Into the Blue Serengeti

November 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Secrets of the Ocean

Blue whales are among the Pacific predators whose large-scale movements have been tracked. They dine on small crustaceans called krill, and, like some “nomadic” African lions, migrate to where their prey is seasonally abundant.

The dugout canoe does not know the depth of the water” (Umubindi ushira uvimye). So say the Hangaza, a group of more than 150,000 people who live along Lake Victoria, west of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. The proverb rings true: floating on the water won’t tell you what is going on below. Half a world away from Tanzania, along the United States West Coast, oceanographers are finding new ways of looking beneath research vessels that ply the Pacific. They’re getting a fish’s eye view of the deep by placing electronic tags on predators such as blue whales and California sea lions, yellowfin tuna and white sharks. As the data come in, their thoughts turn to the Serengeti.

Their project is called Tagging of Pacific Ocean Predators (TOPP). It focuses on certain areas of the Pacific, among them the California Current, an undersea river of water that flows south along the western coast of North America, beginning off British Columbia and ending near Baja California. The current supports large populations of whales and seabirds, and fuels important fisheries. Its productivity comes from an upwelling of cold subsurface waters, caused by prevailing northeasterly winds. The chilly waters ferry a steady supply of nutrients to the surface. The scientists are also studying an area called the North Pacific Transition Zone, the boundary between cold subarctic water and warm subtropical water, about halfway between Hawaii and Alaska. It’s a major trans-Pacific corridor for the movements of predators and prey.

Combined map shows movement patterns of twenty-two species documented by scientists collaborating in the TOPP (Tagging of Pacific Ocean Predators) project.

“These are the oceanic areas where food is most abundant,” says marine scientist Barbara A. Block of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, California. “They’re the savanna grasslands of the sea.” Knowing where and when species migrate is critical information for managing and protecting ecosystems, says biologist Daniel P. Costa of the University of California, Santa Cruz. TOPP was launched in 2000 by Block and Costa along with Steven J. Bograd of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Randall E. Kochevar of Stanford, and others. The project was part of the Census of Marine Life, a ten-year-long investigation of the diversity, distribution, and abundance of ocean species. TOPP became the world’s largest “biologging” (electronic tagging) study, involving more than seventy-five biologists, oceanographers, engineers, and computer scientists in eight countries. A decade of findings were reported in the journal Nature in June 2011. They reveal that the migrations of twenty-two marine species overlap.

“It’s been like looking across the entire African savanna,” says Block, “and trying to figure out: Where are the watering holes a zebra or a cheetah might frequent? Where are the fertile valleys? Where are the deserts that animals might avoid, and the migratory corridors species such as wildebeest use to travel from place to place?”

Block, Costa, and their colleagues use an array of technologies to track species and to record such environmental variables as water temperature, salinity, and depth. The TOPP project alone deployed 4,306 satellite-monitored tags, yielding a massive amount of data. Scientists spent two years synthesizing data sets. They discovered intersecting ocean hotspots and highways of life—and learned much about how marine conditions influence where animals hang out.

The results show that many migratory marine species, like animals on the Serengeti grasslands, return to the same regions each year, homing in with astonishing fidelity to the places where they were first tagged. “It’s akin to a student from London studying in far-off Rome and coming home each summer at the same moment—but doing it all in the dark without a map or compass, using only his or her internal sense of position and direction,” says Costa.

Leatherback sea turtle: Two populations have been observed, one whose females travel to lay eggs along beaches in the eastern Pacific, another that prefers western Pacific beaches.

Leatherback sea turtles, for example, travel huge distances between their nesting and feeding sites. In the Pacific Ocean, contingents from two populations of leatherbacks make their way each year to beaches along the eastern and western Pacific, respectively, to lay eggs. (An individual female will nest once every two or three years.) Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science placed tracking devices on 135 leatherbacks’ shells. Leatherback turtles in the eastern Pacific were tagged at their nesting sites in Costa Rica and Mexico; western Pacific turtles were tagged at nesting sites in Indonesia and on their foraging grounds off the coast of California. The instruments transmitted satellite signals each time the turtles surfaced.

The results of Bailey’s study were published in the April 2012 issue of Ecological Applications. The western Pacific turtles traveled to feeding sites in the South China Sea, Indonesian seas, southeastern Australia, and the U.S. West Coast. “This wide dispersal,” says Bailey, “allows for a greater likelihood of finding food. It also means that the turtles are more vulnerable to being snagged unintentionally in fishing gear.”

The eastern Pacific leatherbacks have a different migration pattern, traveling south from nesting sites in Mexico and Costa Rica to the southeast Pacific. The turtles feed in offshore upwelling areas where their meals, almost exclusively jellyfish, are easy catches. “The limited feeding grounds of the east Pacific turtles make them vulnerable to changes that might occur in the abundance of jellyfish,” says Bailey. “Being caught in fishing gear also poses a greater risk to this population because it has a smaller range than western Pacific leatherbacks.” Entanglement in fishing gear is believed to be a major cause of death in leatherback sea turtles. James R. Spotila of Drexel University, a coauthor of the paper, notes that leatherback turtles are long-lived animals that take a long time to reach maturity. Because the species’ numbers are declining very fast, he considers it critical to take measures so they don’t go extinct. In the past thirty years, leatherback numbers in the eastern Pacific have dropped by 90 percent. Information on the turtles’ movements will help scientists determine where fishing should be limited at certain times of the year, says Bailey. A good precedent is a decision made in 2010 to close a swordfish and thresher shark fishery off California from mid-August to mid-November. That may have dramatically reduced incidental leatherback catches.

Water temperature is key to the seasonal migrations of many North Pacific Ocean species. That’s especially true in the marine ecosystem defined by the California Current, where whales, sharks, tuna, seals, seabirds, and turtles migrate each year. Like the African savanna, says Costa, the Pacific Ocean has a “Big Five”: he compares great white sharks to lions, bluefin tuna to leopards, blue whales to African elephants, leatherback sea turtles to black rhinos, and elephant seals to Cape buffaloes.

Scientists see parallels between migration patterns of prey, predators, and scavengers in East Africa’s Serengeti region and movements of species in the Pacific. Mapped here are (top left and right) zebra and wildebeest, (middle left and right) nomadic lion and hyena, and (bottom) vultures. Most lion prides occupy defended territories; nomadic lions, usually single males, tend to follow migrating herds while trying to avoid detection by resident males.

“The Serengeti is an ecosystem that’s synonymous with animal movements,” says ecologist Grant Hopcraft of the Frankfurt Zoological Society–Africa, headquartered in the Serengeti. “Each year more than one and a half million ungulates cross its plains.” Their seasonal migrations follow cyclic rains that lead to the growth of savanna grasses. Where grasses sprout up, ungulates such as wildebeest follow. Predators such as nomadic lions trail closely behind. (Although most lion prides occupy defended territories, nomadic lions, usually single males, tend to follow migrating herds while trying to avoid detection by resident males.) “The movements of marine species in the California Current are similar to those in the Serengeti,” says Hopcraft, “which raises the question: Why? Research at the population level suggests that it’s a changing food supply that drives animal migrations. But recent animal collaring [tracking] projects in the Serengeti show a huge amount of variation in individual species’ responses.”

There’s a lot more going on, Hopcraft believes, beneath the surface. “For the Serengeti—and the California Current—does an animal’s internal condition determine how it responds? Is it remembering previous routes and responding to the same cues? How will environmental change affect these great migrations of the land and the sea?”

Some predators spend their lives in the California Current, but others migrate long distances across the Pacific Ocean to reach the current’s abundant prey, including krill, sardines, anchovies, and squid. “Why a young bluefin tuna less than two years old wakes up in the light of the Japan Sea and decides to swim to Baja is unknown,” Block says. “But once it arrives, tagging data indicate that it lives there for years, taking advantage of the rich ‘forage’ along the coast.” Many species—including black-footed albatrosses, sooty shearwaters, bluefin tuna, and salmon sharks—migrate more than 1,200 miles from the western, central, or southern Pacific Ocean to reach the California Current’s rich food resources.

Farther off shore is the mysterious White Shark Café, as it’s known, an open-ocean winter and spring habitat for otherwise coastal great whites. The area, halfway between Baja California and Hawaii, hadn’t been a suspected shark hangout. But when scientists mapped data from satellite tags placed on 179 great white sharks between 2000 and 2008, they discovered that the sharks frequently travel to and loiter there. While at the café, they dive to depths of 1,000 feet as often as once every ten minutes, according to Salvador J. Jorgensen of Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station. He and colleagues published their results online in November 2009 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Coming mostly from rookeries along the Pacific coast, the great whites take up to 100 days to arrive, traveling at about two knots. The study showed that the sharks adhere to a rigid route of migration across the sea, returning to exactly the same spot. Since both male and female sharks have been tracked to the café, an early hypothesis was that it could be the undersea equivalent of a trendy pickup bar. Further studies, however, revealed that juvenile sharks also make their way there.

The purpose of the deep dives is not yet known, with the great whites lingering, often for months, in what seems to be an oceanic “desert” where food is scarce. Michael L. Domeier of the Marine Conservation Science Institute in Fallbrook, California, hypothesizes that the predators are feeding not on fish but on giant squid. Sperm whales, which feed on giant squid, are sighted in that area. Tracking other species, such as tuna, may help explain how the shark café came to be. “We’re only beginning to understand what it means to have the equivalent of lions in the ocean wilderness off California,” says Block.

Tuna, sharks, and blue whales may be cued to seasonal changes in chlorophyll concentrations,” says Bograd. Chlorophyll indicates the presence of phytoplankton, the grasslands of the sea.

Marine scientists work with a lightly anesthetized male northern elephant seal. After using fast-acting epoxy to glue a telemetry tag to the hair on the animal’s head, they measure blubber thickness with an ultrasound device and collect blood samples.

Elephant seals, for example, are drawn to a particular oceanographic feature—a boundary zone between two large rotating currents, or gyres. Along this boundary, the cold nutrient-rich waters of the subpolar gyre in the north mix with the warmer waters of the subtropical gyre to the south, driving the growth of phytoplankton and supporting a veritable feast of marine life.

An oceanic surface feature linked with the boundary zone and caused by blooms of phytoplankton is visible on satellite images. It moves seasonally by as much as 600 miles, however. Some elephant seals don’t follow; they continue to target the deep boundary zone between the two gyres.

Using data from nearly 300 tagged animals, Costa showed that the elephant seals travel throughout the northeast Pacific Ocean on foraging trips in search of prey such as fish and squid. “For the first time, we can truly say that we know what elephant seals as a population are doing,” he says. The results were published in May 2012 in the journal PLoS ONE.

A small number of elephant seals search for food in coastal regions, pursuing bottom-dwelling prey along the continental shelf. Among these is a female that feeds near Vancouver Island. She holds the record for deepest recorded dive by an elephant seal: 5,765 feet, more than a mile down.

The scientists have also looked at the partitioning of habitats by closely related species. Certain species, for example, are attracted to particular water temperatures; these preferences correlate with physiological adaptations. “We can now predict when and where individual species are likely to be in a given ocean region, and begin to understand the factors that control where they go next,” says Costa. “It’s the basis of ecosystem-based management.”

Following on the heels of TOPP, the scientists have spawned a new effort to study the blue Serengeti. “Where are the hotspots needing immediate protection?” Block asks. “We’re conducting the ecosystem science that reveals who’s at watering holes like White Shark Café and, most importantly, why.”

The ocean sunfish, or common mola, is known to dine on jellyfish, but its diet may be far broader.

One new project, called WhaleWatch, is looking at how to reduce the number of whales entangled in fishing gear, by identifying the areas whales are most likely to visit. Satellite tags have been attached to gray whales and to three other whale species—blue, fin, and humpback—off the U.S. West Coast. WhaleWatch scientists such as Bailey are using satellite data and migration models of gray whales to identify high-risk areas for the whales, and to develop conservation policies for reducing ship strikes and entanglements.

Among whales, the gray is the West Coast species most often hit by ships and caught up in fishing gear. Gray whales are known for long migrations of more than 10,000 miles from their feeding grounds in the Bering Sea to breeding areas along the coast of Baja California, Mexico. WhaleWatch researchers are analyzing gray whale satellite tracks to determine where the hotspots are for these whales.

This June, no one needed satellite tracking to find whales in Monterey Bay, California. As many as 100 blue whales splashed around in plain sight there. Upwelling led to a bumper crop of krill, the whales’ favorite food, and attracted countless other marine species. “It’s been one of the best ‘lunch stops’ in the Pacific,” says Block. “We need to protect these areas, places where large pelagic predators—the cheetahs and lions of the sea—gather.”

There’s an Africa-like game park in the waters off the West Coast, she says. “It will take enormous vision to preserve this wild place. Without conservation of such ocean realms, the bluefin tunas and blue whales, whale sharks and great whites might not be there in future generations.”

Along the U.S. East Coast, humpback whales, also long-distance migrators, are frequently ensnared in fishing gear. This July, scientists at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts freed a whale caught in fishing line wrapped around its mouth and head. The researchers are part of a team following satellite-tagged humpbacks in the Gulf of Maine.

The snagged whale is one often seen in local waters. A mark on its tail fluke is shaped like a giraffe, giving the humpback its name: Serengeti.

Plastic in Birds’ Stomachs Reveals Ocean’s Garbage Problem

July 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Water Quality

A pair of Northern fulmars in early May at their nest site at Cape Vera, Devon Island, Nunavut. The gull-like birds tend to breed in high-Arctic Canada and on islands in the Bering Sea. CREDIT: Mark Mallory.

Plastic found in the stomachs of dead seabirds suggests the Pacific Ocean off the northwest coast of North America is more polluted than was realized.

The birds, called northern fulmars, feed exclusively at sea. Plastic remains in their stomachs for long periods. Researchers have for several decades examined stomach contents of fulmars, and in new study they tallied the plastic products in dead fulmars that had washed up on the coasts of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, Canada.

The research revealed a “substantial increase in plastic pollution over the past four decades,” the researchers said in a statement.

“Like the canary in the coal mine, northern fulmars are sentinels of plastic pollution in our oceans,” said Stephanie Avery-Gomm, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in University of British Columbia’s Department of Zoology. “Their stomach content provides a ‘snapshot’ sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean.”

Plastic products deteriorate slowly and several studies in recent years have shown vast amounts plastic and other trash in the Pacific Ocean. The garbage can be harmful to the entire ecosystem, scientists say.

The new study found that more than 90 percent of 67 fulmars had ingested plastics such as twine, Styrofoam and candy wrappers. An average of 36.8 pieces of plastic were found per bird. On average, the fraction of a gram in each bird would equate to a human packing 10 quarters in his stomach, the scientists figure. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, globally, up to 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year from eating plastic. [Video of plastic-entangled sea lions]

“Despite the close proximity of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch,’ an area of concentrated plastic pollution in the middle of the North Pacific gyre, plastic pollution has not been considered an issue of concern off our coast,” Avery-Gomm said in a statement. “But we’ve found similar amounts and incident rates of plastic in beached northern fulmars here as those in the North Sea. This indicates it is an issue which warrants further study.”

The findings, announced this week, are detailed online in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

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Pollution Playing A Major Role In Sea Temperatures

April 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Global Warming

The Atlantic Ocean, especially the North Atlantic, is peculiar: Every few decades, the average temperature of surface water there changes dramatically.

Scientists want to know why that is, especially because these temperature shifts affect the weather. New research suggests that human activity is part of the cause.

Scientists originally thought that maybe some mysterious pattern in deep-ocean currents, such as an invisible hand stirring a giant bathtub, created this temperature see-saw.

And that may be part of it. But there’s a new idea: The cause isn’t in the water; it’s above it — a kind of air pollution called aerosols.

NASA Earth Observations

This NASA map shows the size of aerosol particles in the atmosphere. Green areas indicate larger, more naturally occurring particles like dust. Red areas indicate smaller aerosol particles, which can come from fossil fuels and fires. Yellow areas indicate a mix of large and small particles.

Click to see a high-resolution version of this image

Ben Booth, a climate scientist at Britain’s Met Office Hadley Center, says that aerosols create clouds.

“The more aerosols you have, the more places there are for water vapor to condense,” he says. “And so what aerosols do is they cool.”

They cool the ocean because clouds reflect sunlight back into space before it can hit the ocean.

Aerosols are fine particles like soot or sulfur compounds, mostly from burning fuel. They seed a kind of cloud that’s especially good at reflecting solar radiation back into space. Even on their own, without clouds, these aerosols act like sunblock.

Volcanoes create aerosols, too, but air pollution appears to produce more, and then the aerosols sweep across the Atlantic sky.

Booth has calculated their effect on sea surface temperature swings.

“If you combine the role of volcanic activity and the human emissions of aerosols, we account for 76 percent of the total variation in sea surface temperature in our study,” Booth says. That’s a huge amount.

Booth and his colleagues aren’t the first to propose that aerosols influence sea surface temperatures. But climate scientist Amato Evan at the University of Virginia says they’ve done the most thorough job to date of tracking and confirming those changes.

“If they’re right, human activity has a huge influence on just so many climate processes around the Atlantic Ocean,” he says.

Surface temperatures around the Atlantic influence the amount and timing of rainfall in West Africa and the Amazon in South America, and whether there’s drought there. They affect the number and strength of Atlantic hurricanes and even where hurricanes go.

That’s if, as Evan says, Booth and his team are right.

Booth used computer models to analyze a very complicated process — the interaction of ocean and atmosphere over many decades. The models’ predictions didn’t match all the changes people have actually observed in the Atlantic.

Evan says scientists need more hard evidence to nail down exactly how aerosols affect oceans, but he’s observed a similar process going on in the Indian Ocean.

“The same type of release of pollution aerosols coming from the Indian subcontinent is actually changing the monsoon,” he says, referring to the pattern of rainy and dry weather in the Indian Ocean.

The new research appears in the journal Nature. If it’s confirmed, it could foretell a warmer Atlantic, because the aerosol pollution has apparently cooled the Atlantic some. But new pollution controls are reducing the amount of those aerosols — that’s good for public health, but it also means the ocean loses its sunblock.

4 companies fined $1 million for ship pollution

August 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Dumping

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A whistleblower’s complaint about a cargo ship dumping waste in the ocean led Thursday to a $1 million fine levied against four companies that own and operate a fleet of vessels that regularly call on New Orleans.

The conglomerate also was banned by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier from operating in the United States for up to five years.

In April, Stanships Inc. of the Marshall Islands, Stanships Inc. of New York, Standard Shipping Inc. and Calmore Maritime Ltd., pleaded guilty to 32 felony counts of violating ship safety and pollution standards, along with obstruction of justice.

A whistleblower aboard the M/V Americana — part of the conglomerate’s fleet — told the Coast Guard last November that the ship was dumping sludge and oily waste through the use of a pipe to bypass required pollution equipment. Prosecutors said the whistleblower provided cell phone pictures of the device being used at sea.

The ship’s owners also were accused of falsifying a record book to hide the illegal discharges.

An ensuing investigation also resulted in the owners being accused of violating safety standards for trying to conceal the failure of the ship’s generators. According to prosecutors, the ship arrived at the Southwest Pass — a major entry point to the Mississippi River — after losing power for several days at sea. A manager ordered the ship’s captain to falsely tell the Coast Guard that the ship had two operating generators. The master eventually ordered tugboats to guide the ship into port.

According to court records, Stanships Inc. of the Marshall Islands, was a repeat offender, committing new violations after it was fined $700,000 for illegal discharges and falsifying records with another ship on Sept. 29.

On April 27, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan revoked the company’s probation and banned the company’s ships from further trade in the United States.

Barbier ordered $250,000 of the latest fine to go to projects benefiting fish resources.

Disaster-Stricken Japanese Towns Still Struggle After Earthquake, Tsunami

June 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills, Water Quality

After seeing the news footage of the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami that slammed into Japan in March and hearing about the Fukushima nuclear power plant explosion, I thought I wouldn’t be making a return trip to the country anytime soon.

I traveled to Japan in December, and I couldn’t wait to go back. Seeing news accounts of the destruction and devastation of so many of its people was heartbreaking, and I presumed the country as a whole was no longer a desirable destination or a safe place to travel.

I was fortunate enough, however, to have been able to take another trip to Japan, where I’ve found that presumption to be untrue. Tokyo and other large metropolitan areas are bustling as usual. Radiation levels in most of the country are back to normal, except in areas surrounding the Fukushima power plant. Most of the food and water is safe to consume.

If I were to confine myself to Tokyo or many other cities here, I would never know an earthquake or tsunami had struck the country. I might convince myself that it never happened, as the pictures and other news footage seemed so unreal to begin with.

Unfortunately, denial was not in the cards on this trip. The purpose of traveling here with my significant other was to oversee the installation of temporary housing units for earthquake and tsunami victims.

His company, CTSS Group, has begun to ship these small but functional units to earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged villages to help people begin to live independently again, rather than in classrooms or gymnasiums.

The three-month anniversary of the disaster passed a few days ago, and by the looks of things on the coast, little progress has been made in the affected region.

Some roads have been rebuilt and some debris has been sorted, but the scale of the storm-related damage is unfathomable and the government has released little or no funding for relief efforts. The turmoil in the inhabitants’ lives continues.

While visiting the affected areas, all of your senses are thrown for a loop. The sight of the destruction is unimaginable. Many towns are deserted, so the silence is eerie. The pungent odor is what I imagine the beach would smell like in hell.

The winding drive along the coast, with views of green mountains and calm blue water, prompts you to stop and ponder how nature can be so beautiful, yet so incredibly deadly.

In one of the small towns we visited Saturday, we met the mayor, who now lives with his family in a nearby shelter. All 28 families in the town lost their houses, but they all survived. They had prepared for an evacuation and had fled to the hills before the tsunami hit.

The mayor came to watch the few new temporary housing units being set up amid the debris of the destroyed houses.  His house once sat by the water but had been pushed hundreds of yards inland. As he knelt down by the roof of his home, I watched and wondered what he was thinking.

Was he dreaming of his new life or mourning the loss of what once was? Either way, when I saw him gazing out over the ocean with the slightest gleam in his eye, I sensed he had hope for the future of his town.

As will many other towns in the United States that recently have been hit by storms, these small coastal villages will take years to recover. Still, I admire people who are so loyal to their hometowns and refuse to let Mother Nature deter them from calling a certain place home.

I can’t say that I’d definitely stay in Sewickley if such a catastrophe destroyed everything I once knew. I do hope that, like that mayor, I would look at my disaster-ridden community and believe that things eventually would be OK.

The author is currently visiting parts of Japan, including Sendai, which was destroyed  by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Missouri river flooding threatened America’s nuclear plant

June 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Water Quality

By IBTimes Staff Reporter | Jun 21, 2011 04:17 AM EDT

The swollen Missouri River had posed a serious threat to a riverside nuclear power plant in the state of Nebraska in the United States after levees built to hold back the rising floodwaters failed.

The Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant was reportedly very close to getting engulfed by the floodwaters, raising fears of a crisis similar to Japan’s Fukushima disaster.

Though the nuclear plant declared the event as “unusual,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) maintained that there was no risk of disaster.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, was devastated by Tsunami waves in March 2011, leading to leakage of radioactive water into the ocean.

As a massive earthquake and tsunami killed thousands of people in Japan, radiation woes and a much more severe nuclear crisis took the country’s economy into recession affecting businesses, consumer spending and tearing apart supply chains.

Federal officials widened flood gates last week to allow record, or near-record water releases to ease pressure on six major reservoirs swollen by heavy rains and melting snow, Reuters reported.

But later in the week, Missouri River floodwaters reached a levee built up to protect Hamburg, Iowa, after the main protection along the river failed, a county emergency official said.

Check out some of the latest pictures of Missouri river flooding below:

Missouri river flooding threatened Americas nuclear plant

A crew of U.S. Fish Wildlife Service employees reinforce a levy to stop flood waters more than a mile away from the Missouri River in rural Missouri Valley, Iowa, June 17, 2011. The Missouri River, swollen by heavy rains and melted snow, has been flooding areas from Montana through Missouri.

Source: REUTERS

 

Marine pollution problem for China

June 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Dumping

BEIJING, June 20 (UPI) — Explosive economic growth in China’s coastal regions has led to levels of ocean pollution that threaten human and marine life, a government report concluded.

The State Oceanic Administration of China says 18,000 square miles of Chinese coastal oceanic territory is seriously polluted, an increase of 7,000 square miles from last year, Inter Press Service reported Monday.

As expanding coastal centers dispose of a growing amount of industrial and domestic waste at sea, about 56,000 square miles of the country’s coastal waters failed to meet standards for “clear water” in 2009, the SOA reported.

Overall, 14 of the 18 ecological zones monitored by the SOA were found to have unhealthy levels of pollution. SOA’s 2010 China Marine Environment Bulletin reported that 86 percent of China’s estuaries, bays, wetlands, coral reefs and seaweed beds were below what the agency considers “healthy.”

Government officials acknowledge much remains to be done in tackling the problem of ocean pollution.

“Our environmental quality is only improving in certain areas, but overall the environment is still deteriorating,” Vice Minister of Environmental Protection Zhang Lijun said.

Serious Marine Radiation Contamination Found off Fukushima: Greenpeace

May 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills, Water Quality

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tokyo- (PanOrient News) Greenpeace today slammed the Japanese authorities’”continued inadequate response” to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, after new data from its radiation monitoring showed seaweed radiation levels 50 times higher than official limits, raising serious concerns about continued long-term risks to people and the environment from contaminated seawater.

In a statement issued today, Greenpeace said that earlier this month, its radiation monitoring teams on shore, and on board the international environmental organisation’s flagship Rainbow Warrior, collected samples of marine life including fish, shellfish and seaweed outside Japan’s 12-mile territorial waters and along the Fukushima coast. Detailed analysis by accredited laboratories in France (ACRO) and Belgium (SCK CEN) found high levels of radioactive iodine contamination and significantly high levels of radioactive caesium in the samples.

In contrast, Japanese authorities claim that radioactivity is being dispersed or diluted and are undertaking only limited marine radiation monitoring. Path of radioactive water leak at Japan plant unclear, and “radioactivity is quickly diluted in the ocean, and the dump should not affect the safety of seafood in the area,” according to the Japanese government.

“Our data show that significant amounts of contamination continue to spread over great distances from the Fukushima nuclear plant”, said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace Radiation Expert. “Despite what the authorities are claiming, radioactive hazards are not decreasing through dilution or dispersion of materials, but the radioactivity is instead accumulating in marine life. The concentration of radioactive iodine we found in seaweed is particularly concerning, as it tells us how far contamination is spreading along the coast, and because several species of seaweed are widely eaten in Japan.

“Japan’s government is mistaken in assuming that an absence of data means there is no problem. This complacency must end now, and instead mount a comprehensive and continuous monitoring program of the marine environment along the Fukushima coast, along with full disclosure of all information about both past and ongoing releases of contaminated water.”

Most fish and shellfish sampled by Greenpeace were found to contain levels of radioactivity above legal limits for food contamination. This is just one of the multiple, chronic sources of radiation exposure to people living in the greater Fukushima area. In April, the authorities raised regulatory limits for levels of radiation exposure twentyfold to 20 milliSievert per year for all people – including children.

Greenpeace has criticised this controversial revision of regulatory standards, saying it only accounts for sources of external exposure – radioactive materials can also be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Any increased exposure consequently also increases the risk of developing cancer and other radiation-related illnesses, it said.

“Ongoing contamination from the Fukushima crisis means fishermen could be at additional risk from handling fishing nets that have come in contact with radioactive sediment (6), hemp materials such as rope, which absorb radioactive materials, and as our research shows, radioactivity in fish and seaweed collected along Fukushima’s coast,” said Wakao Hanaoka, Greenpeace Japan Oceans Campaigner. “Fishermen, their communities and consumers desperately need information on how radioactivity affects their lives, livelihoods and the ecosystems they rely on, and especially how they can protect themselves and their families from further contamination.”

For example, eating one kilo of highly contaminated seaweed sampled by Greenpeace could increase the radiation dose by 2.8 milliSievert – almost three times the internationally recommended annual maximum, according to the statement.

“Even if all the leaks caused by the Fukushima nuclear crisis were to stop today, the radiation problem is not going to go away. A long-term, comprehensive monitoring programme must be put in place, decisive action taken to protect the health of fisherman, farmers and consumers, and compensation given to all whose lives have been destroyed by this disaster,” said Hanaoka.

PanOrient News

Dead zones in ocean threaten fish

January 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

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.”

Topsail beach renourishment project begins – WECT

January 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

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.

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