In the new documentary “Dispatches from the Gulf,” the scientists are the heroes. The film airs for the general public for the first time via livestream on April 20 at 2pm and 7pm eastern. I got a sneak peek of the film, and trust me—you won’t want to miss it.
Since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began in 2010, hundreds of scientists around the country have been documenting the impacts of the tragedy on the wildlife and habitats of the Gulf of Mexico. This documentary tells the stories of these scientists, from the University of Miami team that built the equivalent of a treadmill for mahi mahi to test their endurance and see how oil has affected their hearts, to Christopher Reddy, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientist who scours the beach for tar balls with a simple tote bag and pair of purple gloves.
In the past, we’ve shared good news with you about ocean acidification research funds allocated by the Federal government. Ever wonder what sorts of research projects NOAA supports with this money? A few days ago, NOAA announced three new awards to universities totaling $1.3 million to study how ocean acidification is changing the coastal ocean. We already know that nearshore waters are becoming more acidic and losing oxygen. These three universities will be looking at the root causes, and trying to understand what that means for marine plants and animals, and the people that rely on them.
What’s new and particularly ambitious about these projects is that they will study ocean acidification in coastal environments, which are incredibly complex. Not only do coastal waters take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but they also receive fertilizer, sewage, and toxic chemical pollution from coastal development, host vibrant ecosystems, and receive pulses of freshwater runoff after storms. The net effect is that coastal water chemistry is the product of these layered processes. None of the processes happens at the same time or in the same place, making it difficult to understand which processes drive which effects.
The right-hand end of the long, low pinkish building across the harbor houses the International Atomic Energy Agency Laboratory in La Condamine, Monaco, which hosts the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre.
The U.S. government shutdown began one month ago today. Thankfully, the government has been reopened, and the fiscal showdown is fast becoming a distant memory that we’re all trying to forget. But details are slowly emerging on the shutdown’s actual costs and damage. We’ve gotten our hands on some of that information, and when it comes to our oceans and coasts, it doesn’t look pretty.
Based on information given to us by sources within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the cost of just one small part of the shutdown—recalling NOAA’s fleet of research ships and planes—added up to more than half a million dollars.
That’s half a million dollars just for NOAA’s ships and planes to return to port and sit idle while the shutdown fight played out on Capitol Hill. That’s half a million dollars that will come out of NOAA’s already-tight operations budgets. And that’s half a million dollars that could have been spent on ocean research and conservation instead.
How do scientists choose their life’s work? For avid surfer Nick Mallos, a love of the ocean made marine biology an easy choice. But it was a black-and-white bird with a 6-foot wingspan that inspired him to focus his research on marine debris and clean up as many beaches as he can.
Nick first encountered the Laysan albatross during a grad school research trip to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific. With over 450,000 nesting pairs, Midway Atoll is home to the largest Laysan population in the world. The birds cover the 2.4 square-mile area, nesting in every available nook, from abandoned WWII gun turrets to grassy cracks in the pavement.
But once you look beyond those birds, “you realize there’s this scattering of plastic over the entire island,” Nick says. “It’s impossible to not see plastic – it’s just everywhere. The most perverse part of it is that it’s most heavily concentrated around every nest.”
A quiet victim went unseen in many of the images of oil-soaked animals publicized during the BP oil disaster. While many of us were moved by the plight of animals caught up in this man-made disaster, we should also be concerned for the wetland plants quietly suffering in the background.
Because of an expanding human footprint and natural processes, Gulf wetlands are declining at an accelerated rate exacerbated by the BP oil disaster. A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences, reported on in The Advocate, shows the BP oil disaster doubled the erosion rates of wetlands in some areas.
This critical habitat offers hurricane protection to the coast and serves as the nursery grounds, homes, food source and safe-havens to countless marine species. The Mississippi River is still working, as it has for thousands of years, to create these remarkably productive wetlands. Continue reading »