Japanese in shock over dolphin protest

The mayor of Taiji in Japan says it is hard to believe Broome Shire Council has suspended ties with his town over its annual slaughter of dolphins.

The Australian reports that mayor Shinichi Ryono is yet to receive official word from Broome that the 100-year relationship between the towns is over.

On Saturday the Broome Council voted to suspend sister-city relations after councillors decided Taiji's dolphin cull was barbaric.

The traditional dolphin slaughter, in which the marine mammals are herded into a cove and then killed in the water, has been widely condemned by animal rights activists in recent years.

In 2007 Australian actress Isabel Lucas took part in a protest against the cull, paddling out to the dolphins on a surfboard.

The move prompted Japanese police to issue a warrant for her and other's arrest.

The Taiji fishing practice has been under increased pressure following the release of documentary film The Cove.

"Taiji and Broome have a long relationship going back more than 100 years since men from here started going there to dive for pearls," Mayor Ryono told The Australian.

He said that claims the Taiji fishermen killed 23,000 dolphins a year were grossly inflated.

According to the Broome Shire Council, the suspension of relations hinges on the method of killing the dolphins and the fact that their meat contains high levels of mercury.

'Treasure Trove' Of Tools, Animal Bones Found In Underwater Caribbean Cave 'Seems Too Good To Be True'

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana -- A prehistoric water-filled cave in the Dominican Republic has become a "treasure trove" with the announcement by Indiana University archaeologists of the discovery of stone tools, a small primate skull in remarkable condition, and the claws, jawbone and other bones of several species of sloths.

The discoveries extend by thousands of years the scope of investigations led Charles Beeker, director of Academic Diving and Underwater Science Programs at IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and his interdisciplinary team of collaborators. The researchers' focus has been on the era a mere 500 years ago when the Old World and New World first met after Christopher Columbus stepped ashore in the Caribbean -- and on scintillating pirate lore. This rare find is expected to give insights into the earliest inhabitants of the Greater Antilles and the animals they encountered.

"To be honest, I couldn't believe my eyes as I viewed each of these astonishing discoveries underwater," Beeker said. "The virtually intact extinct faunal skeletons really amazed me, but what may prove to be a fire pit from the first human occupation of the island just seems too good to be true. But now that the lithics (stone tools) are authenticated, I can't wait to direct another underwater expedition into what may prove to become one of the most important prehistoric sites in all the Caribbean."

Beeker and researchers Jessica Keller and Harley McDonald found the tools and bones in fresh water 28- to 34-feet deep in a cave called Padre Nuestro. Nearby, and also underwater in the same cave, were found more recent Taino artifacts. The Taino were the first Native American peoples to encounter Europeans. Beeker and his colleagues have been diving in this particular cave, which sits beneath a limestone bluff and is only accessible after submerging into a small pool, since 1996 as they studied its use as a Taino water-gathering site.

Geoffrey Conrad, director of the Mathers Museum of World Culture at IU Bloomington and professor of anthropology, said the tools are estimated to be 4,000 to 6,500 years old. The bones might range in age from 4,000 and 10,000 years old. While sloth bones are not uncommon, he knows of only a handful of other primate skulls found in the Caribbean.

"I know of no place that has sloths, primates and humanly made stone tools together in a nice, tight association around the same time," said Conrad, also associate vice provost for research at IU Bloomington. "Right now it looks like a potential treasure trove of data to help us sort out the relationship in time between humans and extinct animals in the Greater Antilles. This site definitely is worthy of a large-scale investigation."

The three stone tools and remnants, made of basalt and limestone, were examined by internationally known IU anthropologists Nicholas Toth and Kathy Schick, who told researchers the palm-sized stones showed unmistakable signs of human craftsmanship. Toth and Schick are co-directors of the Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology (CRAFT) Stone Age Institute in Bloomington.

IU primate expert Kevin Hunt told researchers the primate could have been a howler monkey which is extinct in the Caribbean. Keller said the sloth bones came from six, and possibly seven, sloths and include several species, including one the size of a black bear and another the size of a large dog. She said the primate skull is significantly different than the other primate skulls found in the Caribbean.

"Very few primate skulls have been found in the Caribbean," she said. "The others, found in the late 1800s and early 1900s, are three times as large. We have received a permit to bring the skull to Indiana University for further study. It's all very exciting."

Conrad said the lithics and bones, which have arrived at Beeker's laboratory in the School of HPER, have not only expanded the research program to an earlier time but also to an issue of concern worldwide -- the extinction of native birds and animals upon the arrival of humans. Caribbean sloths are among the many species that became extinct soon after the presence of humans.

Researchers with the Office of Underwater Science in the School of HPER work closely with cultural, historical, and tourism agencies and organizations in the Dominican Republic to protect and explore the country's cultural heritage and natural history. Keller said local interest in the discoveries has been phenomenal. The cave where they were discovered, which is part of an aquifer and cave system that supplies water to nearby resorts, has been closed for research purposes.

"There's a strong interest in protecting it, in having the research continue," Keller said. "Our partners were excited before we even found the primate."

The study is being conducted in cooperation with the Secretariat of State for Culture through the Office of Underwater Heritage and the Museum of Dominican Man, the Secretariat of State for Tourism, and the Secretariat of State for Environment and Natural Resources.

Source: http://www.underwatertimes.com/news.php?article_id=96413852701


Scientists Shed New Light On Behavior Of Shark 'Tweens' And 'Teenagers'

ScienceDaily — A long-term field and DNA study by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, University of Miami, Field Museum of Chicago and others has shown that young lemon sharks born at the Bimini islands, Bahamas, tend to stay near their coastal birthplace for many years. While shark research and conservation typically focuses on baby sharks confined to shallow habitats, or ocean-roaming adults, less is known about these intermediate-aged animals, which are the breeders of tomorrow and are roughly similar in development to human ‘tweens’ and teenagers.

Tropical island-nations that sacrifice their nursery habitats to coastal development are therefore likely to lose not only babies but also much older sharks from their local areas, with potentially dire effects on the surrounding ecosystem. The study, conducted over a 14-year period at the Bimini Biological Field Station, is the cover article in the August issue of Molecular Ecology, a leading international scientific journal.

“It takes some sharks more than a decade to reach reproductive age, so we set out to better understand the phase of their development from when they are a couple of years old until they are on the verge of sexual maturity,” said lead author Dr. Demian Chapman, shark scientist with the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University (SBU) in New York, and an assistant professor at SBU. “We were very surprised to see that many lemon sharks lingered for years around the island where they were born -- often more than half of their development to adulthood.”

Fear of deep water and the bigger predators that live there combined with abundant prey in the mangroves around Bimini probably keeps these island-born sharks in safer waters near home for several years after their birth. “This means that using marine reserves and other local conservation measures may help protect sharks born around tropical islands for much longer than we thought,” Dr. Chapman explained. He suspects that future research could show that these stay-at-home behavior patterns are common among many shark species that live and breed around tropical islands. “If island communities develop all of their shark nursery habitats, like mangroves, or overfish baby sharks in local waters, then they will subsequently lose a big chunk of the older sharks as well,” he said.

Love them or not, sharks are essential to healthy oceans. Removing these top-level ocean predators will disrupt the local food web and cause negative consequences for other species and the ecosystem at large. Moreover, many tropical islands generate substantial revenue from shark-dive tourism, which this new research suggests will be heavily reliant on sharks born in local nursery areas.

During the course of the Bimini study, from 1995 to 2007, over 1,700 immature lemon sharks were caught, tagged and released. The implanted tags, plus subsequent recaptures and DNA analysis, showed that more than half of the 3- to 7-year-old sharks caught off Bimini were born locally and had lingered near their birthplace for years. Full results are described in the study, entitled, Long-term natal site-fidelity by immature lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) at a subtropical island.

“In general, the survival of these intermediate-aged sharks is critical for sustaining shark populations,” said study co-author Dr. Samuel Gruber, Professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and Director of the Bimini Biological Field Station, who has been leading the overall lemon shark research program at Bimini since 1978. “Our study suggests that local conservation efforts can help many lemon sharks born at islands like Bimini survive through roughly half of their development to adulthood. Broader scale, sometimes international, management is needed to protect them after they’ve left their birthplace as adolescents and adults.”

Detailed information on how sharks disperse from their birthplace could be very useful for conservation efforts throughout the tropics, given that many tropical shark species are threatened by overexploitation to supply the trade for shark fin soup, for which demand is especially high in Asia. Between 22 and 73 million sharks are killed each year to supply the fin trade, and international management agencies are scrambling for solutions to stem severe shark population declines.

“Our study suggests that many tropical island nations may not have to wait for complex international shark regulations to be established in order to act,” said Dr. Chapman. “Their local management efforts could give immature sharks a chance to grow up in relative safety until they are big and ‘bad’ enough to roam deeper habitats far from home, where broader scale protection becomes more important.”

The research team is now extending its study to answer one of the great mysteries of shark biology: do sharks home back to their birthplace as adults? Co-author Dr. Kevin Feldheim of the Field Museum in Chicago, who led the genetics part of the study, said: “This research showed that most of the young sharks left the island by the time they were mature. Now we want to find out if they end up coming back to the place where they were born to breed, much like salmon and sea turtles do.”

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090824141047.htm


Why Shark Nets are NOT the Answer

MARINE rescuers who spent almost eight hours working to free a humpback whale snared in shark netting off the Gold Coast yesterday have described the operation as their most difficult yet.

The whale was spotted towing a long trail of netting by ski paddlers early yesterday about 5km east of Currumbin.

The SeaWorld rescue team, Queensland Boating and Fisheries and a shark contractor caught up with the whale around 10.30am near the Tugun desalination barge.

At least 15 people were involved in the rescue which lasted for almost eight hours.

Mr Long said the whale - a sub adult, about 9m in length - was remarkably strong considering what it had already endured.

"It had an awful amount of net attached to its tail but it was still very, very strong,'' he said.

The net - 600m long and 5m deep with a heavy anchor and a 16 gauge chain - was reported missing from Currumbin Creek last Saturday.

Mr Long said the rescue was the most difficult he had been involved in over his 34-year career due to the whale's strength.

"We attached floats to stop the whale from diving and to allow us to get close enough to its tail to cut it free.

"The buoys were tied to the SeaWorld vessel and at one stage the shark contractor's boat - which is 35-36ft - and it still managed to pull them under.''

"It was so strong it kept breaking our gears, straightening our grappling hooks. We replaced our buoys at least a dozen times during the day.'

Late in the afternoon rescuers were able to get the floats close enough to the whale's tail to hook the net and immobilise its tail, thereby preventing it from swimming.

Using specially designed knives, rescuers were then able to cut the net free.

"First we had to get rid of that anchor and chain to allow it to swim a bit. Once they were off it took off north. It had to be pretty tired by that stage,'' Mr Long said.

"We've done a lot of rescues over the years, I couldn't even count how many, but this would have to be the longest and certainly the most difficult.''

The whale - once freed - appeared relatively unscathed by the ordeal.

"This would have been enormously distressing for the whale. It's had that net attached to it for over a week. I can't imagine the relief that animal must have felt to be cut free. It would have lost skin but was otherwise physically unharmed.''

As the rescue attempt dragged on organisers pondered whether they would have to leave the buoys attached to the whale and return this morning.

"Everyone worked so hard and no one was going to give up on this animal,'' Mr Long said.

The whale migration season runs until December, with a lot of the ocean giants spotted in recent weeks as they head south.

Some seasons have seen up to 10 rescues.

Source: http://www.goldcoast.com.au/article/2008/09/27/16826_gold-coast-news.html

Eco group decries seismic testing in Canadian waters

Whale beaching as a result of seismic testing.

VANCOUVER -- Environmentalists are fuming after learning the federal government has given permission to a U.S. research ship to begin controversial seismic testing in Canadian waters, despite an ongoing court challenge.

Ecojustice, an environmental law group representing groups opposed to the research, says the vessel Marcus Langseth could be off Vancouver Island as early as Monday after the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a permit.

"The issue at stake here is the fact that by issuing this clearance permit for the vessel, that they are valuing American interests above that of the Canadian environment and Canadian species at risk," said spokesman Kori Brus.

"They've given no reason; they've simply done it."

An Ecojustice lawyer went to the Federal Court of Canada on Friday seeking an injunction to prevent the ship from entering Canadian waters as part of a larger suit against such testing.

The case had been adjourned until Tuesday.

"It's a frustrating development, especially given they issued this permit basically at the close of business hours on Friday," said Brus.

A foreign affairs spokesman on Sunday would not confirm the ship has been given clearance to begin its test program. He refused to comment, saying the issue was before the courts.

Researchers from Columbia University in New York want to conduct seismic tests using high-decibel air blasts into the water in a region that includes the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents marine protected area.

The month-long program aims to map the sub-surface of the sea floor where earthquake-causing tectonic plates diverge.

But environmentalists say the acoustic blasts will disrupt marine life, especially threatened and endangered species of whales that feed in the area, about 250 kilometres west of Vancouver Island.

Brus said the Marcus Langseth sailed from Astoria, on the northern Oregon coast, on Saturday.

He said researchers claim they must be on location now because they have a tight weather window to complete their program.

Ecojustice says the ship's 36-gun towed seismic array would send 180-decibel blasts -- as loud as an army artillery piece going off -- into the water every two to three minutes.

"The seismic researchers' own evidence states that they will be causing harassment of whales, and they were required to apply for a U.S. whale harassment permit" the Living Oceans Society's Oonagh O'Connor, said in a news release.

"We are disappointed that the Canadian government has allowed harmful research in B.C.'s waters."

The group's lawsuit contends the government is violating Canadian law by allowing research that disturbs and harasses whales and dolphins.

Despite the government's apparent decision, Brus said the court case will proceed Tuesday.

"The testing's scope encompasses a full calendar month," he said.

"So even though this has allowed them to get a jump start on us, we're still relying on legal channels, particularly on Tuesday -- which is just one single day after they begin -- to hopefully get a court decision that will ... put an end to the seismic testing."

Source: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090823/Seismic_Test_090823/20090823?hub=Canada

NOAA: Flower Garden Banks Is Among The Healthiest Coral Reef Ecosystems In The Tropical Caribbean

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is among the healthiest coral reef ecosystems in the tropical Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, according to a new NOAA report.

The report, A Biogeographic Characterization of Fish Communities and Associated Benthic Habitats within the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, offers insights into the coral and fish communities within the sanctuary based on data collected in 2006 and 2007. Sanctuary managers will use the report to track and monitor changes in the marine ecosystem located 70 to 115 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

"We found that 50 percent of the area surveyed for this report is covered by live coral," said Chris Caldow, a NOAA marine biologist and lead author on the report. "This is significant because such high coral cover is a real rarity and provides critical habitat for many different types of fish and other animals that live in these underwater systems."

The sanctuary is also unusual in that it is dominated by top-level predators, including large grouper, jacks, and snappers that are virtually absent throughout the U.S. Caribbean. Researchers looked at the relationship between physical measures of the sanctuary's habitat such as depth, slope and geographic location, and the nature of the fish community in each location.

"Ultimately our goal was to develop a protocol that would detect and track long-term changes in fish and sea-floor community structure," Caldow said. "Once managers are equipped with this information, they can better understand how threats from climate change and other stressors will impact the ecosystem."

The report cautions that despite the sanctuary's relatively healthy condition, it may be more susceptible to environmental impacts than previously thought. For example, scientists observed high levels of coral bleaching and corals severely impacted from hurricane activity.

NOAA prepared the report based on data collected in 2006 and 2007, with input from scientists and managers at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Source: http://www.underwatertimes.com/news.php?article_id=35469027181


Broome to dump Taiji as sister city over dolphin slaughter

LISA CALAUTTI, The West Australian
August 22, 2009, 11:58 am
Broome Shire will sever a sister city relationship with a Japanese town that hosts the killing of more than 20000 dolphins a year after an emotion-charged special council meeting this afternoon.

More than 50 people, who packed the council chambers’ public gallery, greeted the decision with a standing ovation.

Broome Shire president Graeme Campbell said council’s unanimous decision was to “respectfully advise” the town of Taiji that Broome would be unable to fulfil its obligation as a sister town while the dolphin killings continued.

But he said the shire recognised the role Taiji played in developing Broome's pearling industry in the 19th century.

As part of a raft of council resolutions, councillors noted the national and international pressure placed on the shire to end the relationship.

The council also resolved to it would like to commit to developing alternative economic opportunities with the Japanese town.

Pressure had been mounting on the Shire of Broome to end the relationship with Taiji, where 26 dolphin hunters run a secretive operation to fill its government-sanctioned quota of 23000 dolphins.

Broome resident Una Baker, who attended today’s meeting, said she had been consumed by the horrific slaughters since watching the film, The Cove, which exposes the killings.

“It was very positive … what we wanted to achieve was achieved and it was awesome – everyone is very happy,” she told thewest.com.au.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Australian director Jeff Hansen commended the shire and Broome residents for taking up the issue.

"This could just be the catalyst that shuts this unjustified, barbaric and inhumane practice down for good," Mr Hansen said.

Mr Campbell said the shire would notify Taiji of the decision as soon as possible

Source: http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/newshome/5848484/broome-to-dump-taiji-as-sister-city-over-dolphin-slaughter/


Plastics In Oceans Decompose, Release Hazardous Chemicals, Surprising New Study Says

ScienceDaily — In the first study to look at what happens over the years to the billions of pounds of plastic waste floating in the world's oceans, scientists are reporting that plastics — reputed to be virtually indestructible — decompose with surprising speed and release potentially toxic substances into the water.

Reporting at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the researchers termed the discovery "surprising." Scientists always believed that plastics in the oceans were unsightly, but a hazard mainly to marine animals that eat or become ensnared in plastic objects.

"Plastics in daily use are generally assumed to be quite stable," said study lead researcher Katsuhiko Saido, Ph.D. "We found that plastic in the ocean actually decomposes as it is exposed to the rain and sun and other environmental conditions, giving rise to yet another source of global contamination that will continue into the future."

He said that polystyrene begins to decompose within one year, releasing components that are detectable in the parts-per-million range. Those chemicals also decompose in the open water and inside marine life. However, the volume of plastics in the ocean is increasing, so that decomposition products remain a potential problem.

Each year as much as 150,000 tons of plastic debris, most notably Styrofoam, wash up on the shores of Japan alone, Saido said. Vast expanses of waste, consisting mainly of plastic, float elsewhere in the oceans. The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch between California and Hawaii was twice the size of Texas and mainly plastic waste.

Saido, a chemist with the College of Pharmacy, Nihon University, Chiba, Japan, said his team found that when plastic decomposes it releases potentially toxic bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer into the water, causing additional pollution. Plastics usually do not break down in an animal's body after being eaten. However, the substances released from decomposing plastic are absorbed and could have adverse effects. BPA and PS oligomer are sources of concern because they can disrupt the functioning of hormones in animals and can seriously affect reproductive systems.

Some studies suggest that low-level exposure to BPA released from certain plastic containers and the linings of cans may have adverse health effects.

Saido described a new method to simulate the breakdown of plastic products at low temperatures, such as those found in the oceans. The process involves modeling plastic decomposition at room temperature, removing heat from the plastic and then using a liquid to extract the BPA and PS oligomer. Typically, he said, Styrofoam is crushed into pieces in the ocean and finding these is no problem. But when the study team was able to degrade the plastic, it discovered that three new compounds not found in nature formed. They are styrene monomer (SM), styrene dimer (SD) and styrene trimer (ST). SM is a known carcinogen and SD and ST are suspected in causing cancer. BPA ands PS oligomer are not found naturally and, therefore, must have been created through the decomposition of the plastic, he said. Trimer yields SM and SD when it decomposes from heat, so trimer also threatens living creatures.

Funding for Saido's research came from Nihon University

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090819234651.htm


Sharkfin 'kingpin' sentenced for violating protection laws

A so-called “shark fin kingpin” was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Atlanta to five years probation and fined $5,000 for violating federal wildlife protection laws.

Mark L. Harrison, 48, of Southport, Fla., represented himself as the nation’s largest shark fin buyer, saying he bought and sold millions of fins since opening his business 20 years ago, according to federal authorities. The fins are used to make shark fin soup, a centuries-old Chinese delicacy.

In August 2007, Harrison tried to ship through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at least 211 fins from three species of protected sharks. Authorities said that Harrison dried his fins on open air racks or on tarps laid on the ground, leaving the fins exposed to bird droppings, insects and dogs.

“Hopefully, this sentence will raise public awareness of how unlawful commercialization impacts certain species of wildlife,” said James Gale, special agent in charge for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s office of law enforcement.

As part of his sentence, Harrison was ordered to take out an advertisement in a publication with a large circulation in the fish industry about complying with shark fin reporting requirements.

Oceanic Defense Response to Sentencing:
"Although we are happy that this man was finally caught it is an insult to the millions of sharks that he has murdered to fuel the shark fin soup trade. The ridiculous penalty of $5000 is nothing compared to the profit he made from the flesh of these protected and endangered sharks.

The courts have not deterred one poacher in the illegal shark fin trade with this type of a sentence. In reality they might as well have said: Go ahead, continue to kill sharks, just remember to put another $5000 in the fin jar."

Right Whale on Right Track? 39 Births in 2009

By: Jennifer Maclellan

It was little more than 100 years since the Right Whale was nearly hunted to extinction. From as early as the 1700s these mammoth sized ocean dwellers that can reach upwards of 100 tons were the ‘right’ whale to hunt because of the ease in which whalers could harpoon the creature.

Their incredible size and buoyancy made them an easy target to spot from land and their slow speeds allowed fishermen to catch up with them quickly. By 1900 they had been hunted to extinction in Europe with only an estimated 100 surviving in the North Atlantic. Stocks had been so badly depleted that by 1937 a worldwide ban on Right whaling had been agreed upon, though they were still hunted by the thousands in the South Atlantic and continued to be processed there until into the 1970s.

To read the entire story follow this link: http://globalshift.org/2009/08/right-whale/


Debate Over Plastic Bags Heats Up In Seattle

Heather Trim, a volunteer for the Seattle Green Bag Campaign, carries around a sample of polluted Pacific Ocean water. She says the ocean's "great garbage patch" of non-biodegradable plastic fragments is the reason for her opposition to disposable plastic bags.The plastics industry is spending more than $1 million to fight a surcharge on grocery bags in Seattle.

NPR - In an effort to reduce plastic and paper waste, the City Council imposed the 20-cent-per-bag charge last year. But the American Chemistry Council helped fund a petition drive that forced the issue to a citywide ballot. That vote is coming up on Aug. 18, and the ACC has contributed approximately $1.4 million for an ad campaign against the surcharge.

Seattle is not the first city to try to discourage the use of plastic bags. San Francisco imposed a partial ban, and Palo Alto and the Seattle suburb of Edmonds have banned the bags outright. But Seattle is the biggest city in the U.S. that has tried to put this kind of fee on bags.

'Great Garbage Patch'

The campaign against the plastic bags comes out of environmentalists' concerns over "the great garbage patch," a huge slick of microscopic bits of non-biodegradable plastic that is circulating in the Pacific Ocean.

Heather Trim, a volunteer with the Seattle Green Bag Campaign, carries a vial of cloudy seawater in her purse as a visual aid. Our plastics are accumulating out there," Trim says.

An estimated 20 to 30 percent of Seattle shoppers bring reusable bags to the store — far higher than in most of the country — but environmentalists here want that number to grow. Trim says the surcharge, which she calls a "fee," is the best way to do this.

Opponents call it a 20-cent "tax."

"I carry recyclable bags in my car every day — always with me," says Jane Petrich, outside a QFC grocery store near the University of Washington. "And 80 percent of the time I forget to take them in with me. But they're in my car!"

If the bags cost 20 cents apiece, she says, she would remember to bring her own bags for sure. Nevertheless, she doesn't like the idea. She says the "tax," as she sees it, would fall hardest on poor shoppers.

That's the message of the plastic-bag makers. Ads on local radio — paid for with money from the ACC — dramatize a husband and wife, lamenting the dawn of a new tax. "A tax on grocery bags is not what we need in this economy," says the announcer.

Business groups have also criticized the proposed ordinance as poorly written, saying it would create a new city bureaucracy to oversee the bag surcharge.

Plastic bags represent only a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the city's garbage, they say, and many of those bags are actually being reused to hold the garbage itself. (Paper bags are also subject to the surcharge, but the paper industry has largely stayed out of the debate. The city ordinance includes paper bags primarily to make sure stores don't just shift from plastic to paper to get around the surcharge.)

Steve Russell, the managing director of the American Chemistry Council's Plastics Division, calls the vote in Seattle "an important battle."

"There are ways to achieve what we all agree is the goal of more recycled material that doesn't punish people on fixed incomes or people less able to pay those kinds of fees," he says.

Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111662657&sc=fb&cc=fp

Low Oxygen In Coastal Waters Impairs Fish Reproduction

ScienceDaily — Low oxygen levels in coastal waters interfere with fish reproduction by disrupting the fishes' hormones, a marine scientist from The University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute has found.

Incidents of seasonal low levels of oxygen, known as hypoxia, have increased dramatically in coastal waters throughout the world over the past few decades, largely as a result of increased run-off from human agricultural and industrial activities. Hypoxia's long-term impact on marine animal populations is unknown.

Dr. Peter Thomas found that both male and female fish collected from seasonally hypoxic waters in Florida's Pensacola Bay estuaries had little ovarian and testicular growth, low egg and sperm production, and low levels of reproductive hormones during a time a year when they would normally be increasing in preparation for reproduction.

"This study provides the first clear evidence that a wild population of estuarine fish has experienced reproductive impairment through hypoxia," said Thomas, professor of marine science. "We rarely find such a dramatic reproductive impairment in both male and female fish collected from degraded environments, such as those contaminated with pollutants."

Laboratory studies showed that hypoxia caused endocrine disruption through decreasing levels in the brain of a chemical important for brain function called serotonin. The decrease in serotonin was caused by a decrease in an enzyme that plays a role in the serotonin synthesis pathway.

Atlantic croaker is one of the most common inshore fish species along the coasts of the southeastern Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and Thomas said that the croaker is representative of many inshore fish.

"This study suggests that when persistent coastal hypoxia occurs, there is a potential long-term threat to fish populations and fishery resources," said Thomas. "With worldwide increases in hypoxia, it's something we must be concerned about, because so many people rely on fishing for their livelihood."

Thomas' future studies will aim to further elucidate the effects of hypoxia on fish endocrine and reproductive systems at the molecular level. He is also pursuing similar work on reproductive impairment in croaker from hypoxic waters surrounding the so-called "Dead Zone" off the coast of Louisiana, which is an area of almost no oxygen that this year covered 7,900 square miles.

Thomas' research was recently published online in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Funding for this research was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Md. Saydur Rahman Dr. Izhar Khan and James Kummer contributed to the research

Adapted from materials provided by University of Texas at Austin, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Warming Of Arctic Current Over 30 Years Triggers Release Of Methane Gas

Researchers in Germany have found that more than 250 plumes of bubbles of methane gas are rising from the seabed of the West Spitsbergen continental margin in the Arctic, in a depth range of 150 to 400 metres. (Credit: Image courtesy of National Oceanography Centre, Southampton)

ScienceDaily — The warming of an Arctic current over the last 30 years has triggered the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from methane hydrate stored in the sediment beneath the seabed.

Scientists at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Birmingham, Royal Holloway London and IFM-Geomar in Germany have found that more than 250 plumes of bubbles of methane gas are rising from the seabed of the West Spitsbergen continental margin in the Arctic, in a depth range of 150 to 400 metres.

Methane released from gas hydrate in submarine sediments has been identified in the past as an agent of climate change. The likelihood of methane being released in this way has been widely predicted.

The data were collected from the royal research ship RRS James Clark Ross, as part of the Natural Environment Research Council's International Polar Year Initiative. The bubble plumes were detected using sonar and then sampled with a water-bottle sampling system over a range of depths.

The results indicate that the warming of the northward-flowing West Spitsbergen current by 1° over the last thirty years has caused the release of methane by breaking down methane hydrate in the sediment beneath the seabed.

Professor Tim Minshull, Head of the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science based at that the National Oceanography Centre, says: "Our survey was designed to work out how much methane might be released by future ocean warming; we did not expect to discover such strong evidence that this process has already started."

Methane hydrate is an ice-like substance composed of water and methane which is stable in conditions of high pressure and low temperature. At present, methane hydrate is stable at water depths greater than 400 metres in the ocean off Spitsbergen. However, thirty years ago it was stable at water depths as shallow as 360 metres.

This is the first time that such behaviour in response to climate change has been observed in the modern period.

While most of the methane currently released from the seabed is dissolved in the seawater before it reaches the atmosphere, methane seeps are episodic and unpredictable and periods of more vigorous outflow of methane into the atmosphere are possible. Furthermore, methane dissolved in the seawater contributes to ocean acididfication.

Graham Westbrook Professor of Geophysics at the University of Birmingham, warns: "If this process becomes widespread along Arctic continental margins, tens of megatonnes of methane per year – equivalent to 5-10% of the total amount released globally by natural sources, could be released into the ocean."

The team is carrying out further investigations of the plumes; in particular they are keen to observe the behaviour of these gas seeps over time.

Journal reference:

  1. Westbrook, G.K. et al. Escape of methane gas from the seabed along the West Spitsbergen continental margin. Geophysical Research Letters, 2009; DOI: 10.1029/2009GL039191
Adapted from materials provided by National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK).


Ocean Fish Farming Harms Wild Fish, Study Says

Sea lice on a juvenile pink salmon. Visible are the egg strings on a female louse, and the puncture tracks in the salmon's skin. (Credit: Photo by Alexandra Morton, Raincoast Research)

ScienceDaily— Farming of fish in ocean cages is fundamentally harmful to wild fish, according to an essay in this week's Conservation Biology.

Using basic physics, Professor Neil Frazer of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa explains how farm fish cause nearby wild fish to decline. The foundation of his paper is that higher density of fish promotes infection, and infection lowers the fitness of the fish.

For wild fish, lowered fitness means more difficulty finding food and escaping predators, causing higher death rates. But farmed fish are not only fed, they are also protected from predators by their cage, so infected farm fish live on, shedding pathogen into the water. The higher levels of pathogen in the water cause the death rates of wild fish to rise.

The above paradigm explains recently documented declines of wild fish in areas with sea-cage farm fish.

"Sea lice are an important example of disease transfer in ocean fish farming," explains Frazer. "Sea lice are tiny crabs that attach to marine fishes, eating their skin and sometimes deeper tissue. Skin is important to fish because they need to keep their tissues less salty than the ocean. Also, when lice puncture the skin they create an entry point for other infections. So wild fish weakened by lice have more difficulty finding food and escaping predators."

A female sea louse can produce over a thousand larvae during her life. Larvae drift in the ocean and a lucky few of them drift close enough to a fish to attach. Most larvae die without ever finding a fish. In a fish farm environment, a larva's chance of finding a fish increases, so more larvae survive to become lice, and those lice put more larvae into the water. With more larvae in the water, more wild fish become infected and die as a result.

Larger numbers of lice are especially dire for salmon because juvenile salmon must transit coastal areas where salmon farms are located. Juvenile pink and chum salmon (Pacific species) suffer most because they spend much of their early life in coastal waters, and they are so small at ocean-entry that infection by even one or two lice can be fatal.

The calculations in the paper show that even if lice levels on farm fish are controlled by medication, local wild fish still decline. Also, there is a critical stocking level of farmed fish. If a sea-cage system is stocked above the critical level, local wild fish decline to extinction. Long story short — growing farm fish in sea cages can't save wild fish, but it can easily destroy them.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081215091017.htm

Fraser River's salmon stocks 'beyond a crisis'

The mysterious collapse of the B.C. sockeye run has dashed hopes raised just weeks ago of a good return this year

The Fraser River is experiencing one of the biggest salmon disasters in recent history with more than nine million sockeye vanishing.

Aboriginal fish racks are empty, commercial boats worth millions of dollars are tied to the docks and sport anglers are being told to release any sockeye they catch while fishing for still healthy runs of chinook.

Between 10.6 million and 13 million sockeye were expected to return to the Fraser this summer. But the official count is now just 1.7 million, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Where the nine to 11 million missing fish went remains a mystery. "It's beyond a crisis with these latest numbers," said Ernie Crey, fisheries adviser to the Sto:lo tribes on the Fraser. "What it means is that a lot of impoverished natives are going to be without salmon. ... We have families with little or no income that were depending on these fish. ... It's a catastrophe," he said.

Mr. Crey said a Canada-U.S. salmon summit should be called to find solutions.

The sockeye collapse is startling because until just a few weeks ago it seemed the Fraser was headed for a good return.

In 2005, nearly nine million sockeye spawned in the Fraser system, producing a record number of young, known as smolts, which in 2007, began to migrate out of the lakes where they'd reared for two years. Biologists for the DFO were buoyed by the numbers - the Chilko and Quesnel tributaries alone produced 130 million smolts - and because the young fish were bigger than any on record.

Those fish were expected to return to the Fraser this summer in large numbers, and those projections held until a few weeks ago when test fishing results began to signal a problem.

Barry Rosenberger, DFO area director for the Interior, said test nets at sea got consistently low catches, then samples in the river confirmed the worst - the sockeye just weren't there in any numbers.

There had been some hope the fish - which return in five distinct groups, or runs - might be delayed at sea, but Mr. Rosenberger dismissed that possibility.

"There are people hanging on to hope ... but the reality is ... all indications are that none of these runs are late," he said.

Mr. Rosenberger said officials don't know where or why the salmon vanished - but they apparently died at some point during migration.

Brian Riddell, president of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, said: "We've been pondering this and I think a lot of people are focusing on the immediate period of entry into the Strait of Georgia and asking what on earth could have happened to them. What we're seeing now is very, very unexpected."

Some are pointing fingers at salmon farms as a possible suspect because of research that showed smolts became infested with sea lice as they swam north from the Fraser, through the Strait of Georgia.

"This has got to be one of the worst returns we've ever seen on the Fraser. ... It's shocking really," said ecologist Craig Orr, of Watershed Watch.

Dr. Riddell said sea lice infestations are a possible factor, but it is "extremely unlikely" that could account for the entire collapse.

"We have had the farms there for many years and we have not seen it related to the rates of survival on Fraser sockeye [before]," he said.

Dr. Riddell said a sockeye smolt with sea lice, however, might grow weak and become easy prey or succumb to environmental conditions it might otherwise survive.

Alexandra Morton, who several years ago correctly predicted a collapse of pink salmon runs in the Broughton Archipelago because of sea lice infestations, in March warned the same thing could happen to Fraser sockeye.

She said researchers used genetic analyses to show Fraser sockeye smolts were getting infested with sea lice in the Strait of Georgia.

"I looked at about 350 of this generation of Fraser sockeye when they went to sea in 2007 and they had up to 28 sea lice [each]. The sea lice were all young lice, which means they got them in the vicinity of where we were sampling, which was near the fish farms in the Discovery Islands. If they got sea lice from the farms, they were also exposed to whatever other pathogens were happening on the fish farms (viruses and bacteria)," Ms. Morton said in an e-mail.

"There's a lot of different beliefs as to why the fish haven't shown up, but I think it's pretty clear where there are no fish farms salmon are doing well," said Brian McKinley, a guide and owner of Silversides Fishing Adventure.

"It's pretty frustrating to watch what is happening," he said from his boat, anchored on the river near Mission. "I remember sockeye would just boil through here in August and September. It was insane ... now the river seems dead."

Dan Gerak, who runs Pitt River Lodge, said there is an environmental crisis on the river.

"Definitely something's got to be done - or it's finished forever," he said of the Fraser's famed salmon run.

Other big runs of salmon are expected to return this year - notably pinks where are projected to number 17 million - but it is too early to tell if the sockeye collapse will be repeated with other species.

Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/fraser-rivers-salmon-stocks-beyond-a-crisis/article1250175/


CBS 5 News Anchor Tests Canned Tuna For Mercury

CBS5 - Canned tuna is a healthy source of vitamins and protein, but it also contains some levels of mercury. Whether it's enough to require posted warning signs is being debated in a state appellate court. In the meantime, CBS 5's Sue Kwon conducted her own unscientific experiment tracking consumption of canned tuna and measuring levels of mercury.

The experiment involved eating 20 five-ounce cans of albacore tuna over 20 days and not eating seafood that could contain mercury and impact the experiment.

Canned tuna is packed with lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids which studies show benefit the heart, brain, and eyes.

But even the fishing industry acknowledges, it does contain mercury. It's a chemical that could be toxic at certain levels and erase those benefits as well as cause problems in an unborn baby.

California's Proposition 65 requires warning signs to be posted at the fish counter. The law is intended to protect California citizens from chemicals known to cause cancer or other reproductive harm. Canned tuna companies won a legal fight to be exempt from the law, but now the California Attorney General's office is appealing that court decision.

"We know that methyl mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can harm the unborn baby," said California Deputy Attorney General Susan Fiering. "In Minamata Bay, (poisoning of the 1930s-1960s) mercury caused children to be born with cerebral palsy, with small brains, and undersize brains."

Forrest Hainline who represents the three biggest canners, (Bumblebee, Chicken of the Sea, and Starkist,) said warnings in supermarket aisles would decrease fish consumption and have a negative impact on public health.

"It would be completely conflicting with federal law which wants women to understand that while they are pregnant or may become pregnant, eating fish is good for them and their unborn children," Hainline said.

The problem is doctors really don't know how much tuna it takes for a person to accumulate higher levels of mercury.

While the test sounds risky, she was not pregnant or about to become pregnant and was not expected to hit levels associated with side effects.

After eating 20 cans, a phone call comes from the doctor. Dr. Jane Hightower said, "I want you to stop your experiment. It's not worth the risk."

Dr. Hightower is an expert in mercury poisoning and a known critic of the fishing industry. She is not happy with the National Fisheries Institute website which said canned tuna is "healthy" for pregnant women and they can safely eat 6-ounces or a little over a can a week.

She tells pregnant patients, "Why eat mercury at all when you don't have to? Canned albacore tuna has an average of .35 parts per million and they say tuna is a low mercury fish."

It can be considered "low" if one compares it to the legal mercury limit of 1 part per million set by the Food and Drug Administration. But, the allowed level of mercury in the U.S. is double that of Canada (.5ppm), Europe (.5ppm), and Japan (.4ppm). So elsewhere, canned tuna would not be considered a "low" mercury fish.

The experiment illustrates that even at levels below the federal limit, mercury accumulates in the body reaching what Dr. Hightower and an independent lab flagged as "high" levels in a short period.

At the start of the experiment, Sue Kwon's blood mercury level was low at 4 micrograms per liter. In 10 days, it went to 8.9 micrograms per liter. Then in 10 more days, it climbed to 17.2 micrograms per liter. By day 20, it had quadrupled. "Anytime in a woman's body she reaches a 14 or 15 she stands a chance of knocking IQ points off her child's brain," Hightower said.

If the experiment continued, Dr. Hightower said the mercury would accumulate mercury faster and the level would spike. Hightower said, "You probably would've doubled again in another 10 days and then probably leveled out at in a steady state somewhere in the 50 range."

Hightower's patients with blood mercury levels that high have experienced these symptoms. "They get body aches, joint pain, muscle aches, head ache, trouble sleeping, troubles with thinking and memory, stomach upset," she said.

The canned tuna industry said there are no scientific studies proving a link between mercury levels in fish and specific health effects.

"These are issues that need to be discussed with a doctor not the grocery store checkout clerk or the Safeway manager. It's that simple," Hainline said.

Fiering believes consumers need in-store education materials. "There are a lot of women out there who don't use computers and don't see their doctors regularly and are not getting regular checkups and they're not getting the information they need," she said.

According to the Department of Public Health, 17 micrograms per liter is higher than the average exposure which is about 6 micrograms per liter. The fishing industry recommends eating 2-3 servings of seafood a week including canned tuna. A "serving" of canned tuna is half a can, about enough to top 3 crackers. Obviously, the experiment involved eating more than what's recommended.

Even so, at 17.2 micrograms per liter, Sue Kwon did not feel side effects. But, she is lowering her mercury level by avoiding tuna and sweating it out at the gym. She is continuing to eat fish as recommended for nutrients and health benefits. But, she is making sure to mix the varieties and eating tuna along with fish that do not contain as much mercury.

Source: http://cbs5.com/consumer/tuna.mercury.test.2.951871.html

Humans 'Damaging The Oceans' In Profound Ways

Great Barrier Reef, Australia. There is mounting evidence that human activity is changing the world's oceans in profound and damaging ways. (Credit: iStockphoto/Mark Evans)

ScienceDaily — There is mounting evidence that human activity is changing the world’s oceans in profound and damaging ways.
Man-made carbon emissions “are affecting marine biological processes from genes to ecosystems over scales from rock pools to ocean basins, impacting ecosystem services and threatening human food security,” the study by Professor Mike Kingsford of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University and colleague Dr Andrew Brierley of St Andrews University, Scotland, warns.

A new review, published in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology, says that rates of physical change in the oceans are unprecedented in some cases, and change in ocean life is likely to be equally quick.

These include changes in the areas fish and other sea species can inhabit, invasions, extinctions and major shifts in marine ecosystems.

“In the past, the boundaries between geological ages are marked by sudden losses of species. We may now be entering a new age in which climate change and other human-caused factors such as fishing are the major threats for the oceans and their life,” Andrew and Mike say.

“Given how essential the oceans are to how our entire planet functions it is vital that we intervene before more tipping points are passed and the oceans go down the sort of spiral of decline we have seen in the world’s tropical forests and rangelands, for example.”

Man-made carbon emissions are now above the ‘worst case’ scenario envisioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), causing the most rapid global warming seen since the peak of the last Ice Age. At the same time the carbon is acidifying the oceans, with harmful consequences for certain plankton and shellfish.

“At current emission rates it is possible we will pass the critical level of 450 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere by 2040. That’s the level when, it is generally agreed, global climate change may become catastrophic and irreversible,” they add. “At that point we can expect to see the loss of most of our coral reefs and the arctic seas.”

“The climate is currently warming faster than the worst case known from the fossil record, about 56 million years ago, when temperatures rose about 6 degrees over 1000 years. If emissions continue it is not unreasonable to expect … warming of 5.5 degrees by the end of this century.”

Scientists expect ocean oxygen levels to decline by about six per cent for every one degree increase in temperature and areas in the sea which are low in oxygen to grow by at least 50 per cent. This has major implications for the world’s most productive fishing waters in the cool temperate regions. The seas provide around one sixth of humanity’s protein food – and any loss in fisheries production will have a direct impact on us, he adds.

Besides the changes induced by carbon emissions, the oceans are also under assault from over-fishing, increased UV exposure, toxic pollution, alien species and disease. The combined effect is to weaken the ability of many species to withstand these multiple stresses.

Another risk is that warming will unlock vast reserves of frozen methane in the seabed, triggering uncontrollable, runaway global warming.

“In the face of such terrifying changes even large scale interventions such as establishment of very large networks of Marine Protected Areas are unlikely to be effective,” Mike cautions. “On a global scale, an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions is essential to minimize future human-induced climate change.”

The oceans can also play a role in the proposed solution of eliminating carbon emissions, by producing clean energy from wind, wave and tide – potentially – by triggering phytoplankton blooms with fertilisers to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, or using the seabed to store CO2. However these require far more research to be sure.

“It may already be too late to avoid major irreversible changes to many marine ecosystems. As history has shown us, these marine-based changes could have major earth-system consequences,” the scientists conclude.

Journal reference:

  1. Andrew S. Brierley, and Michael J. Kingsford. Impacts of climate change on marine organisms and ecosystems. Current Biology, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.05.046
Adapted from materials provided by ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies.


Hawaii protecting coral reefs with big fines

By AUDREY McAVOY, Associated Press Writer
A Maui tour company is paying the state nearly $400,000 for damaging more than 1,200 coral colonies when one of its boats sank at Molokini, a pristine reef and popular diving spot. Another tour operator faces penalties for wrecking coral when it illegally dropped an anchor on a Maui reef.

The state plans to sue the U.S. Navy to seek compensation for coral ruined when a guided missile cruiser the length of two football fields ran aground near Pearl Harbor in February.

The fines began issuing fines two years ago as part of its efforts to punish those who damage a resource critical to Hawaii's fragile environment and tourism, the state's No. 1 industry.

"People are going to have to be more careful out here, because it if keeps getting damaged, we're going to lose it," said Laura Thielen, chairwoman of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, which decides how much to fine. "We have to take some very strong action or else it's going to be too late."

Hawaii is home to 84 percent of all coral under U.S. jurisdiction. About 15 percent of U.S. coral is in state waters surrounding the main Hawaiian islands from Niihau to the Big Island. Another 69 percent is in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands — a stretch of mostly uninhabited atolls President George W. Bush made a national marine monument in 2006.

Coral reefs provide vital habitats for fish, help protect shoreline areas during storms, and support a thriving snorkeling and scuba diving industry.

Experts say coral reefs in the marine monument are in good shape. But those near population the main Hawaiian island population centers are under pressure from sediment found in runoff, overfishing and invasive algae.

Careless ocean users, who can kill a 500-year-old coral in five minutes, are another danger.

"Each one may be considered fairly small. But when you add them together, then the impact gets to be even greater," said University of Hawaii coral reef expert Richard Richmond.

Kuulei Rodgers, a Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology assistant researcher, said injured corals will have a harder time recovering from global warming and rising levels of carbon dioxide the oceans are absorbing amid growing greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's the same as if when a disease hits people, it's the weaker ones that will normally be the ones that suffer the high mortality," Rodgers said.

The state imposed its first-ever fine for breaking coral in June 2007, when it ordered Lahaina-based tour operator Crystal Seahorse to pay $7,300 for illegally entering a natural area reserve and breaking 11 coral specimens there.

Hawaii had the legal authority to impose such fines before, but instead preferred to simply educate offenders about reefs and have them assist with the cost of restoration. It shifted course after realizing this wasn't prompting people to take necessary precautions around coral.

Maui Snorkel Charters, which runs tours under the name Maui Dive Shop, is paying the largest fine assessed so far.

In 2006, its Kai Anela tour boat headed to Molokini with 15 snorkelers and a captain armed with just three days of training. No tourists were hurt when the ship sank after developing mechanical problems, but the company tripled the original coral damage area by bungling salvage attempts.

The state's staff biologist estimates the area will take 80 years to recover.

Maui Snorkel Charters is paying $396,000 in a settlement, with part of the money up front and the rest in installments through 2011. The company apologized, and the Kai Anela is back in service.

The Navy is another target, for coral wrecked over a 6- to 10-acre area when the USS Port Royal ran aground. The Navy has already spent nearly $40 million on ship repairs and some $7 million restoring the reef, including dispatching scuba divers to help reattach more than 5,000 broken coral colonies.

Florida, which has 2 percent of U.S. coral — the most of any state after Hawaii — is also moving to shield the resource.

Under the newly passed Coral Reef Protection Act, approved by the Legislature this year, Florida may fine culprits up to $250,000 and sue offenders for unlimited compensatory damages. Until the law, which took effect July 1, Florida had to seek compensation through the courts.

The federal government has in the past fined offenders millions of dollars for coral wrecked in marine sanctuaries.

Tori Cullins, co-owner of Wild Side Specialty Tours in Waianae, supports fines.

"Unless you hit people in the pocketbook, I don't think it's going to matter much," said Cullins, who operates marine mammal viewing tours.

Source: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/08/02/national/a100155D11.DTL


3 Simple and Easy Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean

People are often shocked when they find out about the health of our ocean. Whether it's The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico or the depletion of fish stocks, there is one common thread throughout; you and I, the consumer.

We are a convenience based society but it is these very conveniences that is making our ocean sick. And with every takeout container, water bottle, shopping bag we use, we strip yet another layer of health away from a very fragile system in danger of collapse. Like a patient on life support who needs constant care our ocean need a major transfusion of common sense to come out of this plastic coma.

So today, we vow to change our ways, to think before we buy and to consciously make decisions for the betterment of not only our ocean but the environment as a whole and ultimately ourselves.

Three simple & easy things YOU can do starting today:

  1. STOP using one use plastic grocery bags - buy reusable canvas bags, keep them in your car and use them. Did you know that each year we use 500 billion plastic bags world wide and that each bag takes upwards of 1000 years to biodegrade in landfills?

  2. STOP buying bottled water - buy a reusable water container* (you'll save money!), there are many on the market. Plastic water bottles take over 700 years to biodegrade. 8/10 bottles in the USA end up in landfills - Yes ONLY 20% of people recycle their bottles!

  3. START Recycling - If you do not currently recycle start today! Plastic, cans, bottles and cardboard do not belong in landfills. Try it with your family, make a game of it; put aside these items and at the end of the week see how much your trash is decreased. Besides, you are throwing money away! You can get refunds for most of what you are currently throwing out*.
Over the coming weeks Oceanic Defense will put together a step-by-step guide for consumers. It will feature different ways you can protect the ocean based on your own conservation levels.

* Did you know that if you stopped buying bottled water and started recycling you could have enough money saved at the end of the year to go away on a vacation?


Carbon Offset Warning From International Team Of Scientists

ScienceDaily— Leading marine scientists from across the world have issued a warning that it is too early to sell carbon offsets from ocean iron fertilisation.

Published last January in the journal Science, signatories include scientists from the US, Japan, Hawaii, New Zealand, The Netherlands, India, Germany and the UK. The UK is represented by Prof Andrew Watson of the University of East Anglia and Dr Richard Lampitt of Southampton University's National Oceanography Centre.

Prof Watson said: "While we do envision the possibility of iron fertilisation as an effective form of carbon offsetting, we believe larger scale experiments are needed to assess the efficiency of this method and to address possible side effects.

"There remain many unknowns and potential negative impacts."

Ocean iron fertilisation (OIF) is one of several marine-based methods proposed for mitigating rising atmospheric CO2. Research since 1993 has shown that releasing iron onto the ocean surface can stimulate the growth of plankton.

However, the efficiency with which OIF sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and retains it in the deep ocean is still uncertain and unintended ecological impacts are not yet fully understood.

Despite the scientific uncertainties, private companies are currently planning larger-scale iron releases to generate the sale of carbon credits.

The joint letter concludes: "This group feels it is premature to sell carbon offsets from the first generation of commercial-scale OIF experiments unless there is better demonstration that OIF effectively removes CO2, retains that carbon in the ocean for a quantifiable amount of time, and has acceptable and predictable environmental impacts."

What is carbon offsetting?
Carbon offsetting is becoming an increasingly popular way for individuals and businesses to participate in solutions to global warming. The basic idea of a carbon offset is to figure out your personal contribution level to the global warming problem from such activities as driving, flying, or home energy use. This contribution is called a "carbon footprint." The term refers to carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. You can balance out your carbon footprint by buying carbon offsets. Your purchase funds reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through projects such as wind farms, which produce clean energy that displaces energy from fossil fuels. By funding these reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, you balance out, or offset, your own impact by an equivalent amount. Carbon offsets help you take personal responsibility for the environmental consequences of your activities. - from wikihow


Petrified Velvet Worms From 425 Million Years Ago Reveal True Ecology Of Distant Past

Fossilized velvet worm, preserved in calcium phosphate, with possible colour banding. This was found in the middle Silurian age rocks in Ontario, Canada. The image on the left shows the specimen is covered in glycerol, and illuminated with polarized light; the other side of the rock slab preserving the specimen is shown on the right, photographed using under low angle lighting. (Credit: Published in von Bitter, Purnell, Tetrault, & Stott 2007: Eramosa Lagerstätte - exceptionally preserved soft-bodied biotas with shallow-marine shelly and bioturbating organisms (Silurian, Ontario, Canada). Geology 35, 879-882.)

— University of Leicester Geologist Dr Mark Purnell, with Canadian colleagues, reported, in the journal Geology, a new, exceptionally preserved deposit of fossils in 425 million year old Silurian rocks in Ontario.

The fossils include complete fish (only the second place on Earth where whole fish of this age have been found), various shrimp and worm like creatures, including velvet-worms, which look (in Dr Purnell’s words) “rather like a dozen headless Michelin men dancing a conga.”

The velvet worms were deflated slightly by a little early rotting, but within days of dying these animals had been transformed to the mineral calcium phosphate. This preserved them as beautiful petrified fossils, showing the wonderful detail of their bodies, including coloured stripes.

This Canadian deposit is unusual even for sites of exceptional preservation because it also includes normal shelly fossils. From this it is possible to be sure that the conditions in which all the animals were living were not much different to normal nearshore seas of the Silurian period.

Dr Purnell commented: “It provides us with our best view of what lived together in such environments 425 million years ago, and our best information for understanding how life on Earth at that time was different to today.

“If people think of a fossil, they will undoubtedly be thinking of something with a hard skeleton or shell of some sort, and it is true that the vast majority of fossil are what in today’s world we call sea shells. But imagine trying to understand the biodiversity and ecology of a submarine seaside ecosystem with only the remains of sea shells to go on.

“All the variety of worms that crawl over and into the sand would be unknown, as would all the shrimpy things that scurry over the surface. We would have only a very partial view of the real biological picture.

“This is what palaeontologists are faced with when they try to reconstruct the history and past ecology of life on Earth, because everything without a shell very quickly, within hours or days, rots away to nothing, leaving no trace that it ever existed.”

Fortunately, there are a few special rock deposits scattered around the world that preserve fossilised traces of those things that normally rot away. These are known to palaeontologists as sites of exceptional preservation, but they are, Dr Purnell says, tricky to interpret precisely because they are exceptional.

“They require very unusual environmental conditions in order to slow down the decomposition of soft tissues, such as muscle and skin, and rapidly transform them into geologically stable minerals that will survive as fossils for millions of years.

“The difficulty for geologists has been that if the conditions are exceptionally unusual, is that also true of the preserved fauna or is it a more typical example? That is something our latest find has helped resolve.”

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071126121836.htm

Small Fossils Provide Key Clues For Interpreting Environmental Changes

ScienceDaily — The Micropalaeontology team at the Department of Stratigraphy and Palaeontology at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) is working on the study of microfossils under the direction of Mr Julio Rodríguez Lázaro. The concentrations of these types of fossils and the composition of their shells can provide much information about the conditions of life thousands or even millions of years ago. These microfossils once belonged to aquatic organisms and their analysis provides a knowledge of past ocean and lake characteristics – data that is highly significant in the study of climate change.

Microfossils are found in rocks and are very abundant. Samples are gathered, the species are identified and the geochemical analysis of their shells is undertaken, which enable the characteristics of the water in which these organisms lived to be identified. The UPV/EHU team has been collaborating for many years with a research team from Bordeaux (France) and mainly works with foraminiferes and ostracods. These organisms have inhabited the planet for many millions of years, in such a way that the variations observed within their populations help to describe environmental situations in the past.

The present is the key to the past

To understand what happened to these organisms in the past, it is necessary to know how they live today. To this end, current samples are gathered and their current ecology is analysed. Very different zones are studied in order to know how these organisms live in very distinct ecological niches. The UPV/EHU team worked in areas such as the Cantabrian coast, the coast of Morocco, the Atlantic coast of the United States and in oceanic waters at various places in South America, as well as with the continental waters of the river Ebro in Spain.

The data obtained in the studies were compared with samples of different layers of the ocean beds or lakes, in order to observe the changes in the distribution of the microfossils. Thus, for example, a species that can be currently observed living in cold Nordic waters appeared in great quantities in the south of the Gulf of Bizkaia during a determined period, indicating that, in that period, the waters of the Cantabrian Sea were much colder than they are now. Dating of these samples confirm that this period coincided with the last Great Ice Age and detected by the UPV/EHU team in waters of the Basque continental shelf and carbon dated (14C) at about 23,000 years.

Using this analysis and the comparison of the microfossils, the UPV/EHU team deduced changes in the natural environment and were able to interpret environmental changes taking place in the past, changes that happened in the oceans and were even able to determine where the limit was at any time between the ocean and the continent. Some of these changes produced in littoral areas have practical implications; for example, if a determined area was previously a marsh before and, thereby, subject to coastal legislation.

These studies enable the characterisation of marine registers with great detail; their interpretation enables an understanding, over a great time scale, of what the tendencies were of the cycles and where these environmental changes were going.

Study of lakes

The research work of this team was not limited to oceans, but microfossils in continental waters were also studied. In order to get to know the data provided by microfossils in more detail, they are deeply involved in a pioneering project together with the Jaume Almera Institute of Earth Sciences (ICTJA-CSIC) in Barcelona.

Given that the only trace left of these organisms when they die is their shells — its carbonate converted into fossil which has survived to the present day —, it is important to know how these shells were formed and how this formation was affected by the distinct chemical conditions of the water. Researchers have cultured samples of ostracods, gastropods and Charophyte algae in different conditions — water temperature, salinity, pH, chemical composition, etc., in order to see how the shell was formed. This chemical balance determines the elements making up the shell in such a way; by extracting and analysing the quantity of a determined element in the fossils, the chemical conditions at the moment in which the organism lived can be determined. Thus the chemical conditions of the waters thousands or millions of years ago can be deduced.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090723113510.htm

Scientists To Explore 'Living Lights' On The Deep Sea Floor; Bioluminescence 'Common In All The World’s Oceans'

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida -- The deep ocean floor beyond the reach of sunlight provides one of nature’s most impressive light shows.

Scientists from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, Duke University, the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA), the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center are using their combined expertise in bioluminescence, taxonomy, visual ecology, imaging and molecular biology to explore the environment of the deep-sea bottom to search for undiscovered “living lights” off the Bahamas.

This research expedition is taking place from July 20-31, 2009, and is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. These scientists are using sensitive low-light cameras and Harbor Branch’s Johnson-Sea-Link submersible to photograph bioluminescence of animals in their natural environment.

“Bioluminescence is a fascinating phenomenon that is found only in a few species on land, but is common in all the world’s oceans,” said Dr. Tamara Frank, research scientist at Harbor Branch’s Center for Ocean Exploration and Deep-Sea Research and principal investigator and lead scientist on the expedition. “If you have ever seen a firefly, then you have witnessed the same process in action.”

Animals have evolved to deal with the darkness of the deep sea through the process of bioluminescence and have developed the ability to use chemicals within their bodies to produce light. Bioluminescence occurs when certain chemicals are mixed together; the effect is similar to the soft green glow produced by green light sticks when the seal in the stick is broken.

Scientists estimate that about 90 percent of the animals living in the open waters above the sea floor are bioluminescent. However, information on living light among deep-dwelling creatures is very sparse because they are so inaccessible. Furthermore, most bioluminescent animals do not glow constantly, but rather, only light up in response to mechanical or visual stimuli. They may use bioluminescence for a number of possible reasons including camouflage, attracting prey, mating and communication. Based on the few but varied deep-sea attached animals, such as corals or sea anemones, that are known to produce light, and the adaptations in the large eyes of the some of the mobile predators discovered on previous NOAA-OER funded Harbor Branch explorations, it is likely that bioluminescence is abundant and plays a significant role in animal interactions on the deep-sea floor.

“An intriguing, and as of yet unverified idea, is that when marine animals die and accumulate on the ocean floor they are covered with luminous bacteria, which unlike other bioluminescent organisms, glow continuously,” said Frank. “Bioluminescent bacteria occur throughout the marine environment, and these bacteria are known to colonize shrimp and fish carcasses, suggesting that the resulting background glow may be used as a cue by deep-sea scavengers to find carcasses.”

Previous expeditions by Frank and her colleagues have explored the vision of some of these scavengers, which are crustaceans called isopods. They have demonstrated that the isopod’s eyes work like a camera with a very slow shutter speed which makes them extremely sensitive to light. Frank and her colleagues have also discovered several species of deep-sea crabs that have an ultraviolet (UV)-sensitive visual pigment in addition to blue-sensitive ones. This suggests that UV sensitivity plays an important role in their ecology, and this sensitivity may also permit them to see as-yet undiscovered short wavelength bioluminescence from other bottom-dwelling organisms. UV bioluminescence on the deep ocean floor may be a novel, private channel of communication, allowing these animals to find their preferred habitat.

“Without damaging or endangering these fascinating creatures, we will be photographing them from the Johnson-Sea-Link with all of the lights off using a special camera with a very wide aperture, as well as with ORCA’s Eye-in-the-Sea camera system that uses a very low light sensitive video camera. This should allow us to record bioluminescence which we are unable to see with the naked eye,” said Frank.

Frank is joined by her colleagues Drs. Sönke Johnsen, Duke University; Edith Widder, ORCA; Charles Messing, Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center; and Steve Haddock, MBARI, on this research expedition.

The two selected locations for this expedition include the western margin of the Little Bahama Bank and a location in the Northwest Providence Channel that was last studied in 1978.

Source: Underwatertimes.com News Service


Blast fishing killing Nicaragua's fisheries

On many nights at sea off this Pacific port, Aaron Medina drops bombs that cause dozens of fish to soar into the air.

Like a drug dealer advertising his goods, the 23-year-old fisherman rubbernecks to ensure no police are around before pulling a 1-pound bomb from his pocket. It's an old sardine can wrapped in a cement bag filled with gunpowder, sugar and sulfur. It is lit with a waterproof wick.

"It's the only way to survive in fishing today," said Medina, who has been fishing with explosives off Corinto, Nicaragua's largest port, since he was 12 years old.

Medina is part of the nation's booming blast fishing industry, which is quickly spreading across Central America's Pacific coast. The practice is also common in El Salvador and Honduras, environmental groups say.

Blast fishing is an illegal but lucrative practice in which fishermen throw small homemade bombs into the marine habitat, killing entire schools of fish and wiping out everything else within the blast zone - including coral reef habitats - thus depleting fisheries.

"In a few years, blast fishing will be everywhere if it continues like this," said Reinaldo Bermuti of Nicaragua's Fisheries Institute in the capital, Managua.

Other authorities fear the practice is fueling a black market for increasingly potent explosives that could fall into the hands of gangs or terrorist groups.

"That's why we're constantly working on intelligence," said police investigator Lester Gomez.

40,000 bombs a week

Unlike many of Nicaragua's coastal areas, Corinto's rocky shoreline hasn't attracted international surfers or real estate investors. But over the past decade, blast fishing has grown because poverty is rampant, homemade bombs are increasingly available and law enforcement is lax. Local authorities estimate fishermen drop 40,000 homemade bombs into the sea every week.

Often working undercover, police confiscated about 1,000 bombs last year, most of which were seized at highway checkpoints. In 2007, Corinto police confiscated 650 bombs from a clandestine bomb factory. The Nicaraguan navy often cruises Pacific waters at night with no lights, hoping to catch fishermen red-handed. Last year, naval officials say they caught five boats blast fishing, and seized about 400 bombs. Navy Capt. Francisco Gutierrez concedes that's just a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of bombs used each year.

Blast fishing is considered an environmental crime under Nicaraguan law, punishable by up to four years in prison. Prosecutors can increase jail time by tacking on illegal weapons possession charges. But prosecuting cases is difficult because evidence is easily destroyed at sea. Gutierrez said five fishermen are currently being processed for alleged blast fishing, but he couldn't recall the last time anyone went to jail.

"They have a system. It's almost impossible to arrest them. When they see us coming, they just sink the bombs in the sea with rocks," Gutierrez said.

Widespread corruption among local police officers hinders enforcement efforts, police investigator Gomez said. Many fishermen say police officers routinely take bribes from bomb manufacturers and their distributors.

But Gutierrez is hopeful that a one-year program to educate fishermen about the pitfalls of the practice is finally paying off. In June, for the first time, fishermen turned in more than 311 bombs.

"We've been trying to persuade them in meetings," Gutierrez said.

But Medina believes blast fishing is more widespread than authorities suspect. He says virtually every fisherman he knows has traded in traditional nets, lines and hooks for explosives. And the handful of clandestine bombmakers who sell explosives for about $2 apiece are making more powerful explosives, he adds.

Most recently, Nicaraguan police caught two fishermen with 10-pound bombs wrapped in cement bags - more destructive and risky than the usual sardine-can-size bombs. Medina says even 15-pound bombs are now available on the black market.

Injuries and deaths

Medina also says some bombs have exploded while being handled by colleagues, causing loss of life and limbs. In the past three years, Corinto authorities have reported two deaths, nine cases of lost limbs and two men who were blinded by explosions.

Medina only works at night, where he and his colleagues stick a flashlight into the water to attract fish- usually sardines - before dropping bombs anchored by rocks. The explosion, which kills everything within a 10-foot radius, sends a few dozen sardines into the boat that are later used as bait to attract larger fish such as snapper. Fishermen jump in with snorkel masks to net remaining fish that float around the boat. Bigger explosives cause an even greater radius of dead or stunned fish and require scuba gear to dive deep into the ocean.

"They go out to sea with one bomb and bring in 400 kilos (880 pounds) of fish," Medina said of fishermen who use larger bombs.

As the resource is depleted by blast fishing, fishermen are now lucky to bring in 100 kilos of fish on a given trip instead of 400 kilos a decade ago, Medina says.

While Medina and other local fishermen claim they have little choice but to use explosives, Helen Fox of the World Wildlife Foundation says they are motivated by making a quick buck.

"It's a case of greed rather than need," said Fox.

But Medina says he has little recourse in a nation with the second-lowest annual per capita income in the Western Hemisphere at $3,000.

"We're deteriorating the fauna," he said. "But there's no other way to bring money home."

Blast fishing

Blast or dynamite fishing stuns or kills fish for easy gathering. This illegal practice indiscriminately kills large numbers of fish and other marine organisms and can damage or destroy surrounding ecosystems such as coral reefs.

Although outlawed, the practice remains widespread in some 40 nations in Central America, Southeast Asia, the Aegean Sea and Africa, environmental groups say. In the Philippines, blast fishing dates to before World War I. During World War II, dynamite-wielding Japanese troops popularized the practice in Indonesia.

Nicaraguan fishermen say the practice was introduced by bomb-wielding rebels of El Salvador's Farabundo Marti Liberation Front seeking a new livelihood after a 12-year civil war in that country ended in 1992.

Fishermen typically use commercial dynamite or homemade bombs with glass bottles or cans layered with powdered potassium nitrate and pebbles or ammonium nitrate and a kerosene mixture.

- Blake Schmidt

E-mail Blake Schmidt at foreign@sfchronicle.com.