A Trump administration proposal to continue allowing oil companies to dump unlimited amounts of offshore fracking chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico violates federal law and threatens imperiled marine wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity warned this week.
By Pamela T. Plotkin
On beaches from North Carolina to Texas and throughout the wider Caribbean, one of nature's great seasonal events is underway. Adult female sea turtles are crawling out of the ocean, digging deep holes in the sand and laying eggs. After about 60 days turtle hatchlings will emerge and head for the water's edge, fending for themselves from their first moments.
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The new federal administration withdrew a proposed rule Monday that would have protected endangered species—including whales, dolphins and sea turtles—caught and killed in the drift gillnet fishery targeting swordfish off California. Monday's decision demonstrates the administration's blatant disregard for recommendations of its own fishery advisors and reverses course on commitments made by the previous administration.
It's only the half-way point of sea turtle nesting season in Florida, and some beaches are already breaking records.
A Florida man was caught stealing loggerhead turtle eggs last weekend.
Less than two weeks after publishing the graphic images of poached sea turtles on the French island of Mayotte, Sea Shepherd's conservation team interrupted another slaughter on the night of July 7, and this time—as captured on video footage shown above—it turned violent.
When the volunteers arrived at the beach known as Moya 1, one of the most popular tourist beaches on the Petit Terre island, they spotted a 4x4 vehicle, its lights switched off as it waited to pick up poached turtle meat. The guards, who should have been there to protect the turtles who come to lay their eggs, were nowhere to be seen.
Selfie-obsessed mobs are tormenting animals all over the world for "likes" on social media.
By Danny Prater
They say that parts of the southern Indian Ocean, the eastern tropical Pacific and the Atlantic are already less oxygen-rich because of global warming. And oxygen deprivation could become increasingly widespread across large regions of ocean between 2030 and 2040.
Anyone who has ever kept a home aquarium knows that, in the summer, the fish in the tank are more likely to be seen gasping nearer the surface. That is because the colder the water, the greater its capacity for dissolved oxygen.
Growing concentrations in the atmosphere of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide have begun to change the ocean chemistry, making sea water gradually and alarmingly more acidic and less hospitable to many of the species adapted to ocean life.
Now Matthew Long, an oceanographer at the U.S. National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado and colleagues report in Global Biogeochemical Cycles journal that they repeatedly modeled changes in the ocean’s oxygen content over the years 1920 to 2100.
Oxygen from the atmosphere gets into the sea only when it dissolves directly or is released by photosynthesizing marine plants and phytoplankton. The warmer the water, the harder life is for the creatures nearer the surface.
To make things more difficult, warmer waters are less dense, making them less likely to sink and bring the colder, more oxygen-rich waters to the surface. In unusually hot weather, “dead zones” appear in the seas, where fish and shellfish cannot survive.
The researchers warn that there will be more of these as global temperatures continue to rise. “Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side-effects of a warming atmosphere and a major threat to marine life,” Dr. Long said.
“Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary, depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it’s been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.”
The new map suggests that even by 2100, some waters—off the east coasts of Africa and Australia and Southeast Asia and parts of the South Atlantic, for instance—will remain oxygen-rich. But oxygen loss due to climate change will become detectable much more swiftly in northern waters in the Pacific and parts of the Atlantic.
There are uncertainties. Oxygen measurements in the world’s oceans—and 70 percent of the planet is covered by blue water—are relatively sparse.
“We need comprehensive and sustained observations of what’s going on in the oceans to compare with what we’re learning from our models and to understand the full impact of a changing climate,” Dr. Long said.
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We know that ocean plastic can have a devastating impact on aquatic life such as seabirds, fish and whales. Now, researchers have found that 60 percent of post-hatchling loggerhead turtles stranded on southern Cape beaches in South Africa have been impacted by growing quantities of human-caused debris such as plastic fragments, packaging and fibers.
A new study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin last month reported that 24 out of 40 of loggerhead turtles died within two months of stranding in April 2015. Of the turtles that died, 16 had ingested plastic. Gruesomely, 11 of these turtles died because plastic was blocking their digestive tracts or bladders.
Here are other key points from the study, as reported by South Africa's Times Live:
- Plastic comprised 99 percent of debris collected.
- The majority—77 percent—were hard plastic fragments‚ 10 percent were from flexible packaging and 8 percent were fibers.
- Industrial pellets comprised 3 percent, compared to around 70 percent in a previous study between 1968 and 1973.
- In the earlier study‚ only 12 percent of stranded post-hatchlings contained plastics‚ compared to the 60 percent of the current study.
"Our results indicate that the amount and diversity of plastic ingested by post-hatchling loggerhead turtles off South Africa have increased over the last four decades, and now kill some turtles," the study says.
South Africa’s beaches are inundated with plastic, the Sunday Times reported in December. According to data released by Plastics South Africa, there are roughly 400 pieces of plastic per square meter. Another study found that South Africa ranks as the 11th worst country for dumping plastics in the ocean, between Bangladesh and India, the publication noted.
The turtle study's lead author, Peter Ryan of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and the DST-NRF's Centre of Excellence at the University of Cape Town, told the Sunday Times that South Africa needs multiple strategies to clean up its plastic problem.
Prof Ryan of @Fitztitute: Just how bad is plastic pollution in South Africa's oceans? https://t.co/qrGlAfkC73 #turtle— NRF South Africa (@NRF South Africa)1461918442.0
“There’s nothing wrong with plastic—the problem is what people do with it‚” Ryan said‚ explaining that half of South Africa’s solid waste does not go into formal waste streams.
He also pointed out that plastic packaging such as candy wrappers are difficult to recycle.
“Every time you do one of these (beach litter) surveys you discover a whole new kind of packaging‚” Ryan said. “We need to be more proactive about how we package things.”
Ryan, however, said that a solution is possible.
“It’s a question of making sure that we dispose of plastic properly and working towards making sure there is a value attached to waste plastic‚” he said. “It’s a completely solvable problem.”
Plastic pollution is impacting sea turtles around the world. Last summer, EcoWatch posted a viral video of researchers from The Leatherback Trust removing a 4-inch plastic straw from a male olive ridley turtle’s nose in Costa Rica.
A few months after saving the first turtle, the researchers found another olive ridley in Costa Rica with plastic lodged deeply in its nostril—this time a 5-inch plastic fork.
Thankfully, the research team was able to relieve both turtles, but as Dr. George Shillinger, the executive director of the Monterey, California-based conservation nonprofit, told EcoWatch, it's “just the tip of the iceberg.”
“This was an isolated incident involving a single turtle in a small area off a nesting beach in Costa Rica," Shillinger said. "Just imagine globally what’s happening.”
Last year, researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia and Imperial College London released a report with the startling finding that 90 percent of seabirds today have eaten plastic, and if humans don’t stop dumping plastic into the ocean, it’s predicted that 99 percent of seabirds will swallow plastic by 2050.
When asked if this trend is also happening with turtles, Shillinger replied without hesitation: “Totally. Turtles are occupying the same habitats … Without a doubt these animals are consuming plastics in areas where they’d otherwise go to consume prey.”
Exclusive Interview: Researchers Remove Plastic Fork Lodged in Turtle's Nose https://t.co/kwjVHFBn69 @TheLeatherback https://t.co/mSO9OuwUtW— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1450540021.0
Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic waste is dumped into our oceans every year, and the pollution is only getting worse as consumer use of plastic and plastic-intensive goods intensifies in emerging countries.
Not only that, an alarming study by the University of Delaware physical oceanographer Tobias Kukulka reported that there might be much more plastic than what’s estimated.
“My research has shown that ocean turbulence actually mixes plastics and other pollutants down into the water column despite their buoyancy,” Kukulka said, according to UD Daily. “This means that surface measurements could be wildly off and the concentration of plastic in the marine environment may be significantly higher than we thought.”
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The revolution of plastic in the fishing industry has fed billions, but left a paucity of life in the oceans and more suffering than we understand. A lost nylon fishing net or tangled mass of hook and line does not stop fishing, the results are horrifying and solutions hard won.
The big things living in the ocean usually sink when they die, which is why any estimate of ecological impacts, from propeller scars to entanglement in fishing nets, are nearly impossible. They always underestimate the numbers of true deaths and dismemberment. The ones that are still alive near the surface are the messengers. A recent report from scientists studying loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) near the Azores, report gruesome amputations from entanglement and intestinal lesions and bleeding from hooks making their way through their bodies.
So what can fix this?
Lost fishing gear, called ghost nets, are more costly than you might think. Scientist studying the economics of subsidizing recovery of lost nets in Puget Sound reported that the fish and crabs that are caught and die in lost traps and nets was worth more than 12 times the cost of recovery programs. Incentivizing recovery works, but who will pay for it? In Chesapeake Bay researchers have had success with a program to equip crabbers with side-scanning sonar and a grapple hook to snare the hundreds of lost traps that litter the bay. The program works, thanks to taxpayer funds through the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.
But in the ocean, where marine mammals and reptiles interact with thousands of tons of plastic waste in international waters, the economic incentives are not there. Voluntary programs for fishermen to bring garbage back from the sea, or report lost gear, are not impactful on a large scale. What is needed are economic incentives, which will largely need to be subsidized by the industries producing the gear in the first place, to create a reward for the return of derelict gear.
A model similar to the plastic bottle redemption program in California would work, where a price-per-pound incentive is responsible for a 72 percent recovery rate for soda bottles. A dollar a pound for lost gear would give fishermen, who are the most likely people to see derelict fishing gear, the incentive to bring it back to land. This kind of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is working for other products in other industries across the globe.
With EPR we will see successful removal of ghost nets and traps. Without EPR, we can expect to see more suffering and dwindling numbers of megafauna in our oceans.
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Sea-level rise driven by climate change poses a deadly threat to 233 federally protected animal and plant species in 23 coastal states, according to a new scientific report from the Center for Biological Diversity, and U.S. wildlife protection agencies are not doing enough to protect at-risk species.
In a letter to the two wildlife agencies, Center scientists pointed out that the federal government’s existing wildlife policies offer little useful guidance or strategies for protecting endangered species from sea-level rise. The letter urges officials to revamp species-protection plans to focus on the threat.
For the Deadly Waters report, Center scientists analyzed data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as scientific literature. The Center found that 17 percent—one in six—of the nation’s threatened and endangered species are at risk from rising sea levels and storm surges. The report also details the specific danger to five of the species most threatened by sea-level rise.
“From Florida’s key deer to Hawaii’s monk seals, some of our most amazing creatures could be doomed as the oceans swallow up their last habitat and nesting sites,” said Dr. Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director. “If we don’t move fast to cut carbon pollution and protect ecosystems, climate chaos could do tremendous damage to our web of life."
"Federal wildlife officials have to step up efforts to protect America’s endangered species from the deadly threat of rising seas," Wolf concluded.
The Center’s analysis follows a stark warning from the National Research Council, which recently released a report saying that global warming threatens to inflict rapid and catastrophic changes on some ecosystems and could cause a mass extinction of plants and animals.
The U.S. is home to approximately 1,500 federally protected threatened and endangered species, many of which depend on coastal and island habitats for survival. As greenhouse gas pollution builds up in the atmosphere, rising oceans and increasingly dangerous storm surges will threaten already endangered animals that inhabit coastal wetlands, beaches and other vulnerable ecosystems.
Here are five of the most at-risk species:
Five of the Species Most Threatened by Sea-level Rise
Species at Risk
|1. Key deer|
Approximately 800 deer
About 86 percent of islands occupied by Florida’s Key deer are less than 3 feet above sea level.
|2. Loggerhead sea turtle|
Approximately 17,000 females nesting each year in the United States
At Florida’s Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, 42 percent of loggerhead nesting beaches are expected to disappear with 1.5 feet of sea-level rise.
|3. Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel|
20,000 to 38,000 squirrels
Half of the fox squirrels’ habitat would be inundated by 6 feet of sea-level rise, which could occur in this century.
|4. Western snowy plover|
A third of the West Coast beach habitat areas used by the plovers are less than 3 feet above sea level.
|5. Hawaiian monk seal|
About 1,000 seals
Sea-level rise poses a serious threat to monk seals’ pupping beaches; one key island has already disappeared.
The 23 states with endangered species threatened by sea-level rise are Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.