Thursday, August 14, 2008
After the ship is commissioned in Seattle August 13th, the ship and crew will undergo field tests off the U.S. West Coast to train operators and test concepts of operations and equipment associated with the ship and its sensors and systems. All this leads to the ship’s first full field season of operations in 2009, and a new way of exploring the ocean.
Why Explore? All life on Earth relies on the ocean--an ocean that provides oxygen and regulates global temperature to make the Earth livable. Other key ocean benefits include food, energy and transportation.
Read the rest of this article here.
Monday, August 11, 2008
updated 11:21 a.m. PT, Fri., Aug. 8, 2008
WASHINGTON - Two years ago with fanfare, President Bush declared a remote chain of Hawaiian islands the biggest, most environmentally protected area of ocean in the world.
It hasn't worked out that way.
Cleanup efforts have slowed, garbage is still piling up and Bush has cut his budget request by 80 percent.
Winning rare praise from conservationists, the president declared the 140,000-square-mile chain in northwestern Hawaii the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in June 2006. That's pronounced Pa-pa-hah-now-mo-koo-ah-keh-ah.
His proclamation featured some of the strictest measures ever placed on a marine environment. Any material that might injure the area's sensitive coral reefs and 7,000 rare species — a fourth of them found nowhere else in the world — would be prohibited, even if the debris drifted in from thousands of miles away.
Many who had fought to get the islands protected thought making the area a monument would accelerate debris pickup. Instead, after an expensive and aggressive sweep in 2002-2005, the administration decided to downshift to a maintenance level.
"It is very disappointing, here you have this designation as a monument, and there has been less visible activity going on in the monument," said Chris Woolaway, an independent environmental consultant, who coordinates The Ocean Conservancy's "Get the Drift and Bag It" international coastal cleanup program. "There is a need to expand the effort."
Ocean currents are still bringing an estimated 57 tons of garbage and discarded fishing gear to the 10 islands and the waters surrounding them each year. Endangered monk seals are still being snared and coral reefs smothered by discarded fishing nets. Albatrosses are still feeding on indigestible plastic and feeding it to their young.
Monday, August 04, 2008
Published: August 4th, 2008
Every year for the past couple of decades, scientists have tried to estimate the size of the dead zone that forms where the Mississippi River enters the Gulf of Mexico. Some years it is several times as large as Lake Pontchartrain. Last year it was the size of New Jersey. This year, it may well be as large as Massachusetts, possibly even exceeding the size it was in 2002 — nearly 8,500 square miles where almost nothing lives.
The dead zone is technically an area of hypoxia, or low oxygen content, first detected in the early 1970s. A decade later scientists realized it was caused largely by agricultural nitrogen — and some urban effluent — washed downstream from farms throughout the Mississippi watershed. That feeds algae, which consume the oxygen in the water as they decompose and lower oxygen levels to a point where life cannot be sustained.
The mechanisms that create the dead zone are entirely natural — algae feeding and dying — but there is nothing natural about the zone itself. It is almost entirely an artifact of modern agriculture, accompanied by treated and untreated sewage and industrial runoff. Most years the hypoxic zone dissipates in winter and re-forms in spring. At depth, the water is simply vacant of life and has the characteristic rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide. The size of the zone depends on many different conditions. But this spring was extraordinary. There were widespread floods across the Midwest, mostly after the fields had already been fertilized. The result is a plume of fertility washing out into the Gulf of Mexico, where it fertilizes only death.
The dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi is not the only one. There are dozens of smaller hypoxic zones around the American coastline where rivers spill into the sea. The same is true at river deltas around the globe, where the nitrogen load from fertilizer may be lower but the load of urban runoff — including partially treated and untreated sewage — is much higher. There could be no starker reminder of the tragic human tendency to treat the oceans as dumping grounds. And there is no better symbol of the paradox of American agriculture — the very richness applied to the fields is the source of ecological death hundreds of miles away.
BARCELONA, Spain — Blue patrol boats crisscross the swimming areas of beaches here with their huge nets skimming the water’s surface. The yellow flags that urge caution and the red flags that prohibit swimming because of risky currents are sometimes topped now with blue ones warning of a new danger: swarms of jellyfish.
In a period of hours during a day a couple of weeks ago, 300 people on Barcelona’s bustling beaches were treated for stings, and 11 were taken to hospitals.
From Spain to New York, to Australia, Japan and Hawaii, jellyfish are becoming more numerous and more widespread, and they are showing up in places where they have rarely been seen before, scientists say. The faceless marauders are stinging children blithely bathing on summer vacations, forcing beaches to close and clogging fishing nets.
But while jellyfish invasions are a nuisance to tourists and a hardship to fishermen, for scientists they are a source of more profound alarm, a signal of the declining health of the world’s oceans.
“These jellyfish near shore are a message the sea is sending us saying, ‘Look how badly you are treating me,’ ” said Dr. Josep-María Gili, a leading jellyfish expert, who has studied them at the Institute of Marine Sciences of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona for more than 20 years.
The explosion of jellyfish populations, scientists say, reflects a combination of severe overfishing of natural predators, like tuna, sharks and swordfish; rising sea temperatures caused in part by global warming; and pollution that has depleted oxygen levels in coastal shallows.
These problems are pronounced in the Mediterranean, a sea bounded by more than a dozen countries that rely on it for business and pleasure. Left unchecked in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, these problems could make the swarms of jellyfish menacing coastlines a grim vision of seas to come.
“The problem on the beach is a social problem,” said Dr. Gili, who talks with admiration of the “beauty” of the globular jellyfish. “We need to take care of it for our tourism industry. But the big problem is not on the beach. It’s what’s happening in the seas.”
(GREEK NEWS AGENDA) The Mediterranean Monk Seal also known as Monachus Monachus, is Europe’s most endangered marine mammal, and is among the six most endangered mammals in the world. Greece has allocated a vast area for the preservation of the Monachus Monachus and its habitat in the Aegean Sea. The Greek National Sea Park of Alonissos - Northern Sporades(www.alonissos-park.gr), which extends around the Northern Sporades island complex, and is the main action ground of the Hellenic Society for the study and protection of the monk seal (Mom). It should be stated that legislation in Greece is very strict towards the hunting of the seal and that the public in general is very much aware and supportive of the effort for the preservation of the Monachus Monachus. The National Marine Park of Alonnisos - Northern Sporades was the first designated Marine Park in the country and is currently the largest marine protected area in Europe (approximately 2,260 Km2). Besides the sea area, the Park includes Alonnisos (www.alonissos.gr), six smaller islands (Peristera, Kyra Panagia, Gioura, Psathura, Piperi and Skantzoura), as well as 22 uninhabited islets and rocky outcrops. The Northern Sporades island-complex stretches out into the Aegean, east of the Pelion peninsula. On the serene Sporades, life still continues along its old rhythms. Tourism has brought prosperity to these islands without affecting much of their traditional lifestyle, especially on the island of Alonissos. National Marine Park of Alonnisos - Northern Sporades: Photo Gallery