The Most Unexplored Habitat on Earth Is Packed With Pollution
By Jason Bittel
In Disney's latest animated release, titular character Moana and a demigod named Maui dive to the bottom of the ocean to do battle with a giant, David Bowie–channeling crab in a place called the Realm of Monsters. But it's not just for kicks and a catchy dance number, of course. Maui has lost his magical hook and of all the places it could be in the deep blue sea, he suspects that the glam-rock crab called Tamatoa has scooped it up.
Maui, it seems, is a student of marine biology. Plunge more than 36,000 feet below the waves in the real ocean and you will find almost-foot-long crustaceans called amphipods that scuttle about in search of rotting flesh and anything else that plummets into their lightless lair. While they might look like aliens, these guys are actually cousins to the sand hopper, the little, living detritus that pings away as you kick a pile of seaweed.
#Microplastics in Oceans Outnumber Stars in Our Galaxy by 500 Times https://t.co/f02uoXOLrd #CleanSeas @jackjohnson @adriangrenier @5gyres— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1487956347.0
Now, you might think that a life way under the sea would afford these cryptic crustaceans certain advantages—for one, avoiding humans and all of our waste. After all, it's not as if people are wont to visit a place deeper than Mount Everest is high, a place buried beneath so much black, salty seawater that pressure alone would cause an unprotected human body to implode.
But alas, just as Moana and Maui were able to sneak down and cuss up Tamatoa's day, so have we been able to yet again muck up an ecosystem we've scarcely even explored.
According to research published on Feb. 13 in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the tissues of deep-sea amphipods are positively teeming with persistent organic pollutants or POPs. These include nasty chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), used for insulators and coolants and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are found in flame retardants. These substances are so toxic, we banned them both back in the 1970s. POPs have a tendency to bioaccumulate, which is a fancy word for what happens when little fish get eaten by big fish and those big fish absorb all the pollution inside all those little fish. It really adds up. Could that be why an apex predator like Tamatoa glows in the dark?
Monsanto's toxic PCBs have been discovered in alarming amounts in the bodies of amphipods living in the deep sea... https://t.co/i3uhd3fMIn— GMO Free USA (@GMO Free USA)1487858604.0
The findings reveal that even areas of the world that we think of as extreme and remote and pristine are anything but, said lead author Alan Jamieson, a marine ecologist at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. "Most of the ocean is, in fact, not exempt from what we do up here."
To get his samples, Jamieson and his team deployed remotely operated lander vehicles to some of the deepest known trenches on Earth: the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific and the Kermadec Trench off New Zealand. At depths of more than six miles, the landers lured in bottom-feeders with mesh bags full of mackerel and then funnel traps captured the tiny beasts. (While some amphipods can grow to the size of foot-long hot dogs, these critters were no larger than an inch or about half a cocktail weenie). Back at the surface, scientists analyzed the tissues from three different species of amphipod for concentrations of POPs. What they found was shocking.
Some of the amphipods the team sampled showed levels of PCBs 50 times higher than crabs that live in the paddy fields along the Liaohe River, one of China's most polluted waterways. This is more than a little surprising, considering that those crabs live their entire lives bathed in toxins while their amphipod cousins could not live farther away from pollution sources. Even worse, the researchers found PCBs and PBDEs "in all samples across all species at all depths in both trenches."
Nobody knows exactly how the pollution wound up in the deepest of deeps, but the researchers suspect that the substances sprinkle down as tiny particulates or stow away on anything large enough to make the descent in one piece, notably dead whales and fish.
It's unclear what effect, if any, the POPs have on amphipods, said coauthor Stuart Piertney, a molecular ecologist the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, but we know these chemicals are generally endocrine disruptors. So it's possible that the pollutants could be messing with the deep-sea crustaceans' hormone-associated processes. Studies on the effects of endocrine disruptors on humans have linked them to cancers, birth defects and problems reproducing. What they do at the literal bottom of the food chain, we don't know.
According to Jamieson, PCBs affect the reproductive success of crustaceans living in shallower waters. "We can only speculate the same thing occurs in the deep ones," he said. "But again, without being able to study them alive we simply don't know."
Observing life as it naturally operates down in the deep is not easy. Just as a human can't survive the pressures found at the trench floor, deep-sea critters often can't handle the journey to the surface. The best scientists can do sometimes is yank up whatever they can catch and pick through the scraps for meaning.
Whether these polluted amphipods are worse for wear in their home habitat, though, is a little beside the point. They are simply proof that we can't keep treating the sea like a big, black pit. There are currently more than 400,000 tons of PCBs swirling in the seven seas. If the Earth's most inaccessible ecosystems are now coping with the mistakes of nearly half a century ago, how long will it take the environment to bounce back from bad decisions we make today?
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- California Winery Cuts Carbon Emissions With Lighter Bottles ... ›
- Wealthy One Percent Are Producing More Carbon Emissions Than ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
- 14 States On Track to Meet Paris Targets - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Names John Kerry as First-Ever Climate Envoy - EcoWatch ›
By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Pebble Mine Threatens One of the Last Great Salmon Rivers ... ›
- The Pebble Mine Is Too Toxic Even for the Trump Administration ... ›
- Trump Admin Reverses Obama-Era Restrictions on Pebble Mine ... ›
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.