EPA releases action plan to clean up the Great Lakes

In a follow-up to last year’s approval of $475 million for the cleanup of the Great Lakes ecosystem by the Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced an action plan to do just that. Lake Michigan from Milwaukee, WI Yesterday EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met with governors of Great Lakes states to discuss the goals for cleaning up Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario from 2010 through 2014.  The plan focuses on five specific efforts: pollution prevention and cleanup, prevention of invasive species invasions, reduction of urban, suburban and agricultural runoff into the watershed, habitat and wildlife protection and restoration, and education, public outreach and strategic partnerships. According to the plan, these efforts include “the first-ever comprehensive assessment of the entire 530,000 acres of Great Lakes coastal wetlands for the purpose of strategically targeting restoration and protection efforts in a science-based manner.” It also requires the collection or prevention of 45 million pounds of electronic waste, 45 million unwanted pills and 4.5 million pounds of household hazardous waste in the Great Lakes basin by 2014. In addition, it calls for the reduction of harmful algal blooms, which have polluted drinking water, and for the cleanup of 9.4 million cubic yards of toxic sediment. The plan also calls for a “zero tolerance” policy regarding invasive species and requires a 40% decline in such species by 2014. This is particularly targeted at Asian carp, a non-native species known for its voracious appetite. According to a Reuters article, around $60 million of the funds will go directly to combating Asian carp populations. An Asian carp was reportedly found in the ship canal connecting the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan late last year. As a result, several states asked the U.S. Supreme Court to force Chicago to shut down its shipping locks in an attempt to keep the Asian carp from infiltrating Lake Michigan. The Supreme Court sided with Illinois and declined to close the locks over concerns of endangering the $7-billion fishing industry. Last month, however, DNA evidence suggested the presence of Asian carp in Lake Michigan. The Associated Press reports that wildlife officials are currently searching for carp in the Chicago area and will continue to for the next two to three weeks. Read the full action plan at http://greatlakesrestoration.us. http://www.flickr.com/photos/indykethdy/ / CC BY-SA...

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Scientists discuss some of the 5,000 new marine species discovered through census

Today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Diego, scientists participating in the Census of Marine Life (CoML) announced that the $650 million, 10-year collaboration will conclude on October 4-6, 2010 in London. More than 2,000 scientists from 80 countries have been collecting data on the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life worldwide. One goal of CoML is to provide the science—such as migration patterns, genetics and population density—needed to conserve diversity and reverse habitat loss. Ian Poiner, chairman of CoML, explains one of the uses of these data in a sify.com news article: Now that we will have an inventory of marine life, say, by 2020 or 2030 we can say that certain animals are moving to cooler waters due to heating of the oceans or from shallow water to deeper due to pollution or harmful methods of fishing. Scientists at the AAAS meeting also highlighted some of the species discovered during the expeditions, like a furry crab found in 2005 off of Easter Island called the “yeti crab.” And a species of sponge found off of the Florida Keys in 1999 which produces an anti-cancer agent. According to a BBC article, that chemical is now being tested as a possible therapeutic.  Check out images of some of the marine life, including the “yeti crab” at the CoML...

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Mites and poor diet contribute to honeybee decline in Europe

Two timely reports have surfaced this week regarding the decline of honeybee populations in Europe, and France has taken action in an attempt to curb the falling numbers.  A recent study linked honeybee health and plant biodiversity In a study published in the Journal of Apicultural Research, scientists have found that managed honeybee populations across Europe have dropped an average of 20 percent over the last 20 years, with England being hit the hardest at a 54 percent decline. Simon Potts and colleagues from the University of Reading analyzed several patterns across 18 countries in Europe and found the mite Varroa destructor–a parasite responsible for transmitting infections in honeybee colonies—infested virtually every honeybee colony they examined. In another study, scientists from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Avignon reported a possible dietary connection between the strength of the honeybee immune system and plant biodiversity.  Cedric Alaux, who co-authored the study published in Biology Letters, told BBC News:    We found that bees fed with a mix of five different pollens had higher levels of glucose oxidase compared to bees fed with pollen from one single type of flower, even if that single flower had a higher protein content.  Bees use glucose oxidase to sterilize colony and brood food in an effort to make the hive resistant to infection. As Alaux told BBC, a more diverse diet, therefore, might help a honeybee colony protect against pathogen invasion.   These studies emerge amidst France’s recent decision to sow nectar-bearing flowers alongside 250 kilometers (155 miles) of roadway in an effort to boost honeybee populations. If the results from the three-year test are positive, France is prepared to extend the flowers along the country’s 12,000-kilometer (7,500-mile) network of non-toll roads.  Read more at BBC and the Telegraph.    Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aussiegall/ / CC BY 2.0 Potts, S., Settele, J., Neumann,, P., Jones, R., Mike A Brown, M., Marris, G., Dean, R., & Roberts, S. (2010). Declines of managed honey bees and beekeepers in Europe Journal of Apicultural Research, 49 (1) DOI:...

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800 treated turtles to be released in Florida today and tomorrow

January’s recent cold snap not only affected local produce and nonnative Iguanas in Florida, but the endangered sea turtles as well. Sea turtles recover in a warming pool Photo Credit: NOAA Acclimated to milder water off of Florida’s coasts, cold-blooded sea turtles become unable to swim or eat as water temperatures drop, leaving the reptiles stunned and hypothermic. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and several other county, state and federal agencies quickly came to the aid of these endangered and threatened turtles. According to NOAA, officials rescued more than 3,500 turtles in the last couple of weeks and treated them for dehydration and injuries. And with temperatures rising recently, agencies have been able to release the turtles back into their natural habitats. A sea turtle is rescued Photo Credit: FWC The FWC reports that a total of 2,000 turtles have been released on the East Coast so far, and 800 more turtles are expected to be released today and tomorrow from the Panhandle region alone. Just yesterday, 27 turtles were released off the coast of Key West after being treated at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon,...

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R.I.P. Carl Leopold

 This post was contributed by ESA Science Policy Analyst Piper Corp.   Carl at the shack. Photo: Aldo Leopold Foundation Archives.  On November 18, 2009, A. Carl Leopold, son of the celebrated ecologist Aldo Leopold, passed away at his home in Ithaca, New York, at the age of 89. Carl Leopold was an accomplished plant physiologist and World War II veteran, and he carried on the legacy of his father as an active conservationist. He was a founder and director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, the founding president of the Finger Lakes Land Trust, and co-founder of the Tropical Forestry Initiative.  As a teenager, Leopold worked with his family to restore the natural landscape on their Wisconsin River farm, a transformation that his father famously chronicled in A Sand  County Almanac.  Carl Leopold’s own writings include the seminal plant physiology text Auxins and Plant  Growth (1955), the textbook Plant Growth and Development (1964), and several articles on the scientific process and the relationship between science and ethics. Leopold’s diverse career included appointments as Graduate Dean and Assistant Vice President for Research at the University of Nebraska, Senior Policy Analyst on the staff of the Science Adviser to the President during the Ford Administration, and William H. Crocker Scientist at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (an affiliate of Cornell University). After his retirement, he remained active in science, conservation, and public service-he was a strong voice against horizontal drilling and toxic waste storage in the Marcellus Shale, and a volunteer at a local food pantry. He was at work on two papers when he passed away, one on memory in plants and one on Wisconsin phenology.  Leopold will be remembered as an inspired scientist and an eloquent ambassador of his father’s land ethic. In a piece commemorating Leopold’s life, the authors wrote: Carl grew up with strong personal roots in the natural world and in the Land Ethic of his father and after growing his own youthful sapwood, colorful heartwood, and thin latewood, Carl became a mighty and graceful trunk that nurtured and enthusiastically supported many plant physiologists and conservationists who consider themselves to be “Leopold leaves” on the tree of Carl’s life....

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Study shows bias against protecting coral reefs in fishing areas

A new study out in the December issue of the ESA journal Ecological Applications has shown that human interests are having a disproportionate impact on the selection of marine protected areas, or MPAs, which are meant to protect biodiversity in marine ecosystems. Their paper shows a consistent bias in Australian and Tasmanian MPAs toward areas with little commercial resource value. Volunteer diver undertaking fish transect in the Abrolhos Islands, Australia. Credit:  G. J. Edgar. The study, led by Graham Edgar of the University of Tasmania, compared long-term trends for so-called “no-take” marine protected areas, where fishing is off-limits, to nearby marine areas that were unprotected and subject to fishing.  The 14 reef communities spanned the southern coasts of Australia and its neighboring southern island, Tasmania. He and his team surveyed the areas – by diving to the reef and visually inspecting along transects — from 1992 to 2008, collecting data on the presence and abundance of predatory fish, medium-sized fish and invertebrates. As Edgar says, the declaration of the MPAs in 1992 provided a unique large-scale natural experiment. “Experiments of this kind are rarely undertaken at scales greater than a few square meters because of the difficulties in manipulating larger areas of seabed using scientific dive teams,” says Edgar. “The best opportunity to expand such experiments to regional scales is through monitoring changes that follow declaration of MPAs, because in each MPA we are effectively removing human predators from a patch of seabed.” At the outset of the experiment, Edgar and his colleagues found that the MPAs had lower fish biomass (total estimated mass of fish in the area) and density than other reef areas nearby. Although these MPA became more diverse than their unprotected counterparts over time, Edgar wonders why they had lower biodiversity in the first place. “When the boundaries of MPAs are drawn up, fishers and other stakeholders try to ensure that areas used by them are excluded from protected zones. This is often publicized as a ‘win-win’ situation because the MPA is declared with little impact on the activities of fishers, who continue fishing in their preferred areas,” Edgar says. “However, MPAs located in areas with little resource value also have relatively low value for biodiversity conservation because human activities continue largely unchanged and the community types most threatened by fishing remain unprotected. This bias seems to be widespread worldwide.” Edgar says that to safeguard the full range of marine community types, some sanctuary zones need to be located in areas that are heavily fished. “We cannot safeguard marine biodiversity by declaring sanctuary zones only at sites with little resource value,” he says. “Heavily-fished areas...

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Oceans can’t keep up with human emissions

A study out in Nature today puts some long-term figures on a trend that climate scientists and ecologists have seen coming for some time: Oceans are no longer absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere like they used to. Growing ocean acidity is slowing their ability to keep up as humans pump more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The study, conducted by Samar Khatiwala of the Georgia Institute of Technology and colleagues, built a mathematical model of seawater changes over the past 20 years, including empirical data on temperature, salinity and the presence of manufactured chlorofluorocarbons, or CFC’s. Using information from the model, they estimated the rate of change of human-generated carbon in the sea from the year 1765, at the advent of the industrial era, until 2008. Although oceans used to be able to keep up with the yearly rise in human-emitted carbon, absorbing more and more each year, Khatiwala’s study found that in the last 20 years, the oceans’ rate of absorption growth is slowing down. From 200 to 2007, the rate of increase dropped by about 10 percent. As Khatiwala told The New York Times: It’s a small change in absolute terms. What I think is fairly clear and important in the long term is the trend toward lower values, which implies that more of the emissions will remain in the atmosphere. Read more at Nature and at The New York Times. Khatiwala, S., Primeau, F., & Hall, T. (2009). Reconstruction of the history of anthropogenic CO2 concentrations in the ocean Nature, 462 (7271), 346-349 DOI:...

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Marine animals write their own atlas

Southern elephant seals were fitted with GPS collars to help provide data for the new atlas. Credit: Valeria Falabella, Wildlife Conservation Society The marine animals of the Patagonian Sea have apparently been hard at work  informing humanity about their home turf. An atlas of this sea, off the southeastern coast of South America, has been published using data from satellite transmitters affixed to a host of Patagonian vertebrates. The atlas is published by the Wildlife Conservation Society and BirdLife International. Twenty-five scientists collected the data over 10 years, using the transmitters to track marine animals from the coasts of southern Brazil to southern Chile. For example, the studies found that elephant seals travel about 6,200 miles during an average season at sea, and that they travel an additional 6,200 when they dive to find food.  Other tracked species include five species of albatross, three species of petrel, four varieties of penguin, two fur seal species and the South American sea lion. The atlas is being produced in English and Spanish and will be used to help inform policy decisions in the region, including managing fisheries and charting transportation routes of oil tankers. The Patagonian Sea, which spans 1.1 million square miles, is becoming increasingly threatened by development and overfishing, says the Wildlife Conservation Society. Claudio Campagna, who runs the Wildlife Conservation Society’s “Sea and Sky” initiative, says the atlas is unique because it was “essentially written by the wildlife that live in the Patagonian sea.”  Hopefully these new stakeholders will bring a fresh perspective to the table. Read more...

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