Study Finds Proximity to Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling Rigs Threaten Humpback Whales
By Rob Jordan
When you are 50 feet long and weigh more than 40 tons—the maximum allowed weight on most U.S. highways—you need a lot of space to move around.
Humpback whales, still recovering from whaling that wiped out as much as 90 percent of their global population, are confronted with new challenges caused by hydrocarbon extraction, shipping routes and ocean-based pollutants, according to a study co-authored by Sara Maxwell, a biology postdoctoral scholar affiliated with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
The study, published last week in the journal Conservation Biology, finds that humpback whales migrating from breeding grounds off the coast of Africa must navigate past offshore oil and gas rigs, vessels in shipping lanes and encounter the potentially harmful toxicants that accompany them.
"Knowing not just where animals are going, but what kind of human activities and potential threats they are facing gives us insight into how we can effectively help them while still maintaining the services that we as humans rely on in the ocean," said Maxwell, who works at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station.
Using satellite tags, the researchers tracked 15 whales’ massive journeys, some more than 4,970 miles, between sub-Antarctic feeding grounds and African near-shore breeding grounds, among other areas.
The whales spent the most time in the national waters of Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria and Angola, areas overlapped with offshore hydrocarbon operations and major shipping lanes. Overall, the whales spent an estimated 41.4 percent of the study period near oil and gas platforms. They spent nearly 76 percent of their time within 200 miles of the coast, a zone in which individual countries have rights granted by international law over the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production.
Data on certain impacts on whales in this region is limited, but there is extensive evidence of ships striking whales off the California coast, where numerous programs have been put in place to mitigate the problem, Maxwell said.
“There are indications that oil production in these coastal regions has and will increase in the coming years,” said study lead author Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants program. “So gaining a better understanding of the movements of whales and quantifying the degree of overlap with anthropogenic activities will help assess the potential risks to this population, and identify mitigation strategies that should be considered to better protect whales.”
The satellite data contained some surprising results: while several whales predictably remained in the offshore waters of Gabon or traveled south, nearly half of the tagged group (including two females with calves) moved north into a previously unknown part of the breeding range for humpbacks off the coast of Gabon.
While migration patterns of humpbacks have been the subject of extensive study in other ocean basins and regions, the direct movements of humpbacks along the western African coast in the eastern South Atlantic have only recently come to light.
The study’s discovery prompted Maxwell to say, “We are still in an age of discovery when it comes to these ocean giants."
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.
Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.
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An extremely rare North Atlantic right whale calf was found dead off the North Carolina coast on Friday.
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