Friday, April 28, 2006

I Love Nudibranchs

Check out more cool photos a this nudibranch photo site.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

'Nemo' to be listed as a protected fish


Clown fish, or pla cartoon, will be listed as a protected species under a new regulation to be issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The species was largely known only to divers and aquarists before springing into public prominence with a starring role in the Pixar animated movie Finding Nemo.

The decision to place the fish under protection came after marine ecologists reported that finding Nemo was becoming harder in Thai waters over recent years. They attributed the drop in numbers to the deterioration of coral reefs and the demands of the growing number of aquariums in Thailand and neighbouring countries.

''We hope that putting the clown fish on the protected list will at least scare poachers away from them. However, more work is needed to keep this precious creature in its wild habitat,'' said Pinsak Suraswadi, a marine expert of the Marine and Coastal Resources Department.

Clown fish will be one of 110 fish species protected under the new regulation on environmental protection zoning, which covers six Andaman coastal provinces _ Krabi, Phangnga, Phuket, Ranong, Trang, and Satun.

Under the regulation, which is awaiting the issuing of a royal decree, hunting of the protected fish species in the six provinces is strictly prohibited.

Until now, the only legislation protecting the brightly coloured Nemos has been the National Park Act, which bans all hunting activities in the park area, he said.

''But the national park law doesn't protect Nemos and other marine resources living outside the park area. The new regulation will protect these marine animals no matter where they are found,'' said Mr Pinsak.

The marine biologist also called on private aquarium operators across the country to stop taking clown fish from natural habitats and improve their aquarium management to reduce the death rate of clown fish and other species.

The more fish die in aquariums, the more they will be taken from the wild, he said.

Kantaporn Tongman, market manager of Siam Ocean World at Siam Paragon, said reports of the shrinking clown fish population in the sea had prompted the aquarium to revise its policy on displaying fish.

''We are ready to take the fish out of our exhibition tank if the ministry bans the showing of Nemo in an aquarium,'' said Ms Kantaporn.

However, she insisted that clown fish shown at Siam Ocean World were obtained from commercial clown fish breeding farms.

Audit faults gov't for Everglades delays

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A decades-old project to restore water flows to Everglades National Park has mushroomed in cost and suffered delays because of government indecision and the inability of various agencies to communicate, a federal audit has concluded.

The cost of the project has risen from an $81 million estimate in 1989 to nearly $400 million, Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney found.

The Modified Water Deliveries Project, a predecessor and key component of the broader state-federal Everglades restoration plan, now may not be finished until 2009 or later, according to the report, released last week.

Part of the problem is an inability of agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service to agree on "fundamental planning and design issues" for water control and water depth, the audit said. It also cited difficulties in communicating with the Army Corps of Engineers, Indian tribes and state agencies.

Disagreements and lack of communication have led to court battles, further contributing to delays.

The project calls for replenishing the park's marshes and prairies by boosting water flows from large reservoirs north of the park, which was cut off from its historic flows when highways and canals were constructed in the early 1900s. Among the challenges are finding a way to redesign canals, dikes and a highway that slices across the southern half of the state.

The Interior Department's senior Everglades policy adviser, Terrence Salt, said the agency has already addressed many of the problems raised by the audit.

"Obviously, it has taken longer and been more difficult than anybody imagined," Salt said.

Another case of NIMBY (Not in my back yard)

Democrats are supposed to be our environmental saviors right? They are supposed to be campaigning against global warming and supporting alternative energy right? WRONG, when it comes to wind turbines in the back yard of prominent Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. First of all, I strongly dislike Ted Kennedy, and now, when he has a chance to lead the Democratic party into the lead in bringing energy costs down, he balks. Of course he makes baseless claims and uninformed facts about why the proposed wind turbines off the Cape Cod coast are "detrimental to the environment." BAH!. Senator Kennedy just does not want to see these tiny specks on his seashore view. Read what's going on with the Cape Wind proposal here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


cool pic!

Florida's Freshwater Stingrays

What??? I had never heard of Florida having freshwater stingrays. When I think of freshwater stingrays I only think of the Amazon. Well, not anymore:

The most common reaction I receive from people when I mention that I conduct research on freshwater stingrays in Florida is “I didn’t know there were freshwater stingrays in Florida.” I’ve found this response to be so predictable and so consistent, ranging from people with Ph.D.s to G.E.D.s, that sometimes I question it myself. However, the truth is that stingrays are quite abundant in Florida’s St. Johns River, and they are living in fresh water.

After starting my research on the salinity tolerance of stingrays, I soon realized why people were so amazed to hear of a freshwater stingray. Stingrays belong to a group of cartilaginous fish known to biologists as elasmobranchs, which includes all known species of sharks, skates and rays. Unlike the bony fish (that is, bass, grouper, trout, etc.), elasmobranchs have a skeleton composed entirely of cartilage, a material that makes up the ends of our noses and ear lobes. Overall, elasmobranch fish do not venture into freshwater environments; there are approximately 1,000 elasmobranch species, and only about 50 have been reported to occur in fresh water.

The freshwater stingray in Florida happens to be on of those 50 species. Calling the stingray that lives in the St. Johns River “the Florida Freshwater Stingray,” however, would be a misnomer. In actuality, it is the same species of stingray that is found all around Florida’s coastline (except parts of the Keys). It is the same species that inspires cursing from fishermen and groans from beachgoers who shuffle their feet across the sandy bottom to prevent being stung. The Atlantic stingray (Dasyatis sabina) is one of the most commonly encountered rays along Florida’s coastal waters and is known to foray into freshwater rivers during the warm summer months in other parts of its range. However, the St. Johns River populations are unique because they are the only known populations of the Atlantic stingray that reproduce and complete their life cycle in a freshwater environment.

Read what else UF's grad student Peter Piermarini has to say.

Six Foot Wide Giant Poisonous Jellyfish Invade Sea Of Japan

GIANT jellyfish called Echizen kurage have invaded territorial waters off Japan, China and South Korea, prompting a top-level summit to deal with the menace.

Nearly 2m wide and weighing 200kg, with countless poisonous tentacles, they have drifted across the void to terrorise the people of Japan.

"Echizen kurage" is not an extraterrestrial invader but a giant jellyfish that is devastating the livelihoods of fishermen in the Japan Sea. Nomura's jellyfish, as it is known in English, is the biggest creature of its kind off Japan and, for reasons that remain mysterious, its numbers have surged in the past few months.

Read more here.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Experts: 'No Fishing Zones', Marine Reserves Needed to Protect Gulf of Mexico Turtles

Houston, Texas (Apr 24, 2006 18:29 EST) The world’s top sea turtle experts are calling on both the United States and Mexico to provide more protection for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. A resolution passed in Crete earlier this month at the 26th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation recommends that all relevant governmental agencies work to create a migration and nesting season no commercial fishing zone (marine reserve) in the state waters adjoining North and South Padre Islands, Texas, and a year round no-commercial fishing zone from the Mexican border south to Tampico, creating an international protected Kemp’s Ridley Swimway from Corpus Christi, Texas, south to Tampico, Mexico.

“Some 650 scientists from 64 different countries attended the symposium and many of them recognize that the Kemp’s ridley has begun recovering from near extinction and needs much more protection in both U.S. and Mexican waters,” said Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and founder of HEART (Help Endangered Animals-Ridley Sea Turtles).

A second resolution addresses the revision of the 1992 Recovery Plan for the Kemp’s ridley now underway by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. It recommends that the new recovery plan recognizes and designates the Texas coast as nesting habitat and the adjoining waters as important migratory and foraging habitat. Last year 51 Kemp’s ridley nests were found on the Texas coast.

“So far this month, 13 dead sea turtles have been found on Texas beaches as shrimping activity increases. More law enforcement is needed immediately to make sure Turtle Excluder Devices are being used properly on shrimp trawls,” Allen said. “We have also learned that a female Kemp’s ridley raised and released in Galveston waters in 1993 was butchered for her eggs in Mexican waters last year. “Obviously, law enforcement is needed there also.”

Visitors to Texas beaches in the spring and summer months should be alert to the possibility of seeing a nesting sea turtle. All species are either threatened or endangered and protected by federal law. They should immediately call 1-866-TURTLE-5 for more information.

There's something in the water, and it's not just fish

FISH tanks can harbour a gastric bug capable of causing illness serious enough for infected children to have to go to hospital.

The bacterium, a strain of salmonella resistant to many drugs, is thought to have been imported from Asia with tropical fish.

Australian researchers proved the link between gastroenteritis and fish tanks by showing that the strains of salmonella in patients and in their home aquariums were genetically identical.

Diane Lightfoot, a salmonella specialist at the University of Melbourne and a member of the research team, said the study highlighted the need for care when cleaning tanks.

Fish were good pets, she said, "and fish tanks aren't to be feared. But commonsense hygiene is needed."

This included washing hands after touching the water or gravel and making sure the water did not splash onto surfaces where it could contaminate food, she said.

Dr Lightfoot began to suspect an association between tropical fish and the unusual variety of salmonella, known as Salmonella enterica serovar Paratyphi B, more than five years ago.

Between 10 and 20 of the 7000 salmonella infections reported each year in Australia were this variety. Multi-drug resistance was usually associated with overseas strains, but in most cases the infected Australians had not travelled recently.

Acting on the suspicion of British colleagues, she asked health authorities to see whether the people had aquariums. Most did, and samples were collected from some of the tanks.

The new genetic study, led by researchers at the NSW Department of Primary Industries and published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, was the first definitive report showing that ornamental aquariums were a reservoir of the multidrug-resistant salmonella strain, Dr Lightfoot said.

It is thought to have arisen in South-East Asia, where antibiotics are widely used in fish aquaculture.

The vice-president of the Marine Aquarium Society of Sydney, Caevan Sachinwalla, washes his hands before putting them in his spectacular reef aquarium to protect the fish, corals and anemones. "There is satisfaction in being able to grow corals and other life forms and see them prosper," he said.

Colombian Biologist Claims World's Largest Shrimp: Almost 16 Inches

Cartagena, Colombia (Apr 17, 2006 19:28 EST) Colombian biologist Edilberto Flechas has bought what he claims to be the largest shrimp ever seen. He bought the massive shrimp from a fisherman for the equivalent of $800.

"This is the biggest species ever known here or even in literature," said Flechas. "The size of this shrimp exceeds the average size. The average length is 21 centimeters and this one is 40 centimeters."

The Black Tiger shrimp is farmed everywhere in Asia, particularly in Thailand. It is not clear how this specimen ended up in Colombian waters.

The Black Tiger dominates the global shrimp market at 56% of the total world shrimp production.

Other main sources of global supply are Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Flechas is worried about the implications of the foreign shrimp's invasion of Colombian waters.

"The big difference, which could also be harmful for us, is that this species is a predator and it could end native species," he said.

Although Flechas received a lot of tempting purchase offers for his shrimp, he chose to keep it for further study.

Geologists: Ancient Fish Teeth Provide Clues to Beginning of Antarctic Cooling

Gainsville, Florida (Apr 20, 2006 15:42 EST) Ancient fish teeth are yielding clues about when Antarctica became the icy continent it is today, highlighting how ocean currents affect climate change.

University of Florida geologists have used a rare element found in tiny fish teeth gathered from miles below the ocean surface to date the opening of a passage at the bottom of the globe between the Atlantic and Pacific. The opening, which occurred millions of years ago in a much warmer era, allowed the formation of an ocean current around the pole. That event preceded – and may even have brought about -- Antarctica's transformation from a forested continent to an icy moonscape.

"We're saying we now have a date for the opening of the Drake Passage that looks like it's early enough that it may have contributed to the cooling," said Ellen Eckels Martin, a UF associate professor of geology.

Scientists have long puzzled over the rapid cooling that seemed to sweep over Antarctica more than 30 million years ago, replacing boreal pine forests with ice and snow. The cooling occurred in a very warm era when levels of carbon dioxide, the gas responsible for the greenhouse warming effect, were three to four times today's levels.

Theorists had suggested the plummeting temperatures could be related to the opening of the Drake Passage, a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific named after Sir Francis Drake, the English captain who circumnavigated the globe in the 16th century. But there has been a longstanding debate over when that passage opened. That's a key point because Antarctica is known to have been covered with ice by about 33.6 million years ago, meaning the circumpolar current would have had to be established before that event if it could be considered a cause of the cooling.

Estimates for the passage's opening have ranged from 15 million years to 49 million years ago. Martin and Scher's research confirms the older dates.

The scientists' source: neodymium isotopes retrieved from fish teeth the size of grains of sand – teeth themselves retrieved from sediment cores recovered from the deep ocean bottom more than two miles beneath the surface.

UM Researcher Investigates Strange Shark Gathering

(AP) FT. LAUDERDALE For a man who had spent a lifetime researching sharks, what Samuel Gruber saw diving four years ago off the Jupiter Inlet was nothing short of a religious experience.

About 100 adult lemon sharks hovered over the ocean floor in about 90 feet of water.

Throughout his 40-plus-year career, Gruber had seen maybe 15 or 20 adult lemon sharks, distinguished by their yellowish brown tint and dual dorsal fins.

"In one day I saw more adults by a power of five than I have in my whole career," said Gruber, 67, who has visited the site between December and March every year since.

Nowhere else in the world does such a phenomenon exist, Gruber said. And Gruber, among the world's leading authorities on sharks, has been trying to answer a simple question: What brings them here?

Gruber's initial theory is that female sharks are emitting chemical signals called pheromones that attract male sharks. But why they've chosen this particular spot to conduct their courtship remains a mystery. Does it have something to do with a combination of the currents, water temperature, and its salinity?

This year, getting closer to those answers proved more difficult. Not nearly as many sharks showed up.

The number of sharks fluctuates from year to year, Gruber said, and he's confident that more sharks will return. "You have good years and you have bad years," he said.

Next winter, he hopes to start testing his theory. He plans on collecting water samples around some of the female sharks and testing the water chemistry or possibly extracting urine samples from the females.

Juvenile lemon sharks are relatively easy to study. They congregate in nurseries in bays or lagoons. They prefer the safety and plentiful food supplies at mangroves and in warm shallow waters, such as those at the Bimini Biological Field Station, about 50 miles east of Miami, which Gruber owns and runs.

Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

This is what I do...

Basically we do benthic surveys of vegetation (Braun-blanquet scoring technique)and animals (throw trap collection method):

This is a picture of the trap in the water at a shallow site.

In this picture, you cana see the sweep nets we use to collect animals caught in the trap. As you can imaagine, this semi-destructive sampling stirs up the bottom sediments pretty good.

Another picture of working on the trap.

Those two photos are of the quadrats we use for the vegetation surveys. Each species receives a score from 0.1 to 5 based on the approximte cover that species represents within the quadrat.

All the pictures were taken in Card Sound, south Florida.

Biologists worry as pupfish disappear from Death Valley

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Nev. (AP) - They're kept behind lock and key, protected by barbed wire. They're photographed, hand counted and examined under a spotlight. Their diet, activity, water temperature and unborn offspring are all closely monitored by people put to the task by the U.S. Supreme Court.

And still, the Devils Hole pupfish, isolated in a bottomless hot spring in Death Valley for as many as 60,000 years, is falling off the face of the earth.

Only 38 adult Devils Hole pupfish survived the winter, The Associated Press has learned. That's less than half the population counted last fall, and down from more than 500 that once swam in the red rock hole, the species' only known natural home.

The head count is a disappointment but not a surprise to federal biologists who've been tracking falling numbers since the late 1990s. An accident wiped out as much as half the population in 2004, and the feisty desert fish, named for its puppy-like energy level, has not made the comeback experts had hoped.

No one knows why.

"It's a real mystery," said Bob Williams, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service field supervisor and spokesman for the recovery team working to save the fish in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, about 100 miles west of Las Vegas. "Everyone wants a silver bullet, but it's not that easy."

Scientists say more is at stake than the existence of an inch-long glint of blue swimming in a hole at the base of an unnamed hill in the Nevada desert. The disappearance of the pupfish in Devils Hole, if caused by a disturbance to its crystal blue waters, could signal the demise of other imperiled desert fish who depend on the same water system.

Perhaps more likely, its extinction would mark the failure of more than 50 years of coordinated preservation efforts - a shortcoming of science.

Devils Hole pupfish were one of the first listed endangered species. A Supreme Court case protects their environment, and desert conservationists have fought to shield them from developers and farmers. But faced with their mysterious disappearance, scientists are acknowledging that all the human attention, and the error that comes with it, may be killing them.

The Devils Hole pupfish could be jeopardy of being loved to death.

Read the rest here.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Calif. panel advises no cooling seawater at new plants

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California's State Lands Commission on Monday passed an advisory resolution saying that new power plant leases must not use seawater as a coolant or meet strict standards regarding seawater's use.

The commission's resolution, while not binding, hints that the state may be on the way to abolishing seawater to cool coastal power plants.

About 39 percent of the power generation capacity in California is from the 23 power plants that are cooled in a "once-through" process using seawater that is dumped back into the Pacific Ocean, bays and estuaries. And about 23 percent of the electricity used in California is produced by these seaside plants.

The warm water put back in the ocean retards the growth of kelp and eelgrass, which are both essential to sea life near shore. Also, fish are ingested to the plants where many are killed, according to the resolution passed on Monday.

The practice of "once-through" cooling of power plants represents "the single greatest and unaddressed environmental issue associated with power plant operation in the state," Jim McKinney, an environmental policy specialist for the California Energy Commission, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Both nuclear and gas-fired power plants on the coast use once-through cooling systems.

On Thursday, the California Ocean Protection Council, which advises Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will discuss if the council should take a stand on once-through power plant cooling.

The five-member Ocean Protection Council was created in 2004 by the California legislature and Schwarzenegger to coordinate ocean policies for the state.

It's possible that one day California will have a law that would require that power plants prove that almost all of the fish now being killed during the once-through process are saved, said Paul Thayer, spokesman for the State Lands Commission.

But before any law or rule is enacted, it must go before various regional and state boards such as the California State Water Board and perhaps the legislature and governor's office.

California power plants run about 17 billion gallons of seawater through their cooling systems, the State Lands Commission said in its resolution.

Glaciers melting faster than anticipated

A UW researcher has concluded Greenland's glaciers are melting up to twice as quickly as previously thought, suggesting scientists may have underestimated the impact of global warming.

If Greenland were to fully melt, it could raise sea levels as much as seven meters and permanently change ocean ecology and currents, said Ian Joughin, a senior engineer in the UW Polar Science Center.

Of concern to scientists is the acceleration of glaciers into the ocean and the increase in ice deposited, as well as the retreat of glaciers inland and their shrinking size. The results indicate that rising global temperatures have "a near immediate effect on glacier speeds," Joughlin wrote in a Science article last month.

In 1993, glaciers pushed approximately 30 gigatons of ice into the sea, where they later melted as icebergs. By 2005, iceberg production had doubled, with 60 gigatons of ice of being pushed into the arctic sea.

With so much more ice melting directly into the ocean, the rate at which the sea rises has increased about 20 percent.

Past estimates have shown that a three-degree increase in global temperature would melt all of Greenland in 1,000 years. But climate change models used to make those calculations relied solely on glacial melt while ignoring iceberg production. Taking into account iceberg production, a seven-meter rise in sea levels could happen much sooner, Joughin said.

The study of Greenland's glaciers can have even wider applications than predicting rises in sea levels, said Peter Rhines, a professor of oceanography and atmospheric sciences.

"Greenland can be seen as a gauge [for global warming]," he said. "[It] functions as a rabbit-hole effect on deep-sea ventilation."

Ocean climatology and biology is highly dependent on this ventilation, which only occurs in very few places in the world.

Even as researchers recognize the importance of global warming to glacial melt, in the end, Rhines said, "We're going to be surprised."

Marine biologists claim box jellyfish breakthrough

A team of marine biologists says it has developed a sunscreen which not only protects your skin, but can also repel the deadly box jellyfish.

Marine biologist Eric Mitran says the repellent tricks the jellyfish into thinking the wearer is neither a predator nor prey, so that it doesn't release its harpoon-like stingers.

But the breakthrough has come a little late for one Queensland girl, who was rushed to hospital earlier this month after being stung while snorkelling.

Read more here.

Hurricanes could cause tsunami threat

Hurricanes whip up gigantic waves at sea, but it seems they could also cause even more dangerous monsters to crash into shore.

Researchers at the US Naval Research Laboratory, based at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, think that hurricanes can pile up sediment underwater that could then slip, causing a tsunami. The team points to geological evidence for unexplained landslides in the Gulf of Mexico thousands of years ago, one of which is thought to have created a wave more than 15 metres high that smashed into the coast of Texas.

William Teague and his colleagues have a history of studying hurricane waves. Last year they reported that Hurricane Ivan, which caused massive damage in Grenada, Jamaica, Florida and Alabama in 2004, created waves about 40 metres high.

That's much higher than the tsunamis the researchers think such hurricanes might produce — but tsunamis wreak much more damage onshore. The 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean was about 18 metres high when it struck the shoreline nearest to its epicentre.

Tsunamis are generated by abrupt ructions of the sea floor, usually earthquakes or underwater landslides. "There have been documented cases of landslides triggering tsunamis," Teague says. Studying Hurricane Ivan has persuaded him and his colleagues that hurricanes could also provoke massive landslides in marine sediments.

Swept away

The researchers moored six batches of instruments for measuring water depth, pressure and currents on the seabed in Hurricane Ivan's path. At two of these spots, the storm scoured about 30 centimetres of sediment from the sea floor. "All of the moorings were deeper immediately after the passage of Ivan," says Teague.

The hurricane caused an underwater sandstorm, they report in Geophysical Research Letters1. Although the instruments had metal casings, sand and silt got into one of them, clogging it up.

From the amount of sediment moved at each site, the team estimate that Ivan stirred up more than 100 million cubic metres of sandy material. They say that some of this would have been dumped close to land, on the continental shelf near the Mississippi Delta.

If such a pile gets too big it might collapse, triggering a tsunami.

But there's no need to panic. "We are just suggesting that hurricanes could be a potential trigger," says Teague. "Fortunately this has not happened very often, if ever."

Even so, it's a threat worth considering. "A tsunami surge would cause enormous damage, far beyond that caused by Hurricane Katrina," Teague warns. "And a slump event could do lots of damage to offshore oil and gas facilities."

Ancient waves

The team points to geological evidence for an underwater slump between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago off the coast of Mexico that is estimated to have caused a 7.6-metre-high tsunami. And even longer ago, a slump near the Mississippi Delta caused a wave probably at least twice as big to hit shore.

It's not known what caused these underwater landslides. The usual suspects are earthquakes, but the Gulf of Mexico is not seismically active. So Teague and colleagues think that ancient hurricanes may have been responsible. If that's true, there's no reason why it wouldn't happen again, they say.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Slow death of Africa's Lake Chad

One of the world's great lakes is disappearing. Lake Chad - shared by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger - has receded to less than 20% of its former volume. Global warming is being blamed, as well as water extraction.

The land is parched dry and dusty but the first hint that there is water comes with the growing numbers of Caltropis dotting the landscape.

These strange, twisted plants have deep tap roots, and where they grow water is usually not far away.

But it did not seem very close as we left the scruffy town of Baga in a battered four-wheel drive jeep, lurching from rut to rut across what was once the lake bed itself.

Just 30 years ago, water covered the whole area. Baga was a waterfront town. Now it is stranded many miles from the lake as the land around it becomes desert. The Sahara is moving southwards.

View from space

To gauge the true scale of the environmental disaster under way at Lake Chad you first have to look at it from space.

From the unblinking eye of a satellite you can see the long decline. Once it was a huge inland sea, and just 40 years ago there was 15,000 square miles of water.

Now the latest satellite pictures put it at just over 500 square miles, and falling.

"Survival becomes a real problem here because we have no means of other livelihood," our driver says.

"We solely depend on the water and when there's not enough we have a serious problem."

At the lake bank, fishermen are pulling small black catfish from a large cylindrical fish trap made from bamboo. The catch is tiny.

"Before, you could fill about 30 of these traps with fish," said the fishermen, Musa Niger. "But now even if I put hundreds of these traps out, I hardly fill one because of the lack of fish."

He said the day's catch was worth about 750 naira (£3), whereas a few years ago he could sometimes earn 15,000 Naira (£60) for a day's fishing.

Read the rest here.

South American Rodents Found in Seattle

(AP) A water-loving rodent native to South America that has destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands in the southeast has been spotted near Lake Washington.

Nutria are semi-aquatic, chocolate-colored rodents that can weigh more than 20 pounds and eat one-quarter of their weight a day in crops and plants of all varieties. Also called coypu, or swamp rats, they burrow through marshes and levies, and females can produce more than a dozen offspring a year.

A trapper recently caught nine along the shores of Lake Washington. Two University of Washington students are studying the rodents to determine where they may show up next.

"It's a pretty ominous picture when you bring nutria into an area where they didn't exist before," said Mike Davison, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. "There is no way of winning on this if nutria establish."

A statewide Invasive Species Council was recently created to track nutria and other invasive plant and animal species, and to find methods for removing them.

The council will include six state agencies and two counties and will work with federal and other government agencies, business, tribal and nonprofit groups. It plans to meet in coming months.

"Having an Invasive Species Council is a big step forward," said Joan Cabreza, invasive species coordinator with the Northwest regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Washington has lagged behind states like Oregon and Idaho that already have such councils that work to prevent introduction of invasive species. Without such a council, no single agency had the authority to act, Cabreza said.

"If you can get on these things early and get people to understand how important it is, the impact is really small," said Bill Brookreson, deputy director for the state Agriculture Department.

Nationally, nutria are found in at least 15 states, including Louisiana, Texas, the Carolinas, Florida, Maryland and Oregon.

In the 1930s and '40s, they were raised in Washington and elsewhere for their fur. They're vulnerable to cold and flooding, though, and it's believed they died out of the Puget Sound region over the years.

Populations have established in southwest Washington, near Vancouver, where they've turned local dikes to "Swiss cheese," said Davison.

Last summer, more than a dozen were caught in Skagit County in a state-led control effort.

Davison helped in the project in Skagit County, where agricultural and forestry industries and reliance on levies make the area vulnerable to the pests. Traps are still being laid and nutria caught are killed.

Milder weather could have helped the nutria spread into the Puget Sound area, as well as a lack of predators like caiman and alligators in their native environment.

Armed with large packs, camera gear and notebooks, UW students Phu Van and Filip Tkaczyk are documenting where the interlopers are living, how many there are and what they're eating. They're focusing on an area of fields and wetlands north of Husky Stadium.

Along the shoreline, the large rodents have flattened grass and cattails, creating "runways" as they travel from the water to dens to fields where they graze among the Canada geese.

Ed Cunningham, a Highline High School educator who also runs a trapping business, was called this winter by a Lake Washington resident who wanted the rodents removed.

He used bait and wire cages to trap nine of the rodents over a couple of weeks in February and March.

"What we need to do is get some sterile alligators that like cold water," joked Cunningham. "I'm not going to get them all."

Giant Deep-Sea Volcano With "Moat of Death" Found

Beneath the waves of the South Pacific lies a volcanic realm nearly as strange as that featured in TV's hit drama Lost.

But instead of a mysterious island, scientists have found a bubbling submarine volcano whose weird features include a swirling vortex, a host of strange animals, and a fearsome zone of toxic waters dubbed the Moat of Death.Beneath the waves of the South Pacific lies a volcanic realm nearly as strange as that featured in TV's hit drama Lost.

But instead of a mysterious island, scientists have found a bubbling submarine volcano whose weird features include a swirling vortex, a host of strange animals, and a fearsome zone of toxic waters dubbed the Moat of Death.

The volcano, described in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sits within the crater of a gigantic underwater mountain rising more than 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) from the ocean floor near the island of Samoa (see map).

The seamount, called Vailulu'u, is an active volcano, with a 2-mile-wide (3.2-kilometer-wide) crater. The cone rising within it has been dubbed Nafanua, for the Samoan goddess of war.

Volcano Teeming With Life

Five years ago Hubert Staudigel of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and his colleagues mapped the mountain using remote-sensing techniques.

When they returned to the site in 2005 for a more thorough study with submersible vehicles, the scientists found that the seamount had grown a new, 300-meter (1,000-foot) lava cone, a sign of renewed volcanic activity.

The peak of the cone, 700 meters (2,300 feet) below sea level, turned out to be teeming with life.

"It was just full of eels," Staudigel said.

"When we sent the submersible down, we found hundreds of eels scurrying out of the rock. Normally you'd see one or two."

"That's very spectacular," he continued, "because there's not much food at that depth. You wonder what the eels live off of."

At first the scientists thought the eels were eating microbes that lived near the cone's volcanic vents. But when some of the eels were caught, their stomachs turned out to be full of shrimp.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Report: 1,600 state waterways too polluted to fish, swim

INDIANAPOLIS - Nearly 1,600 streams and lakes in Indiana are unsafe to fish or swim in because of pollution ranging from animal waste to chemicals, a state report concludes.

The report classifies 30 percent - or more than 9,500 miles - of the state's 31,844 miles of streams, and 93 of Indiana's 1,504 lakes, as too polluted for swimming, fishing or both due to pollutants such as bacteria, fertilizer, chemicals, mercury and sediment.

Although the state's list of polluted waterways has more than tripled since 2002, Indiana's waterways aren't necessarily getting dirtier, said Jody Arthur, a senior environmental manager at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. She said the state simply is doing a more thorough job of assessing waterways, as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Yet the sheer size of the list underscores the need to reduce pollution that largely has gone unregulated, including runoff from developments and farms, and pollution in even small waterways such as drainage ditches, experts said.

"People might argue, 'Who cares about bugs and fish in a ditch?'" Arthur said. "Sometimes there is a failure to recognize that this is all an interconnected system. Pollution gets transported."

The report, which the state's Department of Natural Resources submitted last month to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, represents the most comprehensive attempt yet to assess the health of the state's waterways.

Since the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, Indiana's waterways have improved markedly. Waste from livestock packing plants and industry is no longer dumped directly into the water, and most municipal and industrial wastewater, including sewage, is now treated before discharge.

However, bacteria from sewer overflows, livestock manure runoff and failing septic systems foul rivers, streams and lakes. Mercury and PCBs taint some waterways, prompting officials to advise against eating too many fish caught in the waters.

Other waters support no aquatic life because of large amounts of sediment and fertilizer.

The tainted waters put Indiana a long way from meeting the Clear Water Act's goals of making all waters fishable and swimmable, and eliminating pollution discharges.

But no law requires the state or federal government to reduce excess pollution unless it's coming from industry, and most of those sources already are controlled.

That means municipalities, developers, farmers and homeowners must take the lead and work together, said Lenore Tedesco, director of the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

"It's going to take a huge shift in people's attitudes about our waterways," she said. "You can't use streams as a discharge point for everything and expect them not to be impaired."

Fla. Plans to Reflood Miles of Riverbed

The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 11, 2006; 12:25 PM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- State water managers have acquired about 103,000 acres of land as part of a plan to reflood 43 miles of the Kissimmee River bed, allowing the water to reclaim its original meandering path toward Lake Okeechobee and on into the Everglades.

Development and farm land encroachment have shrunken the Everglades to half its original size of 4 million acres.

The Kissimmee River project, authorized by Congress in 1992, will fill a 22-mile flood control canal between the headwaters of the river near Orlando and Lake Okeechobee at the top of the Everglades. Seven miles already have been filled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"We have wading birds coming in like we've never seen before, fish coming into the river, and water quality is rapidly improving," said Ernie Barnett of the South Florida Water Management District, which spent $300 million purchasing the land.

Water managers spent years resolving compensation issues with property owners over how much the land actually was worth. It was fully acquired last month. The entire project is set for completion by 2011. A ceremony was scheduled for Wednesday to recognize the accomplishment.

Environmentalists applauded the project but said much more needs to be done downstream if the Everglades is ever to regain its health.

"The headwaters are now going to be flowing into Lake Okeechobee, which has really become a cesspool, so any benefits you have from the system are completely lost," said David Reiner, president of Friends of the Everglades.

The 22-mile canal, dug in the 1960s, is partly to blame for the pollution in Lake Okeechobee, Barnett said. Massive amounts of water flooded into the lake, reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the floor and killing plant life that filters pollutants.

Researchers Unveil 'Super Sucker' - New Alien Algae Removal Machine

Honolulu, Hawaii—April 11, 2006—Marine researchers in Hawaii have a new weapon in the battle against alien algae. They call it the “super sucker,” and it acts as an underwater vacuum cleaner to take invasive algae off the reef. Initials tests show it can remove up to 800 pounds in a single hour.

“The super sucker is potentially the difference between watching our reefs slowly succumb to alien algae and returning them to healthy productive ecosystems,” said Celia Smith, a professor and seaweed specialist in the University of Hawaii's Botany Department. “We’ve field tested this device and worked out the kinks, and I think we've established it’s a viable tool that can help us get a handle on the alien algae problem."

The new mechanical removal device has been fabricated and piloted in Kaneohe Bay, where it is operated by a small group of trained crewmembers from various partner agencies. The University of Hawaii, The Nature Conservancy, and the State Department of Land and Natural Resources / Division of Aquatic Resources are leading the effort.

The pilot project is one component of a larger strategy that includes community-based volunteer clean ups, the use of algae-eating native sea urchins, and the out planting of native algae to repopulate the reef. Local farmers are also involved, recycling the alien algae for use as a fertilizer to grow taro.

Read the rest here.

Scientists: Harmless River Bacteria Creates World's Strongest Superglue

Bloomington, Indiana (Apr 12, 2006 18:33 EST) The glue one species of water-loving bacteria uses to grip its surroundings may be the strongest natural adhesive known to science. If engineers can find a way to mass-produce the material, it could have uses in medicine, marine technology and a range of other applications.

Researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington and Brown University in Providence, R.I., studied how much force they needed to tug the tiny, stalked Caulobacter crescentus off a glass plate. As the researchers reported in the Apr. 11, 2006, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the bacteria grip with a force of 70 newtons per square millimeter--roughly 5 tons per square inch--or equivalent to the downward force exerted by three cars balancing on a spot the size of a quarter. While the researchers do not yet know if the substance is the strongest glue on Earth, it is stronger than cyanoacrylate superglues found on store shelves and may be rivaled only by a few synthetics.

There are alot of other cool articles on Underwater Times.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Scientists Try to Count Fish in Sea

Braced against a stiff wind, Paul Piavis, Butch Webb and Keith Whiteford hauled a net heavy with fish from the Choptank River into their motorboat and spilled them into a tub. Flapping among dull-colored catfish, yellow perch gleamed like tarnished gold.

The biologists, in camouflage gear and heavy boots, looked like any other anglers, but they were fishing for science. Back in their barracks-style office at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, they would plug statistics about the fish they caught into mathematical models, taking a measure of the yellow perch population.

With nets and divers, sonar and surveys, scientists around the world grapple with one of Earth's great unknowables: how many fish in the sea.

Fish counts are the science behind regulations from Virginia's Northern Neck to the South Pacific, dictating a charter boat's take and an island nation's diet. But this is a science so inexact that some call it an art. And when the counting ends, the fighting often has just begun.

That's what happened this winter when Maryland tried to open the Choptank River to commercial yellow perch netters for the first time in nearly two decades. Counts had documented a 530 percent increase in the Eastern Shore river since 1988, Piavis said.

But sport anglers disputed those findings in raucous public hearings, questioning how the fish could be so plentiful when they have trouble catching their limit of five. The department withdrew the proposal.

"Science is only one part of the equation," Piavis said. "Who gets the fish . . . is a whole other equation."

What is clear is that over the past century, the world's fish stocks have shrunk. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says that one-quarter of the world's marine stocks are overfished, or harvested faster than the fish can reproduce to replace them, and another half are approaching that point.

Nearly half of the two dozen fisheries managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission are listed as depleted or unknown, including the American lobster, red drum and river herring.

The loss of a stock even temporarily, scientists say, can cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars and echo throughout the ecosystem, affecting humans, too.

But measuring nature's bounty remains a challenge. Where science leaves a gap, politics rushes in.

In 1992, the collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery, which devastated Canadian and American fishermen and uprooted entire towns, came about partly because politicians ignored dismal harvest figures in favor of more optimistic forecasts, scientists say.

Read the rest here.

Climate Change Shattering Marine Food Chain

BROOKLIN, Canada, Apr 10 (IPS) - Vast swaths of coral reefs in the Caribbean sea and South Pacific Ocean are dying, while the recently-discovered cold-water corals in northern waters will not survive the century -- all due to climate change.

The loss of reefs will have a catastrophic impact on all marine life.

One-third of the coral at official monitoring sites in the area of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have recently perished in what scientists call an "unprecedented" die-off.

Extremely high sea temperatures in the summer and fall of 2005 that spawned a record hurricane season have also caused extensive coral bleaching extending from the Florida Keys to Tobago and Barbados in the south and Panama and Costa Rica, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch.

High sea temperatures are also killing parts of Australia's 2,000-kilometre-long Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest living reef formation. As summer ends in the Southern Hemisphere, researchers are now investigating the extent of the coral bleaching. Up to 98 percent of the coral in one area has been affected, reported the Australian Institute of Marine Science last week.

"The Great Barrier Reef has been living on this planet for 18 million years and we've undermined its existence within our lifetimes," says Brian Huse, executive director of the Coral Reef Alliance, a U.S.-based NGO dedicated to protecting the health of coral reefs.

"Twenty percent of Earth's reefs have been lost and 50 percent face moderate to severe threats," Huse told IPS.

The economic value of reefs globally is estimated at 375 billion dollars, he says.

Coral reefs are uncommon, found in less than one percent of the world's oceans. However, they are considered the tropical rainforests of the oceans because they provide home and habitat to 25 to 33 percent of all marine life. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) considers coral reefs one of the life-support systems essential for human survival.

Reefs are made up of tiny animals called polyps, which create cup-like limestone skeletons around themselves using calcium from seawater. Reefs form as generation after generation of coral polyps live, build and die, creating habitat for themselves and many other plants and animals.

Coral gets its beautiful colors from algae that cover the polyps. The algae produce oxygen and sugars for the coral polyps to eat while the polyps produce carbon dioxide and nitrogen, which enhances algae growth. If coral polyps are stressed by too-warm sea temperatures or pollution, they lose their algae coating and turn white.

Bleached corals can recover if the stress is temporary -- lasting weeks instead of months. In 2002, extensive bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef led to a five percent permanent mortality rate. Reefs in the Indian Ocean and other parts of the Pacific have been hit even harder by warm ocean temperatures over the past few years.

Reefs face a number of other threats from trawling, blast fishing (the use of dynamite to catch fish), pollution, unsustainable tourism and disease, says Huse. Climate change is the most daunting threat of all, in large part because few people realise the impacts their carbon dioxide emissions are having on the oceans, he says.

Every day, the average person on the planet burns enough fossil fuel to emit 24 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, out of which about nine pounds is then taken up by the ocean. As this CO2 combines with seawater, it forms an acid in a process known as ocean acidification.

There is no debate about the fact that the oceans are becoming more and more acidic due to climate change, says Scott Doney, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the U.S.

"What isn't known is how marine life will react," Doney said in an interview.

Coral reefs in tropical areas appear to withstand current and future acidification, but new research shows that the recently discovered cold-water corals are highly sensitive, he says.

Cold-water corals are found at depths of 2,000 to 3,000 metres in the North Atlantic and Southern Ocean and to a lesser extent in the North Pacific. Only discovered about 20 years ago, these corals appear to be quite extensive and full of unusual marine life but their full extent has not been documented. And although nearly all of the known reef sites have been damaged by bottom trawl fishing, ocean acidification may be their worst threat.

Like warm-water corals, polyps in cold-water corals take calcium from sea water to make their limestone skeletons. However, there is much less calcium (actually aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate) available at depth and more acidic sea water dramatically reduces what is available. Corals thus form weaker, thinner skeletons or are unable to form them at all.

The calcium levels have already declined in many parts of the world's oceans and by 2100, 70 percent will no longer be able to support cold corals, says John Guinotte, marine scientist at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Washington State.

"Corals have no experience with these conditions and are unlikely to adapt in time," Guinotte told IPS.

While Guinotte only looked at impacts on corals, Doney has learned that many other important marine species like types of phytoplankton and small snails that make shells are similarly affected.

"Before 2100, these species won't be able to form the shells they need to live," he said.

Such highly abundant species are an important part of the marine food chain and impacts on the ocean ecology could be devastating.

"There could be a big hit but we don't what it will be yet," said Guinotte. "What we do know is that by the year 2050, the oceans will be very different than they are now." (END/2006)

Malaysia state bans diver fins to protect coral reefs

TERENGGANU, Malaysia (7 April 2006) -- The use of flippers by snorkellers is to be banned at all marine parks in the State.

Resort operators have been given one week to notify their guests of the directive.

The move follows a recommendation from the Fisheries Department that the use of flippers had damaged corals at popular snorkelling sites in the marine parks.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh said the lure of the beautiful coral reefs was irresistible and snorkellers often stepped on them when trying to get a closer look.

"It takes years for the corals to grow and just minutes for it to be damaged by the feet of the inexperienced snorkellers," he said yesterday.

Idris was worried that the damage to the corals could become more extensive as the number of visitors to the marine parks increased, especially during long holidays.

However, scuba divers will be allowed to use flippers at dive sites identified by resorts and chalet operators.

Idris also said he was waiting for a report from the Kolej Universiti Sains dan Teknologi Malaysia on the design of more durable artificial-reef balls.

The reef balls currently used in the artificial coral reef project were all designed by foreign consultants.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From White House

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006; A27

Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing.

Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at an NOAA lab, said in interviews that over the past year administration officials have chastised them for speaking on policy questions; removed references to global warming from their reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news leaks; and sometimes urged them to stop speaking to the media altogether. Their accounts indicate that the ideological battle over climate-change research, which first came to light at NASA, is being fought in other federal science agencies as well.

These scientists -- working nationwide in research centers in such places as Princeton, N.J., and Boulder, Colo. -- say they are required to clear all media requests with administration officials, something they did not have to do until the summer of 2004. Before then, point climate researchers -- unlike staff members in the Justice or State departments, which have long-standing policies restricting access to reporters -- were relatively free to discuss their findings without strict agency oversight.

"There has been a change in how we're expected to interact with the press," said Pieter Tans, who measures greenhouse gases linked to global warming and has worked at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder for two decades. He added that although he often "ignores the rules" the administration has instituted, when it comes to his colleagues, "some people feel intimidated -- I see that."

Christopher Milly, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said he had problems twice while drafting news releases on scientific papers describing how climate change would affect the nation's water supply.

Once in 2002, Milly said, Interior officials declined to issue a news release on grounds that it would cause "great problems with the department." In November 2005, they agreed to issue a release on a different climate-related paper, Milly said, but "purged key words from the releases, including 'global warming,' 'warming climate' and 'climate change.' "

Administration officials said they are following long-standing policies that were not enforced in the past. Kent Laborde, a NOAA public affairs officer who flew to Boulder last month to monitor an interview Tans did with a film crew from the BBC, said he was helping facilitate meetings between scientists and journalists.

"We've always had the policy, it just hasn't been enforced," Laborde said. "It's important that the leadership knows something is coming out in the media, because it has a huge impact. The leadership needs to know the tenor or the tone of what we expect to be printed or broadcast."

Several times, however, agency officials have tried to alter what these scientists tell the media. When Tans was helping to organize the Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference near Boulder last fall, his lab director told him participants could not use the term "climate change" in conference paper's titles and abstracts. Tans and others disregarded that advice.

None of the scientists said political appointees had influenced their research on climate change or disciplined them for questioning the administration. Indeed, several researchers have received bigger budgets in recent years because President Bush has focused on studying global warming rather than curbing greenhouse gases. NOAA's budget for climate research and services is now $250 million, up from $241 million in 2004.

The assertion that climate scientists are being censored first surfaced in January when James Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the New York Times and The Washington Post that the administration sought to muzzle him after he gave a lecture in December calling for cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. (NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin issued new rules recently that make clear that its scientists are free to talk to members of the media about their scientific findings and to express personal interpretations of those findings.

Two weeks later, Hansen suggested to an audience at the New School University in New York that his counterparts at NOAA were experiencing even more severe censorship. "It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States," he told the crowd.

NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. responded by sending an agency-wide e-mail that said he is "a strong believer in open, peer-reviewed science as well as the right and duty of scientists to seek the truth and to provide the best scientific advice possible."

"I encourage our scientists to speak freely and openly," he added. "We ask only that you specify when you are communicating personal views and when you are characterizing your work as part of your specific contribution to NOAA's mission."

NOAA scientists, however, cite repeated instances in which the administration played down the threat of climate change in their documents and news releases. Although Bush and his top advisers have said that Earth is warming and human activity has contributed to this, they have questioned some predictions and caution that mandatory limits on carbon dioxide could damage the nation's economy.

In 2002, NOAA agreed to draft a report with Australian researchers aimed at helping reef managers deal with widespread coral bleaching that stems from higher sea temperatures. A March 2004 draft report had several references to global warming, including "Mass bleaching . . . affects reefs at regional to global scales, and has incontrovertibly linked to increases in sea temperature associated with global change."

A later version, dated July 2005, drops those references and several others mentioning climate change.

NOAA has yet to release the report on coral bleaching. James R. Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, said he decided in late 2004 to delay the report because "its scientific basis was so inadequate." Now that it is revised, he said, he is waiting for the Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to approve it. "I just did not think it was ready for prime time," Mahoney said. "It was not just about climate change -- there were a lot of things."

On other occasions, Mahoney and other NOAA officials have told researchers not to give their opinions on policy matters. Konrad Steffen directs the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a joint NOAA-university institute with a $40 million annual budget. Steffen studies the Greenland ice sheet, and when his work was cited last spring in a major international report on climate change in the Arctic, he and another NOAA lab director from Alaska received a call from Mahoney in which he told them not to give reporters their opinions on global warming.

Steffen said that he told him that although Mahoney has considerable leverage as "the person in command for all research money in NOAA . . . I was not backing down."

Mahoney said he had "no recollection" of the conversation, which took place in a conference call. "It's virtually inconceivable that I would have called him about this," Mahoney said, though he added: "For those who are government employees, our position is they should not typically render a policy view."

Tans, whose interviews with the BBC crew were monitored by Laborde, said Laborde has not tried to interfere with the interviews. But Tans said he did not understand why he now needs an official "minder" from Washington to observe his discussions with the media. "It used to be we could say, 'Okay, you're welcome to come in, let's talk,' " he said. "There was never anything of having to ask permission of anybody."

The need for clearance from Washington, several NOAA scientists said, amounts to a "pocket veto" allowing administration officials to block interviews by not giving permission in time for journalists' deadlines.

Ronald Stouffer, a climate research scientist at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, estimated his media requests have dropped in half because it took so long to get clearance to talk from NOAA headquarters. Thomas Delworth, one of Stouffer's colleagues, said the policy means Americans have only "a partial sense" of what government scientists have learned about climate change.

"American taxpayers are paying the bill, and they have a right to know what we're doing," he said.

Arctic fossils mark move to land

Fossil animals found in Arctic Canada provide a snapshot of fish evolving into land animals, scientists say.

The finds are giving researchers a fascinating insight into this key stage in the evolution of life on Earth.

US palaeontologists have published details of the fossil "missing links" in the prestigious journal Nature.

The 383 million-year-old specimens are described as crocodile-like animals with fins instead of limbs that probably lived in shallow water.

'Missing link'

Before these finds, palaeontologists knew that lobe-finned fishes evolved into land-living creatures during the Devonian Period.

But fossil records showed a gap between Panderichthys, a fish that lived about 385 million years ago which shows early signs of evolving land-friendly features, and Acanthostega, the earliest known tetrapod (four-limbed land-living animals) dating from about 365 million years ago.

In 1999, palaeontologists Professor Neil Shubin, from the University of Chicago, and Professor Edward Daeschler, from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, set out to explore the Canadian Arctic in an attempt to find the "missing link" that would explain the transition from water to land.

After several years of searching with very little success, they hit the jackpot in 2004.

"The really remarkable find came when one of the crew found a snout of a flat-headed animal sticking out of the side of a cliff - that is totally what you want to find because if you are at all lucky the rest of the skeleton is back in the cliff," said Professor Shubin.

The team found three near-complete, well-preserved fossils of the new species, Tiktaalik roseae, in an area of the Arctic called the Nunavut Territory. The largest measures almost 3m (9 ft) in length.

"When we got back into the lab we removed the rock from the bone, and we began to find some really significant stuff," Professor Shubin told the BBC news website.


The creature shares some characteristics with a fish; it has fins with webbing, and scales on its back.

But it also has many features in common with land animals. It has a flat crocodile-like head with eyes positioned on top and the beginnings of a neck - something not seen in fish.

"When we look inside the fin, we see a shoulder, we see an elbow, and we see an early version of a wrist, which is very similar to that of all animals that also walk on land," said Professor Shubin.

"Essentially we have an animal that is built to support itself on the ground."

The scientists believe the position of the creature's eyes suggest it probably lived in shallow water.

"We are capturing a very significant transition at a key moment of time. What is significant about the animal is that it is a fossil that blurs the distinction between two forms of life - between an animal that lives in water and an animal that lives on land."

Dr Andrew Milner, a palaeontologist from the Natural History Museum, UK, said it is unusual to find a fossil like this in such good condition.

"This material is amazing because it includes a nearly complete skeleton - which is always handy because instead of assembling the fossil from bits we can see the whole skeleton and be sure that this is how the animal was put together."

Professor Jennifer Clack, from the University of Cambridge, said that the find could prove to be as much of an "evolutionary icon" as Archaeopteryx - an animal believed to mark the transition from reptiles to birds.

"The discovery of the Tiktaalik gives hope of equally ground-breaking finds to come," she said.

A cast of one of the fossils will be on display at the Science Museum in London from Thursday.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Aqarius is an undersea laboratory owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Aquarius is administered through NOAA’s National Undersea Research Program (NURP). Aquarius is operated by the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s (UNCW) National Undersea Research Center (NURC). NURP supports six Undersea Research Centers throughout the United States, each of which has a unique geographic charter and specialized capability to support scientists who conduct research in support of coastal and ocean resource science and management.

Check it out here... It's pretty cool, located at 60 feet below the surface, aallows 10 days of study dooing saturation diving on the reefs off of Key Largo... Very Cool...


April 5, 2006 — Data collected from ocean sampling in the Pacific Ocean from the southern to northern hemispheres confirms that the oceans are becoming more acidic. A recently completed field study from Tahiti to Alaska collecting data about the effects of ocean acidification on the water chemistry and marine organisms found evidence that verifies earlier computer model projections. These findings are consistent with data from previous field studies conducted in other oceans.

"We observed measurable decreases in pH, a measure of the acidity of the water, as well as measurable increases in dissolved inorganic carbon over a large section of the northeastern Pacific," said Richard Feely, an oceanographer with the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., and chief scientist aboard the field study.

The preliminary results from NOAA scientists and their academic colleagues indicate measurable pH decreases of approximately 0.025 units and increases in dissolved inorganic carbon of about 15 ┬Ámol/kg in surface waters over a large section of the northeastern Pacific. A lowering of pH indicates rising acidity.

"The pH decrease is direct evidence of ocean acidification in the Pacific Ocean," said Feely. "These dramatic changes can be attributed, in most part, to anthropogenic CO2 uptake by the ocean over the past 15 years. This verifies earlier model projections that the oceans are becoming more acidic because of the uptake of carbon dioxide released as a result of fossil fuel burning."

Read the rest here.

Fisheries Experts Present a Hopeful Future

Remember the days when most everyone was talking about “small is beautiful”? The catalyst was E.F. Schumacher’s 1973 book by that title and subtitled “Economics as if People Mattered.” Then came the 80s and 90s with its extravagant lifestyles fueled by a hot stock market, globalization and huge companies like Wal-Mart spreading inexorably across the globe.

While there are signs we’re finally coming back to the wisdom of that concept in agriculture with more sustainable community farms popping up around the country, in the fishing industry it hasn’t been heard of much. Mostly what we hear is just gloom and doom about the disappearing fish and fishermen loosing their livelihoods.

Well, Ted Ames and his wife Robin Alden, both involved in fisheries issues for decades, are giving us some hope. As speakers last week at a Citizens Offering New Alternatives public forum in Newcastle, the couple from Deer Isle presented an inspiring case for how failing fisheries can be turned around, using just this concept of small-scale management.

Fishermen become stewards

“Our only hope is for fishermen to take the reins… to become stewards” of the resource, Alden said. As a former head of Maine’s Dept. of Marine Resources, she knows from experience the “failure,” as she put it, of bureaucracies to control fisheries issues.

The system of fishery quotas to control species populations sets up a dynamic of “power” and “greed” and doesn’t address the fundamental problems of why the resource is depleting – from habitat loss and “overwhelming technology,” for example, Alden suggested.

“The conversation should be based on principles,” which can be implemented more easily in a smaller setting, she said, because humans “can’t operate well beyond a certain geography.” This kind of “communitybased government” is being used successfully in third world countries in forestry and agriculture, she added.

Ames, a long-time fisherman and also a scientist, presented a slide show of his research into lost fisheries along the Northeast coast, work that won him a MacArthur Foundation award last year. As part of the fishing community, he was able to chart old fishing grounds, and what became clear was that cod and other fish spawn along the coastal shelf in the Gulf of Maine, within 20 miles of the coast, and this is where the fisheries had collapsed most dramatically.

The graphs showed fisheries productivity over a span of years. High productivity was the general rule until it began to decline precipitously in the late 1960s with the advent of huge foreign fishing trawlers coming into the Northeast coast waters. When the offshore limit was enforced to protect American fishing fleets, the numbers climbed dramatically. However, very soon after, the productivity fell rapidly again.

“Marine ecosystems are very complex and always changing,” Ames said, indicating that not enough thinking about this complexity goes into management of fisheries. “The Gulf of Maine was incredibly productive… a great biological soup of plankton and alewives” along with the larger fish, he said. In fact, he found a historical connection between cod and alewives: when the alewives disappeared along the coast, so did the cod.

“The key to a healthy ecosystem is diversity and habitat,” Ames said. In addition to loss of habitat and diversity, groundfisheries have also suffered from technologically overly sophisticated fishing boats taking all of the little that’s there. By 1990, the cod fishery collapsed, followed soon after by flounder. Ames, along with 30 percent of the fishing population, was forced to leave fishing. “Fishermen were on the edge of despair,” Ames said.

Collaborative effort

He then turned to lobster fishing. Interestingly, the lobster industry has become a model of stewardship in the Gulf of Maine, with lobstermen and scientists joining together in a “collaborative effort,” as Alden remarked, to monitor the population and establish re-seeding programs. “Fishermen working with scientists – this is transformative,” she said.

She and Ames have recently helped found the Penobscot East Resource Center, dedicated to “…collaborative marine science and sustainable economic development to benefit the fishermen and communities of Penobscot Bay and the Eastern Gulf of Maine.” It provides support to local groups engaged in community-based fisheries, groups such as the Stonington Fisheries Alliance.

Their hope is that such alliances will spread to other communities, bringing the “small is beautiful” idea from philosophy into reality. Indeed, it has become apparent it’s not just a “beautiful” idea, but, as exemplified by the fisheries issue, an absolutely critical one as well.

For more information, or to get involved in their efforts, they can be reached at the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington, 367-2708. The website is www.penobscot

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Discover Antarctica!

It's pretty cool. Chech it out here.

7 New Endangered Wonders of the World

April 10-17, 2006 issue - Luxor, Egypt
Dating back to the 14th century B.C., the Luxor temple complex on the west bank of the Nile River—which includes the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, more than 40 temples and the tombs of thousands of nobles—is threatened not only by the ravages of tourism and theft, but by the Nile itself. The construction of the Aswan Dam 40 years ago has caused salt to build up in the newly fertile soil around the temples, eroding their ancient foundations and filling many tombs with water. The World Monuments Fund is currently devising a management plan for the site, and hopes to give the complex its biggest renovation since Alexander the Great.

Babylon, Iraq
The largest ancient settlement in Mesopotamia was built by King Nebuchadnezzar, of ‘hanging gardens’ fame. Since the ruins were uncovered at the turn of the 20th century,
artifacts have been removed, damaged and contaminated. Saddam Hussein installed a giant self-portrait there and U. S. troops built trenches and crushed ancient roads. A recent British Museum report warns that Iraq lacks the resources to restore the site and urges an international effort.

Coral Triangle, Indonesia
Home to one of the most diverse collections of marine life in the world, the Coral Triangle extends from the waters of eastern Indonesia to Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, parts of Malaysia and the Solomon islands. More than 3,000 species of fish and 600 varieties of coral—a full 75 percent of those known to science—have been found there. But this ecosystem faces a growing threat from overfishing as well as destructive fishing, in which explosives or poisons are used to kill the fish, not only depleting the stock but also permanently destroying their habitat. Highly desirable species like grouper and Napoleon wrasse have already been fished to near extinction. Rising sea temperatures have also increased periods of coral bleaching, which kills the reefs.

Machu Picchu, Peru
The ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu is in danger of becoming a victim of its own popularity. Built around 1460 and discovered by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, the breathtaking and well-preserved mountain ruins have become Peru’s most popular tourist attraction, drawing half a million visitors every year. The site’s 200 buildings, located in a geological fault zone, are in a precarious position to begin with. Constant foot traffic has made matters worse, wearing down and destabilizing the ancient stone foundations. Development near the site is exacerbating the problem of landslides, which threaten to dislodge Machu Picchu from its alpine perch. To stem the tide, Peru recently limited the number of visitors to 500 per day and closes the site for one month every year to repair damaged trails. But that may be too little too late.

It might not seem possible for an entire country to sink, but that is exactly what is happening to the Maldives, a nation of 12,000 islands that contain some of the richest marine life in the world. With more than 80 percent of its land less than a meter above sea level, the Maldives are particularly at risk from the rising sea levels caused by global warming. The 2004 tsunami, which devastated the country’s infrastructure, has already erased some tiny atolls and the country’s maps have been redrawn. Conservationists hope to prevent further erosion by regrowing damaged coral reefs.

Venice, Italy
Almost since it was settled in 452, the city has been sinking at a rate of more than one centimeter a century. The African plate on which Italy sits is slipping beneath the European plate, causing the Adriatic Sea to rise. Heavy-industry workers pumping groundwater from below the city and huge tidal wakes left by freighters and cruise ships have added to the rising water. And now Venice is too broke to do much about it.

Great Wall, China
The oldest parts of China’s most famous landmark were built in the fifth century B.C., but the 14th-century Ming dynasty really strengthened it. Today nearly two thirds of the 6,352km wall has been destroyed by erosion, crass commercialism (one 500-year-old tower contains a drinks stand) and unchecked development. With the 2008 Olympics looming, China is more interested in progress than preservation.

From this week's issue of Newsweek.

Too many males in dead zones

WASHINGTON -- Dead zones -- oxygen-starved patches of ocean -- may be turning normal breeding grounds into the equivalent of male-dominated locker rooms for fish.

In lab experiments, newly born male zebrafish outnumber females 3-to-1 when oxygen is reduced. And the precious few females have testosterone levels about twice as high as normal, according to a scientific study released this past week.
Scientists are concerned that might reflect life in the dead zones, too.
Earlier studies also have found reproductive problems for males in other species in oxygen-starved waters. And though all the research is done in controlled laboratories, scientists say the gender bending is something that could explain what they are seeing in the nearly 150 dead zones worldwide.
This could be a serious problem because with the expansion of dead zones -- such as the massive Gulf of Mexico area now the size of New Jersey -- fish die, and those that don't die may not be able to keep the species alive, scientists say.
Having too many males "is not a good strategy for survival," said Alan Lewitus, who manages the dead zone program for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The world's dead zones add up to about 100,000 square miles and most of those zones are man-made because of fertilizer and other farm run-off, said Robert Diaz, a professor of marine sciences at the College of William and Mary. More than 30 dead zones are in U.S. waters and are part of key fisheries.
The stress of hypoxia -- the lack of oxygen in water -- tinkers with the genes that help make male and female sex hormones, said study lead author Rudolf Wu, director of the Centre for Coastal Pollution and Conservation at the City University of Hong Kong. Wu's peer-reviewed study will appear in the May issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Wu restricted the oxygen of zebrafish, which are freshwater aquarium fish, but said similar changes are possible in other species of fresh and saltwater fish. Fish often change genders during their lives, but this is different, he said.
"Since development of sex organs is modulated by sex hormones, hypoxia may therefore affect sex determination and development," Wu wrote in an e-mail interview. "Hypoxia covers a very large area worldwide, many areas and species may be affected in a similar way."
Wu and others said oxygen starvation may be a more powerful sex hormone-altering problem than the chemical pollution that has gotten widespread attention.

I am a Pastafarian!

Well, I am officially a convert to the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It's teachings make so much sense when you actually think about it. A religion that uses scientific theories to back up its claims can't be wrong. For example, this new church shows us why humans are taller now than they were hundreds of years ago ( not enough noodly appendages to hold us all down, so we stretched out... afterall, the average human height has increased as population has increased). It also shows us that global warming is a direct result of the decrease of pirates, his chosen people. Afterall, as the population of pirates has dwindled to zero, the average global temperature has steadily increased. Are these mere coincidences? The Church does not think so and neither do I. You should all buy the new gospel. Convert! This is the only real religion!!!!! The Gospel of thee Flying spaghetti Monster is upon us!!!