By Dahr Jamail
When he was six years old, Dean Miller already knew he wanted to be a marine biologist. At that time, growing up in Australia, the world of marine biology seemed both spectacular and limitless, he said.
"I wanted to study the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, the intricate and complex connections between the thousands of different life-forms that represent the most diverse ecosystem on the planet," Miller told Truthout.
But in the last two years, this has all changed for him.
"I now look at the reef as an ecosystem that is suffering from our actions and I feel guilty beyond belief that this is happening in my backyard, on our generation's watch," he explained. "I no longer dream of the kaleidoscope of life, color and movement that represents the world's coral reefs. Instead, I worry and fight for the actual existence of coral reefs as we know them, as the changes I see are happening all too quickly—much quicker than the reef can adapt."
This is because over the last two years, the Great Barrier Reef, which is so dear to Miller and countless others who revel in the beauty and mysteries of the oceans, has been dying off at an unprecedented rate due primarily to warming ocean waters.
Coral bleaching occurs when corals become stressed by warmer-than-normal water, causing them to expel symbiotic algae that live in their tissues, from which they get their energy. Coral turns completely white when it bleaches. If it remains bleached long enough, it dies.
One scientist has already gone so far as to declare the Great Barrier Reef is now in a "terminal stage." Most of those studying the reef agree that what is happening is unprecedented. This is because, at a minimum, two-thirds of the 1,400-mile long reef bleached out last year, which led to 22 percent of it dying. Now another bleaching event has resulted in at least two-thirds of the reef bleached again.
Dean Miller, a marine scientist with Great Barrier Reef Legacy, a nonprofit environmental organization that works to promote better stewardship of the reef by providing free access for scientists. Dahr Jamail
"The bleaching this year has moved much farther south and has taken scientists by surprise in its severity and extent," Miller said. And he fears the state of the reef could be even worse than scientists realize, since only aerial surveys have been conducted to assess the damage and no research vessel is currently active on the reef to provide finer details.
With ocean temperatures rising across the globe as anthropogenic climate disruption continues to pick up speed, the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral ecosystem on Earth, may well be an example of what is happening to all of the coral on the planet.
"This Is New for All of Us"
Marine biologist David Burdick coordinates a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-funded long-term coral reef monitoring program out of the University of Guam Marine Laboratory, and has been conducting field studies of Guam's coral reefs for more than a decade.
"In 2013, we had a moderate to severe bleaching event that came out of nowhere and lasted for three months, and we lost a quarter of the coral that was impacted from the 80 percent of the coral species that bleached," Burdick told Truthout during a recent interview on Guam.
Then, less than seven months later, what he called "an unusual sea-surface temperature spike" caused another moderate to severe bleaching event. "Corals that were already weakened by the 2013 event—many of them died," he explained. "The event was fairly widespread, and corals that survived the 2013 event did not survive this one."
Fifty percent of the coral that bleached during the 2014 event died.
Marine biologist David Burdick who has been studying the coral around Guam for more than 10 years, told Truthout the frequency of bleaching events he is seeing "is all new to us." David Burdick
"Then, while we were still analyzing all of our data from that event, we had another large bleaching event in 2016," Burdick said. "So we had three major bleaching events, essentially having one per year, which is a pattern now, apparently."
Prior to these events, they'd never seen anything on Guam that would be classified beyond a "moderate" coral bleaching event.
"This is all new for us," Burdick said.
Miller is equally stunned by what he is seeing along the Great Barrier Reef, which is eerily similar to what Burdick is seeing on Guam.
"Parts of the reef that didn't bleach last year are now under immense pressure, and this is totally different because this is back-to-back bleaching," Miller explained. "The system was already stressed, and this is a new stress event. We are seeing much mortality on reefs in our area ... What didn't die last year is dying this year."
In addition to the new bleaching in this year's event, southern portions of the reef that are typically in cooler waters are now also bleaching out.
"It's heartbreaking to see," Miller added. "Seventy thousand direct tourism-related jobs and a $6 billion tourism industry are all at risk, especially on top of the recent damage from Cyclone Debbie."
According to Dean Miller, this year's Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching event has taken scientists "by surprise by its severity and extent" and is occurring much further south than last year's, which killed 22 percent of the reef. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
A study published this March in the journal Nature found that last year's bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef was so severe that there was no similar analog in the thousands of years of ancient coral cores scientists use to study past climates.
Another study published in Nature projected that by the year 2050, more than 98 percent of global coral reefs will be afflicted by "bleaching-level thermal stress" every single year.
However, the prognosis could be even worse: The scientists involved in the study from this March speculated that the era of never-ending global coral bleaching may have already arrived, albeit several decades earlier than was predicted even just last year. They explained that the Great Barrier Reef needs 10 to 15 years between bleaching events in order to fully recover, and that recovery time period is "no longer realistic."
"We Don't Even Know What We Are Losing"
Laurie Raymundo is a coral ecologist at the University of Guam Marine Lab who has worked closely with Burdick for years. Similar to Miller, she knew when she was 11 years old that she wanted to study coral. She now teaches at the University of Guam, and is designing a course in coral reef ecology and management that will include anthropogenic climate disruption impacts. She has lived in Guam since 2004 and is a co-author of the 2016 Paris climate agreement.
Like the other scientists Truthout spoke with, Raymundo is deeply troubled by what she is seeing.
Coral Ecologist Laurie Raymundo with the University of Guam is a co-author of the 2016 Paris climate agreement. Laurie Raymundo
If we lose coral reefs, Raymundo warned Truthout, "We will lose all our sensitive species, and we will have lower diversity."
Equally worrying to her is the fact that there is still so much we don't know about the importance of coral reefs.
"We don't even know what we are losing, and we don't understand what a loss of biodiversity fully means, for pharmaceuticals, ecologically and in so many other ways," she said. "We are losing things before we even actually know, fully, what we are losing."
One crucial thing we do know we're losing: much of our air. While coral reefs only cover 0.0025 percent of the oceanic floor, they generate half of Earth's oxygen and absorb nearly one-third of the carbon dioxide generated from burning fossil fuels.
A report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization shows that coral reefs are responsible for producing 17 percent of all globally consumed protein, with that ratio being 70 percent or greater in island and coastal countries like those of Micronesia.
At the time of this writing, Earth has lost nearly half of its coral, and oceanic warming only continues to accelerate.
"We are finding that reefs living under anthropogenic stresses for many years have already lost their more sensitive coral species, and the ones that are there now are already the tough bastards," Raymundo said. "And when reefs have lower diversity, there is less ecological redundancy; hence, they are more likely to collapse."
A Future Without Coral?
A 2012 study revealed that half of the Great Barrier Reef had already vanished in just the previous 27 years. Two years later, the world's most qualified coral reef experts released a report showing that, without dramatic intervention, the Great Barrier Reef would disappear completely by 2030.
Furthermore, a study published and released by NOAA in 2011 warned that, "unless action is taken now to reduce the threats," 90 percent of all reefs will be "threatened" by 2030, and all of Earth's coral reefs could be completely gone by 2050. The study, Reefs at Risk Revisited, listed human-caused climate disruption, warmer water temperatures, ocean acidification, shipping, overfishing, coastal development and agricultural runoff as the contributing factors.
While that might sound extreme, Miller told Truthout he thought the report actually didn't go far enough.
"I think it's too conservative," he explained. "Corals need many years to adjust to the warmer ocean waters, and we don't have that kind of time anymore. The warming we are seeing now is happening far too fast to allow for evolution ... So what we're seeing now is death. That's what bleaching is."
Burdick, who described Guam's reefs as "getting clobbered," agreed.
"Various factors will buy some areas some time, so some coral species might eek out a bit longer, for a while," he said. "But [with] bleaching events every five to 10 years, you won't give coral enough time to come back to where it was. It is all about the rate of change. And right now, that rate is increasing, and rapidly at that."
Back in Australia, Miller is dismayed by the fact that his government is doing very little, if anything, to mitigate the crisis.
Truthout asked Miller what steps the Australian government is taking to save the Great Barrier Reef.
"From what I can tell, virtually nothing," he answered. "They are not focussed on this at all, but rather are pushing for the Adani Coal Mine to go ahead. We here in Australia can hardly believe it, to be honest. In fact, the government has had almost no comment on the bleaching at all."
The coal mine he referred to is looking like it is going to move forward, which will, according to Miller, bring an additional 500 ships carrying coal across the Great Barrier Reef every single year.
Truthout interviewed Miller's colleague, John Rumney, the managing director of Great Barrier Reef Legacy in February, when this year's bleaching event began.
"This coral is in big trouble," Rumney said at the time. Like Miller, Burdick and Raymundo, Rumney warned of the extreme loss of biodiversity that comes with the disappearance of reefs.
"When all that coral goes, all that diversity of fish that depends on it goes," Rumney told Truthout. "The entire food chain is in big trouble."
Miller concurred, saying, "We might see ecosystem collapse as we know it."
The need for independent research on the Great Barrier Reef during this second mass-bleaching event is needed more than ever, according to Miller. His and Rumney's organization is striving to get more scientists out to the reef as quickly as possible.
"The world's greatest natural icon and largest living structure needs our help more than ever, and unless we act as a concerned global population, nothing will be done," he concluded. "It is not too late. The reef is worth saving—and our actions now will determine the fate of coral reefs in as little as 5 to 10 years. We must act."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Truthout.
Material Revolutions: Shirts Made from Shellfish, Biodegradable Rum Bottles and Reusable Fast Food Containers
In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.
1. Allbirds Shirts Made From Shellfish<p>Sustainable sneaker start-up <a href="https://www.allbirds.com/pages/apparel" target="_blank">Allbirds</a> is known for its thoughtfulness for consumers and the environment. The four-year-old shoe company has become hugely popular by creating comfortable shoes made from responsibly sourced materials like tencel and wool, reported <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90565358/allbirds-new-clothing-line-includes-t-shirts-made-from-discarded-crab-shells" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p><p>Recently, Allbirds launched its debut apparel line with garments for men and women made with eco-friendly materials that have a low carbon footprint, the report said.</p><p>Introduced along with the line is a new t-shirt material called "TrinoXO," which is made from wool and discarded snow crab shells from Canada's seafood industry, reported <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/20/sustainable-sneaker-start-up-allbirds-is-selling-sweaters-t-shirts.html" target="_blank">CNBC</a> and <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/20/business/allbirds-sustainable-apparel/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">CNN</a>. The shells are the "number two discarded resource on earth," Allbirds claims, reported <a href="https://www.menshealth.com/style/a34427585/allbirds-apparel-clothing-line-review/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Men's Health</a>.</p><p>"Discarded material is the holy grail when it comes to sustainable fibers," Jad Finck, Allbirds head of innovation and sustainability, told Fast Company. "It's far better for the environment than getting raw materials from scratch."</p><p>The shells have antimicrobial properties that keep clothes fresh even after hours of wear, without the need to add "extractive" materials like zinc or silver, Men's Health reported. This allows for longer periods of wear between washes, reducing clothes' environmental footprint.</p><p>"We knew we wanted to be a real brand, and had this vision that we'd be an innovation company first, and a product company second," co-founder Joey Zwillinger told <a href="https://www.vogue.com/article/allbirds-launches-clothing" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Vogue</a>. "And our products would solve problems for people in a natural way, and show the world that you don't have to compromise on the planet for amazing products."</p>
2. Bacardi Biodegradable Rum Bottles<p>By 2023, <a href="https://www.bacardi.com/us/en/" target="_blank">Bacardi</a> rum will be sold in 100% biodegradable bottles, <a href="https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20201021005281/en/Bacardi-First-in-Fight-Against-Plastic-Pollution-With-100-Biodegradable-Spirits-Bottle" target="_blank">Business Wire</a> reported.</p><p>The alcohol giant is collaborating with Danimer Scientific, a leading developer of biodegradable products, to create the new bottles using the natural oils of plant seeds such as palm, canola and soy, the report said.</p><p>According to <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/bacardi-to-make-100-biodegradable-spirits-bottle-124436841.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAE1Wl8ONNdph3ID8reylzGM8dbX575Mk96Jw6z3kHZaGjKCz_UgQgxH0Q1n3RNCzhOMBEZ7fAIf8iiOXLRtY9VVHNZsmb-w1VOJnGlzIbuwhmoBo_KOV4dba8FoWrkgmmwwCyQZnRoTL0Uda6HQ4pE5ewGWh2pwQzjS3gKAe1ynm" target="_blank">Yahoo Finance UK</a>, the new bottle will biodegrade in a wide range of environments, including compost, soil, freshwater and seawater. After 18 months, the bottle will disappear completely without leaving microplastics.</p><p>"Nodax PHA is one of the most promising eco-friendly materials in the world today because it delivers the biodegradability that consumers demand without losing the quality feel they receive from traditional plastic," said Danimer Scientific chief marketing & sustainability officer Scott Tuten, reported <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/bacardi-biodegradable-spirits-bottle-plastic-free-packaging" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Thrillist</a>. "The material provides the best of both worlds, and we look forward to working with Bacardí and incorporating PHA into their iconic packaging."</p><p>Bacardi is also creating a sustainably sourced paper bottle, Yahoo reported.</p><p>The manufacturing of both new bottle types will save energy over petroleum-based plastic ones. Bacardi plans to share the technology with competitors to help in the global fight against <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastic-pollution" target="_self">plastic pollution</a>, and aims to be 100% plastic-free by 2030, reported Thrillist.</p>
3. Burger King Reusable Fast Food Containers<p>Fast food giant <a href="https://www.bk.com/" target="_blank">Burger King</a> plans to launch reusable Whopper boxes and soda cups by next year. Partnering with TerraCycle's zero-waste packaging division Loop, Burger King will nudge customers to return the specialized packaging for hygienic washing and reuse, similar to how milk bottles used to be returned, reported <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/can-burger-kings-reusable-packaging-change-fast-food-forever-11603392581" target="_blank">MarketWatch</a>.</p><p>"During COVID, we have seen the environmental impact of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/air-pollution-food-delivery-plastic-waste-2648454324.html" target="_self">increased takeaway ordering</a>, which makes this initiative by Burger King all the more important," said Tom Szaky, TerraCycle and Loop CEO, according to MarketWatch.</p><p>Customers who don't feel comfortable can opt-out of the service, <a href="https://www.abc10.com/article/entertainment/television/programs/the-buzz-burger-king-to-test-reusable-packaging-in-2021/77-f01f1b70-05b7-436d-9971-a7dd6081249b" target="_blank">ABC News</a> reported. Those who are willing to try will be charged a small deposit upon purchase, and when the packaging is returned, they will receive a refund, reported <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/22/business/burger-king-reusable-packaging-sustainability/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">CNN</a>.</p><p>Burger King and TerraCycle are aiming for a container that can be used at least 100 times, reported <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90566995/burger-kings-new-whopper-packaging-isnt-greasy-cardboard-its-reusable" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p><p>"The benefit is, you're able to serve your guests without having to create that single-use item in the first place," Matt Banton, global head of innovation and sustainability at Burger King, told <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90566995/burger-kings-new-whopper-packaging-isnt-greasy-cardboard-its-reusable" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>. "This product is durable enough to go through the system multiple times, so it's ultimately reducing our environmental impact, and minimizing the amount of single-use packaging that we have to produce as well."</p><p>Burger King has also committed to sourcing 100% of its customer packaging from renewable, recycled or certified outlets, and recycling all customer packaging at its restaurants in the United States and Canada by 2025, reported CNN.</p>
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.
In 'Road Map for a More Sustainable Future,' NY Regulator Tells Banks to Consider Climate Risks in Planning
By Brett Wilkins
Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.
A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).