The grisly video above shows a coho salmon struggling to survive in polluted stormwater runoff on the Duwamish River in Washington. This contaminated water—filled with oil from cars, pesticides, dirt and debris—can kill this particular species of Pacific salmon in hours, according to Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, which posted the clip on Oct. 21.
Sadly, it appears that this fish is one of many coho salmon in the Puget Sound Basin that have died, and will continue to die, from this man-made tragedy.
A new study, published in the Ecological Society of America's journal Ecological Applications, has found "that contaminants in stormwater runoff from the regional transportation grid likely caused these mortality events."
"Further, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse historical coho declines without addressing the toxic pollution dimension of freshwater habitats," the authors note.
Stormwater runoff comes from rain that falls on streets, parking areas and other developed land and flows directly into waterways. As it flows, the water can collect a potentially toxic cocktail of oil, grease, animal waste, litter, pesticides, fertilizers and other potential pollutants.
The new analysis was compiled by researchers at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle along with collaborators at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local tribes and the Wild Fish Conservancy.
For the study, researchers surveyed coho mortality rates at 51 spawning sites in Puget Sound and were able to positively link die-offs to increased road density and traffic intensity, among other variables.
Citing the study, the Herald Net wrote, "The results show that in an estimated 40 percent of their range in the Puget Sound Basin, 10 to 40 percent of coho salmon die before they can even spawn because of pollution."
Earlier experiments have also found that coho salmon swimming in untreated stormwater experienced 100 percent mortality, while coho swimming in stormwater filtered by soil, bark chips and gravel survived.
The team was able to generate a predictive mortality risk map for the entire Puget Sound Basin.
"It can be extremely useful for urban planning to know that if you develop this area and in an old-school way you are going to take out a lot of coho," Blake Feist, lead author on the paper, told The Seattle Times.
"We have to act now," said Jay Davis, an environmental toxicologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who coordinated field research for the study. Davis told the Washington Post that the coho population could crash in as little as six years.
Incidentally, coho is the only one out of the five salmon species—chinook, sockeye, pink and chum—that is experiencing this rate of mortality, a "great mystery that we are working on," Nat Scholz, NOAA research zoologist, told the Washington Post.
The solution could lie in "green infrastructure and similar clean water strategies could prove most useful for promoting species conservation and recovery," the authors note.
Puget Soundkeeper Alliance also suggested that "smarter development of land and on-site filtering of stormwater, which helps control both pollution and flooding."
As it happens, four species of coho salmon are protected under the Endangered Species Act throughout the West Coast, including the Lower Columbia River (threatened), Oregon Coast (threatened), Southern Oregon and Northern California Coasts (threatened), and Central California Coast (endangered).
Elsewhere, the Central California Coast coho salmon—once plentiful in local rivers and streams—is now "living on the edge" as it faces challenges such as multiyear droughts and the increased presence of fine sediment, rocks and fallen trees from damming and logging activities, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
And as Mongabay reports, northwest salmon fisheries have been struggling due to warming oceans and overdeveloped, dammed and silted spawning rivers and streams. While federally funded local, state and tribal programs administered by NOAA have helped declining salmon fisheries, President Trump's 2018 budget would cut all those programs. For now, Congress has restored them.
You can learn more about the threat of toxic runoff and how you can help here.
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By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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