Scientists have probed the diversity of life in all sorts of ecosystems, from the insides of our guts to the sediments beneath the ocean floor. Now, a small group of Massachusetts scientists is eyeing a new frontier: the flotilla of tiny pieces of plastic adrift on ocean surf.
A new study describes the “plastisphere” — the microbial communities that hitch rides on the confetti-sized bits of plastic that litter ocean waters. The authors discovered a thriving, miniature world aboard the microplastic “reefs,” where communities of bacteria and other microbes create energy from sunlight, reproduce, and prey on one another.
Researchers at three Woods Hole-based institutions worked together to try to better understand what role these tiny bits of plastic play in the larger ocean ecosystem.
Among their discoveries, reported in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, is the surprising finding that the microbial communities are distinctly different from the ones in nearby ocean water.
And at least one kind of plastic was dominated by a member of a group of bacteria commonly associated with various diseases, including cholera. They could not tell exactly which species was present and plan to do further studies to try to hone in on its identity.
“The thing that impressed me the most is that it is a little world unto itself,” said Linda Amaral-Zettler, an associate scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a research institution based in Woods Hole. “How does it ultimately affect organisms eating it — and ultimately us? We eat shellfish and fish. . . . I think there’s a much broader issue here that’s come to our attention.”
Scientists took two cruises: one that set out eastward from Bermuda in 2010 and another that departed St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and sailed to Woods Hole in 2012. They threw a net to skim the ocean’s surface and retrieve hundreds of tiny bits of plastic. They performed DNA analysis and used an electron microscope to analyze the life on the plastic, and used a kind of analysis called spectroscopy to figure out the chemical composition of the plastic.
The scientists hope that the study can begin to shed light on how plastic contributes to the ocean ecosystem. Plastic has particular properties that make it an interesting ocean substrate — microbes can stick to its surface, and it tends to originate and spend time in coastal waters where runoff and waste enter the ocean.
That, combined with the fact that it sticks around in the environment, means that it might be playing an ecologically significant role in ferrying bacteria around the ocean.
The scientists are now trying to understand exactly which pathogens dwell on sea plastic, and what role, if any, these microbes could play in marine and human health.
“Plastic is the major form of debris in the ocean,” said Erik Zettler, associate dean of the Sea Education Association, a nonprofit focused on ocean education based in Woods Hole and one of the authors of the paper.
“It has a very long lifespan, not like a piece of wood or a feather that degrades over months and disappears — plastic persists for years, perhaps decades.”
The researchers are also trying to find out how plastic caught in ocean currents gained its unexpected “plastisphere” in the first place. They are tethering bits of plastic in coastal waters to see what kinds of microbes take up residence on the surface of plastic.
SAN FRANCISCO —
A California bill that would have required manufacturers to figure out how to keep the most common plastic junk out of state waterways died in the state Assembly without a vote Friday.
Assembly Bill 521 was before the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, and the panel failed to act on it, effectively killing the legislation for the session. It had previously passed the Assembly Natural Resource Committee.
State Assemblyman Mark Stone, a D-Monterey Bay, one of the proposal’s sponsors, was disappointed by the outcome.
“Plastic pollution will continue to harm our oceans and coastline, so Assemblymember Stone is committed to working on this problem,” said Arianna Smith, Stone’s legislative and communications director.
Once in the ocean, plastic takes ages to decompose. The manmade junk either collects into floating trash islands called “garbage patches,” or it breaks into smaller pieces that harm and kill sea creatures throughout the food chain.
It’s a complex problem with no easy fix, but some European countries have already implemented “extended producer responsibility” laws with some success.
AB521 would have required manufacturers to figure out how to reduce 95 percent of plastic pollution along the state’s coastline by 2024. It carried financial penalties for companies that did not comply: up to $10,000 per day for the worst violations.
Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona, said during Friday’s Appropriations Committee meeting that he opposed the measure in part because it singled out one industry as the source of ocean pollution.
“I agree that cleaning up our oceans should be something that’s very, very important to us, but this bill places the burden of compliance directly on the producers instead of the violators, the people who are littering,” Linder said.
The regulation was just the latest California legislative attempt to address some of the world’s toughest environmental problems, often at the expense of private business, critics say.
The state’s large economy and population has already influenced automakers to produce cleaner burning cars, forced warning labels for toxic chemicals on a range of consumer products and put a price on heat-trapping carbon emissions from industrial sources.
“With nearly 40 million people in the state, what happens here matters whether it is cap-and-trade and renewable energy portfolio standards, solid waste reduction, water conservation,” said Mark Gold, associate director of the University of California, Los Angeles Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.
“What happens in California matters both nationally and globally,” he added.
Gold said legislation won’t solve the plastic pollution problem, but could have a wide-ranging effect. The failed proposal could have been the first significant legislation in the U.S. to try to reduce the amount of plastic junk in the ocean that makes up trash formations such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, known as the world’s largest landfill.
The plastic industry, California Chamber of Commerce and other business interests opposed the bill, saying they already fund recycling and other programs to reduce marine plastic pollution. Plus, they say, the bill asks manufacturers to develop new products or other ways to reduce trash, but it doesn’t say how.
Extended producer responsibility laws have already taken root in more than two dozen European countries.
In France, nearly 90 percent of consumer products are part of the “Green Dot” program, requiring manufacturers to pay into a program that recovers and recycles packaging materials. It has successfully influenced manufacturers there to cut down on packaging or use alternative materials.
Stone’s office said the assemblyman is unsure if he will reintroduce the bill next year. He is “weighing his options for how to continue to work to address this problem in the future,” Smith said.
Laura Olson contributed to this story from Sacramento.
19-Year-Old Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans Read more: 19-Year-Old Student Develops Ocean Cleanup Array That Could Remove 7,250,000 Tons Of Plastic From the World’s Oceans
19-year-old Boyan Slat has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. The device consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.
At school, Boyan Slat launched a project that analyzed the size and amount of plastic particles in the ocean’s garbage patches. His final paper went on to win several prizes, including Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology. Boyan continued to develop his concept during the summer of 2012, and he revealed it several months later at TEDxDelft 2012.
Slat went on to found The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization which is responsible for the development of his proposed technologies. His ingenious solution could potentially save hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals annually, and reduce pollutants (including PCB and DDT) from building up in the food chain. It could also save millions per year, both in clean-up costs, lost tourism and damage to marine vessels.
It is estimated that the clean-up process would take about five years, and it could greatly increase awareness about the world’s plastic garbage patches. On his site Slat says, “One of the problems with preventive work is that there isn’t any imagery of these ‘garbage patches’, because the debris is dispersed over millions of square kilometres. By placing our arrays however, it will accumulate along the booms, making it suddenly possible to actually visualize the oceanic garbage patches. We need to stress the importance of recycling, and reducing our consumption of plastic packaging.” To find out more about the project and to contribute, click here.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $100 million in financial assistance to acquire permanent easements from eligible landowners in four counties and assist with wetland restoration on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed.
The wetland restoration will reduce the amount of surface water leaving the land, slowing water runoff and the concentration of nutrients entering the public water management system and ultimately Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
This is the largest amount of funding Florida has ever received for projects in the same watershed through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) in a single year.
“Protecting and restoring the Northern Everglades is critical not just to Floridians, but to all Americans,” said Vilsack.
“Today’s announcement demonstrates the Obama Administration’s strong commitment to conserve our national treasures, enhance the quality and quantity of our water, and secure the economic opportunities afforded by a healthy Everglades ecosystem.
“This announcement would not be possible without our local conservation partners and our relationship with private landowners who play a critical role in restoring wetlands and protecting wildlife in this unique habitat.”
Vilsack also participated in a signing ceremony with A.J. Suarez of Hendry County Nursery Farms — a landowner who will benefit from the funding.
Suarez signed an agreement with USDA to start the process to acquire the easement rights to 3,782 acres.
After the signing ceremony, Vilsack toured the 550-acre Winding Waters Natural Area, a site restored with $1.5 million from WRP in 2007. The nature area, owned by Palm Beach County, is home to bird species such as little blue heron, snowy egret and great egret, white ibis and Florida sandhill crane.
It also contains large areas of pine flatwoods, Cyprus forests, freshwater marshes and wet prairies.
Under WRP, landowners sell development rights to land and place it in a conservation easement that permanently maintains that land as agriculture and open space.
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Aug. 11, 2011 — /PRNewswire/ — Farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), south of Lake Okeechobee, achieved a record-setting 79 percent phosphorus reduction in the water leaving the farming region — more than three times less phosphorus than the state requirement.
The South Florida Water Management District, the agency tasked with Everglades restoration, announced today that the EAA’s on-farm Best Management Practices (BMPs), developed by university scientists in collaboration with farmers, are a resounding success. The District praised EAA farmers for being proactive and often implementing more BMPs than what is required.
“We’re proud of farmers’ accomplishments cleaning water, with an average phosphorus reduction of 55 percent over the last 16 years,” said Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative. “When the BMP program was first envisioned in 1991, no one imagined it would be this effective over the long term. It’s an example of the kind of success that can be achieved in partnership with scientists and farmers, who roll up their sleeves to get the job done.”
In addition to improving water quality using high-tech sustainable practices, more than $200 million has been paid by farmers for the construction of Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) to further clean water. Built on 60,000 acres of former farmland, the STAs have reduced phosphorus to the Everglades Protection Area by an additional 1,470 metric tons. That’s in addition to the 2,400 metric tons of phosphorus removed by farmers.
“Along with being stable economic drivers and job providers for our state and county, farmers have a long track record of supporting and implementing Everglades restoration,” said Gaston Cantens, vice president of Florida Crystals Corporation. “Today’s record-breaking results are another example of the proven success of our sustainable practices and demonstrate the significant role our farms continue to play in protecting and preserving the Everglades ecosystem, as the design was intended.”
Florida Agriculture Fast Facts:
- Supports 766,000 jobs
- Generates $100 billion annual economic impact in Florida
- Responsible for $3 billion in tax revenue for local and state government
- Florida Sugar Industry provides 7,000 direct jobs 23,500 indirect jobs
- Florida Sugar Industry generates $2 billion economic impact
About Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative and Florida Crystals Corporation
Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative and Florida Crystals Corporation are two Palm Beach County-based sugar producers and owners of the world’s largest sugar company, American Sugar Refining, whose global production capacity is 7 million tons of refined sugar annually. Its products are marketed through its brand portfolio: Domino®, CH®, Redpath® and Tate Lyle®. Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, based in Belle Glade, is made up of 46 small and medium size farms in Palm Beach County. The grower members produce approximately 300,000 tons of sugar from 65,000 acres of land. The primary functions of the Cooperative are the harvesting, transporting and processing of sugarcane and the marketing of raw sugar to one of its American Sugar Refining facilities. Florida Crystals Corporation farms 190,000 acres in South Florida, where it also mills, refines and packages sugar and rice products. The company is the only producer of certified organic sugar grown and harvested in the USA, sold through the Florida Crystals® brand. Florida Crystals also produces clean, renewable energy from sugar cane fiber and recycled wood waste in its Palm Beach County biomass power plant.
SOURCE Florida Crystals
The item was brought to the Committee after a December 2010 request from former Chair Donna Frye. Under the strong mayor-strong council form of government, the administrative regulation does not need Council approval. However, showing support for the ideas within the regulation, the NRC requested that the Mayor’s office report on the implementation of these policies at the November 16 NRC meeting.
“This will show great leadership to the residents of San Diego,” said City Council Member David Alvarez, who chairs NRC. He also noted that the City is the first in San Diego County to take these initial steps.
Specifically but not inclusively, the Mayor’s administrative regulation will:
- Prohibit the purchase of single-use water bottles and water bottle dispensers with City funds, with the exception of facilities that do not have access to safe tap water to drink
- Prohibit the purchase of plastic foam food service ware with City funds (referred to as expanded polystyrene, or EPS)
- Develop standard language for bids that expresses the City’s commitment to eliminating plastic foam in packing materials, using alternative recyclable packing materials when available and/or vendor take back of the packing materials. This includes working with current vendors to reduce plastic foam use.
- Revise City permit applications; including those for special events, parks and recreation facilities, and water reservoirs and lakes, to prohibit the use of plastic foam food service ware.
“We commend Mayor Sanders for demonstrating environmental leadership and fiscal responsibility with his policy limiting the City’s purchase of single-use plastic water bottles and plastic foam products,” said Alicia Glassco, San Diego Coastkeeper’s education and marine debris manager. “We hope the door will remain open to expand the restriction of plastic foam use beyond City events and that other cities will follow the Mayor’s lead and take similar action.”
The City of San Diego joins 48 California cities that have already committed to reducing plastic foam for environmental reasons and 28 jurisdictions that have limited bottled water purchases to reduce expenses and support public water systems.
“San Francisco canceled its bottled water contracts and saved half a million dollars a year,” said John Stewart, national campaign organizer with Corporate Accountability International. “San Diego will join the ranks of 1,200 cities and five states nationwide that have taken similar steps, saving millions of dollars.”
This step by Mayor Sanders comes on the heels of the statewide Senate Bill 568, which would prohibit the distribution and use of plastic foam containers by food vendors. Currently, the senate floor expects the bill sometime next week. Support organizers identified Senator Juan Vargas as a swing vote on the matter and ask that he take this action as a sign that his constituents are calling for reduced litter and debris.
San Diego Coastkeeper first proposed restricting bottled water and plastic foam at City facilities and events to former City Councilmember Donna Frye in late 2009. Coastkeeper cited beach cleanup data from across the county, which indicates a growing problem of plastic water bottles, plastic bottle caps and pieces of plastic foam littering the environment. In 2010 alone, volunteers removed more than 25,000 pieces of plastic foam, which is lightweight, floats and easily breaks into small pieces making it a challenge for removal from storm drains and the environment.
San Diego Coastkeeper’s website (http://www.sdcoastkeeper.org) hosts more information about beach cleanup data in San Diego County and the harmful effects of marine debris on the environmental, marine mammals and humans.
# # #
San Diego Coastkeeper
Founded in 1995, San Diego Coastkeeper protects the region’s inland and coastal waters for the communities and wildlife that depend on them by blending education, community empowerment and advocacy. Visit them online for more information: http://www.sdcoastkeeper.org.
Signs of the Tide, sponsored by SDG&E Smart Meter and Cook & Schmid, are community events designed to educate, engage and empower participants in issues relating to the health of San Diego’s coastal waters. The meetings rotate locations throughout San Diego. All events are free, open to the community and include light snacks and beverages.
For more information about Signs of the Tide, visit Coastkeeper’s website at www.sdcoastkeeper.org.
Founded in 1995, San Diego Coastkeeper protects the region’s inland and coastal waters for the communities and wildlife that depend on them by blending education, community empowerment and advocacy. Visit us online at http://www.sdcoastkeeper.org.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With the New Year comes new challenges to fish in our world’s oceans and one of the major concerns is the expansion of hypoxic zones. That’s the scientific name but more recreational anglers are becoming aware of them as “dead zones.”
They are areas in the oceans with low or non-existent oxygen levels which, according to a recently released research study by scientists and fish management experts, are increasing in size while decreasing the habitats of billfish and tuna. In scientific circles this phenomena is called “habitat compression.”
Ellen Peel, president of The Billfish Foundation (TBF) said scientists outfitted 79 sailfish and blue marlin in two strategic areas of the Atlantic with pop-off archival satellite tags which monitored their horizontal and vertical movement patterns.
“Billfish favor abundant habitats of oxygen-rich waters closer to the surface while avoiding waters low in oxygen,” Peel said. The study, composed of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and TBF, found a massive expanding low oxygen zone in the Atlantic Ocean is encroaching upon the fish forcing them into shallower waters where they are more likely to be caught. The research waters included areas off south Florida and the Caribbean (western North Atlantic); and off the coast of West Africa (the eastern tropical Atlantic).
Hypoxic zones occur naturally in areas of the world’s tropical and equatorial seas because of ongoing weather patterns, oceanographic and biological processes. In the current cycle of climate change and accelerated global warming, hypoxic areas are expanding and shoaling closer to the sea surface, and may continue to expand as sea temperatures rise.
“The zone off West Africa,” said Dr. Eric D. Prince, NOAA Fisheries Service research biologist, “encompasses virtually all the equatorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean, is roughly the size of the continental United States and is growing. With the current cycle of climate change and accelerated global warming we expect the size of this zone to increase, further reducing the available habitat for these fishes.”
Oil platform could put critically endangered whales at risk
Sakhalin Energy Investment Company already has two platforms in the area and have previously said that their drilling technology meant that they would not need a third. An official Sakhalin Energy document also acknowledges that having two rather than three platforms “significantly reduces the potential for environmental impact”.
The company plans to conduct a seismic survey which involves shooting loud pulses of noise into the ocean floor later this year to determine where to begin platform construction.
Three seismic surveys conducted around the whale feeding habitat last summer caused severe pressure on the animals as the noise from the surveys can be devastating for species that rely on sound to navigate, communicate and find their food.
Grey whales occur on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. However IUCN classes the critically endangered Western population as separate from the Eastern population, as genetic studies indicate that the two populations probably do not mix.
Only around 130 whales of the critically endangered Western population exist today.
The construction and operation of an additional off-shore platform could have a number of negative effects on the whales, including disrupting feeding behaviours and increasing the chance of fatal ship strikes.
Aleksey Knizhnikov, Oil Gas Environmental Policy Officer for WWF-Russia says on the WWF website: “Just around 30 female western Grey whales of breeding age remain the population is already on the brink of disappearing forever. The loss of even a few breeding females could mean the end for the population.”
During the feeding season the whales must eat enough to maintain themselves for the migration to their breeding grounds. Their primary feeding area, near the proposed platform, is also one of the only places where mother whales can teach their calves to feed on the sea bed.
“We are astonished by the announcement from Sakhalin Energy that it intends to build a third platform,” said Wendy Elliott, Species Programme Manager, WWF-International.
Doug Norlen, Policy Director at Pacific Environment reiterates:”We still do not know how badly the whales were affected by major seismic activity last summer and will not know until the whales return to their feeding grounds again this year and scientists can determine if any are malnourished. It is totally inappropriate for Sakhalin Energy to plan another seismic survey in 2011 before we have the opportunity to examine the health of the animals.”
Article source: http://www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk/content.php?sid=3561
Reported by Lindsay Curtin bio | email
PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Most people go to the beach to have fun without realizing the work it takes to keep it beautiful.
A $7.3 million project is finally underway for the town of Topsail Beach.
Over the next couple months, dredging companies will be pumping 900,000 cubic yards of sand to the beach. The extra sand will provide added protection against beach erosion and home damage in the event of a hurricane.
“It flattens out the beach, stops the wave action and slows the erosion of the beach, so it basically helps protect from beach erosion in hurricanes and offers a higher level of protection for structures,” said Topsail Town Manager Tim Holloman.
No matter how expensive the project might be, most residents agree it is worth it, considering almost all of Topsail Island sits in aFEMA declared flood zone. The project is expected to be finished at the end of March.
Copyright 2010 WECT. All rights reserved.
Article source: http://www.wect.com/Global/story.asp?S=13790567
Oceana, an international ocean conservation group, yesterday released a new report that identifies vital habitats in need of protection, if key endangered species are to have a chance to survive climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 20 to 30 percent of the world’s species will be at increased risk of extinction if global temperature increases exceed 1.5 to 2.5 C (3 to 5 F) above pre-industrial levels. The climate threats to species include increased disease, diminished reproduction, habitat loss, and declining food supply.
For species that are already struggling on the brink of extinction, global climate change threatens to push them over the edge, said Huta. We certainly need to reduce global warming pollution, but we also need to act now to prioritize and protect some of the most important ecosystems for imperiled wildlife. Endangered species don’t have the luxury of waiting for political leaders to act to slow the pace of climate change.
List of top 10 ecosystems to save for endangered species featured in the report:
1. Arctic sea ice, home to the polar bear, Pacific walrus and at least six species of seal
2. Shallow water coral reefs, home to the critically endangered elkhorn and staghorn corals
3. The Hawaiian Islands, home to more than a dozen imperiled birds, and 319 threatened and endangered plants
4. Southwest deserts, home to numerous imperiled plants, fish and mammals
5. The San Francisco Bay-Delta, home to the imperiled Pacific salmon, Swainsons hawk, tiger salamander and Delta smelt
6. California Sierra Mountains, home to 30 native amphibian species, including the Yellow-legged frog
7. The Snake River Basin, home to four imperiled runs of salmon and steelhead
8. Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, home to the imperiled Whitebark pine, an important food source for the threatened Grizzly bear and other animals
9. The Gulf Coasts flatlands and wetlands, home to the Piping and Snowy plovers, Mississippi sandhill crane, and numerous species of sea turtles
10. The Greater Everglades, home to 67 threatened and endangered species, including the manatee and the red cockcaded woodpecker
Climate change is no longer a distant threat on the horizon, said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. It has arrived and is threatening ecosystems that we all depend upon, and our endangered species are particularly vulnerable.
Seven additional ecosystems were nominated but did not make the Top 10. They nonetheless contain important habitat for imperiled species. These ecosystems include Glacier National Park, the Jemez Mountains, Sagebrush Steppe, U.S. West Coast, the Maine Woods, the Grasslands of the Great Plains and the Southern Rocky Mountains.
Scientists ranked Arctic sea ice and shallow water corals as two of the highest priority ecosystems threatened by climate change in an Endangered Species Coalition report demonstrating the urgency of saving habitat for endangered species. The report, entitled Its Getting Hot Out There: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World was released January 5th, and examines how the changing climate is increasing extinction risk for imperiled fish, plants and wildlife.
Have your say: Is the reality of climate change still in question?