By Sarah Graddy and Robert Coleman
This summer, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is tracking outbreaks of potentially toxic algae across the U.S. We have been startled to find that these outbreaks are erupting everywhere: from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Donald Scavia
Every year in early summer, scientists at universities, research institutions and federal agencies release forecasts for the formation of "dead zones" and harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay and Lake Erie. This year the outlook is not good.
Dead zone and harmful algal bloom trends with 2019 forecasts in red.
Nutrient load trends; 2019 loads in red.
Under a worst-case climate change scenario, in which global temperatures rise nearly 5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100, very heavy precipitation events in the Midwest, Great Plains and Southeast regions would increase sharply.
A two-stage ditch has a low-ﬂow channel and a vegetated side 'benches' that are ﬂooded during higher ﬂows. The grass slows water flow and allows nutrients to settle out.
Ohio State University Extension, CC BY
AT Kearney, CC BY-ND
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By Karen Perry Stillerman
What's for breakfast? Maybe it's a bagel and cream cheese, or toast and coffee, or eggs (or not). For millions of Americans, though, cereal is a breakfast mainstay. There's a mind-boggling array of ready-to-eat cereal brands on offer, and everyone has their favorites.
By Ketura Persellin
You probably care a lot about how your fruits and vegetables are grown. You may not think as much about where your family's animal protein comes from, but the conditions in which most meat, poultry and even dairy is produced may give you and your kids pause — even those most likely to clamor for yet another burger or hot dog.
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By Stuart Braun
1.3 billion plastic bottles are sold daily around the world. And that's just the tip of the fossil-based plastic iceberg. Plastic preserves our food. It's in the nylon and polyester we wear, and it protects medical staff from the coronavirus.
1. Olive Pits<p>Countries that produce a lot of olive oil have a byproduct that can be used for plastic: olive pits. A Turkish startup called Biolive began creating a range of began creating a range of bioplastic granules created from olive seeds that result in bio-based, partially biodegradable products that can decompose in a year.<br></p><p>The active ingredient oleuropein found in olive seeds is an antioxidant that extends the life of the bioplastic while also hastening composting of the material into fertilizer within a year. </p><p>And since Biolive's granules act like fossil fuel-based plastics, plastic producers can simply substitute the conventional granules without disrupting the production cycle for industrial products and food packaging. </p><p>Biolive claims that by utilizing olive oil waste, production costs are reduced by up to 90% in relation to some existing bioplastics. This is important says founder Duygu Yilmaz, since starch-based bioplastics made from corn are often more expensive than petroleum-based plastics are therefore not a viable alternative. </p><p>In 2019, award-winning Biolive was chosen to represent Turkey at the United Nations Development Programme.</p>
2. Sunflower Hulls<p>Like olive seeds, the husks of sunflower seeds used for oil production is a waste product also being used to created bioplastics. And luckily, they're in near endless supply.</p><p>The German start-up Golden Compound has created a unique Sustainable Sunflower Plastic Compound bioplastic – referred to as S²PC. It's reinforced with sunflower hulls, which they claim are 100% recyclable.</p><p>The S²PC bioplastic is being moulded into everything from office furniture to recyclable transport and storage boxes and crates.</p><p>Golden Compound also produces a "green" bioplastic that is 100% biodegradable, GMO-free and can be fully composted at home. Products include award-winning, <a href="https://www.plasticsinsight.com/golden-compound-and-alpla-bring-a-world-first-biodegradable-coffee-capsule-compostable-at-home" target="_blank">world-first biodegradable coffee capsules</a>, plant pots and coffee mugs. </p><p>The German start-up attributes the success of its bioplastics to performance. "In the end, the only reason people will be willing to switch, is if it works," Marcel Dartée, General Manager at Golden Compound, told the <em>Plastic Today </em>trade publication.</p>
3. Fish Waste and Algae<p>The growing attempt to transform organic waste into plastic now includes fish processing refuse.</p><p>A UK initiative called MarinaTex is using fish skin and scales – 500,000 tons of which are generated annually in the UK alone – bound with red algae to make a compostable plastic alternative that can replace single-use plastics such as bakery bags and sandwich packs.</p><p>MarinaTex claims the biopolymer creates stronger packaging than a conventional plastic bag — flying in the face of perceptions that bioplastics lack strength and durability.</p><p>Lucy Hughes, who created the product in her final year at the University of Sussex, says MarinaTex's flexibility, strength and pliability was inspired by actual fish skin and scales.</p><p>"It kind of struck me that nature can make so much from so little, so why do we need to have hundreds of man-made polymers when nature has so many already available," she told the World Economic Forum in November. </p><p>MarinaTex, which won the 2019 James Dyson Award worth €35,000, describes its product as home compostable and says it can break down within four to six weeks.</p>
4. Plant Sugars<p>While PET is one of the most recyclable fossil-based plastics it takes hundreds of years to decompose. In response, Amsterdam-based Avantium has created a revolutionary "YXY" plants-to-plastics technology that converts plant-based sugars into a new biodegradable packaging material, polyethylene furanoate or PEF.</p><p>A trial of PEF biodegradability in the natural environment is showing promising signs.</p><p>"PEF degrades much faster than PET under industrial composting conditions," Caroline van Reedt Dortland, Director Communications at Avantium, told DW. Degrading in 250-400 days as opposed to 300-500 years is significant.</p><p>It is used as a textile, film, and has the potential to become a major player in the packaging of soft drinks, water, alcoholic beverages and fruit juices, having already collaborated with the likes of Carlsberg to create <a href="https://www.avantium.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/20191011-Press-release-Avantium-joins-Paper-Bottle-Project-final.pdf" target="_blank">a "100% bio-based" beer bottle</a>.</p><p>According to Hasso Pogrell of European Bioplastics, it's even possible to " recycle PEF together with PET, and it makes the PET recyclate perform even better than the original PET."</p>
5. Mushrooms<p>Gadget blog<em> Gizmodo</em> wrote back in 2015 about resilient and biodegradable fungal mycelia-based materials which, unlike oil-based plastic, "create no toxic byproducts."</p><p>One emerging brand utilizing fungi is Reishi, a sustainable, fine mycelium leather substitute created from a woven cellular microstructure derived from mushrooms. By emulating the collagen structure of animal leathers, Reishi fine mycelium is both sustainable and versatile.</p><p>Reishi creator MycoWorks has taken the water-resistant biomaterial to the next level, promising the performance, quality and aesthetics of leather or synthetic plastic materials, but with a negative carbon footprint.</p><p>Already utilized by a selection of European luxury and footwear brands, in late 2019 $17 million (€18 million) financing was raised to help deliver commercially viable non-plastic, non-animal Reishi materials to the market.</p><p>In terms of limiting fossil-based plastic consumption, the biomaterial aims to outperform existing "vegan leathers" that are created with unsustainable plastics. <br></p>
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By Julia Conley
Tired of receiving notices warning that their drinking water may have been compromised and having little recourse to fight corporate polluters, voters in Toledo, Ohio on Tuesday approved a measure granting Lake Erie some of the same legal rights as a human being.
Sixty-one percent of voters in Tuesday's special election voted in favor of Lake Erie's Bill of Rights, which allows residents to take legal action against entities that violate the lake's rights to "flourish and naturally evolve" without interference.
New Investigation: Surge of Poultry Factory Farms in North Carolina Added Waste From 515.3M Chickens to That of 9.7M Hogs
North Carolina, a state known for the devastating environmental and public health impacts of industrial-scale hog production, now has more than twice as many poultry factory farms as swine operations, according to a new investigation from the Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance.
The groups' research found that in 2018, manure from 515.3 million chickens and turkeys joined the waste from 9.7 million hogs already fouling waters and threatening North Carolinians' health. By scouring satellite data, examining U.S. Department of Agriculture imagery and conducting site visits, EWG and Waterkeeper experts identified more than 4,700 poultry and about 2,100 swine concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOS.
The current outbreak, which began in October 2017 off southwest Florida, has been tied to a record 589 sea turtle deaths and 213 manatee deaths, the Herald-Tribune reported, citing figures from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
By Erica Cirino
Visit a coral reef off the coast of Miami or the Maldives and you may see fields of bleached white instead of a burst of colors.
Climate Change Threats<p>Though reefs cover less than 1 percent of Earth's surface, they support more than a million different species, including many types of algae — like sea grasses and sea lettuces — and a broad range of animals from starfish to shrimp to sharks, as well as people. Experts estimate that corals pull <a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral07_importance.html" target="_blank">$375 billion</a> into the global economy every year, mainly by fostering tourism, supporting fisheries, and contributing to medicine and storm protection.</p><p>Despite their value corals have been in decline for decades. Scientists responded by initiating the first reef-restoration efforts about 50 years ago. Since then restoration efforts have been tailored to meet the needs of corals prioritized at specific times and places. In the 1970s, as coastal development boomed, scientists focused on expanding corals' habitat by strategically placing shipwrecks, concrete pipes, tires and other manmade structures underwater on which corals could grow. By the early 2000s, scientists had become more interested in addressing other localized risks to reefs — such as overfishing, irresponsible tourism and invasive species.</p><p>But climate change poses an even more far-reaching threat.</p><p>Bleaching — a precursor to coral death caused by stressors including warming waters — has left nary a reef unscathed around the world. Most corals thrive in temperatures between 73-84 degrees Fahrenheit. Oceans naturally undergo seasonal warming, which leads to temperature fluctuations high enough to bleach some corals. In the past corals could recover from bleaching events once waters cooled. Scientists say it takes 15 to 25 years for a reef to recover from serious bleaching and become healthy enough to support a rich host of marine life. But today, with the relentless and extreme warming our oceans now face, corals are running out of possible recovery time. It's becoming much harder for them to make a comeback.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYyMDAzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTM4MTc0NX0.4yY0nPy9P2wVxS7-oQelaw25JhphOkf_kbxXGoam8k8/img.jpg?width=980" id="44834" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="313ce486f8f995a433918e52e6494828" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A major coral bleaching event on part of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Oregon State University / CC BY-SA 2.0
Secret Weapon # 1: The Public<p>To stem this tide, restoration efforts now mostly involve growing corals in undersea nurseries and transplanting them onto dying reefs that are losing coral. Like saplings being replanted in a fallen forest, young corals can help regenerate an ecosystem that's becoming barren.</p><p>But the work can be expensive and labor-intensive. According to researchers it can cost <a href="https://datadryad.org/stash/dataset/doi:10.5061/dryad.rc0jn" target="_blank">more than $150,000</a> to restore one reef — a small fortune in low-income coastal communities that may struggle to find funding.</p><p>That's why restoration efforts have grown increasingly reliant on the help of citizen scientists. This has significantly reduced the high price tag of restoration by replacing paid labor with volunteers — without any noticeable decline in success. Research shows the growth and survival rate of the corals planted by citizen scientists is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1617138117301504" target="_blank">almost identical</a> to corals planted by experts. When handled properly, the corals replanted by volunteers survive at a rate of at least 80 percent, and often exceeds 90 percent, said Dalton Hesley, a senior research associate at the University of Miami Benthic Ecology and Coral Restoration Lab, who led that study.</p><p>"Replanting is an investment," Hesley said. "These corals should, in theory, live indefinitely, and you should expect to see growth over the years."</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjQwODgwMX0.TpiaDcCidHgwJlZoyH_dYLp9Iuq0d38-Yh34jbwroHs/img.jpg?width=980" id="f7520" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fa1108fd8244c77a8b6657041c5892a5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A healthy staghorn coral colony two years after it was planted on a reef in the Florida Keys.
FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Secret Weapon # 2: Genetics<p>"On first glance replanting may seem like a distraction from mitigating climate change, which is what we have to do if we want to save reefs," said Andersen. But she says restoration can give corals a better chance — especially when they're coupled with recent efforts to supercharge replanting by <a href="https://www.newsdeeply.com/oceans/articles/2017/08/28/race-to-decode-coral-dna-to-save-worlds-reefs-from-extinction" target="_blank">genetically identifying</a> the most diverse and resilient species.</p><p>A well-planned, diverse reef is probably the best remedy to bleaching, Andersen said.</p><p>"I've heard of hundreds of restoration projects around the world, but none that have failed," she said. "But if one happened to fail, I would assume its leaders failed to create enough coral diversity."</p><p>Hesley agreed: "With high diversity there's strength."</p><p>Thousands of species of hard and soft corals have been identified to date, and each of these species has varying levels of resistance to stressors. Even within a species, scientists have identified different <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/116/21/10586" target="_blank">gene patterns</a> that can convey different benefits.</p><p>"Some corals grow very quickly, some are less prone to disease, some bleach less, some are hardier during storms, for example," Hesley said. "There's not one coral species or individual that excels across the board, so we must focus on creating high levels of coral diversity."</p><p>Larger-scale reef restoration projects, like the <a href="http://rescueareef.rsmas.miami.edu/" target="_blank">program</a> Hesley is involved in at the University of Miami, keep track of coral genetics using DNA analysis, ensuring coral diversity. Smaller-scale programs in rather remote places, like Andersen's project in the Maldives, often do not have in-house access to labs and genetics testing, which can be prohibitively expensive.</p><p>Andersen said these challenges require her to go through a complex research process and collaboration with coral geneticists on a different atoll to pinpoint the most and least resilient coral species. Then, she must carefully remove fragments of coral from reefs known to have survived past bleaching events so that they can be used to spawn more hardy corals. After that, she monitors the donor reef and fragments to ensure they stay healthy. These preliminary parts of the replanting process, which require permits and extraordinary precision, are left up to the professionals.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYyMDAzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDQ4NjkyNn0.EJgvphllBv-4WXC6n2Q98AJJ1x5UNydcM2c7Ah-ITA0/img.jpg?width=980" id="cf825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0b5fd81aa53152e76daf921add21a303" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Choosing coral parent colonies to aid reef restoration efforts.
FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Promise and Challenges<p>When it comes to giving dying corals another shot, Hesley acknowledged that coral reef restoration is not a perfect solution. He said finding adequate funding, staff and volunteer labor, and addressing the root causes of reef decline — climate change and local stressors to reef health — are lingering challenges.</p><p>However, Anderson said the benefits of reef restoration, especially those powered by citizen scientists, are strong compared to their drawbacks. This has led to projects cropping up on reefs all around the world, developed by scientists hired by research institutions and hotels alike.</p><p>One of the most exciting she's seen is a citizen-science restoration project led by Peter Harrison of Southern Cross University in Australia, who has developed a backpack-sized inflatable coral spawn catcher and nursery pool in which baby corals can grow until they're big enough to be replanted.</p><p>Of course, even volunteers can only do so much. Harrison has also pioneered use of robots to swiftly distribute baby corals onto nearly 7.5 acres of damaged reefs, doing a job in just six hours that would take several human hands at least a week. If perfected, it could put volunteer seeding efforts effectively out of business.</p><p>But there's always a role for people willing to help. After corals are propagated, whether it's by hand or machine, citizen scientists can help care for them in undersea nurseries.</p><p>All of this requires careful planning. Andersen emphasizes the importance of establishing clearly defined goals for restoration, based around a community's needs and available resources. Another aspect of a successful restoration effort, she said, is an effective and accessible training program that primes citizen scientists on how to participate and, ultimately, care about the future of corals.</p><p>And that ties into the fundamental reason why citizen science still matters: because restoration buys time for corals. Experts at the Smithsonian Research Institute have <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-019-0988-x" target="_blank">found</a> that the more living coral a reef has when exposed to highly acidic waters, the more likely it is to survive, instead of bleaching and dying.</p><p>Meanwhile, the efforts help to connect people to something that otherwise might stay out of sight and out of mind beneath the surface of the ocean.</p><p>"I don't think a lot of people who get involved in restoration initially have that emotional attachment to coral reefs simply because they haven't had a chance to care about them," Andersen said. "Restoration gives them the opportunity to make a connection, to really understand how dire the situation is, and to do something that can help."</p>
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By Julia Conley
Sen. Elizabeth Warren expanded her vision for combating the climate crisis on Tuesday with the release of her Blue New Deal — a new component of the Green New Deal focusing on protecting and restoring the world's oceans after decades of pollution and industry-caused warming.
I eat mostly a plant-based diet, I say no to plastic straws and I'm trying to cut back on driving. But for my rescue pup Lela, I'll spoil her with a bit of grass-fed lamb, one of the most carbon-intensive meats out there.
By Amy McDermott
Last week, the White House released the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a dire warning on climate change risks and impacts across the U.S. The report does not mince words. In 29 chapters and five appendices, it outlines grave threats to life, livelihoods, national security and the U.S. economy, caused by sea level rise, extreme temperatures, severe storms, fires, flooding and other climatic changes.
The U.S. government will release a major climate report on Friday afternoon that could be very inconvenient for President Trump, who seems as clueless as ever about the global phenomenon and continues to push coal and other planet-warming fossil fuels.
But environmentalists, climate experts and others have pointed out that the critical warning from 13 federal agencies will be softened by the country's post-Thanksgiving haze and Black Friday shopping rush.