Australian 'Gloomy Octopus' Leads Murky Wave of Climate Change Invasions
By Amy McDermott
Gloomy octopuses used to blend in. They were just another cephalopod, drab-gray and medium-bodied, living in the ocean off east-central Australia. Until, a few decades ago, the octopuses started to spread.
They crept south, establishing populations down Australia's East Coast, a climate change hotspot where seawater temperatures are rising almost four times faster than the global average. Gloomies love the heat—and chowing down on shellfish. If the newcomers' appetites disrupt existing fisheries, researchers say, they could spell trouble.
In Australia and around the world, ocean animals are relocating because of climate change, often with consequences for fisheries. Gloomy octopuses are just one of many marine species on the move. Their expansion is a harbinger of what's to come in places warming slower than Australia. Forget blending in, climate consequences have arrived.
Lives in Motion
It happened fast.
Gloomy octopuses (named for their ghostly-white eyes) spread steadily south in the last two decades, said fisheries scientist Brad Moore of the University of Tasmania in Hobart. Gloomies are naturally found in central-eastern Australia, but appeared hundreds of miles south in Victoria after 2000, and even further down, off the island of Tasmania in 2006. Three years later, Moore said, the species was included in Tasmania's fisheries guidebook.
"People send in photo observations," said marine ecologist Gretta Pecl, who started Redmap as part of her research at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania. "We get an early indication of what species might be shifting, and then we initiate a more targeted research study."
In the gloomy's case, commercial fishermen and citizen scientist observations tipped off Pecl's team, and inspired a genetic study published Friday, led by marine biologist Jorge Ramos, which confirms a rapid and recent expansion south.
Gloomies would be easy to overlook, if not for their white eyes.Colin Silvey
Gloomies can thank climate change for their new digs. Global warming affects ocean currents, including one that runs down the East Coast of Australia. The East Australian Current has extended farther and farther south over the last 50 years.
"We believe it's moving species into Tasmanian waters," Ramos said. Warm, strong flows act like a southerly conveyor belt for marine creatures, including the octopuses.
While gloomies are thriving, their arrival in Tasmania has some experts worried. Abalone and rock lobster are the two largest commercial wild fisheries for the island, making up more than 75 percent of landings by weight. Both could suffer, Ramos said, if the octopus eats too many of the shellfish. Abalone and oysters are already struggling through marine heatwaves, caused by the growing warm current. Another problem is the last thing they need.
Not everyone is so worried. Craig Hardy is an octopus fisherman in Stanley, Tasmania, where he's seen gloomies off the island's northern tip for about 10 years—as long as he's been fishing up there. Hardy was the first to hunt octopus in the area, he said, and suspects the gloomies were around all along, but people just hadn't seen them.
That's possible, Ramos agreed, but he thinks the current swept more octopuses down in the last decade. Based on his genetic work, Ramos would "guess the species was there, but in low numbers, and now it's becoming more common."
Octopus fishing is decent business in Tasmania. After abalone and lobster, it accounts for 11 percent of remaining landings by weight. Fishermen like Hardy haven't historically caught gloomies. Most of their catch is a smaller, native species. But the newcomer is becoming an attractive target, Hardy said, because of its size. Gloomies are common in markets on the mainland up north, and Hardy's found them "a good species to sell."
The gloomy octopus isn't the only stranger in Tasmanian waters. The East Australian Current has washed more than 70 species south in recent years. Some, like the long-spined sea urchin, have wrought havoc upon arrival. Others have been less damaging, but they all bring new considerations. Critters will keep coming down the coast in the next 50 years, fisheries scientist Moore expects, making Tasmania's coast more like the eastern mainland's as time goes by.
Australia and its gloomy octopus are a parable of things to come, in many slower-warming places. Along the West Coast of North America, for example, some fish could shift more than 900 miles this century under a high emissions scenario. Even if change hasn't come yet, "there's a lot of evidence to say things will change," Moore said. "It's about getting ready."
A gloomy octopus recovers after genetic sampling in Cape Conran, Australia. Octopuses can regrow tissue, so a "piece of arm will grow back," Ramos said.Colin Silvey
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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