Friday, May 28, 2010
Researchers looked at Diamond Reef, Great Camanoe Island, Bronco Billy, George Doge Island, Spyglass Wall, Norman Island and Pelican Island.
According to initial results, the group recorded decreases in fish numbers and amount of coral again this year. They have seen boats anchored in coraland and illegal spearfishing happening every week.
Volunteers are concerned about the loss to the BVI and hope for more mooring buoys and rangers, or concerned boaters to help prevent the BVI's reef loss.
The group also noticed more algae growing over the coral reef. The main grazers of algae are sea urchins and parrotfish. There are suggestions for the parrotfish to be protected. The parrotfish is described as one of the hardest working BVI reef protectors, gazing algae which keeps the algae from overgrowing the coral.
"Other countries give warnings and fines to repeat offenders. Some countries make up to half a million dollars in fines on repeat offenders," the volunteers suggested.
The volunteers love the reefs in the BVI, the protected waters for sailing, relatively low density development and the lack of big hotels and crowds. However, they feel concerned that this may change as they see a lot of building, and hear stories of crowded beaches or untrained snorkel trips and boat anchoring.
Reef Check BVI scuba teams went underwater with 100 meter measuring tapes, underwater pencils, tablets and cameras in hand. A core group of off island guests gave lots of prep time, as do local charter boat crew, owners and dive companies. For every hour counting fish, invertebrates and surveying coral, there were countless hours of preparation, training and pre-survey work. The researchers chartered two BVI sailboats - Serendipity captained by Trish Baily, and this year joined by Sandcastle captained by Rik Allen and mate Ann Gracie, both BVI Charter Yacht Society members.
There are plans to expand the number of sites to six, as long as researchers can keep high standards on existing sites. Each site has two survey strips, one at three meters deep and another at 10 meters deep. They are 100 meters long, four meters wide and each centimeter is surveyed.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
By Marilyn Crain
As BP prepares to try a top kill, which the British oil company calls its best chance to stop the oil that continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, it's a matter of "wait and see" if it works. Whether the procedure, one that has never been tried at this one-mile depth, is successful or not, the work to drill two new wells to permanently end this disastrous rupture.
Today, the Unified Command announced a mission to study what's happening to the oil and dispersants as they flow out underwater in the Gulf. "The NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, a 224-foot fisheries research vessel, will embark on a water column and fisheries sampling mission in the Gulf of Mexico using its sophisticated sonar equipment to help define the plume near the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill site and adjacent waters. The mission is a collaborative project between NOAA, the University of New Hampshire, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the University of South Florida."
Earlier this week, Sam Champion of ABC and Philippe Couseteau Jr, the son of Philippe Cousteau and grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, went on a mission of their own. The video below is the result. It's an up-close look at the underwater world of the Gulf contaminated by oil and the dispersants used to treat it.
Monday, May 24, 2010
The oceans are being emptied of fish. A forthcoming United Nations report lays out the stark numbers: only around 25% of commercial stocks are in a healthy or even reasonably healthy state. Some 30% of fish stocks are considered collapsed, and 90% of large predatory fish — like the bluefin tuna so prized by sushi aficionados — have disappeared since the middle of the 20th century. More than 60% of assessed fish stocks are in need of rebuilding, and some researchers estimate that if current trends hold, virtually all commercial fisheries will have collapsed by mid century.
"Fisheries across the world are being plundered, or exploited at unsustainable rates," said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
In some respects, Steiner could have stopped at "plundered," because as much damage as the legal, commercial fishing trade has wrought on the oceans, it's the illegal trade that could spell their doom. Legal fishermen — the everyday farmers of the seas — have licenses they must protect and laws they must obey. But illegal fishing — often done on the high seas where regulations are lax and catch limits can be exceeded with impunity, or in the coastal waters of developing nations, which lack the ability to fight back — abides by rules of its own. Now, a team led by Stefan Flothmann of the Pew Environment Group has published a study in the May 20 issue of Science showing just how hard stopping the illegal fishing scourge will be.
There are a lot of factors driving the rising global demand for fish. A growing global population needs ready sources of protein, and fish — generally low in fat and high in nutrients — is a natural. Plus, the worldwide explosion in the popularity of sushi means that even people who never liked fish before have developed a taste for it. Global seafood consumption has doubled over the past 40 years, and the sushi boom has tracked that trend.
But there's also a major problem with overcapacity — or the simple excess of fishermen — thanks to the $27 billion in subsidies given to the worldwide fishing industry each year. Those subsidies — especially the billions that go to cheap diesel fuel that makes factory fishing on the high seas possible at all--have created an industry bigger than the oceans can support. The U.N. estimates that the global fleet consists of more than 20 million boats, ranging from tiny subsistence outfits to massive trawlers. Together they have a fishing capacity 1.8 to 2.8 times larger than the oceans can sustainably support. Our tax money is essentially paying fishermen to strip mine the seas.
Cutting the subsidies or restricting the boats would go a long way toward solving the problem — but not if the illegal trade, which accounts for anything from 11 to 26 million tons of fish a year, or about one-fifth of the reported legal catch, can't also be brought under control. Steps in that direction have been taken. In November 2009, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted the Port State Measurement Agreement (PSMA), which requires countries to close their ports to ships involved in illegal or unregulated fishing. The idea is simple: if illegal boats are denied ports where they can sell their catch and refuel, black market fishing should dry up.
Friday, May 21, 2010
The oil slick that has started sloshing through marsh grass at the southern tip of the Mississippi Delta gives coastal Louisiana a glimpse of what it fears may be its future.
In the last few days, acres of oil have penetrated low-lying islands at the point where the river rolls into the sea, forming a dark red band at the bottom of the roseau cane.
Thick black sludge blocks at least one inlet, and a much larger area off the coast glistens with a rainbow sheen dotted with oil globules, suggesting that more will reach land soon.
"This is what we hoped wouldn't happen but we knew would happen," said Andy Nyman, associate professor of wetland and wildlife ecology at Louisiana State University.
Energy giant BP, accused by the U.S. government of falling short in providing information about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, was forging ahead on Friday with efforts to contain the crude gushing from one of its undersea wells.
The sight and smell of a slick in fragile wetlands and the ecologically-rich Delta adds urgency to efforts to contain a disaster sparked a month ago when an explosion sank a rig, killing 11 workers, and ripped open the well.
It also casts doubt on a prediction by BP's Chairman Tony Hayward this week that the leak would have only a modest environmental impact.
At the same time, it calls into question the effectiveness of the miles of booms arranged in the water by BP, federal and local authorities in a bid to protect the coastline.
At Blind Bay Louisiana and elsewhere, oil has drifted under or over the booms onto land. Elsewhere, some of the worst-affected islands were entirely unprotected.
In and of itself, the affected area represents just a fragment of the southern tip of the Delta and is dwarfed by the network of waterways that stretch around 100 miles 160 km inland.
But the slick could have an exponential impact on sport fishing, which is a lifeblood of small villages like Venice, Louisiana, and threatens commercial fisheries.
Fishermen and boat owners said they feared what they saw was simply the beginning.
"This could get 100 times worse than what it is today," said fisherman Carey O'Neil, who knows the area intimately as he grew up at an encampment that can only be reached by boat.Read more
Thursday, May 20, 2010
By Thomas Friedman
President Obama’s handling of the gulf oil spill has been disappointing.
I say that not because I endorse the dishonest conservative critique that the gulf oil spill is somehow Obama’s Katrina and that he is displaying the same kind of incompetence that George W. Bush did after that hurricane. To the contrary, Obama’s team has done a good job coordinating the cleanup so far. The president has been on top of it from the start.
No, the gulf oil spill is not Obama’s Katrina. It’s his 9/11 — and it is disappointing to see him making the same mistake George W. Bush made with his 9/11. Sept. 11, 2001, was one of those rare seismic events that create the possibility to energize the country to do something really important and lasting that is too hard to do in normal times.
President Bush’s greatest failure was not Iraq, Afghanistan or Katrina. It was his failure of imagination after 9/11 to mobilize the country to get behind a really big initiative for nation-building in America. I suggested a $1-a-gallon “Patriot Tax” on gasoline that could have simultaneously reduced our deficit, funded basic science research, diminished our dependence on oil imported from the very countries whose citizens carried out 9/11, strengthened the dollar, stimulated energy efficiency and renewable power and slowed climate change. It was the Texas oilman’s Nixon-to-China moment — and Bush blew it.
Had we done that on the morning of 9/12 — when gasoline averaged $1.66 a gallon — the majority of Americans would have signed on. They wanted to do something to strengthen the country they love. Instead, Bush told a few of us to go to war and the rest of us to go shopping. So today, gasoline costs twice as much at the pump, with most of that increase going to countries hostile to our values, while China is rapidly becoming the world’s leader in wind, solar, electric cars and high-speed rail. Heck of a job.
Sadly, President Obama seems intent on squandering his environmental 9/11 with a Bush-level failure of imagination. So far, the Obama policy is: “Think small and carry a big stick.” He is rightly hammering the oil company executives. But he is offering no big strategy to end our oil addiction. Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman have unveiled their new energy bill, which the president has endorsed but only in a very tepid way. Why tepid? Because Kerry-Lieberman embraces vitally important fees on carbon emissions that the White House is afraid will be exploited by Republicans in the midterm elections. The G.O.P., they fear, will scream carbon “tax” at every Democrat who would support this bill, and Obama, having already asked Democrats to make a hard vote on health care, feels he can’t ask them for another.
I don’t buy it. In the wake of this historic oil spill, the right policy — a bill to help end our addiction to oil — is also the right politics. The people are ahead of their politicians. So is the U.S. military. There are many conservatives who would embrace a carbon tax or gasoline tax if it was offset by a cut in payroll taxes or corporate taxes, so we could foster new jobs and clean air at the same time. If Republicans label Democrats “gas taxers” then Democrats should label them “Conservatives for OPEC” or “Friends of BP.” Shill, baby, shill.Why is Obama playing defense? Just how much oil has to spill into the gulf, how much wildlife has to die, how many radical mosques need to be built with our gasoline purchases to produce more Times Square bombers, before it becomes politically “safe” for the president to say he is going to end our oil addiction?
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
USA Today, May 18, 2010
By Greg Latshaw
They now indiscriminately catch marine life. With no one to pull up the plastic nets, captured animals can't escape and become bait for other creatures to enter the nets.
That cycle has entangled and killed nearly 54,000 animals in 2,775 fishing nets removed from Puget Sound by the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative since 2002, says Ginny Broadhurst, executive director of the commission coordinating the effort.
Derelict fishing gear — dubbed "ghost gear" by fishers and conservationists — comes in forms such as nets, crab pots and fishing traps. The gear's potential to ensnare animals, damage boats and alter the natural landscape plagues coastal waters around the USA. The problem was dramatized last week when a young gray whale entangled in rope and netting died after swimming listlessly close to shore south of Los Angeles.
Fishers often lose nets by accident when they are displaced by storms or cut by a passing boat, says Lisa DiPinto, acting director of the Marine Debris Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The program since 2005 has undertaken studies on the impact that discarded gear has on habitats in Alaska, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington and the U.S. Virgin Islands. "It poses a continued threat to our habitats and species," DiPinto says.
In Puget Sound, animals found in the nets — 51,588 invertebrates, 1,355 fish, 731 birds and 44 mammals — are only a snapshot of the damage the nets have done for decades, Broadhurst says.
Aided by $4.6 million in federal stimulus money, the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative has doubled the number of nets its divers have recovered since July 2009.
"We've found over 190 different species caught in the net," Broadhurst says.
In the northwestern islands of Hawaii, endangered Hawaiian monk seals have become entangled in ghost nets and drowned, says Kirsten Gilardi, executive director of the SeaDoc Society at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Helped by advances in technology — and their dropping prices — scientists have mapped spots in Chesapeake Bay where lost crab pots have accumulated, says Kirk Havens, assistant director for the Center for Coastal Resources Management at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.Read more
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Every addiction, whether to heroin, meth, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, sugary drinks or gasoline, takes a toll. Oil could be America’s most costly addiction. The BP Gulf of Mexico spill tells us that it’s time to enter rehab.
Around 1900 our country embraced gasoline-powered vehicles and started drilling for oil in the ocean. We got high on automobility, the euphoria of going wherever we wanted. Automobility allowed us to build sprawling suburbs far from our jobs, and to truck goods thousands of miles from origins to consumers. But oil’s cost is greater than its price. Leaded gasoline harmed kids’ brains until we banned it. Carbon dioxide from burning coal and oil drives global overheating and ocean acidification. We’ve exported trillions of dollars to both our Canadian and Mexican friends and to petrodictators in Venezuela and Iran, whose governments hate us. This doesn’t include what America spends defending oil-producing countries and sea lanes. Now, in the Gulf of Mexico, amid the world’s densest concentration of offshore oil platforms, we’re seeing another cost of our addiction.
Just before Earth Day, the Deepwater Horizon, a gigantic state-of-the-art offshore semisubmersible drill rig working for BP exploded, killing 11 people. It burned, sank and began gushing huge amounts of oil into the ocean. Thoughtful observers knew that it was only a matter of time before that would happen. Just last year there was a disastrous oil drilling blowout and spill in the Timor Sea between Australia and Indonesia. If it weren’t for an organization appropriately called SkyTruth, Americans would not have heard about it. But we overlooked the warning sign. Now that’s harder to do: Oil is gushing off our own coast.
America’s colossal spill wasn’t something terrorists did to us; we did it to ourselves. We bought supersized SUVs. When gasoline hit $4 a gallon, millions embraced the oil pushers’ mindless chant “Drill, baby, drill!”
Drilling at sea is risky because our ancestors gave up gills and evolved lungs, so doing things underwater difficult and dangerous, especially a mile deep. The Deepwater Horizon’s “fail-safe” blowout preventer didn’t work as promised. The booms work only in calm weather. BP can spray dispersants to “break up” the spill, but they’re toxic to marine life, as scientists documented—too late—after the colossal Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. They can burn off some oil if we’re willing to accept seared dolphins and eggs of imperiled bluefin tuna as costs.
Or they can drill a relief well, but that approach took 70 days in the Timor Sea. BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill is in much deeper water, making relief unlikely anytime soon.
We could get our oil from overseas, but is it ethical to transfer the costs of our addiction to countries with even weaker environmental standards? There are other costs. Tankering is even riskier than drilling; most major oil spills have come from tankers. Somali pirates love attacking tankers. What if pirates open the oil valves? Just as we can predict that BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill won’t be the last one, we can also predict that someone will sooner or later use a supertanker as a weapon of mass destruction.
But just as “Drill, baby, drill!” makes for simplistic and dangerous policy, so does “Not in my backyard!” Our economy is far too dependent on oil. Relying on foreign oil has profound national security risks. As long as we’re addicted to oil, we’re dancing with the devil.
America can neither drill our way to energy independence nor go cold turkey. But we can adopt a national energy policy that meets our energy needs while reducing our dependence on oil as our top priority. The policy should minimize risk by deciding where we mustn’t drill, avoiding environmentally fragile areas where drilling is most dangerous—such as the Arctic—while dramatically strengthening protections where we’re willing to risk drilling. It should focus on accelerated development of safer, lower-carbon choices to keep our homes comfortable and move our goods. Doing so is no less important than winning a world war. It requires us to transcend partisan jousting and make tough decisions with concern for our country and planet, weighing all the facts, because all energy alternatives have impacts.
Our Twelve Step Program can begin once we get past denial, saying, as a nation: “Hello. I’m the United States. And I’m an addict.”
Elliott A. Norse, Ph.D. is President of Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue WA and a Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation.
By Jason Dearen and Matt Sedensky
Delicate coral reefs already have been tainted by plumes of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, including a sensitive area that federal officials had tried to protect from drilling and other dangers.
And marine scientists are worried even more of the deep-sea reefs could be damaged as the thick goo creeps into two powerful Gulf currents. The oil has seeped into areas that are essential to underwater life, and the reefs tend to be an indicator for sea health: when creatures in the reefs thrive, so do other marine life.
The loop current could carry oil from the spill east and spread it about 450 miles to the Florida Keys, while the Louisiana coastal current could move the oil as far west as central Texas.
The depth of the gushing leaks and the use of more than 580,000 gallons of chemicals to disperse the oil, including unprecedented injections deep in the sea, have helped keep the crude beneath the sea surface. Officials report that more than 390,000 gallons of chemicals are stockpiled. Marine scientists say diffusing and sinking the oil helps protect the surface species and the Gulf Coast shoreline but increases the chance of harming deep-sea reefs.
"At first we had a lot of concern about surface animals like turtles, whales and dolphins," said Paul Montagna, a marine biologist at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi who studies Gulf reefs. "Now we're concerned about everything."
On Sunday, researchers said computer models show oil has already entered the loop current that could carry the toxic goo toward the Keys, the third-longest barrier reef in the world.
The oil is now over the western edge of a roughly 61-mile expanse of 300-to-500-foot-deep reef south of Louisiana known as the Pinnacles, about 25 miles north of where the Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 people and starting the spill that grows by the hour.
The Pinnacles is one of nine coral banks and hard-bottom areas stretching from Texas to Florida that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried in 2008 to get designated a marine sanctuary called Islands in the Stream.
This sanctuary would have restricted fishing and oil drilling around the identified reef "islands." But the plan was put on hold after vehement objections from Republican lawmakers, fishermen and the oil industry.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Business Green, May 10, 2010
By James MurrayThe natural systems that underpin the global economy are at risk of " collapse" due to the accelerating loss of biodiversity, according to a shocking new report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released earlier today.
The third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook, which is based on a series of recent scientific assessments and national reports, confirms the world will miss the UN target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 and warns that biodiversity loss could begin to have a sizable economic impact.
"Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world: the truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of 6 billion [people], heading to over 9 billion by 2050," said Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP. " Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet."
Drawing on an international project known as the The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) that is attempting to put a financial value on the services provided by biodiversity, the report warns that dwindling fish stocks, deforestation, and soil erosion for example are all having negative economic impacts.
It also warns that numerous ecosystems are approaching "tipping points", noting how the "dieback" of the Amazon rain forest could serve to accelerate climate change, while the bleaching of coral reefs is threatening the livelihoods of millions of people in the fishing and tourism industries.
"The news is not good," said Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). "We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history – extinction rates may be up to 1,000 times higher than the historical background rate."
The report was released at the opening of a two-week meeting at UNEP's headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, where diplomats are expected to discuss proposals for curbing biodiversity loss ahead of a formal meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in October in Japan.
The report outlines plans for a new global biodiversity strategy that aims to bring an end to potentially harmful subsidies and address the issues that are driving habitat and biodiversity loss, such as unsustainable consumption patterns and demographic changes.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 12, 2010
By Jonathan TiloveThe failed blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had a hydraulic leak and a dead battery in one of its control pods, and testing in the hours before an April 20 explosion revealed that pressure in the well was dangerously out of whack, a House committee investigating the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico said Wednesday.
"The more I learn about this accident, the more concerned I become," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who has cast the explosion and the ongoing oil spill that followed as a cautionary tale of America's dependence on oil and what he characterized as "dangerous" deepwater drilling in particular.
In recent days, the Energy Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has been combing through documents provided by BP, the oil giant that had been on the verge of announcing a huge find in the deep waters 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, and Transocean Limited, the contractor whose offshore rig blew up three weeks ago, killing 11 workers and opening an undersea gusher that is releasing about 5,000 barrels of crude a day into the Gulf.
The documents and Wednesday's six-hour hearing at which the committee questioned BP and Transocean executives, raised more questions than it answered, but focused on likely areas of inquiry as the investigation proceeds on multiple fronts.
Much of the attention is focused on the blowout preventer, or BOP, the massive $15 million piece of equipment that is supposed to be the fail-safe mechanism to keep a well from blowing.
But, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., the subcommittee chairman, said that documents provided by BP indicated that "the blowout preventer apparently had a significant leak. This leak was found in the hydraulic system that provides emergency power to the shear rams, which are the devices that are supposed to cut the drill pipe and seal the well."
Stupak said that Cameron International, which manufactured the BOP, did not believe the leak was a result of the blowout itself because "every other fitting in the system was tight." Cameron President Jack Moore also testified Wednesday.
Further complicating matters, Stupak said that dead man's switch, which is designed to trigger the BOP if all else fails, is connected to two separate control pods in the BOP, but relies on battery power to make that connection.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Using DNA samples and images from Earth-orbiting satellites, conservationists from Columbia University, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History, and Fundación AquaMarina, are gathering new insights about the franciscana -- a poorly known coastal dolphin species of eastern South America -- in an effort to understand populations and conserve them.
The study, one of the first to combine molecular data along with range-wide environmental information for a marine species, is helping researchers to understand how seemingly monotonous marine environments actually contain significant habitat differences that are shaping populations of this threatened species, which averages between 5-6 feet in length and around 80-90 pounds in weight. According to findings published in the most recent edition of Molecular Ecology, genetic differences between dolphins from different sites correlate to measurable differences in water temperature, turbidity and chlorophyll levels, a tantalizing indication of how largely hidden oceanographic variables could drive population structure of marine animals.
The authors of the study are: Martin Mendez of Columbia University, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and the Wildlife Conservation Society; Howard Rosenbaum of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Ajit Subramaniam of Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University; Charles Yackulic of Columbia University; and Pablo Bordino of Fundación AquaMarina and the Wildlife Trust Alliance.
"The availability of both genetic and environmental data provided us with a rare opportunity to examine how ecological factors affect population structure in a marine species," said Martin Mendez, the study's lead author. "In this instance, the study subject is possibly the most endangered cetacean in South America, so delineating populations and the factors that create them certainly plays an important role in conservation measures."
As a result of the study, the researchers recommend that the genetically distinct population of franciscanas to the north of Buenos Aires -- probably created in part by oceanographic conditions -- should be protected as part of a larger effort to save the species.
The research team started its investigation on the molecular level, one of the most efficient ways of determining the structure of marine animal populations. Working at the American Museum of Natural History's Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, researchers compared 275 genetic samples from dolphins that had been stranded, entangled in fishing gear, or captured and released in six locations along coastal Argentina (the southern portion of the animal's full range). Using genetic markers to statistically gauge the geneflow between dolphin groups at different sites, the scientists discovered that there are two -- and possibly three -- distinct populations of franciscanas in Argentina's coastal waters.
What really sets the study apart is the use of region-wide satellite data that shows how environmental differences -- temperature, turbidity, and chlorophyll levels -- are probably involved in creating those genetically distinct populations. The oceanographic data was provided by NASA's SeaWiFS and MODIS, two satellites designed to gather information on oceanic conditions.
The combination of genetic and environmental information allowed the scientists to examine the effects of detectable habitat differences on population structure in franciscanas. Specifically, researchers were able to test the role of two biological hypotheses on population formation, one based on the assumption that geneflow between two groups decreases with distance, and one based on decreased geneflow as a result of environmental barriers (the latter of which is easy to detect with terrestrial species separated by mountains, and usually undetectable in marine environments over wide areas).
In comparing both data sets, researchers were surprised to discover that dolphins in closely located sites in the northern portion of the study area were most genetically different; in particular, two closely located groups of dolphins near the mouth of the La Plata Estuary (some 35 kilometers--about 22 miles--apart) were the most genetically dissimilar in the study, a finding that coincided with detectable environmental discontinuities. By contrast, two sites separated by hundreds of kilometers to the south were found to be the most similar.
Other correlations hint at the possible role of behavioral patterns in population structure. An examination of both mitochondrial DNA (inherited through maternal lines) and nuclear DNA seems to reinforce current knowledge of cetacean behavior, with females remaining faithful to their natal location and males ranging more widely (except when oceanographic barriers impede their movement). More research on franciscana behavior could further illuminate the role of behavior in population structure.
"We're only beginning to understand the interactions between environmental factors and population patterns in marine environments," said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Ocean Giants Program. "What this study shows is that marine systems are not homogeneous environments, but full of variations that could play important roles in shaping and reinforcing how animal populations use their habitat; these types of information are essential for developing strategies on how best to protect these coastal dolphins and broader marine spatial planning."
The franciscana, or La Plata dolphin, is found along the Atlantic coastal waters of South America, from southern Brazil to Península Valdes in Argentina. Although a member of the river dolphin family, the franciscana -- one of the world's smallest cetaceans -- actually lives in coastal waters and estuaries. The species is listed as "Vulnerable" by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and is threatened by accidental capture in gill nets and other fishing gear.
Monday, May 10, 2010
As I write, squeezed in an uncomfortable seat on a jet on route to Tokyo that is now approaching Bristol Bay, Alaska, thousands and thousands of gallons of crude oil are gushing out of pipes nearly a mile deep, polluting the Gulf of Mexico.
A large formation of porous rock deep under the sea, where oil was trapped, is rapidly draining itself of hydrocarbons into the waters above. In all probability, it took these hydrocarbons millions of years to change from oils produced by marine plankton and other ocean life into petroleum, and perhaps millions more to migrate though microscopic pores in a layer of sandstone or limestone until they were stopped by some barrier to their movement, salt or shale or another rock layer too impermeable for oil to penetrate.
So in the geological blink of an eye, hydrocarbons from the time of early mammals or dinosaurs are jetting into the water column, rising to the surface, forming reddish floating clots, threatening marine life not so different than those which generated them eons ago.
The BP spill happened when something—a pressure surge, perhaps—exploded the colossal semisubmersible drilling rig Deepwater Horizon on April 20.
Eleven people lost their lives in the explosion, a tragic industrial accident, although one whose human death tool was smaller than the West Virginia coal mine disaster that killed 21 people not many days earlier. But unlike some industrial accidents, the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill is harming far more than those who died or injured in the blast. In the Gulf of Mexico, the worst is yet to come.
Somehow, even 17 days later, it’s not clear to me whether the spill happened when the explosion occurred, or two days later, on April 22—Earth Day—when the burning Deepwater Horizon sank. The newspapers at the time of the spill told of the missing people, not of an oil spill. But since Earth Day, an oily blemish has been growing in the Gulf.
The blemish is ugly and toxic. The oil’s especially dangerous to certain kinds of marine life, in the open Gulf and in the marshes and beaches inshore.
But many thoughtful people are worrying whether the cure might be worse than the disease which BP—formerly British Petroleum—bestowed on the marine life and people of Louisiana, the Gulf states, the USA and the world.
Our desire to make the blemish disappear might be even worse than the blemish itself. Chemical dispersants are toxic. Burning the oil will kill marine life as well. Twenty-one years ago, Exxon’s solution to the vast windrows of Exxon Valdez oil sliming rocky intertidal beaches was to apply chemical dispersants and to steam clean the rocks. Vast numbers of seaweeds and animals that would have survived the oil were cooked and poisoned to death. But at least those lifeless rocks were clean!
I worry that, in their haste to make the ugly stain in the Gulf go away, so we can resume the drunken consumption of oil without troubling ourselves to think about the consequences of our thirst, BP and government agencies will focus on cosmetics to make the ugliness go away, not on the harm to marine life and those who depend on it.
As odd as it sounds, the best strategy might be to stop the gusher as soon as possible, let nature take its course with most of the oil and work very hard never to do this again.
What could the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill do?
Most members of the public worry about “wildlife” (meaning big air-breathing vertebrates) and what happens when the oil comes ashore. For now, let’s start examining what happens to animals of the open Gulf, far from the shore.
At sea, the oil could harm animals in waters near the surface. This includes species that come to the surface to breathe, such as loggerhead sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins (remember Flipper, who lived in a world full of wonder? Now his family is living in a world full of oil).
Also at risk are the planktonic stages of many marine species that float within inches of the sea surface, ones marine biologists call neuston and pleuston, such as the eggs and larvae of bluefin tunas and the exquisite larvae of blue crabs, so beautiful that they are called zoeae, meaning “life” in Greek. And it includes animals that contact or penetrate the sea surface from above: seabirds such as northern gannets (quite amusingly called garrets in one network telecast!) and brown pelicans, which only recently recovered enough to be removed from the US endangered species list.
Interfaces are where important things happen in nature, and the interface between the sea and air is both where oil collects, and where a great deal of biological activity occurs.
Not a happy coincidence....
Friday, May 07, 2010
Reuters, May 7, 2010
By Matthew Bigg
Oil from a massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico came ashore on a chain of islands off the Louisiana coast on Thursday as BP Plc engineers prepared to start lowering a 98-ton metal chamber over the ruptured seabed well miles off the coast.
A sheen of oil washed ashore on much of Chandeleur Islands, barrier islands that are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, a spokeswoman for the U.S. response team said.
"That's the only shoreline oiling that we have been able to find," Jacqui Michel, an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said at a news briefing. "It is pretty amazing that we've had the oil in the water for this long a period of time and so little shoreline oiling."
The Breton refuge is an important breeding and nesting area for many endangered and threatened bird species.
Oiled birds, including gannets and brown pelicans, Louisiana's state bird, have been found on the islands, said Jeff Dauzat of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Obama administration officials and U.S. lawmakers kept up the pressure on BP to make good on its promises to pick up the tab for cleaning up what could end up being the largest oil spill in United States history.
"Very major mistakes" were made by companies involved in the deadly offshore rig explosion that led to the spill and no new offshore drilling permits will be issued until a review is complete, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Thursday.
A barge carrying the massive white containment box arrived at the spill site where a BP-owned well blew out two weeks ago 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, causing the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Once the four-story-tall metal dome is lowered to the seabed in an operation that could take two days, it is supposed to capture leaking oil and channel it to a drilling ship on the surface. BP said the dome, the best short-term option for containing the leak, could begin operations by Monday.
"We'll be lowering this containment vessel within the next 24 hours, weather permitting," Robert Dudley, a BP executive vice president, said after giving a speech in Boston.
A Coast Guard official said the oil threatening the Chandeleurs was "largely just sheen," or the leading edge of the slick.
Heavy oil remains further off the coast for now, close to the site of the leak. But the Mississippi Delta, Breton Sound, and Chandeleur Sound continue to be threatened by shoreline contacts over the next few days, officials said.
By late Saturday night into Sunday morning winds in the Gulf region could pick up to 15 to 20 knots, said Tim Destri, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in New Orleans. That may make efforts to battle the slick more difficult.
Oil workers, volunteers and the military have battled desperately to shut off the gushing leak and stop the huge spreading oil slick from reaching major ports, tourist beaches, wildlife refuges and fishing grounds on the Gulf Coast.
CALM WEATHER WINDOW
While the calm weather continues, crews are taking advantage of a window of opportunity to fight the leak. About 270 boats deployed protective booms on Thursday to block the slick and dispersants to break up the thick oil.
The chemical dispersants worried environmentalists.
"These dispersants contain proprietary chemicals that have unknown effects," said Larry Schweiger, president the National Wildlife Federation, who called on BP to close what chemicals are in their dispersants.
Scientists monitored the impact on marine and coastal wildlife of the oil slick, estimated to be at least 130 miles by 70 miles in size.
"It has already hit some of the fishing areas further out," said Leonard Ball, a resident of Biloxi, Mississippi, adding he feared damage to oyster bays and the fishing community.
"There's already a lot of devastation as far as the fishermen go," he said.
Coast Guard and port officials said there had been no impact on ship traffic, and preparations were in place to clean vessels quickly en route to port to keep traffic moving.
BP has capped one of three leaks in the ruptured well, but oil is still flowing at an unchanged 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) a day.
The company is drilling a relief well that could take two or three months to complete, making the containment dome the centerpiece of the short-term fight against the slick.
BP shares closed up 0.4 percent in London on Thursday as bargain hunting continued after weeks of declines wiped more than $32 billion from the company's market value.
In New York, the company's American Depositary Receipts fell 1.2 percent.
In Houston, Interior Secretary Salazar met with BP officials on Thursday, and a bipartisan congressional delegation will visit the Gulf region on Friday.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has slated a hearing on May 11 to examine the oil spill
Lamar McKay, president of BP America, Steven Newman, head of Transocean Ltd which owned the oil rig that exploded on April 20, and Tim Probert, president of Halliburton, have been called on to testify. Halliburton helped cement in place the blown-out well.
The attorneys-general of Gulf states threatened by the spill -- Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas -- sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder seeking to establish a group to prepare for any damage assessment initiatives, enforcement or litigation relating to the spill.
A federal statute caps damage recoveries from oil spills at $75 million, if no negligence is established. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working on a measure to increase that to $10 billion.
BP has said it will pay all "legitimate claims," but Alabama Attorney General Troy King called this a "lawyered up" answer and said the company should provide "plain-spoken" specifics.
Transocean said the U.S. Justice Department asked it to preserve records related to the well's drilling and the deadly blast on its rig two weeks ago that killed 11 workers.
The Interior Department on Thursday canceled a series of public meetings planned this month on a proposal to sell oil and gas leases off the Virginia coastline.
The move was cheered by environmentalists.
"Our ability to prevent and contain spills has not kept pace with our ability to access oil below ocean waters," senior campaign director Jacqueline Savitz with the group Oceana said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Matt Daily in New York; Tom Bergin in London; Anna Driver and Chris Baltimore in Houston; Tom Brown and Pascal Fletcher in Miami; Michael Peltier in Pensacola; Steve Gorman and Brian Snyder in Mobile; Scott Malone in Boston; and Richard Cowan in Washington; writing by John Whitesides and Ros Krasny; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
I write this during a national emergency. The emergency is what led me to rename what was Marine Conservation Blog “The Spill.”
“The Spill” can mean two quite different things. It could refer to the growing BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. Or it could refer to the spill of thoughts and feelings that cascade from each and every one of us. Or it could mean both.
In this blog, in my columns from here on, I want “The Spill” to mean both.
This oil spill is really, really important. No doubt about that. But The BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill will eventually be choked off and stop sending vast quantities of hydrocarbons into America’s Mediterranean. And after that time, and even while it happens, there are many other things that could attract my attention and—I hope—yours.
The principle of Truth in Advertising compels me to say something about who I am, because who we are shapes what we blog. And I am willing to do that, when there’s time to do so safely, in dribs and dabs, because I believe that anyone who reads a blog deserves to know who the blogger is.
If you know where I’m coming from… (please fill in the words that follow in your mind).
I write about me not because I’m an egotist (that’s a separate question), but because my thoughts and feelings need to be examined in light of who I am.
I suspect that the majority of my colleagues in science rightly favor sharing thoughts that stand or fall based on their own merit, no matter who says them. Judge me on what I say, not who I am.
But people are primates, possessing both logic and emotion. And who we are determines both our logic and how we feel, hence what occupies our minds and how we express it. That’s even true for a lot of scientists.
I believe I’m in the minority of scientists who believe that if you are to give me the gift of your reading time, then I must offer, in return, the gift of appropriate transparency and candor. I will label those BIOBLOGS, and you can skip or read them as you wish (of course, if I could think and write as brilliantly as Ed Wilson does, and generated as much interest, some people would even pay to read my autobiographic information. So you're getting a freebie... and what you get may be worth every penny you pay! You judge).
Enough introduction to the Introduction. This is my first blog for The Spill. I am losing my blog naivete at this very moment.
Some people write because it’s purgative.
Some write because they don’t know what else to do.
But there’s really only one reason to write: To make thoughts and feelings live beyond a neuronal flicker in one’s own mind.
Some people do that through poetry or painting.
Some do it via analyzing cancer mortality or baseball statistics.
I do it, usually, by thinking about how to live better on this Earth.
And that has two meanings.
Most people will think I mean being an environmental scientist, with maybe a bit of philosopher thrown in, I’ll write about the environment, including the philosophy of relating to it. And I’ll do that. Absolutely.
But other people will think I mean living a better life, and I’ll do that too because it is my deepest, most unshakable belief that an Earth that is better for other life is better for human life.
Why? Because we are not alone. We are part of something larger. People have very diverse ideas of what that is, but whatever it is, we together comprise something that is qualitatively different than what we do as individuals. And while it is difficult or impossible to prove the existence or value of some of the things that could make us part of something larger, this blog will aim to show that we are part of something that is very important--called the biosphere, or--as I call it--Earth. Our Mother Earth.
That’s a belief with all sorts of implications.
Or as they used to say on television, when television and I were young, “Stay tuned.”
Extreme caution must be used in cleaning up the fragile Gulf Coast ecosystem in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, says a Berkeley Lab bioremediation expert. Detergents used to clean up oil contaminated sites can make a bad situation even worse. (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory)
With millions of gallons crude oil being spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the focus now is on shutting down the leak. However, in the cleanup efforts to come, "extreme caution" must be exercised so as not to make a bad situation even worse, says a leading bioremediation expert with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).
"The concentration of detergents and other chemicals used to clean up sites contaminated by oil spills can cause environmental nightmares of their own," says Terry Hazen, a microbial ecologist in Berkeley Lab's Earth Sciences Division who has studied such notorious oil-spill sites as the Exxon Valdez spill into Alaska's Prince William Sound.
"It is important to remember that oil is a biological product and can be degraded by microbes, both on and beneath the surface of the water," Hazen says. "Some of the detergents that are typically used to clean-up spill sites are more toxic than the oil itself, in which case it would be better to leave the site alone and allow microbes to do what they do best."
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by energy giant BP that exploded on April 20, is now estimated to be disgorging some 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico. To contain the spreading oil slick and keep it from polluting the fragile ecosystems of the Gulf coast and the Mississippi delta, clean-up crews have deployed an array of chemical dispersants, oil skimmers and booms. They have also attempted to burn off some of the surface oil. Such aggressive clean-up efforts are fraught with unintended consequences, Hazen warns. He cites as prime examples the Amoco Cadiz and the Exxon Valdez disasters.
In 1978, an oil tanker, the Amoco Cadiz, split in two about three miles off the coast of Normandy, releasing about 227,000 tons heavy crude oil that ultimately stained nearly 200 miles of coastline. The spill-site was so large that only the areas of greatest economic impact were treated with detergents. Large areas in the more remote parts of the coast went untreated.
"The untreated coastal areas were fully recovered within five years of the Amoco Cadiz spill," says Hazen. "As for the treated areas, ecological studies show that 30 years later, those areas still have not recovered."
In March of 1989, the oil supertanker Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound and impacted some 1,300 miles of coastline. It remains the largest oil spill in U.S. history. A combination of detergents and bioremediation were used in the clean-up. The detergents were nutrient rich, being high in phosphorous and nitrogen compounds. In addition, as part of the bioremediation effort, fertilizers were also used to promote microbial growth. After the first year, the treated areas were dramatically cleaner, Hazen says, but after the second year no improvements were observed. Long-term prospects for the treated area are grim.
"What happened was that we took an oligotrophic (low nutrient) environment, and added lots of nutrients to it to speed up the degradation of the oil, which we probably did," Hazen says. "However, we upset the ecological balance of the system, which could not handle the influx of nutrients. As a result, the severe environmental damage resulting from the spill is expected to persist for decades to come."
While improvements to detergents have been made, including some degree of biodegradability, they remain nutrient rich and in some cases more toxic to the environment than crude oil.
"From a clean-up standpoint, right now we should be using sorbents to take up as much of the oil as possible," Hazen says. "Then we need to gauge how quickly and completely this oil can be degraded without human intervention."
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
By Brian Skoloff and John Flesher
GULFPORT, Miss. -- The gigantic Gulf of Mexico oil spill is the latest blow to a unique marine environment already fragile after decades of human encroachment and natural upheavals - at a time of year when some of its most vulnerable species are nurturing their young.
A watery expanse of 600,000 square miles, the Gulf features marshes and coral reefs, commercial and recreational fisheries and hundreds of wildlife species, including imperiled birds, whales and sea turtles. Many are in harm's way, as the oil unleashed when an offshore rig exploded two weeks ago threatens their food supply and the marshlands where they spawn or build nests.
The spill "could not have come at a worse time," said Carole Allen, Gulf director of the non-profit Sea Turtle Restoration Project.
It's too early to know how extensively the waters and wetlands could be damaged or how badly any particular species - even those listed as endangered - could suffer, scientists say. Although 30 dead sea turtles had turned up on Mississppi beaches in recent days, necropsies completed on five showed no evidence that oil killed them.
Still, biologists who study the region's birds and fish are worried.
"You hear that noise?" Mark LaSalle, director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center near Biloxi, asked recently while strolling on the beach wearing the bird-watcher's trademark gear, a button down khaki shirt with binoculars slung around his neck. His voice was practically drowned out by the whistling and chirping of several thousand endangered seabirds known as least terns, nesting on the beach. The Gulfport area has one of the country's largest nesting colonies.
"Look at those gray dots," LaSalle said, pointing down about a mile-long stretch of sand. "There's probably 1,000 birds right there.
"If the oil comes onto the beach, it'll hit the eggs and they'll be gone," he said. "And if the fish disappear, they'll starve."
Up to 5,000 bottlenose dolphins may be calving in the path of the slick, said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.
"During calving season, these animals move from deeper to shallow waters to give protection to their young," Solangi said. "These animals are going to go in and out of the spill just for curiosity."
Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said Monday there was a large number of dead jellyfish along the coast of an island at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
"You occasionally see dead jellyfish anytime you have high winds, but this was far beyond the normal," Schweiger said.
Young shrimp, popular with diners and a key part of the marine food chain, are preparing to migrate from estuaries to open waters "in the midst of the oil being pushed into onshore areas," said Chris Dorsett, director of Ocean Conservancy's fish conservation and management in Austin, Texas.
The Gulf, bordered by the United States, Mexico and Cuba, also supports endangered birds such as the snowy plover, as well as the formerly listed brown pelican.
The area between Louisiana and Florida is "some of the most biologically varied marine habitat in the country," said Bill Hawkins, director of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, one of many scientific outposts along the coast where staffers are anxiously monitoring waters in the advancing oil plume.
Warm temperatures extend breeding seasons for fish and other marine creatures, while coastal waters, marshy bottomlands and nutrient-rich estuaries yield abundant vegetation, providing spawning grounds and food for an incredibly complex food web.
Monday, May 03, 2010
ScienceDaily, Apr. 30, 2010
Scientists from NOAA and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi were astounded to find that seamounts, mountains that rise from the seafloor, rank as some of the most common ocean habitats in the world. Their findings are published in a new study and reverse previous beliefs about the prevalence of seamounts, which are treasure troves of marine biodiversity.
"Unlike beaches or even coral reefs, most people will never see a seamount, but this study shows that they are clearly one of the predominant ecosystems on the planet," said Peter Etnoyer, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and marine biologist at NOAA's Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research. "We can only hope that through this study, people begin to realize what a vast unknown the ocean represents, and what a vital role it plays on Earth."
Although researchers have thoroughly explored some 200 seamounts and mapped and sampled a hundred others, this study is the first to estimate that more than 45,000 seamounts dot the ocean floor worldwide -- a total of roughly 28.8 million square kilometers or an area larger than the continent of South America. The discovery was made possible using satellite altimetry data that measured incredibly slight changes in the sea surface height that, along with statistical analysis models, indicated the presence of these submerged mountains.
"Seamounts are biodiversity 'hotspots', with higher abundance and variety of life forms than the surrounding seafloor," said Tom Shirley, Ph.D., contributing author of the study and a conservation scientist with the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. "In fact, new species are observed or collected on nearly every submersible dive." Two dozen new species of corals and sponges, for example, have been collected from seamounts in the Gulf of Alaska since 2002.
Seamounts not only make up the largest area of ocean habitat, they are also highly productive environments that can serve as habitats for important commercial fish species like orange roughy and sablefish.
This research, which is the first-ever comparison of the size of oceanic and land habitats, is featured in the journal Oceanography.