Alaska: Polar Bears Are Fine, It's The Oil Industry That Needs Protection

The state of Alaska will sue the U.S. government to stop the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species, arguing the designation will slow development in the state, Gov. Sarah Palin said on Wednesday.
"We believe that the listing was unwarranted and that it's unprecedented to list a currently healthy population based on uncertain climate models," said Alaska Assistant Attorney General Steven Daugherty.

US Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne went out of his way to undermine the legal effects of the law by "precluding any new restrictions on oil and gas operations as a result of the listing." Either Alaska isn't paying attention, or it knows that invoking exemption 4(d) won't stand up in court, because the Endangered Species Act specifically requires decisions be based exclusively on science, not economics.

James Hrynyshyn at The Island Of Doubt suspects that it is the latter in a really good post this morning.

European Tuna Fisheries Screwed, Pacific Fisheries Less So.

Source: Time magazine

The WWF announced this week that since the Mediterranean tuna fishing season opened at the beginning of May, over 10 000 breeding bluefin tuna are being caught every day by the european industrial fishing fleet.This means that over 27 000 tonnes of bluefin tuna will have been taken by the end of this month - almost double the amount considered sustainable by fisheries scientists. The total allowable catch allocated to the EU for the entire year is 29 500 tonnes.

European Union fisheries regulators pledged to ban trawling in a matter of days if they saw overfishing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean next month. The EU's fishing capacity is so large and activity so concentrated in June that the fleet could exhaust the EU quota in just two days of fishing. The EU's overall bluefin tuna catch is administered by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), a global body overseeing the rules for tuna fishing.
One ICAAT official said "We need daily monitoring of catches. If the scenario is anything like last year, we need ultra-quick mechanisms". Currently catches are only inspected by ICCAT when they are landed in port or if the fishing company requests an onboard observer from ICAAT. ICAAT states: "Planning for and executing an observer deployment can be complex and time-consuming".

ICAAT also says however that"Poor compliance with existing measures remains one of the main root causes of overfishing in bluefin tuna fisheries".

In 2007, overfishing by the seven main EU countries that trawl for bluefin tuna -- Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain -- caused the EU to exceed its international catch quota by 25 percent.

In the same week that this bad news came from the EU though, eight Pacific Island nations have signed an agreement to stop foreign fishing fleets taking their tuna. The move came out of the Palau Nauru Agreement (PNA) group meeting in Palau this week. The meeting of 17 Pacific countries, including Australia, announced the plan to stop boats from fishing for tuna in two large areas of international waters. Foreign fishing vessels licensed to fish in the waters of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu will be banned from operating in two regions of the Pacific Commons adjacent to these countries. Since most Pacific tuna stocks - valued at US$3 billion a year - come from the waters of these countries, this will be a major contribution towards the protection of Pacific tuna. Greenpeace says that it also represents a giant stride towards making these areas into marine reserves. The meeting also announced a requirement for vessels fishing for tuna to retain their full catches, regardless of whether or not they are tuna stocks and a ban of the use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs).

These measures are designed to explicitly cut the tuna catch in the pacific. The retention of full catches, for example, is intended to cut the time fishing boats spend at sea. At present they throw away non-tuna stocks, allowing them to spend a much longer time at sea. "By adopting this measure, they will spend less time at sea, which means less fishing for tuna," PNA officials said.

Because Pacific island nations do not have enough money to properly protect their waters, pirate fishing is rife in the region. Globally pirates steal up to US$9 billion worth of fish from the region every year. A review carried out in 2006 of the Japanese market confirmed that there have been significant levels of unreported catches of Southern Bluefin Tuna for at least the past 20 years. It is estimated that up to 178 000 tonnes of unreported Southern Bluefin Tuna have been caught in that time.

111 Million Year Old Living Cells Found?

A team from the University of Cardiff in the UK has found living prokaryotes in a sediment sample extracted from between 860 metres and 1626 metres beneath the sea floor off the coast of Newfoundland.

The discovery marks the deepest living cells ever to be found beneath the sea floor. Bacteria have been found deeper underneath the continents, but there they are rare. In comparison, the rocks beneath the sea appear to be teaming with life.

It's not clear how the cells got there, but if they were buried by sedimentation, it is conceivable – but unproven – that some of the cells are as old as the sediment. At 1.6 km beneath the sea, that's 111 million years old...


FREE Online Seminar About Reef Ecology

From Deep Sea News:

A new online seminar on coral reef futures sponsored by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies provides about 100 examples in a set of FREE online lectures given by a parade of stars like Terry Hughes, John Pandolfi, and Bob Steneck. It's like a dream course in reef ecology from the comfort of your own home. The only thing lacking is a printable diploma!

Topics covered by the online seminars include:

* The latest science on coral bleaching
* The rising plague of coral disease
* Coral reefs under climate change
* Managing resilience of coral reefs
* The risks of ocean acidification
* Protecting sea water quality from activity on land
* Are the new no-take 'green zones' on the Great Barrier Reef effective?
* Can fish stocks on the Great Barrier Reef be replenished?
* The threat to reef sharks and other top predators
* Tracking Nemo - studies on how coral fish larvae disperse.

To view the presentations go to:

Undersea Mining in the South Pacific

A black smoker hydrothermal vent. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

"Black smokers" are hydrothermal vents that lie hundreds of metres below the ocean surface. These are areas where the seafloor is actively spreading due to movement of the earth's crust. In these areas fractures in the earth's crust release streams of geothermally heated water that are rich in dissolved metals. When these hot fluids hit the cold sea water, metals precipitate out of solution and form mounds and chimneys of mineral rich sulphides known by mining companies as Seafloor Massive Sulphides (SMS). The metal sulphides that are deposited can become massive sulphide ore deposits over time. Since the 1977, when the first one was discovered by researchers from the Scripps Oceanographic Institute, hydrothermal vents have been identified in scores of locations around the world, including in the Manus Basin off the coast of Papua New Guinea, the Kermadec Ridge in New Zealand waters, and along several other fissures around the Pacific Rim.

A sulphide deposit. Source: Nautilus Minerals.

It is the unique mix of what is in those solid undersea deposits that is driving two publicly traded mining companies: Neptune Minerals of Sydney and Nautilus Minerals of Vancouver to claim large tracts of seafloor over and around these black smoker sites. If all goes to plan for these companies the first mining of these deposits will occur in 2009 with a brand new ship designed specifically for this purpose. The first deep-sea mining machines — designed to extract gold, silver and copper deposits — are currently being built for Nautilus Minerals. A £33 million ($A68.5 million) contract for two sea-floor mining tools, capable of working at depths of more than 1700 metres, was awarded last December to a Newcastle-upon-Tyne firm, Soil Machine Dynamics. The mining machinery is the hardware behind an emerging mineral extraction industry which has taken off rapidly in the last few years. Nautilus is an Australian-dominated but Toronto Stock Exchange listed company investigating undersea mining at a number of sites around the South Pacific.

According to Nautilus CEO David Heydon in 2006 Nautilus had “17,500 km2 of mineral claims covering what you call on land a ‘mining camp.’” He added that the project had enormous potential because the company could place claims over “the whole mineral belt.” Latest figures suggest that at the end of 2007 Nautilus had approximately 154,000 km2 of granted tenements and 210,000 km2 of tenement applications pending in PNG, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Fiji and New Zealand

Neptune Minerals has lodged three prospecting applications over a total area of 84,880 km2 in New Zealands territorial waters near the undersea Monowai volcano on the Kermadec Arc and along the Colville Ridge. Neptune currently has exploration licenses covering 278,000 km2 in the territorial waters of New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu, and has further license pending covering 436,000 km2 in the territorial waters of New Zealand, Japan, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Palau and Italy.

So what is undersea mining? How would it work?

According to David Heydon the set-up proposed by Nautilus for the Solwara Project in Papua New Guinea involves four main components:

  1. The material will be "disaggregated" from the seabed with a seabed crawler that has a cutter section and dredge head. This unit is operated from the ship via an umbilical cable.

  2. The cut material will then sucked in and pumped through a 300mm wide pipe. Five pumps spread along the pipe at different depths move the material 1,700 metres to the ship above.

  3. The material is then collected on the ship in a cargo hold and then transferred to a barge by very large excavators fixed on the ship.

  4. The material is then processed and refined on shore.

The proposed Nautilus mining technique. Source: Nautilus Minerals

Nautilus estimates that it will be able to mine 6000 tonnes a day from its target site and there is concern from many environmental campaigners and marine biologists that the unusual ecosystems around these sites might be destroyed by mining, as has happened so often on dry land. 'These sites have limited physical integrity and great biodiversity,' says Simon Cripps, director of the WWF's global marine programme.

What environmental effects might subsea mining have?

Nautilus have funded a large Environmental Impact Assessment Study as part of their plan to convince the Papua New Guinea Government to allow the proposed mining to go ahead, however this document is not yet available for viewing by interested environmentalists.

The mining operations will use a strip-mining approach to remove deposits within the top 20 metres of the seafloor. These strips would be located approximately 500 metres to two kilometres from the active vents, but scientist Jochen Halfar of the University of Toronto argues that the cutting and pumping process will disgorge considerable amounts of fine sediment into the water column—a serious problem for vent organisms that feed by filtering the water in their habitat.

Halfar suggests that the mining process could also raise concentrated nutrients from the deep sea to the relatively nutrient-poor surface waters of the ocean, causing algal blooms and potentially contaminating waters that support Papua New Guinea’s commercial fishing industry, as well as local subsistence fishers. Depending on ocean currents, these nutrients could drift widely, disrupting the food chain and potentially damaging ecosystems that lie within other countries’ economic zones or in international waters. This poses additional problems, because while a state has the right to exploit its own resources, international environmental law decrees that it cannot damage the environment beyond its boundaries.

Opponents also point out that mining vessels, designed to extract pure metals from their ores, will also carry thousands of tonnes of sulphurous waste that could cause potentially devastating acidification if dumped back into the sea, whether deliberately or accidentally. Craig Cary, a marine biologist at the University of Delaware in Newark, says "If I was in charge of reviewing permit requests there would be some serious questions to answer. Metal sulphides are nasty substances - how are they going to deal with that?" he says.

One clear Nautilus talking point is that undersea mining is far less environmentally damaging than terrestrial mining.

Scott Trebilcock, vice-president of business development:

Trebilcock believes the operation will cause far less environmental damage than a similar-sized onshore mine. He says: "There's no disturbance to the site around the mine. We'll have no waste rock. Everything we take up will be smelted.

Dr. Steven Scott, a geologist at the University of Toronto who does a lot of work with Nautilus:
It's a transformation that he says has evoked a knee-jerk reaction over the possible environmental impacts of this mining, which he believes could be less destructive than terrestrial mining.

Dr Samantha Smith, formerly of the University of Toronto, now of Nautilus:
The assessment is led by Smith, recently converted to the cause of underwater mining. 'Environmentally, sea floor mining is a better alternative to terrestrial mining,' she argues. 'Mining on land leaves a substantial footprint. It leaves polluted waterways, carbon emissions from heavy machinery and millions of tonnes of waste rock that has to be dumped somewhere.'

The WWF remains sceptical. 'It isn't a useful argument to say that this is less harmful than mining on land, since terrestrial mining is already extremely harmful,' says Cripps. 'Making such a comparison is a counter-productive argument. What we're interested in is seeing a thorough assessment of the real impact that this will have.' If the Solwara Environmental Impact Assessment is ever released perhaps it will go some way towards answering some of the question that independent scientists have regarding the project impacts.

Most Handsome Sea Creatures Ever

From National Geographic: Beautiful nudibranchs.

Many more here.

Polar Bears To Be Protected.

The U.S. Department of the Interior declared the polar bear a threatened species on Wednesday, saying the species must be protected because of the recent massive decline in Arctic sea ice caused by global warming. According to the World Wildlife Fund, some polar bears are already starving as a result of these changing Arctic conditions. The U.S. Geological Survey published a prediction in September that 2/3 of the worlds polar bear population would be extinct by 2050.

The ruling marks a victory for a coalition of environmentalists - the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) - which sued to force the Department of the Interior to decide whether to protect the hoary Arctic predators under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Listing the polar bear guarantees federal agencies will be obligated to ensure that any action they authorise, fund, or carry out will not jeopardise the polar bears' continued existence or adversely modify their critical habitat, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be required to prepare a recovery plan for the polar bear, specifying measures necessary for its protection.

While the listing is a good start to begin protecting the polar bear, it's clear that there is nothing, under the ESA at least, that the Bush Administration intends to do to slow down warming and reduce sea ice loss. In making the announcement, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said, “I am also announcing that this listing decision will be accompanied by administrative guidance and a rule that defines the scope of impact my decision will have, in order to protect the polar bear while limiting the unintended harm to the society and economy of the United States.”

Last month President Bush said, “The Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act were never meant to regulate global climate change.”

He said, “There is a right way and wrong way to approach reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The American people deserve an honest assessment of the costs, benefits and feasibility of any proposed solution. Discussions with such far-reaching impact should not be left to unelected regulators and judges but should be debated openly and made by the elected representatives of the people they affect.” Kempthorne said, “This Administration has taken real action to deal with the challenges of climate change.”

It is not clear what these actions are.

Another former laggard, Australia, has at last moved in the right direction, committing $2.3 billion over five years to reduce carbon emissions in the annual federal budget announced yesterday.

$52 000 Fine for Littering

The first ever prosecution by the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for garbage pollution in Victorian waters has resulted in a $52 000 fine for the Hong Kong based Tian Ren Company Ltd.

An off duty police officer out fishing on Port Phillip Bay in January witnessed a large plastic bag being dumped over the side of a Tian Ren ship (Sky Lucky) as it passed Sorrento at the southern end of Port Phillip Bay. The bag split open when it hit the water and was found to contain plastic bottles and bags, cigarette packets and butts, food wrappings and other rubbish covering an area of about 25 square metres.

A report by Dr Matt Edmunds of Australian Marine Ecology on the potential impact of the garbage on the bay found it could spread widely, contribute to chronic accumulation of plastics and toxins and pose a direct risk to marine species.

Plastics are the most common man-made object sighted at sea. 50% or more of marine litter is made from some form of plastic. A daily input of more than 600 000 plastic containers into the oceans was attributed to shipping in 1982 and in 1975 the U.S. National Academy of Science estimated that 6.4 million tonnes of litter were jettisoned from ships at sea each year.

A 2001 study of litter in the North Pacific gyre found 5,114g plastic/km2 (3-7 times the greatest concentration of plastic found previously). This was six times the mass of plankton netted in the same study. The latest results available from Victoria beach litter surveys (2004/05) found that 52% of the litter (items counted) on Melbourne beaches was cigarrette butts, while 23% was plastic litter of some sort.

The lawyer for the Tian Ren Company in the EPA prosecution submitted the garbage dumped into Port Phillip Bay was similar to that disposed "into the bay on a daily basis by those who use it and should be contrasted" with an oil spillage.

From the State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia: Pollution - Technical Annex 2

Marine pollution from land-based sources (LBS) has been seen mainly in regional terms, but is now a source of global concern (Nollkaemper 1992a). Liffmann (1994) stated that 'not unlike other forms of marine pollution, land based sources [of marine debris] are a much more significant factor than are vessels', and quoted other authors saying that vessels account for only about 10% of all pollutants entering the oceans. A new international convention for the protection of the oceans from all sources of pollution has been mooted (Davis 1990).

A graphic example of the size of the problem can be seen in these videos taken from a research cruise through the North Pacific Gyre (some language is not safe for work or sensitive ears).

1: Stop using plastic bags
2: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
3: Report litterers to EPA or other authorities
4: Nag your friends
5: Teach your children
6: Despair at the scale of the problem...

Shark Attack!!

A shark attack at Albany, Western Australia on the weekend was the sixth attack this month globally. It follows shark attacks in San Diego,Mexico and Florida.

Interestingly New Smyrna Beach where the latest Florida incidents occurred has had more recorded incidents per square mile than any beach on Earth. So far this year there have been 10 attacks on surfers, including the three in three days that occurred last week. Yet still people swim there...

Of the attacks this month only the San Diego and Mexico incidents proved fatal to the humans involved. In comparison, the Shark Specialist Group at the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) estimates that around 100 million sharks are killed in shark fisheries and as bycatch around the world each year.

20% of the elasmobranch (shark and ray) species assessed for the IUCN 2006 redlist were considered to be in danger of extinction.
Six species found in Australian waters are listed as threatened under the EPBC Act.

There are no catch limits in international waters and existing bans on “finning” are ineffective. Spanish fishing fleets in particular have been targeting sharks in recent years. In December the United Nations passed a resolution calling for catch limits and true shark-finning bans, and the European Union is currently drawing up a plan of action.

People love to hear about shark attacks, but it's a shame we don't hear more about the effects people are having on shark populations. We are driving them to extinction.

Test post

Sunset from atop the Coromandel Ranges between Coromandel and Matarangi in New Zealand.
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