Tag Archives: marine life

Credit: Pixabay.

How sunscreen releases metals and nutrients in seawater

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Applying sunscreen when going to the beach is of the utmost importance to protect our skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. At the same time, these protective lotions contain metals and nutrients that wash off into the ocean, interacting with marine life. A new study reports how sunscreen chemicals are released into seawater.

A painful sunburn can ruin a vacation, and too much sun can also lead to more serious problems like premature skin aging and melanoma. To counter the effects of prolonged exposure to the sun, manufacturers add UV filters.

However, our protection is done at the expense of the wellbeing of marine life. About 14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans each year, affecting coral and fish embryos. And even if you don’t swim after applying sunscreen, it can go down drains when you shower.

Millions of people are now luckily aware that sunscreen can also harm wildlife. As a result, many are looking to purchase “coral-safe” sunscreens that lack oxybenzone and octinoxate, two substances known to damage coral reefs. Some destinations, such as Hawaii and Palau, have introduced bans on harmful sunscreens.

It’s not clear, however, what effects other trace compounds found in sunscreens might have on marine wildlife.

A first step in this direction was recently made by a team of researchers at the University of Cantabria in Spain.

The team, led by Araceli Rodríguez-Romero, introduced titanium-dioxide-containing sunscreen to samples of Mediterranean seawater and analyzed how the lotion releases various metals and nutrients into the water. UV light was shone onto a water tank in order to simulate real life conditions.

Aluminum, silica, and phosphorus had the highest release rates under both light and dark conditions. Based on these results, the researchers computed a theoretical model that predicts how various compounds found in sunscreens are released into the ocean under various conditions.

According to the new study reported in the journal Environmental Science & Technologybeachgoers could increase the concentration of aluminum in coastal waters by 4% and of titanium by almost 20%. These concentrations, however, are already extremely low.

In the future, the researchers plan conducting more studies to determine how these metals and nutrients could be affecting marine ecosystems.

In the meantime, each of us can help reduce our impact on marine life by using more eco-friendly alternatives to sunscreen or none at all, if it is possible. Wearing hats, shirts, and other apparel incorporating UV protection can reduce the amount of sunscreen you need by up to 90%, for instance.

Ocean life

Ocean wilderness is disappearing because of us: only 13% of it has been spared

Ocean life

Credit: Pixabay.

Oceans cover over 70% of our planet, but despite their sheer vastness, few marine areas around the globe have been spared by human activity. According to a recent study, only a tiny fraction of the world’s oceans have naturally numerous populations of marine wildlife. What’s more, this little marine wilderness we have left could be lost at any time if we continue to fish deeper and farther.

Aside from the poles and remote Pacific, almost all of the world’s oceans have come under the influence of human activity, whether it’s fishing, global shipping, or pollution.

According to Kendall Jones, at the University of Queensland, Australia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, just 13% of the world’s oceans have remained untouched by the damaging reach of human activity.

These remaining patches of oceanic wilderness sit in stark contrast to overfished and polluted waters found elsewhere around the world, such as around coastlines. According to Scientific American, commercial fishing now covers an area four times the area used for agriculture, and much of it is unsustainable, causing the depletion of 90 percent of important species.

“They act as time machines,” Jones told The Guardian. “They are home to unparalleled levels of marine biodiversity and some of the last places on Earth you find large populations of apex predators like sharks.”

Only 5% of the remaining ocean wilderness lies within existing marine protected areas, Jones and colleagues reported in the journal Current Biology. One of the reasons why is that unaffected areas are far away from human activity, but also away from the jurisdiction of governments — in the high seas. Covering nearly half of the planet, the high seas are international waters where no country has jurisdiction.

On the bright side, a high seas conservation treaty is on the horizon, with negotiations hosted by the UN starting in September.

The researchers also draw attention to the $4bn a year that governments spend on subsidies for fishing in the high seas, which should be cut in order to protect marine wildlife. Vessels from ten rich nations, including Japan, Korea, and Spain, take 71% of the catch from the high seas — but many of these operations would be actually unprofitable if there were no more public subsidies that offset the cost of traveling so far from their home parts.

If this little marine wilderness we have left isn’t protected, the world risks losing it very soon, just like waters elsewhere have become overrun by human impact. As technology continues to improve, but also while climate change makes previously isolated areas more accessible, it won’t be long before much of the marine wilderness is gone. For instance, in 2014, Russian company Gazprom brought home the first barrels of oil from the Arctic, from areas which were once protected by ice cover. Again, Russia, this time in partnership with France’s Total and China’s CNPC, wants to start drilling the Arctic in 2019 for natural gas. The $27 billion plant is expected to extract 16.5 million tonnes of natural gas per year.

Besides overfishing, there are many other problems that threaten wildlife, such as pollution with farming fertilizers, industrial chemicals, and plastic.

“Plastic pollution is one of the big things that we want to work out a way to get data on,” Jones told the BBC.

“It’s so widespread and so hard to manage that we really want to get a good idea of where it is and where is most affected.”

Hopefully, this study will get the much-needed attention it deserves, and thus inspire policymakers to take haste in adopting international agreements meant to protect marine wilderness.

 

Adélie penguin shortly after a dip in the Ross Sea. Credit; Credit John Weller/Antarctic Ocean Alliance

World’s largest marine reserve established in the Ross Sea, off the coast of Antarctica

Adélie penguin shortly after a dip in the Ross Sea. Credit; Credit John Weller/Antarctic Ocean Alliance

Adélie penguin shortly after a dip in the Ross Sea. Credit; Credit John Weller/Antarctic Ocean Alliance

In a landmark arrangement, 24 nations and the European Union signed to establish the largest marine reserve off the coast of Antarctica. The designated protected area will encompass 600,000 square miles of ocean — nearly as big as Alaska.

“For the first time since really the Cold War, countries have put aside their differences to protect a large area of the Southern Ocean and international waters,” said Andrea Kavanagh of the Pew Charitable Trusts, part of an alliance of nonprofits that pushed for the deal.

A great victory for marine wildlife

In the area, which is right off the coast of the Ross Sea ice shelf, commercial fishing is now completely illegal. However, some 28 percent of the area will be designated for research purposes — here, scientists are allowed to catch fish and krill, penguins, seals, and other animals. Hopefully, this article from the agreements text won’t be turned into a loophole (eyes on you, Japan).

The agreement was reached at Hobart, Tasmania, a deal which was five years in the making and was mediated by the Australian government. However, discussions about making a no-fishing zone in Antarctica’s waters have been going on for over a decade. The United States and New Zealand proposed a similar agreement in the past, but no consensus could be reached because Russia didn’t approve it. Now, Russia is among the states which signed the deal at Hobart on Friday.

The news is not only important for the endangered marine species in the area, but for species worldwide. That’s because the Ross Sea reserve is the first marine park created in international waters, setting a precedent for others locations to open around the world — and we know these are desperately needed. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s recommendation that 30% of the world’s oceans be protected.

“It’s probably why this agreement has taken so long to conclude, being the first outside a national jurisdiction and in an area of the high seas,” Ms. Kavanagh said

The reserve status is set to expire in 35 years. Hopefully, the terms will be extended past this point.

marine_life extinction

Marine life might need 1,000 years to recover from climate change

Marine life is on the brink of experiencing its sixth mass extinction, a disruption that is expected to occur very rapidly once the gears are set in motion (cataclysmic chain events). Now, a new study suggests that it might take a full millennium for marine life to recover from a potential climate change-driven die off, not hundreds as previously suggested.

marine_life extinction

Image: Wikimedia Commons

 

When ice melts from the base of an ice shelf, for instance, the oxygen contained within the air bubbles trapped in the ice goes into solution (ocean). However, the dissolved oxygen levels that result from this process are significantly lower than those obtained by equilibration with the atmosphere. To find out how this affects marine life, researchers at  University of California, Davis wanted to see how ancient life reacted to sudden melting periods like those following an ice age. To this end, they carved fossilized marine fauna samples from from the ocean floor off Santa Barbara, California. They recovered some 5,400 invertebrate fossils, including those of spanning a period between 3,400 and 16,100 years ago. During this time the climate abruptly warmed, akin to what we’re currently experiencing because of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the researchers, the fauna “nearly disappeared from the record during those times of low oxygen,” according to the study.

The damage was made in only a couple of decades, however it took thousands of years for marine life to rebound back to previous levels.

“There’s not a recovery we have to look forward to in my lifetime or my grandchildren’s lifetime,” said lead author Sarah Moffitt, a scientist from the Bodega Marine Laboratory and Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute at the University of California, Davis.

“It’s a gritty reality we need to face as scientists and people who care about the natural world and who make decisions about the natural world.”

 

Navy admits training exercises will likely kill dolphins and whales in large numbers

According to a post in the Navy Times, training and testing will likely “inadvertently” kill hundreds of whales and dolphins and wound thousands in the next five years.

CC BY 2.0 Official U.S. Navy Imagery.

CC BY 2.0 Official U.S. Navy Imagery.

Most of the damage will be done by explosives, though some might come from testing sonar or animals being hit by ships. Rear Adm. Kevin Slates, the Navy’s energy and environmental readiness division director explained that while they use simulators when possible, sailors must also train in real life conditions, and the training just kills dolphins and whales; bummer.

“Without this realistic testing and training, our sailors can’t develop or maintain the critical skills they need or ensure the new technologies can be operated effectively.”

Just off the coast of Hawaii and Southern California, the reports said the naval activities may cause 2,039 serious injuries, 1.86 million temporary injuries and 7.7 million instances of behavioral change (such as swimming in other directions).

They also reported that training with live munitions is scheduled to take place from just 2014 to 2019 in the waters off of the East Coast, Southern California, Hawaii, and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ken Balcomb, from the Center for Whale Research in Washington, says that even protected waters, home to endangered species, are regularly bombed:

“There’s been a number of whales over the past years that have washed ashore with what’s usually described as blunt-force trauma. Many of them—and I’ve seen four myself—are consistent with a blast-type trauma of this nature.”

Copyright: Cascadia Research Collective

Copyright: Cascadia Research Collective

This isn’t the first time the Navy is associated with severe wildlife threats – in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted restrictions on the Navy’s use of sonar, even though it has been shown to cause beachings, hearing loss, and disorientation in dolphins, whales, and seals. In the justification, the Supreme Court argued that the training of the Navy is more important than marine health.

What can you even say about this? What can you even do about this? To be perfectly honest, I don’t know; the Navy isn’t gonna just give up or modify their training to protect wildlife. The Navy will just go on and do their thing, and to be honest, I don’t think the US is a singulary example. Things like this just make it seem like we’re living in a wicked type of futuristic dystopia.

European Parliament supports major fishery reform

Overfishing is a dramatic problem in most areas of the oceans, and many people are desperately trying to protect what’s left of the ecosystems; thankfully though, the European Union has approved a major reform by an enormous majority.

overfishin2

The European Parliament was having its say in the on-going attempt to shake up Europe’s controversial Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), with many researchers warning that many fish species are fished at levels far beyond what the ecosystem can sustainably support.

As well as fulfilling (some of) the environmentalists and scientists demands, the Eurpoean Parliament has also agreed to recalculate the so-called ‘maximum sustainable yield’.

“We have shown today that the European Parliament is anything but toothless. We have used our power as a co-legislator, for the first time in fisheries policy, to put a stop to overfishing. Fish stocks should recover by 2020, enabling us to take 15 million tonnes more fish, and create 37,000 new jobs,” said Ulrike Rodust, the parliament’s rapporteur for fisheries reform rapporteur. Rodust’s report was passed by her colleagues for 502 votes for to 137 against (press release).

Campaign groups have been celebrating this decision, but this is just the first step in a larger scale issue. MEP Chris Davies said the vote would provide a “strong negotiating position” in the discussions Parliament will now have with the European Council and Commission to agree on the final legislation. If things don’t change in this direction, pretty soon, then “There’s plenty of fish in the oceanwill soon turn into an old saying.

overfishing

Ocean life mass extinction

Ocean life threatened by mass extinction

Ocean life mass extinction

Climate change and over-fishing are held responsible for the swift collapse of coral reefs and the propagation of mass extinction among marine life. According to the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), which presented the study this Tuesday to the U.N., the Earth is faced with its biggest spate of mass extinctions in millions years.

“We now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation,” according to the study by 27 experts to be presented to the United Nations.

“Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, over-exploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean,” it said.

Scientists used other mass extinction examples through out the Earth’s geological history to strongly evidentiate the perils marine life is face with. As such, they’ve listed five mass extinctions from the past 600 million years – most recently when the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, according to the leading  asteroid collision theory. Another one is the abrupt end of the Permian period from 250 million years ago.

The panel found that oceanic conditions are similar to those of “previous major extinctions of species in Earth’s history,” and that we face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation.

It’s not like this all news, by any means, but why might prove to be shocking is the extent the mass extinction phenomena has evolved to, both in oceans and on dry land. It’s also evolving at a much rapid pace than previously thought.

Rogers, professor of Conservation Biology at the Department Of Zoology, University of Oxford, told CNN: “The rate of change we are seeing in the quantities of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere and then being absorbed into the oceans is so great that it is difficult to compare what is happening now with what has happened in the past but we do know that past disturbances in the carbon cycle have been a feature of mass extinction events.”

Oxygen deprivation in the oceans

What scientists found to be the greatest peril to ocean life is what they refer to as the “deadly trio” – global warming, ocean acidification and lack of water oxygen or anoxia. These are common factors which researchers have found to be linked within all known mass extinctions. Global warming builds up carbon dioxide which is then absorbed into the oceans, which causes acidification, while run-off of fertilizers and pollution stokes anoxia.

RELATED: Soot responsible for rapid Arctic melting?

Means of countering the process, the commission concludes, are to halt over-fishing and reduce global warming levels. The “easiest” solution is considered to be the reversal of over-fishing by applying policy reforms, however billions of dollars worth are at stake, which will likely put efforts to a minimum. Let’s not mention the fifth of the world’s population which is dependent on fish-related food. Global warming reforms implies shifting from a primarely fossil fuel based system to a renewable one, which harnesses the power of nature.

Dan Laffoley, senior advisor on Marine Science and Conservation for IUCN, and co-author of the report, said: “The challenges for the future of the ocean are vast, but unlike previous generations we know what now needs to happen. The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now, today and urgent.”

Mysterious compound could in fact be the key to ocean life

cdom

To understand this, you need just a very basic knowledge of chemistry, nothing fancy. When small parts of organic matter break down, they could go into rivers or ponds where they could cause a buildup of yellow-brown organic matter that amasses as the tiny plants die. Of course, this matter decomposes into something which is called chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM).

In fact, its origin is well known in coastal and inland waterways, but as far as oceans are concerned, scientists know have far less info about it. Heterotrophs (microscopic organisms that can’t produce their own food, such as bacteria) are believed to be responsable for the production and release of the organic chemical compounds into the environment. What researchers do know is that CDOM, when struck by sunlight, plays a critical role in ocean chemistry, having a significant impact on the greenhouse gas emissions that can in turn warm the planet, sulfur compounds that can cause cloud formation that can cool the planet, and iron concentrations that are critical to ocean plants.

If scientists are gonna be able to solve its misteries, they will have a better understanding of life in the oceans and how marine organisms are affected by light. According to University of California at Santa Barbara researcher Norm Nelson, nobody’s done this before.

“We got into the study of CDOM by accident,” said Nelson. “My colleagues discovered the presence of an unknown factor that controlled the color of the Sargasso Sea off Bermuda that wasn’t phytoplankton [tiny marine plants], which we’d always assumed was the most important. I made some measurements that demonstrated it was CDOM, and a whole new area of research opened up for us.”

The hand of blood: man makes sure no ocean water remains pristine

ocean map

A new study has shown that not even a square meter of the world’s oceans has been left untouched by human activities. Oceansystems face probably the largest of threats from humans including overfishing, pollution, and rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification caused by global warming.

The study has been led by an international team of scientists which analyzed data from 17 different types of these human impacts and fed them into a model that produced a map of the world’s oceans with each square kilometer assigned a value of the level of impact at that particular spot. The results were published in the Feb. 15 issue of the journal Science.

The above map shows that human activity has affected, to some extent, all parts of the oceans, with 41 percent being strongly impacted by several human-caused drivers.

“What is new today is that… we know how much of the oceans are in trouble and this figure is frighteningly high,” said co-author Fiorenza Micheli, a Stanford University marine ecologist, at a news conference in Boston.

The most damaged regions are those surrounding the most advanced countries and the most industrialized areas; these areas include nclude the eastern Caribbean, the North Sea, the eastern North American seaboard, the Mediterranean, and the waters around Japan.

“For the first time we can see where some of the most threatened marine ecosystems are and what might be degrading them,” said study co-author Elizabeth Selig of the University of North Carolina.
This information enables us to tailor strategies and set priorities for ecosystem management,” said Selig. “And it shows that while local efforts are important, we also need to be thinking about global solutions.”