Archive | Biogeochemical Cycles

WWF Warns About Drilling Risk in Mediterranean

Biodiversity in the eastern Mediterranean Sea could take a deadly hit if drillers rush in on recently discovered gas-rich fields, the World Wildlife Fund warned Wednesday.

The international environmental organization warned that gas drilling in the area shared by Turkey, Israel and Egypt could ravage the sea’s ecosystem, which would take at least a millennium to regrow.

Gas drillers have been eager to capitalize on the recently discovered Leviathan gas field, a deepwater area off the Israeli coast that may hold as much as 16 trillion cubic feet of gas, AFP reports.

The West Nile Delta gas field, another potentially lucrative region for drillers, was discovered earlier this year. That field is located off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt.

But the eastern Mediterranean is home to rare species that are millennia old, including deep-sea sponges and cold water corals. Sergi Tudela, head of WWF’s Mediterranean Fisheries Program, says this makes them particularly vulnerable.

Tudela said that once the sea is tapped for gas, “it can take a millennium or more before the unique micro-ecosystem grows again, so the most fragile and valuable species and under-sea areas must be left untouched by gas development,” according to AFP.

WWF appealed to the European Union and a number of Mediterranean countries to prohibit deep-sea drilling and industrial development in the areas.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Drilling for Oil, Natural Gas0 Comments

Sea Urchins to Combat Invasive Seaweed, Save Reef

Scientists in Hawaii have begun breeding native sea urchins in an effort to curb the growing population of an invasive seaweed species.

Two types of invasive seaweed algae, Kappaphycus alvarezii and K. striatum, have been smothering Hawaii’s coral reef since they were first introduced in 1974. Now scientists from Anuenue Fisheries Research Center hope to save the fish that depend on the reef by releasing native collector urchins to eat the seaweed, Scientific American reported Friday.

The researchers say it won’t be hard to keep the urchins in check, as they are generally easy to herd and will have little impact on the local coral.

Yahoo! News reports that the project comes after years of research by the state Aquatic Resources division, the Nature Conservancy and the University of Hawaii.

After being raised in captivity, the first 1,000 juvenile urchins were released into Hawaii’s Kāne‘ohe Bay this weekend. Scientists plan to release an additional 25,000 each month to continually replace the urchins as they are eaten by fish and octopus.

David Cohen, Anuenue’s urchin hatchery manager, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the project marks one of the first times that urchins have been raised in captivity. He said it took a year to develop the techniques to hatch the animals.

Posted in Aquatic Life0 Comments

Penguins Hampered by Tagging, Scientists Say

Tagging wild penguins with flipper bands threatens their chances of survival and has skewed data on the effects of climate change, biologists said Wednesday.

Researchers at the University of Strasbourg in France followed 50 banded adult King penguins and 50 non-banded penguins with under-the-skin transponders for 10 years.

Conducting their research on a French island in the southern Indian Ocean between Africa and Antarctica, they found the flipper-banded penguins had 39 percent fewer chicks and were 16 percent likelier to die than their untagged counterparts.

Study author Yvon Le Maho theorizes that the metal bands, which are tied around the top of the flipper, increase drag on the penguins when they swim.

“The picture is unambiguous,” Le Maho told news agency AFP. “Among banded penguins, the least-fit individuals died out in the first five years of the study, which left super-athletic birds.

“In the remaining five years, the mortality rate between the two groups was the same, but the reproductive success of banded penguins was 39 percent lower on average.”

Le Maho said this is the first study showing the long-term detriments of penguin tagging practices, and disproves the long-held assumption that the birds adjust to the bands.

He said banded birds respond differently to the climate, arriving later (16 days later on average) on the island to breed. This tardiness endangers the survival of their offspring, because late chicks face harsher weather conditions and more predators.

Consequently, studies that use banded penguins to measure the impact of global warming on marine life need to be reviewed, researchers said. Although climate change is still harming penguin populations, the data may be skewed.

“…[W]hen there was a rise in sea temperature and food was less abundant, the penguins had to swim farther, and banded penguins stayed longer at sea to forage compared with non-banded birds,” said Claire Saraux, like Le Maho a member of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), according to AFP.

The findings were published in Wednesday’s edition of the Nature science journal.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Birds, Conservation, Ecosystems, Effects0 Comments

Floods Endanger Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Floods in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland have swamped an area the size of France and Germany combined, displacing thousands and leaving dozens missing. But the devastating deluge may have another victim: the Great Barrier Reef.

The expansive swath of coral reaching over 1,430 miles along Queensland’s coast is in trouble, experts say. As the driving rains drum on, the Burdekin River is dumping massive amounts of sediment – which contains top soil and harmful pesticides and fertilizers – into the southern end of the reef.

There’s another troubling factor to consider: the area has been pummeled with an unhealthy amount of fresh water, and the potential result is dead coral.

“These are extraordinary events. The whole of the inner-shore reef lagoon filled with river water,” says Jon Brodie, Principle Researcher for the James Cook University’s Australian Center for Tropical Freshwater Research, according to CNN.

Brodie and his colleagues say the coral reefs closest to the river mouth have been impacted the most. But the inundating fresh water could affect the reefs stretching from Frazer Island, 124 miles north of Brisbane, as far as Cairns, 930 miles away.

High levels of nutrients and sediments have been known to cripple coral diversity and increase seaweed cover on inshore reefs, Katarina Fabricius, a researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told msnbc.com.

Couple the sediment runoff with reduced salinity from all the freshwater, and you have a devastated ecosystem, Brodie says.

Experts expect the immediate death of corals and sea grass, with consequences that will reverberate from grass-eating dugongs up the food chain.

And while larger fish can swim out of the plumes of fresh water, smaller coral reef dwellers won’t be so lucky, says Brodie.

When coral organisms die, they lose their vibrant colors and leave only their white skeletons behind – hence the term “coral bleaching.”

While the event would be potentially devastating for marine life, some species would profit from the flooding.

“Some fish species thrive in the current flood plume conditions which can enhance productivity for some popular inshore species,” Andrew Skeat, General Manager of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said in a press statement, according to CNN.

Previous large floods have created algae blooms and starfish outbreaks that overtake the reefs, Fabricius said.

Michelle Devlin, a researcher at James Cook University in northern Queensland, told AFP that the fresh water, soil nutrients and pesticides will act as a harmful “cocktail” for the fragile reefs.

“This is a really massive event,” Devlin said. “It has the potential to shift the food web, it has the potential to shift how the reef operates.”

Posted in Aquatic Life, Oceans & Coastlines, Wastewater & Runoff0 Comments

Oil Still Devastates La. Marshes, Tour Finds

Officials say oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster still heavily pollutes the marshes along Louisiana’s coastlines.

State and parish officials gave the press a boat tour of the oil-fouled swamps of Barataria Bay, calling for a stronger cleanup effort from BP and the Obama administration.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser called the state of the marshes “the biggest cover-up in the history of America,” The Associated Press reported Friday.

Robert Barham, the secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and an outspoken critic of the cleanup effort, also participated in the tour.

AP writer Harry Weber reported that oil is pooling in some areas and boom barriers are often absent or overwhelmed by oil.

“Clearly there is oil here in the marsh but we are working as a team to find a best way to clean it up,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dan Lauer, who accompanied the press and officials on the tour.

The rapidly eroding marshes along the coast play a key role in protecting Louisiana from hurricanes.

The oil also endangers vulnerable reeds and grasses that feed microscopic marine life, with consequences that will reverberate up the food chain.

The BP oil spill, set off by a blowout on a Macondo rig on Apr. 20, leaked an estimated 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Drilling for Oil, Ecosystems, Oceans & Coastlines, Oil & Petroleum, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Well Drilling0 Comments

2 Million Fish Dead in Chesapeake Bay

Millions of dead fish littered the shores of the Chesapeake Bay this week, the Maryland Department of the Environment said.

Officials are still investigating the incident but have pointed to lower-than-average water temperatures as a likely cause of death from cold stress.

“Our theory is that it was a very rapid temperature drop,” MDE spokeswoman Dawn Stoltzfus said, according to msnbc.com. “Obviously, these are fish that are susceptible to very cold temperatures.”

An estimated 2 million fish reportedly washed ashore beginning last week in Calvert County and Kent Island. The fish were chiefly juvenile spot fish, which are about 3 to 6 inches in length.

Stoltzfus said the MDE is assessing water quality in the area.

“So far, there don’t appear to be any water quality or pollution issues that have contributed to this fish kill,” Stoltzfus said.

The bay has not seen a fish die-off this significant since 1976, when 15 million dead fish washed ashore, msnbc.com reported Thursday.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Fish, Global Warming, Oceans & Coastlines0 Comments

Dead Crabs Litter U.K. Shores; Officials Point to Global Warming

Thousands of dead crabs have washed up on U.K. shores, the latest in a recent slew of mass animal die-offs around the world.

Scientists say prolonged cold weather is what caused more than 40,000 Velvet swimming crabs to wash up along Britain’s east coast in the county of Kent. Britain has endured its coldest December in 120 years, which caused sea temperatures to drop below average, the Daily Mail reported Wednesday.

The country’s largest swimming crabs, also known as devil crabs, may have moved closer to the shoreline due to warmer weather caused by climate change, coastal warden Tony Sykes told the newspaper.

“We believe the sudden temperature drop causes the crabs to suffer from hypothermia and die,” he said.

Coast Project Manager Tony Childs said there was no cleanup planned, and that officials would let nature run its course.

“As happens with the circle of life in nature, we expect the crabs to be naturally dispersed from our shores very quickly by our local seagulls,” he said.

Posted in Animals, Aquatic Life, Oceans & Coastlines0 Comments

Houston Ship Channel Clogged with 15,000 Gallons of Beef Fat

The U.S. Coast Guard is working to clear the Houston Ship Channel of thousands of gallons of beef fat that leaked into the busy marine artery from a storage tank Tuesday.

Officials used pitchforks and fishnets to pierce and round up the oily substance.

“Hopefully they’ll finish clean-up efforts by tonight, or if not early in the morning,” said Coast Guard spokesman Richard Brahms, according to the Wall Street Journal.

An estimated 250,000 pounds of tallow spilled from a nearby on-shore storage tank owned by agricultural products company Jacob Stern & Sons Inc. Some 15,000 gallons of the fat streamed into the channel through a storm drain Tuesday, Brahms said.

“When it hit the water it instantly thickened,” Brahms said, as quoted by msnbc.com. “It turned into a thick pattie, which is pretty much what we’re cleaning up now.”

Brahms said the cause of the tank leak is being investigated. Meanwhile, workers are corralling the tallow with boom to open up the channel for ship traffic by early Thursday.

Richard Arnhart, director of the LaPorte region of the Texas General Land Office, said the tallow could pose environmental risks if it washes ashore and smothers marine life. But for now, the fat is not impacting the environment floating on the water.

“Our biggest concern right now is to ensure that this gets cleaned up,” Arnhart said.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Dams & Infrastructure, Industrial Pollution, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Water Pollution0 Comments

Up to 100,000 Dead Fish Wash Up Along Arkansas River

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is faced with finding an explanation for the 80,000 to 100,000 fish that washed up dead on the shores of the Arkansas River last week.

Game and Fish spokesman Keith Stephens told msnbc.com it would likely take about a month to determine the cause of the large-scale fish death.

The fish were discovered Thursday by a tugboat operator in a 20-mile segment of the river near the city of Ozark.

One day later, as many as 5,000 birds dropped dead in Beebe, Arkansas, about 125 miles away from Ozark. Scientists are pointing to a possible lightning storm or high-altitude hail as the source of that mystery.

Nearly all of the dead fish – about 95 percent – were identified as drum fish, leading experts to believe the mass kill was caused by a species-specific disease.

“If it was from a pollutant, it would have affected all of the fish, not just drum fish,” Stephens said.

Drum fish are bottom feeders and are not desirable to fishermen. Stephens said the commission is not planning a cleanup but will allow birds and raccoons to take care of the mess.

“So far, the evidence does not suggest that pollution contributed to either the bird or fish kill,” said David Lyons, the head of a local chapter of the Sierra Club, according to msnbc.com. “If the test results indicate that contaminants were responsible, then local environmental groups will likely have several questions and concerns about the two events.”

Posted in Aquatic Life, Fish, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands0 Comments

250,000 Microscopic Plastic Fragments Pose Danger in Mediterranean

French and Belgian marine biologists say there are some 250 billion micro-sized pieces of plastic floating in the Mediterranean, posing a significant threat to marine wildlife.

Volunteers with Expedition MED (Mediterranean in Danger) took water samples off the coasts of France, northern Italy and Spain last July at a surface-level depth of four to six inches, AFP reports. The teams conducted the research from a 55-foot yacht.

Researchers found 4,371 pieces of micro-debris with an average weight of 1.8 milligrams (0.00006 of an ounce) in the samples, and this sum “extrapolates to roughly 500 tonnes for the entire Mediterranean,” said Francois Galgani, of the French Institute for Exploration of the Sea (Ifremer).

Ninety percent of the samples contained the minuscule fragments, which total 250 billion pieces by the scientists’ reckoning.

Further samples off Gibraltar, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Sardinia and southern Italy will hopefully give researchers a more comprehensive view of the issue in 2011, AFP reports.

Expedition MED says the effects of the biological hazard are far-reaching. The micro-debris becomes mixed with plankton and is eaten by small fish, working its way up the food chain to larger marine animals like seals and tortoises.

“The only solution is to stop micro-debris at the sources,” said Expedition MED’s Bruno Dumontet, according to AFP.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Oceans & Coastlines0 Comments

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