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Fishing Nets Killed More Sea Turtles than BP Spill

Fishing Nets Killed More Sea Turtles than BP Spill

Endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico may face more dangers from fishing operations than the BP oil spill, according to an essay published Wednesday in the Miami Herald.

Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, writes that marine biologists initially feared that the Deepwater Horizon disaster would be catastrophic for sea turtles in the Gulf. Populations were already dwindling from years of unrestrained hunting, coastal development, fishing, and pollution, and the crisis occurred just in time for the nesting season of loggerhead and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.

But researchers were surprised to find that most of the sea turtles found dead during the oil spill were killed by fishing operations.

NOAA, the Gulf states, and several nonprofit organizations worked to de-oil and rehabilitate over 400 turtles. 96 percent were successfully released back into the wild. The teams also relocated 25,000 eggs from heavily oiled coastlines to safer waters.

But necropsies on the 600 dead sea turtles determined that the majority appear to have drowned in fishing gear.

“When NOAA became aware that a large number of stranded turtles may have drowned in fishing operations, we alerted state marine resource officials,” Lubchenco writes. “In response, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources issued a rule in June to further restrict the time shrimp skimmer trawls could be towed to help prevent sea turtles from being caught and drowning.”

Lubchenco advised that fishermen be required to use devices that allow turtles to escape from skimmer trawls, called turtle excluder devices, or TEDs.

“The heightened scrutiny of the Gulf of Mexico during the oil spill brought to light the need for stronger cooperation between NOAA, the Gulf states, and the fishing industry to address the significant ongoing problem of sea turtles drowning in fishing operations. More enforcement is needed for TED requirements and tow time limits,” Lubchenco concluded.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Ecosystems, Oceans & Coastlines, Reptiles0 Comments

Chesapeake Bay to Go on Pollution Diet

The Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday unveiled a restoration plan for the heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay.

EPA regional administrator Shawn M. Garvin called the agreement with six states and the District of Columbia “the largest water pollution strategy plan in the nation” and possibly “number one or number two” in the world, the Washington Post reported.

The comprehensive plan applies to the following areas in the bay’s watershed: Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. All the states and the District submitted individual plans this fall addressing how they hoped to slash pollution runoff into the bay by 2025. EPA compiled these proposals in its plan.

Pollution from farm, urban, and suburban runoff have stifled oxygen levels in the 200-mile-long estuary and harmed fish and oyster populations.

Garvin said EPA may have to “place additional controls on permanent sources of pollution” to counterbalance three potentially problematic areas: New York wastewater treatment, West Virginia’s agricultural sector, and Pennsylvania’s stormwater treatment.

The plan aims to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment pollution by imposing total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits on areas in the estuary’s watershed.

Opponents of the new pollution measures say they will give farmers, developers, and local officials unneeded costs and difficulties. Environmentalists counter that the plan will bring economic benefits to the bay by boosting tourism and fishing.

“This is a very historic moment in the history, and the future, of the Chesapeake Bay,” Garvin told the press.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, Oceans & Coastlines, Policies, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Water Pollution0 Comments

Group Suggests More Salmon-Eating Sea Lions Be Killed

A task force is urging the federal fisheries service to allow more sea lions near Bonneville Dam to be killed or trapped.

The group of fishermen, tribes, state agencies and others issued a report to the National Marine Fisheries Service last week stating that the sea lion policies currently in place haven’t been effective at bolstering endangered fish populations.

The sea lions prey on salmon and steelhead that gather at the base of the Bonneville Dam near Portland, Ore.

A 2008 federal ruling stated that Oregon, Washington, and Idaho could kill up to 85 sea lions a year until 2012. The states have euthanized 27 sea lions to date and relocated 10 more to zoos and aquariums.

But the Humane Society of the United States called the program into question this year, and in November a federal appeals court ruled that state wildlife officials should not be allowed to kill sea lions when humans are responsible for comparable or larger catches of salmon and steelhead.

The agency has until early January to decide whether to appeal the decision, AP reported Tuesday.

In its three-year review of the original policy, the panel said that more animals need to be trapped and shot from land or boats in order for the program to be effective.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Dams & Infrastructure, Fish, Mammals, Oceans & Coastlines0 Comments

Manatees Seek Out Warmer Waters During Florida Cold Snap

Manatees, the herbivorous marine animals sometimes referred to as “sea cows,” are migrating out of cold Gulf of Mexico waters into more temperate Florida power plant discharge canals, AP reported Tuesday. 300 of the majestic creatures congregated in the waters near Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station on Tuesday, basking in the warmth of the plant’s outflow.

Cold weather poses a serious threat to manatees; chilly conditions can weaken their immune systems and eventually kill them.

“They’re not blubbery mammals. They’re very lean mammals,” Wendy Anastasiou, an environmental specialist at the power plant’s manatee viewing center, told AP. “They need the warmth. They need a warm place to go.”

This year has been especially brutal, with 246 manatees dying of “cold stress” between Jan. 1 and Dec. 17–up from 55 in 2009 and just 22 in 2008.

Wendy Quigley, a spokeswoman with the state-operated Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, says this year’s spike in cold-related manatee deaths is troubling.

“Obviously we’re very concerned as an agency about the unusually high number of manatee deaths this year,” Quigley told AP.

She added that the figures don’t even include the region’s most recent cold snap, which sent temperatures tumbling into the 30s in South Florida this week. Worse, scientists only counted deaths that were confirmed to be cold-related, but 699 manatees were found dead this year in total, and it’s likely that many of them died from cold stress.

Illegal poaching, frequent collisions with motorboats, and low reproductive rates previously drove the species to endangerment, but in April 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that Florida’s manatee population had rebounded. The species now is now classified with a conservation status of “vulnerable” rather than “endangered.”

Posted in Aquatic Life, Mammals, Oceans & Coastlines0 Comments

Navy Testing May Hurt Whales along Pacific Coastline

New U.S. Navy testing off the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts will pose a danger for orca whales, environmentalists say.

The Obama administration recently approved a plan to expand sailor training, weapons testing, and underwater training minefield for submarines in the 122,400 nautical square miles off the West Coast.

The Navy has been training in that range sinceĀ  World War II, but environmentalists worry that new missile and sonar testing along with the dumping of depleted uranium could harm the population of 150 orcas known to live along the Pacific coast.

Howard Garrett, the president of the Washington-based nonprofit Orca Network, claims the hazardous materials could pose a serious risk for vulnerable orcas.

“They’re all very susceptible,” Garrett told AP. “The Navy is single-minded and they’re focused, and the whales are very much a secondary concern to them.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council also expressed concern over the new program, saying it “would pose a significant risk to whales, fish and other wildlife,” by releasing “thousands of rounds of spent ammunition and unexploded ordnance containing chromium, chromium compounds, depleted uranium,” and other hazardous materials, AP reported Saturday.

The Navy’s mid-frequency sonar testing could damage the orca navigation and communication skills and could even cause brain damage and affect reproductive rates, the NRDC said.

But Navy officials maintain that the expanded practices will have no effect on marine life.

“We are not even permitted to kill even one marine mammal. … What people don’t seem to understand is we share the environment with everybody,” Navy spokeswoman Sheila Murray said, according to AP. “It’s our environment, too. Of course we want to take care of it. The Navy goes to great lengths to protect the marine environment.”

Garrett remains skeptical. “I’m not convinced by the assurances that the Navy gives that there will be no effect,” Garrett said. “I can’t imagine there won’t be mortalities.”

Posted in Aquatic Life, Conservation, Ecosystems, Fish, Mammals, Noise Pollution, Oceans & Coastlines, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

Odor and Color Can Be Signs of Toxic Water

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) — If you’re looking at water and think it looks and smells bad, it probably is — and possibly toxic too — U.S. researchers say.

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey say earthy or musty odors, along with visual evidence of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, may serve as a warning that harmful cyanotoxins are present in lakes or reservoirs, a USGS release said Monday.

In a recent study of cyanobacterial blooms in Midwest lakes, taste-and-odor compounds were found almost every time cyanotoxins were found, indicating odor may serve as a warning that harmful toxins are present, the USGS said.

“While taste-and-odor compounds are not toxic, these pungent compounds were always found with cyanotoxins in the blooms sampled,” USGS limnologist Jennifer Graham said. “This finding highlights the need for increased cyanotoxin surveillance during taste-and-odor events so that the public can be advised and waters can be effectively treated.”

Limnology is the scientific study of the life and phenomena of fresh water.

Cyanotoxins can be poisonous to people, aquatic life, pets and livestock, and removing or treating affected water can be both costly and time-intensive, experts say.

“Exposure to these toxins has caused a range of symptoms including skin rashes, severe stomach upset, seizures, or even death,” Keith Loftin, USGS research chemist, said.

“Pets and livestock are most susceptible to direct exposure, but people can also be affected during recreation, by eating contaminated foods, or by drinking contaminated water that has not been treated properly,” he said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Deicing of Roads Making City Streams Toxic

MILWAUKEE, Sept. 1 (UPI) — Using salt to deice city pavements can make city streams toxic to aquatic life, a government study of winter runoff in northern U.S. cities says.

A U.S. Geological Survey study focusing on eastern Wisconsin and the Milwaukee area found more than half the Milwaukee streams had potentially toxic chloride levels in winter, with effects that lingered into summer in some streams, a USGS release said Wednesday.

Nationally, samples from 13 northern cities found 55 percent of studies streams were potentially toxic.

“While winter driving and walking safety are the priority in treating pavements, this study suggests the need for advancements that will reduce salt loads to surface waters without compromising safety,” Matthew C. Larsen, USGS Associate Director for Water, said.

While municipal road deicing accounts for a significant portion of salt applications, salt is also used by many public and private organizations and individuals to deice parking lots, walkways and driveways, the study found.

“We expected to see elevated chloride levels in streams near northern cities during the winter months,” Steve Corsi of the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center said.

“The surprise was the number of streams exceeding toxic levels and how high the concentrations were,” Corsi, who led the study, said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Fertilizers Found to Damage Aquatic Life

RALEIGH, N.C., Aug. 27 (UPI) — Fertilizer chemicals that end up in streams and rivers may be causing development abnormalities in aquatic life, U.S. researchers say.

North Carolina State University toxicologists found that nitrates and nitrites — common agricultural fertilizer chemicals — are taken up by water fleas and converted to toxic nitric oxide, a university release said Friday.

Nitric oxide can be toxic to many organisms, and the study found the water fleas were plagued with developmental and reproductive problems consistent with the toxicity, even at what would be considered low concentrations.

This raises questions about the effect the chemicals may have on other organisms, Dr. Gerald LeBlanc, professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at NC State, said.

“There’s only limited evidence to suggest that animals could convert nitrates and nitrites to nitric oxide, although plants can,” he said. “Since animals and plants don’t have the same cellular machinery for this conversion, it appears animals use different machinery for this conversion to occur.”

He said the toxic effects even at low concentrations worried him.

“Nitrite concentrations in water vary across the United States, but commonly fall within 1 to 2 milligrams per liter of water,” he says. “We saw negative effects to water fleas at approximately 0.3 milligrams per liter of water.”

Harmful effects of nitric oxide included developmental delay in which water flea babies were born on schedule but were underdeveloped and, in some cases, lacked appendages important for swimming.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Animals, Aquatic Life, Chemicals, Other0 Comments

Sea Turtles Aiding Robotics

JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga., Feb. 26 (UPI) — Studying the locomotion of baby loggerhead sea turtles is providing clues for the development of robots over varying terrain, scientists in Georgia said.

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology are studying how the newly hatched turtles move quickly from underground nests across sand, rigid surfaces and dune grass to reach the ocean.

The results will help roboticists determine the type of appendages necessary to move effectively, said physicist Daniel Goldman, noting the turtles have just a flat mitt and a claw.

On hard surfaces, the turtles push forward by digging a claw on their flipper into the ground so they won’t slip and on loose sand they advance by pushing off against a solid region of sand that forms behind their flippers, Goldman wrote in a recent issue of the journal Biology Letters.

Goldman and associate Nicole Mazouchova joined with colleagues at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to study hatchlings at Jekyll Island on the coast of Georgia.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Caspian Sea Beluga at Risk of Extinction

ATYRAU, Kazakhstan, Feb. 26 (UPI) — Conservation strategies for beluga sturgeon should focus on reducing the overfishing of adults, a team of U.S. and Kazakh scientists said.

Harvest rates today in the Caspian Sea are four to five times too high to sustain a healthy population of the caviar-producing sturgeon, scientists from Kazakhstan and New York’s Stony Brook University said in a recent issue of the journal Conservation Biology.

The scientists studied sturgeon in the Ural River, the only remaining Caspian Sea river where beluga sturgeon reproduce unhindered by dams, said Phaedra Doukakis, the study’s lead author.

Beluga sturgeon are extinct in the Adriatic Sea and on the brink of extinction in the Azov Sea. The fish can live to be more than 100 years old and do not reach maturity until 9 to 20 years of age.

Capturing sturgeon no younger than 31 years of age would increase population productivity tenfold because it would allow a longer period of breeding and survival for adult females, the scientists said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Conservation, Fish0 Comments

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