The Great Barrier Reef, a natural wonder that once teemed with life, just experienced a major coral bleaching event, according to scientists who conducted aerial surveys over hundreds of individual reefs, as The Guardian reported.
According to NBC News, the entire Great Barrier Reef is suffering a period of unprecedented heat stress. This bleaching event is the third one in five years and questions remain about the corals' ability to recover from the constant onslaught from changing marine conditions.
"This has never happened before," Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program in College Park, Maryland, said as the NBC News reported. "We're in completely uncharted territory."
Bleachings don't necessarily kill the corals, but it does leave them extremely vulnerable to disease from bacteria or viruses. Bleaching, which occurs in response to abnormal conditions like heat or increased acidity in the water, forces the corals to release the tiny photosynthetic algae that live in their tissue and are responsible for their color, according to NBC News.
The previous two heat stress related bleaching events were in 2016 and 2017. Scientists say the frequency of the heat-induced bleaching is a direct result of the climate crisis, which spells trouble for the vitality of the reef since the corals do not have enough time to recover and to grow back, according to NBC News.
The scientists conducting the aerial surveys are from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.
Terry Hughes, who runs the center, told The Guardian, that after three days of the planned nine-day survey, "We know this is a mass bleaching event and it's a severe one. We know enough now that [the bleaching] is more severe than in 1998 and 2002. How it sits with 2016 and 2017 we are not sure yet."
Global warming is an enormous threat to the future of coral reefs around the world. As The Guardian reported, The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded from published evidence that a majority of tropical coral reefs would disappear even if heating was limited to the Paris agreement's target of 1.5 degrees Celsius and would be "at very high risk" at 1.2 degrees Celsius.
Hughes told NBC News there have been only five recorded Great Barrier Reef bleaching events. The first was in 1998, followed by 2002, then in 2016, 2017 and this year, setting up a disturbing pattern.
"The gap between one event and the next is shrinking, not just for the Great Barrier Reef, but forreefs throughout the tropics," Hughes said to NBC News. "That's important, because it takes a decade or so for a half-decent recovery of even the fastest-growing corals. The slowest ones take several decades."
While past bleaching events, like the ones in 2002 and 2016, were driven by El Niño weather events, this one happened just because the Australian summer was too hot.
"We no longer need an El Niño to trigger a bleaching event — we just need a hot summer," Eakin said to NBC News. "And the summers are getting hotter and hotter because of global warming. That is astounding in itself."
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Spain is facing intense backlash after local officials sprayed bleach across 1.2 miles of beach near the town of Zahara de los Atunes on its southern coast, near Cádiz.
Local officials and the business association in the picturesque fishing village used tractors to spray a bleach solution onto beaches a day before Spain allowed children out of coronavirus lockdown for the first time since early March, the BBC reported.
The move devastated the local ecosystem, causing "brutal damage," reported BBC.
"It's totally absurd," said María Dolores Iglesias Benítez. "The beach is a living ecosystem. And when you spray it down with bleach, you're killing everything you come across," reported The Guardian.
Iglesias Benítez heads the local association Trafalgar that protects the beaches and nearby dunes, which serve as breeding and nesting grounds for the Kentish plover as well as several other species of migratory birds, The Guardian said.
With no humans on the beach for the past six weeks, she had hoped the number of nests would double this year, The Guardian said. Instead, she's dealing with an "environmental crime" that has left everything on the ground dead, even the insects, reported BBC.
"Bleach is used as a very powerful disinfectant, it is logical that it be used to disinfect streets and asphalt, but here the damage has been brutal," the environmentalist said, reported The Guardian.
Questioning the decision behind the move, she added, "They have devastated the dune spaces and gone against all the rules," The Guardian reported. "The virus lives in people, not on the beach. It is crazy."
According to the regional Andalusian Government, the initiative did not have the requisite environmental and sanitary authorizations. The regional body will investigate and they have already voiced their criticism, demanding "a bit of good sense," reported Spanish media elPeriódico.
"They do not think that this is a living ecosystem, but a lot of land," Iglesias Benítez told elPeriódico. "The beach regenerates and cleans itself, it was not necessary."
Trafalgar is considering going to court because they found at least one plover nest with eggs among the tractor tracks, reported elPeriódico. The plover is currently in full breeding season.
The public outcry against the fumigation caught the attention of many groups, including Greenpeace Spain.
Greenpeace reproached the decision on Twitter, comparing it to U.S. President Donald Trump's suggestion to use bleach injections to stop coronavirus in humans. Greenpeace said, "Fumigating beaches in the middle of the breeding season for birds or the development of the invertebrate network that will support coastal fishing and destroy the tourist value of the coastline is not one of Trump's ideas. It is happening in Zahara de los Atunes," reported elPeriódico.
Fumigar con lejía playas en plena época de cría de aves o de desarrollo de la red de invertebrados que sustentarán… https://t.co/y1Qb5jdpiW— Greenpeace España (@Greenpeace España)1588007402.0
One local official has admitted that it was a "wrong move," reported elPeriódico.
"I recognize it was an error," said Agustín Conejo, president of the neighborhood board, to elPeriódico. "But it was done with the best of intentions" of protecting minors who might walk along the sea, he added.
Local ecologists are not fully convinced because of the long distance between the sprayed areas and where minors can access, reported elPeriódico. They think a local hotelier is trying to guarantee that the area is free of COVID-19 for upcoming lucrative summer tourist season.
With over 23,800 deaths, Spain has been badly affected by coronavirus. It recently announced a four-phase plan to lift its stringent lockdown measures and return to a "new normality" by the end of June, reported BBC.
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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
By Shawna Foo
Anyone who's tending a garden right now knows what extreme heat can do to plants. Heat is also a concern for an important form of underwater gardening: growing corals and "outplanting," or transplanting them to restore damaged reefs.
The goal of outplanting is to aid coral reefs' natural recovery process by growing new corals and moving them to the damaged areas. It's the same idea as replanting forests that have been heavily logged, or depleted farm fields that once were prairie grasslands.
I have studied how global stressors such as ocean warming and acidification affect marine invertebrates for more than a decade. In a recently published study, I worked with Gregory Asner to analyze the impacts of temperature on coral reef restoration projects. Our results showed that climate change has raised sea surface temperatures close to a point that will make it very hard for outplanted corals to survive.
Coral reefs support over 25% of marine life by providing food, shelter and a place for fish and other organisms to reproduce and raise young. Today, ocean warming driven by climate change is stressing reefs worldwide.
Rising ocean temperatures cause bleaching events – episodes in which corals expel the algae that live inside them and provide the corals with most of their food, as well as their vibrant colors. When corals lose their algae, they become less resistant to stressors such as disease and eventually may die.
Hundreds of organizations worldwide are working to restore damaged coral reefs by growing thousands of small coral fragments in nurseries, which may be onshore in laboratories or in the ocean near degraded reefs. Then scuba divers physically plant them at restoration sites.
Outplanting coral is expensive: According to one recent study, the median cost is about US$160,000 per acre, or $400,000 per hectare. It also is time-consuming, with scuba divers placing each outplanted coral by hand. So it's important to maximize coral survival by choosing the best locations.
We used data from the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration's Coral Reef Watch program, which collects daily satellite-derived measurements of sea surface temperature. We paired this information with survival rates from hundreds of coral outplanting projects worldwide.
We found that coral survival was likely to drop below 50% if the maximum temperature experienced at the restoration site exceeded 86.9 degrees Fahrenheit (30.5 degrees Celsius). This temperature threshold mirrors the tolerance of natural coral reefs.
Globally, coral reefs experience an annual maximum temperature today of 84.9˚F (29.4˚C). This means they already are living close to their upper thermal limit.
When reefs experience temperatures only a few degrees above long-term averages for a few weeks, the stress can cause coral bleaching and mortality. Increases of just a few degrees above normal caused three mass bleaching events since 2016 that have devastated Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Sea surface temperatures on Aug. 3, 2020, measured from satellites. Warning = possible bleaching; Alert Level 1 = significant bleaching likely; Alert Level 2 = severe bleaching and significant mortality likely. NOAA Coral Reef Watch
Climate scientists project that the oceans will warm up to 3˚C by the year 2100. Scientists are working to create coral outplants that can better survive increases in temperature, which could help to increase restoration success in the future.
When coral restoration experts choose where to outplant, they typically consider what's on the seafloor, algae that could smother coral, predators that eat coral and the presence of fish. Our study shows that using temperature data and other information collected remotely from airplanes and satellites could help to optimize this process. Remote sensing, which scientists have used to study coral reefs for almost 40 years, can provide information on much larger scales than water surveys.
Coral reefs face an uncertain future and may not recover naturally from human-caused climate change. Conserving them will require reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting key habitats and actively restoring reefs. I hope that our research on temperature will help increase coral outplant survival and restoration success.
Shawna Foo is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Arizona State University.
Disclosure statement: Shawna Foo receives funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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What Is Biodiversity?
Polar bears, honeybees, mango trees and coral reefs are all examples of the countless animal and insect species, plant life and ecosystems that comprise the planet's vast biodiversity. Every living organism has a role to play in an intricate web of connectedness, no matter the size, and without them, there would be no life on Earth. Removing just one from the chain can send significant ripple effects throughout the system, even if those effects aren't immediately felt. More crucially, every species lost increases the extinction risk to another connected species.
While biodiversity exists wherever there is life, there are some places on Earth that are considered biodiversity hotspots — specific areas that are teeming with native species that can't be found anywhere else in the world, from koalas in Australia to giant pandas in China. There are currently 36 areas that qualify as hotspots, but consider this: While that number comprises only 2.4 percent of the planet, those regions contain almost 43 percent of endemic species. But these hotspots are increasingly threatened by human activity and climate change.
Not only that, but a United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Report warned that about a million species currently face extinction, and for some it's just a matter of decades. As it stands, a 2018 World Wildlife Fund report shared that the world's vertebrate populations declined an average 60 percent in each category (mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians) since 1970.
Why Is Biodiversity Important to Ecosystems?
Mangrove roots in Mochima, Venezuela. Humberto Ramirez / Moment / Getty Images
Think of biodiversity as acting behind the scenes of day-to-day life. It's nature's way of providing clean air and water, food, resources (medicine, wood) and even climate protection. Yet consider that only 20 percent of Earth's species — at most — have been identified by science. Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus began the daunting task in the 1700s, and since that time scientists have estimated that about 8.7 million unknown species exist, although only about 1.2 million species have been identified. Of that number, who knows how many critical ecosystem players have already gone extinct, or are critically endangered, before their role is even clear?
How Do Insects and Animals Impact Us?
It's impossible to discuss this without covering the sixth mass extinction. As the name indicates, there have already been five mass extinction events throughout history, with the last one wiping out the dinosaurs 67 million years ago following an asteroid strike. After each of the prior mass extinctions, which were mainly caused by environmental factors that eliminated as much as 95 percent of existing species, scientists estimated that it took millions more years before biodiversity regained pre-mass extinction numbers.
The difference today is that the current ongoing extinction threat could have been avoided since it's a human-led catastrophe. A recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that more than 237,000 populations of 515 species have likely gone extinct since 1900, with many more not far behind; or, 100 times faster in the past 100 years compared to the more normal range of up to 10,000 years for some species. So what does that really mean?
Without the proper number of species performing their daily tasks, the everyday aspects of life that we take for granted, including oxygen and a plentiful food supply, will worsen. For example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed seven honeybee species as critically endangered. If all of the world's bees were to disappear, there would be few insects left to pollinate certain plants, ultimately affecting global food supply chains and the economy. A recent study found that bees and other insect pollinators contributed 34 billion to the U.S economy in 2012 alone.
While the worst-case scenario has yet to happen regarding bees, the world is still dealing with the very likely connection between biodiversity loss and infectious diseases. Though still unproven, scientists are getting closer to linking habitat loss and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Less land increases the likelihood of diseases spreading from animal species, such as bats, to humans. Until habitat loss is properly addressed, experts warn that pandemics will only increase in severity and frequency.
Then there are the financial costs, which are twofold. A UN report found that governments around the world allocated between $78-91 billion a year on biodiversity goals, when in fact hundreds of billions of dollars a year are needed, the report estimated. Without spending more to tackle the issues, biodiversity loss will wind up costing the world up to $140 trillion a year.
Which Species Are Most At Risk?
A Toucan feeds on fruit offered on Aug. 24 2020 at an inn at km 110 of the Transpantaneira highway whose fire consumed everything around along with the wildfires that has already burned more than 16.500 sq. km of the Brazilian Pantanal. Gustavo Basso / NurPhoto / Getty Images
The IUCN Red List identifies which species are most at risk for extinction, including their numbers, direct threats and conservation efforts. The Red List estimates that more than 37,000 known species currently face extinction, including, but not limited to, 41 percent of amphibians, 36 percent of sharks, 33 percent of coral reefs, 26 percent of mammals and 14 percent of birds. The IUCN has categorized species into Not Evaluated, Data Deficient, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct. Among the most critically endangered are Amur leopards, vaquita porpoises, Sumatran rhinos and Cross River gorillas. In some cases, such as the vaquita porpoise, researchers believe less than a dozen exist in the wild.
Many other species, including those in the food chain such as Chilean sea bass and Atlantic bluefin tuna, are being pushed toward extinction thanks to popular consumer demand, which leads to overfishing.
Then there are the species that the world has permanently lost in the last 100 years, from the Tasmanian tiger, which was hunted to extinction (mainly for museum display purposes) to the Pinta giant tortoise, a Galápagos native that was hunted to extinction by the fishing industry. The last known survivor, Lonesome George, passed away in captivity in 2012. In more recent years, the media has been following the world's last two remaining northern white rhinos. Both female, their kind is headed toward extinction, but scientists are attempting IVF using white rhino surrogates in the wild.
Yet the question remains, why are so many species going extinct or are threatened with extinction compared to previous centuries? As with most complex issues, there's no one explanation. Rather, a combination of population growth/overconsumption, the wildlife trade, pesticides, pollution, hunting, deforestation, wildfires, invasive species, big ag and climate change are among the larger culprits.
This category poses the largest threat to global biodiversity as rainforests to plains are cleared to make way for agriculture, housing and everything else that comes with modern-day living. Rainforests around the world especially suffered in 2020, having lost 12 percent of tree cover due in part to wildfires. Many of these wildfires in turn are caused by deforestation, with Brazil leading the way under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to raze this resource for more profitable industries involving cattle and soy. As a result, Brazil's deforestation loss hit a 12-year high in 2020 according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). This biodiverse hotspot is now at risk of losing endangered species such as the Amazonian jaguar, hyacinth macaw, pink dolphins and spider monkeys. Other major habitat loss threats throughout the Amazon come from gold mining and logging. Unfortunately, this scale of destruction isn't limited to the Amazon, with habitat loss taking a toll on species everywhere from Nepal and Borneo to China and Africa.
Ironically, the industry responsible for providing the world's food supply is also a major contributor. Industrial agriculture is a main culprit behind habitat loss as increasing amounts of land are converted to feed growing populations. Compounding this is an overreliance on a small number of crops and animals to meet global food supply needs, placing some of these species at risk for extinction.
About 600 million people populated the planet in 1700 compared to 7.7 billion in 2019. Future projections put that number even higher, reaching 10.9 billion by 2021. This massive population boom has taxed Earth's finite resources. While a Population Action International study has concluded that this boom is an indirect cause of biodiversity loss, it's nonetheless a habitat loss driver as more land is needed every year for food and other resources, along with urban and industrial development.
With increased land clearing and development comes increased pollution on a range of levels. This takes a toll on ecosystems in a myriad of ways: For example, chemical-laden water causes toxic algae blooms; rapidly changing climates make it difficult for many species to adapt; rising ocean temperatures bleach and kill coral reefs; oil spills kill fish, birds and other wildlife; and plastic pollution strangles or slowly kills wildlife that ingest it. Throw in noise pollution, light pollution, acid rain and pesticides, and it's no wonder that many species are experiencing population declines due to decreased breeding and numbers.
Speaking of pesticides, these chemicals are most notably destroying bee populations. While they're not the only reason, pesticides are a direct link. The Center for Food Safety found that some beekeepers have been reporting a complete loss of their colonies in recent years; at the same time, studies are showing a link between declining bee populations and pesticides: neonicotinoids in particular. Not only are these the most common insecticide, but neonicotinoids saturate an entire plant, not just the surface, proving especially toxic to bees. To put this in greater perspective, the United Nations Environment Programme has determined that 71 out of 100 crops are pollinated by bees, and these 100 crop varieties supply 90 percent of the global food supply.
This category is another contributor to bee loss, but invasive species are increasingly threatening all manner of plant and animal life. Invasive species are non-native plants or animals that have been introduced, either intentionally or by accident, and inflict ecological damage to their new environments as they compete for resources and disrupt an established ecosystem. In fact, invasive species rank just behind habitat loss when it comes to biodiversity threats. A 2019 study revealed that out of 953 extinctions since 1500, more than 400 were attributed to invasive species. For example, simply introducing cats to New Zealand in 1769 led to the downfall of the Stephens Island wren by 1900. In more recent times, Florida has banned 16 invasive species, including popular pet iguanas, as a way to reduce ecological and economic damages.
While some invasive species have been inadvertently introduced throughout the centuries, the billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade is another driver — both for introducing invasive species and biodiversity loss. A 2019 study predicted that the wildlife trade threatens almost 9,000 land species with extinction; this trade is the largest illegal market after drugs and weapons, with pangolin scales and elephant tusks among the market's most popular commodities.
Though not as large of a market, many plant-loving consumers are likely unaware that their latest acquisition could have been sourced via the illegal plant trade.
Poaching (illegal hunting) fuels the wildlife trade, but legal hunting is also detrimental to species' survival. During the Trump administration, many hunting regulations were scaled back, such as allowing hunters to shoot and kill bears and wolves in a wildlife refuge, along with their offspring, in their dens. Yet hunting easements aren't limited to administrations. Idaho recently passed a bill giving hunters the greenlight to kill 90 percent of the state's gray wolf population, which would reduce the overall number from around 1,500 to just 150. The endangered threshold is 100.
Overfishing falls into this category as well. Illegal fishing is a common practice, marine sanctuaries have opened up to commercial fishing and large numbers of marine life are getting caught up in fishing nets as unintended bycatch. Consumer demand has caused species such as beluga sturgeon, Atlantic halibut and bluefin tuna to land on the endangered list.
Certainly not least, this vast area encompasses enough issues for a separate discussion. In a nutshell, ever-increasing greenhouse gases are exacerbating the gamut of climate-induced events: rising seas, droughts, floods, wildfires, etc., all of which threaten plant and animal species just as much as they threaten human life.
What's Being Done About It?
M/V Farley Mowat crew member Tomas, pilots a boat at the port of San Felipe, in the Gulf of California, northwestern Mexico, in 2018, as part of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's operation "Milagro IV" to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. GUILLERMO ARIAS / AFP / Getty Images
Despite the many extinction threats facing species, global and local entities are working to address the problem.
The Convention on Biological Diversity formed in 1993 to protect biodiversity, and includes 196 participating nations. In 2010, the group set 20 biodiversity goals to meet by 2020. Unfortunately none of those goals have been met, although six targets were partially achieved, such as conserving protected areas and preventing invasive species. A recent UN report determined that it's not too late for global leaders to take action, but that countries need to focus on sustainability in general, from food systems and oceans to land and infrastructure. The next opportunity for countries to address biodiversity issues will occur in October 2021 in China, when the UN Biodiversity Conference convenes to troubleshoot biodiversity loss.
U.S. President Joe Biden formally announced a conservation plan in 2021 to protect 30 percent of the country's land and water by 2030. Additionally, under Biden the U.S. has rejoined the Paris Agreement, ended permitting for the Keystone XL pipeline and halted oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Other recent biodiversity wins include Biden's plan to restore migratory bird protections, however, protecting gray wolves and monarch butterflies is still under review.
There are numerous wildlife groups devoted to conserving biodiversity; some of the major players include the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, The Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and the Jane Goodall Institute. Meanwhile, conservation tourism remains a growing area, despite experiencing COVID-19 pandemic setbacks. For example, the African Wildlife Foundation has partnered with the Rwandan government to protect endangered mountain gorillas, resulting in a booming tourism industry. Elsewhere in Africa, wildlife safaris and game drives remain a critical way to bolster local economies while protecting species that are favored by poachers, such as rhinos and elephants. By no means limited to Africa, conservation tourism is helping to boost and/or protect the numbers of giant pandas in China, Bengal tigers in India, polar bears in Canada and giant tortoises in the Galapagos.
Zoos and animal facilities around the world have been participating in captive breeding programs since the 1960s, which are meant to increase populations of endangered species. While some programs breed animals that will remain in captivity, particularly zoos, others breed with the intention of introducing endangered species back into the wild. Not all attempts have been successful, but there are positive stories. Take the black-footed ferret, a North American species that was declared extinct in 1979. A captivity breeding program launched after 18 were found a couple years later; today, it's estimated that 301 survive in captivity and another 340 live in the wild. The ferrets are also notable for the fact that they're the first endangered species in the U.S. to be cloned, raising new hope for not just the ferrets, but other endangered species as well — even those that are extinct, such as the passenger pigeon.
While there's overlap with general wildlife conservation groups, an equal number of conservation organizations are dedicated to protecting marine life: Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and The Cousteau Society are among those making a difference by addressing pressing issues that involve, but aren't limited to, overfishing, coral reef bleaching, plastic pollution, commercial whaling and ocean acidification.
What Can We Do?
Greenpeace activists create a burnt smoldering rain-forest with a lifelike animatronic orangutan at the headquarters of Oreo cookies, in protest over their use of palm oil on November 19, 2018 in Uxbridge, England. Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty Images
Luckily, there are ways to make an impact on a smaller scale, and the more people that partake in these efforts, the greater the overall effect will be.
Support Sustainable Products and Food
Where possible, choose sustainably made goods, whether that's organic coffee from producers who eschew pesticides or furniture made from FSC-certified wood. (This designation certifies that the wood was sourced from well-managed forests.) Supporting local, organic farmers is another way to make a difference, along with understanding which types of seafood are more sustainable and being aware of eco-certification labels and what they really mean.
Avoid Palm Oil Products
Palm oil plantations have devastated large swaths of land across Asia, Latin America and Africa, although the majority of this popular vegetable oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. Mass production comes at the expense of endangered species facing habitat loss: the Sumatran elephant, orangutan, rhino and tiger are now among the critically endangered as plantation land expansion continues unchecked. Consumers can fight back by avoiding products made with palm oil; however, this can prove difficult since the ingredient is prevalent in everything from makeup products and laundry detergent to chocolate and soap. Read labels closely, since many items disguise palm oil under other names, or use other names for palm oil derivatives. Vegetable oil, palmate and sodium lauryl sulfate are all clues that a product contains palm oil.
Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Another way to avoid palm oil is by switching to a plant-based diet. But this diet has much larger environmental benefits for biodiversity as it requires far less land usage and reduces reliance on a small number of animal species as a global food source. The world is currently using 80 percent of its agricultural land to raise livestock; consider how much biodiversity could be saved and preserved otherwise.
Become a Citizen Scientist
It's not uncommon for environmental organizations to seek help from average citizens to participate in all manner of projects. Whether it's keeping track of cicadas, searching for penguin eggs or identifying coral reef damage, there are programs around the world that welcome assistance. Even better, it's entirely possible to find projects that can be performed in your own backyard.
The world has reached a critical make-or-break point for preserving a million species at risk for extinction, some within the next few decades. The issue may seem overwhelming, much like climate change, but it's not hopeless. As with anything related to the environment, getting involved at a local level, learning about the current issues and becoming a conscious consumer are good starting points for fighting back against biodiversity loss.
Meredith Rosenberg is a senior editor at EcoWatch. She holds a Master's from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NYC and a B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia.
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Coral Reef Outplants: Sea Temperature an Often Overlooked but Vital Factor in Success, Scientists Find
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
Coral reefs are often called the "rainforests of the sea" because they harbor some of the highest levels of biodiversity of any ecosystem in the world. But as sea temperatures rise, coral reef systems are suffering mass bleaching events, leading to widespread mortality. One way to try and restore coral reef systems is coral reef gardening or "outplanting," a method of growing coral fragments in a nursery and transferring them to ailing reef systems. But like naturally grown coral, it's hard to keep outplants alive, especially with climate change steadily raising global sea temperatures.
A coral nursery loaded with detached corals in Hawai'i off the coast of O'ahu. NOAA Fisheries
A new study, published this month in Environmental Research Letters, shows that coral reef outplant survival dropped below 50% when temperatures rose above 30.5° Celsius (86.9° Fahrenheit).
"In normal coral reefs, an increase of one degree [Celsius, or 1.9°F] can cause bleaching and death," Shawna Foo, lead author and postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University's Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science (GDCS), told Mongabay. "But it was not actually known what temperatures were important for coral outplants to survive, maybe because they've been grown in different conditions, or maybe [it was thought that] they could be less resilient to temperature or more resilient to temperature."
Foo and her co-author, Greg Asner, director of GDCS, analyzed hundreds of coral outplanting projects that took place around the world between 1987 and 2018 to collect data on coral survival rates and outplant locations and dates. They also gathered data on global sea surface temperature, obtained from NOAA's Coral Reef Watch program. What they eventually found was that coral outplants reacted to temperature the same way as natural coral reefs.
A Staghorn coral nursery in Puerto Rico. NOAA
Growing coral is an extremely labor-intensive activity that can cost up to $400,000 per hectare. Sites for coral reef outplanting tend to be chosen based on water clarity, a suitable seafloor environment, and the presence of an existing coral reef. But temperature isn't always considered, Foo said. While many factors can lead to the demise of coral outplants, including algae outbreaks and unfavorable water chemistry, temperature plays a key role in outplant health and survival, according to the study.
Another key finding is that outplant survival increased at sites with more temperature variability, rather than at sites that remained at a constant temperature night and day.
"We find that corals that are in these more variable conditions actually have higher survival, and this is probably because exposure to variability is increasing the resilience to temperature change, and … being exposed to low temperatures means they actually have a little bit of reprieve as well," Foo said.
Scientists maintaining corals growing in a coral reef nursery. NOAA
Foo says she hopes this study will help coral outplant practitioners choose the best sites for coral gardens to boost survival. Temperature is becoming an increasingly important consideration, especially as ocean warming is expected to accelerate more than four-fold over the next 60 years.
"Although sobering for reef conservationists and managers, our findings provide a critical compass as to where reef restoration efforts can have their greatest impact in the future," Asner said in a statement. "Reef restoration is just now turning from a cottage industry to a global enterprise, and this needs to happen in concert with the changing global geography of ocean temperature."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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Professor Terry Hughes, director of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, spent nine days in a plane surveying 1,036 reefs from the air, The Guardian reported. He found that 25 percent of the overall reef was severely bleached. What's more, he observed bleaching in the north, center and south of the reef for the first time.
"It's the first time we've seen severely bleached reefs along the whole length of the reef, in particular, the coastal reefs," Hughes told The New York Times.
#GreatBarrierReef research: First the north, then the middle, now widespread #coral bleaching including in the sout… https://t.co/7O3D47sbrv— Terry Hughes (@Terry Hughes)1586207744.0
The Great Barrier Reef has suffered six mass bleaching events due to warmer than normal ocean temperatures: in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2016, 2017 and now 2020. While the 1998 and 2016 bleachings occurred during El Niño events, a natural climate variation that brings warmer than average ocean temperatures to the region, the 2002 and 2017 events did not, The Washington Post pointed out. Neither did this year's, but it is the second most intense after 2016's. This suggests warmer temperatures caused by the climate crisis are ultimately driving these events.
"It's now clear that we can have major bleaching events caused by global climate change alone with no tropical forcing," Mark Eakin, coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program, told The Washington Post.
Coral bleaching occurs when heat stress causes corals to expel the algae that live within them, providing them both with food and their bright colors. When the algae leave, the corals lose those colors. If the algae stay away for too long, the corals can die.
2016 and 2017's bleachings together killed around half of the corals in the reef. But Hughes told Australia's ABC News that he didn't know how deadly this year's bleaching would be. He told The Guardian that the north and central portions of the reef would probably see less death because the less heat-resistant corals had already died off in 2016 and 2017.
But the south, which remained relatively untouched in previous years, was a different story.
"They hadn't bleached before, which means there are more corals and more of the corals that are particularly susceptible to heat stress," he told ABC News.
I'm not sure I have the fortitude to do this again. It's heartbreaking to see the #GreatBarrierReef decline so fast. https://t.co/LHgP5cIAQW— Terry Hughes (@Terry Hughes)1586230512.0
This means the makeup of the reef is changing, but some of the losing corals include branching corals, which provide important habitat for many fish.
"Branching corals make all of the nooks and crannies that the rest of the biodiversity — the fish and so on — depend on," he told ABC News. "So having fewer and fewer corals is having a much broader effect, not just on the corals themselves, but in the broader ecosystem."
Hughes told The Guardian that only urgent climate action could save the reef.
"It's not too late to turn this around with rapid action on emissions," he said. "But business-as-usual emissions will make the Great Barrier Reef a pretty miserable place compared to today."
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By Kelly Heber Dunning
As summer approaches, reports of the return of leisure travel are beginning to emerge following the unprecedented shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the world's most popular tourism destinations have begun to plan an eventual reopening, exploring what their "new normal" will look like.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused most of these sites to fall silent, including one of the world's busiest cruise-ship ports: the docks on Grand Cayman Island. In April 2020, the global pandemic shut down the island's port, which normally saw the arrival of dozens of cruise ships and thousands of tourists every month. The Cayman Islands was the only Caribbean nation to voluntarily halt its cruise economy, prioritizing the safety of its residents. Local businesses, hurt by the loss of tourism dollars, have already started going under; iconic local spots that make up much of the community's social fabric, for tourists and locals alike, are being lost.
A cruise ship visits Grand Cayman in 2019. David Reber / CC BY-SA 2.0
Soon, though, the ban on cruise ships will undoubtedly lift, and tourism will slowly return. And when that happens, the residents of Grand Cayman and nearby islands may find themselves worrying about another major threat posed by these cruise companies, one that runs the risk of being drowned out by the disruption caused by the pandemic.
In 2019 the Cayman Islands government announced a plan to move forward on a massive new port project in George Town Harbor, supported by two major cruise-ship operators. Without this project, cruise ships visiting the island must anchor offshore and shuttle passengers back and forth with smaller vessels — an important aspect of the local economy with historic roots in the coastal community.
The new project, estimated to cost $200 million, would allow cruise ships to come all the way to shore by building deep new docks capable of accommodating four cruise ships at a time, each of which could bring thousands of additional visitors to the island, according to the cruise companies and government supporters.
But getting to this point would require dredging 22 acres of George Town Harbor's seabed, destroying 10 to 15 acres of fragile coral reefs in the process.
If that happens, another vital part of the fabric of Grand Cayman life would be lost.
Coral vs. Corporate Influence
Given its role in the global financial industry, the Cayman Islands may seem like the last place in the world where rule of law and good governance would be a problem. Yet even here, the ever-growing power of multinational corporations to transform environmental policy is starting to be felt.
It didn't used to be this way.
As I wrote in my recent scientific study on the Cayman Islands, their effective marine park system has stood out as a model for coral-reef management since it was put in place in the 1980s. This area is known for its vibrant coral reefs, well-protected through the ever-expanding network of marine parks. The Cayman Islands have strict constitutional provisions and laws for protecting coral reefs, as well as international environmental policy commitments. Caymanian history and culture are also closely tied to the reefs. The first dive tourism spots in the Caribbean blossomed from Bob Soto's little backwater dive shop on "Cheeseburger Reef" into today's multimillion-dollar dive tourism trade.
Despite the history and good governance, the cruise industry — notably Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines — had, prior to the pandemic, announced plans to move ahead with their plans to build the new docking facility on George Town Harbor.
Fragile Reefs, Questionable Science, Vague Promises
Those docks would devastate the local ecology. A 2015 environmental impact assessment estimated that the project would not just destroy 15 acres of reef but also negatively affect another 15 to 20 acres of adjacent habitat and pose risks to the 26 coral species in the harbor — two of which are critically endangered.
Coral disease and bleaching from elevated surface temperatures have already put the Cayman Islands' coral reefs on the ropes; this could be the knockout punch.
R9 Studios / CC BY 2.0
The cruise companies pushing the infrastructure project have argued that there's a way to mitigate this damage, but their proposed solution doesn't hold much water.
They worked with the government on a plan that would pay an engineering company and a Florida-based NGO to relocate every coral lost or replant lab-grown corals in place of the ones they can't relocate. By my estimation, the partners would need to replant and grow more than 3 million corals to make up for this destruction — triple the stated replanting goal.
The government's replacement goal is based on the absurd notion that a reef is simply an independent collection of corals humans can easily re-create — a bold assumption, and one yet to be supported at the proposed scale.
The reality is that reefs are slow-growing, highly complex assemblies of living and non-living things that take centuries to develop. This promised "replanting" technology is scientifically unproven at best and greenwashing at worst — meant to soothe the conscience of those troubled by the grave choice to destroy a beloved coral reef with deep meaning to its community.
The government has promised vague jobs and economic benefits if the project is built. And the CEO of Royal Caribbean, Michael Bailey, promises no taxpayer money will be used to pay for the dock.
This is not true. The Caymanian government will hand over $2.32 in tourism taxes per passenger to the cruise lines that it would otherwise collect for the citizens of Cayman. Caymanians are, therefore, paying for this infrastructure, despite mounting environmental problems on the island including a trash pile so large that locals call it "Mount Trashmore."
Votes and Courts
There is some hope in this case, thanks to Caymanian community organizing.
Two years ago, Caymanian citizens successfully organized and secured a referendum through a robust people's movement. Community groups like Cruise Port Referendum Cayman (CPR Cayman) implemented an aggressive ground campaign with no outside financial backing, organized only by volunteers. They focused on educating the public on the risks and uncertainties underpinning this project. Their efforts triggered a public referendum, originally scheduled for Christmas 2019, the first in Caymanian history.
The status of the referendum is currently being worked out in the courts, and it's important that we pay attention. Currently, prominent members of CPR Cayman are acting as watchdogs to ensure the referendum, if it is ultimately held, will take place in a fair and impartial way. Before the court challenge, activists protested the original referendum, which was intentionally scheduled at the holidays, a time when many are simply not on the island — an incredibly cynical move, since under the Cayman constitution a missing vote counts as a de facto "yes" for the port.
Despite community opposition, cruise corporation leaders are actively speaking out in support of this project's resumption, with Michael Bayley, the CEO of Royal Caribbean, saying that they will make a decision to resurrect the pier project in the coming months.
That's why it's so important that we follow this ongoing case — CPR Cayman makes regular updates to their Facebook page — as local community activists continue to contest the project in court. Should our "New Normal" following the COVID-19 pandemic allow companies to break environmental laws for private gain?
Why do these reefs matter so much? They're what we would call "democratic reefs," easily accessed from the shore by the public using free parking lots and open stairs. Multiple generations of Caymanians have taken the quick swim out and snorkeled with their children. One man who spoke up at a 2019 community meeting told the story of how his father, he, and now his son all took the name "Eden" after the iconic Eden Rock Reef, which will be wrecked by this project.
For people like Eden and his family, this isn't just an environmental issue — this is about social justice. Coral reefs come with benefits for communities. They protect islands from hurricanes, provide food, attract tourism dollars and have deep cultural meaning. Lower-income people feel the loss of these services more intensely than those with more. Will the "replanted" reefs replace natural ones effectively? Or will low-income communities bear the consequences while foreign companies and scientists-for-hire sail home with increased profit? The losses for locals will stack up with eroding beaches erode, exposed homes, empty fishing grounds empty, and an end to their snorkeling trips with their children.
The number of people standing up to this project continued to grow in 2020, even during the pandemic. This drew scorn of powerful government leaders such as McKeeva Bush, the speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who called community organizers "rascals" in public.
What happens next? Premier Alden McLaughlin hinted back in mid-April 2020 that he had grown weary of this dispute, suggesting that the vote will not happen during the current political term due to the pandemic.
That doesn't mean the port project is dead. It's just been pushed down the line for the next people who take office. "It will be another government that deals with that," McLaughlin said. Given the support expressed by leaders in the cruise industry, many believe this project will resume when cruise tourism resumes.
It may seem odd to talk about this while the world is just beginning to emerge from the pandemic, but the attention we pay to COVID-19 may distract us from closely watching corporations that stand to gain from the proposed destruction of coral reefs. This may be the window of opportunity the government needs to quietly move ahead while we're distracted with recovery.
We must unify as "rascals" to oppose corporations that continue to push their anti-environment agendas forward around the world. We must reject the false promises of scientists-for-hire.
If being a "rascal" means opposing the immoral destruction of coral reefs, consider me a rascal.
When and if the vote happens, I encourage the people of the Cayman Islands to vote no on the referendum. Likewise, I urge the people of the Cayman Islands to unite against companies violating their environmental laws. The returns are not worth the risks, namely the loss of their iconic reefs.
I encourage the U.S. public, and the wider world, to hold the cruise industry accountable for these types of immoral bypasses of domestic and international environmental policy. The industry's shocking record of customer safety amidst the pandemic remains in the news, but this is hardly its only sin. You only need to look to the industry's poor environmental record in the Bahamas to see what might happen in the Caymans moving forward.
If the reefs are destroyed and the restoration fails or even partially succeeds, the Caymanian people will be left to clean up, while the cruise industry continues to rake in record profits.
It is unethical to destroy coral reefs because they do not belong to us. They belong to everyone, and that includes future generations. If the project goes ahead, I hope that corporate leadership from the cruise industry will explain to young Eden, and other young Caymanians, why they cannot snorkel the reefs that their parents once did.
Kelly Heber Dunning is an assistant professor of conservation governance at Auburn University and a 2020 National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine Early Career Fellow. She received her Ph.D. in Natural Resources from MIT and MSc in Environmental Policy from Oxford and is the author of Managing Coral Reefs (2018), a scientific book on coral reef management.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or its employees.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Tropical coral reefs are at a critical tipping point, and we've pushed them there, scientists say. Climate change may now cause previously rare, devastating coral bleaching events to occur in tropical coral reefs around the globe on a 'near-annual' basis, reported The Guardian.
In February 2020, record-high sea temperatures at Australia's Great Barrier Reef caused the most widespread coral bleaching event at the reef ever, reported NBC News. Unfortunately, this was also the third such major bleaching in five years, raising concerns over the fragile corals' ability to keep rebounding against worsening marine conditions.
To put it into perspective, there have only ever been five recorded bleaching events at the Great Barrier Reef, explained Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in North Queensland, to NBC News. The first two were in 1998 and 2002, and then there was a 14-year gap before the 2016 and 2017 events. The latter two resulted in the death of almost half of the famed reef's corals in just two years, NBC News reported.
Scientists weren't expecting another bleaching event so soon, explained Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program in College Park, Maryland to NBC News. "This has never happened before. We're in completely uncharted territory."
Now, Eakin warns that the accelerating frequency may indicate something far worse. "The real concern is with this much bleaching without tropical forcing," Eakin told The Guardian. "This may be a sign we've now tipped over to near-annual bleaching in many locations."
Historically, tropical coral reefs bleach more often when the Pacific Ocean is in a phase known as El Niño, reported The Guardian. This latest bleaching on the reef has hit during a neutral phase in the cycle.
Eakin told The Guardian, "It's quite concerning that we are getting this much heat stress across the Great Barrier Reef in an Enso [El Niño southern oscillation]-neutral year."
Eakin's agency, Coral Reef Watch, monitors coral reefs across the globe, not just in Australia. Their research led Eakin to additionally conclude that there was a risk that this mass bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef could mark the start of another global-scale event, reported The Guardian.
"If we get another El Niño, the odds are almost 100% that we will see another global bleaching event," Eakin told The Guardian.
"The gap between one event and the next is shrinking, not just for the Great Barrier Reef, but reefs throughout the tropics," Hughes told NBC News. "That's important, because it takes a decade or so for a half-decent recovery of even the fastest-growing corals. The slowest ones take several decades."
Given their long recovery time, Eakin warned The Guardian, "We are seeing these events far too frequently" for reefs to recover from mass mortality of corals due to bleaching.
The news report explained that corals bleach when they sit in abnormally hot water for too long. While corals can recover from mild bleaching, severe and prolonged heat stress can kill corals.
Eakin added, "What we are seeing on the Great Barrier Reef and potentially elsewhere is really being driven just by anthropogenic climate change," reported The Guardian.
Increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause the planet to warm, and 90 percent of that extra heat is taken up by oceans, explains the news report. According to CBS News, because corals are extremely sensitive to ocean temperatures, raising the water temperature by even a couple of degrees can still result in mass coral bleaching. And while bleaching does not kill the coral, it weakens them, making them vulnerable to disease, The Guardian explained.
Eakin concluded, "There's so much heat that has been absorbed in the upper ocean that all the coral reefs are much closer now to their bleaching threshold. As result, it's very easy to tip them over," reported The Guardian.
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What Is Climate Change? Is It Different From Global Warming?
Climate change is actually not a new phenomenon. Scientists have been studying the connection between human activity and the effect on the climate since the 1800s, although it took until the 1950s to find evidence suggesting a link.
Since then, the amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases) in the atmosphere have steadily increased, taking a sharp jump in the late 1980s when the summer of 1988 became the warmest on record. (There have been many records broken since then.) But climate change is not a synonym for global warming.
The term global warming entered the lexicon in the 1950s, but didn't become a common buzzword until a few decades later when more people started taking notice of a warming climate. Except climate change encompasses a greater realm than just rising temperatures. Trapped gases also affect sea-level rise, animal habitats, biodiversity and weather patterns. For example, Texas' severe winter storms in February 2021 demonstrate how the climate isn't merely warming.
Why Is Climate Change Important? Why Does It Matter?
Marc Guitard / Moment / Getty Images
Despite efforts from forward thinkers such as SpaceX Founder Elon Musk to colonize Mars, Earth remains our home for the foreseeable future, and the more human activity negatively impacts the climate, the less habitable it will become. It's estimated that Earth has already warmed about one degree Celsius, or two degrees Fahrenheit, since the start of the Industrial Revolution around the 1750s, although climate change tracking didn't start until the late 1800s. That warming number may not sound like much, but this increase has already resulted in more frequent and severe wildfires, hurricanes, floods, droughts and winter storms, to name some examples.
Then there's biodiversity loss, another fallout of climate change that's threatening rainforests and coral reefs and accelerating species extinction. Take rainforests, which act as natural carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But as rampant deforestation is occurring everywhere from Brazil's Amazon to Borneo, fewer trees mean that rainforests are becoming carbon sources, emitting more carbon than they're absorbing. Meanwhile, coral reefs are dying as warming ocean temperatures trigger bleaching events, which cause corals to reject algae, their main food and life source. Fewer trees, coral reefs and other habitats also equate to fewer species. Known as the sixth mass extinction, a 2019 UN report revealed that up to a million plant and animal species could become extinct within decades.
It can be easy to overlook climate change in day-to-day life, or even realize that climate change is behind it. Notice there's yet another romaine lettuce recall due to E. Coli? Research suggests that E. Coli bacteria are becoming more common in our food sources as it adapts to climate change. Can't find your favorite brand of coffee beans anymore? Or that the price has doubled? Climate change is affecting that too. Climate change is also worsening air quality and seasonal allergies, along with polluting tap water. Not least, many preliminary studies have also drawn a line between climate change and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that is still gripping much of the world. Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently until the root causes, such as deforestation, are addressed.
Speaking of larger-scale issues, global water scarcity is already happening more frequently. The Caribbean is facing water shortages due to rising temperatures and decreased rainfall; Australia's dams may run dry by 2022 as severe wildfires increase and Cape Town, South Africa has already faced running out of water.
As touched upon earlier, it's one thing to be inconvenienced by a lack of romaine lettuce for a couple of weeks or higher coffee bean prices, but reports warn how climate change will continue to threaten global food security, to the point of triggering a worldwide food crisis if temperatures surpass two degrees Celsius.
Many of these factors are already contributing to climate migration, forcing large numbers of people to relocate to other parts of the world in search of better living conditions.
Unless more immediate, drastic action is taken to combat climate change, future generations will have to contend with worst-case scenario projections by the end of the 21st century, not limited to coastal cities going underwater, including Miami; lethal heat levels from South Asia to Central Africa; and more frequent extreme weather events involving hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, droughts, floods, blizzards and more.
What's Happening and Why?
Fiddlers Ferry power station in Warrington, UK. Chris Conway / Moment / Getty Images
The Earth's temperature has largely remained stable until industrial times and the introduction of greenhouse gases. These gases have forced the atmosphere to retain heat, as evidenced by rising global temperatures. As the planet grows warmer, glaciers melt faster, sea levels rise, severe flooding increases and droughts and extreme weather events become more deadly.
The Greenhouse Effect
In the late 1800s, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius studied the connection between the amount of atmospheric carbon and its ability to warm and cool the Earth, and while his initial calculations suggested extreme warming as carbon increased, researchers didn't start to take human-induced climate change seriously until the late 20th century.
But proof of human-led climate change can be traced to the 1850s, and satellites are among the ways that scientists have been tracking increased greenhouse gases and their climate impact in more recent years. Climate researchers have also documented warmer oceans, ocean acidification, shrinking ice sheets, decreased snow amounts and extreme weather as among the events resulting from greenhouse gases heating the planet.
Numerous factors contribute to the production of greenhouse gases, known as the greenhouse effect. One of the biggest causes involve burning fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas, to power everything from cars to daily energy needs (electricity, heat). From 1970-2011, fossil fuels have comprised 78 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Big Ag is another greenhouse contributor, particularly beef production, with the industry adding 10 percent in 2019. This is attributed to clearing land for crops and grazing and growing feed, along with methane produced by cows themselves. In the U.S. alone, Americans consumed 27.3 billion pounds of beef in 2019.
Then there's rampant deforestation occurring everywhere from the Amazon to Borneo. A 2021 study from Rainforest Foundation Norway found that two-thirds of the world's rainforests have already been destroyed or degraded. In Brazil, deforestation reached a 12-year-high in 2020 under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. As it stands, reports predict that the Amazon rainforest will collapse by 2064. Rainforests are important carbon sinks, meaning the trees capture and remove carbon from the atmosphere. As rainforests collapse, the remaining trees will begin emitting more greenhouse gases than they're absorbing.
Meanwhile, a recent study revealed that abandoned oil and gas wells are leaking more methane than previously believed, with U.S. wells contributing up to 20 percent of annual methane emissions.
Not least is the cement industry. Cement is heavily used throughout the global construction industry, and accounts for around eight percent of carbon dioxide emissions.
Natural Climate Change
Granted, natural climate change exists as well, and can be traced throughout history, from solar radiation triggering the Ice Ages to the asteroid strike that rapidly raised global temperatures and eliminated dinosaurs and many other species in the process. Other sources of natural climate change impacts include volcano eruptions, ocean currents and orbital changes, but these sources generally have smaller and shorter-term environmental impacts.
How We Can Combat Climate Change
Participant holding a sign at the climate march on Sept. 20, 2020, in Manhattan. A coalition of climate, Indigenous and racial justice groups gathered at Columbus Circle to kick off Climate Week with the Climate Justice Through Racial Justice march. Erik McGregor / LightRocket / Getty Images
While the latest studies and numbers can often feel discouraging about society's ability to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening, there's still time to take action.
As a Society
In 2015 at COP 21 in Paris, 197 countries came together to sign the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty agreeing to limit global warming in this century to two degrees Celsius, and ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels; it's believed that the planet has warmed one degree Celsius since 1750. Studies show that staying within the two-degree range will prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. Achieving this goal requires participating parties to drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later. However, there have already been numerous setbacks since then, from former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in 2020 to world leaders, such as China, the world's biggest polluter, failing to enact aggressive climate action plans. Yet many of the treaty participants have been slow to implement changes, putting the world on track to hit 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century even if the initial goals are met. However, it's worth noting that U.S. President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement in 2021, and pledged to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2030.
Then there's the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 global agreement to phase out ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals that were commonly used in air-conditioning, refrigeration and aerosols. Recent studies show that parts of the ozone are recovering, proving that a unified commitment to combatting climate change issues does make a difference.
On a smaller scale, carbon offset initiatives allow companies and individuals to invest in environmental programs that offset the amount of carbon that's produced through work or lifestyle. For example, major companies (and carbon emitters) such as United Airlines and Shell have pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in part by participating in carbon offset programs that remove carbon from the atmosphere. The problem is that these companies are still producing high levels of fossil fuel emissions.
While individuals can make a small impact through carbon offsets, the greater responsibility lies with carbon-emitting corporations to find and implement greener energy alternatives. This translates to car companies producing electric instead of gas vehicles or airlines exploring alternative fuel sources. It also requires major companies to rely more on solar and wind energy for their energy needs.
In Our Own Lives
While it's up to corporations to do the heavy lifting of carbon reduction, that doesn't mean individuals can't make a difference. Adopting a vegan lifestyle, using public transportation, switching to an electric car and becoming a more conscious consumer are all ways to help combat climate change.
Consuming meat relies on clearing land for crops and animals, while raising and killing livestock contributes to about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization. By comparison, choosing a plant-based diet could reduce greenhouse gas footprints by as much as 70 percent, especially when choosing local produce and products.
Riding public trains, subways, buses, trams, ferries and other types of public transportation is another easy way to lower your carbon footprint, considering that gas-powered vehicles contribute 95 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Electric cars and trucks have come down in price as more manufacturers enter the field, and these produce far lower emissions than their gas counterparts. Hybrid vehicles are another good alternative for lowering individual emission contributions.
Buying locally produced food and items is another way to maintain a lower carbon footprint, as the products aren't shipped or driven long distances. Supporting small companies that are committed to sustainability is another option, especially when it comes to clothes. Fast fashion has become a popular option thanks to its price point, but often comes at the expense of the environment and can involve unethical overseas labor practices. Not least, plastic saturates every corner of the consumer market, but it's possible to find non-plastic alternatives with a little research, from reusable produce bags to baby bottles.
Those interested in becoming even more involved can join local climate action organizations. Popular groups include the Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, to name a few. Voting, volunteering, calling local representatives and participating in climate marches are additional ways to raise your voice.
It's taken centuries to reach a climate tipping point, with just a matter of decades left to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. But there's still hope of controlling a warming climate as long as individuals, companies and nations make an immediate concerted effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions. As the world already experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic, a rapid unified response can make all the difference.
Meredith Rosenberg is a senior editor at EcoWatch. She holds a Master's from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NYC and a B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia.
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The investigation, Deep Trouble: The murky world of the deep sea mining industry, decries the increasing use of the ocean floor by large corporations, such as U.S. arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin, to mine metals and minerals. Only several private sector companies with shell-organizations, or "operating through complex and opaque structures of sub-contractors, partnerships or subsidiaries," received 30 contracts to mine from the International Seabed Authority, a consortium with no environmental or assessment process that acts as the overseeing organization on seabed mining contracts. The ISA has never rejected a bid for mining.
For every contract the ISA issues, it receives $500,000. Greenpeace finds the setup to be a potential conflict of interest that undermines environmental regulation at the state and national level. It also unfairly allocates the natural resources of the ocean, to the point where some corporations partner with small island states such as the Micronesian country of Nauru, but the companies reap the benefits of extraction, while the nation-states are left with all the liability.
In 2019 deep sea mining and shipping firm Nautilus went bankrupt, leaving its partner state, Papua New Guinea on the hook for cleanup expenses. Now, according to The Guardian, Papua New Guinea is one of many nations calling for a moratorium on deep sea mining.
And the potential for environmental destruction is evident, says Greenpeace.
"Deep sea mining will cause serious and irreversible damage to the ocean biome, risks driving biodiversity loss and could potentially damage an important carbon sink: the deep ocean," the executive summary of the report notes. Dumbo octopuses, deep-sea corals, and the endangered scaly-foot snail are all potentially at risk of extinction.
In some areas the ocean floor contains poly-metallic nodules, which contain within them manganese peroxide, a substance used in bleaching powder, and cobalt, nickel, copper, titanium — metals commonly used in smartphones.
Just like a rocky garden, the life around the nodules is more abundant. And deep sea mining leaves tracks on the ocean floor that stay in place for decades, disrupting the area's natural processes, and are harmful to the few species of life that survive on the abyssal plain.
DeepGreen Metals Inc., one of the companies with an ISA approved mining contract, told The Guardian in a response to Greenpeace that deep sea mining could supply "critical minerals for the global transition off fossil fuels at a fraction of environmental and social costs associated with metal production from conventional land ores."
Greenpeace is calling for an international ocean treaty, where nations reuse and recycle the existing supply of minerals and metals, instead of opening the ocean floor to extraction.
"We think the deep sea ocean should be off limits because it is not possible to have good enough environmental rules," Louisa Cannon, lead author of the report told The Guardian.
"Scientists are warning of irreversible harm and potential extinctions. The ISA is supposed to be protecting the oceans and it's not doing its job."
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Thousands of years ago, glacial runoff from Mount Kilimanjaro formed a deep basin off the coast of East Africa. Today, this oasis of deep, cool water provides coral reefs and marine life with a sanctuary from the rising temperatures of the climate crisis, allowing biodiversity to thrive.
"This area off the coast of Tanzania and Kenya is a small but vibrant basin of marine biodiversity," study author and lead WCS coral scientist Dr. Tim McClanahan said in a press release. "Our study shows that while warming waters may devastate surrounding reefs, this area could become an incredibly important sanctuary where marine species big and small will flock to find refuge from climate change. If well protected, this key transboundary marine ecosystem will remain a jewel of biodiversity for the entire East African coast."
The newly discovered refuge is teaming with marine life. Spinner dolphins swim there, and the coast has the highest density of dolphins in East Africa, The Guardian reported. Rare dugongs have been spotted there, and the deeper reaches are home to coelacanths, a prehistoric fish once believed to be extinct.
McClanahan did not immediately understand why so much life was drawn to this spot, which stretches from Shimoni, Kenya, which is 50 miles south of Mombasa, to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
"I thought 'why are all the animals here?' And I realised it was because of Kilimanjaro," he told The Guardian.
The sea surface temperatures of the tropical Indian Ocean have risen about one degree Celsius on average between 1950 and 2015, according to an Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region. In addition, the ocean has been subjected to greater and more frequent marine heatwaves, WCS explained. In this context, the cooler waters off of Kenya and Tanzania could provide an increasingly vital habitat for threatened species like sharks and rays.
To test whether this was indeed the case, McClanahan installed temperature gauges along the coast that he could then monitor by satellite, according to The Guardian. Once a warming event occurred and the temperatures began to rise, he entered the water to observe how the corals were impacted, and found that they were indeed preserved.
"Outside that area, the corals are bleached and dying. But inside the area, of around 400 sq km [150 sq miles] they retain their colour and their health. They are reds and brown. My research partner likes to call them: 'happy corals'," McClanahan told The Guardian.
He explained to InsideClimate News exactly how this works.
"It would be like running hot water into a cold bathtub; if the bath is cold, it would take a long time to warm up," he said. "By the time these hot water events pass, they haven't really raised the temperature of the water all that much. So you maintain these coral sanctuaries where the water is cool."
However, the area's role as a coral sanctuary will depend on its being protected from other threats. Coastal development, including a new port planned in northern Tanzania to serve a new oil pipeline, is one, WCS said. Another is unsustainable fishing practices like dynamite fishing, McClanahan told InsideClimate News. This is when fisherpeople drop a stick of dynamite into the water to kill massive amounts of fish in one go. Unsurprisingly, this also destroys coral.
"Some of the reefs that I've been studying suggest they can't recover for many, many years after the dynamite fishing," McClanahan told InsideClimate News.
By Casey Crownhart
Disinfectant use has exploded during the coronavirus pandemic as people try to keep their hands and surfaces clean. But one family of cleaning chemicals is receiving scrutiny for potential health concerns.
Quats, or quaternary ammonium compounds, are charged molecules that can kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Quats are effective disinfectants, but some researchers are raising alarm given recent research on the compounds' possible human health and environmental effects, including fertility issues, endocrine disruption, occupational asthma, marine toxicity, and potential to spur antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
And, while industry defends quats as safe, some states are taking notice and looking into regulations.
The pandemic has increased demand for products like Lysol wipes that use quats as active ingredients: sales of Lysol wipes were up nearly 50 percent in spring of 2020 compared to 2019. Other cleaning products are also in high demand — aerosol disinfectant sales as a whole have doubled in 2020 in the U.S., a large fraction of which also contain quats.
All those additional sales mean quats are becoming more present in the environment. "We're in an era now where the concentration [of quats] is certainly higher than ever before," William Arnold, an environmental engineer at the University of Minnesota, told EHN. He published a paper in June that revealed an increased load of quats may be ending up in wastewater plants, with some worrisome implications. Quats can end up in wastewater plants after they're flushed down the drain — at the levels of use during the pandemic, some plants can't keep up, so quats have the potential to pollute waterways. There, they might disrupt marine food chains, as quats have been found to be toxic to small invertebrates like plankton in lakes.
The ingredients also may be spurring antibiotic-resistant germs, Arnold said.
Bacteria are constantly working to shore up their defenses against the antiseptics we use. "We've had an 80- or 90-year head start, but we really need to keep innovating" to stay ahead of microbial evolution, Kevin Minbiole, a Villanova University chemist who studies how quats affect bacteria and viruses, told EHN.
Quats work like spears, penetrating the shell on the outside of a bacteria or virus. But some bacteria are getting better at recognizing quats and getting rid of them, or becoming resistant, said Minbiole. He and his collaborator, Emory University chemist William Wuest, are experimenting with new antimicrobial ingredients and recently patented their own quats that can mount multiple attacks on a single microbe. These quats are likely even more effective antiseptics than current quats on the market, but the new chemicals haven't yet been tested for safety, so it's not clear how their health or environmental impacts might differ, or not, from current quats, according to Wuest.
But the germs may be one step ahead. As they encounter quats and other antiseptics, bacteria can develop broad, rather than specific, resistance. These new bacterial shields, which evolved to block attacks by antiseptics, might also protect them against other threats, including the antibiotic medications doctors prescribe to help fight serious infections.
It's called cross resistance: when changes bacteria make to get around one threat make them better suited to survive other threats, too. "Those changes make bacteria capable of surviving different compounds, different chemicals that it hasn't seen before," Beatriz Pereira, a recent graduate student in microbiology from University of California, Davis, told EHN.
In lab experiments, Pereira has seen bacteria develop resistance to certain quats, even when she only exposes them to low concentrations of the chemicals. The bacteria shore up their defenses, strengthening their outer membrane — a good way to develop cross resistance to other chemicals as well. It's not clear whether bacteria are yet developing resistance in the wild in response to current levels of quat pollution, or even how much quat pollution currently exists. But to Pereira, these lab experiments alongside a growing body of evidence suggest that the best way to respond to the problem of antibiotic resistance may be not to develop new quats, which might cause the same problem of antibiotic resistance eventually, but to reconsider whether we should be using them at all, at least in some products.
Birth Defects and Infertility
Theresa Hrubec, a biologist at Virginia Tech and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, has also been publishing work on the potential risks of quats — work that started by accident. While she was using mice to study potential side effects of medications, she noticed that some mice in her control group, the mice that weren't exposed to any medication, were developing birth defects. After ruling out the possibility that she had switched the groups, she found a potential explanation: the facility had recently started using quats to disinfect her lab. The floors were mopped daily, the walls wiped down weekly, and anytime a box of mice was opened, it was wiped down with disinfectant. The mice were all being unintentionally dosed with quats, Hrubec told EHN. And she wasn't the only researcher who had seen problems with mice and quat disinfectants: Patricia Hunt, a researcher at Washington State University, had seen similar problems with her mice.
Hrubec and Hunt have since published several studies that link quats to health problems in mice, from birth defects to decreases in fertility. For each of the studies, mice were fed a mixture of two common quat disinfectants at high doses for several weeks before being examined for either fetal birth defects or signs of decreased fertility.
Mice that were exposed to quats were more likely to develop neural tube defects, an early-stage birth defect. And doses of quats decreased the number and size of litters born as well.
How exactly quats might cause birth defects is still unknown, according to Hrubec. She has a few theories. Endocrine disruption might be to blame — Gino Cortopassi, who collaborated with Hrubec, found that one quat, although not the same chemical Hrubec used in her research, can bind to hormone receptors. The same lab also found that quats appear to affect how mitochondria function, which can cause a litany of problems in cells.
Inflammation might be another possible explanation. Quats are suspected to cause occupational asthma — exposure to a toxic or irritating chemical that results in lung inflammation. Japanese researchers found in 2010 that mice exposed to quats at high concentrations by inhalation saw cell death and increased levels of inflammation. However, human studies observing quat exposure and occupational asthma have had mixed results, with some researchers arguing that quat exposure hasn't been definitively linked with lung problems.
Most of the research by Hrubec and her collaborators is done in mice, so quats may not have the same effects on humans. Figuring out how quats might be impacting humans is a much more complicated job. In a pre-print, published last year but not yet reviewed by outside experts for accuracy, Hrubec and her collaborators performed a monitoring study of a small group, 43 people. They detected quats in 80 percent of the study participants, and quat levels in the blood were associated with higher levels of inflammation and decreased mitochondrial function. The results are still preliminary, but it is among the first research to attempt monitoring quat levels in humans.
Not everyone agrees about how the research is being done. In a letter to the editor in response to one of Hrubec's early studies, Keith Hostetler, an industry representative, raised concerns about the experiment's design. One critique was the dose level — according to Hostetler, the level of disinfectant fed to the mice would be the equivalent of a 155-pound adult drinking about 1.5 quarts of disinfecting solution daily.
But toxicology studies are pretty typically performed with high doses at first, before being extrapolated down to more realistic doses, according to Heather Patisaul, a biologist at North Carolina State University who studies toxicological effects of hormone-disrupting compounds. She was not involved in Hrubec's studies.
"Complaining that the dose is too high and the sample size is too low is a common industry response," Patisaul told EHN via email. In this case, she said the dosage was particularly high for some groups. However, Patisaul also notes that Hrubec saw birth defects in fetuses when the father was fed less than 1/15 the dose Hostetler mentioned, which she said is more compelling evidence that quats might cause harm.
Still, "neither [dose] is anywhere near a human-relevant range," Patisaul said, so the results do not definitively show that quats could harm human health with normal levels of use.
The doses were high in order to determine whether quats warrant more research, said Hrubec, adding that many mice that were not fed quats, but were merely present in rooms where quats were used, were also found to develop birth defects. To her, this suggests that the disinfectants present in the lab from regular disinfecting were still enough to trigger health problems.
States Take Notice
Hrubec has been a constant figure at regulatory meetings on quats. She presented her research during a March 2020 meeting with California's Biomonitoring Program. During the meeting, other researchers also presented data on quat's potential for causing occupational asthma and endocrine disruption.
After considering data from researchers and industry, the advisory panel for Biomonitoring California voted unanimously to add quats to the list of chemicals that could be considered for biomonitoring studies, and they plan to discuss quats as potential high-priority chemicals in March 2021, according to Shoba Iyer, a toxicologist for the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment who works with the biomonitoring program.
The program's board does not have the authority to ban quats — the purpose of adding quats to the monitoring list and completing biomonitoring studies is to learn more about chemical exposures and inform public health policies and regulations, Iyer told EHN.
Officials from one agency in Massachusetts also have their eye on quats — and they say the pandemic and the resulting increase in disinfectant use has caused them to examine the chemicals more closely. "That's why we finally decided to take up [quats], because people are using it constantly to try to keep themselves and their workers and customers safe," Liz Harriman, Deputy Director of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) in Massachusetts, told EHN.
Massachusetts state law requires companies that manufacture certain chemicals, or use them to make products, to report use levels of the chemicals and submit plans for safe use. The Scientific Advisory Board for TURI makes recommendations to state agencies on which chemicals to examine, and they are focusing on two classes of quats, both of which are used in surface cleaners, according to Heather Tenney, who heads the board.
In January, the advisory board discussed several categories of research on quats, including birth defects and respiratory conditions like asthma, as well as environmental effects of quats like the potential for microbial resistance. The board did not reach a vote, and will reconvene in March to continue discussing potential action on quats.
Hostetler, the industry representative who has published letters challenging Hrubec's research, also presented at both the March Biomonitoring California presentation and the TURI meeting in January. At the TURI board meeting, he emphasized that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has independently concluded that quats do not have effects on developmental or reproductive health, based on tests that follow agency guidelines.
Manufacturers maintain that their disinfecting products available for purchase have been tested extensively. "They've done a lot of research on their formulations. What they put on the market, they know to be safe and efficacious," James Kim, a Vice President of the American Cleaning Institute, a trade organization that represents manufacturers, told EHN.
Alternatives Are Available
Despite increased attention from states, quats will likely remain available on the market in surface disinfectants for the foreseeable future. But for consumers looking to avoid quats in their cleaning supplies, alternatives are available.
"Given the huge concern for reproductive toxicity and birth defects in humans, it really makes sense to take a precautionary approach," Samara Geller, a research analyst for Environmental Working Group (EWG), an advocacy organization that pushes for regulation of chemicals in consumer products, told EHN.
While a large portion of disinfectants on the market include either quats or bleach as their main ingredient, there are other options available. Geller said EWG recommends products that contain citric acid, lactic acid, or hydrogen peroxide as their main ingredients. EWG also publishes a guide to cleaning products that aggregates safety data where consumers can check for options.
Consumers can reference the EPA's list of disinfectants that are expected to be effective against coronavirus, which lists products by active ingredient.
Liz Harriman, the Massachusetts TURI official, said she also urges the public to consider alternative products to those that contain quats. "It's not so much that we're dead set against quats," said Harriman, "But if there are safer alternatives you can use to accomplish the same thing, why wouldn't you use those?"
Reposted with permission from Environmental Health News.