At the opening of Everglades National Park – “Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as the source of water, but as the last receiver of it. To its natural abundance we owe the spectacular plant and animal life that distinguishes this place from all others in our country.” President Harry S. Truman
Ft. Lauderdale Beach Turtle Lighting Public Comment Meeting. Please attend the two public comments meetings, join our cause and sign our petition!
The city of Fort Lauderdale is positioning itself to weaken it’s current sea turtle lighting ordinance. Despite being Federally protected endangered species, 40% of all sea turtle hatchlings in Ft. Lauderdale go towards city lights instead of the sea, and are often killed in streets, driveways or go down storm drains just minutes after hatching. In 2012, STOP documented over 20,000 disoriented hatchlings in Broward County caused by improper coastal lighting!
STOP was formed 7 years ago to rescue hatchlings as an emergency measure to allow each municipality some time to fix lighting problems to comply with coastal lighting ordinances, not as a permanent solution and not so they could relax the ordinances further which will knowingly increase deaths of protected endangered species.
The work STOP volunteers do each night on the beach from dusk until dawn is unsustainable and very draining, both physically and emotionally. We do it because we know right from wrong. For the City to allow thousands of endangered sea turtle hatchlings to become disoriented by artificial lighting and be run over in the streets while they sleep is wrong.
While Ft. Lauderdale has made some improvements, we encourage them to keep it up and not go backwards! By Federal and State law, they must protect this ancient nesting habitat which we share with our endangered species neighbors. Correct and safe lighting for people and sea turtles is very achievable and has long been accomplished successfully in many coastal communities throughout Florida
Sea turtle friendly lighting is people friendly lighting…
Speak up if you agree that to knowingly allow the killing of sea turtle hatchlings is wrong. Demand that Ft. Lauderdale begin to enforce it’s 9 year old lighting ordinance and not weaken it as proposed, which is currently against Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission recommended guidelines.
Click here if you would like to sign the petition.
For the sea turtles and their habitats,
Sea Turtle Oversight Protection
Head of 16-county water district, Melissa Meeker, resigns without explanation. Melissa Meeker, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, resigned on Tuesday without explanation or a departure date.
In a single-page email sent Tuesday afternoon to Herschel T. Vinyard, Jr., Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, Rachel Cone, Director of Strategic Planning in the governor’s office and to district staff, Meeker said she wanted to fend off rumors about her leaving the district by announcing “firsthand” that she had given her notice of resignation to Daniel O’Keefe, the new chairman of the district’s governing board.
The district, headquartered in West Palm Beach, oversees water supply, flood control and restoration in the 16 counties between Orlando and Key West. In her two years as executive director, Meeker slashed the district’s $1 billion budget and more than 300 employees.
Her email, with the subject line “Moving Forward,” gave no reason for her departure or when she would leave office. District spokesman Randy Smith referred all questions to Gov. Rick Scott’s office, which released a statement attributed to Scott.
“Melissa Meeker has been a tremendous asset to the South Florida Water Management District and our state. Her leadership of the district, knowledge of the delicate South Florida ecosystem and excellent working relationships with local and federal partners were instrumental in helping us achieve a water quality plan that works for the Everglades. Thanks to her stewardship during the last two years, we are headed in the right direction for Everglades restoration and I wish her the very best in her next endeavor.”
Vinyard also released a statement complimenting Meeker on her tenure.
“Melissa’s intellect and leadership played a key role in Governor Scott’s historic progress in Everglades restoration. Her focus on the district’s mission of flood control, water quality, water quantity and natural resource protection was unsurpassed.”
As for when Meeker would leave, Jackie Schutz, the Governor’s press secretary replied: “That’s a question for the district.” According to Schutz, the Governing Board will evaluate candidates and select the next executive director. Neither O’Keefe nor Meeker returned a call for comment.
Despite rumors that Meeker had been looking for another job, her resignation came as a surprise to many.
“She has been an important factor at the district for implementing the governor’s plan to trim the size of the district and his water quality plan,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. “That’s one of the most difficult jobs in government. I don’t know how anyone could last a year in it.”
Meeker came to the district in June 2011, after her predecessor, Carol Wehle, suddenly resigned amid news reports that her boyfriend, an engineer, had been hired by the district’s inspector general for a $120,000 job as the district’s “engineering auditor.” An independent investigation cleared Wehle of any wrongdoing.
Meeker, hand-picked by Scott, was tasked with paring down the district. She re-tooled its management structure and cut benefits and salaries.
Her budget sliced in half and morale low, she also was buffeted by complaints of cronyism for the district’s no-bid land leasing policy and chummy relationships between top staff and owners of the businesses regulated by the district. Meeker also faced criticism for the district’s decision to award a former government board member and her former business partner, Harkley Thornton, a contract to erect billboards on water management district land. Amid a public uproar, the project was cancelled.
Last week, The Palm Beach Post reported that the district board approved offering the county $26 million for the Mecca Farms site, a vacant, 1,900-acre property near The Acreage, without being told about an appraisal that valued the land at between $14.8 million and $22.5 million. The board also was not told of a state policy that urges water management districts not to pay more than 90 percent of an appraised value for land. That deal, approved by the Palm Beach County Commission on Tuesday, awaits a final decision by the district.
Despite the criticism, Meeker wrote that she was glad “it was me who was here during this very challenging period for the agency.
“Although it certainly wasn’t easy, I am proud of the way staff rallied in the face of adversity, focused on solutions and refused to yield to cynicism,” she wrote. “Wherever I go, I will always carry the lesson of your professionalism and dedication.”
City of Fort Lauderdale Beach Area Lighting Restrictions Public Meetings
Monday, June 10, 2013, 6:30 PM – 8:30 p.m. Beach Community Center, 3351 NE 33rd Ave. (A1A & Oakland Park Blvd.) Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. International Swimming Hall of Fame, 501 Seabreeze Blvd. Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
The purpose of the public meetings is to review the City’s current beach area lighting ordinance as it pertains to sea turtles and obtain public input on proposed modifications recommended in the state’s model lighting ordinance for marine turtle protection.
Neighbors and concerned citizens of Broward County are encouraged to attend and provide input.
For questions, please contact the Office of Neighbor Support at 954-828-5289 or visit www.fortlauderdale.gov
Birds and Butterflies
Owl cams are up and running. Project Perch’s Kelly Heffernan and South Florida Audubon Society have been working with the Broward County Schools and James Currie of Birding Adventures to have an EarthCam installed so we could watch the Burrowing owls. The EarthCam and Birding Adventures 24/7 video feed is live and you can access it at http://www.owlslive.com and the owls have their own Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/burrowingowlcam.
Will you be the first one to see owlets emerge from the burrow? Peek in on the daily life of a Burrowing owl colony living at a school. While the children are away, watch the owls play! Catch them bringing back breakfast or dinner from the school’s edible garden or see them napping and hanging out during the busy school day.
This amazing partnership between EarthCam, Birding Adventures, SFAS, NatureScape Broward, Project Perch and the Broward County Schools allows the students to put the spotlight on their Burrowing Owls, a threatened species. They hope to raise awareness and increase protection efforts for Burrowing owls everywhere and want children everywhere to be able to watch them, like they can.
You are all invited to start watching with us. So please join us!
Lead poisoning responsible for 50% of California condor deaths last winter. Half of the California condor deaths that occurred over the winter in the Arizona-Utah population were caused by lead poisoning, a rate consistent with the entire condor population in California, Arizona, and Utah, according to The Peregrine Fund, an Idaho-based conservation organization.
Of the eight condors that died between December 2012 and February 2013:
Four died of lead poisoning
Two died of trauma possibly caused by a predator
Two were unrecoverable
Falcon chicks could make late appearance. “It’s been a tough season for condors,” said Chris Parish, director of The Peregrine Fund’s condor reintroduction project. “The good news is that we currently have as many as a half-dozen active nests and 72 birds flying free in the wild in Arizona and southern Utah, a true testament to the species’ resilience.”
Of the 54 necropsies performed since The Peregrine Fund began releasing condors to the wild in 1996, lead poisoning accounted for 50% of deaths, followed by predation at 30%, Parish said. This year, The Peregrine Fund’s field crew captured nearly all the condors in Arizona and Utah and discovered that 39% had toxic levels of lead in their blood. The birds were treated with chelation therapy, the same process used to eliminate lead from humans.
In response to the shifting pattern of condors now feeding extensively in southern Utah, the Southwest Condor Workgroup supports efforts by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to ramp up education and outreach efforts there. The Utah program resulted in nearly 50% voluntary hunter participation in the 2012-13 season — similar to the first year of Arizona’s effort in 2005 — but efforts are under way to increase awareness and participation in hopes of reducing the threat to condors of lead poisoning.
“We have come a long way since identifying lead poisoning as the primary cause of death for this reintroduced population,” Parish said. “If we are to achieve our goal of a self-sustaining population, we’re going to need more help. It has been my experience that when hunters find out what is happening, they are more than willing to join the effort.”
The recovery effort is a cooperative program by federal, state, and private partners, including The Peregrine Fund, Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Strip Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management, Grand Canyon and Zion national parks, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and Kaibab and Dixie national forests.
Peregrine falcon chicks could soon be chirping on the Blue Water Bridge — but they’re not visible yet.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan Department of Transportation employees leaned out over the bridge Tuesday morning to check for activity under Tonga’s nest. Tonga, a peregrine falcon, has called the bridge home since 2005. An unnamed male mate also has set up location at the bridge and has been with Tonga since 2007.
While no chicks have yet been spotted, Tonga’s behavior leads officials to believe a new brood is calling the bridge home.
Christine Becher, the MDNR southeast peregrine falcon nesting coordinator, said Tonga was sitting tight over her nest, which indicates the chicks are very small.
“The eggs hatched a little earlier last year, this year, they’re a little late,” Becher said. “The young are younger than we anticipated. It isn’t a cause for concern.”
It is unclear how many chicks there are, or their exact age.
The crew, which has closely looked over the falcons since they took up residence at the bridge, will check again next week. If the chicks are active, they will be branded and named.
Port Huron’s new chicks won’t stay in city once they’ve fledged.
“Those chicks will never come back here,” Barb Baldinger, DNR volunteer and photographer, said. “They’ll set up nest in another location … we’ll be giving the chicks names, and then soon they’ll be gone.”
Peregrine falcons are in the midst of a comeback, according to Nik Kalejs, a Michigan DNR biologist. There are now 30 nesting pairs in the state, Kalejs said.
“They’re listed under the endangered species list, and that speaks to how endangered they really are,” Kalejs said. “But they’re making a pretty good comeback.”
The peregrine population in the United States was decimated to near extinction by the use of the pesticide DDT, with no breeding pairs or even single adults found east of the Mississippi in 1964, according to the DNR website.
Since DDT was banned in 1972, peregrine falcon populations have rebounded.
SOUTH AMERICAN BIRD SPOTTED FOR FIRST TIME IN FLORIDA AT THE GTM RESEARCH RESERVE. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve documented a sighting of the Variegated Flycatcher bird (Empidonomus varius) Wednesday afternoon, June 5 near the Reserve’s Guana Dam, the first such viewing of the bird in Florida and less than five times in the United States.
Research shows the Variegated Flycatcher has never been seen before in Florida and less than 10 times in North America. The bird was spotted by volunteer Diane Reed and was last seen around 8 p.m. Wednesday night near the Reserve’s day-use bath house in between the Reserve’s Environmental Education Center and the Guana Dam. Reed reports that the bird was spotted above the dam dumpster on a power line.
This sighting is an American Birding Association Code 5, making it a very rare occurrence. Code 5 sightings indicate that the bird is an accidental to the area and has been reported less than five times in the ABA Area. The ABA area covers North America, north of Mexico. According to the Audubon Society, the Variegated Flycatcher’s range extends to Northern South America, east of the Andes. One subspecies of the flycatcher is a long-distance migrant, which occasionally seems to migrate past its usual range.
Missing butterfly search successful in Biscayne National Park. The fate of a species may rest upon a single butterfly captured in late May by University of Florida lepidopterists. A UF research technician netted a female Schaus swallowtail in Biscayne National Park on Elliott Key, the first capture of a female since a multi-agency work group got a permit to do so last year.
The Schaus population has declined so much that last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued UF an emergency permit to collect eggs. That effort ended without a single female sighting last summer but got off to a promising start this spring when the female was captured May 21. From her, field researchers collected a single egg, which she laid May 23 before being released the next day.
The larva that hatched was taken to Gainesville last week, where it will join several other Schaus swallowtail larvae collected from the Keys.
“This single female could help bring the Schaus back from the brink,” said Jaret Daniels, professor in UF’s Department of Entomology and Nematology and associate curator of Lepidoptera at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History. “The larva from her egg, combined with the other larvae we found in habitat preserved by Biscayne National Park, gives us the chance to help safeguard a portion of the remaining population.”
Pending discussions with the Service and other conservation partners, UF stands ready to start a breeding program.
The Schaus was once common throughout much of extreme south-eastern Florida. There are varying explanations for its decline, including drought, insecticides and habitat loss from development. It was federally listed as an endangered species in 1984. According to Biscayne National Park Superintendent Brian Carlstrom, “The undeveloped keys within Biscayne National Park provide a last refuge for the Schaus where pesticides are not sprayed and native host plants are both protected and restored.”
Because of its iconic status, the Schaus was once featured on a U.S. postage stamp. It’s considered the flagship species for the health of what’s known as tropical hardwood hammock habitat, the proverbial canary in the coal mine whose decline can sound a warning about the health of other species.
UF arguably saved the Schaus from extinction in 1992, when the Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission granted UF museum researchers permission to capture females to launch a breeding program in Gainesville. Then in August of that year, Hurricane Andrew nearly wiped out the wild population and temporarily destroyed most of its habitat. UF ultimately released thousands of lab-bred butterflies into the wild.
With the population again in peril, the Service, the National Park Service, FWC, the North American Butterfly Association and UF agreed in 2010 to cooperate on intensive population surveys. The Service is providing $32,000 to fund the search for the Schaus. The NPS is providing boat transportation and housing for researchers, along with technicians to assist with finding butterflies. The Ocean Reef Conservation Association donated a golf cart through the South Florida National Parks Trust to transport researchers on the island. FWC is also providing scientific support.
Last year, field crews found four butterflies, but no females after the capture permit was issued. The recent capture was the first to result from a search that began in mid-April.
“This is a breakthrough,” said Mark Salvato, a Service biologist. “We’re backing the efforts of UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History because it has the expertise to manage such a delicate operation and because of its long commitment to saving the Schaus.”
While the partners agree that finding one female and several larvae doesn’t put concerns about this species’ survivability to rest, the discoveries merit some relief and hope.
“Kudos to the University of Florida team that found her and is nurturing the larvae,” said Larry Williams, the Service’s Florida state supervisor for ecological services. “But our work is ongoing. We’re going to keep searching as long as we can. The despair we felt last year has been replaced by hope.”
An all-new BirdWatchingDaily.com. It’s faster, more fun, more flexible, and a whole lot more user-friendly — it’s our new website. Please take a look! But remember: The username and login you used on the old site won’t work on the new one. We’re on different fileservers, using a different content-management system, so even if you’ve been a member of BirdWatchingDaily.com for years, we have to ask you to join our online community again, if you haven’t already done so. We apologize for this inconvenience but think it will be worth it.
Lawsuit Filed to Protect Big Cypress and Florida Panthers from Off-road Vehicles In an effort to reduce damaging off-road vehicle use in Big Cypress National Preserve, conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the National Park Service for failing to protect Florida panthers and other imperiled species. The suit asserts that the Park Service violated the Endangered Species Act as well as the preserve’s own Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan by designating hundreds of miles of new trails for off-road vehicle use across two units of the preserve.
“Big Cypress is prime habitat for the Florida panther, and protection of big open spaces where animals like panthers can roam undisturbed is the primary purpose of the preserve,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As Floridians, we have an obligation to keep places like this protected for our wildlife.”
The 720,000 acre Big Cypress National Preserve, located just north of the Everglades National Park, was established by Congress as the first national preserve in our nation’s history to protect the natural, scenic, hydrologic, floral, faunal and recreational values of the watershed, including panthers. To that end, Congress stressed that public use would come second to maintaining this fragile and unique natural landscape.
In July 2012, a federal judge ruled that the Park Service’s major expansion of ORV trails in the preserve’s Bear Island Unit violated environmental laws and the Park Service’s management plan for ORVs in the preserve, and set aside the unauthorized increase in trails. This litigation would secure similar protections for endangered and threatened species such as the Florida panther and eastern indigo snake, as well as fragile wetlands and rare and endemic plants in the Corn Dance and Turner River units.
“Big Cypress is one of the most important sanctuaries for Florida panthers.” said Alexis Meyer, Sierra Club’s associate organizing representative. “The addition of hundreds of miles of trails for motorized recreational vehicles not only poses a threat to panthers, but also degrades the habitat of many plant and animal species.”
“NPS acknowledges that off-road vehicle use in the Big Cypress is a high-impact recreational activity which damages soils and plants, changes hydrology, leads to the spread of invasive plant species, fragments habitat, disturbs wildlife, and degrades the experience of the preserve for the many non-motorized visitors,” said Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association. “The purpose of the preserve’s Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan is to allow for continued motorized recreational use in the preserve — but only on a specified mileage of designated trails.”
“With the opening of these trails in Big Cypress, the Park Service has failed to protect valuable and sensitive resources of the preserve from off-road vehicle damage, failed to appropriately involve the public in its management decisions, and failed to comply with the preserve’s management direction.” said Sarah Peters, a staff attorney with Wildlands CPR.
The Park Service issued the ORV plan in 2000 following years of advocacy by environmentalists for transition from dispersed use — which had created 23,000 miles of trails throughout the preserve — to a sustainable system of designated trails. The plan drastically reduced the extensive network of trails that had been created. But in defiance of that plan, the Park Service has now increased the miles of trails where ORVs may go in the Corn Dance and Turner River units by nearly 100 percent and 60 percent respectively.
The conservation groups are represented by the Washington, D.C. public interest environmental law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places.
South Florida Wildlands Association is a Florida nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of habitat and wilderness in the Greater Everglades.
Wildlands CPR is a national nonprofit that revives and protects wild places by promoting watershed restoration to improve fish and wildlife habitat, provide clean water and enhance community economies. We focus on reclaiming ecologically damaging, unneeded roads and on stopping off-road vehicle abuse of public lands.
Florida panther orphan enjoys freedom. A 2-year-old Florida male panther released in April is doing all the things a young panther should do: hunt and kill, eat, roam the wilds, stay away from other panthers.
Those are all good signs for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists, who rescued the panther, along with a sister, after their mother (Panther 188) was hit by a vehicle and died in Collier County two years ago.
Panther 223 weighed 123 pounds when he was released at the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area in Palm Beach County on April 3. Releasing a rehabilitated panther is a rare event because most panthers that end up at FWC facilities have been killed in a vehicle collision. Most of the panthers die at the scene, although some live several hours to a few days.
“He spent the first week or so at the release site,” said FWC lead panther biologist Darrell Land, “Within that first week he killed a coyote and an armadillo. Then after the first week he went to the north and west.”
Land said the male has likely encountered other panthers on his journey, which includes several counties and tens of thousands of acres of wild lands and farm fields. He’s now staying close to the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest in an area known as Devil’s Garden.
“We’re encouraged because he keeps moving, he’s not hunkering down somewhere and hiding,” Land said. “That may even give him a survival advantage because he may not try to defend a particular area. He may just be willing to move on.”
Males are aggressive and will kill smaller, younger rivals on sight. This seemingly extreme interaction is a way of insuring that males don’t end up breeding with their mothers, sisters or daughters.
Panther support groups have also kept up with 223, which has a GPS collar that keeps constant track of his whereabouts.
“I think it gives us great insight into the habitat they cover,” said Nancy Payton with the Florida Wildlife Federation. “They’re wide-ranging habits also gives us an indication of where they’re going and what links are important for panther travel. It tells us how he got from the east coast to the west coast and what we need to enhance and protect those corridors.”
Victory for Wild Florida’s Endangered Manatees. Big thanks to the Center for Biological Diversity’s dedicated supporters in Florida, who can claim partial credit for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision last week to deny a permit to a destructive dredging project in the Tampa Bay area that would have needlessly harmed 4 acres of wetlands and 29 acres of important seagrass habitat.
The Center and allies had generated 40,000 signatures opposed to the damaging SunWest development, and the Corps’ denial of the permit — which it said would be “contrary to the public interest” for a host of environmental, economic and safety reasons — will spare seagrass beds that provide nurseries for fish, shellfish and crustaceans and a bayou that supports endangered manatees and other unique Florida species.
“Thanks to the hard, honest work of dedicated scientists and government employees, Fillman’s Bayou will remain the prized gem of Pasco County, and dolphins and manatees will continue to thrive in its waters,” said the Center’s St. Petersburg-based attorney Jacki Lopez.
Wolves Stripped of Protection — Don’t let it happen. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its stripping federal protection from virtually all wolves in the United States. In other words, it’s gutting 40 years of wolf conservation and recovery — even though wolves are still absent from the Northeast, California, and most of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest
Without federal protections, wolves get killed. More than 1,600 have been slaughtered since federal protection was removed in the Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountains. Trophy hunts, leg traps, free-for-all shootings, extended “hunting” seasons — all of these kill methods have been promoted as wolf “management” by states.
The Center for Biological Diversity’s legal team has to get into court right away to stop this terrible plan. Please help us with an emergency gift to our Wolf Defense Fund.
Because this is such an emergency, a generous member who’s devoted to wolves has offered to match all donations made by June 16. Your gift will go twice as far, so please help today if you can.
The Center’s legal team has a great track record of saving wolves. We’ve overturned illegal wolf killing decisions in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Wolves in Oregon today are protected by a court injunction won by the Center. But this will be the biggest wolf case yet, and we need your help to win it.
The entire U.S. wolf recovery program is at stake. If this decision stands, wolves will never be reintroduced to California, the Northeast or the southern Rocky Mountains. Killing of the small population in Oregon and Washington will ramp up, preventing it from ever recovering. Make no mistake: Despite the government’s warm and fuzzy PR spin, this decision is about ending wolf recovery in the United States once and for all.
Our team of scientists, lawyers and activists has been preparing for this terrible decision, and now — with your help — they’ll begin the biggest legal battle of the decade.
New hope for Cook Inlet belugas. A federal judge has ruled in our favor that the Obama Administration violated the law — three different laws, in fact — when it authorized the Apache Alaska Corporation to use deafening seismic airguns to search for oil and gas in Cook Inlet, threatening the survival of its last 312 beluga whales.
The ruling is a crucial step forward in our campaign to protect these rare white whales, which are threatened not only by oil and gas companies but by the proposed Pebble Mine as well.
And it’s an exciting win for you, too! You have stood with us every step of the way, deluging the Obama Administration with pro-beluga petitions and supporting our battle in federal court.
That court has now stated that the National Marine Fisheries Service gave Apache Alaska a green light by systematically undercounting the toll that seismic airguns would take on belugas.
The explosive noise from seismic airguns can deafen, injure and even kill whales. Apache’s sonic blasts will repeat every 10 to 12 seconds — and could go on for years.
The Fisheries Service predicted that Apache’s airguns would harm at least 30 belugas during its first year of operations alone — a staggering number that the court now says was clearly underestimated.
But make no mistake: while the court’s decision is an essential first step in the right direction, this fight is far from over.
The court’s ruling backs up our charge that the Obama Administration was too quick to sacrifice whales to Big Oil — but it does not shut down Apache’s operation. To do that, we will need to build on this victory by escalating our campaign – and, possibly, returning to federal court.
Natural Resources Defense Council
10 Animals We Thought Were Extinct But Aren’t
Earlier this week, Israeli, German, and French researchers announced that they spotted the Hula painted frog, a frog that was previously classified as extinct. This is a remarkable find, but by no means the first. Species have disappeared in the past, only to reappear when we least expect them.
This is perhaps the best known of all the formerly-extinct creatures. We thought the objectively terrifying coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) went extinct 65 million years ago, until a South African museum curator discovered a specimen on a fishing trawler in 1938. There are two known species: one that lives off the coast of the eastern coast of Africa and one that lives off the coast of Indonesia. The fact that we know about them at all is kind of amazing. They are not easy to find. They can live up to 2,300 feet below the water’s surface. They are, however, pretty huge. Like, as big as a person. They can grow up to six and a half feet and weigh almost 200 pounds. Some scientists think coelacanths represent an evolutionary step between sea and land animals.
These little guys were only discovered alive in 2006, so not much is known. This nocturnal genus of ant was thought to have died out between 15 and 20 million years ago. A species of Gracilidris has been found in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil and lives in small underground colonies.
3. Giant Palouse Earthworm
This albino macro-invertebrate is found in eastern Washington state and part of Idaho, which is why it’s also called the Washington giant earthworm. We thought it was extinct in the 1980s, but recently that’s been proven false. Two specimens were recovered in 2010; prior to that the most recent sighting was in 2005. There have been reports that this worm can get up to three feet long, but nothing confirmed. The most common length is probably about a foot. But holy cow! A foot-long earthworm!
4. Terror Skink
One of the best common names in the animal kingdom, this rare reptile was thought to be extinct until 2003. And no wonder; it’s only found in the Isle of Pines. Before being photographed, filmed and released by specialists at the French National Museum of Natural History, the skink was only known by one specimen.
5. The Nelson
The name of this tiny shrew may be weirdly anthropomorphized, but for the past century or so it hasn’t been too keen on making itself known. These little guys were discovered in 1894…and weren’t seen again for 109 years. That is, until two scientists decided to look for them. These four-inch-long creatures were rediscovered on the slopes of the San Martín Tuxtla volcano in Mexico. I do encourage you to browse some photos. It’s a pretty adorable animal.
6. Arakan Forest Turtle
Prior to its rediscovery in 1994, the Arakan Forest Turtle had last been seen in 1908. In a way, it’s not surprising they stayed hidden for so long. They like to hide in forest floor debris in western Myanmar. But they couldn’t hide forever, and in 1994 a couple of specimens turned up in Asian food markets. Despite being critically endangered, the Arakan Forest Turtle is still traded by pet dealers.
7. Javan Elephant
The story of how this comparatively small elephant is became de-extinct is pretty cool. Scientists thought the Javan elephant went extinct not long after Europeans came to southeast Asia. However, it looks like a ceremonial elephant trade centuries ago saved the Javan elephant from the fate of the dodo. Locals believed that the Sultan of Sulu (which is now part of the Philippines) transplanted elephants from Java to Borneo, which wouldn’t have been uncommon at the time. In 2003, a study concluded that the Borneo pygmy elephant are genetically distinct from other Asian elephants and likely originated on Java. This seems to be one instance when the trade of animals may have actually saved the species from extinction.
8. Lord Howe Island Stick Insect
This giant, terrifying insect is also called the tree lobster, which means it wins for best common name in the animal kingdom (sorry terror skink). And do they ever have a harrowing story of survival. Tree lobsters used to be wildly common on Lord Howe Island off the coast of New South Wales. Like, you couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into one. But this all changed in the 1880s and the first two decades of the 1900s when mice and rats, respectively, were introduced to the island. By 1920 you couldn’t find a tree lobster if you tried, and by 1960 they were considered extinct. However, you can’t keep a good insect down. There were rumors of a tree lobster population on the nearby island of Ball’s Pyramid, which is basically just a shear cliff jutting out of the ocean. In 2001, a team of intrepid scientists decided to brave the cliffs to try to prove that the insect was, indeed, extinct. Boy, where they wrong! Instead, they found a population of 24 tree lobsters. It’s thought that they floated to the island as discarded bait, or where carried by birds. However they got there, they survived, and there are efforts underway to reintroduce them to their natural habitat.
This is one of those flightless birds native to New Zealand. They were considered extinct in 1898 after four specimens were killed and mounted for museums. Gross, right? But never fear! In 1948 the bird was rediscovered near Lake Te Anau. Even though they were once abundant, there are now only a few hundred.
10. Cuban Solenodon
Oof, this is kind of an ugly creature. But don’t say that to its face; its saliva is venomous. So I guess it might be just as well that we’ve only managed to catch 37 specimens since its discovery in 1861. As you may guess from its name, it’s native to Cuba. By 1970 we thought this nocturnal burrowing animal was extinct since none had been spotted in 80 years. That assumption was premature, however, because three specimens were captured from 1973-74. The most recent find was in 2003 when one was captured, named Alejandrito, studied and released back into the wild.
Everglades and Water Quality Issues
State, federal agencies steering $7.5 million to St. Johns River cleanup; money is aimed at controlling algae blooms. About $7.5 million in state and federal money is being earmarked to help clean water flowing into the St. Johns River from farm areas near Palatka, state Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard said Thursday.
The money is in addition to $7 million for helping the St. Johns that Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, shepherded into the state budget.
The work announced Thursday is meant to shrink levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the river, cutting off nourishment for algae blooms that can choke downstream areas including Jacksonville during summer months.
A large bloom that developed this spring near Tocoi in St. Johns County added urgency to the effort.
“It was a bit of a surprise, because we had been seeing significant levels of improvement,” Vinyard said. “We started to dig in, figuring out how we can help reduce the chances that this would happen again.”
The biggest single chunk of the money is in the 2014 budget that Gov. Rick Scott signed last week. That contained $3.5 million for a model water treatment project that uses wetlands around Deep Creek in St. Johns County. A half-dozen similar projects around Lake Okeechobee have shown dramatic effects, but this is the first example in Northeast Florida.
DEP also committed $3 million left over from earlier budgets into a project to help farmers in abutting areas of St. Johns, Putnam and Flagler counties use less water and less fertilizer through better farming techniques.
Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture each contributed $500,000 to that effort, which is expected to reduce algae-feeding pollutants by cutting the amount of fertilizer flowing into the river.
State agriculture officials have been trying for about five years to develop contacts with farmers in the tri-county area and have 13 farms signed up for the new project, said Richard Budell, director of agricultural water policy for the state agriculture agency.
“We kind of took the responsibility to try to build a little better relationship between the grower, our agency, DEP and the [St. Johns River] Water Management District,” Budell said.
In addition to the Deep Creek project, other storm water treatment projects managed by county officials clean water flowing off several square miles of farmland.
Efforts to reduce water pollution from farming are part of an overall effort to improve the river’s water quality in Northeast Florida. After about five years of that effort, the region has reached 90 percent of the long-term nitrogen reductions that had been envisioned and 93 percent of the phosphorous cuts that had been sought, state officials said.
Senator Joe Negron wants another $30 million for Everglades restoration. Budget chief Sen. Joe Negron said Wednesday he wants another $30 million for Everglades restoration in Florida’s 2014-15 budget, adding to the $70 million for the River of Grass in next year’s spending plan.
“Let’s go to $100 million, what do you think?” Negron said during a forum at The Press Journal.
At the same event on the Indian River Lagoon, Sen. Thad Altman promised to push for Florida Forever, the state’s land-buying preservation program, to reach its full funding level for the first time since 2008.
The program regularly received $300 million until 2009. Next year’s budget has $20 million with the ability to tap another $50 million from potential state land transfers. That amount was an improvement.
“That provides the revenue source to acquire those lands,” Altman said. “Most of the water that affects the lagoon comes off the land.”
At the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers Indian River Lagoon Forum at The Press Journal, state lawmakers and one environmental advocate talked about potential impacts of septic tanks, fertilizer runoff, pumping out boats and more on the lagoon. But the consensus was that it’s a combination of factors likely harming the lagoon and killing seagrass, which impacts wildlife up and down the food chain.
“We are dumping waste into the lagoon,” Altman said. “God did not create the Indian River Lagoon to be a toilet.”
The lawmakers on hand were: Negron, Altman and Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach. Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society, also joined the panel. About 60 members of the public attended.
This story will be updated
Wildlife and Habitat
Our nation’s plants, fish, and wildlife are already facing a climate crisis. Pine trees in the Rocky Mountains are being jeopardized by beetle infestations, while new forests are encroaching on the Alaskan tundra. East coast beaches and marshes are succumbing to rising seas, especially in places where development prevents their natural landward migration. Polar bears, seals, and walrus are struggling to survive in a world of dwindling sea ice, which is their required habitat. Birds and butterflies have had to shift their breeding season and the timing of their seasonal migrations.
Fish are dying by the thousands during intense and lengthy droughts and heat waves. Many plant and wildlife species are shifting their entire ranges to colder locales, in many cases two- to three-times faster than scientists anticipated.
Without significant new steps to reduce carbon pollution, our planet will warm by 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with devastating consequences for wildlife. America must be a leader in taking swift, significant action to reduce pollution and restore the ability of farms, forests, and other natural lands to absorb and store carbon. This means rapidly deploying clean, renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and sustainable bioenergy, while curbing the use of dirty energy reserves. And it means reducing the carbon pollution from smokestacks that is driving the climate change harming wildlife.
Wildlife conservation requires preparing for and managing climate change impacts.
Because of the warming already underway and the time it will take to transform our energy systems, we will be unable to avoid many of the impacts of climate change. Our approaches to wildlife conservation and natural resource management need to account for the new challenges posed by climate change. We must embrace forward- looking goals, take steps to make our ecosystems more resilient, and ensure that species are able to shift ranges in response to changing conditions. At the same time, we need to protect our communities from climate-fueled weather extremes by making smarter development investments, especially those that employ the natural benefits of resilient ecosystems.
Only by confronting the climate crisis can we sustain our conservation legacy.
The challenges that climate change poses for wildlife and people are daunting. Fortunately, we know what’s causing these changes and we know what needs to be done to chart a better course for the future. As we begin to see whole ecosystems transform before our very eyes, it is clear that we have no time to waste.
The National Wildlife Federation report covers eight regions of the U.S., from the Arctic to the Atlantic coast, and details concrete examples of wildlife struggling to adapt to the climate crisis:
•A recent study looked at 305 species of birds in North America and found that of those, more than half (177) have expanded their range northward by an average of 35 miles in the past four decades.
•Climate change is creating conditions fueling more mega-wildfires, which are having devastating impacts on fish and wildlife habitats and are putting people and property in harm’s way.
•Alaska has warmed about twice as much as the continental United States and warming is severely altering the Arctic landscape including melting permafrost. In the face of this unprecedented warming, many uniquely polar habitats-like the sea ice that polar bears, seals, and walrus require to hunt-are shrinking fast.
•As superstorm Sandy demonstrated, extreme weather fueled by climate change can turn coastal habitats upside down. Of the 72 National Wildlife Refuges along the Atlantic coast, 35 were temporarily closed because of the storm’s devastation, not to mention the widespread destruction of property and infrastructure.
The report recommends a four-pronged attack to confront the climate crisis’ threats to wildlife and communities:
1. Address the underlying cause and cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030.
2. Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels while avoiding dirty energy choices like coal and tar sands oil.
3. Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation.
4. Help communities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather, and more severe droughts.
“We know what’s causing the climate changes Americans are seeing in their own backyards and we have the solutions to secure our climate and safeguard our wildlife for future generations,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “What we need is the political leadership to make smart energy choices and wise investments in protecting our natural resources. We can’t leave this problem for our children and grandchildren to fix – they’ll judge us based on what we do now.”
Click here to see some amazing photos of Giant Pandas and other area wildlife
Global Warming and Climate Change
Climate Study Predicts Staggering Habitat Loss by 2080 As carbon dioxide levels in the world’s atmosphere swiftly approach 400 parts per million, a new study in Nature Climate Change says that by 2080, global warming will make more than half of existing habitat for 6 out of 10 plants uninhabitable and do the same for about a third of animal species. But there’s still hope: Immediate, strong action to reduce emissions could cut these losses by 60 percent, the study says.
The 400 parts-per-million mark, which carbon levels will likely hit and surpass in the coming weeks, is a crystal-clear sign that greenhouse gas pollution from human sources continues on a steep upward trajectory. “Alarm bells are going off all around the world that our climate is moving in a very dangerous direction,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Ignoring these signs isn’t just irresponsible, it’s immoral.”
More than 50 cities have now joined the Center’s Clean Air Cities campaign, urging President Obama and the EPA to address the climate crisis through the Clean Air Act’s science-based programs.
Offshore & Ocean
Ships will change routes to avoid Blue whales. In September 2007, four Blue whales were found dead in a few weeks off California, and at least two Blue whales were killed by ship strikes in 2009. Now, to avoid some of the damage caused by the massive ships that ply their trade off the California coast, new shipping lanes have been created.
The new lanes will affect ships sailing in and out of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara Channel and Long Beach.
About 3,000 of the world’s 12,000 blue whales live off the west coast of the Americas. Blue, Fin (The second largest in the world) and Humpback whales migrate to the coast of California to feed on huge swarms of krill.
Mercury levels in sharks worrying researchers. High levels of mercury are being found in fish along the Gulf of Mexico. A study looking into the problem has been going on for decades; but levels are getting higher and researchers say sharks maybe key to finding a solution – a solution they say can be helpful for both sharks and humans.
It’s a rainy day; the boat heading about five miles out. The waters are getting deeper, hitting 30 feet; out in the open water is where hooks begin to dig in.
“You want to hook?” asks a crew member.
The bait is helping to lure the sharks; they should already be in the area chum has been sitting below the water for a day.
The crew pulls one buoy up; it’s filled up with dead fish. An overwhelming smell pours on the boat as they toss the buoy and chum down.
“It smells good today,” the crew jokes.
In all 10 research buoys are now floating. It’s time to wait but not too long. The boat swings back around and the buoy is pulled in; the crew scores.
“It’s a black nose,” they yell.
The small shark is measured; it’s 80-something inches long.
Then researchers draw samples of blood tissue and they take a clip of the fin. The crew already has nearly 80 sharks tagged in the waters.
While the process can look violent, the researchers are doing all they can to be as gentle as possible. It’s why they use yo-yos and pull the sharks in by hand.
They also pump water through the gills providing the shark with oxygen while it’s out of the water.
“We don’t want to tag a shark and harm it at the same time,” say FGCU Professor Darren Rumbold. “We are very careful about getting them on and off the boat quickly.”
All of the samples taken from the shark read into their day-to-day lives. The blood shows what the shark has eaten recently. The tissue reveals its monthly diet and the tip is the most important; it shows what the shark has eaten overtime.
The research project is looking for poison seeping into the water because it’s building up inside the sharks.
“We have a significant mercury problem in Florida and in the Gulf region itself,” explains Rumbold.
In a matter of minutes the crew catches another shark; this time it’s a black tip. Researchers say the mercury building up in the sharks is changing their behavior and it’s leaving the apex predator vulnerable.
The poison is not just affecting sharks, but humans too. Sharks eat fish and so do we—eating to many can cause a toxic build up in both.
“People who eat fish quite a bit—maybe 18 to 20 meals a week—are those we have actually seen it manifesting in. The people will start to have problems walking and tend to have headaches or a hangover type feeling,” describes Rumbold.
High levels of mercury have put 60 fish species on the “do not eat” list. It protects our health but sharks eat what’s in their path. It’s why researchers are following them.
In Tuesday’s catch, the researchers attempted 30 catches. They even let us in on the action, but when things got tough we handed the lines back to the experts.
“It’s a nurse. It’s a big nurse,” yells the crew.
A nurse shark’s skin is too thick to tag so no samples were taken and the shark was thrown back.
The project will continue for the next few month and then researcher Darren Rumbold will share the results at an international conference in just a few months.
“It’s [mercury] coming from atmospheric deposition, coal fire, boilers, generating plants, incinerators—that sort of thing,” he said.
Florida panthers are also being tested for mercury. Researchers are finding even higher levels of the poison in panthers as compared to sharks.
Both findings will be presented at the International Mercury Conference in Scotland in August.
The Indian River Lagoon: An estuary in distressThe Indian River Lagoon is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida’s east coast. Spanning 156 miles from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County, the lagoon is an important commercial and recreational fishery and economic resource to the state and region. The total estimated annual economic value of the lagoon is $3.7 billion, supporting 15,000 full and part-time jobs and providing recreational opportunities for 11 million people per year.
The people attracted to the lagoon by its features – its vast diversity of marine life, plants and animals; temperate climates; accessibility and direct links to the Atlantic Ocean – have changed those characteristics over the last century and particularly within the last 50 years. Throughout recorded history, there have been fish kills, algal blooms and changes in water quality. The lagoon has had a natural capability to absorb a certain amount of pollutants. However, when overloaded, the lagoon suffers.
In spring 2011, an algal “superbloom” occurred in the portion of the system known as Banana River Lagoon and eventually spread into northern Indian River Lagoon and farther north into the Mosquito Lagoon (see map). The immense bloom covered approximately 130,000 acres and led to a noticeable reduction in w ater quality. Concurrently, a lesser bloom extended from just north of Melbourne south to the Vero Beach-Fort Pierce area.
By August 2011, approximately 32,000 acres of seagrasses were gone, a loss of about 44 percent. A year later, a brown tide bloom began in the Mosquito Lagoon and moved into the northern Indian River Lagoon near Titusville. These blooms and the resulting seagrass decline far exceeded any documented or remembered events in terms of geographic scale, bloom intensity and duration.
The magnitude of the seagrass loss is alarming because seagrass is:
•An indicator of the lagoon’s health
•A food source for manatees
•A nursery, refuge and a place of forage for a variety of fish and other marine life
Compounding concerns are the mounting losses of manatees and pelicans since July 2012 and bottlenose dolphins since Jan. 1, 2013. State biologists are investigating the deaths of more than 80 manatees, more than 200 pelicans and more than 20 bottlenose dolphins to determine whether there is a link to the blooms or the loss of seagrass.
In economic terms, the 2011 seagrass loss represents a potential reduction of $150 million to $320 million in commercial and recreational fisheries value in 2012.
Following years of positive trends – including the expansion of seagrass coverage – the lagoon is at a turning point. The coming months could herald a slow recovery of this unique ecosystem or a continued decline. Scientists, biologists and specialists are redoubling their efforts to determine strategies for improving the long-term health of this waterway.
Why did the superbloom occur? Many factors were in play, elements that may have contributed to a “perfect storm” of sorts. Preceding the blooms, long-term droughts had increased salinities in the lagoon and extremely low water temperatures occurred during the winters of 2010 and 2011. These extreme climatic events in conjunction with chronic, decades-long nutrient enrichment may have favored certain algae species that had previously never reached bloom proportions. While no single factor explains the superbloom, it is likely that these and other events contributed.
The St. Johns River Water Management District, Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, federal and state agencies, local governments and educational institutions are individually and collectively working to find answers to the cause of the superbloom and to identify what, if anything, can be done in the future to limit or avoid a similar event. The various partners are investigating the possible causes of the blooms and developing strategies to reduce their magnitude, duration and frequency. Chief among this work are the Indian River Lagoon 2011 Consortium and the District’s Indian River Lagoon Protection Initiative. The Initiative is being developed to better understand the sources, cycling and transport of lagoon nutrients and the long-term impacts from the loss of the lagoon’s seagrasses, as well as potential strategies aimed at restoring the lagoon to a seagrass-dominated ecosystem.
The current work builds on years of collaborative research and projects that have included:
•Cost-share stormwater projects that capture sediments before they reach the lagoon
•Large regional projects that include dredging muck from major tributaries in the lagoon
•Coastal wetland restoration projects
•Water quality and sediment studies by several state agencies and educational institutions
•Seagrass mapping and monitoring by the St. Johns River Water Management District
•Water quality monitoring by the St. Johns River Water Management District
•Monitoring of fish populations by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
Three years after BP oil spill, USF research finds massive die-off. The oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon disaster three years ago killed off millions of amoeba-like creatures that form the basis of the gulf’s aquatic food chain, according to scientists at the University of South Florida.
The die-off of tiny foraminifera stretched through the mile-deep DeSoto Canyon and beyond, following the path of an underwater plume of oil that snaked out from the wellhead, said David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer with USF.
The discovery by USF scientists marks yet another sign that damage from the disaster is still being revealed as its third anniversary looms. Although initially some pundits said the spill wasn’t as bad as everyone feared, further scientific research has found that corals in the gulf died. Anglers hauled in fish with tattered fins and strange lesions. And dolphins continue dying.
The full implications of the die-off are yet to be seen. The foraminifera are consumed by clams and other creatures, who then provide food for the next step in the food chain, including the types of fish found with lesions. Because of the size of the spill, the way it was handled and the lack of baseline science in the gulf, there’s little previous research to predict long-term effects.
The disaster began with a fiery explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig on April 20, 2010. It held the nation spellbound for months as BP struggled to stop the oil, but the spill has largely faded from national headlines. The oil is still there, though.
Weathered particles of oil from Deepwater Horizon are buried in the sediment in the gulf bottom and could be there for as much as a century.
“These are not going away any time soon,” Hollander said.
USF researchers dug up core samples from the gulf bottom in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and they plan to return this year and next to compare what they found. Their examination uncovered the massive die-off, according to researcher Patrick Schwing. They also noted an absence of microscopic worms that are normally seen in those areas. The researchers could not estimate how many square miles the die-off covered.
In the core samples, they could see that most of the grayish sediment on the bottom built up gradually over centuries, said Isabel Romero, a researcher working with Hollander. But on top they found a large, dark clump of sediment from the time of the 2010 disaster. The amount registered as 300 times the normal amount of oil-based particles found on the bottom.
The oil in the sediment samples definitely came from the 2010 disaster, Hollander said. The substance bears the same chemical signature as Deepwater Horizon oil.
That’s also the chemical signature of the substance that has clogged the livers of red snapper and other fish found with lesions. The fish livers were trying to screen out the impurities but could not cope with the quantities, he said.
“We’re seeing lots of connections with fish diseases,” Hollander said. “We’re seeing compromised immune systems.”
The diseased fish began turning up a few months after BP was able to shut off the flow of oil in July 2010. The discovery of fish with lesions faded out the following year, said Steve Murawski, a USF fisheries biologist who has overseen a project that examined 7,000 fish caught in the gulf.
Scientists are now looking for more subtle effects in red snapper, such as reductions in the number of large fish and a decline in the total population, Murawski said. They are looking for any genetic mutations, too, he said.
“If they get sick, that’s one thing,” Murawski said. “But if it changed their genes so that they’re less resistant to disease or have lower weights, that’s a big deal. That would be a real game-changer if true.”
BP spokesman Craig Savage said, “No company has done more, faster to respond to an industrial accident than BP did in response to the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010. As a result of our $14 billion cleanup effort, BP-funded early restoration projects as well as natural recovery processes, the gulf is returning to its baseline condition — the condition it would be in if the accident had not occurred.”
But USF oceanographers and biologists are finding lingering effects of Deepwater Horizon. That’s no surprise to the biologists, who recall that eight years passed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill before the herring population crashed from immune system problems.
“I spent a lot of time in the marshes in Louisiana,” Murawski said. “You can still find a lot of oil in there.”
One intriguing question is why some oil settled into the sediment on the bottom of the gulf a mile deep and stayed there. Hollander says that may be the work of two factors. One is the dispersant called Corexit that BP used to try to spread the oil out so it wouldn’t wash ashore. The other is the Mississippi River.
BP sprayed Corexit directly at the wellhead spewing oil from the bottom of the gulf, even though no one had ever tried spraying it below the water’s surface before. BP also used more of the dispersant than had been used in any previous oil spill, 1.8 million gallons, to try to break up the oil.
Meanwhile, the spill coincided with the typical spring flood of the mighty Mississippi, which sent millions of gallons of freshwater cascading in to push the oil away from the coast.
The Corexit broke the oil droplets down into smaller drops, creating the plume, Hollander said. Then the smaller oil droplets bonded with clay and other materials carried into the gulf by the Mississippi, sinking into the sediment where they killed the foraminifera.
In some areas where the die-off occurred, he said, the tiny creatures came back, but in others the bottom remains bare. Meanwhile, some of the burrowing kind are digging down into the contaminated sediment — and stirring it up all over again.
Craig Pittman, Tampa Bay Times
Energy Department Selects Industry Consortium to Accelerate Development of Next Generation Battery Technologies for Automobiles. The Energy Department today announced the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium will lead an industry-wide effort to accelerate development of high-efficiency, cost-effective battery technologies for electric vehicles. By investing in these cutting-edge battery technologies, the Energy Department is helping to cut America’s oil imports and provide American families and businesses with more transportation options.
The U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, located in Southfield, Michigan and managed by Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors, will solicit, fund, and manage cooperative research and development projects to improve next-generation advanced energy storage technologies for vehicles. As part of the initiative, the consortium will engage U.S. battery and component manufacturers, universities, and the national laboratories to coordinate research on advanced energy storage technologies for hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and all-electric vehicles.
Selected through a competitive solicitation, the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium will receive $12.5 million annually over five years, subject to congressional appropriations. The Energy Department’s investment will be met dollar-for-dollar with cost-share funding from the private sector.
This initiative supports the Department’s EV Everywhere Challenge, a national effort aimed at making electric vehicles more affordable and convenient for the average American family by specifically targeting dramatic technological and cost improvements in batteries, electric motors, power electronics, light-weight structures, and fast charging technology. The EV Everywhere Challenge is bringing together America’s best scientists, engineers, and students help put the United States in the lead to manufacture and export the next generation of advanced electric vehicles and electric vehicle components, creating good paying manufacturing jobs and stimulating the American economy.
The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy accelerates development and facilitates deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality. Learn more about the Department’s efforts to meet tomorrow’s transportation challenges with an integrated portfolio of advanced vehicle and fuel research, development, demonstration, and deployment activities.
Dangerous San Onofre reactors permanently shut down. The news just broke this morning: after years of fighting toe-to-toe with the billion dollar nuclear industry, WE WON!
Southern California Edison, the utility that operates the damaged San Onofre nuclear plant, has given up, saying it’s not economically feasible to continue trying to repair the crippled reactors.
The reactors were shut down over 18 months ago after the failure of newly installed steam generators caused a radiation leak.
This is tremendous news for the people of Southern California — and also for the country as a whole. It’s another example of the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power, and it clears the way for a transition to a clean and safe energy economy based on the sun and wind.
Scientist Says Federal Biofuel Production Mandate Flexible Enough to Meet Goals. The federal mandate for production of biofuels is flexible enough to adjust to changing circumstances while still supporting development of domestic, low-carbon, renewable fuels, a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) expert told House lawmakers today.
Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements held a hearing today on the role the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays in the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).
Testifying before the subcommittee this morning, Dr. Jeremy Martin, senior scientist for UCS’s Clean Vehicles Program, said the RFS plays an important role in supporting the development of cleaner fuels by setting goals for biofuel production that in turn serve as a foundation for investments.
“We are not moving forward as fast as we hoped to be in 2007, but the RFS is still pointing us in the right direction,” Dr. Martin said in his prepared testimony. “To keep moving forward we need to provide the regulatory stability that will protect the early investments in the cellulosic biofuels industry, and support further investment to bring the technology to larger scale.”
He noted that Congress provided the EPA the flexibility to adjust the RFS and encouraged the agency to use its existing authority and work with stakeholders to set ambitious but realistic goals for the next phase of the RFS, from 2016 to 2022. He said the EPA should develop mandates that are consistent with the constraints in agricultural markets and vehicle and fueling infrastructure while still moving forward on the oil savings and climate solutions the country needs.
“The RFS is a more flexible policy than many people appreciate, and Congress was smart to give the EPA the authority to adapt the second phase of the policy to circumstances, and move us forward in a pragmatic way,” said Dr. Martin. “Now the EPA must use that flexibility and provide more clarity on the path ahead.”
He said the smart approach is to limit the mandates for all food-based biofuels to 20 billion gallons in 2022, as laid out in the RFS implementation schedule. This represents a slower rate of growth than the country has seen over the last few years and will reduce pressure on food markets while slowing agricultural expansion. The growth beyond this limit should come from non-food based cellulosic biofuels.
The first commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel facilities are starting up now in Florida (Ineos) and Mississippi (KiOR), and several more are under construction in Iowa and Kansas. These facilities mark an important milestone in the development of this important industry. There is great potential for the expansion of this industry. An assessment by the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that the domestic resources to produce biomass are far in excess of what is required to meet the 16 billion gallon target for the RFS in 2022.
“Using wastes, agricultural residues like corn stalks, and environmentally friendly perennial grasses to make fuel can provide economic opportunities, rural development and good jobs not just in the corn belt, but all over country,” according to Dr. Martin. “The biomass resources are available, but to realize their potential, we also need a large scale industry to make them into useful fuel.”
Oil companies come back to Southwest Florida. A Los Angeles company has invested millions of dollars in Southwest Florida mineral wells in the last six years, leading the way in reviving a local oil industry that dates back to the 1940s.
After years of steady production that peaked in 1978, production slid down along with oil prices. It came to almost a standstill in the mid-2000s.
As the cost of petroleum rose and new technology allowed for more accurate drilling, industry executives say, at least half a dozen oil companies have been issued permits in the region. Old wells are being tapped and new drilling has begun.
L.A.-based BreitBurn Energy Partners drilled four wells in 2012, investing $46 million in its Florida operations – a larger investment than in any of the other six states in which the company operates, aside from California. (There, it spent $47 million.)
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates drilling, has issued 24 permits in South Florida since 2009.
“Most were issued for BreitBurn Energy and for drilling in established fields like Raccoon Point in southeast Collier County,” wrote Florida DEP spokesperson Mara Burger in an e-mail. “For a comparison, from 2006 through the end of 2008 there were four drilling permits issued in Florida. All four were for northwest Florida.”
There are currently 31 active wells in South Florida, she added. The majority are found about 30 miles inland in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties, from Lehigh Acres to the Big Cypress National Preserve. They also border the Florida National Panther Wildlife Refuge. Manager Kevin Godsea said the refuge has long monitored oil drilling, but there hasn’t been serious cause for environmental concern.
One new exploratory well proposed by Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Company would be only about 700 feet from the end of a subdivision near Naples, said Michael R. Ramsey, president of the Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association.
Although some wells like this will be new ones, most of BreitBurn’s activity is from already existing ones. Many are in Sunniland Trend; the oil field stretches from Fort Myers to Miami. Humble Oil and Refining Company (now Exxon) discovered the state’s first productive well in the area in 1943.
Fields such as Sunniland are part of the larger South Florida Basin. That includes most of the southern part of the peninsula, as far north as Lake Okeechobee and as far south as the Keys, plus just off the western and southern shores. Exploratory oil wells were drilled in state waters just off Charlotte Harbor in the 1960s although no production came of it.
BreitBurn and Dan A. Hughes Company lease the land they drill on from Collier Resources Company, which manages and owns the mineral rights (oil and gas) on more than 800,000 acres in Southwest Florida. It’s the oil management wing of some of the area’s most venerable landowners, Barron Collier Companies and Collier Enterprises.
Golden Gate residents were initially upset when they learned that an oil company wanted to drill just off their backyards – and that state permitting requires oil companies to have a “contingency plan” if a hydrogen sulfide gas leak causes an explosion.
“Some residents… expressed concern,” read Dan A. Hughes’ press release.
There has never been such an explosion, a major spill or any other serious mishap in the state, the DEP, oil producers and environmental conservation groups agreed.
“In roughly 70 years of oil production in Southwest Florida, there have been no major accidents,” said Ms. Burger of the DEP.
That may indicate a low risk, but stranger things have probably happened. Tom Jones, executive vice president of Collier Resources, suggests that’s doubtful.
“I think the realistic possibility of having an explosion in an exploratory well is nonexistent,” he said.
Golden Gate Association president Mr. Ramsey also noted that oil drilling companies in Florida have a clean safety record. But he adds that it’s so close to the end of 24th Avenue SE that even the freak possibility of an explosion is a concern, as is oil trucks and noise.
“I’m not convinced it’s as big a deal as some people think it is,” said Nancy Payton with Florida Wildlife Federation in Naples. “There may be community issues. The traffic I’m not sure about that; I’m not sure about noise. But we’re not uncomfortable with the concept of oil drilling.”
BreitBurn, a publicly traded company, produced 1,924 barrels per day in Florida in 2012. That’s behind Texas (3,482 barrels) and Michigan (the top producer with 9,026 barrels).
“We hope to be able to continue that process, assuming the oil is there,” said Gregory C. Brown, the company’s executive vice president.
Even at Florida’s peak production of 48 million barrels in 1978, that’s only about an eighth of Texas’ production last year. Still, that ranked the state 8th nationally that year, the Florida Geological Survey says, showing the potential to produce a highly valuable yield.
BreitBurn first leased mineral rights in the region in May 2007 and completed drilling on their first new well in May 2010. The company was attracted here because of the long record of moderate production and “oil prices have remained constant,” Mr. Brown said. “They’re certainly not at their historical highs but they are in the range that made us willing to spend the significant capital that it takes. These wells are deep, they’re expensive, and it takes some doing to get a drilling rig there.”
But newer technology has also made it easier. So-called directional drilling allows a single, compact well to reach miles in different directions underground from one spot. And Mr. Jones of Collier Resources noted surveying equipment offers “real time data that can feed back to the surface so you can determine when you’re right where you want to be.”
Even so, it’s an inexact science, said BreitBurn’s Mr. Brown.
“Unfortunately, while there is technology that tries to see what’s down there, you never really know until you get there and even then you’re only seeing what you can see from a very small hole,” he said, adding that the first day of production from a well is “generally the best…
“You’re always fighting that decline and hoping to replace it and then some with new wells.”
The wells produce some natural gas in addition to oil, and although some companies have used it to run their equipment, it’s never been enough to sell commercially.
Frack, you say?
Most oil companies have said the technique called hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) isn’t a method they’re considering using in Florida.
It can release oil or natural gas held in underground rock formations by fracturing them with a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals. It’s been highly successful in places like Texas where tight underground shale deposits exist, but has also drawn criticism from environmentalists for polluting water and air.
The relatively delicate, porous limestone rock below the Southwest Florida landscape does not lend itself to fracking, said Mike Cheeseman, a geologist and veteran Florida oilman based in Bonita Springs.
“You can’t frack this zone at all,” he said. “If you get too rough with it it’ll go to water.”
Even so, Florida legislators in the House last month passed a bill that would regulate fracking by requiring companies to disclose chemicals and amount of water used. The Senate considered a similar proposal without success. Mr. Cheeseman said he’s open to fracking if it can be done safely and profitably, and thinks it could be if companies drill more deeply, below the limestone aquifer.
“Me being an oilman, I don’t see any problem with it personally,” he said.
Just the idea that it could be used here excites oil companies, said Mr. Cheeseman, even if they haven’t found a way to frack here.
“That (fracking) has got everyone all riled up,” he said. “So yeah, people are looking at South Florida. If they’re successful, it’ll go wild. Oil men are like a bunch of sheep. They’ll follow whatever’s happening.”
Industry executives predict production will continue to climb with drilling methods, but downplay fracking as an unlikely possibility. Companies would have to be willing to spend money drilling more deeply below Florida’s surface than they have before, said Dave Mica, president of the Florida Petroleum Council. He disputes the idea that fracking is “controversial,” saying that the economic benefits of jobs and “oil independence” outweigh risks. With recent successes using hydraulic fracturing, he adds, companies are fine-tuning ways to use it.
“Technology does evolve. Sometimes it evolves pretty quickly,” he said.
5 Reasons We Need to Add More Bike Lanes. With cycling advocacy at a particular high during National Bike Month, communities across the country are actively debating whether to add bicycle lanes to their roads. City councils ask, “Is it worth the money? Will it be too disruptive? Is it really any safer?” Thankfully, research has demonstrated a number of benefits to adopting bike lanes:
1. It inspires more people to ride bicycles. If you build it, they will come. Time and time again, cycling studies have shown that adding bike lanes motivates more people to get out and bike. New Orleans saw a 57% increase just six months after bike lanes were marked. Los Angeles also saw a 52% jump in cyclists on their new lanes. Meanwhile, New York City found it was able to double the number of people commuting by bicycle in just a few years after introducing a few cycling initiatives including bike lanes. In a country plagued by obesity, the health benefits of a population that rides bicycles should not be mitigated.
2. It stimulates the local economy. That same increased use also results in a boost to commerce. While communities often fight bike lanes out of concern that it will discourage vehicular traffic from coming to the stores, recent studies have shown that bicycle lanes have the opposite effect on sales. In Manhattan, streets that had bike lanes put in saw their business increase by nearly 50%. A business boom, particularly one of that size, can probably be attributed to a number of factors, but surely an increase in people in the area plays a big role. Similar results were found for businesses by bike lanes in Portland.
3. It’s safer for cyclists. Accidents happen, but research illustrates that city streets with bike lanes reduce the rate of cyclist injury by 50%. For years, the conventional wisdom was that sharing the lane with vehicles made for safer cycling, but data supports that having a separate lanes significantly cuts down on the number of cyclist emergency room visits. In fact, protected bike lanes – those with barriers dividing cyclists from vehicles – cuts the injury rate by a whopping 90%.
4. It’s safer for motorists. When sharing the road with cyclists, drivers tend to have a difficult time gauging how much space to allow. Occasionally, motorists will get too close to bikers and cause accidents that way. However, almost 90% of the time drivers overcorrect when they see a cyclist and drift into the adjacent lane, putting themselves at risk for an auto collision. A study in three Texas cities showed that when bike space is clearly marked by paint, drivers knew how much space to allow and were less than half as likely to subconsciously swerve into another lane of traffic.
5. It has a real impact on the environment. As people feel safer and the number of cyclists grow, this conversely alters the number of vehicles on the road. As National Geographic discusses, cycling does seriously lower one’s carbon footprint by not emitting pollution or burning fossil fuels.
In fact, short car trips do the most damage. An engine releases the worst pollution as it “warms up,” so if more people were to bike instead of drive for their closest trips, this would be a boon for the environment. Since the average cyclist isn’t inclined to bike more than a few miles anyway, bike lanes would certainly help to facilitate the green choice.
FPL’s Altamont Pass turbines kill fewer birds. The tall, grassy hills, raked by stiff winds in spring and summer, offer prime hunting territory for owls, hawks and eagles. Focused on spotting prey, many birds soar straight into the spinning blades of turbines.
But efforts to curb the bloodshed may be starting to work.
A new study suggests that the number of eagles, kestrels, burrowing owls and red-tailed hawks killed at Altamont each year has fallen roughly 50 percent since 2005. Reaching that level has been a long-term goal of local environmentalists and government officials, as well as the energy companies running turbines in the pass.
“We’re pretty pleased with the results,” said Sandra Rivera, assistant planning director for Alameda County. “It’s a fine balance between having the renewables we all want to have in California and keeping the wildlife safe. That’s what we’ve all been trying to achieve.”
Bird lovers who sued both the county and the wind companies in 2006 say they’re encouraged by the numbers, although they don’t want to declare victory yet.
The steps taken to protect birds at Altamont – shutting down turbines for several months in the winter, replacing small, fast-spinning older models with larger ones that are easier for birds to avoid – appear to be working. But Michael Lynes, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said he wants to keep pushing the numbers lower.
“We’re not celebrating, put it that way,” said Lynes, whose Audubon chapter was one of four filing the suit. “Because as long as wind turbines are operating out there, there’s going to be mortality to wildlife. We see this as a good step toward reducing mortality.”
The study comes from consulting firm ICF International and examines bird deaths from 2005 to 2010. It focuses in particular on four species that were at the heart of the lawsuit – American kestrels, burrowing owls, golden eagles and red-tailed hawks.
At the start of the study period, deaths of all those species combined averaged 1,245 per year. By the end, the total had fallen to 625. (Those numbers represent three-year, rolling averages, considered useful because the number of birds in the pass can vary from one year to another for reasons that have nothing to do with turbines.)
The numbers aren’t exact. Although researchers routinely search the wind farm for bird carcasses, they also take into account the possibility that scavengers will remove some of remains before they can be found. The report offers several different ways of calculating mortality rates, and while the results differ, all show a substantial decrease in deaths.
The decline is welcome news for wind power advocates, for whom Altamont’s bird-killing reputation had been an embarrassment. They considered the site an aberration, much more deadly than other wind farms.
“Those levels of collisions have never been replicated anywhere else,” said John Anderson, director of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association. “That site was developed in the infancy of the industry, and between the landscape, the wind conditions, the avian activity – it really is a unique setting.”
The first turbines were installed in 1966, long before renewable power became a pressing concern as a means to fight climate change. The hills, which separate the Bay Area’s eastern edge from the Central Valley, now hold roughly 4,500 turbines, scattered across 37,000 acres.
At least 13 turbine models have been installed there over the years, and some proved particularly lethal to birds, as well as bats. Many older models had relatively small blades that spun fast in the wind.
New turbines, in contrast, are far larger, with long blades that don’t whirl at the same frantic speed. They also generate much more electricity than older models, so one new turbine can replace several old ones, a swapping-out process that the wind industry calls “repowering.”
The Audubon chapters that filed suit in 2006 agreed to a settlement that gave the wind companies until November 2009 to cut bird deaths by 50 percent.
The companies tried shutting down turbines during the winter months, when migrating birds cross the area and winds are relatively light. But the 50 percent goal remained elusive.
A second settlement, in 2010, committed the largest company operating in the pass to replace or remove thousands of old turbines. NextEra Energy Resources (FPL) has so far removed 800 of the machines, replacing them with 34 newer models.
In addition, the company puts more thought into where it places turbines, Lynes said. Researchers study how birds use the different hills, saddles and ridges and look for locations that will reduce problems.
“We think that’s a much better approach than what we had in the past,” Lynes said. “When they put these in in the ’80s, they didn’t do anything like that. They just threw up hundreds of turbines at a time.”
But no location is risk free. And while bird deaths appear to be dropping, they won’t end altogether. The local population of golden eagles already has shrunk so much that it may not survive long term, said Doug Bell, wildlife program manager for the East Bay Regional Park District.
“The best approach to reducing mortalities would be to repower the whole thing,” said Bell, who is working on a separate bird mortality study at Altamont.
“It still wouldn’t get us out of the woods. You put an object up into an air column – a tower, turbines, wires – and things that fly are going to get killed whacking into it.”
David R. Baker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
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