hear from regional water and wildlife experts.

Register by: March 20

Oyster Reef Restoration Volunteer Opportunities
Aug 31, 2014

Charlotte Harbor, FL

The Nature Conservancy is collaborating with Florida DEP- Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves and

the City of Punta Gorda to launch an oyster reef restoration project adjacent to the Trabue Harborwalk.

Volunteers are needed to help with all aspects of this project:

Fill bags with oyster shells (You must be able to lift 30 lbs. to make oyster bags.)

Deploy the materials in the water

There’s something for everyone! Civic groups, schools, clubs, boating groups, recreational clubs, church groups – or anyone looking for a fun way to help restore the estuary are welcome to participate.

Please email Katherine Aug, FDEP, to coordinate at  Katherine.aug@dep.state.fl.us

It is the first oyster restoration project in the northern portion of the estuary and three methods will be tested here:

oyster mats, oyster bags and loose shell secured by a perimeter of oyster bags. These materials will provide a foundation for oyster larvae to settle and grow.

The three-dimensional structure of an established oyster reef can help protect the project site’s mangrove shoreline from the future impacts of erosion and sea level rise and

provide valuable habitat and food for other species such as fish, crab, shrimp, and birds. Oyster reefs have the potential to also benefit the juvenile stage of the endangered smalltooth sawfish,

a species that relies on healthy red mangrove habitat for food and shelter in the Charlotte Harbor region.

This project will add to the scientific understanding of how oyster reefs might also benefit sawfish.

The 4th Annual Florida Panther Festival
November 15 – 16, 2014

Exotic Pet Amnesty Event
Surrender your exotic pet, no questions asked, to be adopted by a qualified individual.
HELD AT FESTIVAL LOCATION Nov. 15th 
More information  coming soon

Festival
Saturday, November 15
10am – 4pm
North Collier Regional Park
FREE ADMISSION RAIN OR SHINE!!
Stay tuned for more updates!

Field Trips
Sunday, November 16th  Various Locations
Click here for more information!

A Free Plant Identification Class

Rarely can you take a college level course for free, or enjoy field trip after field trip. 

Learn about native plants in their natural environments in a free on-line course George Rogers and John Bradford.

Open Enrollment! Any tree hugger can join in!

Free! (except for book purchase)

Register now.  Begins Sept 1 2014

16 habitat-based lessons. View the course at  http://nativeplantclass.weebly.com

You’ll need our self-published book: Guide to the Native Plants of Florida’s Treasure Coast. 

To see the book, preview the class, open Lesson 1,

and click a link to the book vendor. We make no money from the book-any revenue supports our web site.

Grab a field trip For each habitat type (most types span multiple lessons) you take a field trip on your own with camera in hand.

We list suggested sites in our general area.

The class evolved in Palm Beach and Martin

Students from anywhere are welcome.

There’s a quiz each lesson, and three Non-credit students use these as review exercises.

The mission is learning to recognize wild plants.

There is no attention to gardening or landscaping (but see the book offered below).

To register or for more information:  John Bradford (cyclura@bellsouth.net) or George Rogers (rogersg515@gmail.com). After Aug. 18: George Rogers 561-207-5052

Why a free class? (Except that book.) Merely spreadin’ the joy.  The motive is good green fun.

This on-line class is an open-enrollment public-access derivative of George Rogers’s “Plants of Florida Ecosystems” (ORH2511)

taught on-line and in the field at Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens. 

It is possible to take our on-line class for college credit, and it is possible to register for a credit-only field trip version of the class Fall Term 2015,

perhaps after taking the free on-line class non-credit now

SAVE The DATE

Saturday, October 4th

Sunflower Festival

Mark your calendars and save the date for the Sunflower Festival at Pepper Ranch.

Virtual Tour of Pepper Ranch

Directions

There will be music, hayrides, food vendors, children’s activities and tours of the ranch to see the sunflowers.

Hope to see you there! 

Of Interest to All

Chikungunya fever a growing problem

A mosquito-borne disease, Chikungunya fever was first identified in 1952 in Tanzania. In recent years it has spread prolifically throughout the Caribbean. It has no known cure, and it is now present in Florida.

A miserable disease

With six months of 2014 behind us, 50 cases of Chikungunya fever have been reported in Florida – 25 of them in the past month. All originated outside of the United States and were brought here by travelers or residents who had visited the Caribbean, where thousands are afflicted by this disease. While it is not fatal, the symptoms – which may include joint and back pain, rash, swelling, and high fever – are miserable and persistent.

In its early years of European settlement through relatively modern times, Florida was a hotbed of mosquito-borne diseases, including yellow fever, malaria, and dengue. Modern medicine and mosquito control efforts over the past century lessened the risk. But if someone arriving in Florida with a mosquito-borne disease is bit by a mosquito and the disease manages to incubate, the cycle begins anew. The risks grow.

“Protection is the only prevention”

That’s the word from Florida’s health officials. There is no vaccine and no cure for this disease, which can be carried by the Asian tiger mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito, found throughout Florida. Although all cases to this point have come from outside the country, we now have a growing number of people in Florida with this disease in their blood.

Protection from mosquito bites is absolutely necessary when you are hiking, paddling, and otherwise spending time in the outdoors. Avoid being outdoors at dawn and dusk, and in deeply shaded places where mosquitoes are rampant. Use a proven insect repellant and wear long lightweight pants to cover body parts most likely to be bitten. Keep a headnet in your day pack for times you take a break and might get swarmed. Consider using permetherin – which should be sprayed on your clothing, NOT on your skin – to repel insects.

Sandra Friend|June 30, 2014

Read more

Canadian builder plans 11,000 homes in SW Florida.

NORTH PORT, Fla. (AP) – Canada’s largest home builder plans to team up with a Sarasota developer and land buyer to construct more than 11,000 homes in southern Sarasota County.

The Herald-Tribune reports Mattamy Homes paid $86.25 million for Thomas Ranch, a 9,650-acre tract in and around North Port.

Development is expected to begin in 2016 and span 20 to 25 years, with 700 to 2,000 homes built at a time.

The property has already been approved for more than 11,000 homes and 3 million square feet of commercial space.

Thomas Ranch also marks the largest real estate purchase for Mattamy in its 10 years of operating in the United States.

Andrew Murphy|Jun 2, 2014

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.)

Michigan legislators, residents protest nuclear waste facility on shores of Lake Huron

Lynne Turney Zalenski and Trudie Nelson are separated by about 78 nautical miles of choppy Lake Huron water.

The same water that separates the Port Huron and Kincardine, Ontario, women geographically also unites them in a common concern: Neither wants 7 million cubic feet of nuclear waste buried about a half mile from the shores of Lake Huron.

“I’m totally against it,” Nelson said. “I don’t have any idea where they can put it, but I don’t want it in my back yard.”

“Man is screwing around with something they cannot control,” Zalenski said. “There are no guarantees. And when you are dealing with something as important as our Great Lakes, you better be damn sure.”

Ontario Power Generation’s plans to bury low- and intermediate-level waste 2,200 feet below ground in Kincardine, Ontario, are more than a decade in the making.

But as the Ontario power giant advances closer to obtaining a license to construct from the Canadian government, Michigan and U.S. lawmakers have started to take note, determined to throw whatever roadblocks they can in the way of the facility’s construction.

Phil Pavlov, the Republican senator who represents St. Clair County in the Michigan Legislature, has joined with other legislators to not just have town halls about the proposed facility, but also to introduce legislation opposing it.

Pavlov is asking the president, secretary of state and Congress to invoke the 1909 Boundaries Water Treaty between Canada and the U.S.

“We’re using the resolution process to urge the president, secretary of state and Congress to begin the investigation,” Pavlov said. “We are engaging a very powerful tool in the International Joint Commission.”

But the mayor of the municipality of Kincardine said Michigan legislators are joining the fight a bit late in the game.

“In politics, there are all sorts of people that want to make their name on this issue,” Kincardine Mayor Larry Kraemer said. “But the problem doesn’t go away because we ignore it. And I haven’t heard any other solutions.”

A problem, a possible solution years in the making

Margot Mitchell remembers the local nuclear energy plant in Kincardine visiting her sixth grade classroom years ago to speak about the energy source.

Mitchell said, even at that time, there was a question of what to do with the radioactive waste.

In June, as the Toronto woman prepared to sell her father’s Kincardine home, she expressed trust in OPG’s plan to bury the nuclear waste accumulated over 40 years a few miles north of where she grew up.

“My sense is that people are trusting of it,” Mitchell said. “My sense is people don’t worry about it because they go to work there every day.

“We do a lot of risky things. The best we can do is use the best science we can with proper oversight.”

OPG also is confident in its science.

The company’s billion dollar plan: Bury 7 million cubic feet of nuclear waste in the 450 million-year-old Cobourg formation limestone.

Neal Kelly, a spokesman for Ontario Power Generation, said years of research have gone into plans for the deep geologic repository.

“This is a significant amount of work for this type of project,” Kelly said. “Even people who are in opposition of the project appreciate the depth of work.”

The power company, with nuclear plants in Kincardine, Pickering, and Darlington, already has accumulated about half of that 7 million cubic feet of waste.

The incinerated low-level waste — such as coveralls, mops, brooms, and gloves — have been transported over the decades from Pickering and Darlington to Kincardine for storage.

So have the non-incinerated intermediate-level waste streams — such as resins and filters.

About 20 percent of the contents in the DGR would be intermediate-level waste and 80 percent would consist of low-level waste.

Low-level waste typically measures up to 1,000 millirem per hour on contact, and can take anywhere from hours to hundreds of years to decay, Kelly said in an email.

Intermediate-level waste measures more than 1,000 millirem per hour on contact and can take tens of thousands of years to decay.

According to information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average annual radiation dose per person in the U.S. is 620 millirem.

Ontario Power Generation currently stores the material above ground in concrete warehouses and in shallow underground containers at its Western Waste Management Facility a few hundred feet from the proposed location for a deep geologic repository.

The deep geologic repository would be used for permanent storage, which would require little to no maintenance or upkeep.

Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald|Aug. 2, 2014  

Boat noise impacts development and survival of marine invertebrates

The development and survival of an important group of marine invertebrates known as sea hares is under threat from increasing boat noise in the world’s oceans, according to a new study by researchers from the UK and France.

While previous studies have shown that marine noise can affect animal movement and communication, with unknown ecological consequences, scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Exeter and the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE) CRIOBE in France have demonstrated that boat noise stops embryonic development and increases larval mortality in sea hares.

Sea hares (specifically the sea slug Stylocheilus striatus used in this study) usually hatch from their eggs to swim away and later feed on toxic alga but this study, conducted in a coral reef lagoon in French Polynesia, found that when exposed to playback of boat noise, more eggs failed to develop and those that hatched were more likely to die.

Lead author Sophie Nedelec, a PhD researcher at the University of Bristol and EPHE said: “Traffic noise is now one of the most widespread global pollutants. If the reproductive output of vulnerable species is reduced, we could be changing communities and losing vital ecological functions. This species is particularly important because it eats a toxic alga that affects recruitment of fish to coral reefs.”

Anthropogenic (man-made) noise is now recognized as a global pollutant, appearing in national and international legislation (for example, the US National Environment Policy Act and European Commission Marine Strategy Framework Directive). Boats are found around all coastal environments where people live and the noise they make spreads far and wide. Increasingly, recent research has indicated that noise from human activities can affect the behaviour and physiology of animals, but this is the first study to show impacts on development and larval survival.

Co-author, Dr Steve Simpson, a marine biologist and senior lecturer at the University of Exeter, said: “Boat noise may cause stress or physically disrupt cells during development, affecting chances of survival. Since one in five people in the world rely on marine animals as a major source of protein, regulating traffic noise in important fisheries areas could help marine communities and the people that depend on them.”

The research is published today in Scientific Reports.

University of Bristol|July 31, 2014

Continue reading at the University of Bristol.

Deepwater Horizon Spill Lives On: Scientists Find Extensive Damage to Coral

The oil spill affected coral colonies far from the disaster site.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months, is one of the worst environmental disasters in American history.

Now new research indicates that the spill damaged a far wider swath of the Gulf than was thought, and at greater depths, affecting fish, crabs, and 500-year-old coral.

“This study very clearly shows that multiple coral communities, up to 22 kilometers from the spill site and at depths over 1,800 meters, were impacted by the spill,” said Charles Fisher, a Pennsylvania State University biology professor whose November 2011 research was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Normally, the deep-sea fan coral Fisher studied are covered with living tissue. But the coral colonies he examined were covered with a brown, mucus-like film. Coral usually produce that covering as a protective mechanism when they’re stressed, according to Fisher.

When Fisher’s research team removed the mucus, it revealed patches that were bare, dying, or covered with hydrozoa, a small predatory marine animal.

“When we find a coral colony that has this pathology, that tells us that the entire [marine] community was hit from the toxic chemicals in the oil spill,” said Fisher, who first measured the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill on coral colonies in October 2010, six months after the spill.

Because dead coral remain fixed to the ocean floor and leave behind skeletons, they can provide insights about the impact on nearby marine life, Fisher said.

Fish, including sharks, use coral as spawning grounds, and coral provide habitat for fish and golden crabs.

During the 2011 study, Fisher’s team used an underwater vehicle to find five coral colonies located in the direction that the oil plume had traveled.

Two showed effects from the Deepwater Horizon spill. In the first colony, 3.7 miles south of the spill’s origin, about 70 percent of the coral branches in the colony had damaged tissue.

The second colony was 13.7 miles southeast of the oil rig and more than a mile below the surface. Twenty percent of this colony’s branches were affected. It was 50 percent deeper and two times farther from the disaster site than the coral Fisher studied in 2010.

The biologist confirmed that the Deepwater Horizon spill caused the coral’s dysfunction by taking samples from oil embedded in the brown mucus and comparing it with the oil signature associated with Deepwater Horizon.

Fisher said he didn’t know the rate at which the coral branches have been dying or the factors that influence their survival. Some of the less damaged colonies have recovered, he added.

“It’s a cumulative effect,” he said. “What we’ve found is that if a lot of the individual branches were covered with the brown stuff, then the whole colony didn’t do well.”

Does Fisher think that the coral colonies can bounce back?

“The jury is still out,” he said. “Some are getting better; some are getting worse. But they have a low metabolism, and it takes a long time to play out, so it will be a few years until we know the answer.”

Kristine Wong|August 01, 2014

Corkscrew Sanctuary’s anniversary celebrates great effort

60 years later, this sanctuary is still an essential part of SW Florida life

Pine trees in the dry flatwoods at the entrance to the boardwalk emit the scent of Christmas on the warm, late-spring day. Upon strolling into the stand of the last old-growth bald cypress trees in the country, the noticeably cooler air in the shade of the giants soothes skin heated by the afternoon sun.

In a state now framed by interstates, few places in Florida are silent. Curiously, in the Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a place people think of as quiet, the silence is punctuated by the shrieks of soaring raptors, lilting bird songs and the hypnotic hum of cicadas. Butterflies and birds flit by, occasionally lighting upon vegetation or the boardwalk railing. Walking farther, the sight of dozens of wading birds with spectacular plumage creates a startling incongruity upon hearing the inelegant grunting sounds they make.

They jostle with each other for the best angling spot in the lake that has dried down to a mud hole, trapping the fish. Suddenly, the floating aquatic lettuce plants begin to undulate, and a 10-foot alligator pops its snout out from under its vegetative disguise.

Visitor Peyton Doub sits on the bench overlooking the melee in the lettuce lake, waiting to take shots with his camera as the birds catch their meals. The Maryland resident said he is an avid birder and visits Corkscrew several times a year. He first came to the sanctuary when his parents retired to Southwest Florida in 1997.

“In 2004, I took a picture of 200 white ibis up in a cypress tree, and I haven’t seen that since,” he said. “I have some pictures of warblers that would only impress another birder, but that one would impress anybody.”

Commenting upon the 60th anniversary of the sanctuary’s founding, Doub said, “They say it was half a day’s journey just to get out here then – certainly a very nice gift that the past generations left for us.”

Sanctuary director Jason Lauritsen said, “When Corkscrew was purchased by Audubon, it wasn’t by distant experts – although they were involved – but it was local people with a passion who were the on-the-ground drivers and involved themselves.”

According to historical information provided by the sanctuary, a coalition of nearby residents, photographers, writers, amateur naturalists, birders and garden club members living from Tampa to Coral Gables wrote letters to newspapers, contacted state agencies and the National Audubon Society, and raised the $200,000 to purchase the northern remnant of the Corkscrew Strand from the lumber companies that owned it. Originally more than 20 miles long, the last 3-mile-wide and “rather more than that long” parcel of the strand was scheduled to be logged in 1952, but the collaboration between the coalition and the timber companies saved the land that would become the core of the sanctuary.

Encompassing about 13,000 acres that contain some of the oldest and largest trees in the Eastern United States, Lauritsen said Corkscrew Swamp represents the last one-half of a percent of the old-growth acreage of cypress forests that existed in this country prior to logging. Related to the redwoods, many of the cypress trees are more than 500 years old. To draw attention to the environmental and historical significance of the trees, the sanctuary has instituted a new landmark trees program along the boardwalk.

“There was a need for it because people from all over have a disconnect between their lives and their environment,” Lauritsen said. “They want to see alligators when they’re here, and if they don’t, they’re disappointed and miss the value and beauty of the habitat. I love alligators, but to micro-focus on them you miss a lot.”

Lauritsen said the 12 trees were chosen for different reasons. Some demonstrate different ecosystems, such as one that reveals the relationship between strangler figs and trees in the forest, and another that marks the transition from a younger, logged area into the old-growth forest.

“They tell different stories about history,” he said. “One has ferns and lichens growing 80 feet above the ground like in a tropical rain forest, but it’s in Southwest Florida.”

Lauritsen said the biggest lesson of the 60th anniversary of the sanctuary is that conservation is not so far out of reach for private individuals.

“Past generations did it, and now we’re celebrating what the previous generation did,” he said. “Sixty years from now, I hope we will have done something that people in the future will celebrate.”

IF YOU GO

* What: Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

* Where: 375 Sanctuary Road West, Naples

* When: 7 a.m. -5:30 p.m. daily (last admission at 4:30 p.m.)

* Cost: $12 adult; $6 Audubon Society members or full-time college student with ID; $4 ages 6 – 18; free age 6 and under

* Info: 348-9151, corkscrew.audubon.org

U.N. study underscores coastal crises

Invasions of alien species. The loss of coastal forest and mangroves. A warming climate. Rising seas. Beach erosion. A need for more drinking water supplies. Indiscriminate use of pesticides.

A study released today by the U.N. Environment Program identifies these among 20 emerging issues facing small island developing nations across the world.

ISSUES RAISED IN THE REPORT

• Accelerating “coastal squeeze” from agriculture, industry, urban development and tourism is destroying coastal littoral and mangrove forests, the two ecosystems that serve as a defense against erosion, sea level rise and saltwater damage to inland areas.
• The magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events will increase with global warming, with a disproportionate impact on islands.
• Islands need to develop renewable energy sources to relieve their dependence on imported fossil fuels, which create a trade imbalance.
• One source of renewable energy might be trash, which is now a growing threat because of lack of space for landfills and inadequate incineration facilities.
• The full study will be available online after 2 p.m. at the United Nations Environment Program website:
www.unep.org .

A study released today by the U.N. Environment Program identifies these among 20 emerging issues facing small island developing nations across the world.

The study, however, could also refer to Southwest Florida, which is one reason UNEP chose Sarasota for the report’s release as part of its World Environment Day festivities.

To borrow a theme from Disney World, “It’s a small world after all.”

The spread of invasive species illustrates just how small.

Human development, improvements in transportation and unprecedented worldwide trade have helped spread plants and animals to locales where they can, and do, cause extensive damage.

“According to the Convention on Biological Diversity (2010), invasive alien species are directly or indirectly responsible for up to two-thirds of the world’s terrestrial species extinctions, of which close to 95 percent have occurred on islands,” the study noted.

While mainland coastal regions may not share the isolation and vulnerability of islands, exotics should not be underestimated as threats.

UNEP regional director Patricia Beneke, who traveled to Sarasota from Washington, D.C., for today’s Environment Day celebration, used to work with the U.S. Department of the Interior. She recalls what the melaleuca infestation did to the Everglades.

“And it’s not a coastal issue, but look at citrus greening,” says Jono Miller, a longtime coordinator of environmental studies at New College. “And the lionfish in the Gulf. It only takes a few bad breaks to inflict a lot of damage to agriculture and marine life.”

The UNEP study drives home the point that countries that do not practice environmental stewardship will be unlikely to sustain themselves, particularly if they lean heavily on tourism.

The scientists who compiled the documentation hope to get policymakers talking about and acting on their findings. A more detailed discussion is set for September in Apia, Samoa.

Some of the warnings in the study mirror those in the National Climate Assessment, released last month in Washington. It, too, predicted dire consequences if coastal regions in the United States ignore the effects of rising seas induced by global warming.

Critics of that report see the U.N. study as equally overreaching, and at least one organization, called Sarasota Patriots, has called for a protest of the World Environment Day program at Mote Marine Laboratory this morning.

Its website urged protesters to carry signs with messages such as “Get the US out of the UN!”, “No More Marxism!” and “No More Sustainable Development!”

When it comes to the latter, Sarasota County has already embraced the concept with the appointment of a sustainability coordinator, Lee Hayes Byron, to serve as its environmental conscience.

“The communities there are really outstanding examples of a positive and proactive approach,” Beneke said Tuesday, referring to Sarasota County and its municipalities.

One local initiative that caught UNEP’s attention was the county’s effort to clean up Sarasota Bay.

Eliminating land-based sources of marine pollution has been a pet project of the U.N. for years.

Since 1989, Byron reports, nitrogen levels in the bay have dropped 64 percent, and seagrasses have seen a 46 percent increase.

She attributes the improvements to better waste and stormwater treatment, education of residents and an ordinance that governs the timing and ingredients of fertilizer.

What happens on the mainland does affect developing islands around the world.

One part of the UNEP study identified persistent ocean pollutants, microplastics and pharmaceuticals, traveling the seas in gigantic gyres, as potentially harmful to the health of islanders and their ecosystems.

Again, the connection between land and sea is a consistent theme for the Science and Environment Council of Southwest Florida, based in Sarasota.

“It’s a closed system,” executive director Jennifer Shafer said.

“Everything we do on the land, it all ends up in the water. It’s an issue for any coastal area.”

Eric Ernst|June 5, 2014

The Danger of Solar “Super-Storms”

Watch out George Lucas fans, a Death Star may be in our horizons — and one would only have to look as far as our nearest stellar neighbor: the Sun.

According to Mr. Ashley Dale of the University of Bristol, solar “super-storms” pose an imminent threat to the earth by disabling electricity and communication system — or worse.

Thus, the celestial body that illuminates the world may very well be responsible for sending it into darkness.

In this month’s issue of PhysicsWorld, Mr. Dale writes: “Without power, people would struggle to fuel their cars at petrol stations, get money from cash dispensers or pay online. Water and sewage systems would be affected too, meaning that health epidemics in urbanized areas would quickly take a grip, with diseases behind centuries ago soon returning.”

Solar storms are caused by violent eruptions of plasma and magnetic fields into space. Singlehandedly, these coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are the most energetic events in our solar system and amount to 10^22 kJ of energy — or the equivalent of 10 billion Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs exploding simultaneously. CMEs consisting of a trillion kilograms of charged particles are subsequently hurled at the earth at 3000 km/s and, if they display enough energy, rip through Earth’s protective magnetic field. The event induces surges of electrical currents toward the ground, frying electrical components in its wake.

And if it sounds shocking that the object responsible for life can cause so much destruction, here is some history for you. It has happened in the past, and it will happen again.

In 1859, Richard Carrington recorded the largest “super-storm” after observing a solar flare — a definitive precursor to each event. Today, scientists expect an event to occur every 150 years — and we are overdue. Although our estimates are imprecise, the truth is the Sun is getting brighter. The Faint Young Sun Paradox means that the Sun’s luminosity is increasing with age, and with that comes unpredictability.

Mr. Dale adds: “As a species, we have never been more vulnerable to the volatile mood of our nearest star, but it is well within our ability, skill and expertise as humans to protect ourselves.”

Dale is part of a team dubbed SolarMAX, an international task force sent to study the storms and minimize their impacts. Together, SolarMAX has developed a defense strategy involving 16 lunchbox-sized cube satellites to detect solar storms and protect Earth’s magnetic field. After all, Earth’s magnetic field shields its inhabitants from these solar storms that carry within lethal amounts of radiation.

Without the development of Earth’s magnetic field, life as we know it would not exist — and we are beginning to acquire the knowledge to protect our home.

Winfield Winter|ENN|August 5, 2014

Continue reading at The University of Bristol. 

Are humans impacting the deep Earth?

Human forays deep underground, such as boreholes, mines and nuclear bomb tests, are leaving a mark on the planet’s geology that will last for hundreds of millions of years, say scientists.
In a new report, published in the journal Anthropocene, they say we are altering Earth’s rocks in a way that’s unique in the planet’s 4.6 billion-year history.

The phenomenon adds weight to the ‘Anthropocene’ concept — the idea that we have changed the planet so dramatically that it has now entered a new, distinctive phase in its history.

Scientists disagree about whether the Anthropocene should be officially recognized as part of the geological timeline.

Until now, much of the focus has been on changes at the surface, to the atmosphere, oceans and ecosystems. But according to Dr Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester, who led the research, our influence below ground is just as pronounced.

‘The underground world is not one that most of us experience directly,’ he says. ‘Effectively it’s out of sight, out of mind.’

‘But we’re leaving a mark on the geology that will last for millions of years, probably more. Whatever we do in the future, that influence is only going to grow — we’ve set in motion a new phase in the planet’s history.’

Alex Peel|Planet Earth Online|August 7, 2014

Read more at Planet Earth Online.

‘Environmental Disaster Tourism’ Comes to the Northwest Passage

For the first time in history, a cruise ship is set to traverse the Northwest Passage. This trip, scheduled for 2016, will take passengers from Alaska to New York on a luxury 32 day cruise. According to the company, Crystal Cruises, it will combine adventure with high luxury on the Arctic Ocean.

However, there’s been an incredible backlash against this trip. While 14 naturalists and environmentalists will be on board, guiding visitors through the glacial wilderness, the ship itself seems less than environmentally friendly.

So unfriendly, in fact, that it is said to produce more than triple the carbon of a 747 on a per mile, per person basis.

The Northwest Passage has always been too narrow for a cruise ship to cross, due to ice. But thanks to extensive research (and extensive glacial melt), Crystal Cruises should now be able to safely pass. However, many in the environmental community are worried about the damage this might do to the Northwest Passage.

Although it’s been known about for centuries, very few manage to make it up to, let alone navigate around this arctic region. Home to rich biodiversity including penguins, polar bears, elk, wolves and a large number of birds, the intrusion of tourists along the passage could prove harmful for the wildlife.

The cruise has been dubbed, “environmental disaster tourism” by Popular Science, who went on to state, “Thanks to an offering by a luxury cruise line, customers can take a cruise through the newly navigable arctic, and try to see polar bears struggling to stay alive on what remains of Arctic ice.”

Sure enough, the experts on board are tasked to discuss the issues of climate change and the effects they are having on the surrounding glaciers. But if visiting swathes of melting glacial ice increases the carbon levels in the area, is it really worth it?

Well, perhaps not worth it, although it does certainly come at a price. The trip starts at $20,000 and extends up to $40,000, depending on the client’s choice of accommodation. Although Crystal Cruises has stated they are using a low-sulfur fuel, which runs well within the emissions boundaries set up by environmental agencies, if this becomes a popular  and long-running trip, the carbon emissions in the Northwest Passage could rise exponentially.

This impact of tourism on the environment is not a new problem.

In Antarctica, tourism has resulted in a number of tragedies and concerns over the remote, pristine environment.

Among these concerns is the introduction of microbes and exotic insects, creating long-ranging impacts that the tourist industry there has failed to consider. Neil Gilbert, an environmental manager who studies the continent has said, “The Antarctic Peninsula … is one of if not the most rapidly warming part of the globe…We really don’t know what additional impact that those tourism numbers … are having on what is already a very significantly changing environment.”

Another official on the continent tells of tourists not following rules and contaminating the isolated region. “We hear horror stories every season…A group will come ashore from a national program and they’re on their day off … and they’re breaking the rules, right and left, smoking and getting too close to the animals.”

If the Northwest Passage is turned into a prime tourism destination, conservationists worry the same problems could befall this remote region of the globe. Meaning that for indigenous wildlife and tribes that have existed here for centuries, the days of a remote unspoiled wilderness are long gone.

Elizabeth Paulat|August 7, 2014

Major Contributor to Climate Change Wants Help Avoiding Effects of Climate Change

It is impossible to deny, with any credibility, that climate change is a reality. The evidence is overwhelming. Even if we cut out the carbon immediately, we’ll be dealing with the effects of climate change for years to come. You know it’s bad when even oil companies need to shield themselves from the onslaught.

That’s exactly what an oil refinery in Delaware is doing. You see, this refinery is on the water front. A rise in sea levels is a manifestation of climate change that we can see happening. The sea levels rise and business as usual at the refinery is threatened. What’s a good business person to do? You ask Big Daddy Government for some help.

According to Grist, Delaware is a state that has a program that takes federal grant money and funnels it toward projects designed to protect coastal land against storm surges. Now, seeing its business threatened, this oil refinery has the gall to ask taxpayers to shell out money to protect a business that is contributing to the problem in the first place.

In Delaware, severe storms are eroding the shoreline and affecting homes and businesses up and down the coast – including the business of an oil refinery. The functioning of the Delaware City Refining Company property just south of New Castle, a division of PBF Energy, is threatened by increasing extreme weather. In other words, climate disruption is hitting the doorstep of its source.

The refinery has tried to get help, submitting an application with the Coastal Zone Management Act seeking shoreline protections due to “tidal encroachment” — which is one way of saying sea level rise.

“The extent of the shoreline erosion has reached a point where facility infrastructure is at risk,” says the permit application from the company.

Fascinating. If only someone had warned them. It’s just too bad that the refinery’s proposed plan of action won’t actually do anything to stop rising sea levels. The refinery’s wants to mitigate the effects by providing for the natural accretion of sediment and eliminating wave energy that is eroding the shoreline. However, none of that does anything to stop sea level rise. Delaware could see between a half meter and a meter and a half rise by 2100. Oh, and did I mention that the Delaware City Refining Company deals in tar sands oil, which is basically as carbon intensive as you can get.

Without actual efforts to stop the rise in sea level — not just keeping it at bay temporarily — flooding is going to be a problem for basically every place with a shoreline. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the rate of flooding is increasing the quickest around the Mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay, Carolina coasts and south Texas. And we’re not talking about small increases, either.

Among 45 locations that NOAA studied on all coasts and Hawaii, Annapolis, Maryland, had a 925 percent increase in annual flooding rates in a comparison of records for 1957-1963 and 2007-2013, while Baltimore’s frequency rose 922 percent. Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia increased by 682 percent and 650 percent.

“As relative sea level increases, it no longer takes a strong storm or a hurricane to cause flooding,” said William Sweet, a NOAA oceanographer and the report’s lead author. High tides, along with land subsidence and rising water, are enough to push water to flood stages.

“It’s certainly consistent with what we’ve been saying, and how we will experience sea-level rise,” said Susan Love, a lead planner with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

To summarize: Oil refinery refines an incredibly carbon-intensive product, thus exacerbating climate change. Refinery realizes that the effects of climate change are endangering their business and asks for government assistance. But that assistance only patches the problem and doesn’t address the real, long-term problem ahead of us and would allow the industry to keep feeding fossil fuels into our economy. I don’t know what could possibly go wrong.

Mindy Townsend|August 8, 2014

Calls to Action

  1. Tell World Bank: Don’t Scrap Environmental Protections – here
  2. Stop Alaska Whaling – here
  3. Tell the Army Corps of Engineers protect Puget Sound and its phenomenal natural resourceshere
  4. TAKE ACTION FOR MANATEES – here
  5. Save the Last of our Florida Panthers –  here
  6. Tell the EPA- Require Disclosure of Fracking Chemicals – here
  7. End Fossil Fuel Subsidies – here
  8. Save Birds – Support FWS call to keep cats contained – here
  9. Do Your Part For Pets & Wildlife – here
  10. Ask President Obama- Make Forestry a Priority in Your Climate Change Action Planhere

Birds and Butterflies

Penguin Study Answers What We’ve All Been Wondering

If you could talk to African penguins, you’d know when they’re hungry, lonely, miffed, and ready to party hardy, according to researches at the University of Turin, Italy, who have decoded the chit-chat among birds in captivity and discovered six distinctive calls.

Young “jackass” penguins, as they are called, whine and beg when they’re hungry. Nesting chicks use “begging peeps” when they want adults to feed them, according to the study. And juveniles out of the nest use a “begging moan” to let grownups know they want food, now.

Adult penguins rely on four distinct calls to make their needs known.

  • Contact Calls – Produced by lonely penguins isolated from the colony or their partner.
  • Agonistic Calls – Uttered during a fight or when a penguin tries to intrude on an occupied nest.
  • Ecstatic Display Song — Released during mating season as penguins seek mates. The song sounds like donkey grunts, the reason the penguins have the “jackass” moniker.
  • Mutual Display Song — A duet sung by nesting partners.

Study researchers made video and audio recordings of a colony of 48 captive African penguins at the ZOOM Torino zoo in Cumiana, Italy. Study results were published recently in the journal PLOS One.

“Penguins have less sophisticated vocal mechanisms compared to song birds,” study leader Dr. Livio Favaro told The Guardian, “but they have very sophisticated mechanisms to encode information in songs.”

Lisa Kaplan Gordon|August 1, 2014

Rare bee-eaters nest on the Isle of Wight for first time on record

A pair of colorful and rare bee-eaters, normally to be found in southern continental Europe, has set up home on National Trust land on the Isle of Wight.

A pair of colorful and rare bee-eaters, normally to be found in southern continental Europe, has set up home on National Trust land on the Isle of Wight.

It is only the third record of the bird breeding successfully in the UK in the last century, the last being in 2002 in a quarry in County Durham. Two young successfully fledged. Before that, two pairs were recorded raising seven young in a Sussex sand-pit in 1955.

The latest bee-eaters, were discovered on the Isle of Wight in mid-July, having set up home in the sandy hills of the Wydcombe Estate in the south of the island.

They chose a small valley where the soft ground, rolling landscape and access to a stream provides ideal conditions for their nest burrow.

Ian Ridett, a National Trust Isle of Wight Ranger, said: “We have set up a 24-hour surveillance operation around the site to protect these rare visitors, as any unhatched eggs could be a potential target for egg thieves.

“We have had incredible support from the RSPB, Isle of Wight Ornithological Group and our volunteers and staff, some of whom have travelled from the mainland to help.

“The hot temperatures since spring have helped an above-average arrival of bee-eaters, with more than 10 seen along the south coast of the island since May.

“The rising temperatures, varied landscape and bountiful supply of insects on the Wydcombe Estate were obviously enough to tempt the bee-eaters to nest here.”

The adult birds have been spotted delivering food into the nest which indicates that the eggs, which are normally laid in clutches of four to nine, have hatched.

The chicks will not leave their underground nest site for approximately another fortnight, so the number of chicks hatched is still not known.

Further information on the Wydcombe bee-eaters can be found on Ian Ridett’s blog at https://www.facebook.com/IsleofWightNT .

A designated public viewing point has been identified overlooking the birds’ favorite feeding area so that visitors can get the best possible sightings without disturbing their natural activities. 

Back on the Rock—Many Bird Species Are Returning To Alcatraz

 Brandt’s Cormorant, showing blue of mating plumage. Pigeon Guillemots, summer When the Spanish explorer Don Juan Manual Ayala visited San Francisco Bay in 1775, the island we now call Alcatraz was little more than a mound of sandstone whitened by the droppings of many generations of seabirds.

For the next 200 years, human use and alteration of the island all but eliminated the birds. But now, despite the nearly 5,000 people who visit the island daily, the birds of Alcatraz appear to be making a comeback. The recovery started about a decade ago, when portions of the island were first closed to visitors and birds such as Brandt’s Cormorants, Pelagic Cormorants, and Pigeon Gillemots steadily increased their numbers along the rocky slopes.

Since then, Western Gulls have virtually taken over the top of the island. These ground-nesting birds normally nest on inaccessible rocky sea cliffs or islands to avoid predation and other sources of nest disturbance. Once humans were forbidden from portions of Alcatraz, the birds felt comfortable enough to nest amid the rubble of former buildings. Alcatraz has also been discovered by several species that probably didn’t nest there in the days before Europeans arrived.

During the years when the island was used as a prison, tons of soil was imported from the mainland to allow the establishment of gardens and landscaping. The hardy plants that remain were allowed to grow wild and now cover significant parts of the island. A large colony of Black-crowned Night Herons has become established in the dense foliage of some of the low shrubs. Great Egrets also nest there, taking advantage of the trees that now grow on the protected east side of the island. Most reference sources attribute the name “Alcatraz” to the Spanish word for “pelican,” which is “alcarez.”

And while pelicans frequently visit the bay, it’s doubtful they ever nested on Alcatraz. A look at the island today, particularly the west side, which is often completely covered with nesting cormorants, may reveal the true source of the name. We know that Don Juan Manual Ayala named the rock for the birds he saw there, but maybe he called it “alcatraceo,” the Spanish word for “cormorant”.

eNature|August 03, 2014

Audubon Releases Guide to Helping Hooked Pelicans

Hooked waterbirds often die of entanglement or starvation.

Tampa, FL – It is an all too common sight on Tampa Bay and the surrounding area – pelicans with fishing hooks and line caught in their throats or tangled around wings, legs, or bodies. Hooked birds are at severe risk of entanglement as they roost, causing slow, painful deaths. When adult birds die they leave chicks orphaned in nests, to succumb to predation and starvation. But there are steps that fisherman and others can take to save hooked birds instead of just “cutting the line.”

Tampa Audubon, Manatee County Audubon Society, and Audubon Florida have produced a new informational brochure to give citizens the information they need to help. “What to Do If You Hook a Pelican” is a user-friendly guide that is a must-read for all Tampa Bay’s fisherman and anyone else who enjoys time on or near the water.

“Anyone can use this set of instructions to save the life of a pelican,” states Sandy Reed, Tampa Audubon Society Vice President. Using simple tips and photographs, the brochure demonstrates easy-to-follow steps for fishermen and members of the public to safely handle and release a hooked bird without causing further injury.

The brochure also provides guidelines that fishermen can follow to reduce the probability that they will hook birds in the first place. “Feeding pelicans or herons increases the chance that the birds will become entangled,” says Mark Rachal, Audubon Sanctuary Manager.

“The Wildlife Commission staff report that the major killer of Brown Pelicans in Florida is entanglement in fishing gear,” explains Ann Paul, Audubon’s Tampa Bay Regional Coordinator. “We encourage fishermen to learn how to release a hooked bird. Fishermen who deal with sharks or saltwater catfish will find it relatively easy to unhook or untangle a bird that they have accidentally caught.”

“Pelicans are synonymous with fishing on Florida’s coasts,” says Lori Roberts, Manatee County Audubon Society Board Member, “and the goal of fishermen is to catch fish. By providing sport fishermen with a handy guide on how to safely rescue pelicans in distress, rather than simply cutting their fishing line and leaving a bird painfully hooked or entangled

to die, Audubon hopes to protect these iconic birds. No one deliberately intends to injure a pelican. This brochure will prepare fishermen to help each other and the bird when someone accidentally hooks or entangles a pelican.”

Brochures can be obtained by calling Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries’ office at 813-623-6826. The brochure can also be downloaded from  the Tampa Bay Water Atlas (wateratlas.org), and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s (www.tbep.org) websites.

The guide was developed by Audubon chapters and staff in collaboration with the Florida Park Service and the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers. It was partially funded by the Frank E. Duckwall Foundation.

Endangered Everglades snail kite rebounding

Life is getting better for the Goldilocks of the Everglades.

After years of droughts pushing water levels too low or floods pushing water levels too high, more recent conditions have been just right for the ever-sensitive Everglades snail kite.

As a result, the number of the endangered birds is growing, signaling hope for both the health of the struggling species and for the famed River of Grass that it calls home.

There were just 800 Everglades snail kites in 2008, but their numbers had grown to about 1,200 birds in 2013 and are so far holding steady this year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“They are a very good indication for the health of the Everglades,” Jane Graham, Audubon Florida’s Everglades policy associate, said about the snail kite. “They are like the Goldilocks bird. … We want to see them doing well.”The future of the Everglades snail kite has been imperiled by decades of draining to make way for South Florida farming and development, which has shrunk the Everglades to about half of its size.

The hope is that the endangered bird will be one of the beneficiaries of ongoing Everglades restoration efforts aimed at recreating water flows that once naturally sent more water south.

“For this species, one of the biggest threats is habitat loss and significant changes in water level,” said Laura Barrett, imperiled species conservation coordinator for the wildlife conservation commission. “It is definitely tied to the ecosystem functioning properly.”

The Everglades snail kite is almost too finicky for its own good.

The medium-sized bird of prey with its skinny, curved bill feeds primarily on the apple snail.

The problem is that apple snails lay their eggs just above the water line. That means droughts and floods as well as manmade manipulations of water flows can put the next generation of snail kite food at risk.

Now, a new snail invading the Everglades has offered some dining relief for the snail kite.

While “exotic” species that aren’t native to Florida are usually seen as a threat to the ecosystem, this larger, heartier “island apple snail” has been able to provide a more steady food source.

Native apple snails are about the size of a golf ball and produce up to 50 eggs at a time during the spring.

The exotic snails, originally from Argentina and Brazil and imported for South Florida aquariums, can grow to the size of a baseball and produce up to 500 eggs year-round.

Wildlife officials say the new snails could end up being too much of a strain on vegetation or have other harmful environmental consequences. But so far, they are at least part of the reason that snail kites are doing better.

“It has been stable the last two years and increased over previous years,” Barrett said about the snail kite population. “We have seen a slight uptick.”

As of late May, the peak of the Everglades snail kite nesting season, about 311 nests had been identified from the Kissimmee River to the southern Everglades, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

That nest count was a little less than last year, but still in line with the holding-steady estimates of the snail kite population in recent years.

Fewer snail kite nests were found along the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee this year compared to last year, but there were more nests in Everglades National Park, the Everglades water conservation areas that stretch along Broward and Palm Beach counties and the nearby stormwater treatment areas.

That could signal that snail kites are making more of a return to the central Everglades area where they once flourished, officials said.

“The good news is they are moving out to other parts of the system,” said Terrie Bates, the South Florida Water Management District’s director of water resources. “That’s a good thing to have them back in the conservation areas of the Everglades.”

Despite encouraging signs of snail kite resiliency in recent years, significant obstacles remain for the bird that Audubon calls an Everglades icon.

The up-and-down water levels that are a consequence of South Florida’s vast flood control system remain a threat to the future of the Everglades snail kite.

Everglades restoration is moving slower than once expected.

And while the yo-yoing snail kite population has held steady in recent years, it is still less than half of the 3,600 snail kites that were found in 1999.

“We want (more of) them to be nesting,” Graham said. “It means the Everglades are doing better.”

Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel|July 6, 2014

 Florida Panthers

Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

3860 Tollgate Blvd., Suite 300, Naples, FL 34114 / Phone:

239-353-8442 / Fax: 239-353-8640 / E-mail: floridapanther

@fws.gov / Website: www. fws.gov/floridapanther / 26,400

acres / Admission is free.

Until 1989 the vast majority of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge’s 26,400 acres was used for private hunting and cattle grazing.

Once owned by the Collier family, the property is part of the Big Cypress Basin. The Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company logged most of this area from 1944 to 1957, at about the same time the adjacent Fakahatchee Strand was being logged.

By the time U.S. Fish and Wildlife acquired the land in 1989, all of the virgin stands of bald cypress were gone, but there were still expansive stands of slash pine, immature cypress domes, wet prairies, hardwood hammocks, and marshes.

Soon after acquisition, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists began a regimen of prescribed burns.

Every year several different sites are burned on three- to four-year rotations.

The objective of these 5,000- to 7,000-acre burns is twofold: primarily to increase browsing areas for white-tailed deer, which, along with feral hogs, are the primary prey of Florida panthers; second, to rid the forest understory of invasive plants such as Brazilian pepper, melaleuca, cogongrass, and Old World climbing fern.

It is important to understand that the Panther Refuge is not designed with the eco-tourist in mind. This is a true refuge, for not only the endangered panther, but also a host of other wildlife that struggle beneath Florida’s unending growth and urban sprawl. These include the threatened indigo snake, wood stork, limpkin, swallowtail kite, snail kite, Big Cypress fox squirrel, Florida black bear, and the very rare Everglades mink.

Therefore, access is limited to two short hiking trails located approximately one-quarter mile north of I-75 along the southeastern edge of the refuge.

A sign directs visitors into the parking lot where two gates lead to the trails.

The shorter trail (0.3 mile) is improved and wheelchair accessible.

The second trail is 1.3 miles long and takes you through a nice mixture of habitats.

After a brief stroll through a hardwood hammock, you find yourself walking on limestone bedrock beside saw palmetto and vast, open stands of slash pine.

The highway noise coming from I-75 is a distraction, but this is probably why this region was chosen for the trails in the first place.

The nearby I-75 underpass, connecting the Florida Panther Refuge to the Fakahatchee Strand to the south, is one of the most frequently used underpasses by panthers.

They are definitely around, but only five to 11 radio-collared panthers use the property every month, and given the refuge’s immense size, you are not likely to see one during your 30-minute hike.

If you are lucky, you might find a panther track left in the mud beside the numerous deer tracks you will see

This article is from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands. Charles Sobczak lives and writes on Sanibel Island.

Visit www.indigopress.net

  Invasive species

Latest news in New Zealand’s war against invasive rodents

As part of an ongoing battle to preserve New Zealand’s native wildlife from the effects of invasive species such as rats and mice, and provide an environment for populations to increase, the country’s Department of Conservation (DOC) recently shipped a pair of captive-bred takahÄ“ lovebirds to rodent-free Motutapu Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.

The birds, named He Maipi and Autahi, flew from a takahē rearing unit to their new home, not under their own steam but with the help of Air New Zealand. The pair will bring to 18 the number of takahē on the island, where it is hoped they will prosper now that a big threat to their survival has been removed.

Meanwhile, on Te Hoiere/Maud Island wildlife sanctuary in the Marlborough Sounds the battle continues to create predator-free sanctuaries for endangered native species.

Aside from the birdlife, rodents also pose a threat to the islands’ native insects, frogs and some lizard species.

Maud Island is the second largest DOC-administered island reserve in the Marlborough Sounds and was the first island safe haven for the flightless kākāpō, the populations of which suffered greatly as a result of alien invasive species.

The 310-hectare island contains predominantly regenerating coastal forest characteristic of the area. It is a large area, but development of rodent eradication technology in New Zealand over the past three decades has increased confidence in tackling these larger islands.

The operation involves aerial application of cereal baits containing rat poison. Conservation Services Manager, Roy Grose, said it would take two years of monitoring with no sign of mice before it could be confirmed they had been successfully eliminated from the island.

‘Although rodent eradication has been achieved on numerous New Zealand islands, including a number in the Marlborough Sounds, it is still a considerable challenge to clear all the mice,” he said.

Steps have been taken to limit impacts on endangered wildlife, including moving 300 Maud Island frogs to Motuara Island, which has bolstered the existing translocated population there.

The Maud Island takahē and a kākāpō have also been moved to temporary homes as a precautionary measure while the eradication operations are taking place.

Endangered Species

Happy Day for Orcas! Southwest Airlines Calls it Quits with SeaWorld

Following three years of intense pressure from PETA, Southwest Airlines has announced that it is ending its 25-year partnership with the notorious marine abusement park SeaWorld.

PETA began private discussions and exchanges with Southwest in 2011, and a recent action alert of ours generated nearly 90,000 letters urging Southwest to split from SeaWorld. We were even in touch with the company as recently as last week in our ongoing efforts to get them to make a compassionate choice for orcas.

PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk’s response to this hard-won victory sums it up nicely:

Champagne corks were popping at PETA today when we heard that Southwest will no longer support SeaWorld and will repaint its planes. While we travel all the time, the orcas and other animals at SeaWorld are imprisoned for life, with no opportunity to return to their ocean homes or see their families again. The second I heard the good news, I knew that I’d be booking my next trip on Southwest—and kind people around the world no doubt feel the same way.

Southwest Airlines is the latest in a long list of companies that have ended partnerships or cut ties with SeaWorld, including Taco Bell, STA Travel, Savings.com, Outdoorplay.com, and others. A slew of celebs and musical artists including Tommy Lee, Joan Jett, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Martina McBride, 38 Special, Justin Moore, and Scotty McCreery have also said “no tanks” by cancelling their scheduled performances at SeaWorld or insisting that none of their music be played at the parks.

Call it “The Blackfish Effect” or call it persistence paying off, but one thing is certain: Imprisoning orcas in tiny tanks does not fly with the public, and smart companies are putting as much distance between themselves and SeaWorld as possible.

July 31, 2014

Nesting Implications for the Northern Gulf Loggerhead

After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, a massive response to protect beaches, wetlands, and wildlife occurred. Nonetheless, because of the spill, extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats were reported and many studies have been conducted to quantify the affects of the oil spill on specific species.

One study in particular which started in the wake of the spill looks at the nesting loggerhead sea turtles in the northern Gulf and how their feeding areas have been not only affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill, but by commercial fishing operations, and areas used for oil and gas extraction.

The study, which is the largest to date on Northern Gulf loggerheads, examined 59 nesting females, a small and declining subpopulation of loggerheads that is federally classified as threatened.

“With such a large sample of the nesting females, we’re finally getting the big picture of when, where and how females that nest in the northern Gulf of Mexico rely on off-shore waters to survive. This information is critical for halting and reversing their declines,” said USGS research ecologist Kristen Hart, the lead author of the study.

All of the turtles tracked in the study remained in the Gulf of Mexico to feed, and a third remained in the northern part of the Gulf.

“These results show how important the Gulf of Mexico is to this group of loggerheads — they stay here throughout the year, not just during the nesting season,” said USGS research biologist Meg Lamont, a co-author on the study.

The study also revealed specific parts of the Gulf where females feed and spend most of their time. It is believed that an individual turtle will return to these specific feeding areas throughout her life.

Lamont explains, “People think of nesting beaches as their homes, but they don’t really spend much time there. They only migrate to the nesting beaches to lay eggs. The rest of their adult life is spent foraging at sea.”

The next step for USGS scientists Hart and Lamont is to track these nesting Gulf loggerheads long enough to test whether they do indeed re-visit the same feeding areas throughout their life, as they suspect. This would help pinpoint important feeding sites of long-term and high traffic use — in essence, their home ranges.

“Locating long-term feeding areas will really open up new possibilities for the conservation and management of these amazing creatures,” said Hart.

Allison Winter|ENN|July 31, 2014

The study, “Migration, foraging, and residency patterns for Northern Gulf of Mexico loggerheads: Implications of local threats and international movements” is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Read more at USGS Newsroom.

We’re Eating Pangolins Off the Face of the Earth

While we’ve been focused on the poaching crisis that’s threatening the future for charismatic animals like elephants, rhinos and tigers, another species now faces the threat of extinction thanks to human appetites and could disappear before most people even hear of it.

The pangolin, which includes eight species who live in Africa and Asia, are unique little creatures in a number of ways. They’ve been described as walking artichokes and because they’re insectivores they’ve been dubbed “scaly anteaters.” These toothless animals are also the only mammal covered in true scales, which are made of keratin, and the the fact that they walk like a miniature T. rex only adds to their charm.

Unfortunately, these curious creatures are being hunted to the brink for both their meat, which is considered a delicacy by the affluent, and for their scales, which are believed to have medicinal properties.

Even with protection and international trade bans in place, pangolins are still widely traded illegally on the black market. Just days ago, 1.4 tons of pangolin scales were seized by officials in Vietnam and are believed by customs officials to have come from as many as 10,000 animals.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group, more than one million pangolins are estimated to have been taken from the wild over the past decade alone, which has made them the most illegally traded wild mammal in the world.

Until this week, only two species had been listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as endangered, while the remaining four were listed as threatened and species of least concern. Now they’ve all been upgraded over concerns that their populations are plummeting. Chinese and Sunda pangolins are now listed as “Critically Endangered,” while the Indian and Philippine pangolins are “Endangered” and all four species in Africa are listed as “Vulnerable.”

In an effort to get immediate conservation work going, the Pangolin Specialist Group also published a new action plan this week, ‘Scaling Up Pangolin Conservation,’ that outlines steps that need to be taken now to to stop the illegal trade and keep pangolins from disappearing forever.

Among many measures it hopes to see completed, the group has recommended stronger tracking of pangolin parts, more studies to get a better understanding of pangolins and their movements in the wild and working with local communities to ensure they don’t have to turn to poaching to survive.

What the group believes is the single most important step to conserving these species is reducing the demand for their meat and scales in China and Vietnam, which it hopes to do through awareness campaigns and by engaging the conservation community to help spread the word and change opinions.

“In the 21st Century we really should not be eating species to extinction – there is simply no excuse for allowing this illegal trade to continue,” Professor Jonathan Baillie, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group and Conservation Programs Director at ZSL, said in a statement.

Alicia Graef|July 31, 2014

For more info on how to help pangolins, visit pangolins.org.

Park Rangers and Poachers in an Escalating War Over Rhinos

For years the war between poachers and animal protection officers has waged, unabated, on the African continent. It has been a constantly escalating conflict, with each side attempting to trump the other in a battle of money and skills. However, when it comes to resources to combat this ever-growing problem, Africa has begun to hemorrhage.

The problem stems from the poachers’ almost inexhaustible supply of money. Because rhino horn fetches $30,000 per pound on the black market and makes up a global market of $9.5 billion per year, smugglers and tradesman have very little problem funding these poachers.

As this funding grows, so does the technology that poachers employ. Where once poachers were relegated to surviving the bush and setting snares, these days they have a whole new arsenal on their side. Helicopters, GPS, night-vision goggles and semi-automatic machine guns have all made their way into the poacher’s toolbox.

Countries around the continent have responded to these poaching advances with a call to arms. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Gabon and Cameroon have all deployed their military into national parks for guard duty.

In many countries, under the tutelage of military personnel, park rangers have begun courses in advanced weaponry, stealth and self defense. A tactic that has become useful as in recent years, as park rangers are coming under increasing attacks by poachers. Yet, it’s not hard to understand why, for many rangers, they did not envision of a life of armed conflict when they first took their posts.

“I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I didn’t have the money for schooling,” relates one UWA ranger located in Kidepo Valley National Park, which straddles the border with Uganda and South Sudan. “But I loved animals so I decided instead I would apply and take exams to become a park ranger.”

However, these days, rather than taking counts of animal packs and managing upkeep in the park, it is his duty to ward off poachers that make their way through war-torn South Sudan, looking for arms funding and bush meat.

In some countries, anti-poaching walks, two guards abreast, rotate patrol duty every night. This means rangers must walk, on foot, through national parks teeming with nocturnal predators, such as leopards, lions and hyenas. However, according to rangers, it is not the animals they fear, but the humans in their midst.

In South Africa, the National Defense Force has deployed drones, helicopters and spotter craft to help take down illegal poachers in the park. In Zimbabwe, where the military also patrols, there are strict signs that warn visitors that anyone seen walking outside their cars on game drives will be presumed to be poachers and shot “on sight.”

Some governments, such as Zimbabwe, have attempted to battle the lure of the rhino horn by removing it surgically under veterinary supervision. However, this was met with unintended and devastating consequences. Poachers, who had spent days tracking these rhinos, killed the de-horned creatures anyway. Whether they did it out of spite, or to never make the mistake of tracking the same rhino twice, is hard to say.

Many have begun to fear that the idea of the free-ranging rhino has become a dream of the past.

Conservation centers, which in East Africa have become the guardian shields between rhinos and poachers, can cost $5 million to set up and maintain for just a 10 year period. Most governments, already dealing with crippling security issues and corruption, lack the funds to create these centers. While private donors have stepped up to create sanctuaries across Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, they are finding their security costs ever-rising.

The passage for smuggled rhino horn is via East Asian shipping routes. Here rhino horn, despite being made from little more than keratin (read: hair and nail fiber), is used in ancient Chinese herbal medicine to treat everything from headaches to cancer. Clearly keratin does not cure cancer, or much of anything for that matter, but because people are still willing to pay top dollar for it, the trade continues.

Anti-poaching measures have taken millions of dollars from local economies. They have also endangered the lives of thousands of park rangers, conservationists and military personnel working across the continent.

Yet for the rhino, the prognosis is far worse. Annihilation of the species is looming closer, with some declaring an extinction date only a few decades away. Meaning that due to outdated herbalist beliefs, with zero scientific backing behind them, we might lose one of nature’s most prolific species within our lifetimes.

Lizabeth Paulat|July 31, 2014

Record sentence for rhino poacher

In a rare decision a poacher from South Africa has been sentenced to the heaviest penalty available, 77 years, for committing wildlife crimes, after being arrested in the Kruger National Park (KNP) in 2011 for killing three rhino calves.

The long sentence has been handed out partly because the South African court held the poacher, Mandla Chauke, responsible for the death of his accomplice who was killed by park rangers in a shoot-out. As a result, Chauke was also convicted for murder.

“This is a huge triumph for the rhino and we warmly welcome this reward as it will provide the much needed boost to the anti poaching teams who endure harsh conditions for the protection of our parks,” said the Acting Chief Executive Officer of SANParks, Abe Sibiya.

The KNP has lost 370 animals to poaching since January this year and 62 people have been arrested in connection with some of the cases.

“Our wish is to see a significant increase in such convictions and for the law enforcement authorities in affected countries to cooperate and work with us to end this scourge,” said Sibiya. 

Rare seahorses spotted for first time in Philippine waters

For the first time, two rare species of seahorse have been photographed in the Philippines.

The seahorses, a weedy pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi) and Severn’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus severnsi), were photographed near to the island of Romblon, which lies in the West Philippine Sea, by a citizen scientist.

They were then submitted to the iSeahorse app, which collates sightings from the public, before being verified by the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Project Seahorse.

The discovery brings the number of seahorse species known to inhabit Philippine waters to 11.
Chai Apale, iSeahorse Philippines coordinator for Project Seahorse, said: “The exciting discovery of these seahorses in new waters demonstrates the important role citizen scientists can play in conservation.

“Seahorses are found across the globe from Hastings to the Seychelles. Now that the holiday season is in full swing, we’re encouraging the public to don their flippers and use the iSeahorse app to record their seahorse sightings.”

The Severn’s pygmy seahorse is a tiny 1.3cm tall – smaller than a sugar cube, while the weedy pygmy seahorse, which was previously only known to inhabit Indonesian waters, is just .1cm taller at 1.4cm.

There is not currently enough data to assess the conservation status of these two species, but it is hoped this news will help conservationists piece together the missing information.

Black bear sighting in Vietnam indicates conservation success

A rare Asiatic black bear has been recorded by WWF camera traps in Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam.

Due to its white patch on its chest the Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus),is also known as the moon bear or white-chested bear, and is classed by the IUCN as a vulnerable species.

The sighting is an important indicator of the success of the conservation efforts by WWF and the Vietnamese government to improve the quality of the area’s forests and preserve the unique species diversity.

The framework of the Carbon and Biodiversity Program (CarBi) covers an area of more than 200,000ha of forest, along a vital mountain range that links Laos and Vietnam in Southeast Asia.

It aims to protect and regenerate unique forest by stopping deforestation through protection and sustainable use of its resources.

The Asiatic black bear is not the only rare species to have been spotted since the program was implemented, for several other valuable species have been found, including the Sunda pangolin, large-antlered muntjac, serrow, Annamite striped rabbit, and Saola, which was rediscovered for the first time in 15 years in 2013.

“They are species affected by illegal hunting which our forest guard patrols and Protection Area management activities should be limiting,” said Phan Tuan, Head of Quang Nam Forest Protection Department, Quang Nam’s CarBi project’ Director.

“Their existence is also dependent on good quality forest. I believe that these photographs are very important monitoring indicators of our conservation impacts.”

Pamela Anderson Shines Spotlight on Brutal and Archaic Mass Slaughter of Pilot Whales

At a press conference Friday in the capital city of the Torshavn in the Faroe Islands, actress and activist Pamela Anderson joined Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to shine a spotlight on the brutal and archaic mass slaughter of pilot whales and other cetaceans known as the ‘grindadrap’ or ‘grind’ and show her support for Operation GrindStop 2014 campaign.

Anderson, a long-time animal protection advocate, explained that though the Faroese people once needed to kill pilot whales for food, there is no longer any need in the modern world to kill cetaceans.

“This is not for survival. There are very few things that happen like this, that are this brutal,” said Anderson. “We have to put this behind us and move on, and let the whales swim freely by. And I think it’s much more important for us in the future to save our oceans and the biodiversity of our oceans that the whales are very important to.”

Anderson stressed how it needs to be the next generation “to end this archaic abomination called the Grindwho brings this needless grind to a halt.”

“Young people probably feel pressure to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. I think this is the perfect time to not listen to your parents, to think for yourself. Maybe there’s going to be a movement like there have been movements for many other things in the world where you look inside yourself and say ‘Is this something I should be doing just because my parents did it and my grandparents did it?’ This is a new time and the world is at risk … I think this is the generation that has to stand up and say ‘That was then, this is now; this is what I’m going to do.’”

From now until Oct. 1, the traditionally bloodiest months of the hunt season, approximately 500 Sea Shepherd volunteers will patrol the land and waters of the Faroes for Operation GrindStop 2014 campaign. The only grind to take place so far this year was on May 18, before Sea Shepherd arrived in the Faroe Islands, claiming 13 pilot whales. The year before, a staggering 267 pilot whales were killed in just one grind.

“A culture and tradition that does not belong in the 21st century should be abolished,” Rosie Kunneke, GrindStop 2014 onshore campaign leader for Sea Shepherd USA, said in a statement, sharing her own experiences growing up in South Africa. “I grew up in the ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ of apartheid … The whole world came in and attacked us, which we welcomed because that tradition and that culture didn’t belong in that century, and we fought with the people outside against the government to change this. You don’t need to kill pilot whales anymore. Every person I’ve met in the Faroes has said they don’t need to do it anymore.”

Sea Shepherd will take direct action to intervene and stop the grind from taking place using land, sea and air tactics as part of GrindStop 2014. Last week, Sea Shepherd’s crew spotted a pod of pilot whales and guided them back out to sea, safely away from the Faroese killing bays.

“The killing is a stain on this pristine country which no longer needs the meat of these animals to survive,” said Anderson in a statement. “When we know better, we do better. And we now know that these are sentient creatures who suffer greatly not only during the slaughter but during the very stressful drive itself. They are very socially complex animals and their entire families are being killed in front of them in a manner that would never be permitted in any slaughterhouse in the world. In addition, the meat of these animals is tainted with toxic contaminants including mercury, which is particularly harmful to pregnant women and young children.”

Stefanie Spear|August 4, 2014

Watch the Video 

The First Few Weeks Of Life

See more manatee moms and calves!

Learn about the first few weeks in the life of a newborn calf at Blue Spring State Park when you watch this endearing video that was captured in February and March 2013.

Breaking News!

Annie recently gave birth to a calf at Blue Spring!

 See photos and video.

Study Warns: Move Shipping Lanes To Save Endangered Whales

A new study showed that more than 10,000 endangered blue whales were found feeding off the West Coast right in the way of shipping vessel routes. Researchers concluded by asking policy makers to move shipping lanes to preserve the species.

The study was published this Wednesday on PLOS ONE. Blue whales were painlessly tagged using air-powered guns and crossbows and then were tracked by scientists via satellite and radio for 15 years. In that time it became clear the whales, which eat about four tons of krill per day, favor the area where freight ships travel to get get their meal, putting them in direct danger.

“It’s not really our place to make management decision, but we can inform policy-makers and in this case it is pretty straightforward,” stated one of the co-authors of the study, Daniel Palacios. “You will eliminate many of the ship strikes on blue whales by moving the shipping lanes south of the northern Channel Islands.”

The director of the Marine Mammal Institute that tagged the 170 pound whales also agreed that their job as researchers was only to make the fact known and now it’s up for policy makers to make the necessary changes.

“We’ve pointed out that our new data should be useful to the shipping industry and to the various agencies concerned with the lanes that lead to San Francisco and Los Angeles,” he said. “But we’re not out beating the drums, because it’s not our job to decide how those lanes should be moved. That’s up to all the stakeholders.”

PLOS ONE Journal Study

Natalia Galbetti|Megan|ecorazzi|August 6, 2014

Should We Resurrect Extinct Animals?

De-extinction is a subject which has fascinated people for many years, and what was once the subject of science fiction and hypothetical debate is now a very real possibility and one which requires some serious discussion.

Scientists say that they now have the technology to begin the genetic reconstruction from DNA taken from the bodies of extinct animals. The concept is almost identical to that shown in the cult classic film Jurassic Park, but before fans get too excited, it’s worth pointing out that dinosaurs are out of the question as the DNA samples are simply too old.

The ethical implications of de-extinction are vast and varied, and they require further investigation before scientists should be allowed to begin bringing animals back from the dead.

Just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should. The outcome of the proposed de-extinction programs, provided they are ultimately successful, will have far reaching effects on the planet’s complex ecosystems and this is something which nobody is able to accurately predict.

What Would a Successful Program Involve?

For a successful de-extinction program to exist, we would have to decide what the objectives were and how we would propose to re-introduce the animals into the wild once they return to the land of the living.

When is an extinct animal no longer considered to be extinct? When is a mammoth a mammoth and not an elephant-mammoth thingy? If an elephant was used to birth a mammoth baby, when can we ever claim that it is a mammuthus primigenius in its own right? Technically only once the offspring of two successfully mated first generation elephant-mammoths were born.

If our ultimate aim is de-extinction of a species, and not just the resurrection of a single specimen or family, then a successful program would involve the complete reintroduction of a large number of animals into their ‘natural habitat’ — which raises yet more questions, such as what are their natural habitats in the modern world, what effect will this have on the complex ecosystems in existence today, and how will they cope with a different climate to the one in which they lived in previously?

Righting Human Wrongs

Many advocates of de-extinction programs are keen to explore the possibility of using our modern scientific capabilities to put right some of the wrongs which humans have inflicted on extinct animal species.

It’s the idea that we cannot change what has been done in the past, but we can use our scientific ingenuity to try and reintroduce these lost animals back to the world and effectively restore the balance of nature.

Are Resources Better Spent Saving Endangered Species?

While it may be a noble endeavor to try and reintroduce animal species which have been wiped off the planet due to human interference, many conservationists believe that given the current number of endangered species, we should be focusing all our energies, time and money on saving these animals before they are added to the growing list of extinct ones.

After all, surely it would make more sense to focus on prevention rather than trying to restore species which are already lost. The scientific community should be working alongside conservationists to find solutions to the pressing problems which living species are facing, otherwise we will end up heading down a slippery slope where our ego takes precedence over common sense and logic.

De-extinction may be well intentioned, but given the current state of environmental degradation and habitat destruction, the truth is that we need to stop the rot before we spend resources on a scientific vanity project which would hail us as masters of genetic reconstruction.

In the time it would take to see a successful project completed, hundreds if not thousands of species would have become extinct, rendering the biodiversity of the planet no better off. Our number one priority should be to save what we’ve got, before they are added to the list of extinct species and future scientists are debating how to bring them back to life.

Abigail Geer|August 6, 2014

New Jersey bans Ivory sales

The state of New Jersey has enacted a statewide ban on sales of Ivory.

The following statement was issued by John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Director of the 96 Elephants Campaign:

“Today is an historic day for elephants and conservation. The Wildlife Conservation Society and the 96 Elephants campaign praises N.J. Governor Chris Christie for signing into law a statewide ban on ivory sales.”

“Elephants are threatened today by illegal hunting for their ivory. Every day in Africa, about 96 elephants are killed illegally for their ivory. This is causing population declines across large swathes of the continent. A major challenge to halting the illegal ivory trade is the lack of effective law enforcement controls along the trade chain from Africa, through the transit states, and to the end consumer markets. Legal domestic ivory markets are an enforcement challenge and provide cover for laundering of ivory from elephants killed illegally in Africa. Once ivory is within a country’s borders, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish legal from illegal ivory. As long as demand for ivory remains high and enforcement efforts are low, the legal trade will continue to serve as a front and criminal syndicates will continue to drive elephant poaching across Africa. Today’s ban is a major step in ending this trade that currently threatens elephants with extinction across much of their range.”

The recent federal ivory ban enacted by the Obama Administration is an excellent first step in stopping trade into the U.S and between states. However, state moratoria are still needed to close loopholes not covered in the federal ban. Only through federal and state cooperation will we truly end the ivory trade in the U.S., which has one of the largest ivory markets in the world.

Recent efforts to weaken the federal ban by the anti-ivory ban groups make it more important than ever for states to stand up and show that there is broad based support for this effort across the country.

Wildlife Conservation Society|August 6, 2014

Read more at Wildlife Conservation Society.

Vaquita, the World’s Most Endangered Marine Mammal

The Vaquita is not only the world’s smallest cetacean, but also the most endangered marine mammal. Only about 100 of them remain and their population is decreasing at an astonishing rate of 18.5% per year.

The tiny vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) is found only in the shallow waters of the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. It is the most endangered of the 128 marine mammals alive in the world today. The Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita (International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita), an international team of scientists established by the government of Mexico and known by its Spanish acronym CIRVA, estimated about 200 vaquitas remaining in 2012. Since then, CIRVA believes that about half of them have been killed in gillnets, leaving fewer than 100 individuals today. Of these, fewer than 25 are likely to be reproductively mature females.

The vaquita, which means “little cow” in Spanish, is perilously close to extinction. In response to this, the Mexican government has taken a number of steps to protect them since 2004. They established a Vaquita Refuge in the northern Gulf of California to protect the core range of the vaquita, and initiated a plan of monetary compensation to fishermen who relied on this area to make their living. They also conducted, in collaboration with the U.S., a survey of vaquita abundance and established a program to monitor trends in vaquita abundance with acoustic recorders.

Report Of The Fifth Meeting Of The Comité Internacional Para La Recuperación De La Vaquita: “In the past three years, half of the vaquita population has been killed in fishing nets, many of them set illegally to capture an endangered fish. Fewer than 100 vaquitas remain and the species will soon be extinct unless drastic steps are taken immediately.”

Despite these efforts, the latest acoustic survey indicates that the decline in the vaquita population is accelerating. The rapid fall of the population is a direct result of rampant illegal trade in an endangered fish species, the totoaba, which is caught in gillnets that entangle vaquitas. The totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) is a large fish that grows to over six feet long and weighs up to 300 pounds. It is highly prized for its swim bladder, a gas-filled internal organ that allows the fish to ascend and descend by controlling its buoyancy. The swim bladder is highly prized as a traditional health food in China and is subject to skyrocketing demand. A single swim bladder can be sold on the black market for thousands of dollars. Thousands of them are dried and smuggled out of Mexico to China, often through the United States.

Gillnets are also the primary fishing method used to catch other fish and shrimp, which are sold both within Mexico and across the border in the U.S. During the shrimping season, about 435 miles of gillnets are set within the vaquita distribution every day, which is about 4.35 miles of gillnet per remaining vaquita. The shrimp in particular is an important export to American markets, which gives American consumers leverage to influence the Mexican government to remove all gillnets immediately.

CIRVA is calling on Mexico and the U.S. to work together to save the vaquita from extinction. If the mortality from fishing nets is not eliminated, the vaquita could vanish from the Earth as soon as 2018. The survival of the vaquita is heavily dependent upon implementing significant changes in the gear used by the fisheries within the Gulf of California.

The Marine Mammal Center|8/08/14

Wild & Weird

Mysterious, possibly radioactive lake appears out of the blue in Tunisia!

Tunisia offers other-worldly landscapes, fantastical and mysterious. Did you know that four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in the southern part of the country? (Tunisia had a starring role as the planet Tatooine). Now, adding to the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, the tiny republic has another tourist attraction – a newborn lake.

Discovered by shepherds just last month in the middle of Tunisian desert,  there has been no official explanation for its sudden appearance. Some geologists have proposed that seismic activity may have disrupted the natural water table, pushing water from underground aquifers to the surface.  Others disagree.

Authorities have calculated that the lake area exceeds one hectare, with depths ranging from 10 to 18 meters; that indicates a total water volume of one million cubic meters – liquid gold for the drought-ridden country.

Locally dubbed “Lac de Gafsa”, so far more than 600 people have traveled to the pool and a makeshift beach has grown along its shoreline.  Authorities have warned that the water, which began as a transparent turquoise until rapidly blooming algae turned it murky green, could be radioactive. That hasn’t deterred visitors who buck the 40°C  heat by swimming, diving, and floating atop inflatable rafts.

“Some say that it is a miracle, while others are calling it a curse,” journalist Lakhdar Souid told France 24.

Gafsa’s Office of Public Safety warned Tunisians that the water may be contaminated or even carcinogenic, yet no official ban on swimming has been put in place.

It’s complete with its own Facebook page!

“This lake is located in an area rich in phosphate deposits, which leave residue that is sometimes strongly radioactive,” Souid wrote in Tunisia Daily, “In the first few days, the water was a crystal clear, turquoise blue. Now it is green and full of algae. This means it is not being replenished and is conducive to disease.”

The Tunisian mining industry is based in the central Gafsa region, home to one of the planet’s largest phosphate mines. Tunisia is the world’s fifth largest exporter of the chemical, used in  the food preservative industry and agriculture.  Phosphate mining underpins the national economy, but it comes at the expense of the environment.

Phosphate byproducts are known toxins, yet according to news site DW, one factory in the coastal city of Gabes still channels 13,000 tons of the dangerous pollutant into the sea daily. Industrial pollution has led to the ecological destruction of the Gulf of Gabes, infusing coastal waters with phosphogypsum, a toxic, slightly radioactive byproduct of the phosphate refining process.

Hazardous emissions resulting from phosphate processing also cause acid rain, which transfers toxins to groundwater. According to the Association for the Protection of the Chatt Essalam Oasis, there is a correlated uptick in asthma, skin disorders, cancer, and birth defects in nearby communities.

By 2015, ammonia, nitrogen oxide and sulfur emissions will be required to comply with European standards. But, that could be too late for the people of Gabes and their surrounding environment.  So it’s ironic that earth would choose this moment to provide a new recreational watering hole – effectively telling Tunisians to “go jump in a lake”.

Laurie Balbo|Health| August 5, 2014

Elephants Under The Sea

Bumphead parrotfish are noisy feeders. They break off large branches of corals using their powerful beaks, grind them up in their bodies to extract nutrients, and expel the undigested material in large cloudy plumes of feces.

Their voracious feeding is, however, not just a loud, messy affair. During the course of their feeding, bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) also change the coral reef ecosystem in numerous ways, a new study published in Conservation Biology has found.

To understand how they influence the reef-ecosystem, Douglas McCauley from the University of California Santa Barbara and his colleagues, tracked five individual bumpheads at two remote locations in the Pacific Ocean, sometimes for up to six hours. Every time a fish took a bite, defecated or moved, they took note.

“We had to eat power bars and drink juice squeezes underwater in order not to lose the fish,” McCauley, lead author of the study, told mongabay.com.

With almost 30 hours of observations in hand, the researchers discovered that bumphead-coral interactions are a complex mix of positive and negative effects.

For instance, each bumphead gobbles up over two tons of living corals annually. Consequently, these reef-fish reduce the size, abundance, and diversity of the corals in the region. And, when the giant bumpheads defecate, their fecal plumes land on corals, coating them with carbonate sediments that can potentially stress corals.

But these “emerald-green, pink-nosed reef ogres,” as McCauley refers to them, also help the corals in several ways. One such way includes the dispersal of corals.

“This surprised us,” McCauley said. “Animal-aided dispersal is common on land (for example, birds and mammals disperse seeds), but extremely rare in the oceans.”

Each time a bumphead feeds, it yanks-off a coral branch, producing numerous coral fragments. As it swims around with the branch in its clumsy beak, some fragments fall onto the ocean floor.

“We estimated that about 14 fragments of living corals were produced every hour by a feeding bumphead,” said McCauley. “As it is with terrestrial seed dispersal, many of these fragments simply die. But we are certain that at least a small fraction of these dispersal coral pieces grow into new colonies.”

Bumpheads also reduce macroalgae (or seaweed), which can potentially outcompete corals.

Bumphead overall impacts, however, are not straightforward. Their effects depend on a number of factors such as their abundance, which in turn is determined by the presence of their predators—reef-sharks and humans.

Shreya Dasgupta|MONGABAY.COM|August 7, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, www.MONGABAY.COM

Marine noise impacts eels too!

Marine noise has been studied for it’s impact on whales, dolphins and other marine animals. Might it also impact smaller creatures too? Eels, for example.
Despite their reputation as slippery customers, a new study has shown that eels are losing the fight to survive when faced with marine noise pollution such as that of passing ships.

Scientists from the Universities of Exeter and Bristol found that fish exposed to playback of ship noise lose crucial responses to predator threats. The study, published today in the journal Global Change Biology, found European eels were 50 per cent less likely to respond to an ambush from a predator, while those that did had 25 per cent slower reaction times. Those that were pursued by a predator were caught more than twice as quickly when exposed to the noise.

Lead author Dr Steve Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology & Global Change at the University of Exeter, said: “Our findings demonstrate that acute acoustic events, such as the noise of a passing ship, may have serious impacts on animals with direct consequences for life-or-death behavioral responses. If these impacts affect whole populations then the endangered eel, which has seen a 90 per cent crash in abundance over the past 20 years due to climate change, may have one more problem to deal with as they cross busy coastal areas.”

To understand what may cause this loss of crucial anti-predator behaviour, the team also tested physiology and spatial behaviour, and found heightened stress levels (increased ventilation and metabolic rate) and reduced lateralized behaviour (right-left preferences) when eels were subjected to playback of ship noise.

Co-author Dr Andy Radford, Reader in Behavioral Ecology at the University of Bristol, said: “The fact that eels were affected physiologically and spatially suggests that other important functions may also be affected. We focused on anti-predator responses as, unlike impacts on movement or feeding, there is no way to compensate for being eaten after the disturbance goes away.”

Roger Greenway|ENN|August 7, 2014

Read more at Bristol University.

Everglades

Construction to start for C43/Caloosahatchee Reservoir in Oct. 

Phil Flood, SFWMD, announced start of construction in his review of the many projects happening and about to happen to manage water in the Caloosahatchee Basin at the annual dinner of the Audubon of Southwest Florida. The reservoir will provide a significant portion of the dry season water necessary to restore the fishery habitat in the upper estuary. Some 1000 acres of grass meadows in the upper Caloosahatchee estuary have been lost in recent decades. 

Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir Project Implementation Report (PIR) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) – See more at: http://www.evergladesplan.org/pm/projects/docs_04_c43_pir_final.aspx#sthash.2uQATVZg.dpuf

Caloosa Reservoir RECREATION FEATURES

The study area for the recreation benefit analysis for this project includes the counties of Lee, Collier, Hendry, Glades and portions of Charlotte county; approximately the same geographical extent as Region 9 of Florida Statewide

Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP).

Final Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir PIR and Final EIS November 2010

Addendums I and II in Recreation Appendix H demonstrate need for motor boat ramps. A statewide need assessment through 2010 identifies these deficits and the unit need for each (i.e. miles of trail and camp sites); is provided in SCORP 2000.

Some existing recreational facilities within the Caloosahatchee Basin provide opportunity to hike, boat, fish and camp. Existing recreation facilities near the project site include Ortona