Japan dolphin hunting town threatens to sue over 'The Cove'

by Kyoko Hasegawa

TOKYO, Japan - A town at the centre of a controversial dolphin slaughtering documentary could sue the film makers, local fisheries officials said Wednesday, as it premiered at a Tokyo film festival.

"The Cove", an award-winning film depicting the annual slaughter of dolphins in the Japanese coastal town of Taiji, has caused uproar in the town, with film makers accused of covertly shooting footage using divers and hidden cameras.

The Taiji fisheries cooperative, which strongly supports the dolphin hunt, has written a letter of protest to the organiser of the film festival, an official told AFP.

"We've heard that the film includes factual errors, and so we may take some sort of action, including legal steps, if we watch it and find problems," said the official, who declined to be named.

The movie had its Japan premiere Wednesday at the Tokyo International Film Festival before some 300 movie-goers and journalists.

Comments in a question-and-answer session varied from revulsion at the graphic scenes of the dolphin slaughter in a secluded cove to a spirited defence of Japanese traditions and fishing and food habits.

"Although it's a difficult issue as it involves fishermen's jobs, it's also difficult to argue that all Japanese traditions have to be maintained," Makoto Iwahashi, a 19-year-old student, told AFP after watching the film. "I think if we find something wrong in our tradition, we should correct it."

Killing dolphins is not prohibited by the International Whaling Commission's ban on commercial whaling, but Japan's Fisheries Agency restricts the practice by handing out annual quotas to several fishing towns.

This year, Taiji was allocated a quota of about 2,300 small cetaceans - such as dolphins, whales and porpoises, said prefectural official Shimamura. The film's director, Louie Psihoyos, said the film was not an attack on Japan and his team was negotiating with Japanese distributors over a possible deal for the film to be shown in Japanese film theaters.

"All the profits we will be able to make from this film will go to fishermen in Taiji - if they agree to stop dolphin-hunting," he said.

The Taiji fisheries official said the town would keep hunting dolphins.

Source: http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Asia/Story/A1Story20091021-175000.html


Interview with A Taiji Boat Captain

by: Steven Thompson’s guest blog as an ‘observer’ in Taiji, Japan:

Last year in Taiji I was told by a dolphin fishermen union member that dolphins are never let back into the wild because the fishermen are afraid the freed dolphins will communicate with other dolphins in the world about how sinister the Taiji fishermen really are.

We went whale watching on Oct 4th from Katsuura. Fishing and whale watching is available in Katsuura. Dolphin boats from the larger town of Katsuura take tourists to a sort of a dolphin aquarium where they are netted in the middle of the bay in Ocean water where they are and fed if they do tricks.

Fishing is everywhere and we saw many boats with fishermen fishing for one fish, katsuo using a line but there are still lots of boats that don't go out. I talked to a man who talked about harder economic times.

I am up at 5:30am to find a clear day brewing. It is a good day to go out for whale and dolphin watching. We drive about 4 minutes to meet the proud Captain, his first mate and a group of 4 college students on a weekend break. We are all excited at the prospect of watching whales and dolphins frolic in the wild, excited enough to spend about $60 US each for the privilege.

We motor about two hours straight out to sea to find a wonderful view of the wide ocean. The first mate serves drinks. The captain throws out fishing lines. We share jokes.

Life in this corner of Japan lulls people into a sunny, happy, friendly stupor. There are no problems in our town. The Captain’s family is illustrative of the happy life.

Today the Captain made more than $420 US. Whales or no whales, people will still pay. His wife
is quick with a friendly smile. Two of their lovely daughters I met seemed fun loving. One of his granddaughters ran around the docks with her Chihuahua named Charmie.

The idyllic picture is only interrupted by the Captain’s hands shaking. This is perhaps due to mercury poisoning perhaps not.

I am looking for ways to encourage activism among people who travel to Katsuura and Taiji. The dolphin killers keep such a low profile. Most locals have never taken the time to climb the hill next to the Whale Museum and look down at the Killing Cove with the ropes strung, ready to cover the embarrassment of ending lives filled with beauty and grace.

I am fighting the lull myself. I look forward to my next meal, my next humorous light conversation with locals.

Before eating another meal of katsuo sashimi prepared by the Captain’s wife, I interview the Captain. I have joked and cajoled the captain long enough that he knows my position. He even knows I am an activist. I bait him and he knows it.

Here is a rough translation:
Me: It’s too bad we didn’t see any whales or dolphins. Why couldn’t we? Could it have something to do with the Taiji fishermen?

He: No, it’s the end of the season, there are no more dolphins or whales in the area…less food for the dolphins…and there was rough weather a few days ago..
Me: It doesn’t sound quite right. Are you saying that the Taiji fishermen won’t find dolphins? Isn’t the season opening for them?

He: Yes, that’s true…but they go much farther out.

Me: How far?

He: Well, we went out about 20 km from shore and they will easily go out double that.

Me: So you expect them to find dolphins today?

He: I did hear radio chatter, they didn’t find any today either.

Me: I see by the way, do you eat dolphin?

He: No.

Me: Whale?

He: Of course. It’s delicious.

Me: But wouldn’t it be great to have a sea filled with dolphins all the time?

He: This is not easy to do…change takes time.

I can easily see why most people we meet in both Katsuura and Taiji know very little about the Taiji Drive hunts. Many people we meet casually in restaurants or while walking down the street know nothing about Taiji’s dolphin killing or dolphin selling business. For locals, mercury contamination seems to be a complete and utterly shocking unknown.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Cove premieres at the Tokyo Film Festival in Japan Wednesday October 21, 2009

Major US Shopping Chains Target Plastic Bags

By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

Just in time for the holidays, reusable shopping bags are about to go decidedly mainstream.

Target (TGT), the fifth-largest U.S. retailer last year, will announce Monday plans to give customers a 5-cent discount for every reusable bag they use to pack their purchases.

The move comes within days of drugstore giant CVS' (CVS) plan to give participating CVS customers $1 cash bonuses on their CVS cards every four times they buy something but don't request plastic bags.

The programs come at a time retailers are feeling heat from advocacy groups, lawmakers and customers to take actions on environmental issues.

In tandem, the two programs could keep billions of plastic bags out of the environment and nudge other big retailers to take similar steps, says Allen Herskowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Plastic bags are the most ubiquitous form of waste on the planet," Herskowitz says. "They are among the most deadly forms of marine debris, lethal to threatened species of marine mammals throughout the world."

For retailers, going green is the new gold.

"It's become part of the competitive landscape to demonstrate that it's part of your culture," says David Szymanski, marketing professor at Texas A&M University. "Retailers who want to connect with this generation have to go green."

Although smaller retailers — including Whole Foods (WFMI), Trader Joe's and regional grocer Stop & Shop — have given consumers financial incentives to re-use bags, most big retailers have stopped short of giving customers money to bring their own bags.

For the moment, at least, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has no plans to pay customers to use their own bags, spokesman Kory Lundberg says.

So the Target and CVS programs are raising eco-eyebrows.

The Target program, which will roll out on Nov. 1 at all 1,700 Target stores nationwide, could save billions of plastic bags. The chain posts upwards of 1.5 billion transactions annually — most ending up in more than one bag.

A pilot test in 100 Target stores earlier this year resulted in a hefty 58% reduction in plastic bags used, says Shawn Gensch, vice president of marketing. "The best-case scenario is that we'll have 100% success and every consumer will use a reusable bag."

The CVS program, rolling out to 7,000 stores over the next three weeks, requires customers wanting to participate to buy a 99-cent tag to be scanned with their CVS card.

"We reward customers for doing good things," says Melissa Studzinski, the chain's director of relationship marketing

Source: http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/environment/2009-10-18-target-plastic-bags-green-environment_N.htm

Cabinet Ministers Illustrate Global Warming Issues

Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed dos scuba gear as he signs a document in Girifushi, Maldives, on Saturday that calls on all countries to cut down their carbon dioxide emissions ahead of a U.N. climate change conference.

GIRIFUSHI, Maldives - Members of the Maldives' Cabinet donned scuba gear and used hand signals Saturday at an underwater meeting staged to highlight the threat of global warming to the lowest-lying nation on earth.

President Mohammed Nasheed and 13 other government officials submerged and took their seats at a table on the sea floor — 20 feet below the surface of a lagoon off Girifushi, an island usually used for military training.

With a backdrop of coral, the meeting was a bid to draw attention to fears that rising sea levels caused by the melting of polar ice caps could swamp this Indian Ocean archipelago within a century. Its islands average 7 feet above sea level.

"What we are trying to make people realize is that the Maldives is a frontline state. This is not merely an issue for the Maldives but for the world," Nasheed said.

As bubbles floated up from their face masks, the president, vice president, Cabinet secretary and 11 ministers signed a document calling on all countries to cut their carbon dioxide emissions.

The issue has taken on urgency ahead of a major U.N. climate change conference scheduled for December in Copenhagen. At that meeting countries will negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol with aims to cut the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that scientists blame for causing global warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Wealthy nations want broad emissions cuts from all countries, while poorer ones say industrialized countries should carry most of the burden.

Dozens of Maldives soldiers guarded the event Saturday, but the only intruders were groupers and other fish.

Nasheed had already announced plans for a fund to buy a new homeland for his people if the 1,192 low-lying coral islands are submerged. He has promised to make the Maldives, with a population of 350,000, the world's first carbon-neutral nation within a decade.

"We have to get the message across by being more imaginative, more creative and so this is what we are doing," he said in an interview on a boat en route to the dive site.

Nasheed, who has emerged as a key, and colorful, voice on climate change, is a certified diver, but the others had to take diving lessons in recent weeks.

Three ministers missed the underwater meeting because two were not given medical permission and another was abroad.

Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33354627/ns/world_news-weird_news/


Last Time Carbon Dioxide Levels Were This High: 15 Million Years Ago, Scientists Report

ScienceDaily — You would have to go back at least 15 million years to find carbon dioxide levels on Earth as high as they are today, a UCLA scientist and colleagues report Oct. 8 in the online edition of the journal Science.

"The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland," said the paper's lead author, Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

"Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas, and geological observations that we now have for the last 20 million years lend strong support to the idea that carbon dioxide is an important agent for driving climate change throughout Earth's history," she said.

By analyzing the chemistry of bubbles of ancient air trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists have been able to determine the composition of Earth's atmosphere going back as far as 800,000 years, and they have developed a good understanding of how carbon dioxide levels have varied in the atmosphere since that time. But there has been little agreement before this study on how to reconstruct carbon dioxide levels prior to 800,000 years ago.

Tripati, before joining UCLA's faculty, was part of a research team at England’s University of Cambridge that developed a new technique to assess carbon dioxide levels in the much more distant past — by studying the ratio of the chemical element boron to calcium in the shells of ancient single-celled marine algae. Tripati has now used this method to determine the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere as far back as 20 million years ago.

"We are able, for the first time, to accurately reproduce the ice-core record for the last 800,000 years — the record of atmospheric C02 based on measurements of carbon dioxide in gas bubbles in ice," Tripati said. "This suggests that the technique we are using is valid.

"We then applied this technique to study the history of carbon dioxide from 800,000 years ago to 20 million years ago," she said. "We report evidence for a very close coupling between carbon dioxide levels and climate. When there is evidence for the growth of a large ice sheet on Antarctica or on Greenland or the growth of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, we see evidence for a dramatic change in carbon dioxide levels over the last 20 million years.

"A slightly shocking finding," Tripati said, "is that the only time in the last 20 million years that we find evidence for carbon dioxide levels similar to the modern level of 387 parts per million was 15 to 20 million years ago, when the planet was dramatically different."

Levels of carbon dioxide have varied only between 180 and 300 parts per million over the last 800,000 years — until recent decades, said Tripati, who is also a member of UCLA's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. It has been known that modern-day levels of carbon dioxide are unprecedented over the last 800,000 years, but the finding that modern levels have not been reached in the last 15 million years is new.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the carbon dioxide level was about 280 parts per million, Tripati said. That figure had changed very little over the previous 1,000 years. But since the Industrial Revolution, the carbon dioxide level has been rising and is likely to soar unless action is taken to reverse the trend, Tripati said.

"During the Middle Miocene (the time period approximately 14 to 20 million years ago), carbon dioxide levels were sustained at about 400 parts per million, which is about where we are today," Tripati said. "Globally, temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, a huge amount."

Tripati's new chemical technique has an average uncertainty rate of only 14 parts per million.

"We can now have confidence in making statements about how carbon dioxide has varied throughout history," Tripati said.

In the last 20 million years, key features of the climate record include the sudden appearance of ice on Antarctica about 14 million years ago and a rise in sea level of approximately 75 to 120 feet.

"We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in carbon dioxide levels of about 100 parts per million, a huge change," Tripati said. "This record is the first evidence that carbon dioxide may be linked with environmental changes, such as changes in the terrestrial ecosystem, distribution of ice, sea level and monsoon intensity."

Today, the Arctic Ocean is covered with frozen ice all year long, an ice cap that has been there for about 14 million years.

"Prior to that, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic," Tripati said.

Some projections show carbon dioxide levels rising as high as 600 or even 900 parts per million in the next century if no action is taken to reduce carbon dioxide, Tripati said. Such levels may have been reached on Earth 50 million years ago or earlier, said Tripati, who is working to push her data back much farther than 20 million years and to study the last 20 million years in detail.

More than 50 million years ago, there were no ice sheets on Earth, and there were expanded deserts in the subtropics, Tripati noted. The planet was radically different.

Co-authors on the Science paper are Christopher Roberts, a Ph.D. student in the department of Earth sciences at the University of Cambridge, and Robert Eagle, a postdoctoral scholar in the division of geological and planetary sciences at the California Institute of Technology.

The research was funded by UCLA's Division of Physical Sciences and the United Kingdom's National Environmental Research Council.

Tripati's research focuses on the development and application of chemical tools to study climate change throughout history. She studies the evolution of climate and seawater chemistry through time.

"I'm interested in understanding how the carbon cycle and climate have been coupled, and why they have been coupled, over a range of time-scales, from hundreds of years to tens of millions of years," Tripati said.

In addition to being published on the Science Express website, the paper will be published in the print edition of Science at a later date.

A New Look Beneath The Waves: Ocean Observatories Initiative Gets Underway

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Giving scientists never-before-seen views of the world's oceans, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership (COL) have signed a Cooperative Agreement that supports the construction and initial operation of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI).

OOI will provide a network of undersea sensors for observing complex ocean processes such as climate variability, ocean circulation, and ocean acidification at several coastal, open-ocean and seafloor locations.

Continuous data flow from hundreds of OOI sensors will be integrated by a sophisticated computing network, and will be openly available to scientists, policy makers, students
and the public.

"Through the Recovery Act, we are putting people to work today to find answers to some of the major scientific and environmental challenges that we face," said Arden L. Bement, Jr., director of NSF.

"The oceans drive an incredible range of natural phenomena, including our climate, and directly impact society in myriad ways," Bement explained. "New approaches are crucial to our understanding of changes now happening in the world's oceans. OOI will install the latest technologies where they can best serve scientists, policymakers and the public."

Added Julie Morris, NSF division director for ocean sciences, "Moving a large project to the construction phase requires rigorous planning. Remarkable cooperation and commitment from the OOI team is translating a long-held dream into a new reality for the ocean sciences research community."

Advanced ocean research and sensor tools are a significant improvement over past techniques. Remotely operated and autonomous vehicles go deeper and perform longer than submarines. Underwater samplers do in minutes what once took hours in a lab. Telecommunications cables link experiments directly to office computers on land. At sea, satellite uplinks shuttle buoy data at increasing speeds.

Sited in critical areas of the open and coastal ocean, OOI will radically change the rate and scale of ocean data collection. The networked observatory will focus on global, regional and coastal science questions. It will also provide platforms to support new kinds of instruments and autonomous vehicles.

"OOI is an unprecedented opportunity for, and whole new approach to, advancing our understanding of how the ocean works and interacts with the atmosphere and solid Earth," said Robert Gagosian, president and CEO of COL. "It will allow scientists to answer complex questions--questions only dreamed of a few years ago--about the future health of our planet, such as the ocean's role in climate change. It's very exciting to be part of this huge step forward in the ocean sciences."

The five-plus-year construction phase, funded initially with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 funds, will begin this month.

The first year of funding under the Cooperative Agreement will support a range of construction efforts, including production engineering and prototyping of key coastal and open-ocean components (moorings, buoys, sensors), award of the primary seafloor cable contract, completion of a shore station for power and data, and software development for sensor interfaces to the network.

Subsequent years of funding will support the completion of coastal, deep-ocean, and seafloor systems, with initial data flow scheduled for early 2013 and final commissioning of the full system in 2015.

The OOI is managed and coordinated by the OOI Project Office at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington, D.C., with three major implementing organizations responsible for the construction of the components of the full network:

  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and its partners, Oregon State University and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, are responsible for coastal and global moorings and their associated autonomous vehicles. Raytheon will also serve as a WHOI partner and provide project management and systems engineering support.
  • The University of Washington is responsible for cabled seafloor systems and moorings on the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate.
  • OOI's cyberinfrastructure component is being implemented by the University of California at San Diego.

In 2010 the program will add an education and public engagement team as the fourth implementing organization; it will take advantage of the technology and combined science and education vision of the OOI.

"This award represents the fulfillment of more than a decade of planning and hard work by hundreds of ocean scientists, and reflects the commitment of the National Science Foundation to new approaches for documenting ocean processes," said Tim Cowles, OOI program director at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

"The OOI project team is excited to play a role in implementing this unique suite of observing assets. We're building an infrastructure that will transform ocean sciences."

Source: http://www.underwatertimes.com/news.php?article_id=96734528100


Peter Fang, House of Nanking, is a hero to sharks and the oceans!

Thank you Peter Fang for being a hero to sharks and the oceans!!

The House of Nanking is one of the most famous and popular restaurants in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Chef Owner Peter Fang also recently opened a new hotspot in the SOMA district -- Fang Restaurant (660 Howard Street).


Peter Fang cares about the health of his customers and wants to do his part to protect sharks and our oceans from the devastating overfishing that is being driven by the demand for shark fin soup. Both of Peter’s restaurants are now proudly displaying Shark Safe Network’s brand new stickers in their front windows:

For the health of our customers and the planet ... no shark products are served at this establishment.

As an award winning chef with one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Chinatown and now in SOMA as well, Peter Fang is setting a brilliant example. Proving that Chinese restaurants do not have to serve shark fin soup to be successful!

Quote from World Travel Guide’s City Guide to San Francisco – House of Nanking was one of only 25 restaurants chosen for this listing.

“San Francisco's Chinatown is bursting with eateries, but this is king among them. Owner and chef Peter Fang has perfected the Chinese art of serving an array of delicious dishes in the shortest possible time.”

Source: Shark-Safe Network


Combining Sun, Sand And Science In The Bahamas

ScienceDaily — It is well known that people from all over the world come to the Bahamas to enjoy the pristine waters, spectacular coral reefs and great fishing. Tourism produces approximately 55 % of the gross domestic product and employs up to 60% of the total workforce in the Bahamas. However, building of hotels and facilities that make it possible for visitors to come and enjoy the natural beauty of the islands can also damage the marine environment they come to take pleasure in.

Consequently, researchers from the University of Miami teamed up with developers from Discovery Land Company , to establish the first Bahamian project that employed on-site environmental scientists to guide the construction of a sustainable development called the Baker's Bay Golf and Ocean Club, (BBC) located in the Northeastern Bahamas. This project uses BBC as a case study and documents best practices and construction impacts, especially on the marine environment. The findings were published earlier this year in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism.

The goal of the project was to establish an Environmental Management Program with realistic environmental goals, explained Kathleen Sullivan-Sealey, associate professor in the Department of Biology at the UM College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator of the project.

"Working with land-planners, developers and engineers was new and required re-thinking about the important ecological and geological information that this group needed to know for construction on an island," Sullivan-Sealey said. "Information and ideas that ecologists take for granted are not part of the thinking for most developers."

The Bahamas is comprised of 700 low-lying islands and 2,000 small keys, with carbonate limestone banks and limited sources of fresh water. For that reason, reducing the impact of development on water supply was a priority. Other mitigation measures in the project included creating sustainable sewage and waste management, removal and replacement of invasive, non-native vegetation with native vegetation, and the creation of coastal buffer zones and private ecological preserves to lessen the impact of development on the terrestrial and marine environments.

The work involved following the project from the EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) in the planning stages, through the implementation of the Environmental Management Plan during the four years of construction. The study documents the efforts, costs and resources necessary for the project. Some of the important findings are:

  • About 15% of the total project budget was necessary for environmental and coastal protection programs- with long-term benefits.
  • Tourism development in the Bahamas must look for sustainable alternatives to meet required water demands due to the limited fresh water resources in the islands.
  • Coastal buffer zones and private reserves (especially small wetlands) within the development project are important in protecting the island from the impact of floods and storms and can help meet environmental goals and reduce costly mitigation projects.
  • Coastal development setbacks are necessary to reduce beach erosion as well as protect vital wildlife habitats.
  • Restoring functional landscapes is critical in new developments to maintain minimum population thresholds of local species.
  • Land-base sources of pollution must be reduced to maintain the value of near shore marine resources.

"BBC is the first project in the Bahamas to employ Bahamians with college degrees in environmental science and management and it represents a major step forward for the country to create jobs in environmental management," explained Sullivan-Sealey.

"This opens up new and exciting career options for Bahamians and creates job opportunities in the hotel/ hospitality industry that are dependent on marine and environmental resource management," she said.

Dr. Sullivan-Sealey heads the project on Coastal Ecology of the Bahamas, supported by the EarthWatch Institute. The 10-year project involves visiting the major islands in the archipelago to assess the state of the coastal environment.

Planet's Nitrogen Cycle Overturned By 'Tiny Ammonia Eater Of The Seas'

ScienceDaily — It's not every day you find clues to the planet's inner workings in aquarium scum. But that's what happened a few years ago when University of Washington researchers cultured a tiny organism from the bottom of a Seattle Aquarium tank and found it can digest ammonia, a key environmental function. New results show this minute organism and its brethren play a more central role in the planet's ecology than previously suspected.

The findings, published online September 30 in the journal Nature, show that these microorganisms, members of ancient lineage called archaea, beat out all other marine life in the race for ammonia. Ecologists now assume that ammonia in the upper ocean will first be gobbled up by phytoplankton to make new cells, leaving very little ammonia for microbes to turn into nitrate.

"Our data suggests that it's the other way around," said co-author Willm Martens-Habbena, a UW postdoctoral researcher. "Archaea are capable of stealing the ammonia from other organisms and turning it into nitrate. Then it's the phytoplankton that take up that nitrate once again."

Ammonia is a waste product that can be toxic to animals. But plants, including phytoplankton, prize ammonia as the most energy-efficient way to build new cells.

The new paper also shows that archaea can scavenge nitrogen-containing ammonia in the most barren environments of the deep sea, solving a long-running mystery of how the microorganisms can survive in that environment. Archaea therefore not only play a role, but are central to the planetary nitrogen cycles on which all life depends.

"Bacterial nitrifiers were discovered in the late 19th century. One century later this other group of nitrifiers is discovered that is not a minor population, it turns out to be the major population," said co-author David Stahl, a UW professor with appointments in the departments of civil and environmental engineering and microbiology. "We have to revise our basic understanding of the nitrogen cycle."

In the tree of life, archaea occupy their own branch. Archaea were discovered only about 30 years ago and were first thought to exist only in extreme environments, such as hot springs or hydrothermal vents. They are now known to be more widespread.

In the early 1990s scientists collecting seawater found strands of genetic material that suggested at least 20 percent of the ocean's microbes are archaea, and circumstantial evidence suggested they might live off ammonia. Stahl's group in 2005 was the first to isolate the organism, which they got from a tropical tank in the Seattle Aquarium, and demonstrate that it can, in fact, grow by oxidizing ammonia. His lab and others have since found the organism in many marine environments, including Puget Sound and the North Sea. The microbe is likely ubiquitous on land and in the seas, they say.

The new experiments show that the organism can survive on a mere whiff of ammonia – 10 nanomolar concentration, equivalent to a teaspoon of ammonia salt in 10 million gallons of water. In the deep ocean there is no light and little carbon, so this trace amount of ammonia is the organism's only source of energy.

"What Willm's work has shown is that these archaea can grow at the vanishingly low concentrations of ammonia found in the ocean," Stahl said. "Until we made the measurements, no one thought it would be possible that an organism could live on these trace amounts of ammonia as a primary energy source."

That finding has two important implications for ocean ecosystems. Scientists knew that something was turning ammonia into nitrate in the deep ocean, but could not fathom what organism might be responsible. Now it appears archaea are those mysterious organisms.

And in the sun-dappled upper ocean waters, it appears that archaea can out-compete phytoplankton for ammonia. The same may be true in soil environments, the researchers say.

The archaea in question are small even by the standards of single-celled organisms. At 0.2 micrometers across, about 8 millionths of an inch, the only life forms smaller are viruses. Martens-Habbena speculates that archaea's size could explain how they are able to survive on such a scant energy supply. The strain used in these experiments is named Nitrosopumilus maritimus, which means "tiny ammonia-oxidizer of the sea."

A better understanding of archaea's lifestyle and role in nitrogen cycles not only would rewrite ecology textbooks. It could also have practical applications, such as devising natural ways to boost a soil's nitrogen content without needing to use chemical fertilizers, or designing sewage treatment plants that employ microbes to remove nitrogenous waste more efficiently, or understanding which microbes produce global-warming gases such as nitrous oxide.

The new findings will also affect the equations used in global climate models, researchers say. Computer models use global cycles of nitrogen and other chemicals to estimate how much carbon dioxide the oceans will absorb and ultimately sink to the bottom of the sea. The new findings suggest that most of the nitrate in the surface water comes from recycling of biomass, and not from the deep water as currently assumed.

"Our data suggest that the carbon pump is weaker than currently assumed, so current climate models may overestimate how much carbon can be absorbed by the oceans," Martens Habbena said.

Other co-authors are the UW's Paul Berube, Hidetoshi Urakawa and Jose de la Torre. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.


Thinking Like an Ocean

There are three things I love – conservation, the ocean, and great writing. When I first studied conservation, required reading included Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There (1949) and his iconic essay, “Thinking Like a Mountain.” I distinctly remember the first time I read the essay because it so beautifully combined a lesson in the vital ecosystem-function of a top predator with his very personal and sad experience of killing a wolf. What I found so moving about his essay, was the sense of loss he communicates – loss not just of the individual wolf he killed but of all wolves. And the first time I saw a shark killed, I immediately felt the same thing. It wasn’t until years later, re-reading the essay, that I fully realized all the parallels.

With great respect for the original, I have, humbly, taken the liberty to ‘alter’ Leopold’s essay, keeping it as close to the original as possible, in a re-telling of the first time I saw a predator die, a shark. I’ve chosen this vehicle to more closely draw all the parallels between the stories of predator extirpation both on land and in the oceans, both past and present.

For the ocean,

Samantha Whitcraft
Director of Conservation Biology & Reseach
Oceanic Defense - Activation Through Education

Thinking Like an Ocean

By Samantha Whitcraft

A fast silvery streak flashes from reef to reef, cruises along the ledge, and fades into the deep blue of the ocean. It is a symbol of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every swimming thing (and perhaps many on land as well) pays heed to that symbol. To the reef fish it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the kelp a forecast of midnight hunts and blood in the water, to the ‘cuda a promise of gleanings to come, to the aquaculturist a threat of red ink at the bank, to the fisherman a challenge of teeth against hook. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the ocean itself. Only the ocean has lived long enough to witness objectively the symbolic majesty of the shark.

Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nonetheless that it is there, for it is felt in all shark waters and distinguishes those waters from all other ocean realms. It tingles in the spine of all who dive with them at night, or who fish for them by day. Even without sight or sound of shark, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight shadow of a ghost net, the rattle of the rigging, the bound of a jumping fish, the way shadows lie along the seawalls. Only the ignorant and careless can fail to sense the presence or absence of sharks, or the fact that oceans have a secret opinion about them.

My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a shark die. We were eating lunch on a Bertram 410, making passage from Midway Atoll to Kure. We saw a wahoo following our lure, its tail a flash of white water. When it closed the distance between us and took the bait, we realized it was also hunted: by a shark. A half-dozen others, evidently schooling, swam up from the depths and all joined in the hunt. What was literally a pile of fishes writhed and tumbled in the wake of our Bertram.

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a shark. In a second we were reeling in the line, but with more excitement than skill: how to work a rod the first time is always confusing. When our line was in, the big shark was exhausted, and all the others scattered in fear back into the impenetrable blue.

We landed the big shark in time to watch a fierce black fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the ocean. I was young then, and full of science; I thought that because fewer sharks meant more fish, that no sharks would mean fishermans' paradise. But after seeing the black fire die, I sensed that neither the shark nor the ocean agreed with such a view.

Since then I have lived to see nation after nation extirpate its sharks. I have watched the face of many a newly sharkless sea, and seen the reef ledges wrinkle with a maze of algae. I have seen every reef and estuary, first resplendent with fish, and then destitute. I have seen every edible fish and fin extracted by commercial fisherman. Such an ocean looks as if someone had given God a massive fishing net, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the ungrazed reef overwhelmed by the too-muchness of unhunted predator fish, chokes and bleaches and recedes under the hot sun.

I now suspect that just as a school of snapper lives in mortal fear of its sharks, so does an ocean live in mortal fear of losing them. And perhaps with better cause, for while a snapper taken by a shark can be replaced in a season, a reef taken down by too few grazing fish may fail in replacement in as many decades. So also with fisheries. The fisherman who cleans his grounds of sharks does not realize that he is taking over the shark's job of balancing the ocean foodweb. He has not learned to think like an ocean. Hence we have dead zones, and reefs’ future crumbling into the sea.

We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The snapper strives with his spawning, the fisherman with rod and reel, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau's dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the symbol of the shark, long known to the oceans, but seldom perceived among men.

Leopold’s lesson to us was simple: "Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land" and the time has come to apply it, with equal passion, to the oceans.

Read Aldo Leopold’s inspiring original essay, “Thinking Like a Mountain” click here!