Thursday, May 27, 2010

Agency orders cuts in toxic oil spill response

Thanks no doubt to a blogfish post and subsequent public activism campaign (see photo top right of angry mob demanding less toxic oil spill dispersants), the Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the use of less-toxic oil dispersants. It's about time, and thanks for getting involved. Wasn't it rewarding?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oil doesn't just kill, it maims

What can we expect from the Gulf oil disaster? Oil is the pollution that hurts you once, and then keeps on hurting. Just as Nuka, the sea otter oiled in Alaska when she was a newborn pup. She's a swimming example of all the things that can go wrong with a sea otter, or at least most of them.

This story in the Seattle Times describes the woes of an oiled sea otter pup 20 years later and a whole array of other harms caused by oil, in addition to the obvious bad feather days it causes for the highly visible oiled birds. Oiled eggs, oiled food, etc. Stay tuned, we'll be hearing about these effects for a long time.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Gulf seafood safe to eat

"...despite millions of gallons of oil and chemical dispersants gushing into the water, federal officials said Tuesday."

This according to the Panama City (Florida)

The safety of Gulf seafood is a big subject that will grow in importance. I hope the conversation is more informative and credible than this type of blanket assurance without anything to back it up.

In fact, things may not be quite so rosy. According to the Congressional Research Service, a highly credible source of information, there may be contamination risks that have not yet been fully studied following the oil and chemical spills caused by Hurrican Katrina.

There is concern over the long-term contamination of fisheries through the food chain. Toxins released to the environment through flooding may accumulate through the food chain into the tissues of fish. Bioaccumulative toxins such as lead and mercury have been detected in floodwaters that are now being pumped in Lake Pontchartrain. The timeline for bioaccumulation is uncertain, and depends on the amount of toxins released, where they were released, and whether the release was in specific areas or diffuse.

Another credible report found continued risk of chronic low level contamination of seafood in Alaska, 18 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill there.

Sadly, there is much more to come on the issue of Gulf seafood contamination. We need thorough studies and complete transparency, the public has a right to know and the Gulf seafood industry will only thrive in a climate of open and full disclosure.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Whale eats kayaker?

Do you know what it feels like to get a whole herring caught between your teeth? This whale taking a kayaker into it's mouth was maybe just looking for a toothpick for some extreme (for the kayaker) dental hygeine.

This kayaker near Sitka, Alaska was surprised by the encounter, and lived to tell the tale.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Supermarket empties shelves for conservation

I never thought I'd see this day...a supermarket is showing customers empty seafood shelves to demonstrate the plight of the oceans.

See the photo at top left, showing an empty tray where Loblaw used to offer skates to customers, and now they offer a message about the need to find sustainable fish to sell.

Loblaw in Canada is emptying part of their seafood trays where they used to sell fish that are in trouble. The effort is designed to send a visual message to consumers that unless conservation happens, we'll lose our ocean fish.

Most sustainability messaging on seafood is designed to be consumer-friendly, here's an example of a store taking a risk of making customers uncomfortabl, not usually a winning idea in retail.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fixing the world's fisheries

What would it take to fix the world's fisheries? A report from the United Nations Environment Program sketches the global outline. The result? Fixing fisheries pencils out as a good investment, and real people will reap the rewards.

This is good stuff.

From the UNEP Green Economy report:

Under a Green Economy response, aimed at reducing the global fishing effort to a 'maximum sustainable yield', an estimated reduction of excess capacity is required, because current capacity is 1.8 to 2.8 times what is needed.

These reductions could be achieved through careful targeting of the most ecologically damaging surplus capacity, so that of the estimated 20 million vessels and 35 million fishers deployed in this sector, the livelihoods of those that are artisanal and poor are treated equitably.

The report estimates that an investment of between US$220 to US$320 billion world-wide is required and equal to around US$8 billion a year but that this investment would:-

* Raise total income of fishing households, including those engaged in artisanal fishing, from US$35 billion to around US$44 billion a year;

* Increase annual profits for fishing enterprises from US$8 billion to US$11 billion annually;

* Increase the marine fisheries catch from about 80 million tonnes to 112 million tonnes a year worth US$119 billion annually versus the current US$85 billion.

"Discounting this flow of benefit over time at three per cent and five per cent real discount rates, gives a present value of benefit from greening the fishing sector of US$1.05 trillion and US$1.76 trillion, which is three to five times the high-end estimate of US$320 billion as the cost of greening global fisheries," says the preview report.

What are we waiting for, let's get started!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Oil spill cleanup doing more harm than good?

People don't like messes, and there's a natural tendency to want to clean up spilled oil. But evidence has accumulated showing that so-called cleanups can do more harm than good.

As BP struggles with a stained public image, like Exxon in Alaska in 1989, executives will do anything to appear busy and to reduce the bad visuals of oily beaches and birds. They'll do anything, including some things they might ought not do.

What are they doing, besides ducking blame? Spraying "dispersants" which are toxic chemicals designed to disperse the oil into smaller masses. The only problem is that massive, unprecedented amounts of dispersants are being sprayed into Gulf waters, in a giant toxicology experiment.

More than 250,000 gallons of dispersant have been applied both by air and underwater at the Deepwater Horizon spill site, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed. What is the chemistry of oil dispersants? Interesting question, and we don't know the answer because the stuff is a trade secret. Probably some sort of toxic organic hydrocarbon, but exactly what is unknown.

Though considered by many experts as the lesser of two evils, the environmental impact of so much dispersant at one site remains “widely unknown,” Environmental Protection Agency officials admit. And the value of dispersants is questioned by some scientists. The stuff may be used mostly to hide the oil from public view by breaking it up into smaller globs.

Then there's the "cleanup" itself. Attempts to physically remove oil from beaches was widely criticized in the Exxon Valdez oil cleanup. Some studies indicate that cleanup did more harm than good.

An important observation that resulted from the Exxon Valdez oil spill was that natural cleaning processes, on both sheltered and exposed beaches, were in many cases very effective at degrading oil. It took longer for some sections of shoreline to recover from some of the invasive cleaning methods (hot water flushing in particular) than from the oiling itself.

According to one source, the Exxon Valdez "cleanup" was more than a big effort though. It was a big mistake, John Robinson, the chief scientist at the spill for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. "The aggressiveness of the cleanup in the end contributed to more damage than the oil did," he believes. Nine strips of beach were left untouched as an experiment, and those nine beaches look better today than the swept ones, where whatever was alive was cooked to death in superhot water.

Argh, the oil spill is bad enough, and adding a so-called "cleanup" may be adding additional harm. As they say: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

World's biggest beaver dam

How big can a beaver dam get? Would you believe half a mile long? Here's a story about the world's biggest beaver dam, located in Northern Alberta. Check out the picture at left.