By Agata Mrowiec
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," an old adage says. This phrase is even more relevant when talking about hidden gems lying in sea-bottom areas of the North Sea, which many consider to be a cold and dark sea, composed of murky waters and dull animals living in it.
Worm Reefs, an Unexpected Finding in Dutch Waters<p>Not only corals build up reefs. There are many examples of marine animals that play a similar function in the underwater ecosystem. One of them is mostly known to marine experts — <em>Sabellaria spinulosa —</em> a worm that builds and lives in tubes. When thousands of these tubes are formed together, the worm creates a reef. It is right to call <em>Sabellaria</em> (ross worm) a habitat engineer, due to its ability to create a habitat for a multitude of species, like crabs, common sea stars, and fishes, such as common dragonet and small-spotted catshark. These reefs are true biodiversity hotspots since they support higher levels of biodiversity than the sandy areas that surround them. The fact that there are living <em>Sabellaria</em> reefs in Dutch waters was a surprising and important discovery made during our 2017 expedition, especially, because they were believed to have disappeared from the Dutch part of the North Sea, due to intense human activity, including overfishing. Oceana scientists documented them in at least three locations of the Dutch side of Brown Bank, an area within the southern North Sea that spans both Dutch and UK waters.</p><p>In addition to the reefs, Brown Bank is an ecologically important area, that supports abundance of cetaceans and seabirds. It also serves as an essential spawning habitat for a variety of commercial fish species in the North Sea, like cod, herring, mackerel, sprat and plaice. Sadly, it is not free from human impact. Intense bottom fishing, wind energy development, oil and gas exploitation, and ship traffic are among the main threats to biodiversity and ecosystems in Brown Bank.</p>
Importance of Protecting Brown Bank<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTU2NjA1OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjY5NTY3NX0.qzgR8PrWq5hhVK8ETSIftfsvJwjuAFTt56ZL4Bwjz-s/img.jpg?width=980" id="22110" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ef862c01c9408a6fa1832c8bb43e705a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Importance of Protecting Brown Bank<p>While the UK side of the Brown Bank has been granted national protection by law for just one species (harbor porpoise), there are no measures in place to preserve the fragile sea life on the Dutch side. Protection of the Brown Bank has been long considered a priority for the Dutch government, but even though the area meets the necessary requirements for designating as a marine protected area, the Dutch authorities have so far failed to take action.</p><p>Oceana's discovery of ecologically important <em>Sabellaria</em> reefs points towards legal obligations to protect them. The Dutch government has already <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/environment/marine/eu-coast-and-marine-policy/marine-strategy-framework-directive/index_en.htm" target="_blank">committed</a> to conserving and restoring living reefs. At the international level, ross worm reefs are also officially recognized as requiring conservation action; they are listed as threatened/declining by <a href="https://www.ospar.org/" target="_blank">OSPAR</a> Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic. Countries that are signatory to OSPAR (like the Netherlands and UK) are therefore obliged to take action to study and conserve them.</p><p>A recently published UN global assessment <a href="https://www.ipbes.net/" target="_blank">report</a> paints a dire picture of the heavy human footprint on our planet, including biodiversity loss.</p><p>As much as there is strong evidence for global threats such as climate change and plastics, our oceans also face problems on a more local level, including some that are not well-known. The rare occurrence of fragile <em>Sabellaria spinulosa</em> reefs creates a clear opportunity for the Dutch government to designate Brown Bank as a marine protected area, and to create measures that would ensure its full protection from the impact of human activities.</p><p>With so much destruction already caused by humankind, actions to save our planet — and ultimately ourselves — must be taken now.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Have scientists figured out the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle? That's the claim that is going viral on the internet following the discovery of strange, hexagonal clouds at the western tip of the triangle.
Science Channel screenshot
According to a Science Channel documentary, the clouds were captured by satellites over the Bahamas peaking meteorologists' interest. The shape of the clouds appeared to have straight edges which, meteorologists say, is not normal.
"You don't typically see straight edges with clouds," Dr. Steve Miller, satellite meteorologist at Colorado State University, said. "Most of the time, clouds are random in their distribution."
The clouds, measuring between 20 and 50 miles across, have also been found in the North Sea in Europe and are believed to create "air bombs," formed by microbursts of air that blast out of the bottom of the cloud and hit the ocean creating massive waves and sea-level winds at up to 170 mph.
These "air bombs," Science Channel said, could provide an explanation for the mysterious disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle over the years.
While this argument is interesting, some experts, including the meteorologists who appeared in the short documentary, say it's a stretch.
"It is a common phenomenon occurring globally—most generally found at mid- to high-latitude locations over the oceans, and usually during the cold season," Steve Miller told USA Today.
Randy Cerveny, another meteorologist who talked about the "air bombs" in the Science Channel documentary, told USA Today, "They made it appear as if I was making a big breakthrough or something. Sadly, [that's] not the case."
NBC meteorologist Kevin Corriveau didn't even seem convinced that the clouds seen in the Bahamas would create "air bombs."
"When I look at a hexagonal cloud shape in the Bahamas, this is not the cloud signature of what a microburst looks like," he told NBC News. "You would normally have one large to extremely large thunderstorm that wouldn't have an opening in the middle."
Rather, he said, the odd shapes could be due to the small islands of the Bahamas heating the air differently than the long coastline of Florida, creating erratic weather patterns.
The Bermuda Triangle—a region of ocean bordered by Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico—has gained notoriety over the past century as the location many ships and aircrafts reportedly disappear without a trace.
Violent weather has been blamed for mysterious disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle before, along with other explanations ranging from compass problems, the Gulf Stream, methane hydrates that can reduce the density of the water and sink ships, and even paranormal activity.
While this theory adds to the discussion, there is still much more to learn about its occurrence and effect in the area of the Bermuda Triangle.
About 95 metric tons of oil leaked into the North Sea on Sunday from BP's Clair platform, and it will be left in the ocean. BP says the oil is moving away from land and dispersing naturally, but the spill is a reminder that accidents happen as more oil development is eyed for the Arctic.
Oil slick visible from spill off BP Clair platform in the North Sea.Maritime and Coastguard Agency
In what BP called a "technical issue," oil was released into the North Sea, located about 46 miles, west of the Shetland Islands. BP shut down the oil rig and said it is investigating the accident.
The oil company said it had conducted five aerial surveys with three more planned for Tuesday to monitor the oil slick.
"It is considered that the most appropriate response remains to allow the oil to disperse naturally at sea, but contingencies for other action have been prepared and are available, if required," BP said.
In addition to Clair, BP operates the Quad204 facility in the North Sea, 108 miles west of Shetland, in a field that has been drilled since 1998. The North Sea has seen oil and gas extraction for decades, with about half of the estimated reserves having already been taken. Oil production peaked in 1999, but production has been on an upswing in recent years. A recent discovery off Norway, the Johan Sverdrup oil field, is expected to begin production in 2019.
According to energy consultancy Crystol Energy, "The Johan Sverdrup field is expected to be one of the most important industrial projects in Norway over the next 50 years."
From 2000 to 2011, there were 4,123 separate oil spills in the North Sea, according to an investigation by The Guardian. Oil companies were fined for just seven of them. No single fine was greater than about $25,000.
There have been a number of major oil spills in the North Sea—the largest of which was the 1977 Bravo blowout that released an estimated 80,000 to 126,000 barrels of oil. The well spewed oil for seven days. In 2011, Shell spilled more than 200 metric tons from the Gannet Alpha platform, and a 2007 mishap while a tanker was loading oil resulted in a spill of 4,000 metric tons, or about 25,000 barrels of oil. None of these spills were alleged to have any ecological impact, and all but the Bravo blowout were allowed to disperse, unchecked, by the sea.
As the Arctic Ocean warms, oil giants are eyeing the northern seas for more oil exploration and development. It is a dangerous environment in which to drill.
14 Reasons Why We Must Never Drill in the #Arctic http://t.co/sjVsap21v2 @Earthjustice @sierraclub @Waterkeeper @350 http://t.co/8ircgdCMzh— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1435241161.0
The Arctic lacks the infrastructure to stop, mitigate or clean up a major oil spill, or even to quickly aid workers on a damaged platform.
But that isn't stopping oil companies. Today, Caelus Energy boasted of a "world-class" discovery that could turn out to be one of the largest finds in Alaska. In a press release, Caelus CEO Jim Musselman called the find "really exciting" and the company said the Smith Bay complex could produce 200,000 barrels of oil per day.
"Without the state tax credit programs, none of this would've happened, and I'm not sure Caelus would've come to explore in Alaska," Musselman added.
In June, 400 scientists signed a letter urging President Obama to stop any further oil development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. A 2014 study found that the polar bear population in the Southern Beaufort Sea had dropped by an astounding 40 percent from 2001 to 2010.
"Accidents can and do happen, and in this extreme environment, the only truly safe approach to protect the unique and fragile Arctic offshore environment is no drilling whatsoever," Brad Ack, World Wildlife Fund's senior vice president for oceans, said in July.
Greenpeace has warned about new figures showing Britain’s offshore rigs and platforms have leaked oil or other chemicals into the North Sea 55 times over the past month should act as a “reality check” for an industry aiming to drill in the Arctic.
The latest figures, released by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, challenge claims that the industry has a strong a effective safety and environmental recorded.
Facilities operated by Shell, BP and BG Group were all offenders.
Greenpeace say the figures are alarming, particularly when you consider that the industry is trying to persuade the world it should be allowed to drill in the pristine but harsh environments of the Arctic.
Greenpeace senior climate adviser Charlie Kronick said:
They’re trying to convince the world that they can operate safely in one of the world’s harshest environments, yet they can’t prevent this steady trickle of oil and other polluting chemicals leaking into the relatively safe waters of the North Sea.
This will do little to increase public trust in their ability to drill in the Arctic without damaging this incredibly beautiful and fragile corner of our planet.
But the industry says the leaks often contained just tiny amounts of relatively harmless substances and the reporting system is an example of good regulation.
The latest figures come as environmental campaigners also warn that half of Britain’s biggest energy companies are looking to drill in the Arctic.
E. On and Centrica are interested in exploring for oil and gas in the Barents Sea, while RWE Npower is also reportedly interested in exploiting resources in the area.
The companies gained exploration licenses in Norwegian waters, but Greenpeace warn companies are risking spills in an area of “breathtaking beauty.”
The most controversial is a block in the Barents Sea awarded to E.ON, which the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (NIMR) said should not be opened at all, because of the risk to marine life including the largest cods stocks left in the world.
Greenpeace say that many of the areas being explored are full of rare wildlife and important fish stocks and warn that environmental groups in Norway are extremely concerned over the plans. Three of the country’s environment agencies have called for at least a partial ban on drilling in certain areas.
Because of its remote location and extreme conditions, Greenpeace—along with other environmentalists and scientists—say that an oil spill would be virtually impossible to clean up.
Visit EcoWatch’s OFFSHORE OIL DRILLING page for more related news on this topic.
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