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According to the cover article in today’s issue of the journal Nature, the iconic reef off the coast of Australia suffered unprecedented coral die-off after last year’s record-breaking bleaching event. Now, as the Southern Hemisphere hits late summer temperatures, central and southern sections of the reef — areas which avoided the worst of last year’s bleaching — are in trouble.
“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” coral researcher Terry Hughes told the New York Times. Hughes led the team that conducted aerial surveys to document the bleaching last year, as well as subsequent surveys to assess just how much of that bleaching turned into dying.
Bleached corals don’t always turn into dead corals — some are able to recover when temperatures drop. Er, if temperatures drop. If water temperatures stay high and corals stay bleached, they will eventually starve to death. Without coral building reefs, whole ecosystems may disappear, along with the food, tourism, and jobs they support.
Hughes and his coauthors found that even corals in pristine, protected water were likely to be suffering from heat stress, meaning the only thing left to do to protect corals is, you know, address climate change.
The semi-annual meeting of the Sea Grant Association in Washington, D.C., is usually a straightforward affair. It’s typically a time for administrators from around the country to discuss coastal research and hash out the association’s business.
But as members gather to start their meeting on Tuesday, there’s plenty of drama. The Trump administration reportedly plans to slash the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and gut federal funding for NOAA’s Sea Grant program.
This time, Sea Grant’s very existence is at stake.
“My initial reaction [to the news] was horror and disgust,” says Jim Eckman, director at California Sea Grant. “I think we’re facing a much graver crisis that we’re going to have to deal with.”
Though hardly a household name, Sea Grant funds important work, supporting over 3,000 scientists and paying for coastal research through 33 university programs. Sea Grant projects shed light on sea-level rise, ocean acidification, the effect of melting glaciers on kelp beds, and much, much else.
Congress created the Sea Grant program in 1966 in part to improve scientific understanding for the fishing industry. Since then, it has helped pay for projects that encourage commercial fishers to adopt sustainable practices off the coast of Ventura, California. It has backed efforts to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and to forecast the loss of wetlands from hurricanes hitting Louisiana.
Sea Grant directors get federal money and hustle to match it with private and state investment for research. Sometimes they manage to double what the government gives them. But without a federal commitment, the program would be finished, says MaryAnn Wagner, a spokesperson for Washington Sea Grant.
Coming to grips with the reality of climate change is scary enough. Dealing with its assault on coasts without the extensive research to understand the consequences? Downright devastating, administrators say.
In coming days, directors will start mapping out plans to defend the program. “Big fights are a-brewin’,” Eckman says.
The Trump administration reportedly wants to use the cuts to NOAA and its $73 million Sea Grant program to help pay for a $54 billion boost in military spending.
Eckman and other directors doubt Sea Grant’s bipartisan support in Congress will erode so quickly for a program it has supported for decades. They hope Congress will have their backs.
“I have to assume there are some wise people in our Congress who see the flaw” of prioritizing defense over science, says Paul Anderson, who directs Maine Sea Grant. “Mr. Trump is setting up for a political battle.”
Sea Grant’s managers say Trump’s proposal underscores the administration’s disrespect for science. They suspect similar cuts will come to programs at the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Forest Service — at a cost to scientific understanding.
Slashing funding for scientific research would be “a disservice to everybody in the nation and the world,” Anderson says. “It’s like flying blind. Why would we fly blind if we don’t have to?”
Though the cuts seem drastic, it’s not the first time a president has threatened to obliterate the Sea Grant program. In 1981, the Reagan administration proposed pulling federal funding. A task force assembled to defend Sea Grant. An analysis of 57 examples from the program found the $270 million the government spent on Sea Grant during its first 14 years yielded $227 million in economic benefits each year. Congress was ultimately swayed to protect it.
A similar political dance could happen this time. According to Wagner from Washington Sea Grant, every federal dollar spent returns about $8 in economic benefits. A NOAA analysis shows the program helped support $575 million in economic development and more than 20,000 jobs in 2015. “This is a small but mighty program,” Wagner says.
Knowing Sea Grant has survived a challenge before buoys hope that maybe the Trump administration won’t succeed in scrapping it. “It makes me less worried,” says Linda Duguay, a Sea Grant director at the University of Southern California. “But then, I thought the election was going to go in a different direction.”
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The notoriously pricey grocery chain will close nine stores after six consecutive quarters of plummeting same-store sales. It seems $6 asparagus-infused water and bouquets of California ornamental kale just aren’t flying off the shelves.
There’s a bitter green irony here: The organic products the chain popularized are now more popular than ever, just not at Whole Foods. Americans bought three times more organic food in 2015 than in 2005. But now, superstores like Kroger, Walmart, and Target are selling organic food at reasonable prices that threaten Whole Foods’ claim to the all-natural throne.
To compete in a crowded lower-cost organic market, the company launched a new chain in April 2016: 365 by Whole Foods Market, aka Whole Foods for Broke People. The 365 stores are cheaper to build, require less staff, and offer goods at lower prices.
Whole Foods may have a squeaky clean image, but that doesn’t square with its labor practices. The company has historically quashed employees’ attempts to unionize, and it sold goat cheese produced with prison labor until last April.
Still, if you’ve a hankering for “Veganic Sprouted Ancient Maize Flakes,” we’re pretty sure that Whole Foods has that market cornered.
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Turns out the largest sea creatures are most likely to go extinct, according to research published today in Science.
The research, led by Stanford’s Jonathan Payne, compared modern marine vertebrates and mollusks to their ancestors in the fossil record, all the way up to the last mass extinction 66 million years ago. Today, unlike in any previous time studied, a 10 percent increase in body size means a 13 percent increase in extinction risk.
This differs from a run-of-the-mill mass extinction, when your likelihood of dying off has a lot more to do with, say, where you live in the ocean or where you fall on the evolutionary tree.
And the biggest-is-not-best pattern has human fingerprints all over it — just think of the mastodon and moa.
“Humans, with our technology, have made ourselves into predators that can go after very large animals,” says Payne. But there’s an upside. Unlike the huge environmental changes that spurred mass extinctions in the past (and perhaps the near future), human activity has been known to do a quick 180.
After all, the oceans have seen very little extinction in the Anthropocene. “We still have a huge opportunity to save almost everything,” Payne says.
President Obama’s expansion of a vast marine monument near Hawaii builds on Bush-era moves spurred by passionate ocean communicators. This article is from: Obama’s Expansion of a Vast Pacific Reserve, Built on a Bush Foundation ; ; ;
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This Alaskan town is voting on whether to stay or go in the face of climate change. In this December 2006 photo, Nathan Weyiouanna’s abandoned house at the west end of Shishmaref, Alaska, sits on the beach after sliding off during a fall storm in 2005. Diana Haecker/AP This story was originally published by Fusion. “What’s special about Shishmaref is that we’re all family,” said Esau Sinnok, an 18-year-old climate activist from Shishmaref, a native village in western Alaska that might have to relocate because of climate change. “All 650 people there are my family and not being able to see them every day like I’m used to — if I had to move to the city — I’d be heartbroken and sad not seeing all of their faces,” he said. Shishmaref is a barrier island about 130 miles north of Nome on the Chukchi Sea. Rising seas and more ice-free months are causing erosion that is eating away at the island. Residents fear it will be completely submerged within decades. Over a dozen homes have already been relocated, and sea walls 15-feet high have been built to protect others. Faced with the potential loss of their island, residents will vote on August 16 to decide whether or not to relocate to the mainland. The cost of moving, estimated at nearly $200 million, is a major hurdle for any effort to up and move. But residents worry just as much about the cultural cost of leaving the island and the seaside setting their lifestyle depends upon. Sinnok has traveled around the world to advocate for his Inupiaq native village and others threatened by climate change in western Alaska. He became an Arctic Youth Ambassador for a program lead by the U.S. Interior and State Departments, and is currently a participant in the Sierra Club’s Fresh Tracks program. In December 2015, Sinnok attended the United Nations COP21 in Paris, France. At the conference, a global climate treaty was signed by 195 nations in an effort to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Sinnok’s village is on the front-lines of that change, and has already experienced dramatic impacts. “I remember my grandpa telling me that the ice used to freeze in October, and this past year it wasn’t safe enough to go out on the ice until late November or early December,” Sinnok said. “That puts a hold on our winter diet.” Residents of Shishmaref depend on familiar weather in order to be able to hunt seals for meat and oil, fish for food, and gather traditional plants in the summer. But warming temperatures could make the lifestyle their people have lived for thousands of years unsustainable. “My family didn’t catch any ugruts (bearded seals) this year, so we didn’t have any ugruts to eat,” Sinnok said. Longer breaks in sea ice also means that ship traffic has increased in the area, leading to pollution, said Johnson Eningowuk, president of the Shishmaref City Council. The ship traffic through the Bering Strait — including fishermen, shipping, and even cruise ships — has impacted the marine wildlife and could be why there are fewer seals and fish around, Eningowuk said. The village’s other key source of food comes from gathering plants, a practice that’s also being impacted by the drier, warmer temperatures. “We don’t get enough snow in the winter time and that really affects what grows on our mainland,” Eningowuk said. Western Alaska has seen dramatic, large-scale climate change impacts, according to Austin Ahmasuk, a marine advocate at Kawerak, an organization that advocates for Bering Strait communities like Shishmaref. “Without question our climate is dramatically warmer — we have a two month longer ice-free season which is causing region-wide erosion,” Ahmasuk said. It’s also causing marine life to move northward, including microbial species that lead to harmful algae blooms, Ahmasuk said. Trees like willows and cottonwoods are moving north to colonize new areas, and Shishmaref — which has only ever had knee-high shrubbery — is now experiencing an explosion in willow. Overall, these changes have made Shishmaref residents’ subsistence lifestyle increasingly difficult to maintain, and some of the village’s youth have decided to leave for the cities, Eningowuk said. “Our culture is really hard, we’re up here near the Arctic circle, and we enjoy it — it’s what we’re used to,” Eningowuk said. “But our children, the younger generation are the ones who are not too excited about it,” he said, adding that all of his children have moved away from Shishmaref. “Other children are also already looking for other places to live…they’re finding other professions that will keep them in the cities,” Eningowuk said. The internet and television have shown them that there are easier ways to live, Eningowuk added. “It’s hard to stay alive here, to stay alive off of the ocean,” Eningowuk said. Despite the challenges, Sinnok is determined to save his community and their way of life. He even plans to run for mayor of Shishmaref in time to lead the relocation to the mainland. “I want to run for mayor to find the available grants to relocate,” Sinnok said. Nine villages, mostly in western Alaska, have been identified by the Army Corps of Engineers to be at imminent risk because of erosion and rising seas, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). All have been recommended to relocate. Between 200 and 300 villages will be at similar risk in the coming decades, according to the Corps. The native village of Newtok, 370 miles south of Shishmaref, is the first to have agreed to move to a new location. The move will be funded by state and federal funds, according to Maria Gonoa, a spokesperson for HUD. A complete overwash of Newtok is predicted to hit as early as next year, Gonoa added. As threatening as the climate impacts are, the cultural impact of leaving the village was also hard to think about, Eningowuk said. “At my age, I hope to not relocate from here,” Eningowuk said. Eningowuk said their lifestyle — dependent on the sea — would have to change if they went to the mainland. “That’s why we’re kind of reluctant to move,” he said. Ahmasuk said that Eningowuk’s reluctance is similar to many of the other affected villages in western Alaska. “In some of these communities there are very strong ancestral connections to the place and that connection is very important,” Ahmasuk said. “That’s also another matter that the community has to decide — kind of uprooting that connection.” Ahmasuk said that even if Shishmaref residents vote to leave the island, they will have to find the money to fund the relocation. If they are unable to do so, they have to consider other options that include moving to a city like Nome where their close-knit community would likely grow distant over time. Sinnok hopes to avoid that possibility by continuing to advocate for his village and others in western Alaska threatened by climate change. He wants to help create a safe place for future generations to live together. “Back in 2007, my uncle and my dad and a few friends went out on the ice to go to the mainland to go duck and geese hunting. On the way back, my uncle fell through the ice,” Sinnok said. His uncle lost his life that day, and Sinnok said his death has been a driving force behind his activism for small villages. He wants the problems of the rural, small villages — not just the big cities — to get solutions to climate change and other pressing challenges so they can live safely and happily. Even if residents of Shishmaref are forced to relocate to the mainland, Sinnok says the community can survive as long as they stay together. “We have to move close to the island so we can still live our lifestyle,” Sinnok said. “Some things might possibly change but having the actual community of Shishmaref as a whole is what’s important.” Originally posted here: Vote of a Lifetime ; ; ;
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Humans dump millions of tons of phosphorus into lakes every year, and it’s destroying their ecosystems. From: Phosphorus pollution poses a major threat to the world’s lakes ; ; ;
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life’s a beach
Why is a ton of trash washing up on beaches in Hong Kong? It’s a mystery!
Listen up, beach-goers who delight in swimming amongst plastic bags, deflated balloons, and lonely flip flops! We found the perfect place for you: the shores of Hong Kong, where unsightly piles of debris have recently washed up and taken up residence.
Plastic pollution is not a new problem for Hong Kong’s waterfront. But during the past two weeks, Quartz reports, the garbage influx has reached unprecedented levels.
No one knows precisely where the trash is coming from, but we’re guessing it has something to do with humans — you know, those creatures that like to buy food in individually wrapped plastic packages and, incidentally, have thrown 10 to 30 billion pounds of plastic debris into the ocean. Right now, it looks like Hong Kong’s shores are bearing the brunt of it.
Just a few years ago, Hong Kong set up a fake, blue-sky backdrop in front of its smoggy city skyline for tourist-photo purposes. If only we had a beautiful backdrop to remember the island’s clean beaches by …
Ah, there we go. That’s better.
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A handful of the world’s coral reefs are actually thriving
But there’s a bright spot, folks! Actually, there are 15 of them, according to a new study published in Nature.
A group of marine researchers has identified places where reef ecosystems are thriving despite environmental and human pressures. These “bright spots” are rays of hope for future conservation efforts, which may use them to apply better practices to less lucky places.
The study drew data from 2,500 reefs in 46 countries. The 15 reefs with unexpectedly robust fish populations were not necessarily in the most remote areas with low fishing activity. In fact, most of them included “localities where human populations and use of ecosystem resources is high,” the study notes. They are also typically found in the Pacific Ocean, in places like the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and parts of Indonesia.
The bright spots, it turns out, tend to benefit from responsible local management and traditional customs. For example, on Papua New Guinea’s Karkar Island, locals have the right to prevent outsiders from fishing in their particular plot of ocean. They also practice a rotational fishing system where, as in farming, they leave off fishing a part of the reef to allow populations to recover.
On the flip side are the 35 “dark spots” the study identified, where fish stocks aren’t faring too well. These are places like Hawaii and Australia where locals tend to have greater access to fishing technologies — such as nets and freezers for stockpiling fish — that aid and abet intensive exploitation. Dark spots also were more likely to be suffering from recent environmental shocks, like bleaching.
Experts hope to use the bright spots as blueprints for more creative conservation efforts.
“We believe that the bright spots offer hope and some solutions that can be applied more broadly across the world’s coral reefs,” says Josh Cinner, the lead author on the study. “Specifically, investments that foster local involvement and provide people with ownership rights can allow people to develop creative solutions that help defy expectations of reef fisheries depletion.”
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