Maybe they're hanging out in Williamsburg. Or Coney Island, riding the Cyclone and playing Shoot the Freak. The Sharks that is, and not the gang from West Side Story.
According to a NY Daily News story by Barry Paddock, colonies of Tiger sharks visit the New York City area waters annually and marine biologists don't really know what they do or where they go. So they're going to catch some of them, attach a small sonic device to their fins, and track their movements. Hopefully, the research will help the population. "Seascape biologists hope to tag some two dozen sand tiger sharks, whose population has declined 80%," according to the story.
The deep, dark depths of the ocean are full of intrigue, and they're a little scary. Check out this rogue's gallery from Oddee.com. Wouldn't want to run into Number 3 in a dark alley, or Number 1 or 6, or any of them. Actually, very interesting how much some of them look other worldly. The vast, awesome ocean at work once again.
Let the confession begin. Yesterday, I missed a posting. Yet, I have a great excuse.
The eastern end of long island is stoking with sweet sunshine and breezes. Small violet and bright orange dune flowers are blooming amid the Spartina grasses topped with their collective purple haze. So I went for a run along the bay side like a mirror of the sky, gave a nod to an osprey out enjoying the updrafts, crossed the highway, and tucked into the thick sandy trail of another great state park. When the trail ended at the ocean, I whispered a small prayer as appropriate and then turned west and continued down the beach.
It was a bit of a slow and steady slog but with waves crashing on one side and dunes on the other and few to zero homo sapiens, it was spectacular to the point of inspiring. The run finishes with a swim in the ocean, like a swift striped bass the plunge in, emerge past the break, drift toes up in the late afternoon glow. Catch a few mellow rollers in. Walk home, untouchable, shake out my bathing suit alongside my soul.
Of course it was probably too good to be true...according to a CNN.com article by John Sutter, Samantha Joye and another scientist published a memo saying that three-quarters of the oil spilled into the Gulf -- about 3 million barrels -- remains in the ecosystem. It's out of sight and perhaps out of mind, she says, but it's not gone.
This contradicts an earlier report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The government's "oil budget," which was based on observations and calculated estimates, was interpreted as saying as much as three-quarters of the oil is essentially gone, also according to CNN.com
But some people want to shoot the messenger. One jerk wrote her as such: ""You WANTED an ecological disaster and when it didn't happen you are literally willing to do or say anything to make it look like there was one," one person wrote.
She's a scientist and they're supposed to ask questions and she's asking good ones that no one has answered yet (like Where's the methane? What happens with the oxygen? How fast is the oil being degraded?) She's also defending the ocean. In general, that gets a shout out from Eco Ocean.
I know people are probably sick of bad news about the Gulf and none to happy to embrace the "good news" from the government, but the debate is healthy and the full story has yet been told. People like Samantha are doing good work. Let's withhold judgment until time and sound science give us the full picture.
According to the BBC, trawlers are tearing up sponge habitats in the cold waters off Scotland. The sponges are important for cleaning the kitchen counter -- joking. Ocean sponges from shallower waters have already proved effective at combating diseases like cancer, noted the brief article. Even if sponges did not have the potential to help cure cancer, they are part of an ecosystem, which is good enough reason for me. Let's not trash them if we can help it people.
Hope springs eternal if we are willing to believe the spokesperson for the accused fishing industry. "Sponge beds are enormous, very dense areas, which are not targeted by fishermen, in fact, exactly the opposite is true," said Phil MacMullen, Head of Environmental Responsibility at Seafish.
Shout out to Don Hansen, who received the 2010 United Anglers of Southern California (UASC) Bill Ray Memorial Conservation Award, according to the San Clemente Times. Apparently Don has been up to lots of good and is definitely part of the solution. Everyday heroes like Don are refreshing and inspiring.
Also according to the article, in recognition of his hard work and dedication over the years, Hansen received the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries “Sustainable Fisheries Award” in 2007. He was honored for improving management programs for West Coast marine fisheries, which he accomplished by fostering open dialogue and understanding between fishery scientists, resource managers and the fishing community.
As anyone can tell you, this is never an easy task. However, it was one made easier by Hansen’s ability to listen to and understand differing viewpoints, treat everybody with respect and get people to work together. In short, getting the best out of people. That same year, Hansen also received the Dana Point Harbor Association’s Leadership and Legacy Award for his key role in shaping and serving the Dana Point Harbor. Thanks, Don.
People who know Don and work with him also apparently get it, “I still get a thrill watching people feel the calming effects of the ocean; it offers a release from everyday stresses when you’re out there. The Hansen’s truly get that and try to ensure everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the experience of sportfishing and whale watching,” said George Clough.
Straying a little from ocean conservation but still within the realm, a word about rip tides. To protect the ocean is to love it, and to love it is to not fear it irrationally. Respect it for sure, in every sense of the word. It is big and powerful and dangerous.
With rip tides forming in isolated areas along the Atlantic coast this August, like every August, it is easy to irrationally fear them. So maybe a quick lesson on rip tides will help with the "love it and not fear it irrationally" part.
If you get caught in a rip tide, RELAX. Like Frankie Goes to Hollywood sang, "Relax, don't do it," as in don't try to swim back to shore against the strong pull of a rip tide. The ocean always wins those battles.
Rip tides don't suck people underwater. People die in rip tides because they become exhausted and drown. This happens because they panic, which exerts more energy, and they try to fight the tide, which exhausts them further.
Instead, if caught in a rip tide -- suddenly pulled farther from shore than you wanted or expected -- tread water or float on your back. Catch your breath. Admire the beautiful sky and the dunes on shore from your new found vantage. Then swim parallel to the shoreline. Then swim in normally. If it takes longer than usual, take a break, rest, breathe, tread water, and then go again. Like little Nemo's mantra: Just keep swimming.
And remember, if someone else is in trouble, panicking and getting tired and in danger of drowning, the lifeguard's mantra is Reach, Throw, Row, Go. The last thing you want to do is go into the water. Many people become victims themselves, get tired struggling with the drowning person, and they also drown. Reach for them with something. Throw them something. Get in a boat and go to them. And before any of that, call a lifeguard.
This cool site, The Art of Maniless, provides some good advice on rip tides. The image above is from the site.
Shout out to all the Brainiac 5s out there working on some great green ideas. Brainiac 5 is a DC Comics character who, you guessed it, is supersmart. He helped save the earth at least a dozen times.
Now real Brainiac 5's creative solutions include batteries from nanotubes and plants engineered to turn into fuel, according to a New York Times article by Matthew Wald. The story is not likely a comprehensive survey of all that's going on, but it is a good glance at some clever ideas. Also, great to see the US Government is providing financial support. It would be nice to see much more support, but it's a good start.
What does this have to do with Eco Ocean? These are the steps toward a renewable energy economy and away from the fossil fuel economy that Eco Ocean harps on. Climate change has many negative impacts on the oceans and its inhabitants so this is a bit of optimism after ongoing bad news about the Gulf oil plumes (Monday's post) and dying corals (yesterday's post). A little splash of cold water on a hot August day.
Read the whole story here, including good explanations of how these things work.
A coral reef died recently and strong evidence including witness testimony points to one suspect, but as of this writing, that suspect goes free and continues its anti-social behavior. State and local police have no comment. The FBI was brought in but once they learned the deceased was not human, they went away. A local philosopher argued that humans are victims, too. Victims of their own ambitions, genius, and greed. His counsel was not enough to bring back the federal and local protectors, however. One witness with long blond locks and carrying a trident exclaimed, "Where is the justice?"
We'd miss them
Seriously, it's simple. Coral is in trouble due to climate change. Coral is extremely important. Coral is hands down beautiful.
This isn't new news really but we seemingly have to hear it again and again. Don't we? One more excellent reason to move off the petroleum economy and onto a renewable energy economy as soon as possible.
With CO2 emissions rising sharply from human activities, reefs—which are home to perhaps a quarter of marine species and provide critical protection for coastlines—are poised for a "bust" on a scale unlike anything seen in tens of millions of years, according to Charlie Veron, Former Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science in mongobay.com. The header on the article is "Coral Reefs Doomed by Climate Change.
Others agree and they're telling us where. According to MSNBC.com today, one of the most destructive and swift coral bleaching events ever recorded is under way in the waters off Indonesia, where water temperatures have climbed into the low 90s, according to data released by a conservation group this week.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) says a dramatic rise in sea temperature, potentially linked to global warming, is responsible for the devastation, according to MSNBC.
"This is a tragedy not only for some of the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs, but also for people in the region, many of whom are extremely impoverished and depend on these reefs for their food and livelihoods," said WCS Marine Program Director Caleb McClennen. Coral reefs provide haven for fish and other creatures, and larger fish tend to congregate around reefs because they are good places to feed.
So let's get this climate change. Serve some justice. All kidding aside, we're all victims when these things happen BUT we have our future in our hands. To do the right thing, to be part of the solution and not the problem, is one of the biggest moral challenges for humankind in history.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man...or in this case, the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. Ok evil is a strong word but ta da! the oil in the Gulf didn't just disappear, according to some intrepid marine scientists. A good portion seems to have sunk into an underwater canyon, one that happens to supply the creatures of the Florida Gulf Coast with food.
Researchers from the University of South Florida found the oil. According to CNN.com, the researchers found micro-droplets of oil scattered across the ocean floor and they also found those droplets moving up through a part of the Gulf called the DeSoto Canyon, a channel which funnels water and nutrients into the popular commercial and recreational waters along the Florida Gulf Coast.
The scientists say even though it's getting harder to see the oil the Gulf is still not safe, according to CNN.com.
"This whole concept of submerged oil and the application of dispersants in the subsurface and what are the impacts that it could have, have changed the paradigm of what an oil spill is from a 2-dimensional surface disaster to a 3-dimensional catastrophe," said David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer and one of the lead scientists on the recent USF mission.
Hollander aptly raises the spectre of catastrophe once again, a word used commonly in association with BP and the Gulf of Mexico mere weeks ago. It wasn't a spill as in don't cry over spilled milk or 'darn, I spilled the beans'. The disaster BP created in the Gulf is a catastrophe. Let's not forget that. No out of sight and out of mind on this one. And now hopefully, we'll find out more about where the roughly 25% of 5 million barrels went and how it may impact life in the Gulf of Mexico.
P.S. What's up with relief well -- the word was mid-August it was to be completed -- how come we've heard nothing?
If anyone ever needed a good ocean-related reason to reduce the amount of waste they produce on terra firma, here's one. Scientists from 5 Gyre, an ocean conservation group, have calculated a rough estimate of how much plastic is swirling around in the world's oceans. 315 billion pounds and counting.
According to the article on Discovery News by Michael Reilly: We've all heard about the Texas-sized "garbage patch" swirling in the North Pacific, and recently we've been warned that the Atlantic's got a plastic problem, too. Rather than distinct patches, the planet's interconnected watery parts are effectively a thin soup of plastic refuse, with perhaps larger concentrations of rubbish in five large rotating gyres of water like the Pacific's.
I was going to list a bunch of reasons why this is a bad thing but stopped myself. It's just plain wrong! Disgusting, depressing, shameful, etc. Anyone who needs a list of reasons why we should do what we can to reduce the waste we produce and keep our oceans clean, just doesn't get it.
David Helvarg's -- ocean author and founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign -- short piece on damage to the Gulf of Mexico is worth reading. He makes some great points about what long-term damage really means, sheds light on entrenched damage at other spill sites, and slips in some choice metaphors.
"So the good news is maybe half the oil has been burned off, skimmed and dumped, evaporated in the heat, eaten by bacteria in an anaerobic process that also sucks oxygen out of the water or otherwise biodegraded. That's good news in the sense that amputation is better news than gangrene," he writes.
In the end, his measured, researched, knowledgeable conclusion is sobering but we need to hear it: Still, for people of the Gulf and beyond who understand what it means to have your life linked to a living sea, BP's impacts won't be going away anytime soon, or probably anytime in our lifetimes.
The full text of Helvarg's piece is here:
Oil Gone for now?
They've finally cemented up BP's runaway well (from above with a second relief well plug still to seal it from below). Unfortunately this comes after 220 million gallons of oil slimed the Gulf of Mexico. So what's the effect of a spill 20 times the size of the Exxon Valdez? Apparently not much if you believe the government's estimates.
The Deepwater Horizon Oil Budget put out by the Department of Interior and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration says one quarter of the total oil naturally evaporated or dissolved. Having spent time in the heat and oil of the Gulf in June and July, and given the volatile compounds in the light crude that was released I don't have a hard time believing this. Score one for air pollution. They claim 25 percent was burned, skimmed or recovered from the wellhead. Again, having seen the surface burns and the Q-4000 rig flaming off 6,000 barrels a day in July, creating a black column of oily smoke, skipping the middle men (cars and trucks) and putting sooty carbon dioxide right into our already overheated atmosphere, I can almost believe this figure although it would represent the most successful mechanical recovery of spilled oil in history and I know from being there a lot of oily water was counted as recovered oil.
The 'Budget' also claims 24 percent of the oil was dispersed into the water (either naturally or through millions of gallons of chemical dispersants being sprayed on the surface and pumped down to the wellhead). They claim 26% remains on or just below the surface or has been collected (or not collected) from the shoreline as oily muck and tar balls. This 'residual oil is being naturally degraded they reassure us. The oil budget, like the federal budget, seems to be running on a deficit however. Two problems; one, the 24 percent they say is dispersed into the water column has not gone away any more than the 26 percent on or just below the surface (also staining wetlands and beaches). In addition the massive amounts of methane gas released into the water (remember, they're drilling for oil and gas), though not counted in the budget, is also impacting the Gulf ecosystem from deep ocean bottom habitat to warm surface waters, along with every living thing therein.
So the good news is maybe half the oil has been burned off, skimmed and dumped, evaporated in the heat, eaten by bacteria in an anaerobic process that also sucks oxygen out of the water or otherwise biodegraded. That's good news in the sense that amputation is better news than gangrene. We still, conservatively, have half the oil and gas mixing with saltwater, algae and resident wildlife, though harder to spot and corral thanks to chemical dispersants
Three years ago, in November 2007, we had the Cosco Busan bunker fuel spill in my home waters of San Francisco Bay. That's one two thousandth as much fuel as the government estimates oil still left in the Gulf. Subsequent NOAA studies (that were not made public until San Francisco Weekly reporter Peter Jamison did an expose in March of this year) found that herring embryos exposed to the type of oil used in the bunker fuel were fatally deformed. For the last three years the Bay's annual herring return has disappeared and the most famous urban fishery left in America has collapsed. Crab counts have also fallen precipitously in the last few years with the spill being viewed as a likely reason.
After the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Prince William Sound's herring fishery collapsed. Unlike bald eagles and pink salmon, this keystone species never recovered. The shrimp fishery took twenty years to recover.
The persistence of oil released into the marine and coastal environment can also be seen in Alaska by digging eighteen inches below the surface along the Prince William shoreline where oil can still be found just deep enough to maintain its toxicity. Sea otters digging for clams have been spotted bringing up welling pockets of oil.
BP has already begun cutting back on its 'clean up' effort in the Gulf and talking up the idea of returning to drill that part of the Mississippi Canyon deep oil reservoir they didn't let explode into the water. So what is the definition of clean other than the slate BP would like to write its story on?
In June Greenpeace biologist John Hocevar took me onto a beach near Grande Isle Louisiana that had been cleaned two days earlier. You could still see small medallions of copper oil spots on the sand but it looked pretty clean compared to a sludgy nearby wetland. “Some of the oil has also sunk into the sand,” he told me. Wanting to check for myself I took a sandy stick and dug a hole about two feet down. Sure enough there were more penny-sized medallions of oil deeper down in the sand. I tossed the stick and vigorously brushed my hands together but the sand stuck to my palms. I rubbed them on my jeans and light brown oil stained my jeans and hands where the sand rubbed off. Multiply that a million times and you begin to understand what persistent pollution means.
It will take years of study to determine the impacts of the BP disaster on the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem. My fear is that if Florida's tourist beaches aren't heavily oiled (as they appear not to be for now), and if the mainstream media no longer feels it has to “feed the beast,” (as a CNN producer put it) then the long term impacts of the spill on the Gulf's habitat and marine wildlife and those whose livelihoods depend on them may be ignored and forgotten. Consider how other long-term and larger disasters degrading our ocean commons are being ignored. These include plastic, urban and agricultural runoff pollution, climate linked sea-level rise, acidification and arctic melting, loss of habitat (including Louisiana's shredding wetlands) and industrial overfishing for the global seafood market.
Maybe if Snooki and the Situation from 'Jersey Shore' were as oil covered as a flock of Louisiana Pelicans or Lindsey Lohan's flesh as saturated with leaked methane as it's been with alcohol or BP's Bob Dudley admitted he was a True Blood vampire we'd be able to retain public interest in this unfinished disaster. Still, for people of the Gulf and beyond who understand what it means to have your life linked to a living sea, BP's impacts won't be going away anytime soon, or probably anytime in our lifetimes.
No smiles irony here. The green-minded organization, NY/NJ Baykeeper, has been told to remove the oysters it is trying to cultivate in the waters around New York City/New Jersey. According to their web site:
Today NY/NJ Baykeeper removed oysters from its Keyport Harbor site in order to comply with an order from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). This experimental project was the largest in-water oyster research project in the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary and Baykeeper staff and Rutgers University were just beginning to gather important scientific data to assess the feasibility of large-scale oyster restoration efforts in the area’s waterbodies.
This is wrong on several levels not least of which is that we polluted the waters so badly to begin with. I know it was years ago and it was part of great industrial progress and development, but it stands as a sad reminder of what we're capable of and the reality of it should give us the verve to ensure it never happens again, anywhere. The area used to be full of life including oysters.
Also, does anyone see the irony that a restoration project is halted because of the very pollution it is trying to solve? That's what I call no smiles irony.
What to do about it? The NJDEP needs to wake up and step up. The NJDEP says it can't risk having these experimental, foul oysters reach markets. So step up monitoring and vigilance, NJDEP, and commit to clean waters and healthy ecosystems.
It appears necessary. On June 2, 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had issued a letter to NJDEP citing statewide nonconformance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, specifically citing lack of adequate patrols and vessels, regulating the discharge of human waste from harvest vessels, and a shortfall in water sampling, according to NY/NJ Baykeeper. Out of thirty designated patrol areas, 21 (70 percent) failed to be in compliance during one or more thirty day patrol periods for FY 2009 according to FDA’s Annual Program Evaluation Report.
Now we've got Rock n Roll on our side. Pearl Jam released a rocking song and video about and for the ocean. Their message at the end of the video also rocks: There is only one ocean for everyone. Look after it and preserve it for present and future generations.
According to UltimateGuitar.com: Pearl Jam has posted a new video for the song "Amongst The Waves," the third single from the band's 2009 album Backspacer. The clip features a live performance of the song by the band, set to stunning images of the ocean that eventually lead to footage of the more grim realities of the current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Check out the video and their list of Eleven Things you can do to save the oceans. Simple and straight at you just like a good riff. This one goes to eleven.
Hello Tuna -- Courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer
Definitely a challenge to navigate the complexities of buying and eating seafood that makes you part of the solution versus part of the problem. Tuna is a great example. Bluefin, skipjack, yellowfin...what is what, what is best, what is bad? Bad as in overfished, threatened, and/or caught in a way that lots of other marine life die in the process...Head spinners all of it.
So where's the easy out from Eco Ocean? Sorry, there isn't one. You have to make time for the tuna.
Rule of thumb could be to avoid bluefin, if you see the rare and high-end fish out there, skipjack is fine but we have to keep our collective eyes on that tuna species. General approach should be to shop at places that know where and how the fish is caught, ask questions, consult fish lists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and others, and as author Paul Greenberg says in the Philadelphia Inquirer "'It is a good idea, from a moral standpoint, to choose the right fish,' he says. But it can't stop there. Find out who the suppliers are, he suggests, 'and then start writing letters.'"
Read Sandy Bauers' full Philadelphia Inquirer story here -- she provides a helpful and quick tuna treatise:
During the day and into the night these people drive on the beach like it's their highway, flicking ashes into Quahog half shells teetering on the dash, night fright grins rend deep shadows in their eyes through a speeding window along sand thick with oily tread.
Drinking all-natural Lite chemicals wrapped in metal wrapped in plastic wrapped in conditioned air. These people never see the opal moon touch the tides, or the graceful hope in waves endlessly hitting the beach, dune grasses holding fast their grip.
When these people finally collapse, the mightly sea will barely recognize them, yet ultimately carry their rank water and feeble bones to origins.
They hardly deserve it.
Last night, Jon Stewart did a piece called "I Give Up" in reference to the insipid partisan shenanigans going on in the US Congress. The specifics were around how both sides, Democrats and Republicans, couldn't pass a bill to provide medical assistance to those first responders on 9/11. The bit was funny, as usual, but as he acknowledged, it was also depressingly pathetic. It almost drained all the irony. These elected officials are running our country like it's a game. It's a joke without a punch line.
Recently, a friend of mine succinctly dismissed the entire lot of them, the US Congress, as clowns. There was no vitriol or anger in his voice. It was just his assessment -- a very even-headed, well educated, highly informed, intelligent person.
Now I see Congress has postponed any Climate legislation until after their month-long vacation. It's so frustrating. Ever hear of the term "strike while the iron is hot". With the Gulf disaster still in mind, seems like an ideal time to move on some serious legislation that moves us off the petroleum economy and closer to a renewable energy economy. There's no time for delay. It's no joke, well, maybe it is and we, the American people, are the punch line.
So the reports from the front are that the 3/4 of the oil from BP's disaster is gone. First of all, that's amazing, and really? Second of all, if true, careful of the meaning.
If verified, it's good news, really good news, no doubt about that. However, it feeds into the misconception that the ocean can absorb or "take" whatever we do to it. It cannot. That's the kind of mindset that feeds overfishing and constant pollution. We dodged a bullet, maybe, but the ocean and its creatures still need better protection and thoughtfulness.
The report comes from the same agency that woefully underestimated the amount of the spill in the first place. That old saying echoes in my head, that I regularly evoke when opening my snail mail, "if it sounds too good to be true, it's probably too good to be true."
Anyway, once and if verified, it may really be time to celebrate keeping in mind the other quarter -- that's 25% of 4.9 million barrels -- is still out there and could do untold damage, such as coating oysters and other shellfish. Plus, the damage from the "first" wave is still relevant, and with us, especially in regards to the unknown but potentially negative impact on juvenile fish and shrimp next year and beyond.
August is here and timeless visions of the beach are happily upon us if we're lucky. Diving through the surf, walking along the edge, sand between the toes, umbrellas listing in the breeze -- all of it great stuff.
Yet one thing I've noticed lately is a large number of people seem to have forgotten how fragile yet important dunes are. I am surprised to see people walking over the dunes, allowing their kids to jump around on them or dig into them, or allowing their dogs to tramp all over them. All of these things erode the dune and crush, kill, and otherwise damage many plants especially the all important dune grasses.
Professor Stephen Broome of North Carolina State University notes "the value of dunes and their fragile nature are often misunderstood or not appreciated. Excessive use often upsets the natural balance, damaging the vegetation and deteriorating the dune system. One of the earliest uses of dunes in North Carolina, which resulted in considerable damage, was overgrazing by livestock, including cattle, horses, and sheep. Today, shoreline development and the pounding of dunes by feet and vehicles pose serious threats to dune vegetation and dune stability. Intensive beach use increases the need to restore, construct, protect, and manage dunes."
So please when you enjoy your favorite beach, don't forget to have as little impact as possible on the dunes.