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
South Florida Audubon Society is a Chapter of National Audubon and Florida Audubon.
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!
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Florida Wildflower Foundation
225 S. Swoope Ave., Suite 110
Maitland, FL 32751
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
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?!
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:
More information on the National Aquatic Resources Surveys is available at:
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.
Some of these compounds—for example, common salt, acetic acid and sodium carbonate—are routinely used in households worldwide.
But the researchers assembled a list of 190 of them, and considered their properties. For around one-third of them, there was very little data about health risks, and eight of them were toxic to mammals.
Fracking is a highly controversial technique, and has not been handed a clean bill of health by the scientific societies.
Seismologists have warned that such operations could possibly trigger earthquakes, and endocrinologists have warned that some of the chemicals used are known hormone-disruptors, and likely therefore to represent a health hazard if they get into well water.
Industry operators have countered that their techniques are safe, and involve innocent compounds frequently used, for instance, in making processed food and even ice cream.
But the precise cocktail of chemicals used by each operator is often an industrial secret, and the North Carolina legislature even considered a bill that would make it a felony to disclose details of the fracking fluid mixtures.
So the Lawrence Berkeley team began their research in the hope of settling some aspects of the dispute.
Dr Stringfellow explained: “The industrial side was saying, ‘We’re just using food additives, basically making ice cream here.’ On the other side, there’s talk about the injection of thousands of toxic chemicals. As scientists, we looked at the debate and asked, ‘What’s the real story?’”
The story that unfolded was that there could be some substance to claims from both the industry and the environmentalists. But there were also caveats. Eight substances were identified as toxins. And even innocent chemicals could represent a real hazard to the water supply.
“You can’t take a truckload of ice cream and dump it down a storm drain,” Dr Stringfellow said. “Even ice cream manufacturers have to treat dairy wastes, which are natural and biodegradable. They must break them down, rather than releasing them directly into the environment.
“There are a number of chemicals, like corrosion inhibitors and biocides in particular, that are being used in reasonably high concentrations that could potentially have adverse effects. Biocides, for example, are designed to kill bacteria—it’s not a benign material.”
Tim Radford|Climate News Network|August 19, 2014
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
Stop exploding trains – here
Tell the EPA- Fracking Chemicals Shouldn’t Be Secret – here
Tell Walmart Developer- Stop Building on Priceless Habitat – here
Tell EPA to Prevent a Mining Catastrophe in Alaska – here
Protect Brown Bear Habitat From Toxic Mining – here
Keep water on public lands in our rivers – here
Ban fishing of the Pacific bluefin tuna immediately – here
Tell Congress to protect tiger habitat – here
Tell McDonald’s to Go Deforestation-Free – here
Tell the USDA- No Apples Imported From China! – here
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 ecotour — Ecotourism 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
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
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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