How Removing One Maine Dam 20 Years Ago Changed Everything
By Tara Lohan
More than 1,000 people lined the banks of the Kennebec River in Augusta, Maine, on July 1, 1999. They were there to witness a rebirth.
The ringing of a bell signaled a backhoe on the opposite bank to dig into a retaining wall. Water trickled, then gushed. The crowd erupted in cheers as the Edwards Dam, which had stretched 900 feet across the river, was breached. Soon the whole dam would be removed.
The Kennebec hadn't run free here since 1837.
Those who advocated for the dam's removal promised that devastated fisheries would return, and the city of Augusta would benefit from new recreational opportunities and a revitalization of the riverfront.
They were right. But it wasn't just Augusta where change was felt.
The removal of Edwards Dam became a pivotal moment in the history of the environmental movement and river restoration in the United States. It was the first functioning hydroelectric dam to be removed — and the first time the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ever voted, against the wishes of a dam owner, not to relicense a dam.
But most importantly the demolition signaled a shift in thinking about how we balance environmental and economic interests — and that had a ripple effect.
"It was the first big dam that came out that demonstrated to the country that our rivers had other values beyond industrial use," says John Burrows, director of New England Programs for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, which was a key player in the dam-removal effort. "It helped folks recognize that our rivers, which we've not taken good care of for several hundred years, could be a different asset for communities. And for society."
Killing a River
Building the Edwards Dam was never a popular idea. Even in the 1830s there was concern that the robust fisheries of the lower Kennebec River would be wiped out. But the cheerleaders of industrialism prevailed, and the dam was built in 1837 to bring power to local mills.
The consequences were immediate.
The dam's construction shut the door on the migration of nearly a dozen sea-run fish species that used to swim up more than 40 miles from the Atlantic Ocean in search of prime spawning habitat in the Kennebec and its tributaries.
"The river was transformed from being a thriving producer of millions of ﬁsh such as shad, herring, striped bass, Atlantic salmon, sturgeon and alewives and supporting a wide cornucopia of other species ranging from otters to eagles — into a wastewater drainage system," Jeff Crane, a dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Saint Martin's University, wrote in a paper published in 2009.
Within a few years, the alewife run on the Sebasticook River, a tributary of the Kennebec just upstream from the dam, was gone. Where once you'd been able to catch 500 salmon a season in Augusta, by 1850 you were lucky to get five. The state reported that the shad industry there was completely lost by 1867. And the sturgeon catch on the lower Kennebec declined from 320,000 pounds a year before the dam to just 12,000 pounds a year by 1880.
In the 1900s the river's problems got even worse. The Kennebec River became a dumping ground for toxic waste from paper mills and municipal sewage. Log drives from the upstate timber industry choked the river's flow, and declining oxygen levels from sewage caused major fish kills. By the 1960s no one wanted to fish or swim in the Kennebec anymore.
Brian Graber, who now works as the senior director of river restoration at American Rivers, grew up in Massachusetts and spent his summers in a family cabin outside Augusta. The Kennebec River of his childhood wasn't a place to have a good time — or even to live.
"I think what struck me the most as a kid was that all the buildings in downtown Augusta were facing away from the river and were either boarded up or just didn't have windows at all along the river," Graber recalls.
But things began to gradually improve after the passage of the national Clean Water Act in 1972.
The state of Maine spent $100 million on water-treatment facilities between 1972 and 1990 to clean up the river and meet modern environmental laws. Improvements in water quality triggered a new interest in expanding river restoration. The Kennebec wasn't hopeless after all.
But one hurdle remained.
During the 1980s efforts to improve fish passage at dams and water quality in the river continued. Even though many environmental groups thought dam removal was the best ecological hope for restoring the Kennebec, few believed it was a winnable campaign.
"At that time removal of dams was a pretty outlandish concept and most people who we were interacting with did not see us prevailing," says Pete Didisheim, senior director of advocacy at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The only other talk of dam removal happening then in the United States was across the country on Washington's Elwha River. (The Elwha's two dams wouldn't end up being removed, however, until 2011 and 2014.)
In 1991 the owners of the Edwards Dam, Edwards Manufacturing Company, applied for a 50-year renewal license to operate it. The newly formed Kennebec Coalition jumped in to convince the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency in charge of the relicensing, to deny that permit. The coalition was made up of the nonprofits American Rivers, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Valley chapter.
"People began to not only imagine what dam removal would do for the benefit of the fish, but also what it would do for the benefit of the town if they had a functioning, free-flowing river running through it," says Andrew Fahlund, currently senior program officer at the Water Foundation, who was working for American Rivers during the push for dam removal.
The coalition had a strong argument. The dam produced only 3.5 megawatts of power, providing less than 0.1 percent of Maine's electricity. It employed only a few people and was aging and unsafe, having been breached numerous times. It blocked critical upstream fish habitat, including the migration of endangered sturgeon.
And a restored fishery would bring economic as well as ecological benefits — profits that could be more widely shared than those of the small company that owned the dam.
But taking down a functioning hydroelectric dam for the benefit of fish had never been done before.
"Initially the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff issued their proposal that the dam should be relicensed," says Burrows. "It took our organizations doing a lot of work with some experts to actually demonstrate that the ecological values of removing the dam outweighed the power generation." The coalition produced 7,000 pages of documentation on the impacts of the dam and the economic importance of a restored fishery.
At the same time, they worked to educate the public and earned national attention and the support of Maine's governor, Angus King, who said that the removal of the dam would help the Kennebec "reclaim its position as both an economic asset and an ecological miracle."
Dam proponents countered that removal would be too expensive and would cause riverbank erosion, bring more downstream floods and lower property values for those along the riverfront.
But in 1997, after mounting evidence from the coalition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted to deny license renewal. It ordered that the dam be removed. People campaigning for removal were ecstatic, while dam owners across the country were shocked.
This was the first time the commission used its authority to deny a permit against the wishes of a dam owner. And it hasn't been done since.
It wasn't just the commission's ruling that was groundbreaking; it was also the first time a dam was coming down on the main stem of a river and not a smaller tributary, which Graber says was a significant achievement. "It was a pivotal moment for us to build a national movement to take out dams," he adds.
A crowd gathers on the banks of the Kennebec River of the breaching of Edwards Dam in 1999. NRCM
The battle wasn't yet won, though.
It took another year for a negotiated settlement to be reached with the dam owner, conservation groups and federal and state agencies that managed to stave off the threat of lengthy lawsuits from Edwards Manufacturing Company.
Much of the funding for the removal ended up coming from Bath Iron Works, a downstream shipbuilder that was expanding its operations into prime sturgeon habitat. The company paid into the dam-removal settlement as part of its environmental mitigation.
The decision had far-reaching impacts.
"The success of this effort would serve as an example of what could be accomplished for other river restoration activists around the nation, thereby contributing to the dramatic growth of dam removal efforts and ﬁsheries restoration projects," wrote Crane.
A River Reborn
The removal of Edwards Dam in July 1999 turned out to be a chance for Augusta to rebuild its relationship to the river.
"Like most towns in New England of that era, their backs had been turned to the river for more than 100 years," says Fahlund, who was on the banks that day. He remembers it feeling electric and the atmosphere festive — music played, commemorative T-shirts were sold and reporters from around the world showed up.
It was also, he says, a day of mixed emotions for some residents. The dam had been a piece of the town's history for more than 160 years, both infrastructure and monument, but part of the campaign to remove it had been to counter the notion that dams are meant to last forever.
That echoed beyond the town limits. "Even though it wasn't a huge dam, it had somewhat of a seismic impact on people's thinking about dams that they're not necessarily permanent fixtures in eternity on the landscape," says Didisheim.
As soon as the dam came down, the river rebounded. Fish immediately had access to 18 more miles of habitat, up to the town of Waterville at the mouth of the Sebasticook River. Atlantic sturgeon began to swim past the former dam site, and alewife and shad soon returned. Within a year seals could be seen chasing alewives, a type of river herring, 40 miles upstream from the ocean.
Alewives returned by the millions after the Edwards and Ft. Halifax dams were removed. John Burrows / ASF
And with alewives coming back, so did everything that eats them—river otters, bears, mink, bald eagles, osprey and blue herons.
But the best indicator of the ecosystem's recovery was the resurgence of aquatic insects like mayflies and stoneflies, which signaled improved water quality.
"They all rebounded and the diversity just skyrocketed," says Fahlund. "And so we knew something great was happening and that it was going to lead to everything we had hoped."
Within a few years the river began to meet higher water-quality standards.
"The water… is now that much healthier because it's no longer sitting still and dead," stated a 2009 editorial in the Kennebec Journal Morning Sentinel. "Instead, it bubbles and spills its way downstream across rediscovered gravel bars and river ledges, collecting and absorbing oxygen as it moves toward the ocean. The river is alive in a way it hasn't been for generations."
The benefits spread to the community as well. A park and trails were built along the waterfront. "People are out on the water, mostly paddling a kayak or canoeists," says Graber. "The downtown is starting to make use of the river more. The buildings that have been redeveloped are now using the river as an amenity. The river's really just come back to life both for humans and the ecology."
The success didn't end in Augusta, though. The removal of Edwards Dam ignited efforts to take out the next obstacle up-river, the Fort Halifax Dam on the Sebasticook River in Waterville. After eight years of work that dam was removed in 2008, further extending habitat for native fish.
"We have species like sturgeon, striped bass, rainbow smelt and other key sea-run species which now have access to all of their historic habitat in the watershed," says the Atlantic Salmon Federation's Burrows.
The breaching of Ft. Halifax Dam on the Sebasticook River. NRCM
The removal of both dams, in conjunction with active stocking of alewives into lakes and ponds upriver and in other parts of the watershed, has helped the river herring population rebound dramatically. The number of alewives returning to spawn jumped from 78,000 in 1999 to 5.5 million last year.
And the downstream estuary has reaped rewards, too.
When those billions of juvenile river herring leave the freshwater lakes and rivers, they head for the sea and may spend between three and five years in the marine environment. There they serve are a food source for everything from cod and haddock to whales and seals.
"They are really a kind of keystone ecological species for the Gulf of Maine," says Burrows.
The river herring are also a valuable source of bait for commercial lobstermen, who in recent decades have had such a deficit in securing local supplies that they've had to turn to importing bait from southeast Asia, introducing a host of new environmental problems and costs.
"We've now got the largest river herring population on the east coast of the United States, maybe even on the entire eastern seaboard of North America, but that population could easily be three, four times what it is now," says Burrows. "And so we're continuing to work on restoring more habitat and we're hoping to see those populations continue to increase."
Didisheim says an estimated 27 million alewives have reached spawning habitat since the Ft. Halifax Dam was removed, and none of it would have happened without first removing the Edwards Dam.
The Edwards Dam also helped propel a large restoration project a couple hours northeast of Augusta on the Penobscot River. Conservation groups worked with the dam operator on the Penobscot to increase hydropower generation on some other dams and then remove a series of lower dams that opened up more than 1,000 miles of river access for fish, especially critically endangered Atlantic salmon.
While that project was being developed, its proponents could point to the Kennebec River restoration as an example of what could be achieved.
"The Kennebec River activists and city and state leaders did not have the advantage that later river restoration activists would have — namely, the Kennebec River restoration itself as powerful example of how quickly river restoration could work and how successful it could be," wrote Crane. "This is the one reason that the Edwards Dam removal is so important; it showed other communities the process required and how successful it could be."
A Movement Grows
Dam removals followed outside Maine. When the Edwards Dam was removed, about five dam removals were taking place nationwide each year. Last year it was 80. Since Edwards, more than 1,100 dams have come down.
Many of these have been small dams, but there have also been high-profile projects, like the two Elwha River dams that were the largest dam-removal project so far in the world.
The removal of the 125-foot-tall Condit Dam in 2011 on the White Salmon River, a tributary of the Columbia River in Washington, was a big step in aiding threatened salmon and steelhead. The Condit was removed because adding modern requirements for fish proved to be uneconomical — it was cheaper to remove the dam than build fish passage.
Overall there's been a shift in public thinking about dams over the past two decades. "It's not just something that conservationists and environmentalists are advocating for anymore," says Amy Souers Kober, communications director at American Rivers. "Dam removal also makes sense for economic reasons and public safety in a lot of cases."
That includes Bloede Dam on the Patapsco River in Maryland, where nine people have drowned, she says. Efforts to remove the dam there began in September.
There are also a number of big projects on the horizon, including on the Middle Fork Nooksack River, which Kober says is the number-one salmon-recovery project on the Puget Sound that conservationists hope will help struggling Southern Resident killer whales.
And all eyes are on the Klamath River as plans come together to remove four dams in 2021 in what would become the largest dam-removal and river-restoration project in the world.
Dam-removal proponents don't think we need to take out all of our dams, and of course we couldn't. The United States has more than 90,000 dams, and many still serve crucial functions. But where dams have been removed, the past two decades have shown the environmental results are unparalleled.
"There's no faster or more effective way to bring a river back to life than taking out a dam," says American Rivers' Graber. "That's why we focused on it for 20 years. It's a win for environmental reasons, public safety and a relief from liability for dam owners."
Ultimately, dam removals are much bigger than the dams themselves, says Kober. "Dam removals are really stories about people reclaiming their rivers."
Those stories started with the Edwards Dam.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
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Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.
Soil can act as a natural "carbon sink." Climate Central, 2019
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By Shelly Miller
The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.
It’s All About Fresh, Outside Air<p>The safest indoor space is one that constantly has lots of <a href="https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/how-does-outdoor-air-enter-building" target="_blank">outside air</a> replacing the stale air inside.</p><p>In commercial buildings, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143277/" target="_blank">outside air is usually pumped in</a> through heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. In <a href="https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/how-does-outdoor-air-enter-building" target="_blank">homes, outside air gets in</a> through open windows and doors, in addition to seeping in through various nooks and crannies.</p><p>Simply put, the more fresh, outside air inside a building, the better. Bringing in this air dilutes any contaminant in a building, whether a virus or a something else, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.2010.00703.x" target="_blank">reduces the exposure of anyone inside</a>. Environmental engineers like me quantify how much outside air is getting into a building using a measure called the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/jes.2013.30" target="_blank">air exchange rate</a>. This number quantifies the number of times the air inside a building gets replaced with air from outside in an hour.</p><p>While the exact rate depends on the number of people and size of the room, most experts consider roughly <a href="https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1600-0668.2002.01145.x" target="_blank">six air changes an hour</a> to be good for a 10-foot-by-10-foot room with three to four people in it. In a pandemic this should be higher, with one study from 2016 suggesting that an exchange rate of nine times per hour <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1420326X16631596" target="_blank">reduced the spread of SARS, MERS and H1N1</a> in a Hong Kong hospital.</p><p>Many buildings in the U.S., <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12403" target="_blank">especially schools</a>, do not meet recommended ventilation rates. Thankfully, it can be pretty easy to get more outside air into a building. Keeping <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0960-1481(99)00012-9" target="_blank">windows and doors open</a> is a good start. Putting a box fan in a window blowing out can greatly increase air exchange too. In buildings that don't have operable windows, you can change the mechanical ventilation system to increase how much air it is pumping. But in any room, the more people inside, the faster the air should be replaced.</p>
Using CO2 to Measure Air Circulation<p>So how do you know if the room you're in has enough air exchange? It's actually a pretty hard number to calculate. But there's an easy-to-measure proxy that can help. Every time you exhale, you <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12383" target="_blank">release CO2</a> into the air. Since the coronavirus is most often spread by breathing, coughing or talking, you can use <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/dd7e/b2870c38f70e5285e5118ed6f158c091f7cf.pdf" target="_blank">CO2 levels</a> to see if the room is filling up with potentially infectious exhalations. The CO2 level lets you estimate if enough fresh outside air is getting in.</p><p>Outdoors, CO2 levels are just above 400 parts per million (ppm). A well ventilated room will have around <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.1999.00003.x" target="_blank">800 ppm of CO2</a>. Any higher than that and it is a sign the room might need more ventilation.</p><p>Last year, researchers in Taiwan reported on the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">effect of ventilation on a tuberculosis outbreak</a> at Taipei University. Many of the rooms in the school were underventilated and had CO2 levels above 3,000 ppm. When engineers improved air circulation and got CO2 levels under 600 ppm, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">the outbreak completely stopped</a>. According to the research, the increase in ventilation was responsible for 97% of the decrease in transmission.</p><p>Since the coronavirus is spread through the air, higher CO2 levels in a room likely mean there is a <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">higher chance of transmission</a> if an infected person is inside. Based on the study above, I recommend trying to keep the CO2 levels below 600 ppm. You can buy <a href="https://doi.org/10.5194/amt-7-3325-2014" target="_blank">good CO2 meters</a> for around $100 online; just make sure that they are accurate to within 50 ppm.</p>
Air Cleaners<p>If you are in a room that can't get enough outside air for dilution, consider an air cleaner, also commonly called air purifiers. These machines remove particles from the air, usually using <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cap.2005.07.013" target="_blank">a filter</a> made of tightly woven fibers. They can <a href="https://shellym80304.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/miller-leiden-et-al-1996.pdf" target="_blank">capture particles containing bacteria and viruses</a> and can help reduce disease transmission.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that <a href="https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/air-cleaners-hvac-filters-and-coronavirus-covid-19" target="_blank">air cleaners can do this for the coronavirus</a>, but not all air cleaners are equal. Before you go out and buy one, there are few things to keep in mind.</p><p>The first thing to consider is <a href="https://shellym80304.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/air-cleaner-report.pdf" target="_blank">how effective an air cleaner's filter is</a>. Your best option is a cleaner that uses a high-efficiency particulate air (<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0021-8502(05)80214-9" target="_blank">HEPA</a>) filter, as these remove more than <a href="https://doi.org/10.1063/1.2771421" target="_blank">99.97% of all particle sizes</a>.</p><p>The second thing to consider is how powerful the cleaner is. The bigger the room – or the more people in it – the more air needs to be cleaned. I worked with some colleagues at Harvard to put together a tool to help teachers and schools determine <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1NEhk1IEdbEi_b3wa6gI_zNs8uBJjlSS-86d4b7bW098/edit#gid=1275403500" target="_blank">how powerful of an air cleaner you need for different classroom sizes</a>.</p><p>The last thing to consider is the validity of the claims made by the company producing the air cleaner.</p><p>The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers certifies air cleaners, so the AHAM Verifide seal is a good place to start. Additionally, the California Air Resources Board has a <a href="https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/our-work/programs/air-cleaners-ozone-products/california-certified-air-cleaning-devices" target="_blank">list of air cleaners</a> that are certified as safe and effective, though not all of them use HEPA filters.</p>
Keep Air Fresh or Get Outside<p>Both the <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/transmission-of-sars-cov-2-implications-for-infection-prevention-precautions" target="_blank">World Health Organization</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/deciding-to-go-out.html" target="_blank">U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> say that poor ventilation increases the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.</p><p>If you are in control of your indoor environment, make sure you are getting enough fresh air from outside circulating into the building. A CO2 monitor can help give you a clue if there is enough ventilation, and if CO2 levels start going up, open some windows and <a href="https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/07/17/outdoor-gathering" target="_blank">take a break outside</a>. If you can't get enough fresh air into a room, an air cleaner might be a good idea. If you do get an air cleaner, be aware that they don't remove CO2, so even though the air might be safer, CO2 levels could still be high in the room.</p><p>If you walk into a building and it feels hot, stuffy and crowded, chances are that there is not enough ventilation. Turn around and leave.</p><p>By paying attention to air circulation and filtration, improving them where you can and staying away from places where you can't, you can add another powerful tool to your anti-coronavirus toolkit.</p>
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The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.
On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.
France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.
The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.
"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."
Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.
By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.
The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.
"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.
While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.
"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.
Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.
Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.
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Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).
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By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.
Polyproylene fibers found in one of the sampled sharks. Kristian Parton
Spiny dogfish. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons<p>"There appear to be two routes for these particles to end up in the sharks," Parton said. "The first through their food source [such as] crustaceans. Their prey may already contain these fibers, and consequently it's passed to the shark through bioaccumulation up the food chain. The second pathway is direct ingestion from the sediment. As these sharks feed, they'll often suck up sediment into their mouths, some of this is expelled straight away, although some is swallowed, therefore fibers and particles that may have sunk down into the seabed may be directly ingested from the surrounding sediment as these sharks feed."</p><p>Some sharks only contained a few plastic particles, but others contained dozens. The larger the shark, the more plastic was in it, the findings suggested. The highest number of microplastics was found in an individual bull huss, which had 154 polypropylene fibers inside its stomach and intestines.</p><p>"It's perhaps likely this individual shark had swallowed a larger piece of fishing rope/netting and this has broken down during digestive processes within the shark, and also broken down into smaller pieces during our analysis," Parton said.</p>
Lesser-spotted dogfish caught as bycatch. Kristian Parton<p>While this study only examined the stomach and digestive tracts of demersal sharks, Parton says it's possible that plastic would be present in other parts of the sharks' bodies, such as the liver and muscle tissue. However, more research would be needed to prove this.</p><p>At the moment, there is also limited understanding of how microplastic ingestion would impact a shark's health, although microplastics are known to negatively influence feeding behavior, development, reproduction and life span of zooplankton and crustaceans.</p><p>"If we can show that these fibers contain inorganic pollutants attached to them, then that could have real consequences for these shark species at a cellular level, impacting various internal body systems," Parton said.</p>
Parton in the lab. Kristian Parton<p>This new study demonstrates how pervasive and destructive plastic pollution can be in the marine environment, according to Will McCallum, head of oceans for Greenpeace U.K.</p><p>"Our addiction to plastics combined with the lack of mechanisms to protect our oceans is suffocating marine life," McCallum said in a statement. "Sharks sit on top of the marine food web and play a vital role in ocean ecosystems. Yet, they are completely exposed to pollutants and other human impactful activities. We need to stop producing so much plastic and create a network of ocean sanctuaries to give wildlife space to recover. The ocean is not our dump, marine life deserves better than plastic."</p>
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By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun
After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.
<div id="bb0a7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5aefc0fff61ab1aea2f4b03c5399864"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291765757013983238" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The #oilspill is devastating but I want to honour the community mobilisation at the Mahebourg waterfront today (to… https://t.co/UWFkZFdjdi</div> — Fabiola Monty (@Fabiola Monty)<a href="https://twitter.com/LFabiolaMonty/statuses/1291765757013983238">1596815930.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Booms are made of nylon mesh filled with #sugarcane straws all hand-stitched by Mauritian volunteers, empty plastic bottles used as buoys," described Mauritian journalist Zeenat Hansrod in a tweet. </p>
How to Tackle Oil Spills<p>The method for tackling oil spills depends on several factors, including the type and amount of oil in question, location and weather conditions.</p><p>"Once the oil comes to shore, the more intensive the cleaning technique. You can risk causing further damage," said Nicky Cariglia, an independent consultant at Marittima, who specializes in marine pollution. </p><p>"If you wanted to remove all traces of oil, the techniques available become increasingly aggressive the less oil that remains. In mangroves, you would have the added risk of causing damage by trampling," Cariglia told DW. Highly sensitive mangrove ecosystems line the Mauritius east coast that is threatened by the current spill.</p><p>Because oil normally has a lower density than water, it floats on the surface of the ocean. This means that for clean-up action to be most effective, it should happen very quickly after a spill, before the oil disperses. </p>
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