By Jim Palardy
As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.
The panel, coordinated by the UK-based Cambridge Conservation Initiative, conducted a horizon scan — an effort to spot early signs of significant phenomena — of global biological conservation issues. For the resulting study, which was funded by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the panel winnowed down an initial list of 97 topics, settling on the following 15 because of their novelty or their potential to move the conservation needle in either a positive or negative direction over the coming decade.
1. Seabirds Could Help Spot Illegal Fishing
Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to score easy meals. Now, scientists are hoping to exploit this behavior to help spot illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, which accounts for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood every year, or 1 in 5 fish sold. Researchers have had some success attaching transmitters to seabirds to locate fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean, but more study is needed to validate the use of this tactic.
2. Marine Vessels and GPS Spoofing
Vessels plying the ocean navigate and transmit their locations and identities mainly through the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and automatic identification system (AIS). The panel points out that a recent rise in GNSS spoofing and AIS cloning incidents could facilitate the trade of illegal goods and hamper authorities' efforts to identify vessels engaged in illicit resource extraction activities such as fishing and dredging.
3. More Corals May Suffer From Lack of Oxygen
Several factors — including climate-driven marine heat waves and nutrient runoff from land — can lower oxygen levels in the ocean. Corals in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans have died from this hypoxia, and, although those events weren't widespread, some scientists fear that the threat may grow significantly as climate change further warms the ocean. Research is needed to better understand the extent and impact of low oxygen conditions on coral reefs.
4. Understanding the Impacts of Increased Dissolved Iron on Coastal Polar Ecosystems
Coastal zones in polar latitudes are among Earth's most productive — that is, they create and support large numbers of organisms ranging from tiny marine plants to animals such as polar bears and seals — a characteristic driven by the availability of dissolved iron from glaciers and ice. Increased melting in the polar regions will result in higher iron concentrations, which in turn will probably fuel more intense phytoplankton blooms and enable organisms on the seafloor to capture more carbon and other nutrients. Such changes could have wide-ranging effects — including impacts on the structure of the region's marine ecosystems and on carbon sequestration — and warrants investigation.
5. What to Do With a Growing Number of Decommissioned Offshore Energy Platforms
It is estimated that 3,000 offshore oil and gas platforms will be decommissioned in the coming decades and that the number of offshore wind farms will continue to grow. Currently, decommissioning practices vary by country and include full removal, conversion of platforms to artificial reefs, and abandonment. As new offshore energy infrastructure is built and old platforms are phased out, nations will need to evaluate the immediate and long-term impacts of their decommissioning strategies on the marine environment.
6. A Drug Problem in the Water
When some chemicals used in pharmaceuticals and in garden and farm products are introduced into waterways — usually through runoff or via sewage systems directly or in human waste — they can cause changes in fish and other organisms, including altering the number of female to males in a population, lower fertility, and deformities. There is emerging evidence that the effects of exposure can be multigenerational, affecting organisms that were never directly exposed.
7. Changes in Low Cloud Cover
Low clouds shade sizable portions of the planet in subtropical regions. It is predicted that these clouds will become increasingly unstable if atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to rise at current rates. The resulting changes could have negative effects on wildlife and human communities.
8. Tree Planting as a Simple Carbon Sequestration Solution
Pledges to plant large areas of trees to help tackle climate change are often perceived as a win for conservation. However, tree planting must be planned and implemented with a clear understanding of regional ecosystems to avoid negative effects on biological diversity.
9. Logging to Reduce Fire Risk
As nations around the world contend with more extreme wildfires, some policymakers suggest that tree removal may be part of the solution. However, the effectiveness of such policies is uncertain, and any short-term gains from removing trees are often offset by the growth of non-native grasses and flowering plants, which may themselves be highly flammable.
10. Large-Scale Adoption of Sustainable Farming Techniques Across India
Driven by government policies and local innovations, sustainable farming practices are becoming more prevalent in India. The state government of Sikkim has adopted organic farming as policy, and the state of Andhra Pradesh, with 6 million farmers, plans to adopt natural farming practices by 2025. Other states across the country plan to follow suit. Early evaluations indicate that these large-scale transitions boost crop yields and incomes, improve the health of farmers, and increase women's access to microfinance. With such results, there is the potential for similar large-scale shifts in other parts of the world.
11. Low Earth-Orbiting Satellites May Mislead Animals Responding to Celestial Cues
More than 2,600 artificial satellites currently orbit the earth, a number that is rapidly increasing. Many species of mammals, insects, and birds use celestial cues to migrate long distances and to orient themselves in local habitats and could be affected by the proliferation of satellites.
12. Bitcoin Mining With Stranded Energy
An emerging use for stranded energy sources, such as low-value methane byproducts vented from oil wells and excess energy produced by wind turbines and solar panels, is to power computers used for Bitcoin mining — the process of creating new Bitcoin by solving complex algorithms. Monetizing stranded energy in this way is a mixed bag that decision-makers will probably have to evaluate. The practice could increase carbon emissions from marginal fossil fuel sources but also could incentivize the deployment of renewable energy by guaranteeing a minimum selling price.
13. Open-Source Investigations of Environmental Threats
Scientists demonstrated some success with using online videos, social media posts, and other open-source data to document the effects of the locust swarms in East Africa in 2020. As faster internet connections and access to smartphones continue to grow globally, the use of open-source data may become an effective tool for researchers.
14. Self-Healing Building Materials
The potential to engineer building materials made of chemicals, polymers, and bacteria that can fix themselves when damaged could reduce the need for repairs and shrink the environmental footprints of construction projects. Recently, scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder used a type of cyanobacteria found in the ocean, along with other materials, to engineer a living building material that can regenerate when fractured.
15. A Waterway to Connect the Baltic and Black Seas
A planned 1,200-mile inland navigable waterway connecting the Baltic and Black seas would alter the flow of cargo and trade in the region. However, the waterway, which would pass through Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine, could alter habitat in 70 wildlife areas and numerous international conservation areas, introduce non-native species, and change the region's rivers and wetlands. Additionally, dredging in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone could disrupt radioactive sediment.
Jim Palardy is a project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts' conservation science program. He served on this year's horizon scan panel and is a co-author on the resulting study.
Reposted with permission from The Pew Charitable Trust.
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By Grantly Galland
The North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC) works to ensure that high-seas fishing for Pacific chub mackerel, Pacific saury, two squid species and other stocks across the north Pacific Ocean is legal, transparent and sustainable. The Pew Charitable Trusts shares those goals and will for the first time attend the commission's annual meeting, July 11-18 in Tokyo, as a formal observer.
Pew's international fisheries work spans the globe and includes advocacy with regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and related bodies. These efforts center on promoting science-based fisheries management, modern enforcement mechanisms and biodiversity protection.
As one of the world's youngest RFMOs, the NPFC has an opportunity to base its policies on the most modern practices in fisheries management. To do that, and help achieve its goals, the commission can take these four steps during its Tokyo meeting:
1. Commit to greater transparency in the fisheries management process by making all meeting documents — including draft conservation and management measures submitted by members, and annual compliance reports — publicly available on the NPFC website.
2. Follow standard RFMO practice by requiring that all vessels engaged in fishing activities — including those that transship NPFC-managed species — are registered (flagged) to an NPFC member government. That would mean that more vessels operating in these waters are subject to commission rules. Alternatively, the commission could develop a system in which cooperating non-members are recognized by the commission when they have fleets operating in the region.
3. Adopt a centralized vessel monitoring system to enhance the collection and reporting of ship location data for scientific purposes and contribute to NPFC monitoring, control, and surveillance programs.
4. Combat illegal fishing by advancing the establishment of a compliance monitoring scheme to help NPFC members better adhere to commission policies, with the aim of adopting that scheme in 2020 or soon after.
By taking these steps, the NPFC could make significant strides toward preventing illegal activity from undermining its conservation and management efforts. These accomplishments would also clear the way to develop harvest strategies for Pacific chub mackerel and other north Pacific stocks, implement best practices for transshipment, and adopt policies in line with the Port State Measures Agreement — three priorities for several NPFC members that could be addressed in 2020 and beyond.
Grantly Galland is an officer with Pew's international fisheries team.
A good backup generator can help you keep your home running smoothly, even in the event of a major power outage. And, when you choose a solar generator, you can power your home using clean, renewable energy from the sun. By contrast, gas and diesel generators burn fossil fuels, and are extremely loud and spew harmful emissions into the atmosphere. Here are the best solar power generators available today that can provide a cleaner alternative for home generators.
Our Picks for the Top Solar Generators
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Renogy Lycan Powerbox
- Best All-Purpose - Goal Zero Yeti 6000X
- Best for Camping - Jackery Explorer 1000
- Most Affordable - Westinghouse iGen600s
- Fastest Charging- EcoFlow DELTA
- Best for Appliances - MAXOAK Bluetti AC200P
- Most Powerful - Point Zero Energy Titan
How We Reviewed the Best Solar Generators
There are a number of factors we considered when choosing which solar power generators to recommend, including:
- Battery capacity. Battery storage capacity is an important ranking factor. A greater battery capacity means the generator can store more energy, which ultimately means it will last longer without requiring a recharge. This is measured in watt-hours (Wh).
- Power output. When your generator is up and running, it will put out a certain amount of energy, measured in watts. It's important to select a generator that offers enough watts for you to power your essential home appliances.
- Inverter rating. The inverter is a critical part of any backup power generator. Basically, this is the component that turns solar energy into AC (alternating current) electricity. Inverter rating, along with battery capacity, determine how much power you can get from your home backup generator.
- Expandability. In order for your backup generator to function, you'll need some way of charging it. And if you plan to rely on solar energy, that means using solar panels. Expandability means that you can add solar panels to your generator as needed, making it easier to absorb more sunlight for energy.
- Number of outlets. How many devices or appliances do you need to charge? The functionality of your backup generator will be determined by how many outlets or ports are available.
- Price. Of course, as you look for the best home backup generator, one of the most crucial considerations of all is your budget. We've sought to emphasize generators that offer maximum value.
Based on these criteria, we've determined the solar backup generators that offer the most consumer value.Check out our complete list of recommendations below. You can also read our complete review of the best solar energy companies for rooftop home solar systems.
The Best Solar Energy Generators
Best Overall: Renogy Lycan Powerbox
Renogy produces several different power stations and chargers, but we especially like the Lycan Powerbox, a solar power solution that's only a little bit bigger than a suitcase. It comes with an easy-grip handle and heavy-duty wheels, making it one of the most portable solar generators around while still offering 1200W of output, which is enough power for most electronic devices and some appliances.
Why buy: The Lycan Powerbox can provide 1075 watt-hours of continuous power without the noise or fumes associated with gas generators. It offers great portability and includes an LCD display and easy, intuitive controls that allow you to switch between DC power and AC power as needed, as well USB ports and 12 volt car charger ports.
Best All-Purpose: Goal Zero Yeti 6000X
The Yeti 6000X is actually a portable power station that can be used for off-grid camping or powering an RV. With 6,000 watt-hours and two 2000W AC charger ports, it will give you plenty of power for your home. With a home integration kit, it's easy to use the Goal Zero Yeti 6000X to power essential circuits.
Why buy: Though it isn't exactly cheap, the Yeti 6000X power station is a great all-purpose backup generator, including a top-of-the-line charge controller and two robust AC outlets that make it easy for you to keep your household essentials up and running. It can even power a full-size refrigerator or microwave.
Best for Camping: Jackery Explorer 1000
The Jackery Explorer 1000 portable power station is one of the best all-around options, equally suited for outdoor activities and for emergency power readiness. Though it's rated for 1,000 watts, it can actually get closer to 2,000. The lithium battery pack offers a capacity of 1,200 watt-hours, and Jackery's professional MPPT technology makes it easy to get your unit fully charged in a relatively short span of time (usually just eight hours if you have two panels going).
Why buy: Jackery is one of the leading names in outdoor equipment and in clean energy products. This portable power station is a great pick for campers and can also be a very effective home backup power solution for small appliances and electronics thanks to its pure sine wave inverter AC outlets.
Most Affordable: Westinghouse iGen600s
Westinghouse Outdoor Power
Westinghouse is another company that specializes in solar powered generators, most of which are more ideally suited for camping trips. Their iGen600s portable generator, however, offers a wattage of up to 1,200 peak watts, which can certainly function as a decent emergency backup for certain household appliances and small devices.
Why buy: For a portable yet still very versatile solar generator, Westinghouse is a company to keep on your list. The iGen600 power system can run a mini fridge for up to 42 hours or a CPAP machine for up to 46 hours thanks to its lithium-ion battery that offers 592 Watt-hours of energy and a long battery life.
Fastest Charging: EcoFlow DELTA
The EcoFlow DELTA power station is a wonderfully rugged, dependable backup generator that can help meet your power needs during a blackout. For one thing, the charging time is incredible; you can potentially go from zero to 80 percent in under an hour with a wall outlet. Should you ever find yourself facing a power outage, this is an emergency energy solution you'll be really thankful for.
Why buy: The DELTA station from EcoFlow offers a lot of value and usability; in particular, it has one of the fastest recharging times of any solar generator, which may be reason enough for you to choose it over the competitors. The DELTA unit offers 13 ports, meaning it's compatible with pretty much any device or appliance you could ever need to charge.
Best for Appliances: MAXOAK Bluetti AC200P
For a heavy-duty emergency power solution, look no further than to MAXOAK, and particularly to a product called the Bluetti AC200P. With a 2000 Watt-hour capacity, this is one of the most robust solar generators you'll find anywhere.
Why buy: MAXOAK's Bluetti AC200P is the one you're going to want for really heavy-duty home energy backup. With massive AC inverters that offer up to 4800W surge capacity, it can provide more than enough power to fuel all your most critical home appliances, even some HVAC units. Also note the two-year warranty, a generous consumer protection.
Most Powerful: Point Zero Energy Titan Solar Generator
Point Zero Energy is one of the foremost names in disaster preparedness, and when you take a look at their product specs, you'll see why. Their Titan model solar generator offers almost twice the storage of similarly priced units with a high-capacity 2,000-watt-hour battery capacity and 3,000 watt high-efficiency inverter.
Why buy: On a purely technical level, this is the beefiest generator on our list, though of course, it's also one of the priciest. The unit is made with high-efficiency components, meaning it doesn't waste a lot of energy running the system; instead, it just supplies you with plenty of functional electricity when you need it the most.
How Does a Solar Generator Work?
Solar generators capture energy from the sun using photovoltaic solar panels, and store it in a built-in battery. Note that in order to absorb the sun's energy, your portable generator will need solar panels. These are typically sold separately, or as a package with the unit, so you'll need to factor in this additional cost. Solar panels contain solar cells, which are typically made of monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicone that acts as a semiconductor.
Once the sun's energy is stored in the battery, it is converted into AC energy. This happens via a component known as an inverter. AC power is required for most of your household appliances, as well as for charging devices like your phone, laptop, or tablet that normally require a wall charger or AC outlet.
Can a Solar Generator Power My Whole House?
Generally speaking, a rechargeable solar generator won't be able to power your entire house if you lose power. With that said, even a smaller generator can be used to power key devices or appliances, sometimes for days at a time depending on its power consumption. For instance, you can keep your refrigerator up and running, and/or ensure plenty of sustained use for medical devices, like CPAP machines.
With an especially robust generator, you may also be able to connect to core circuits, running multiple appliances at one time.
So, while having an emergency power supply from a solar generator may not mean that you can go about your life just like you would normally, you can at least keep the lights on at home, run your air conditioner, or ensure your perishable food items remain fresh until your electricity comes back on.
What are the Benefits of a Solar Generator?
There are a number of advantages you can anticipate from an emergency generator, especially when you choose to go solar. Consider:
You can minimize the disruption of a power outage.
Again, inclement weather can cause power outages that last for hours, sometimes even days. During that time, you can use a backup generator to keep your essential appliances and devices up and running. This level of preparedness can offer ample peace of mind.
Solar generators offer a clean alternative to other energy sources.
Most generators are powered by fossil fuels, which means they emit a lot of noxious emissions. If you want a clean power source and a minimal environmental footprint, these solar solutions are just the ticket. They are also much quieter than traditional gas or diesel generators.
They can be very cost-effective in the long run.
While the initial purchase price of a solar generator may seem steep, keep in mind that sunlight is free. You don't have to worry about buying fuel or any additional expenses associated with your solar unit.
Find the Solar Generator That's Best for You
Disaster preparedness begins by identifying a reliable power source, and if you want that power source to be clean and renewable, solar generators are ideal. Take a moment to explore the options and find the generator that's right for you.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
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By Rachel Hopkins
Tropical tuna species—skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin tunas—are important economic assets for coastal communities across the globe, and even far from the ocean they are a favorite on supermarket shelves and in sushi bars. These three species—together worth close to $40 billion annually at the final point of sale—prompted eight Pacific island countries to launch World Tuna Day on May 2, 2011. In 2016, the UN officially adopted the date to highlight the importance of sustainable tuna management.
Despite that designation, however, concern for the future of these fish continues. Through the increased use of fish aggregating devices (FADs)—man-made floating rafts that attract fish in the open ocean—over the past three decades, purse seine fleets have seen dramatic increases in skipjack catch. But this has come at a cost to bigeye and yellowfin populations. Because FADs attract juvenile bigeye and yellowfin in addition to skipjack, increased skipjack fishing on FADs has resulted in fewer bigeye and yellowfin surviving to adulthood, which means fewer of those species in the water for crews fishing with other gear, such as longlines and pole and line.
Further, the international bodies tasked with protecting bigeye and yellowfin fisheries also manage skipjack, and they have been reluctant to adopt measures to reduce the impact of FAD fishing on bigeye and yellowfin populations out of fear those measures would hurt the skipjack industry.
The result has essentially been a years-long stalemate, the consequences of which are being borne out around the globe, in part because managers are also debating how much to restrict fishing with purse seine nets and longlines. The population of bigeye in the Pacific, which also faces pressure from longliners catching adult fish, has been decreasing and scientists recommend against further increases in fishing mortality. Atlantic bigeye populations are already experiencing overfishing, and scientists consider both Atlantic bigeye and yellowfin to be overfished. Bigeye have just a 38 percent chance of recovery by 2028, according to an analysis based on 2016 catch levels. Yet, due to insufficient controls by international managers, catch of both Atlantic stocks exceeded the agreed quotas in 2016.
Materials that can make up FADs are piled on the deck of a purse seine vessel in Micronesia.The Pew Charitable Trusts
Urgent Changes Needed
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the body responsible for managing tropical tunas in the Atlantic Ocean, is on the hook to adopt a new tropical tuna measure, including a revised recovery plan for Atlantic bigeye, at its annual meeting in November. To be successful, ICCAT's new measure must:
- Set the Atlantic bigeye quota at a level that will give the stock at least a 70 percent chance of recovery by 2028 and ensure that the total catch, from both major and minor harvesters, does not exceed the overall quota.
- Take steps to reduce juvenile Atlantic bigeye and yellowfin catch via FAD management reform, including by reducing the number of FADs that may be deployed and the amount of purse seine fishing effort allowed on tuna schools associated with FADs.
- Ensure that ICCAT managers develop a more transparent and proactive approach to management—through a modernized approach known as a "management procedure," in which managers agree in advance on the goals for a fish stock and harvesting rules to ensure the goals are met—for tropical tunas, which will return the stocks to healthy levels or keep them there, over the long term. ICCAT needs to make sufficient progress this year to meet its agreed 2020 deadline to adopt management procedures for tropical tuna stocks.
In the western and central Pacific Ocean, tropical tunas are managed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). The bigeye population there is doing better than in the Atlantic but has declined, and FADs are still proliferating at an alarming rate. WCPFC has catch limits for bigeye for the fleets of major longline harvesting nations and prohibits purse seiners from fishing on FADs for a period every year. Despite that, the purse seine fleets fishing on FADs may be catching as much as four times the number of bigeye as the longline fleets, and data suggest that a more effective way of managing the purse seine impact on bigeye would be to agree on a science-based limit on the number of times vessels can fish on FADs.
To better understand and thus regulate the level of FAD use, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement—eight countries that are members of the WCPFC and in whose waters more than 90 percent of FAD fishing in the commission's purview occurs—are using satellite technology to better track the devices. But to ensure sustainability of the bigeye/tropical tuna fisheries across the western and central Pacific, the WCPFC must:
- Take steps to ensure that the longline and purse seine catch of bigeye is within the limits advised by scientists and, in the purse seine fishery, replace the FAD closure with science-based limits on the number of times vessels can fish on the devices.
- Make progress on developing a harvest strategy for western and central Pacific bigeye in order to adopt a full strategy by 2021, with the goal of keeping the population at a sustainable level over the long term, with little risk of the stock falling into the danger zone.
This World Tuna Day, managers in the Pacific and Atlantic must take immediate action to help ensure the long-term sustainability of tropical tuna fisheries or continue to let shortsighted economic and political pressures determine their actions. Doing the right thing now would benefit the fish, and all who rely on them, far into the future.
Rachel Hopkins is acting director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' global tuna conservation campaign.
By Holly Binns
To Shirley Pomponi the sea sponges lining her office shelves are more than colorful specimens; they're potentially lifesaving creatures, some of which could hold the complex secrets to cures for cancers and other diseases.
The marine biotechnology expert, who is research professor and executive director of the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, has spent more than 30 years studying deep-sea sponges, simple organisms that are often found in coral ecosystems in all of the world's seas.
Sponges exist from the shallows close to shore to thousands of feet below the surface. Together with corals, they make up unique communities that have been barely studied but are natural disease fighters, which scientists believe hold important properties that already are producing treatments for some cancers.
Sponges and corals may appear primitive, Pomponi said, "But they have genes, proteins, and metabolic pathways that are similar to ours."
Tube sponges (Aiolochroia crassa) and corals share space in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.NOAA
The medical promise of sponges and corals is a driving force behind efforts to conserve their valuable habitats, which are mainly threatened by damaging fishing gear, but also from oil and gas development, and changing ocean conditions. In the Gulf of Mexico, fishery managers are considering a proposal to safeguard coral and sponge hotspots by restricting damaging fishing gear, such as trawls, anchors, and bottom longlines, in up to 23 sites deemed a high priority for protection. (If you want to encourage managers to protect corals and sponges, sign our petition.)
Even with the deep sea's promise for human health solutions, scientists don't have plans to harvest corals and sponges for medical uses. Scientists would take samples that they could use to try to replicate in a lab the promising properties that sponges and corals produce in the wild.
"It would be economically and ecologically unrealistic to exploit these habitats, especially because corals and sponges provide habitat as well as feeding and breeding grounds for fish, crabs, shrimp and many other species," said Pomponi, who earned a doctorate in biological oceanography from the University of Miami in 1977 and became an expert on the hundreds of different species of sponges throughout the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.
Scientists have discovered a potent anti-cancer compound within the glass sponge Aphrocallistes beatrix.Shirley Pomponi
Sponges and Corals Are Natural Disease Fighters
Sponges have existed in the oceans for 600 million years, surviving through mass extinctions and severe environmental stresses.
Sponges can't move. To defend themselves they produce chemicals, some of which are shown to fight infection in humans, and further protect their territory by stopping other organisms' cells from dividing and taking over—similar to how drugs stop the spread of cancer.
In fact, said Pomponi, in more than 45 years of studying sponges she's never seen a tumor in one. "Somehow they make sure cancer cell precursors either repair themselves or die. What we can learn from that could mean a better understanding of how cancer develops in humans—and how we might even prevent it. We can not only tap into their arsenal of chemicals, but also their metabolic pathways for human health applications."
Shirley Pomponi carries a sponge in a bucket of seawater to the wet lab on board the University of Miami Research Vessel Walton Smith in the Gulf of Mexico in 2015. Pomponi retrieved the sample using the NMSF Mohawk remotely operated vehicle, operated by the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.Shirley Pomponi
Discoveries from sponges already have provided antibiotics and cancer drugs, and their skeletons are being studied to develop ways to grow bone for grafting and dental implants. Some species in the Gulf of Mexico are used in drugs to treat breast cancer. Scientists see similar potential in deep-sea corals, which also have existed for millions of years. Researchers have discovered that one type of gorgonian coral, also known as sea fans, contains powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals, some soft corals have potential anti-cancer and anti-viral properties, and bamboo corals may also be useful in bone grafting.
Shirley Pomponi rests next to the Mohawk remotely operated vehicle in the Gulf of Mexico in 2015. She regularly uses ROVs to explore deep-sea coral ecosystems.Shirley Pomponi
Human Activity Threatens to Erase Potential Cures
Pomponi's institute has been exploring the Gulf of Mexico and other parts of the world and researching marine-derived chemicals since 1984. Yet with much of the Gulf and the rest of the world's seas unexplored, the race is on between those seeking beneficial discoveries and the human activities that could destroy a potential cancer cure before it's discovered.
Pomponi says the Gulf's jewels have already been compromised. In one case, promising research on melanoma was slowed when scientists, seeking more samples of a key sponge, returned to where they had found it only to discover the area heavily damaged by trawls and the sponges gone. Scientists working on treatment for Alzheimer's disease encountered a similar situation—nearly obliterated habitat. Those researchers eventually got one small sample, after combing through 30,000 photos taken in the area to locate a still-viable specimen.
"We want to avoid a situation where the environment is damaged and some unique animal that produces a chemical that could cure cancer or other dreaded diseases is destroyed," Pomponi concludes. If these remarkable sea creatures aren't protected, she adds, "Who knows what we'll lose?"
Holly Binns directs The Pew Charitable Trusts' efforts to protect ocean life in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. South Atlantic Ocean, and the U.S. Caribbean.
By Sandra Eskin
Three days before 2018 arrived, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced they were investigating a foodborne E. coli outbreak that ultimately resulted in one death and sickened at least 25 people in 15 states. "Leafy greens" were identified as the likely source, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to work with state and local partners to determine the specific products that made people ill and where they were grown, distributed and sold, all with the goal of finding points where the E. coli contamination might have occurred.
This outbreak highlights the importance of the ongoing implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Food safety—overseen by FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture—should remain a priority for federal policymakers this year. We already saw a major step forward in produce safety in January as FDA's first enforceable food safety standards for fresh fruits and vegetables took effect on large farms.
Here are four other food safety policy developments expected in 2018:
1. Enhancements to FDA Recalls
The same week that the CDC announced its E. coli investigation, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, of which FDA is a part, released a report that concluded the agency "did not always have an efficient and effective food-recall process." These faults at times translated into delays in the removal of unsafe products from the marketplace. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb responded, in part, with a pledge that the agency would act in 2018 to speed up recalls, including the release of new guidance on recall communications with consumers. One change under consideration is publicly disclosing information about the retail and food service locations that sold or served recalled products. Currently, the agency often considers these details exempt from disclosure. The Pew Charitable Trusts and other public health advocates have urged FDA to adopt a clear and consistent policy to provide such facts so Americans can more easily determine if they may have bought or eaten contaminated foods and can take steps to protect their families.
2. Hog Slaughter Modernization
On Jan. 19, USDA released a proposed rule that would shift how certain hog slaughterhouse duties are divided between employees of the department's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) and the companies that own the hogs. Similar to a 2014 USDA rule covering poultry plants, the proposal would allow FSIS inspectors in hog slaughter establishments that opt into the program to perform more duties away from the animal processing line, such as overseeing a facility's compliance with sanitation and prevention-based food safety regulations. The facility's employees would take on some of the duties previously handled by FSIS employees, such as carcass sorting and removal. Pork industry groups have expressed strong support for the USDA's intent to make these changes, although some members of Congress and consumer advocates have raised concerns that the proposal would jeopardize food safety, as well as the welfare of animals and slaughterhouse workers.
3. Food Safety Funding
In his fiscal year 2018 budget request, President Trump proposed a change in how meat and poultry inspections are funded from appropriated dollars to user fees collected from businesses overseen by FSIS. Congress rebuffed the idea in its fiscal 2018 spending bills, but the administration may again advance the proposition in the president's fiscal 2019 budget, scheduled for public release on Feb. 12. For many years, lawmakers, meat and poultry companies and consumer advocates have strongly objected to any shift in the funding mechanism from a taxpayer-supported, general good to a program funded directly by the regulated industry. Meanwhile, with bipartisan support in Congress, FDA's food safety program has received funding increases for six years running as it implements FSMA. However, this portion of the budget could be targeted for cuts in fiscal 2019.
4. Reauthorization of the Farm Bill
Congress typically takes up a broad package of farm legislation that includes everything from crop insurance to nutrition assistance and conservation programs about every five years. The current law—the Agricultural Act of 2014—expires Sept. 30. In limited instances, a farm bill has included policies related to meat and poultry safety. That last happened in 2008, when the law created a program that allows facilities inspected by state authorities (rather than by FSIS) to ship products across state lines. At this time, it is unclear whether the next iteration of the federal law will contain meat and poultry safety-related provisions.
Sandra Eskin directs The Pew Charitable Trusts' work on food safety.
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By John Gilroy
Just a day after President Donald Trump significantly diminished the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) introduced legislation that would reduce the protections on this unique landscape even further.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante Enhancement Act (H.R. 4558) mirrors President Trump's proclamation by creating three smaller national monuments and one national park that together would preserve roughly 60 percent of the landscape that has been safeguarded by the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument since its inception in 1996.
All major management decisions about the park and the monument would not be made by the National Park Service or other professional federal land managers. Instead, the management plans for each would be developed and implemented by a newly created "management council" of seven people, including four local county commissioners and one Utah state representative.
Most Utahans backed the national monument
The two-decades-old Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was supported by local business owners, science communities, sportsmen and Utahans across the state. According to a bipartisan 2016 poll, residents believe—by a margin larger than 2-to-1—that Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was good for their state. During the Trump administration's national monument review, 99 percent of the nearly 3 million comments submitted expressed support for maintaining or expanding national monuments, including Grand Staircase-Escalante.
The monument is good for Utah's economy
Calf Creek Falls at Grand Staircase-Escalante National MonumentBureau of Land Management Utah
Future discoveries lost
"The Kaiparowits Plateau in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has been called 'the Shangri-La of dinosaurs' for the many skeletons of these enormous creatures that have been unearthed, including 21 previously unknown species. The remains of the oldest, an 81 million-year-old tyrannosaurus—Lythronax argestes—were recovered from the plateau just four years ago. Reducing this monument's boundaries by more than 40 percent to allow for development will do serious harm not only to scientific exploration but also to the livelihood of the local community, which has grown and thrived from tourism since the monument was designated in the red rock countryside of southern Utah more than 20 years ago."
Under H.R. 4558, Devil's Garden would be located in the new Kaiparowits National Monument and overseen by the new management council consisting of just seven people.Bob Wick
De facto transfer of public landsThe management council that this legislation proposes would take land management decisions out of the hands of the public and give it to just seven people—four county commissioners from Utah's Kane and Garfield counties, a Utah state legislator who represents those counties, an Interior Department employee, and an appointee of the president. It would set a disturbing precedent for the management of federal land by handing all major management decisions in the national monuments and a national park over to a management council that is heavily weighted with a majority of local and state elected officials.
The Pew Charitable Trusts opposes H.R. 4558 and is urging members of Congress to reject this legislation.
John Gilroy directs The Pew Charitable Trusts' U.S. public lands program.
By Matt Rand
For the health of the ocean and all who depend on it, this is big news: In November, Mexico became the latest nation to create a large, fully protected marine reserve.
The Revillagigedo Archipelago National Park, the country's largest marine protected area, is larger than the state of New York and protects 57,176 square miles (148,087 square kilometers) from fishing and other extractive activities.
The Revillagigedo Islands and their system of seamounts are a critical waypoint for large migratory species traversing the Pacific Ocean, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, tunas, billfish and 37 types of shark and ray. The islands are also home to more than 360 species of fish, 26 of which are found nowhere else on the planet.
Take a dive beneath the surface with us and check out some of the natural treasures that are now safeguarded in Revillagigedo.
The Revillagigedo Archipelago is a critical waypoint for migratory species such as dolphins, whales, sharks, tunas, and sea turtles.Pelagic Life
Humpback whales, which seek warmer waters for their calving grounds, make their winter home in Revillagigedo.Pelagic Life
At least 366 species of fish, including 26 found nowhere else on the planet, call the Revillagigedo Archipelago home.Pelagic Life
In May and June, large schools of silky, Galapagos, and silver tip sharks frequent Revillagigedo's warm waters.Pelagic Life
Matt Rand directs the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project. He works with citizens, governments and scientists around the world to protect and conserve some of the Earth's most important and unspoiled marine environments.
As their annual end-to-the-year meeting closed on Dec. 13, the 28 fisheries ministers who sit on the Council of the European Union again set some fishing limits for Atlantic Ocean and North Sea stocks higher than scientists had advised and higher than the European Commission had proposed. Council deliberations went through the night and officials have not yet made all the details available on how 2018 fishing limits were calculated.
As in previous years, participants in the Council meeting announced that good progress had been made towards achieving the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) deadline to end overfishing by 2020. We can only hope the figures bear out this optimism when a full analysis comparing the decisions to scientific advice is completed.
For some stocks, we already know the 2018 fishing limits are above scientific advice. In some cases there are indications that proposed levels of fishing were inflated during the meeting as participants haggled over deals on specific stocks at the expense of sustainability. As a result, it seems likely that a number of stocks will be overfished next year, although it's not yet clear if the proportion of limits set too high will be larger or smaller than those agreed to for 2017, when 55 percent of limits were above scientific advice.
The Council's habit of setting limits above expert advice year after year is becoming increasingly indefensible as the CFP's 2020 deadline to end overfishing approaches. With clear scientific advice and EU law originally setting a 2015 deadline, overfishing should already have been a thing of the past, and fisheries ministers don't have many more chances to get these decisions right.
Report shows slow progress towards 2020
In November, an analysis of these decisions over the past five years, produced by Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd. and funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, concluded that ministers needed to make much faster progress towards ending overfishing to deliver on their commitments. The commission's official Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries reached a similar conclusion in its 2017 report.
The new CFP enshrined in law the requirement to end overfishing by 2015 where possible and by 2020 for the most difficult cases, where incremental changes might be necessary to avoid "seriously jeopardis[ing] the social and economic sustainability" of the EU fishing fleet. The Council has not provided publicly available evidence on any cases for which it considered such delays necessary.
Coming soon: A closer look
Part of the detective work Pew will now undertake to assess progress towards the deadline will include asking for such evidence and for publication of any new "scientific advice" that was used in the deliberations. This will help us ascertain whether the Council's familiar pattern will lead to a sadly familiar outcome or if 2018 is the year that fisheries ministers break the cycle of short-termism to make meaningful steps to end overfishing.
Andrew Clayton directs The Pew Charitable Trusts' efforts to end overfishing in North-Western Europe.
By Andrew Clayton
On Dec. 11 and 12, the 28 ministers of the European Union's Agriculture and Fisheries Council meet in Brussels to decide on 2018 fishing quotas for stocks in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.
Under the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, the council is legally bound to end overfishing "by 2015 where possible" and "at the latest by 2020." Still, ministers set 55 percent of 2017 fishing limits higher than the scientific advice.
This month they have the power and responsibility to turn the tide—by setting 2018 quotas that end overfishing—so everyone can reap the benefits of sustainable fisheries.
The 10 reasons detailed here underscore why it's so important that fisheries ministers lead on ending overfishing:
1. Fish stocks would be allowed to recover.
Too many assessed stocks in EU waters remain outside safe biological limits. Ending overfishing would finally allow these stocks to rebuild and thrive.
2. Fishermen would benefit.
Ending overfishing in the Northeast Atlantic alone could potentially create additional annual revenue of €4.6 billion for the EU fishing fleet and support more jobs in the sector. Healthy fish stocks contribute to a more stable business environment and require less time and fuel for fishing. More profitable fisheries in turn reduce the need for taxpayers to support the industry through subsidies.
3. Doing so would help restore the health of our marine environment.
Fishing activities can take a toll on the marine environment beyond the removal of fish. Among the common negative impacts are damage to the sea-floor and corals, unintended catch of animals such as sea-birds and turtles, and pollution. Healthy fish stocks require less intensive fishing activity, limiting harm.
4. Europeans could eat more locally caught and sustainable fish.
Europe currently depends heavily on seafood imports from non-EU countries; almost half of fish consumed in the EU comes from external waters. This also has repercussions for developing countries where fish is a key source of animal protein for large parts of the population.
5. The ocean would be more resilient.
The ocean is under a variety of stresses, ranging from changing water temperatures to pollution and acidification. Healthy fish stocks play a key role in keeping marine ecosystems healthy and represent an investment in the future because they can help the ocean resist these kinds of stresses.
6. Fisheries management would be easier.
Managing fisheries with a high likelihood of collapse is complicated, risky, and demanding. It requires detailed and timely information. Healthy fisheries, on the other hand, are less sensitive to changes, uncertainties or mistakes in data, making management easier.
7. It's the law.
In 2013, EU decision makers agreed on a reformed Common Fisheries Policy that requires an end to overfishing by 2015 where possible, and by 2020 at the latest for all stocks. Failing to end overfishing in line with this legal requirement would undermine EU citizens' trust in European institutions.
8. It would bring greater transparency.
Setting fishing limits that do not exceed scientific advice would make EU fisheries management more rational and predictable. Discussions could centre on maximizing the socio-economic benefits of healthy fisheries.
9. Case studies around the world—and closer to home—show the benefits.
Other countries, such as the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, have already made major progress toward ending overfishing and are starting to reap the benefits. The EU has its own examples, such as hake in northern European waters, which prove that it is possible to end overfishing and illustrate the potential gains.
10. Decision makers have both the power and the responsibility to do so.
Many contemporary problems, such as climate change, are extremely challenging to address, but ending overfishing depends largely on better decisions by EU fisheries ministers. Political will is needed to implement the Common Fisheries Policy reforms and to set fishing limits that do not exceed scientific advice.
Too many assessed stocks in EU waters remain outside safe biological limits. Ending overfishing would finally allow these stocks to rebuild and thrive.
By Holly Binns
Some of the deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico started growing when Rome still ruled an empire and Native Americans were constructing civilizations in the vast forests that would—centuries later—become the U.S. Southeast.
For countless generations, these structure-forming animals have thrived in the cold, dark depths, serving as homes to starfish, squat lobsters, crabs, sharks and many species of fish, including grouper and snapper. But modern-day threats loom for these fragile and slow-growing jewels, which may take centuries to recover from damage, if they recover at all. Of primary concern is fishing gear, such as trawls, traps, longlines and anchors, which can break coral. Fortunately, fisheries managers can do something about this.
While energy development and changing ocean conditions also pose threats to corals, fisheries managers have jurisdiction over preventing damage from fishing gear. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which sets fishing policy in the Gulf's federal waters, prohibits anchoring or the use of certain types of deep-fishing gear near some coral communities. The council is considering extending similar protections to additional areas where scientists have identified dense communities of corals.
The council is taking public comment here and will host public hearings early next year. Protecting corals is an important part of conserving the Gulf's marine ecosystem.
You can see Gulf of Mexico deep-sea corals in the video below and learn more about them here.
By Amanda Nickson
The Pacific bluefin tuna is among the most depleted species on the planet, having been fished down more than 97 percent from its historic, unfished size. For years, this prized fish has been in dire need of strong policies that would reverse that decline, but the two organizations responsible for its management—the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC)—failed in their recent efforts, allowing overfishing to continue and further risking the future of the species.
Last week, however, at a joint meeting of the WCPFC Northern Committee and IATTC, Pacific bluefin received a much-needed respite when its primary fishing nations—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico and the U.S.—reached agreement with other member states on a long-term plan that would rebuild the population from its current status of 2.6 percent of pre-fishing levels to 20 percent by 2034. This agreement, if properly implemented, would start the species—and the fishing industry that depends on it—on a path toward sustainability.
After decades of inaction, why did these two fisheries management bodies agree to take the needed steps toward rebuilding? Because ignoring the problem became impossible for managers. In the past two years, three nations exceeded their catch limits. Amid increasing calls from The Pew Charitable Trusts and others for a complete fishing moratorium, and in a worst-case scenario, an international trade ban, the government representatives to the WCPFC committee and IATTC finally stepped up to make a change.
Perhaps most significant was the course reversal by Japan. By far the largest fishing nation for, and consumer of, Pacific bluefin, Japan had long resisted proposed rebuilding plans. This year, though, thanks in part to strong international pressure and growing media attention within the country on the plight of the species, the Japanese delegates dropped that opposition and helped make progress that just a few years ago seemed far out of reach.
Despite this commitment, the work to help Pacific bluefin recover has only begun. In the fishing season that ended on June 30, Japanese fishermen exceeded their catch limits by 334 metric tons, and with many reports of illegal fishing in Japan's waters, the real amount could be higher. The U.S., South Korea and Mexico also exceeded limits over the past two years. Rebuilding the species under the new quotas and timeline will be nearly impossible if such overages continue. All countries that fish for Pacific bluefin must pledge to strengthen their domestic controls and monitoring programs to guarantee that the commitments to rebuilding made this year are not squandered in the future.
The decision on Pacific bluefin made at the joint meeting could signal a move toward a greater focus on conservation at regional fisheries management organizations like the WCPFC and IATTC. This action by major fishing nations indicates that concrete action is possible. Fishermen and fleets now hold the key to a sustained recovery, and all countries must work together to uphold the new rules. If they can do that, real change on the water may come sooner than many of us expected.
By Paul Shively
Logan Kock knows what it's like to depend on the ocean for sustenance. A few years after graduate school, he set off on a voyage from Japan to San Francisco in a 30-foot sailboat with almost nothing but the wind and water to sustain him.
"During that whole sailing thing, you are a subsistence fisherman," Kock said of his two-year journey, which also took him to numerous South Pacific islands. "You aren't near any stores. You don't have any money. So you fish all of the time."
Today, in his role as chief sustainability officer for Santa Monica Seafood Co., he works with people and communities around the globe whose livelihoods depend on the sea. These personal and professional experiences have led to his commitment to sustainable fishing practices, including the use of deep-set buoy gear to catch swordfish. Research shows this gear allows fishermen to more accurately target swordfish while minimizing harm to whales, dolphins and other sensitive species.
This deep appreciation of fish and fishing dates back to his childhood. "My grandmother gave me a fish tank with guppies when I was a boy," Kock said. "They were pregnant and had babies. And I was hooked." His grandmother also made sure he learned to sail during his Connecticut childhood, sealing his fascination with the ocean.
A young Logan Kock runs along the beach in Boca Grande, Florida, in 1956. His grandmother instilled a love of fish and oceans in him when he was a child.Logan Kock
Kock's passion for sea life quickly became more than a recreational interest. His first job was as a conch diver when he was 15. Later, he and a couple of college friends supported a yearlong Caribbean sailing trip by catching fish and selling them from port to port.
He earned a bachelor's degree in biology from New England College and his master's degree, also in biology, from the University of Guam. He then worked for the Guam Department of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources, doing everything from seagrass research to counts of coral reef fish before setting off on his transoceanic sailing adventure in 1982.
Since returning to the U.S. mainland, Kock has learned every aspect of the seafood business. His career included owning restaurants and overseeing seafood standards at a Fortune 500 company before he joined Santa Monica Seafood in 2001.
Kock on deck during his yearlong Caribbean sailing trip with college friends, during which they supported themselves by catching and selling fish.Logan Kock
Today, Kock said deep-set buoy gear is the most environmentally sustainable way of catching swordfish. The gear uses a hook-and-buoy system that enables fishermen to drop their hooks as deep as 1,200 feet, and, when a bite-indicator buoy is activated, respond within minutes to bring the fish to the boat or release it alive if it is not a swordfish or other marketable species. This gear has been tested extensively over the past six years by scientists and cooperating fishermen, with minimal bycatch of nontarget species.
"In my mind, it's clearly a situation where the purchase of a deep-set buoy gear-caught swordfish opens up a new approach to fishing," he said. "It does it in an ecologically sound way. And it's more personal. I can have a one-on-one relationship with a deep-set buoy gear boat captain."
Such familiarity is key, Kock said, because "it's important to connect customers to individual fishermen. It's an ethical thing: Utilize whatever you take from the sea in a way that pays reverence to the animal, the individual who caught it, and the community around him."
Buoy-caught swordfish also stand apart from other swordfish because of their superior quality. "When you think about it, you are catching one fish at a time and you can pay attention and provide individual care to each fish," Kock said. "You aren't dealing with a whole netful. Also, it's the depth that the swordfish is pulled from and the fact that it's alive when it reaches the boat."
That pays off in higher-quality swordfish that demand top prices. "We're providing our customers something pretty amazing," Kock said. "People are willing to pay a premium, and so it's a viable business."
Paul Shively directs Pacific Ocean conservation campaigns for The Pew Charitable Trusts.