Archive | Oceans & Coastlines

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

Bacteria Ate Methane from Gulf Oil Spill

Bacteria consumed methane gas from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in four months, a report said Thursday.

Methane constituted 20 percent of the crude oil that erupted from the Macondo oil well in worst marine spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

A report published Thursday in the journal Science said a sudden bloom of bacteria ingested the methane completely by early September.

“They did a good job on it and that was much earlier than expected,” said John Kessler, a chemical oceanographer at Texas A&M University, according to AP.

University of California Santa Barbara geochemistry professor David Valentine, one of the study’s lead authors, said the discovery proves that the bacteria play a vital role in preventing heat-trapping greenhouse gases on the ocean’s floor from entering the earth’s atmosphere.

“They do serve an important function, and as we see here under certain conditions these bacteria can be very effective at preventing the methane from reaching the atmosphere,” Valentine told AFP.

Valentine added that previous research showed that other types of bacteria also ingested the ethane and propane released by the explosion.

The researchers also said bacteria consumed some of the crude oil itself, but it is not yet clear how much.

Posted in Global Warming, Oceans & Coastlines, Oil & Petroleum, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 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

Sea Shepherd Activists Attack Japanese Whaling Boat

Activists with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society led an attack on Japanese whalers on a mission in Antarctica, whaling authorities said Wednesday.

The Institute of Cetacean Research, which organizes the whaling program, says militant activists aboard the international organization’s “Gojira” speedboat threw glass bottles at the Yushin Maru-2 harpoon ship and threw ropes at its propeller, in the second clash between the two groups this week.

Two of the Sea Shepherd’s ships engaged in a similar confrontation against the Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru-3 on New Year’s Day, AFP reports.

The Institute of Cetacean Research denounced the attacks, insisting on the legality of the whaling mission.

A loophole in the country’s 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling allows Japan to kill hundreds of whales each year for “lethal research,” AFP reports.

Environmental organizations and anti-whaling nations like Australia and New Zealand condemn the practice as cruel and unnecessary.

Posted in Mammals, Oceans & Coastlines0 Comments

Deepwater Horizon Spill Could Happen Again Without Reforms, Panel Says

A panel appointed to study the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico says the blowout was caused by a series of risky decisions intended to save time and money.

The seven-member commission also claims the incident could happen again without significant reforms.

A 48-page excerpt of the report was released Wednesday prior to the full document’s publication early next week.

“The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again,” the report said. “Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”

BP’s Macondo well began uncontrollably gushing crude oil on April 20, setting off the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

The panel contends that BP, Transocean and Halliburton company personnel did not adequately consider the risks involved in a series of time-saving steps.

“The most significant failure at Macondo — and the clear root cause of the blowout — was a failure of industry management,” panel members concluded. “Better management of decision-making processes within BP and other companies, better communication within and between BP and its contractors and effective training of key engineering and rig personnel would have prevented the Macondo incident.”

Bob Graham, a former Florida senator, and William K. Reilly, a former EPA administrator, were appointed by President Barack Obama last May to lead the commission designed to identify the underlying causes of the blowout.

Posted in Drilling for Oil, Environmental Disasters, Oceans & Coastlines, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

Endangered Whale Untangled from Fishing Ropes

A team of wildlife experts in Daytona Beach, Fla. has freed an endangered North Atlantic right whale from 150 feet of fishing rope that had been wrapped around its head and body.

The group consisting of state, federal and conservation officials tracked down the whale off the coast of Volusia County on Dec. 30, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

The disentanglement team removed most of the ropes and cut several pieces still remaining on the whale’s body.

“We were very concerned about this whale as the entangling ropes appeared to be life threatening,” said Jamison Smith of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to the Sentinel.

“However, given the efforts of the disentanglement team, we are optimistic the whale may shed the remaining ropes on its own, so we will continue to monitor its condition via aerial surveys and intervene again if necessary,” Smith added.

With a population of only 300 to 400 worldwide, right whales are thought to be the most endangered large whale. The animals feed off the coast of New England and Canada in the summers, and migrate southeast to the waters off Florida and Georgia for breeding season in mid-November to mid-April.

“(Right whales) are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972,” NOAA said, according to MSNBC. “Vessel strikes and entanglement in fixed fishing gear are the two greatest threats to their recovery.”

An aerial survey team first spotted this particular whale, a 30-foot long male thought to be less than 2 years old, on Christmas Day off northeast Florida.

The state wildlife officials then attached a satellite tracking buoy to the trailing ropes before a larger team was assembled to untangle the ropes.

Scientists typically find one or two entangled right whales in the region each year, MSNBC reports.

Posted in Mammals, Oceans & Coastlines0 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

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

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