Art by Matteo Farinella, written by Jeremy Deaton
Algal blooms are killing wildlife and making people sick. Here's how we aided their reign of terror.
Matteo Farinella is a neuroscientist-turned-cartoonist who uses comics to explain science. You can follow him @matteofarinella. Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a nonprofit climate change news service. You can follow him @deaton_jeremy.
Reposted with permission from Nexus Media.
By Rich Collett-White and Rachel Sherrington
Fossil fuel companies could face legal challenges over their misleading advertising, after a DeSmog investigation uncovered the extent of their "greenwashing."
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have put companies on notice with the publication of the Greenwashing Files. The analyses, which use DeSmog's research, show how adverts of major fossil fuel companies and energy producers continue to overemphasize their green credentials, giving the public a misleading impression of their businesses.
DeSmog analyzed the advertising output of Aramco, Chevron, Drax, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Ineos, RWE, Shell and Total, and compared this with the reality of the companies' current and future business activities.
ClientEarth submitted a complaint against BP's advertising in 2019, before the company decided to withdraw its "Possibilities Everywhere" campaign. The lawyers say other fossil fuel companies could face similar challenges if they mislead the public through their advertising. The group is calling for tobacco-style advertising bans and health warnings to counter fossil fuel companies' "deceptive" marketing.
DeSmog's investigation found messaging that touts companies' climate pledges without being transparent about their large emissions contributions is widespread across advertising campaigns and social media promotions.
The adverts regularly highlight the companies' preferred solutions to climate change — from carbon capture and storage, to experimental algae biofuels, and investment in renewable energy sources — without being open about the small percentage of overall investment allocated to these technologies, nor their various limitations.
The Greenwashing Files lay bare the contrast between the public image these adverts create, and the reality of the fossil fuel companies' activities.
All companies featured in this article were contacted for comment.
ExxonMobil – 'Powering Progress'
"We're working on ways to provide energy while addressing the risks of climate change, producing clean-burning natural gas to reduce emissions from power plants, capturing CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere, and exploring unexpected energy sources like biofuels made from algae," a reassuring voice tells us in Exxon's "Powering Progress" advert – one of several released in recent years that present the US oil giant as a leader in green technologies.
But while the ad shows Exxon scientists hard at work developing "algae farms" and technology designed to suck carbon dioxide from the air, its business activities tell a different story.
Exxon is increasingly an outlier among fossil fuel companies and other major emitters, having refused to set an absolute emissions reduction target, opting instead for gradual "carbon intensity" reductions which still allow for overall emissions to increase. It has no plans to cut oil and gas production, which energy analysts say is urgently needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
While Exxon remains responsible for a significant portion of global emissions – with documents in 2019 revealing a total annual output roughly equivalent to that of Canada – its spending on clean energies has been a tiny fraction of its investments, with just 0.2 percent of its investment in new projects going to low carbon sources between 2010 and 2018.
And while "Powering Progress" and other ads put Exxon's investments in algae biofuels at the fore, it has spent just $300 million on the technology in a decade, compared with yearly capital investment of around $20 billion. Experts doubt whether the technology will ever be commercially viable or usable at scale.
RWE – 'We are the new RWE'
A video by German energy giant RWE takes the viewer through landmark inventions that have spurred on human civilisation since the industrial revolution – the light bulb, the radio, mass transport – before arriving at the present day. "Every time has its energy," the ad tells us, adding that "times are changing. Society is changing. Companies are changing, and we are changing too."
The images cut to wind turbines, and the forces of nature that are powering what we are told is today's "renewable age." The company positions itself at the heart of this transition, telling the viewer it is "focusing on renewable energies and storage, for a sustainable world," and that it is providing "clean, reliable and affordable" energy as part of its transition to "the new RWE."
The campaign accompanies pledges to become "carbon neutral" by 2040 and oversee a significant expansion into wind and solar energy.
But the growth of RWE's low-carbon activities has not been matched by an exit from fossil fuels. RWE remains the largest emitter in Europe, according to a recent study by Greenpeace, and its three major lignite coal-fired power stations all feature in the EU's top five highest-emitting plants. Under current plans, it will continue to generate coal-fired electricity until the end of 2038, almost a decade after the deadline recommended for OECD countries by climate experts, at the same time as expanding its already significant fossil gas business.
Despite its claims to focus on clean energy, 80 percent of the company's energy still comes from non-renewable sources, mostly highly-polluting brown coal, hard coal and gas. The company also counts controversial and carbon-intensive biomass amongst its "renewable" energy sources despite warnings from scientists over its use.
Drax – 'Beyond Coal'
Drax, another energy company that now relies heavily on biomass and operates the UK's largest power station in North Yorkshire, has worked hard to bolster its green credentials in recent years, positioning itself as an ally in the fight against climate change.
Last year, it released an advert celebrating the company's shift away from coal-fired energy production, which it completed in March. Set to an uplifting soundtrack, the video calls the move a "major step towards Drax's ambition to become carbon negative by 2030," while touting a new "Zero Carbon Skills Taskforce" to ensure the surrounding area "isn't defined by its past, but by its future."
A 2020 year-in-review video meanwhile describes Drax as "among Europe's lowest carbon intensity power generators," producing "77 percent renewable electricity."
But the company's claims about the climate-friendliness of biomass, which has now taken over from coal as the principal source of energy at its power station thanks to generous government subsidies, have been widely disputed. Burning wood pellets has been found to be more carbon-intensive than fossil fuels in most circumstances, while experts doubt that trees planted in their place can re-absorb the carbon dioxide emitted, on a meaningful timescale.
Carbon capture and storage – another key plank of Drax's low-carbon strategy – remains uneconomical at scale, with the company's own use of the technology still in the pilot phase.
In response to questions from DeSmog, Drax said emissions from biomass energy are "already accounted for in the land-use sector and therefore considered carbon neutral at the point of combustion," in line with "established global best practice" set out by the UN IPCC.
It also said biomass should be considered renewable "because the forests we source from are growing and storing more carbon" and pointed to its plans for a bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) unit by 2027, "creating tens of thousands of jobs" and "permanently removing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year."
Aramco – 'The Moment is Now'
The Saudi Arabian state-owned oil and gas giant, Aramco, became the most valuable listed company in history when it floated on the stock market at the end of 2019. But the fossil fuel behemoth is at pains to assure viewers it is concerned about more than just its bottom line.
In an advert titled "The Moment is Now," an Aramco employee tells a lecture theatre full of colleagues that "as we open up to the world, we know more than ever before that we must continue towards a sustainable future."
"We value the natural resources we discover but never forget it is our human energy that drives us to create a better world," she says to the audience, who reward her presentation with a standing ovation.
Elsewhere, the company insists it is driven by a "commitment to preserving the environment because protecting our planet is one of our most important values."
That's despite the company being the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitter, responsible for an estimated four percent of all global emissions since 1965.
Aramco's oil and gas reserves total more than those of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total combined, while the company refuses to disclose its full emissions. Its majority shareholder, the Saudi Arabian government, has been at the forefront of efforts to stall international action on climate change for decades. At the last UN climate talks in Madrid, over a third of Saudi Arabia's representatives were associated with the oil and gas industry, many with Aramco.
Equinor – 'This is what changed us.'
Previously trading under the name Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned oil and gas company Equinor rebranded in 2018, with the hope of highlighting its transformation into a "broad energy company" and its growing low-carbon energy division.
Equinor explained its reasons for the name change in an advert called "Equinor. This is what changed us." Scenes of raging storms and melting ice caps are displayed while the narrator says: "Some changes are so profound that they transcend everything. Changes that require us to find a new balance."
In a more recent ad, the company insists that "emissions must come down and it must happen fast."
Equinor is certainly taking steps to increase its investments in low-carbon technologies, with plans to up its renewable energy capacity to 4-6 gigawatts by 2026, and has set a "net zero" emissions target for 2050.
But this shift is largely in addition to, rather than in place of, its core oil and gas business. The company is still exploring for more oil and gas reserves and does not intend to start reducing its fossil fuel production before 2030. Last year, it opened the largest oil field in Western Europe and is heavily involved in ventures in the Arctic.
Equinor promotes natural gas as the "perfect fuel to balance renewable energy" and was given a warning two years ago by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority for claiming the fuel was a "low-carbon" energy source.
Another technology the company touts is carbon capture and storage (CCS), but all of the projects it is involved in currently amount to less than three percent of its overall emissions.
ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White said the collection of adverts showed the fossil fuel companies were involved in a "great deception."
"We need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But instead of leading a low-carbon transition, these companies are putting out advertising which distracts the public and launders their image," he said.
"These adverts are misrepresenting the true nature of companies' businesses, of their contribution to climate change, and of their transition plans," he added, saying that "we cannot underestimate the real world impact this advertising has on the pace of change."
You can find the full set of adverts and analyses here.
Additional research by Michaela Herrmann. Edited by Mat Hope.
Disclaimer: ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac sits on the board of DeSmog UK Ltd.
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
Krill oil has gained a lot of popularity recently as a superior alternative to fish oil. Basically, the claim goes, anything fish oil can do, krill oil does better. Read on to learn what makes krill oil supplements better than fish oil supplements, why you should consider these vitamin supplements, and which brands we recommend.
What is Krill Oil?
Krill oil is made from a tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans that live in the ocean and usually serve as whale food. In fact, krill means "whale food" in Norwegian. These tiny organisms actually play an extremely important role in the food chains of marine ecosystems. The krill used to make krill oil are usually found in the waters around Antarctica.
Just like the fish oils found in supplements, krill oil is rich in omega 3 fatty acids that contain EPA and DHA, two compounds that are proven to have a number of health benefits.
But what makes krill oil better than fish oil?
It's believed that krill oil is better absorbed in the body than fish oil. Both derive most of their benefits through the EPA and DHA that are contained in their fatty acid stores. However, for the same dose, krill oil will result in more fatty acids in the blood than fish oil. A potential explanation for this is that while fish oil's fatty acids come as triglycerides, krill oil's come as phospholipids which are more easily processed by the body.
Additionally, krill oil contains astaxanthin which is an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties that might have an enhanced positive effect on heart health. Studies have shown that krill oil is more effective than fish oil at lowering blood pressure and lowering bad cholesterol.
Our Picks for the Best Krill Oil Supplements
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Vital Plan Krill Oil Plus
- Best for Cognitive Health - Onnit Krill Oil
- Best for Heart Health - NOW Neptune Krill Oil
- Best for Joint Health - Viva Naturals Antarctic Krill Oil
- Strongest - Sports Research Antarctic Krill Oil
How We Chose the Best Krill Oil Supplements
Here are the factors that we considered when comparing the best krill oil brands to create our list of recommended supplements.
Omega-3 Content - We looked to see the amount of omega-3 fatty acids contained in each krill oil softgel or capsule.
Astaxanthin Content - The best krill oil pills contain this naturally-occurring antioxidant.
Third-Party Lab Testing - For any nutritional supplement, we choose brands that guarantee the quality of their product through independent lab testing.
Krill Source - We also compared these supplements for the source of their krill oil, and only recommend brands that use sustainably-harvested krill.
The 5 Best Krill Oil Supplements
Best Overall: Vital Plan Krill Oil Plus
- Omega-3s - 330 mg per 3 softgels
- Astaxanthin - 150 mcg per 3 softgels
- Krill Source - Antarctica
Why buy: We love Vital Plan Krill Oil Plus because it contains omega-3 fatty acids, astaxanthin, and choline to help promote brain, cardiovascular, and joint health, and because it is made with sustainably-harvested Antarctic krill. In fact, Vital Plan uses Superba krill oil, which is certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and is 100% traceable.
Best for Cognitive Health: Onnit Krill Oil
- Omega-3s - 240 mg per 2 softgels
- Astaxanthin - 200 mcg per 2 softgels
- Krill Source - Antarctica
Why buy: Onnit Krill Oil makes it easy to supplement your diet with the essential nutrients found in krill with just two softgels per day. The DHA and EPA fatty acids, plus astaxanthin, contained in these supplements can help support better cognitive, heart, and joint health. Plus, they source their krill from a Friend of the Sea certified supplier.
Best for Heart Health: NOW Neptune Krill Oil
- Omega-3s - 250 mg per 2 softgels
- Astaxanthin - 360 mcg per 2 softgels
- Source - Antarctica
Why buy: NOW Neptune Krill Oil supplements use 100% Neptune krill oil, a patented oil derived from Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). Two softgels contain 250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and 360 mcg of astaxanthin that can promote better cardiovascular and joint health. We like NOW Neptune Krill Oil because they also get their krill oil from a Friend of the Sea certified source.
Best for Joint Health: Viva Naturals Antarctic Krill Oil
- Omega-3s - 330 mg per 2 capsules
- Astaxanthin - 1.6 mg per 2 capsules
- Source - Antarctica
Why buy: Viva Naturals uses a trademarked Caplique capsulation to avoid any krill oil odor or potential fishy burps. WIth 90 mg of DHA and 165 mg of EPA per 2 capsule serving, this supplement will definitely give you your money's worth, as they pack more DHA and EPA than your average supplement. We like that these capsules contain a higher concentration of the antioxidant astaxanthin, and are designed to eliminate any fishy aftertaste.
Strongest: Sports Research Antarctic Krill Oil
- Omega-3s - 240 mg per softgel
- Astaxanthin - 500 mcg per softgel
- Source - Antarctica
Why buy: IKOS certified and made with their proprietary Superba krill oil formula, Sports Research Antarctic Krill Oil is an excellent choice if you're looking to enjoy the benefits that quality omega-3 fatty acids can provide. Every softgel capsule contains 1000 mg of krill oil, making it the strongest krill oil supplement on our list. We like that their krill oil is also certified as sustainably sourced by the MSC.
The Research on Krill Oil Supplements
Research has long demonstrated the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in foods like fish, nuts, and certain grains like flax seed. Since krill oil naturally contains higher levels of these beneficial nutrients, it has also been found to provide a number of health benefits.
Numerous studies have linked the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and krill oil to cardiovascular health, finding that those who ingest higher levels of these nutrients are at lower risk for coronary heart disease, potentially lower risk of stroke, and have lower cholesterol levels. Another study found that krill oil supplements offer a safe alternative to fish oil for those seeking cardiovascular benefits in a smaller and more convenient form.
Krill oil supplementation has also been found to help reduce the symptoms of knee and joint pain.
Additionally, researches found that rats given krill oil supplements showed improved cognitive function and benefited from anti-depressant-like effects. However, more research on its effect for human brain development and function is needed.
How to Choose the Right Krill Oil Supplement
When shopping for a krill oil supplement, there are important pieces of information that you should always look for. Here are some tips on how to compare brands and how to read labels.
What to Look For
For any supplement, always check to see if it has undergone third-party lab testing for quality and safety. This is especially important for any fish or krill oil to make sure that it does not contain any harmful compounds like mercury.
Look for the amount of krill oil contained in each capsule and each serving (as these will sometimes differ). You should choose supplements that offer between 200 mg and 350 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving for the best results.
Make it a priority to learn where the brand sources its supply of krill oil. We recommend brands that use sustainably-harvested Antarctic krill oil because the process of harvesting is more tightly regulated by various groups.
This is good advice for all nutritional supplements, but be sure the krill oil you choose does not contain any unwanted or unnecessary ingredients. All of our recommendations contain just the krill oil and the capsule it comes in.
How to Read Labels
When you are comparing krill oil supplements, here are some key things to look for on any label:
- Supplement Facts - This is where you can find information on the amount of krill oil in each capsule, how many capsules make up one serving, and a breakdown of how many omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients are contained in the supplement.
- Other Ingredients - Listed at the bottom of the supplement facts table, this list will tell you what the capsule itself is made of and if there are any additional ingredients present.
- Certifications - Check the label for important certifications and seals of approvals that can tell you if a krill oil is IKOS-certified, third-party lab tested, or sustainably harvest.
How to Use Krill Oil Supplements
Krill oil supplements typically come in capsules that you swallow with water. For most brands, 2 to 3 capsules make up a single serving, and you can take a serving either once or twice per day. Some brands recommend their supplements be taken with food to aid in their digestion and absorption.
Safety & Side Effects
While krill oil supplements are generally considered safe for most adults, it is extremely important to note that you should not take krill oil if you are allergic to shellfish. The potential side effects for krill oil are considered mild and similar to fish oils, including:
- Upset stomach
- Fishy taste
Iconic venues around the world have taken advantage of pandemic shutdowns to boost already-existing sustainability efforts and to create new environmental awareness. Their motivation, many observers say, is the planet and how everyone must do their part to create a better world before it is too late.
Dominique Meyer, CEO of the famed opera house Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy, noted the important role that opera houses can and should play, especially in mobilizing the younger generation. He told The New York Times, "Everyone observes what La Scala does or doesn't do," he said. "It is a duty to commit oneself — for all theaters."
As such, the "flagship" of Italian culture has worked to reduce its carbon emissions by over 630 tons since 2010, the Times reported. The most recent shift was to LED bulbs and smart lighting, accomplished during the shutdowns. La Scala also plans to install solar panels on its new office tower roof in Dec. 2022 and to digitize operations — saving at least 10 tons of paper annually, the news report said. The house has also selected partner vendors that prioritize recycling, including a water company with its own certified plastic recycling system and a coffee company that uses recycled filters, the Times reported. And costume designers are being asked to work with recyclable fabrics.
La Scala is not alone in targeting sustainability: the Sydney Opera House in Australia is green-certified and has been a "front-runner" in the green and sustainable opera space, the Times reported. Since its launch in 2010, the opera house's ambitious Environmental Sustainability Plan (ESP) has guided many decisions which have resulted in climate and environmental wins, Connect4Climate reported. Some of these have included saving $1 million in electricity through increased energy efficiency, ensuring large festivals are certified carbon-neutral and increasing waste recycling and food recycling, Connect4Climate reported. The World Heritage-listed building already succeeded in becoming carbon-neutral three years ago and even built an artificial reef alongside the venue's sea wall in 2019, the Times reported. Upcoming goals include recycling more construction materials, energy efficiency shifts and increasing their green star rating, the Times reported.
At the launch of the ESP, Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM said, "The Opera House was conceived with very broad ambitions in mind, as then-NSW Premier JJ Cahill said in 1954 'to help mould a better and more enlightened community,'" and noted that their sustainability efforts were "part of achieving that ambition," reported Connect4Climate.
Then-CEO of Green Building Council Australia Romilly Madew said, "The Sydney Opera House has shown the world that even the most challenging, iconic and historic buildings can be sustainable… If the Opera House can go green, anything can go green," reported Connect4Climate.
The current movement is not the first time that the lines between art and advocacy have blurred during the pandemic. In June 2020, the Barcelona opera house reopened with a concert for 2,292 plants that were then donated to frontline workers.
"Nature advanced to occupy the spaces we snatched from it," Eugenio Ampudio, the conceptual artist behind the unique concert, told Reuters. "Can we extend our empathy? Let's begin with art and music, in a great theatre, by inviting nature in."
Similarly, in March 2021, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performed a modernized version of Vivaldi's classic ode, "Four Seasons." Called "The [Uncertain] Four Seasons," the remake actually changes based on where it is played to highlight the most pressing changes local ecosystems will face due to climate change. For example, light rains in Vivaldi's original become raging storms in the modern version; birdsong disappears as species will likely go extinct; and silence replaces the music in places like Shanghai where sea level rise threatens continued human presence.
Tim Devine, executive creative director of AKQA, the design firm that masterminded the project, told EcoWatch, "The challenge is not awareness of climate change. We're all aware of the science. The challenge is action. What are we doing? What are our governments and businesses doing?"
For the time being, it seems that opera houses are ready and willing to lead the way towards a more sustainable culture and way of life.
- Barcelona Opera House Reopens With Concert for 2,292 Plants ... ›
- Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons' Captures the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Energy Efficiency as a Climate Solution: A Goal for 2020 - EcoWatch ›
By Josh Bonifield
The Australian brewery Young Henrys is working to fight climate change with an unusual ingredient—algae.
The fermentation process that occurs during beer production releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), which can contribute to climate change. It takes a tree approximately two days to absorb the CO2 released from producing one six pack of beer. But, Young Henrys says their in-house cultivated algae not only absorb the CO2 released, they also produce as much oxygen as two and half acres of wilderness.
Algae, a photosynthetic organism, are often seen as a nuisance because they can cause red tide—a toxic algal bloom —or infect local water sources. But, they are also up to five times more effective at absorbing carbon than trees, according to the technology company Hypergiant.
Oscar McMahon, Young Henrys' Co-Founder, sees their potential to curb beer production emissions. McMahon tells Food Tank, "This is a unique project and the focus is not to profit. It is to create something that we can then share with other people to adapt and use."
Young Henrys signed onto this project with the University of Technology Sydney to reach carbon neutrality. To experiment with the effectiveness of its system, Young Henrys uses two bioreactors to cultivate algae. The first, a control, contains CO2, oxygen, and algae. The second contains the same three components but is connected to a fermentation tank. As the fermentation process produces additional CO2, the gas flows into the bioreactor.
According to McMahon, at the end of each day, the control bioreactor consistently contains 50 percent less algae. This demonstrates that the algae in the experimental bioreactor successfully consume the harmful greenhouse gas, McMahon tells Food Tank. The hope is that this system can not only lower CO2 emissions from beer production, but ultimately convert it into oxygen.
This specific project will continue for one more year, but McMahon hopes that algae will continue to lower Young Henrys carbon emissions as they find additional uses for the organism.
Young Henrys is currently experimenting to incorporate algae into food, pharmaceuticals, and bioplastics. Other companies around the world are also developing energy bars, dietary supplements, protein shakes, and other food and drink items using algae.
To scale up algae production and develop these new products, McMahon and Young Henrys are in consultation with engineering and beer industry groups to make this process scalable. McMahon says that both micro-breweries and national breweries will require the infrastructure and technology to easily incorporate algae in beer production.
McMahon describes the beauty of algae and the microorganisms used in beer fermentation as "ying and yang organisms, similar things that live in big tanks of liquid that conduct opposite yet correcting jobs."
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
- Researchers Turn Algae Into a Material as Hard as Steel - EcoWatch ›
- Researchers Are Studying How Crops Adapt to Climate Change ›
How can you tell that the fish on your plate is the real thing? You can't — and that's the problem.
A new report in The Guardian's "Seascape" series on the state of the world's oceans surveyed 44 separate studies published since 2018, and found that almost 40 percent of 9,000 seafood products from restaurants, markets and fishmongers were mislabelled. According to Food & Wine, the report detailed how rampant seafood fraud has become on a global scale.
The U.S. and Canada had the highest rates of mislabeling followed by Europe, Eat This reported. Food & Wine also highlighted how seafood fraud is not a new issue: in 2017, a study found that half of Los Angeles sushi was not what it claimed to be, while a 2018 study revealed that more than 25 percent of supermarket fish in New York was mislabeled.
"And yet, despite government action and the promise of technical solutions like detectors and databases, it's not getting better," Food & Wine lamented.
The studies in the Seascape report used new DNA techniques and tests to ascertain exactly what was ending up on consumers' plates. They found fish substitutions from the same family, such as low-grade tuna species, being sold as higher-valued species, such as bluefin. The lower-value, lower-quality substitutions point to fraud more than error, the report suggested.
There are "so many opportunities along the seafood supply chain" to falsely label low-value fish as high-value species, or farmed fish as wild," Beth Lowell, deputy vice-president for U.S. campaigns at Oceana, told The Guardian. She noted that all the studies found mislabeling in the global seafood industry to be common and pervasive.
There were also substitutions for entirely different species, including Singaporean prawn balls that repeatedly tested negative for containing prawn DNA, and were instead made almost entirely of pork, Seafood Harvest reported. Other mixed seafood products turned out to be similarly mislabeled.
Among the most alarming substitutions were rare and endangered species being marketed otherwise. One study found that 70 percent of UK snapper instead consisted of 38 different species of fish, many of them critical reef-dwellers, The Guardian reported. This deceptive swapping is a problem for coral reefs that already suffer from overfishing of key fish species that eat algae and allow for a healthier ecosystem, The Guardian added.
The final mislabeling category that the Seascape report highlighted involves laundering illegally caught fish. Rashid Sumaila, a fisheries economist, explained to The Guardian how fish laundering is often linked to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that threatens the sustainability of many fish stocks worldwide. Oceana's examples of IUU fishing include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife and fishing with prohibited gear. Then, too often, illegal and legal catches are commingled when they are processed aboard ships with little monitoring and less transparency. This makes it nearly impossible to trace what is and isn't illegal, let alone what comprises a specific catch. The fraud continues with relative ease and a lot of profit, Sumaila told The Guardian.
In a press statement urging President Biden to increase transparency and traceability in American seafood, Oceana called IUU fishing "one of the greatest threats to our oceans" and estimated that it costs the global seafood industry up to $50 billion each year. In the U.S., up to 90 percent of fish consumed is imported, the statement noted. This non-transparent, foreign supply chain has allowed for a high degree of U.S. imports to come from IUU fishing, the statement claimed.
"IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive," Oceana said. The Guardian's reporting also found the complex and opaque seafood supply chains to be highly vulnerable to mislabeling that is profitable and relatively easy to execute.
Lowell said in the Oceana statement, "Americans have a right to know more about the seafood they eat and should have confidence that their dollars are not supporting the pillaging of the oceans or human rights abuses at sea." She concluded that, "All seafood sold in the U.S. should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled. Until then, honest fishermen, seafood businesses, consumers and the oceans will pay the price."
Still, some in the industry have hope. In another article by The Guardian, Organic Ocean Seafood in Vancouver, Canada, was singled out for its DNA testing. Dane Chauvel, the company's co-founder, uses e-DNA testing to fight seafood fraud. Chauvel supplies many high-end restaurants with wild-caught salmon and other gourmet fish, and can prove that his fish supply is legitimate thanks to the world's first random DNA testing program for authentication. This removes any lingering doubt about its origins for his top-end clients, Chauvel said. The test can even identify the origin river of a specific fish sample.
Generally, "The fishing industry is a mess," Chauvel admitted to The Guardian. "It's dysfunctional." He urged others to follow his lead and voluntarily submit their products for testing and authentication. It would be even better if regulatory agencies followed suit, he added. Chauvel told The Guardian, "I hope using DNA testing becomes more commonplace in the industry. It's been a great business advantage for us."
- 5 Ways Sustainable Seafood Can Benefit People and the ... ›
- Can We Enjoy Meat and Seafood and Save the Planet? - EcoWatch ›
- Seafood Study Finds Plastic in 100% of Samples - EcoWatch ›
- Who’s to Blame for the Lawbreaking and Habitat Destruction in U.S. Fisheries? ›
- Three Sustainable Seafood Brands to Know for World Oceans Day ›
T. C. Knight / Getty Images
By Chaoqun Lu
Other effects are harder to measure, but can be just as harmful. One example is agricultural nitrogen runoff from farmlands in the Mississippi River Basin. It mainly comes from fertilizer that farmers apply to millions of acres of crops.
Plants can't use all of the nitrogen in fertilizer because fertilizers are usually applied in excess. This excess can wash off farm fields into local rivers and lakes, degrading water quality and stimulating algae blooms. Traveling down the Mississippi River, it contributes to the yearly formation of a dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico, covering several thousand square miles; oxygen levels there are so low that fish and shellfish cannot survive.
Excess nitrogen in drinking water also threatens public health. Ingesting high levels of nitrate, a nitrogen compound, can reduce red blood cells' ability to transport oxygen, a condition that is especially dangerous for infants.
My work as a quantitative ecologist examines how ecosystems respond to external factors such as adding nitrogen. In a recently published study, I worked with colleagues to quantify nitrogen runoff from land into rivers and streams. We found that infrequent but heavy rainfall events account for one-third of annual total runoff and nitrogen leaching from soils across the Mississippi Basin. This tells us that managing nitrogen is likely to be more challenging if climate change continues to make heavy rains more frequent.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Plants can't grow without nitrogen, but using too much or applying it improperly can cause problems. In the U.S. Midwest, one of the most intensively farmed areas in the world, farmers have added large amounts of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to the land to boost crop yields.
Long-term monitoring data from river gauges shows large year-to-year variations in the quantity of nitrogen that flows down from the Mississippi River Basin into the Gulf of Mexico. Yearly changes in farmers' fertilizer use are not large enough to explain these fluctuations.
Studies show that annual total precipitation is a significant factor in these changes. But we know less about the role of daily rainfall – particularly heavy rains – in mobilizing and transporting nitrogen.
Stream gauge measurements show that the amount of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) moving from Mississippi River Basin states to the Gulf of Mexico fluctuates dramatically from year to year. Heavy rainfalls can produce higher nitrogen levels. Modified from Lu et al., 2020, CC BY-ND
Heavy Rains Have an Outsized Impact
My collaborators and I wanted to assess the impacts of extreme rainfall events in the Midwest. In this region, many cropped fields are laced with buried networks of drainage channels, known locally as tile drainage. These pipelines are designed to move excess moisture out of fields. But they can also channel large surges of water and nutrients into rivers and streams after heavy rainfalls.
It is challenging to determine how individual rainfall events affect nitrogen leaching and movement within a drainage basin. Rain happens here and there, so it's hard to distinguish a single storm's impact from river gauge monitoring data. Rainfall events also vary a lot by season and intensity.
Our study used a well-tested model to quantify how much nitrogen is washed out by each rainfall event, as well as total nitrogen delivered to the Gulf of Mexico. We looked closely at heavy rainfall events, which we defined as the top 10% of historical daily precipitation amounts for any location in a given month.
Climate records show that over the past 20 years, a growing share of annual precipitation has come in heavy rainfall events across two-thirds of the Mississippi River Basin's land area. The region that receives a total of more than 15.7 inches (400 millimeters) of heavy rain per year has expanded from areas in Louisiana and Arkansas northward to Corn Belt states like Illinois and Indiana, where nitrogen fertilizer is heavily used.
Percentage increases in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events) from 1958 to 2012. Globalchange.gov
We found that one-third of annual total runoff and nitrogen leaching loss come from heavy rainfall events, which happen on only about nine days per year on average across the basin. Nearly half to three-quarters of heavy rainfall in the basin occurs in spring and summer, with a monthly peak in May.
This timing coincides with the planting and seed germinating stages of corn, when the plants are using minimal amounts of nitrogen. We wondered whether changing when and how farmers apply fertilizer could reduce nitrogen runoff.
When to Fertilize
When during the year to apply fertilizer is a long-standing question in both precision agriculture and environmental science. Midwest farmers apply over 90% of nitrogen fertilizer before crops germinate in springtime and after harvesting. This means that a fair amount of available nitrogen accumulates in the soil before crops start taking it up. When heavy rainfalls occur, it is likely to be washed out.
Nitrogen fertilizer application restrictions on crop ground went into effect in certain areas of Minnesota on Sept.… https://t.co/2xW8POSKyy— DTN/The Progressive Farmer (@DTN/The Progressive Farmer)1603121761.0
We set up modeling experiments to test whether postponing fertilizer application could make the water running off of farmlands cleaner. In our alternative fertilizer management scenario, we assumed fertilizer was applied only twice, after crops developed. We expected this would reduce the amount of unused nitrogen accumulating in soils.
Our results predicted that this modification could reduce nitrogen loading to the Gulf of Mexico by up to 16%. This would be a significant step toward goals set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is working with states to reduce nutrient loads entering the Gulf of Mexico by 20% by 2025 and 45% by 2035.
However, even under the postponed fertilizer application scenario, we still found the frequent heavy rains in the recent decade could enhance nitrogen loss during summer and early fall. Scientists predict that if climate change continues at its current rate, it will cause more extreme rainfall events in the Midwest, which, we think, would reduce environmental benefits from alternative nitrogen management practices.
Reducing the amount of nitrogen that escapes from land into water bodies while maintaining food production is a significant challenge. Our study complements the well-known 4R concept for managing nutrients: Using the right fertilizer product, at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place. To get that timing right, our research shows that along with crop nitrogen demand, farmers should also consider the occurrence of heavy rainfall.
Chaoqun Lu is an assistant professor of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology at Iowa State University.
Disclosure statement: Chaoqun Lu receives funding from the National Science Foundation, Iowa State University, and the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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But scientists at the University of Hawaii and Michigan State University are looking for answers beyond just "why." They are seeking solutions that could help coral reefs endure these threats now and into the future.
Between 2014 to 2017, a global ocean heatwave bleached coral reefs around the world. During this period, about 75 percent of the planet's tropical coral reefs experienced this bleaching, BBC reported. Places like Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii were also hit especially hard, bleaching nearly half of its corals, Michigan State University reported.
"It was kind of horrifying," Crawford Drury, a coral biologist who researches at the UH Manoa's Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology, or HIMB, according to MSU. "It's disheartening to watch, but I try to think of it as an opportunity," Drury added.
Coral reefs thrive in a symbiotic relationship with algae, according to NOAA. While the algae grow inside the corals, using the coral tissue as shelter, the algae also provide the corals with food, turning them into their familiar, vibrant colors. But when corals become stressed from high temperatures, they will often discard their algae, turning them white, according to NOAA. While bleaching does not necessarily kill the corals, it does make them vulnerable to disease and death, according to MSU.
But, among the damaged corals in Kaneohe Bay, following the heatwave, some still bore their "healthy golden hue," according to MSU.
Looking to answer why some corals were vulnerable to a warmer ocean while others were not, the team of scientists analyzed the biochemicals of corals. Their findings, published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, could help inform future coral reef restoration.
The scientists found that two different communities of algae lived within the corals. Inside the algae cells were compounds known as lipids. Corals with saturated lipids resisted bleaching, while corals with unsaturated lipids were more vulnerable, MSU reported.
"This is not unlike the difference between oil and margarine, the latter having more saturated fat, making it solid at room temperature," Robert Quinn, an assistant professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, told MSU.
Coral reefs are important for more than just marine life and ocean biodiversity. According to NOAA's Office for Coastal Management, 500 million people worldwide depend on reefs for food and livelihoods. Reefs also protect against flood damage, saving communities nearly $94 million each year.
"Coral reefs are biodiversity reservoirs and significant sources of food, income, and pharmaceuticals. We have a small window of opportunity remaining to apply science to rescue the world's degrading reefs," Karine Kleinhaus, a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, told BBC in April.
In one rare and unique case, coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea have resisted bleaching, despite warmer ocean temperatures, BBC reported.
"Unless we uncover what exactly happens biologically in the corals of the Gulf of Aqaba that allows them to withstand warming temperatures, we don't know how or if this knowledge can be applied elsewhere," Kleinhaus added.
Now with more answers regarding their biological processes, the University of Hawaii and Michigan State University scientists' findings could help inform future projects to protect coral reefs.
"This work provides insight into the biochemical mechanisms of coral bleaching and presents a valuable new tool for resilience-based reef restoration," the authors of the study wrote.
Their research can also help conservationists choose more climate-resilient species to seed when restoring reefs, MSU reported. "We can use natural resilience to better understand, support and manage coral reefs under climate change," Drury told MSU. "Hopefully, we're just getting started."
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You can't discount the importance of your gut health. Research shows that the microbiome within your digestive system has a disproportionate impact on how well your whole body functions.
Unfortunately, bad diets, the overuse of antibiotics, and other stressors mean many of our digestive systems are in trouble. Probiotic supplements claim to solve this problem by replenishing your gut with the healthy bacteria it needs for optimal functioning. Here, we'll analyze the popular probiotic brand Seed to determine whether its supplements are worth taking.
How We Review Probiotics
Whenever we review a probiotic supplement, we evaluate six specific categories.
- Number of active strains - How many types of bacteria are included?
- AFU (Active Fluorescent Units)/ CFU (Colony Forming Units) - These units of measurement tell you how many billions of bacteria are estimated to be within each supplement dose.
- Storage Requirements - Some probiotics are shelf-stable, while others require refrigeration.
- Ingredient Transparency – does the company disclose where it sources its active strains and provide clinical research for their efficacy?
- Value - How are the probiotics priced? Can you purchase them without an auto-ship program?
- Sustainability - Does the company show ways its supplements are better for the environment through sustainable ingredient sourcing or packaging?
Let's evaluate these criteria for Seed.
About Seed Probiotics
Seed is an e-commerce supplement brand with a single product—the DS-O1 Daily Synbiotic probiotic. The company got its start in 2018 when cofounders Ara Katz and Raja Dhir determined that the current probiotic supplements available weren't hitting the mark.
Katz's experiences of pregnancy and breastfeeding as a new mom led her to develop a deeper appreciation of the body's microbiome and its role in overall health. She joined forces with Dhir, who had the scientific experience to understand what could be improved within the probiotic industry.
Together, they strove to create a supplement that "raised the bar on bacteria" by giving the body what it needed for all its systems to operate most effectively. They collaborated with a large team of entrepreneurs, artists, and scientists to develop a probiotic known as DS-01 Daily Synbiotic.
The Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic
- Active Strains - 24
- AFU - 53.6 billion AFU
- Storage Requirements - Shelf-stable for 18 months after opening
- Ingredient Transparency - Clinical data available for each strain
- Sustainability - First order ships in reusable glass canisters and subsequent orders arrive in compostable biofilm.
- Value - $49.99/60 supplements (30-day supply subscription)
The DS-01 Daily Synbiotic is a broad-spectrum probiotic that combines 24 probiotic strains with a non-fermenting prebiotic concentrate of Indian pomegranate for better delivery. Of these strains, 23 are human-derived, and one is isolated from fruit and added to promote healthy cholesterol levels.
These strains work synergistically to support the 38 trillion bacteria that make up your microbiome. They will purportedly help the body digest food, minimize inflammation, and better synthesize nutrients.
This supplement contains four distinct probiotic blends:
- Digestive Health/ Gut Immunity/ Gut Barrier Integrity: 37.0 Billion AFU
- Dermatological Health: 3.3 Billion AFU
- Cardiovascular Health: 5.25 Billion AFU
- Micronutrient Synthesis: 8.05 Billion AFU
(See strain-specific studies here)
How It Works
With these multiple strains, the company claims to take a 'Microbe-Systems Approach' through microbes that impact specific physical functions beyond the digestive system. These include skin and heart health, better immune system functioning, and micronutrient synthesis.
In other words, DS-01 goes beyond digestive issues to support full-body health. The company claims it's even one of the first probiotic formulations able to synthesize folate and increase its production.
Seed's DS-01 Daily Synbiotic probiotic also stands out with its delivery system. The supplement utilizes "nested capsule technology" along with a patented algae delivery system. This two-in-one capsule design houses the probiotic formula within a prebiotic casing made from Indian pomegranate to ensure these fragile bacteria survive both sitting on store shelves and the perilous journey through stomach acid to your colon.
Through this method, Seed claims to average a 100% delivery rate of the probiotic's starting dose to your colon. According to internal testing, DS-01 probiotics will exceed the living cell counts listed on the label even after ten days of constant 100º F exposure.
Adults can take two Seed probiotic supplements per day, preferably at the same time. It's best you do so on an empty stomach to limit the capsule's exposure to digestive enzymes that start to break it down. However, those with sensitive stomachs may want to eat something first. While you'll get optimal results from taking the supplements daily, it's not a problem if you occasionally skip one.
If you're new to probiotics, start by taking one per day for the first three days and then increasing your dosage to two per day. You may feel its effects on your digestive system within 48 hours, though long-term improvements to the cardiovascular system take more time and might not be noticeable to you.
Seed probiotics don't need require refrigeration. They are shelf-stable for 18 months at temperatures up to 78℉ and are safe to take when expired. Just note that the company can't guarantee their potency at this point.
How to Buy
Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic probiotics are only available on a subscription basis. They cost $49.99 per month and ship free throughout the US (international orders include a $10 shipping fee).
You will receive a 30-day supply (60 capsules) when you order through the company website, and the first order includes a reusable glass canister and travel vial. Each subsequent order arrives in compostable biofilm so you can transfer the capsules to the reusable ones.
All first orders are covered by a 30-day risk-free trial, during which you can return the probiotics for a full refund. It's possible to cancel the subscription at any time by contacting customer service at [email protected].
Note: At publication, these probiotics were sold out. They are available for pre-order and expected to ship again in 2-4 weeks.
What We Like About Seed
As a product within the largely unregulated supplement industry, Seed broad-spectrum probiotics earn major points from us for both transparency and abundant clinical research. The company shares detailed information about every bacterial strain within the supplement and links out to the scientific studies highlighting their effectiveness.
Customer reviews on Facebook and other review sites show that Seed probiotics work as described for many users. Some shared they experienced positive improvements in their digestive system within 48 hours and noticed better-looking skin within a month.
Those with allergies or food sensitivities will also appreciate these supplements are soy-free, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, corn-free, and free of binders and preservatives.
From a consumer standpoint, Seed makes taking probiotics simple. The shelf-stable formula means you won't have to store them in the fridge, and each 30-day supply is guaranteed to remain viable for 18 months after opening. Likewise, the nested capsule delivery system should improve how many billions of bacteria make it into your digestive system intact.
Equally noteworthy, we love Seed's commitment to environmental sustainability. By sending each customer two reusable glass containers at the start of their subscription, the company minimizes the packaging waste for each subsequent order.
What We Don't Like
Despite these positives, Seed broad-spectrum probiotics have some downsides. To start, they are pricier than many competitors. You will pay $1.66 per day's dose, which is more than some want to pay for supplements.
It's also not possible to try them without committing to a monthly subscription. While it will take several weeks or longer to start noticing their effects, some customers might not want to be locked into an auto-ship program so early in the experimenting process.
Likewise, some customer reviews complained of unexpected side effects such as breakouts and rashes. It's not clear whether these went away for users after a few weeks of use.
Finally, it's currently only possible to pre-order these supplements. If you're dealing with digestive distress today, you may want to try a probiotic brand that's available right now for faster relief.
Seed Safety & Side Effects
Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotics are considered safe for adults over 18. Each supplement is vegan and free of common allergens like gluten, dairy, soy, and corn. They have undergone extensive third-party testing and adhere to the highest global regulatory standards for safety.
As with all probiotics, you might notice unpleasant side effects when you start taking them. Many people experience bloating, increased gas production, constipation, and other gastrointestinal problems for the first few days.
This can be discouraging, as many users take probiotics precisely to combat these symptoms in the first place. However, your system should adjust to the new bacteria within two weeks, and this digestive distress should diminish accordingly.
The DS-01 Daily Synbiotic is classified as safe for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, although the company recommends speaking with a medical professional before starting them. As will all probiotics, you should not take these supplements if you have a weakened immune system, recently underwent surgery, or if you have a serious illness. Speak with your doctor before starting any dietary supplement if you have concerns or questions.
Takeaway: Are Seed Probiotics Worth It?
The Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic is well-formulated and shows clinical evidence of improving your gut biome for far-reaching health benefits. The company solves the tricky problem of selling a live product with its innovative delivery system that keeps the bacteria within the supplement safe both on the shelf and through the digestive process.
If you are dealing with digestive problems, or are looking for a way to improve your general health, then this broad-spectrum probiotic might be one worth trying.
Just keep in mind that you might feel worse for a few days before the microbes will take full effect in your gut and that giving it a try means you are committing to a monthly subscription.
Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, food and farming, and environmental topics. When not working against a writing deadline, you can find Lydia outdoors where she attempts to bring order to her 33-acre hobby farm filled with fruit trees, heritage breed pigs, too many chickens to count, and an organic garden that somehow gets bigger every year.
Published on Monday in Nature Communications, the study found that phosphorus, a mineral found in dust, is a key nutrient for an extensive glacier algae bloom on Greenland's ice sheet, known as the "dark zone." As the algae grow, the ice becomes darker, decreasing its ability to reflect sunlight and causing the ice to melt faster and sea levels to rise.
"It's important to understand the controls on algal growth because of their role in ice sheet darkening," Dr. Jenine McCutcheon, who led the study published in Nature Communications, told the University of Leeds. "Although algal blooms can cover up to 78 percent of the bare ice surfaces in the Dark Zone, their abundance and size can vary greatly over time," Dr. McCutcheon added.
Since 2000, the dark zone's melting season has "progressively started earlier and lasted longer," according to the University of Leeds. Glacier algal blooms are responsible for up to 13 percent of surface melting in this region, the study noted.
But until recently little was known about how these algal blooms developed.
Researchers found that phosphorus can cause the photosynthesis rate of the ice algae to improve significantly, McCutcheon said, according to the University of Leeds.
Although researchers examined dust sourced from local rock, they warned that dust can be transported thousands of miles by the wind.
"As dryland areas in northerly latitudes become even drier under climate change, we can expect to see more dust transported and deposited on the Greenland Ice Sheet, further fueling algal blooms," Associate Professor Dr. Jim McQuaid, who co-authored the study, noted.
"The findings of this study will improve how we predict where algal blooms will happen in the future, and help us gain a better understanding of their role in ice sheet albedo reduction and enhanced melting," Dr. McCutcheon added.
Researchers are also asking how these algal blooms will grow and darken in a warming climate.
"In 2019 our glaciers and ice sheets [are] already being darkened by dust, soot, and ash from our industrial world, which provides the perfect home for algae to flourish," Alexandre Anesio, a professor in Arctic biogeochemistry from Aarhus University, who was not affiliated with the University of Leeds study, told The Guardian. "As the organisms reproduce, they melt even more snow, which in turn allows them to proliferate again. So it's like a cycle. A very bad one."
Darkening ice is not just occurring on Greenland's ice sheets, according to The Guardian. It's happening globally, Professor Liane Benning of the German Research Center for Geosciences noted, also impacting the Alpine and Himalayan glaciers.
In Western Canada, wildfires fueled by climate change are also leaving ash on glaciers, staining the ice, creating habitats for algae and "accelerating the warming process in a feedback loop," Reuters reported.
"To be honest, I'm massively worried," Anesio told The Guardian. As the planet warms, researchers are rushing to find answers on glacial melting and its impact on biodiversity.
"I just hope that we are not crossing that tipping point because I don't think humans can adapt to the rates of changing climates at the moment," Anesio added.
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By Hannah Thomasy
On its own, a single sea cucumber may not be very impressive. But get enough of these floppy, faceless creatures together, and they—or, more specifically, their poop—can physically and biochemically reshape a coral reef habitat.
In a recently published study, an Australian research team used drone surveys, satellite imagery, and observations of individual sea cucumbers to estimate how much poop the sea cucumbers of Heron Island Reef produced per year. Heron Island Reef is part of the southern Great Barrier Reef system off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
Historically, one of the major problems scientists have faced when trying to assess the importance of sea cucumbers (and their excrement) in the reef ecosystem is the difficulty in assessing just how many sea cucumbers there are in a given area, said Jane Williamson, the study's lead author and head of the Marine Ecology Group at Macquarie University.
Previous research used footage from boats or information collected by divers to estimate sea cucumber numbers, said Williamson. But boats stir up the water, making it difficult to see the animals, and divers can collect information over only relatively small areas, resulting in a high degree of uncertainty when their observations were used to extrapolate the population of the entire reef.
So Williamson and her team, which included coral reef geomorphologist Stephanie Duce, remote sensing expert Karen Joyce, and marine ecologist Vincent Raoult, wanted to try a different method. Using images captured by drones, the team surveyed sea cucumbers over tens of thousands of square meters in two different geomorphic zones (the inner and the outer reef flats). Researchers then used satellite imagery to determine the area of each of these geomorphic zones to extrapolate the number of sea cucumbers present on the entire reef. These methods indicated that there were more than 3 million sea cucumbers on the reef flats surrounding Heron Island Reef.
The team also collected dozens of individual sea cucumbers to observe their bioturbation rates—that is, how much each sea cucumber pooped in a given day. On average, each sea cucumber produced about 38 grams of poop in 24 hours. Using this information, along with their estimates of the reef's sea cucumber population, researchers determined that on a single reef, sea cucumbers produced more than 64,000 metric tons of poop per year—more than the weight of five Eiffel Towers.
By measuring how much individual sea cucumbers pooped per day and estimating the number of sea cucumbers on the reef using drones and satellite images, researchers determined how much poop sea cucumbers contributed to the Heron Island Reef. Credit: Associate Professor Jane Williamson et al., 2021, Macquarie University; Dr. Stephanie Duce, James Cook University; Dr. Karen Joyce, James Cook University; and Dr. Vincent Raoult, University of Newcastle. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-021-02057-2
The Importance of Excrement
Scientists think that all of that poop plays an important role in ecosystem health as well as in the biogeochemical cycles of the reef.
"Sea cucumbers can be considered like a long sausage, almost," said Williamson. "Sediment goes in and sediment comes out.… By eating the sediment and then pooping it out again, they're actually aerating the sediment, which makes the sediment a healthier place for other animals to live, like small crabs or polychaetes, which are worms, or small mollusks that live inside the sediment in the surface layer."
Sea cucumbers are also involved in the nitrogen cycles of the reef ecosystem. As sea cucumbers eat and excrete sediment, "they're releasing nitrogen that's trapped in between the sediments," said Williamson. "So this is really important because nitrogen in particular is a limiting nutrient on coral reefs.… The corals need nitrogen, and the algae need nitrogen, everything sort of locks it up really quickly when it's available, so the sea cucumbers are doing them a big favor in terms of the growth rate of these organisms."
Sea cucumbers could even help protect coral reefs against one of the harmful side effects of climate change: ocean acidification. "The oceans are becoming more acidic, which means that the calcium carbonate which makes the skeletons of the corals and things is less available and in some cases is actually dissolving off the corals." In addition to releasing nitrogen, sea cucumbers also increase the availability of calcium carbonate as they eat their way through the sediment, said Williamson. "So for the sea cucumbers to release more calcium carbonate that's been trapped in the sediments into the environment that the corals and other animals can use is super important."
"These little sausages are playing a really key role that people just don't think about," said Williamson.
Steven Purcell, a marine scientist at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia, who was not associated with the study, said that more than 70 countries harvest sea cucumbers. Because these animals are of great ecological value, it's important to keep tabs on their numbers to make sure they're not being overharvested. He noted that drone surveillance techniques like the one used in this paper could also be used to assess populations of other exploited shallow-water reef species, like giant clams.
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
By Michel Penke
More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.
Though made in large part of plastic, glass, ceramics, gold and copper, they also contain critical resources. The gallium used for LEDs and the camera flash, the tantalum in capacitors and indium that powers the display were all pulled from the ground — at a price for nature and people.
"Mining raw materials is always problematic, both with regard to human rights and ecology," said Melanie Müller, raw materials expert of the German think tank SWP. "Their production process is pretty toxic."
The gallium and indium in many phones comes from China or South Korea, the tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Rwanda. All in, such materials comprise less than ten grams of a phone's weight. But these grams finance an international mining industry that causes radioactive earth dumps, poisoned groundwater and Indigenous population displacement.
Environmental Damage: 'Nature Has Been Overexploited'
The problem is that modern technologies don't work without what are known as critical raw materials. Collectively, solar panels, drones, 3D printers and smartphone contain as many as 30 of these different elements sourced from around the globe. A prime example is lithium from Chile, which is essential in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.
"No one, not even within the industry, would deny that mining lithium causes enormous environmental damage," Müller explained, in reference to the artificial lakes companies create when flushing the metal out of underground brine reservoirs. "The process uses vast amounts of water, so you end up with these huge flooded areas where the lithium settles."
This means of extraction results in the destruction and contamination of the natural water system. Unique plants and animals lose access to groundwater and watering holes. There have also been reports of freshwater becoming salinated due to extensive acidic waste water during lithium mining.
But lithium is not the only raw material that causes damage. Securing just one ton of rare earth elements produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste, and has devastated large regions of China, said Günther Hilpert, head of the Asia Research Division of the German think tank SWP.
He says companies there have adopted a process of spraying acid over the mining areas in order to separate the rare earths from other ores, and that mined areas are often abandoned after excavation.
"They are no longer viable for agricultural use," Hilpert said. "Nature has been overexploited."
China is not the only country with low environmental mining standards and poor resource governance. In Madagascar, for example, a thriving illegal gem and metal mining sector has been linked to rainforest depletion and destruction of natural lemur habitats.
States like Madagascar, Rwanda and the DRC score poorly on the Environmental Performance Index that ranks 180 countries for their effort on factors including conservation, air quality, waste management and emissions. Environmentalists are therefore particularly concerned that these countries are mining highly toxic materials like beryllium, tantalum and cobalt.
But it is not only nature that suffers from the extraction of high-demand critical raw materials.
"It is a dirty, toxic, partly radioactive industry," Hilpert said. "China, for example, has never really cared about human rights when it comes to achieving production targets."
Dirty, Toxic, Radioactive: Working in the Mining Sector
One of the most extreme examples is Baotou, a Chinese city in Inner Mongolia, where rare earth mining poisoned surrounding farms and nearby villages, causing thousands of people to leave the area.
In 2012, The Guardian described a toxic lake created in conjunction with rare earth mining as "a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world."
Local residents reported health issues including aching legs, diabetes, osteoporosis and chest problems, The Guardian wrote.
South Africa has also been held up for turning a blind eye to the health impacts of mining.
"The platinum sector in South Africa has been criticized for performing very poorly on human rights — even within the raw materials sector," Müller said.
In 2012, security forces killed 34 miners who had been protesting poor working conditions and low wages at a mine owned by the British company Lonmin. What became known as the "Marikana massacre" triggered several spontaneous strikes across the country's mining sector.
Müller says miners can still face exposure to acid drainage — a frequent byproduct of platinum mining — that can cause chemical burns and severe lung damage. Though this can be prevented by a careful waste system.
Some progress was made in 2016 when the South African government announced plans to make mining companies pay $800 million (€679 million) for recycling acid mine water. But they didn't all comply. In 2020, activists sued Australian-owned mining company Mintails and the government to cover the cost of environmental cleanup.
Another massive issue around mining is water consumption. Since the extraction of critical raw materials is very water intensive, drought prone countries such as South Africa, have witnessed an increase in conflicts over supply.
For years, industry, government and the South African public debated – without a clear agreement – whether companies should get privileged access to water and how much the population may suffer from shortages.
Mining in Brazil: Replacing Nature, People, Land Rights
Beyond the direct health and environmental impact of mining toxic substances, quarrying critical raw materials destroys livelihoods, as developments in Brazil demonstrate.
"Brazil is the major worldwide niobium producer and reserves in [the state of] Minas Gerais would last more than 200 years [at the current rate of demand]," said Juliana Siqueira-Gay, environmental engineer and Ph.D. student at the University of São Paulo.
While the overall number of niobium mining requests is stagnating, the share of claims for Indigenous land has skyrocketed from 3 to 36 percent within one year. If granted, 23 percent of the Amazon forest and the homeland of 222 Indigenous groups could fall victim to deforestation in the name of mining, a study by Siqueira-Gay finds.
In early 2020, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a bill which would allow corporations to develop areas populated by Indigenous communities in the future. The law has not yet entered into force, but "this policy could have long-lasting negative effects on Brazil's socio-biodiversity," said Siqueira-Gay.
One example are the niobium reserves in Seis Lagos, in Brazil's northeast, which could be quarried to build electrolytic capacitors for smartphones.
"They overlap the Balaio Indigenous land and it would cause major impacts in Indigenous communities by clearing forests responsible for providing food, raw materials and regulating the local climate," Siqueira-Gay explained.
She says scientific good practice guidelines offer a blueprint for sustainable mining that adheres to human rights and protects forests. Quarries in South America — and especially Brazil — funded by multilaterial banks like the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group have to follow these guidelines, Siqueira-Gay said.
They force companies to develop sustainable water supply, minimize acid exposure and re-vegetate mined surfaces. "First, negative impacts must be avoided, then minimized and at last compensated — not the other way around."
Reposted with permission from DW.
A Ph.D. student at Nara Women's University in Japan was spending an ordinary day in the lab when she noticed something unusual.
Scientist Yoichi Yusa's lab raises sea slugs from eggs to study their traits and behaviors. One day, one of the sea slugs under study detached its head from its body, but the head continued to move.
"I thought the poor slug would die soon," the student, Sayaka Mitoh, told Live Science.
But that's not what happened. Instead, the severed head continued to move, according to a Cell Press article published by ScienceDaily. After a few days, the wound at the back of its head had healed. After a week, the heart had reformed. After three weeks, the slug had a whole new body.
"I was really happy and relieved when I found it could regenerate the body," Mitoh told Live Science.
Sacoglossan sea slugs don't mind losing their heads. Not only can the sea slugs elect to detach their heads and sur… https://t.co/SrkT9j6ogc— Cell Press (@Cell Press)1615219217.0
The slug Mitoh first observed was a species of sacoglossan sea slug called Elysia cf. marginata. She later discovered that Elysia atroviridis, another species of sacoglossan sea slug, was also capable of the feat, CNN reported. Mitoh and Yusa wrote up their findings for Current Biology on Monday.
The slug's feat was an example of autotomy, the process by which an animal voluntarily jettisons a body part and then regenerates it. This has been observed in arthropods, gastropods, asteroids, amphibians and lizards, but it usually involves a limb or a tail.
"We believe that this is the most extreme form of [autotomy] and regeneration in nature," Mitoh told Live Science.
Mitoh and Yusa observed self-decapitations and body regenerations in five out of 15 young Elysia cf. marginata slugs, CNN reported. The heads would begin to feed again within hours of self-removal. They also observed decapitations in 3 of 82 Elysia atroviridis slugs, and two of these regenerated their bodies within a week.
However, when older Elysia cf. marginata slugs removed their heads, the severed heads did not begin to feed and died within ten days. The discarded bodies of the slugs never regenerated heads, but did continue to move for days to months, Cell Press reported. One slug was able to complete the cycle twice.
The researchers do not know why the slugs do this. One possibility is that they are trying to remove internal parasites attacking their bodies, Live Science reported. Another possibility is that they do it to escape predators, and something in the lab made them feel threatened.
The how of the operation is also mysterious. Researchers suspect they have stem cells at the end of their necks that make it possible to regenerate their bodies, according to Cell Press. These slugs also have a unique ability known as kleptoplasty: They can absorb chloroplasts from the algae they feed on and use this to power themselves with photosynthesis. The researchers suspect this helps give them the energy to remove their heads and regrow their bodies. However, they hope to research the slugs, and their unusual ability, further.
"We want to study whether other species of sacoglossans have this ability to study the evolutionary pattern and process of such extreme autotomy and regeneration," Mitoh told CNN.