Friday, October 30, 2009

More on Albatrosses in Midway Atoll



This is an Excerpt from the BBC Natural History documentary "Message in the Waves". Introduction from their website:
Although the documentary is from a Hawaiian perspective it is really a global film. Because of their size, location and social history, the Hawaiian Islands represent a microcosm of the planet and are in a unique position to tell all of us where we are going wrong and what we can do to help put things right.

There are many messages in the waves but the one we learned in Hawai‘i that we feel requires immediate attention is that of global plastic pollution. We have put this website together to provide some more information about the problem and how you as an individual can directly help!!! Please look at our action and links page for helpful tips. Take inspiration from towns in the UK that are now going plastic bag free due to watching this documentary. You see you can make a direct difference.!!

See their website here.

Heartbreaking - Message from the Gyre - Midway Atoll

The most astonishing and heartbreaking pictures from photographer Chris Jordan. This is his message:
Midway
Message from the Gyre

These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.

~cj, October 2009

See the full set of photographs here.
See his blog post here:
First photos released!

Scientific American has a new article on this titled Plastic, plastic everywhere, nor any bite to eat: Pacific albatrosses feast on garbage patch offerings
An excerpt:
Ocean currents have brought together a big floating mass of trash, known as the Pacific Ocean's garbage patch. To see how different colonies of albatross might be affected, researchers attached tracking devices to dozens of adult birds from two groups of birds living about 2,150 kilometers apart—one on Oahu Island in Hawaii and another in Kure Atoll, northwest of the main Hawaiian islands, closer to the International Dateline. The researchers also collected regurgitated boluses from the chicks in these colonies to see how much unnatural flotsam the small fowl had been fed.

"We suspected that there may be some differences in the amount of plastic was ingested, but to discover that birds on Kure Atoll ingested 10 times the amount of plastic compared to birds on Oahu was shocking," Lindsay Young of the University of Hawaii and lead study author, said in a prepared statement.

Being fed more plastic and less natural food can stunt the growth of chicks and even kill some birds, the authors noted in the paper. The study's small sample size, however, did not allow researchers to discern how much of an impact the plastic might be having on the populations.

The team found that the birds from Kure Atoll, which brought back more plastic, spent a lot of time over the so-called western garbage patch between Asia and Hawaii, even though the Oahu birds lived close to bustling Honolulu and the more widely studied eastern garbage patch (between Hawaii and California). The plastic that the Kure Atoll birds had eaten appears to have largely come from Asia.

Among commonly recovered plastic items include lighters, fishing line and oyster spacers—likely discarded at sea by those in the fishing industry. Others have more commonplace trash, and one even had ingested an intact, sealed jar of face lotion.

"There was so many small plastic toys in the birds from Kure Atoll that we joked that we could have assembled a complete nativity scene with them," Young said.

Ilya the Manatee

Photo JOHN VANBEEKUM / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

I stand corrected on my last post. Ilya the wayward manatee was returned to South Florida and is to recuperate in the Miami Seaquarium from his ordeals in the cold waters of New Jersey. Looks like the wildlife people have the intention of returning him to the wild when he is up to it. I am glad to hear that and hope he recovers quickly now that he's back in South Florida.
Full report from the Miami Herald:

Ilya the meandering manatee was returned to Miami on Thursday, plucked from the frigid waters of the Northeast after a massive search and rescue coordinated with the precision of a military operation.

Three government agencies, a marine wildlife group, an international energy corporation and the Miami Seaquarium all pitched in to rescue the sea cow, which strayed far from its Florida home and wandered the inhospitably cold waters of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey for months.

The gentle giant concluded its epic odyssey Thursday in a concrete water tank at the Seaquarium, where he will spend a few weeks recovering from mild cold stress and weight loss.

``He's really not bad,'' said Maya Rodriguez, a Seaquarium veterinarian who flew to New Jersey on Monday to help rescue the wayfaring sea cow, which was in danger of succumbing to hypothermia.

``It took about 30 people and a crane and a huge, long net,'' Rodriguez said of the operation.

The 1,100-pound, 9-foot-long manatee was trapped with the net, dragged on shore and lifted by crane aboard a truck, then transported to a warm water pool at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a rescue facility in New Jersey.

From there, Ilya was taken by truck to Atlantic City International Airport, loaded onto a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 cargo airplane and flown to Opa-locka Airport.

The adventurous sea cow arrived at the Seaquarium inside a white box truck.

About 20 people hoisted Ilya into the water tank, where floating heads of romaine lettuce awaited.

Robert Rose, a curator for Miami Seaquarium, estimated the rescue operation likely cost ``tens of thousands of dollars.''

As Ilya munched on a head of romaine lettuce in the water tank, he looked none the worse for the wear and certainly oblivious to the months-long, multistate search that led to his capture.

Biologists had been searching for Ilya for months. Tagged by Fish and Wildlife and given his name a decade ago, Ilya has distinctive scarring on his side and is missing a chunk of tail.

Photographed by a sailor in Maryland, fed sandwiches by locals in Massachusetts and gawked at by suburbanites in New York, Ilya's adventures spanned much of the Northeast.

Manatees are migratory marine mammals, but they're supposed to return to their warm water homes when winter approaches. They're susceptible once the water temperature dips below 65 degrees.

The temperature in the New Jersey waterway was in the 50s.

But Ilya found a warm spot -- right next to the outflow pipe that emptied into a waterway at ConocoPhillips' Bayway refinery in Linden, N.J.

There, the water was a balmy 75.

The rescue operation was launched Tuesday and involved the efforts of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, ConocoPhillips and the Seaquarium. Three times they used boats to trap Ilya. The fourth was the charm.

Rodriguez said biologists started blood work on Ilya and gave him antibiotics.

He'll be monitored, to make sure he feeds and swims properly with a female manatee calf rescued from Port Everglades on Wednesday. U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists will determine when and where Ilya can be released into the wild, Rodriguez said.

Rose could not explain why Ilya strayed from his traditional winter habitat but said that more manatees are being spotted far from home.

``There are a lot of theories on why these animals are moving around,'' he said. ``One of them is that there's so many of them now.''

Rose said biologists counted about 3,600 manatees in Florida this year. About 10 years ago, he said, there were about 2,700 manatees in the state.

Ilya may be a ``pioneer,'' Rodriguez said, adding that young, male manatees are likely to explore new territory for food and mates, particularly as competition grows with the population.

Most, however, return home on their own.

Link to Miami Herald article.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wayward Manatee Rescued

So they rescued Ilya, the wayward manatee, who had strayed too far and was in New Jersey. Thing I don't understand is why they have to send him to the Miami Seaquarium?????? Why not release him in the Crystal River in Florida or some other coastal area indigenous for manatees where he can be free. No, they decide to jail him instead, probably because he's been traveling up the coast for years. Thing is, he probably didn't realize it was time to head home because of the rise in ocean temperatures. And that's not his fault. It's ours. Go figure.
From an AP story today on The Huffington Post:

MIAMI — Ilya the wayward manatee has arrived at his new home in Florida after being rescued from murky waters near a New Jersey oil refinery. Ilya left Atlantic City International Airport on a transport jet Thursday. Miami Seaquarium was his ultimate destination. Ilya was pulled from a creek at the ConocoPhillips oil refinery in Linden and had been recuperating at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. Federal wildlife authorities kept the rescue a secret, fearing a crush of media and well-wishers could stress the manatee. Ilya needed to be rescued because New Jersey's waters are too cold for him to survive for long. He's been migrating as far north as Massachusetts for the past decade, but dithered too long in the Garden State this year.
See full story.

Killer Sea Foam killing birds off Oregon/Washington Coast

Bird Hospital Saves Sea Birds




From a report titled "Killer foam: Was it a freak event or a warning?" in the Oregonian today:

"A simple organism that killed thousands of seabirds in Oregon and Washington has stunned scientists who are combing through clues in hopes of unraveling its mystery.

They can name it. They can measure it. They can peer at it under a microscope.

But they do not know exactly why it suddenly burst into deadly profusion for the first time off the Northwest coast and whether this was a freak event or a harbinger of the future.

"This is an amazing story," said Julia Parrish, a marine biologist and professor at the University of Washington.

The organism, which has ignited a flurry of emails and phone calls among oceanographers from Seattle to Santa Cruz, Calif., is a single-cell phytoplankton, or algae, called Akashiwo sanguinea.

It has painted red tides off Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Hong Kong. It has even hit Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast and Monterey Bay in California, where it killed about 200 birds in 2007.

But it was never a player on the scientific stage in the Northwest -- until mid-September.

Suddenly, the single-cell algae flashed into a reproductive frenzy, splitting apart and multiplying in an algal bloom off the Olympic Peninsula.

Blooms are common in Northwest waters, especially in the summer, and they are essential to providing food that supports fisheries.

But this algae spewed forth surfactants -- or detergent-like substances -- that cloaked seabirds in foam and stripped away their waterproofing, causing them to become hypothermic.
Photo by Penelope Chilton

Thousands of dead and dying birds washed up on beaches around Kalaloch on the Olympic Peninsula in mid-September. Then last week, scores more washed ashore on the Long Beach Peninsula and as far south as Cannon Beach, overwhelming wildlife rehabilitators and surprising oceanographers.

The algae has turned up in the Puget Sound before, and in 2001 it was detected off Newport.

But this appears to be the first time it has killed seabirds in the Northwest.

So, what made it bloom so profusely now?

"This is the big million-dollar question," said Michelle Wood, a phytoplankton specialist at the University of Oregon.

This algae is part of a subset of phytoplankton called dinoflagellates that flourish in warm, stratified water -- or ocean water with a warm layer on top.

Last week, when algae blooms colored the water a rusty chocolate brown, the ocean was warmer than usual.

Sensors situated 10 miles from Newport detected an ocean temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. That's about 5 degrees warmer than averages from 2002 to 2008 at the same spot the same time of year, said Pete Strutton, an associate professor of oceanography at Oregon State University.

"It's significant," he said.

Peering at graphs, Strutton noticed another phenomenon in the ocean around Oct. 14 -- as water temperatures rose, the salinity dropped. It just so happens that this algae thrives in warm water with low salinity.

Strutton suspects that recent storms helped create the perfect set of conditions.

But increased human activity, with municipal and agricultural runoffs into the ocean, along with climate change appear to be contributing to another marine phenomenon -- harmful algal blooms.

"It's becoming a bigger and bigger problem," said Raphael Kudela, an oceanographer at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "Every country that has a coastline has harmful algal problems now."

The Northwest is no exception.

"The data that we're collecting definitely suggests that we're seeing toxic blooms more frequently these days," Strutton says.

A case in point: since last Friday, the entire Oregon coast has been closed to the recreational mussel harvesting. The mussels are tainted by a paralytic shellfish toxin that can kill humans."
See full article here.

Go to Wildlife Center of the North Coast website for more on their efforts to protect the birds and animals off the Oregon and Washington coasts.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cockpit Country Jamaica Update

Further to my earlier post on the ecotourism initiatives in Cockpit Country, Jamaica, there is good news that a new visitor center and three trails have been opened in the north west section of Cockpit Country.
According to a report in the Jamaica Observer on Oct. 22:

FLAGSTAFF, St James - Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett last Thursday officially opened the Flagstaff Visitor Centre and Heritage Trails, a community-driven tourism initiative expected to provide employment for hundreds of residents in this north-westerly section of the Cockpit Country.

The heritage tour features three trails from the town centre in Flagstaff, which are designed to provide glimpses into the historical and cultural heritage of Maroon and British occupation, as well as the biodiversity and rich culture of the area.

The initiative involved the collaboration of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Protected Areas and Rural Enterprise project and the Local Forest Management Committee.

Other stakeholders include the Tourism Product Development Company, the Institute of Jamaica, HEART TRUST/NTA and Jamaica Business Development Centre and the Small Business Association of Jamaica.

Head of Mission at USAID Dr Karen Hilliard noted that the initiative would benefit the visitors and the community alike through "a sharing of common passions and new experiences."

"What you see here today is the result of a vision born in the community. It is an exceptional addition to Jamaica's tourism offerings," she said.

Chairman of the Local Forest Management Committee Michael Grizzle said Flagstaff possesses a unique heritage that is potentially viable to develop a eco-tourism model that could be developed throughout the Cockpit Country.

He said so far, more than 300 residents have been trained to offer services to visitors at the community-initiated Heritage Trail.

He added that the community will be forming an artisan co-operative to make paper from and other craft items from banana trees.

Wines and soaps are also another set of by-products from bananas as the community identifies other ways of utilising the produce.

A story board in the town square explains that visitors taking the hour-and-a-half journey will be able to stop at a tea house along the trail to sample herbal teas, and at a picnic area to be entertained by local musicians.

"There are also plans to build a museum to house the many artifacts that are being found in and around Flagstaff," Grizzle said.
See full report:
Open for business! - JamaicaObserver.com
Related Post:
Cockpit Country Jamaica: Land of Look Behind Looks Ahead

Sunday, October 25, 2009

350 - The Climate Event

Photo by Ross William Hamilton/The Oregonian

Great climate activism in Portland, Oregon yesterday in support of the International Day of Climate Change organized by the folks at 350.org. From a report in The Oregonian:

"Oregon had about a dozen climate actions Saturday, from a yoga "throw down" in Milton-Freewater to a drumming jam in Ashland to a "Keep Portland Beered" party with free beer. Greenpeace organized an ActionArt Fest, where artists and nonartists created works tied to climate.

The idea for an international protest came from activist and author Bill McKibben and his organization, 350.org. Many climate scientists say that the Earth can be healthy with a limit of 350 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The reading now is at 387 ppm.

Saturday's actions tried to raise awareness and push for laws that reduce carbon emissions, as world leaders prepare for a United Nations summit to hammer out a climate policy in December in Copenhagen.

Pictures and videos from the actions were shown on giant screens in New York City's Times Square and will be projected on buildings during the U.N. summit.

More than 100 kayakers and canoeists paddled in the Willamette River to start the day.

"Protecting the environment is important to us because it's not just where we live but where we play," said Andy Maser, a National Geographic Young Explorer and ambassador for KEEN outdoorswear. "We have influence over how our political leaders act. That's a democracy."

The boats -- bright reds, yellows and blues -- formed the number 350 just north of the Morrison Bridge." See Grass-roots actions in Portland, across Oregon urge steps against Climate Change.

Good video from Current TV on the significance of the 350 event:

Some great pictures from around the world of yesterday's events:
Scotland
Egypt
Brazil
Barbados
See all the pictures on 350.orgs photos on Flickr.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mr. Obama, be tough on climate change - Bill Mckibben in The Boston Globe

Tomorrow, October 24, is a day where people around the world are uniting to speak out and support efforts towards Climate Change action. It is being called the "largest day of political action in the planet's history."

Bill McKibben, scholar, environmental writer and coordinator of www.350.org which is leading the political action, wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe today calling on President Obama to be tough on Climate Change. An excerpt:

PRESIDENT OBAMA will appear at MIT this morning to talk about climate change and energy - and chances are he’ll try pretty much to use the same tactic he has used in the health care debate, working with Congress to pass something modest. It’s the sensible and straightforward approach, but in this case good politics may be bad science.
Physics and chemistry have already announced their bottom line. In the last two years a slew of research has shown that the most carbon we can safely have in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million - indeed, a NASA team said that above that figure we can’t have “a planet similar to the one on which civilization developed or to which life on earth is adapted.’’

We’re already well past the 350 figure, at 390 parts per million, which is why Arctic sea ice is melting, glaciers thawing, and the ocean turning steadily more acidic. To meet the 350 goal will mean a far more aggressive approach than the one Obama and Congress have so far taken (the bill making its way through Congress explicitly aims for a world with 450 parts per million carbon).

The president may think he lacks the public backing to go for stronger measures. But there are signs of a worldwide climate movement finally emerging. Tomorrow, citizens and scientists will take part in more than 4,500 demonstrations in 170 countries around the world - all designed to drive that 350 number deep into the public debate.
See full op-ed here:
Mr. Obama, be tough on climate change - The Boston Globe

Another excellent op-ed in the Washington Post today by a team of economists, titled "We Can Afford to Save the Planet.
Will the legislators finally get it????????????
We can only hope so. A couple of years ago, Professor Peter Barrett of the Victoria University of Wellington Antarctic Research Center in New Zealand, said in his acceptance speech for the Marsden Medal that: “We know from our knowledge of the ancient past, that if we continue our present growth path, we are facing extinction. Not in millions of years, or even millennia, but by the end of this century” (Barrett).

Let's hope the concerted effort of so many scientists and concerned citizens around the world will send a strong message to the sleepy legislators and entrenched corporate interests who are blocking real action. We can't wait any longer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

2nd Blue Whale Washes Up in California

Yet another blue whale dead from a ship strike. That's two in the past couple of weeks off the California coast. From an Associated Press report on the AOL News website:
SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 22) - A 70-foot female blue whale that officials believe was struck by a ship has washed ashore on the Northern California coast in what scientists are calling a rare occurrence.
The whale was first spotted on shore near Fort Bragg in Mendocino County on Monday night, hours after an ocean survey vessel reported hitting a whale a few miles away, said Joe Cordaro, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine fisheries service.
Blue whales are the world's largest mammals.
Students from California State University, Humboldt, examined the whale's massive body Tuesday as it lay on its side in a rocky cove.
The whale had two gashes on its back — at least one of which was deep enough to cut through the blubber down to the vertebral column, Holmes said. It otherwise appeared to be in good health.
It's unusual for blue whales to wash ashore, Cordaro said. Last week, another blue whale washed up in Monterey County after being hit by a ship.
Before that, the last time a blue whale washed onto a California beach was 2007.
For the Full Report:
Blue Whale Washes Up in California

Related Post: The Paradox of Whale Watching

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Earle's Wish: Restore the Ocean, the Blue Heart of the Planet

This is Dr. Sylvia Earle, renowned marine oceanographer who won the TED prize this year. The video is well worth watching and it includes beautiful underwater footage of marine life from around the world, along with Dr. Earle's passionate discourse on what the oceans mean to us. This is her wish:
Sylvia's Wish:

"I wish you would use all means at your disposal -- films! expeditions! the web! more! -- to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet."

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

News from The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society where they unveiled a sleek, futuristic looking vessel which will assist in their efforts to prevent Japanese whalers from destroying whales. May the force be with them! From the news release:

At a fundraising event in Los Angeles on Saturday, October 17th, 2009, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society unveiled their newest ocean defense vessel: the Ady Gil. The vessel, previously known as the Earthrace, is a fast, futuristic looking trimaran that recently set the world record for global circumnavigation. The vessel renaming reflects the ship’s benefactor, Ady Gil, who helped acquire the vessel.

Sea Shepherd is currently preparing for it’s 6th Whale Defense Campaign Operation Waltzing Matilda. The campaign will launch from Australia in early December with Sea Shepherd’s flagship Steve Irwin, which will be accompanied to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary by the new Ady Gil. Together, the ships and the volunteer crew will intervene in illegal Japanese whaling in Antarctica.
Due to its speed capabilities, up to 50 knots, Captain Paul Watson (Sea Shepherd President and Founder) intends to use the Ady Gil to intercept and physically block the harpoon ships from illegally slaughtering whales.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Arctic Sea Ice and Climate Change

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Urgent Protection Needed for the High Seas


From a press release from the ARC Center of Excellence Coral Reef Studies in Australia:
SCIENTISTS CALL FOR 'OCEAN PARKS' TO PROTECT SEAS

An international team of scientists has called for the creation of marine protected areas in the open oceans to protect the world’s sea life from growing damage and loss caused by overexploitation, pollution and other human impacts.

The open oceans make up 99 per cent of the total region inhabited by life on Earth – yet are currently among our least-protected ecosystems, the researchers say in an opinion article in the world’s leading ecology journal.

They argue that pelagic ecosystems – the high seas – are in as urgent need of protection as the coastal areas where marine protected areas (MPAs) have already been declared, or areas that fall within national maritime boundaries.

The high seas provide almost 80 per cent of humanity’s fish supplies, carry out half the photosynthesis (conversion of solar energy to sustain life) that takes place on the planet and, through their ability to absorb CO2, are a dominant influence over the speed and extent of climate change.

They note that on the high seas, there is no single global body with the authority to establish protected areas or to regulate access to and use of an area for more than one purpose.

However they say progress can be made through Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, the International Maritime Organisation and by individual countries doing more to protect the outer parts of their 200 mile sovereign territories.
They point out that establishing the Pelagos Marine Sanctuary in the Mediterranean had the effect of encouraging countries such as Italy to tighten controls over the discharge of industrial pollution into the sea.

By reducing the cumulative impact of human activities on the world’s oceans, MPAs can help to mitigate the severity of particular threats that cannot be directly controlled: “For example, if pelagic systems of the Black Sea had not suffered severe pollution and overfishing, they would have been less vulnerable to invasive species,” they say.

“We believe that pelagic MPAs have now come of age as an important tool in the planet’s last frontier of conservation management.”

See the full article here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cruise Ship Environmental Report Card | Caribbean's Cleanest Cruise Ships

The Friends of the Earth Environmental Report Card is out on the Cruise Ship industry. They rate the different cruise ship lines for categories such as sewage treatment, air pollution and water quality compliance. Holland America received the best overall grade (yet they only earned a B). Royal Caribbean and Disney brought up the rear of the pack, both earning F grades!

The report gives details and a summary of 10 major cruise lines and provides a breakdown and an individual grade for each ship operating, their destinations, and information on any air pollution violations that have been cited for the ship in the past year. Holland America has done the best job so far in upgrading the sewage treatment on all of their ships however they lost marks because only 50% of their ships are up to proper air pollution standards. This is a huge problem with these ships that burn dirty diesel fuel when they are in port. An average cruise ship can generate emissions equivalent to 12,000 automobiles. To meet the air pollution standards, the ships need to have shore plug-in technology so they are not polluting the air in port. Carnival Cruise Lines earned a D- grade as only one of their ships has an upgraded sewage treatment system and none of their ships meet proper air pollution standards. Royal Caribbean has installed upgraded sewage treatment standards on only 43% of their ships and none of their ships meet air pollution standards. Even their new giant Oasis of the Seas with 7,300 passenger capacity, set to sail later this year, is not up to the air pollution standards.

There are seven ships operating in the Caribbean that earned an A grade. We can safely say then, that these are the seven cleanest ships offering Caribbean cruises:
Holland America's ships Amsterdam, Oosterdam and Zuiderdam
and
Princess Cruises ships Coral Princess, Golden Princess and Sea Princess
and

Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Star.

See the full Environmental Report Card report:
Cruise Ship Environmental Report Card | Friends of the Earth

See Arthur Frommer's article "Another Fake Port Rises for Cruise Ship Passengers.

See related post "Gridlock Islands Gasping for Air" for more on the cruise ship pollution problem in the Caribbean.
See KAHEA The Hawaii-Environmental Alliance for more on the cruise ship pollution in the Hawaiian Islands.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: Revenge of the Seas - Lionfish infestations in Caribbean; Jellyfish explosions worldwide

I am pleased to be participating today in Blog Action Day on Climate Change where over 7,500 blogs in 139 countries reaching over 11.5 million readers are participating in writing about climate change from whatever perspective their blog focuses on.

Two stories have really stuck with me this year about how climate change is affecting the marine environment: (1) the enormous infestation of invasive lionfish into the Atlantic and the Caribbean (2) the worldwide explosion of jellyfish swarms. Welcome to the seas that are biting back.
Lionfish are endemic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans and they are a popular aquarium fish for their striking appearance. With venomous spines and voracious appetites, sadly, they are now eating their way through the reefs of the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Researchers state it is “one of the most rapid marine invasions in history. Like a plague of locusts.”
According to a report on Earthdive.comResearchers believe lionfish were introduced into the Atlantic in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew shattered a private aquarium and six of them spilled into Miami's Biscayne Bay, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Biologists think the fish released floating sacs of eggs that rode the Gulf Stream north along the U.S. coast, leading to colonization of deep reefs off North Carolina and Bermuda. Lionfish have even been spotted as far north as Rhode Island in summer months, NOAA said.”
The Earthdive report goes on to say that "The red lionfish is showing up everywhere — from the coasts of Cuba and Hispaniola to Little Cayman's pristine Bloody Bay Wall, one of the region's prime destinations for divers. Wherever it appears, the adaptable predator corners fish and crustaceans up to half its size with its billowy fins and sucks them down in one violent gulp. Research teams observed one lionfish eating 20 small fish in less than 30 minutes."
Hurricane Andrew was one of those very powerful hurricanes which we know are fueled by global warming. Species migration or accidental release into their non-endemic environment, such as the lionfish invasion, is one of those instances where fragile ecological systems are upset and can be devastated by triggers from global warming events.

The problem with the lionfish is now devastating the reefs off of the Bahamas. NPR had a report in August that illuminated just how much havoc this infestation is causing:
“In 2005, the first lionfish showed up [on the Bahamas reef], and we didn't pay much attention to it," says Oregon State University zoology professor Mark Hixon, who has studied reef fish here for almost two decades. "The next year, we saw a few more. Then in 2007 there was a population explosion. There were so many lionfish around that they were eating the fish we were studying, and we had to start studying the lionfish. There was nothing else to do." They're hard to miss with their red and white stripes and a tall row of venomous spines down their backs. The fan-like fins look like a lion's mane. And like lions, they are ferocious predators. Last year, Hixon co-authored a study with Mark Albins that showed a lionfish can kill three-quarters of a reef's fish population in just five weeks.”
REEF is an organization of divers and marine conservationists that has an active Lionfish Invasion Program ongoing in the Caribbean: “Beginning in January of 2007, REEF has partnered with local dive operators to help document lionfish sightings and collect lionfish samples for NOAA and Bahamian researchers. As of August 2007, over 400 fish have been documented. To aid in this effort, REEF is enlisting interested divers and snorkelers to join in on organized lionfish projects. These projects are led by REEF staff, national aquarium staff, and/or scientific researchers and include educational lectures on current lionfish research as well as daily diving opportunities.”

For more on the lionfish invasion and its relation to climate change see this illuminating blogpost by marine scientist Rick MacPherson titled "Brave New World?"

UPDATE to this post October 15, 2010:
Read IPSNewservice: JAMAICA: Invasive Lionfish Go From Predator to Prey Oct.12, 2010

Jellyfish explosion worldwide

The rise in large swarms of jellyfish in many areas across the globe may be linked to ocean acidity and the heating of the oceans caused by global warming. They survive and thrive in ocean dead zones and are an indication of an ecosystem that is out of balance.
From Earth Island Journal: “Reports of voracious jellyfish swarms are on the rise – they’re being seen in greater numbers, tighter concentrations, and more areas than ever before. To make matters worse, many of the most disruptive swarms are occurring in seas that were, until recently, too cold for jellyfish. As global ocean temperatures steadily rise, many fishermen, scientists, and beach-goers may be watching a real-life environmental horror movie unfold before their very eyes.” See Earth Island’s full article here.
When I traveled to Oahu in June, I was fascinated to see that the Hawaii Beach Safety people have dedicated a whole website to inform the public about the box jellyfish that are present in the water near the beach 7 – 11 days after the full moon. The presence of box jellyfish and Portgugese Man-of War jellyfish are a real problem now for certain days of the month in the waters off Oahu. See website.
The National Science Foundation has an excellent presentation titled Jellyfish Gone wild! on the jellyfish explosion on their website, complete with maps of seriously affected areas.
The jellyfish and lionfish infestations are just more symptoms of the serious imbalance in the marine environment. Let’s hope the United Nations Meeting on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December will result in an ambitious agenda to reduce carbon emissions and set us toward a right path. Maybe they could serve the delegates of the industrialized countries some deep fried lionfish or jellyfish fritters to see if they like it. Pretty soon they may be the only seafood option available on the menu.

Related Posts:
Gridlock Islands Gasping for Air
The Paradox of Whale Watching
The Paradox of Sting Ray City, Grand Cayman

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Alternative Nobel" for Environmental Activists


Congratulations to Canadian David Suzuki for being honored by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation:
The Right Livelihood Award Foundation, which aims to promote global ecological balance, eliminate material and spiritual poverty and contribute to lasting peace and justice in the world, has announced its 2009 Right Livelihood Award, often described as the "alternative Nobel Prize."

This year the Foundation has honored, among other people, Canadian environmentalist and television personality David Suzuki "for his lifetime advocacy of the socially responsible use of science, and for his massive contribution to raising awareness about the perils of climate change and building public support for policies to address it," and René Ngongo of Greenpeace "for his courage in confronting the forces that are destroying the Congo's rainforests and building political support for their conservation and sustainable use."
See full story here from Change.org.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Can 'Slow Investing' Remake America's Food Industry?

Great article from Time magazine on a burgeoning new wave of grass roots activism towards a sustainable economy.


Check out the website of the Friends of Slow Money by clicking on the banners below. The Mission of Slow Money is:

• To steer significant new sources of capital to small food enterprises, appropriate-scale organic farming and local food systems; and,

• To catalyze the emergence of the nurture capital industry— entrepreneurial finance supporting soil fertility, carrying capacity, sense of place, cultural and ecological diversity, and nonviolence.

can a grassroots movement seed a new economy? FriendsOfSlowMoney.com

can a grassroots movement seed a new economy? FriendsOfSlowMoney.com

Monday, October 12, 2009

COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference Copenhagen 2009

Link to the UN Climate Change Conference. Lots of good news stories on their site:

Home - COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference Copenhagen 2009

Also check out this "100 Places to remember before they disappear" exhibition. Stunning photography that stirs one to think about what we're going to be losing on planet earth pretty soon.

Climate Change Campaign - TCK, TCK, TCK

I am pleased to support this campaign leading up the U.N. meeting on Climate Change to take place in December in Copenhagen. Click on the video tab and play the great "Beds are Burning" music video.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The White Lions of Timbavati, South Africa



I first saw Nokanda about ten years ago at the Toronto Zoo. A rare white lioness, her name is Zulu for “lucky.” I didn’t know why I was so taken with this lion but I loved to go and watch her and was fortunate enough to be around when she had cubs with her mate Rowdy. They were enchanting to watch and my fascination with Nokanda started to make sense when I read the book Mystery of the White Lions by Linda Tucker and learned about the special position white lions occupy in the lore of the lion shamans of South Africa.
Nokanda Photos by Toronto Zoo

White lions are native to the Timbavati region of South Africa which borders the Kruger National Park. They are not albinos but are a genetic rarity endemic only to Timbavati. Some of the tawny lions in the Timbavati carry the white lion gene. White lions are currently classified under the species classification Panthera Leo however that may change with new research being done by the Global White Lion Protection Trust.
Nokanda and Nokanda cub photos by Kathy Stanley
Linda Tucker in Mystery of the White Lions: Children of the Sun God describes Timbavati: “Once a cradle of civilization, traces of Stone Age and Bronze Age man still exist in Timbavati’s forgotten sites, although few visitors are aware of their existence. Even few know that this remote bushveld region is believed to be one of the most sacred sites on the African continent. . . [The arrival of the white lions in Timbavati] was predicted by tribal shamans long before they made a physical appearance. The local inhabitants view them as the most sacred of animals and believe their appearance to be prophetic of changing times on earth. Ever since I first came to Timbavati, I had felt an aura hanging over the territory at the mention of the White Lions. From the awe-inspiring descriptions of the Shangaan trackers, it seemed that these were no ordinary animals. The trackers believed the White Lions were sent as gifts from God.” (Tucker) Similar to other indigenous peoples, the tribes believe that if you hurt these special creatures you will incur the wrath of the gods. There have been other special qualities attributed to the emergence of white creatures such as the story of white buffalo calf woman in Native American tribes.
Photo of white lions at Global White Lion Protection Trust in Timbavati Region by Brad Laughlin

According to the Global White Lion Protection Trust website: “There are only an estimated 500 white lions worldwide - in captivity. Regarded by African tribal elders as the most sacred animal on the African continent, this rarest of rarities have been hunted to extinction in the wild by trophy hunters and poachers who pay astronomical sums to shoot a white lion for pleasure. They have also been hunted in captivity in a notorious malpractice known as ‘canned lion hunting.’ No law protects them from being wiped off the face of the earth.”

The last white lion to be seen in the wild was in 1994 but now the establishment of the Global White Lion Protection Trust has brought the white lions back to their native land. They introduced a pride into the Trust’s wildlife refuge in Timbavati and since then cubs have been born in the wild. A National Geographic documentary titled “Return of the White Lions” tells the story of the return of the white lions to their native Timbavati region and the efforts to reintroduce them back into the wild.
Photo by Brad Laughlin

It is my hope that the white lions will thrive in their native Timbavati region and I support the Global White Lion Protection Trust and their admirable work in bringing these beautiful lions back to reside in the land from where they emerged. Truly they are a global treasure and should be protected at all costs. I support all efforts in urging the South African government to put an end to the horrific activities of trophy and canned hunting that harbor defenseless animals on the brink of extinction against the worst species of predator: men with guns. Recent reports out of Kenya state that their lion population could be extinct within 10 years. Isn't it time that canned and trophy hunting also be slated for extinction? Copyright©Kathy Stanley.

Update to this post:  Read a June 5 2010 article in The Daily Mail:
"The Lion Queen: The London woman who saved Africa's rare white lions from trophy hunters - and almost certain extinction."

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