The Global Fool

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Salmon Farming: The Chilean Massive Die-Off
May21

Salmon Farming: The Chilean Massive Die-Off

By Roberta Attanasio Salmon farming—the fastest growing food production system in the world—is going through hard times in Chile, the world’s second-largest salmon producer after Norway. Last year, Chile exported $4.5 billion of farmed salmon, but now a deadly algal bloom is killing millions of farmed fish. A few months ago, an estimated 40,000 tons of salmon died in the Los Lagos region, which is known as the Switzerland of the Southern Hemisphere’s—the snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains tower over deep mountain lakes and green farming valleys, creating a fairy-tale landscape. Unlike Switzerland, the fairy-tale landscape extends down to the coast and its beaches, which became covered with dead sea creatures. “Heaps of dead whales, salmon and sardines blamed on the El Niño weather phenomenon have clogged Chile’s Pacific beaches.” El Niño, which warms the equatorial Pacific, is certainly one of the factors to blame in the massive fish die-off. The warm water encourages the growth of toxic algae, which cause the so-called red tide—an algal bloom that turns the seawater red and makes seafood toxic. Although the red tide is a common, naturally recurring phenomenon in southern Chile, the extent of the current outbreak is unprecedented, so much so that it has been defined “one of the country’s worst recent environmental crises.” The toxic algal bloom threatens the local marine life as well as the livelihood of the fishermen who depend on it. But, El Niño is only one of the factors responsible for the red tide. Liesbeth van der Meer, who heads the Oceana environmental group in Chile, believes that runoff from neighboring livestock creates concentrations of nitrogen that, when mixed with the above-normal temperatures, lead to the ideal scenario for the algae to grow. Another factor appears to be the salmon farming itself, which encourages toxic algal blooms. How? Nutrients dumped into floating salmon cages fall to the seabed forming underwater banks that act as a toxic algae reservoir. Marine biologist Hector Kol told The Guardian: “The problem we now have is a red tide of biblical proportions. Chiloé has changed, the sea is toxic. Right now we have a red tide with symptoms of diarrhoea, amnesia and paralysis from near the Straits of Magellan to Valdivia”—in other words, the phenomenon involves a stretch of more than 1,200 miles of coastline. In addition, residents accuse salmon producers of exacerbating the algal bloom by dumping contaminated fish near the coast—millions of salmon died earlier this year due to another algal bloom that asphyxiated fish by decreasing oxygen in the water. Now, according to the Chilean government, scientists will determine whether or not dumping tons of rotting...

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Quality Water, Quality Life: Aquatic Health and Contaminants in the Midcoast Oregon Salmon Watersheds
Jun08

Quality Water, Quality Life: Aquatic Health and Contaminants in the Midcoast Oregon Salmon Watersheds

A guest post by Ray Kinney From ridge tops to reefs, environmental degradation has caused many salmon populations to decline to one to ten percent of former numbers. Young salmon survival in freshwater is only 2 to 5% from egg to smolt phase just before entering the ocean phase of their life cycle. Many causative effects for this decline are known, but many remain to be clarified. Politics often prevents adequate investigation of contaminant effects for water quality. Chronic low dose accumulative effects of toxic contaminants take a toll that is generally unrecognized by fisheries managers. Our benevolent rainfall flows down out of the Coast Range to become, once again, part of the sea and the productivity of the salmon cycle of the near-shore ocean. Nutrients from the ocean, in the form of salmon and lamprey spawner carcasses, had fertilized our forests, streams, and rivers like an incoming tide for thousands of years. Our forest garden grew rich because of this tide of nutrients. Reduced numbers means reduced nutrients, which reduces development, growth, and survival abilities of the fish. The land also nourishes the sea. Freshwater flows down out of the mountains, past our farms and towns, through the jetties, and out over the continental shelf. These nutrient tides over land and sea have been shaping salmon for thousands of years, providing diversity, fitness, and resilience to the young fish and other stream organisms that support the salmon cycle complexity. For many hundreds of years humans have increasingly affected the quality of this complexity in ways that have stressed the fish. In the last two hundred years we have greatly increased pollution. Fish harvest levels increased unsustainably, while beaver and timber harvests altered the landscape stressing the salmon cycle. Increasing pollutants have contaminated the flow to the sea. Copious leaching rainfall and snowmelt dissolve and transport nutrients and contaminants down the river out of the Coast Range. Calcium and iron ride the waters downstream and out over the shelf during the winter, enriching the sea floor mud. As upwelling conditions increase in the summer, much of this iron distributes northward with the currents and combines with nitrates to fertilize plankton blooms that feed the food chain for the salmon. Iron and nitrate are in shorter supply over much of the ocean and limit productivity in many parts of the ocean. Here, off of the Oregon coast, the iron leached from our soils provides an important key to salmon ocean productivity. Large quantities of nitrate ride downstream through the freshwater, from red alder tree vegetation cover concentrations in our timberland. The red alder ‘fix’ nitrogen out of the air providing fertilizer...

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The European Seafloor: More Litter Than We Thought
May01

The European Seafloor: More Litter Than We Thought

By Roberta Attanasio We’re all familiar with the global threat of ocean pollution — and the widespread presence of plastic on beaches and in the great garbage patches. However, until very recently, we did not know that marine litter is present in large amounts on the seafloor, in the deepest areas and at very remote locations. Marine litter is defined by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as ‘‘any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment”. Results of a survey published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE on April 30, 2014, reveal the magnitude of the problem. Researchers gathered data from surveys carried out during research cruises led by various European institutions between 1999 and 2011. A total of 32 sites were surveyed — in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea — at depths ranging from 35 meters to 4.5 kilometers. The sampling methods used for the survey included imaging technology (still photograph and video) as well as fishing trawls. The researchers found litter at each site surveyed, with plastic accounting for 41% and discarded fishing gear for 34% of it. In addition, they found glass, metal, wood, clothing, pottery, paper and cardboard, as well as unidentified materials. The most prevalent litter item found on the seafloor was plastic (bottles, bags, etc.), whereas discarded fishing lines and nets were particularly common on underwater mountains, banks, mounds and ocean ridges. It is commonly believed that most plastic items float at the sea surface — in reality, an estimated 70% of the plastic that reaches the ocean sinks to the seafloor. Indeed, results from the survey show that, for example, litter is present at larger density on the seafloor of the Mediterranean Sea as compared to the litter floating at the surface. Kerry Howell (Plymouth University’s Marine Institute), one of the researchers involved in the study, said in a press release “This survey has shown that human litter is present in all marine habitats, from beaches to the most remote and deepest parts of the oceans. Most of the deep sea remains unexplored by humans and these are our first visits to many of these sites, but we were shocked to find that our rubbish has got there before...

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Do Sunscreen Products Harm the Coastal Marine Ecosystem?
Aug30

Do Sunscreen Products Harm the Coastal Marine Ecosystem?

By The Editors When new products based on mixtures of several chemicals become widely used, and the use of these products increases exponentially, it is reasonable to expect some sort of environmental impact, at least on specific ecosystems. Therefore, the recent finding that sunscreen products may cause deleterious effects in the coastal ecosystem is not surprising. Sunscreen products contain organic and/or inorganic UV chemical filters, as well as a variety of other ingredients, as for example preservatives, coloring agents and fragrances. What is surprising, however, is that this potential environmental problem has not been given the attention it deserves – until this year. Findings on the effects of sunscreen products on the coastal ecosystem have been published in June in the scientific journal PLOSone. The study (Sunscreen products as emerging pollutants to coastal waters) has been carried out by a team of investigators based in Spain. Antonio Tovar-Sánchez (Department of Global Change Research, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies, Esporles, Balearic Island, Spain) and collaborators evaluated the potential effects of commercial sunscreens released in nearshore waters by beachgoers. During August-September 2011 the researchers sampled surface nearshore waters of three beaches around Majorca Island and conducted laboratories studies to evaluate the presence of chemicals released from sunscreens in coastal seawater and its effect on the marine phytoplankton. Results from the study show that sunscreen products are a significant source of organic and inorganic chemicals that reach the sea with potential ecological consequences on the coastal marine ecosystem, inhibiting the growth of some species of marine phytoplankton or adding essential micronutrients that may stimulate the growth of others. The investigators do not discuss the long-term effects of coastal seawater contamination by chemicals contained in sunscreen products – for example, will the effects of contamination occurring mostly during the Summer months persist during the Winter? It’s clear that at least a year-long analysis is necessary to truly understand the long-term impact of sunscreen products on marine phytoplankton. However, it is important to be aware that even seemingly harmless actions, in this case using sunscreen products, may results in deleterious effects on the...

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Do Sea Turtles Eat Plastic Marine Debris? Yes!
Aug10

Do Sea Turtles Eat Plastic Marine Debris? Yes!

By The Editors Floating marine debris accumulates in five main oceanic gyres. These debris accumulations consist mostly of plastics and are called great garbage patches. In recognition of the global threat posed by the great garbage patches, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recently granted them a symbolic State status, and officially recognized the Garbage Patch State. Marine debris gathers in drift lines and convergence zones, which are also important feeding areas for many oceanic species, including sea turtles. Now, results from an analysis of global research data from the past 25 years show that green and leatherback turtles are eating more plastic than ever before. The analysis was carried out by researchers from from the University of Queensland and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and published in the scientific journal Conservation Biology on August 5, 2013.   According to the authors of the study, “The likelihood of a green turtle ingesting debris nearly doubled from an approximate 30% likelihood in 1985 to nearly 50% in 2012”.   The authors conclude: “Our results show clearly that debris ingestion by sea turtles is a global phenomenon of increasing magnitude.” Study leader Qamar Schuyler says that man-made debris must be managed at a global level, from the manufactures through to the consumers – before debris reaches the ocean. An estimated 80 per cent of debris comes from land-based sources, so it is critical to have effective waste management strategies and to engage with industry to create appropriate innovations and controls to assist in decreasing marine debris. Again, it is necessary to decrease our plastic footprint....

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