May. 06, 2017 12:33PM EST
By Matt Blois
More than 20 feet below the surface of the water, on the sandy sea floor between Cancún and Isla Mujeres in Mexico, a lobster takes refuge beneath a miniature concrete house. Scuba divers watch as the lobster slinks underneath the foundation. Farther on, hundreds of statues stand in tight circles. A little girl holds a purse close to her chest. A man looks straight ahead with a broom in hand. A thin layer of algae, sponges and coral covers the statues from head to toe.
The answer to powering our devices might have been hiding in our sushi all along. An international team of researchers has used seaweed to create a material that can enhance the performance of superconductors, lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.
More than 20 states have seen occurrences of toxic algae blooms this summer, which have had far-reaching environmental and human health impacts across the country. The algae blooms can also be found around the world, in all climates from Greenland to Oman.
Even though glyphosate is used to control weeds in agricultural fields, the world's most commonly used weedkiller has also been detected in streams, rivers and other aquatic systems worldwide due to runoff.
Starting next year, Google's shrimp dishes won't be made with actual shrimp. After tasting New Wave Foods's realistic faux shrimp, the tech giant's chef pledged to switch to the company's plant- and-algae-based product for the first few months of 2017, Wired reported.
EcoWatch featured the San Francisco sustainable seafood startup in December. The New Wave team consists of three women with a combined professional background in environmentalism to take on this ambitious task: Dominique Barnes is an oceanography graduate and former shark caretaker at Las Vegas's Golden Nugget Hotel, Michelle Wolf is a materials scientist and engineer, and Jennifer Kaehms has a bioengineering degree from the University of California San Diego.
We mentioned then how the company's lab-grown "shrimp" is as tasty and nutritious as the real deal. The shrimp even transitions from grey to pink during cooking.
Barnes told Munchies, "Right now, when we do demos, most people are really surprised that it's not real shrimp." She explained that the company has mostly replicated a real shrimp's exact texture and taste using red algae:
"We looked at the building blocks of real shrimp, what they consumed. They eat many things, but one of the things they eat regularly are micro algae, and a part of that is red algae. Certain compounds from red algae actually impart shrimp's color and flavor. So we looked at that and found it can actually be cultivated and used in a similar way in our shrimp. It's also a powerful anti-oxidant."
Shrimp is America's most popular seafood. The average American peels through roughly 4 pounds of shrimp a year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. About 6 million tons of shrimp are consumed worldwide per year.
However, the world's fondness for this crustacean has sent global populations plummeting from overfishing. For instance, Maine's Northern shrimp haul dropped from 12 million pounds in 2010 to just 563,313 pounds in 2013.
World Wildlife Fund points out that production has also been known to rip out ecologically sensitive habitats such as mangroves. Shrimp farming also creates a steady stream of organic waste, chemicals and antibiotics that can pollute groundwater and coastal estuaries.
"Looking at land use, water use, transportation of the product—[our shrimp] is much less intensive" compared with shrimp farming, Barnes explained to Wired.
You might also want to avoid certain types of shrimp for
health reasons. A startling Consumer Reports study tested 342 packages of frozen shrimp—284 raw and 58 cooked samples—purchased at Albertsons, Costco, Fry's Marketplace, Hy-Vee, Kroger, Sprouts Farmers Market and Walmart in 27 cities across the U.S. The results showed that 60 percent of raw shrimp tested positive for bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli and listeria. In seven raw shrimp samples, scientists detected the antibiotic-resistant superbug MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, that could potentially lead to a dangerous infection.
If that doesn't ruin your taste for shrimp, most varieties you'll find in supermarkets or served in restaurants comes from small shrimp farms in Southeast Asia. Last December, a stunning investigation from the Associated Press revealed that the industry was rife with human trafficking and the shrimp you might be eating was peeled by slave labor.
New Waves's fake shrimp can thus be consumed without any guilt. Barnes, however, admitted to Wired that it will be an uphill climb to switch American taste buds off their favorite seafood for what amounts to "pond scum."
"One hurdle that I do see," Barnes said, "is in our perception of algae. When I talk to people, usually they're like, 'What are you talking about? This is pond scum.'" She also pointed out that you've likely eaten algae without even knowing it. "You probably already consumed something this week that has an algae ingredient," she said.
Besides Google, the fake shrimp has been served at pop-up events in San Francisco and the company is working for a mass-market release.
"We've been able to visit Google twice so far and [had our food] served in their cafeteria," Barnes told Digital Trends. "At the moment we're making everything in small batches because we're kind of an artisanal company. But to meet the kind of quantity they would like to order we need to focus on scaling our production. Right now that's our main focus."
Glyphosate, the controversial main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and other herbicides, is being connected to Lake Erie's troubling algae blooms, which has fouled drinking water and suffocated and killed marine life in recent years.
A dead fish surrounded by algae in Lake Erie during a record-setting algae bloom in 2011.Photo credit: Tom Archer/NOAA
Phosphorus—attributed to farm runoff carried by the Maumee River—has long been identified as a leading culprit feeding the excessive blooms in the western Lake Erie basin. Now, according to a new study from chemistry professor Christopher Spiese, a significant correlation has been established between the increased use of glyphosate to the percentage of dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) in the runoff.
As No-Till Farmer observed from the study, DRP loads in Lake Erie increased in the mid-1990s at the same time that farmers began the widespread cultivation of crops genetically engineered to withstand multiple applications of Roundup.
"For every acre of Roundup Ready soybeans and corn that you plant, it works out to be about one-third of a pound of P [phosphorus] coming down the Maumee," Spiese told the agricultural publication.
Here's how the team came to the conclusion, as No-Till Farmer reported:
Through his own and others' research, Spiese found that depending on the types of metal in the soil, glyphosate does release P. For example, when glyphosate is applied to soil containing iron oxide-hydroxide, P is immediately released. But almost nothing is removed when it's an iron oxide material.
Finally, Spiese took soil samples all over the Maumee watershed, applied P to them and then sprayed glyphosate to see how much P was released vs. soil that wasn't sprayed with glyphosate after 24 hours. He saw desorption occurred all over the watershed, but certain areas were higher than others, specifically in the southeastern corner.
Based on the average two glyphosate applications growers make every year, Spiese estimates that overall, 20-25 percent of the DRP runoff is caused by glyphosate. But depending on the location within the watershed, that percentage could be much lower or much greater.
"Some of those sites, it's less than a percent. Other sites it's almost 100 percent," he says.
Previous studies have tied glyphosate to the phosphorous fueling Lake Erie's blue-green algae. In 2009, Ohio Sea Grant researchers, Drs. R. Michael McKay and George Bullerjahn of Bowling Green State University, found that glyphosate could only be detected in the lake at certain times of year—after crops are planted.
"Our research is finding that Roundup is getting into the watershed at peak farming application times, particularly in the spring," McKay said.
Approximately 1,000 metric tonnes (about 2.2 million pounds) of Roundup is applied in the Lake Erie watershed per year, and it is being detected in adjacent waterways particularly in the spring, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted from McKay and Bullerjahn's study.
The researchers also found that the blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in the lake are capable of using phosophonates.
"It turns out that many cyanobacteria present in Lake Erie have the genes allowing the uptake of phosphonates, and these cyanobacteria can grow using glyphosate and other phosphonates as a sole source of phosphorus," Bullerjahn said.
Harmful Lake Erie blooms have increased at record levels over the last decade, according to the U.S. EPA and are expected to become more common due to warmer temperatures and heavy rainfall that feed algae growth.
The toxic algae rob oxygen from the waters creating dead zones where fish and other marine life are unable to survive. The algae is also a threat to humans—swallowing it can cause health problems such as rashes, vomiting, numbness and difficulty breathing.
In February this year, the U.S. and Canada announced a goal to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering affected areas of Lake Erie by a total of 40 percent by 2025.
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Waterways and beaches along Florida's Atlantic coast have been taken over by thick, blue-green algae blooms, prompting Florida Gov. Rick Scott to declare local states of emergency in St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach and Lee counties.
Residents have described the foul-smelling algae as "guacamole-thick," "god-awful" and "a festering infected creepy mess." One resident has complained of health problems, telling Reuters, "It is affecting all of us as far as red eyes, runny nose and the 'in the throat' feeling."
"It's heartbreaking for all of us who live, work and play along the lagoon to see how the quality of the water has declined," environmental non-profit Balance For Earth wrote on Facebook.
The source of the severe bloom is believed to stem from the polluted Lake Okeechobee, which has become a hotbed of finger-pointing.
ThinkProgress reported in February that local industries have long dumped an assortment of chemicals, fertilizers and cattle manure into the lake. David Guest, managing attorney of the Florida branch of the environmental law group Earthjustice, described the lake as a "toilet."
The Guardian reported that algae samples from the lake taken earlier this month found levels of toxins 20 times higher than a safety threshold set by the World Health Organization.
The officials who regulate the toxic, overflowing lake are in an unenviable position. To prevent flooding, water gets flushed from the lake into the St. Lucie River that flows to the ocean via Martin County. They can't just leave the water there either; high water levels have added stress to the aging Herbert Hoover Dike, a 143-mile levee that surrounds the lake. Florida's high rainfall only makes matters worse.
However, according to UPI, Scott said the Obama administration is at fault for failing to repair the dike.
"Because the Obama Administration has failed to act on this issue, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [which regulates lake levels], continues to discharge millions of gallons of water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries resulting in the growth of blue-green algae which is now entering residential waterways in South Florida," he said. "Although the president has failed to do what is needed to address this growing issue, the state of Florida will devote every available resource to find solutions for the families and businesses in this area."
However, Irene Gomes, local resident and owner of the Driftwood Motel in Jensen Beach, has blamed Scott. Gomes told the Associated Press that the governor has not done enough to curb pollution from farms north of the lake or purchase land farther south where lake waters could be stored and cleaned.
Local environmental agencies, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, have now been tasked with addressing the blooms, including reducing the flow of water into Lake Okeechobee and creating a hotline for residents to report algae blooms.
Deborah Drum, manager of ecosystem restoration at Martin county, told the Guardian that there is no known way to effectively clean up an algal bloom.
"We have to wait for it to disperse," she said. "We anticipate that it will go away but we are not sure about that now. We didn't expect this to happen so we are kind of at a new frontier."
Algae blooms have become a worsening problem in many parts of the U.S. In Toledo, Ohio a toxic algae blooms erupt across Lake Erie every year.
Sandy Bihn, executive director for the Ohio-based Lake Erie Waterkeeper environmental advocacy group, told EarthIsland Journal that climate change will exacerbate conditions leading to Erie's toxic blooms. As heavy rains increase in the region, they will contribute to high runoff levels. Higher summer temperatures will also promote blooms, she said.
The Environmental Working Group wrote that for algal blooms in Martin County, Lake Erie and other parts of the country, the primary source of pollution is conventional agriculture.
Florida, you might want to take note.
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